Tag Archives: Rick Warren

Dennett on Criticism

Here is some (fairly obvious I think) advice on criticism from Daniel Dennett:

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”

  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

Good practical advice, I think.  Facebook comment from someone:

I don’t think anyone can accuse Daniel Dennett of being ‘kind’ when it comes to criticizing the things he doesn’t agree with. When it comes to religion and determinism, I think ‘brutal’ would be a more appropriate word to use. Wish I could think of some concrete examples, but the only one that comes to mind is his critique of Rick Warren in a TED talk.

Maybe he got through the first three without learning anything.

Moral feelings

I posted something the other day about Pastor Rick Warren's comparison of homosexual acts to violent assault.  Seems like not really an apt comparison.  Now comes Antonin Scalia with an even better, I mean, worse, argument (from the Huffington Post):

"I don't think it's necessary, but I think it's effective," Scalia said, adding that legislative bodies can ban what they believe to be immoral.

Scalia has been giving speeches around the country to promote his new book, "Reading Law," and his lecture at Princeton comes just days after the court agreed to take on two cases that challenge the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Some in the audience who had come to hear Scalia speak about his book applauded but more of those who attended the lecture clapped at freshman Duncan Hosie's question.

"It's a form of argument that I thought you would have known, which is called the `reduction to the absurd,'" Scalia told Hosie of San Francisco during the question-and-answer period. "If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?"

Scalia said he is not equating sodomy with murder but drawing a parallel between the bans on both.

Then he deadpanned: "I'm surprised you aren't persuaded."

I'm perplexed by the first bolded claim, as Legislative bodies in the US are limited by the Constitution as to what they can ban–they can't ban acts of religion can't they?  Anyway, I don't have the full quote or context so whatever.

The other claim, the reduction to the absurd, is rather odd.  I imagine no one doubts the possibility of having "moral feelings" against homosexuality.  The question, of course, is whether such feelings are (a) morally or rationally justified and (b) legally enforceable.  I suppose the latter question is the one that ought to concern Scalia.  So there is an equivocation in Scalia's claim over "cannot."  You can have all the feelings you want against anything.  Some of those might be morally justified, some might be legally enforceable.  No law, however, can take away your ability to disapprove of things.

As if this were not bad enough for a big mind such as Scalia's, this equivocation is then used as a lever to push the little cart down the slippery slope: if we cannot ban homosexuality, then we cannot ban murder!  That's not reduction to the absurd, it's just absurd. 

Weighed, analyzed, confronted

On the theme of taking pride in being ignorant, here's Michael Gerson on Barack Obama:

What took place instead under Warren's precise and revealing questioning was the most important event so far of the 2008 campaign — a performance every voter should seek out on the Internet and watch.

First, the forum previewed the stylistic battle lines of the contest ahead, and it should give Democrats pause. Obama was fluent, cool and cerebral — the qualities that made Adlai Stevenson interesting but did not make him president. Obama took care to point out that he had once been a professor at the University of Chicago, but that bit of biography was unnecessary. His whole manner smacks of chalkboards and campus ivy. Issues from stem cell research to the nature of evil are weighed, analyzed and explained instead of confronted.

Weighing, analyzing, and explaining them does not entail not confronting these issues.  Indeed, I shudder at the confronting that does not follow the weighing, the analyzing and the explaining.

One more thing.  Later in the piece, Gerson writes:

Obama's response on abortion — the issue that remains his largest obstacle to evangelical support — bordered on a gaffe. Asked by Warren at what point in its development a baby gains "human rights," Obama said that such determinations were "above my pay grade" — a silly answer to a sophisticated question. If Obama is genuinely unsure about this matter, he (and the law) should err in favor of protecting innocent life. If Obama believes that a baby in the womb lacks human rights, he should say so — pro-choice men and women must affirm (as many sincerely do) that developing life has a lesser status. Here the professor failed the test of logic

It doesn't follow by a matter of logic alone that "uncertainty" in the matter should tend one way rather than the other.  Besides, the mother's autonomy seems more well established than the fetus' personhood, so one could say well established rights should take precedence (in the case of conflict).  But Gerson obviously distorted Obama's point.  Aside from this, Warren's framing of the question ("gains rights") is devious: human rights are not "gained" and "lost" (except in certain places) as one accumulates chips.  You have them or you don't.  Suggesting otherwise (in the case of the fetus) seems something of a heap paradox: when is a heap a heap? Two? Three?

There may, of course, be nothing wrong with the "heap" view of rights, Warren (and Gerson) just ought to acknowledge when it has been sneaked into a question to a pro-choice Presidential candidate in front of an admittedly hostile pro-life audience.  In light of those facts, Obama's answer–with its weighing, analyzing, and confronting–was right on point.

H/t mahablog