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Miscellaneous meanderings and philosophical ramblings. The title from a spiral notebook I used to jot down my thoughts on religion and other matters some years ago. I like to write, think and express my views on various issues. Robust discussion is welcome.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

When defending incompetence results in the same

In a previous post I mentioned a book that I thought would be interesting, that book being The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens by Vox Day. Since then I've recommended it, along with several other books, to someone who is struggling with their faith and was seeking reading suggestions from Christians as well as non-Christians to help in their study.  The response of one anti-theist in particular brings us to this post.

Shawn Wilkinson had this to say:

Vox Dei’s... Oops, I mean Vox Day’s book wasn’t very impressive. I could fisk it, but there are better things to do. Like cure cancer or fight AIDS than to address the reckless scrawl which appears in his book.

Luckily, many of my complaints are addressed here.

The post that caught my eye at the blog Shawn referenced claimed that Vox Day had contradicted himself, "change[ed] his mind so completely", in fact done so out of mere convenience.

Did you catch that? On page 115 and following, Harris’ technique for correlating social health with Christian conservativism is “strikingly stupid.” Yet just four pages later, it’s a “definitive proof” (and not just “a sign,” as Harris called it). What made Vox change his mind so completely? Simple: he found a way to make the voting record say something that he wanted it to say.

Seems pretty conclusive doesn't it? I can assure you that he does have quotes. My first reaction was to check the PDF I have of the book to see how I could have missed this. What I found was that I missed nothing but being as foolish as this particular reviewer. I say this because not long after page 115 and before reaching 4 pages later and saying it's a "definitive proof" we have this from Vox Day:

But just for kicks, let’s pretend that it is not a measure so ridiculously inaccurate as to be completely useless. Let’s imagine that Harris’s metric really is relevant, that an American voter’s 2004 presidential vote truly is indicative of his religious faith, or the lack thereof, and that statewide criminal statistics are a reasonable measure of an individual’s predilection for immoral behavior. This exercise in imagination is necessary, in fact, because only by accepting his measure at face value and examining it in detail can one fully grasp the true depth of Harris’s exceptional incompetence.

Obviously Vox Day was not seriously considering this a proof as he worked through the numbers. Having not expanded that entry on my first read I didn't know how silly the reviewer was as I developed my first thoughts about the matter. One would think that perhaps after reading the entire entry the reviewer would be acquitted. Unfortunately, it turns out the incompetence of the objection to Vox Day on this point is even worse than missing the stated intent because the reviewer actually addressed that quote from Vox later in the post. Somehow, that individual still came to this conclusion:

The irony here is absolutely delicious: according to Vox, the true depth of Harris’ incompetence is demonstrated by the fact that his methods lead to the conclusion that conservative Christianity promotes good social health! Talk about your shooting yourself in the foot! He starts by setting out to prove that Harris’ method leads to brain-dead conclusions, and ends by showing that the brain-dead conclusion is, in fact, an oft-repeated Christian claim.

Nothing like letting confirmation bias filter one's perceptions and prevent seeing other than what you want to see. Vox was showing that Sam Harris claimed he could find no evidence of better morals due to religious beliefs, yet using his own (foolish) method, one can easily find the "evidence". What this demonstrates is that Harris is not only incompetent with developing a method but that he's also incompetent in even applying his own method.

The reviewer has conceded in his comments section that perhaps he's wrong yet still thinks he has some sort of valid criticism.

In any case, my point in the above post was to document the shift in language. Maybe he does acknowledge that RS/BS is a bogus argument if you press him on the point, but he definitely set up a good quote that seems to say Christianity benefits society. Yes, elsewhere he calls it a stupid and useless metric, but those disclaimers are conspicuously absent from the paragraph that talks about “proving” that red states have less crime. I’m still waiting to see Vox say something that explicitly identifies the pro-Christian conclusion with the disclaimer that it’s a bogus result.

This is ridiculous, apparently Vox Day committed the mortal sin of expecting a reader to remember what was said only 4 pages ago. Worse yet, to remember it when they quote it in their own review/rebuttal.

Vox has explained his intent more than should be necessary here, best summed up with this statement:

I am not saying anything about the social health of Red America at all, I am simply showing a) Harris is incompetent, and b) Harris is really, really incompetent.

Vox also referenced his questions to Sam Harris and the replies he received here.

Now Vox Day is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, so to speak. He doesn't pull punches and this goes for expressing his libertarian political beliefs as well. However, if one is going to criticize his book, at least do so with rebuttals that are not as silly and blinded by bias as this attempt.

I now have to wonder, is Shawn Wilkinson referencing this critic because he's just as incompetent or because he's intellectually dishonest?


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