Nick’s Response: Deeply Unsatisfying
For days now Nick Norelli has been asserting that I am comparing apples to oranges in my argument against the trustworthiness of the Bible in theological matters. We have gone back and forth on this a few times and it didn’t seem like either of us were getting anywhere with it. So yesterday I decided to construct a tightly argued set of propositions to clearly lay out this position that I find myself involuntarily holding.
Since the sticking point in the argument has been whether cosmology is fundamentally like or unlike theology, I did this in order to make sure that I have used my terms consistently throughout the argument. This took a lot of work, since I had to figure out exactly what it was I was trying to say and exactly why terms used in one place also applied in another. The final product was not intended to be an ‘irrefutable argument,’ but rather a carefully constructed argument so that we could precisely define where exactly the difference between us was.
Nick’s response last night was deeply unsatisfying. Now admittedly, he does not owe me a response, so on that level I’m grateful. But my disappointment with his response has nothing to do with the form rather than the content of his argument. The post was frustrating and muddled.
It was frustrating because I have repeatedly been saying things like, “I’m trying to figure out where I’m wrong here,” and, “I don’t want to hold this position.” Nick has responded with language like, “If he chooses not to agree, that’s his choice.” (I’m offline while I write this so I can’t go back and get exact quotes.) So while I have been thinking about this as a theological discussion where I am attempting to work out what I think about the subject, Nick’s language suggests that we are having a debate where we are each trying to prove our respective positions. If this is a debate, it is one I am trying to lose. If I have set myself up as his opponent, it has only been unintentionally.
I am also somewhat frustrated by rhetoric of, “I have said this multiple times, but I will say it again…” Perhaps I am reading more into these statements that I ought to, but I cannot but perceive this as an implicit ad hominem attack. What seems implicit in the statement is, “Look, I’ve already refuted you, you nitwit, and if you were on the ball you wouldn’t have even made this statement.” Now I am hoping that I am wrong, and what he actually means is something more like, “It bears repeating that…” or “Recall my earlier argument that…”
But the main problem with Nick’s post is that it was also muddled. He didn’t seem to actually refute anything. I spent a lot of time to try to sharpen up the discussion so that he could be very precise in his disagreement. He could pick a premise, show explicitly why it was false, and I could be happy to discard the entire argument. Instead he responded based on personal preference. He doesn’t like where (4) leads, so he rejects it on those grounds alone. He has not attempted to show why (4) is false. Similarly, language of evidence makes him uncomfortable. So rather than demonstrating why (5) is false, his argument boils down to, “We ought not to say such things about God.”
He does not accept my premises even for the sake of the argument. I am absolutely dumbfounded by this statement. What I was expecting was something like, “If Ryan’s premises were true, then his conclusion would in fact be logical conclusions. However at least one of his premises are false, and here’s why…” Alternately he could have said, “Even if we accept the premises, these conclusions do not follow because Ryan has committed the following error in his logic…”
Having said all this, it does appear to me that Nick does have an argument inside of the whole muddle. In my next post (hopefully later today or tomorrow) I will attempt to draw out his argument as I understand it, making it more explicit in terms that both he and I will accept. Only then can I move on to actually discuss what I agree and disagree with.