The fallacy (it’s not really a fallacy) of “there are good arguments on both sides,” which is an affirmative variant of “both sides do bad things. . . ” is emblematic of certain liberal columnists–such as Richard Cohen and E.J. Dionne. Dionne writes:
>It’s true that religious Christians were among those who persecuted Jews. It is also true that religious Christians were among those who rescued Jews from these most un-Christian acts. And it is a sad fact that secular forms of dogmatism have been at least as murderous as the religious kind.
Much of that religious violence against Jews the first sentence speaks about was, by the way, Christian in origin, inspiration, and motivation; so it’s wrong to call them “un-Christian.” Aside from that, it seems hardly correct to speak of Christianity in the first sentence and then religion in general in the second. Dionne continues:
>What’s really bothersome is the suggestion that believers rarely question themselves while atheists ask all the hard questions. But as Novak argued — in one of the best critiques of neo-atheism — in the March 19 issue of National Review, “Questions have been the heart and soul of Judaism and Christianity for millennia.” (These questions get a fair reading in another powerful commentary on neo-atheism by James Wood, himself an atheist, in the Dec. 18 issue of the New Republic.) “Christianity is not about moral arrogance,” Novak insists. “It is about moral realism, and moral humility.” Of course Christians in practice often fail to live up to this elevated definition of their creed. But atheists are capable of their own forms of arrogance. Indeed, if arrogance were the only criterion, the contest could well come out a tie.
And so “the pox on both your houses”: Christians, like the ones in the White House, are supremely arrogant, they attempt to codify ignorance of well established scientific, medical and philosophical practice. But Atheists can be arrogant too. Sure, no question. But Dionne ought to know that atheists do not constitute a large enough party to silence the Christian majority (so you can’t call it a tie). And furthermore, the “questions” at issue are different. Some Christians and many atheists ask the hard questions about knowledge and morality (I’m thinking of Aristotle and Kant, for instance, whose moral theories are not founded on divine command, but I’m sure you can think of others). Everyone seems arrogant in these matters. But we belittle the fundamental importance of intellectual engagement when, like Dionne, we obsess over who gives the appearance of certainty in matters of metaphysics and morals.