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3 AM Philosophy

My point by point response to Matt Dillahunty: Social Media, Arguments and Agnosticism

A number of people have asked me to express my position in regards to Matt Dillahunty blocking me on social media. I have given this request serious consideration and really only have a few points of any real consequence in regards to what transpired on Twitter and Facebook. I have accepted a number of requests to join people on their podcasts and channels to discuss a number of my arguments, many of which are making waves in both the theist and atheist communities, and I’m also more than willing to discuss this particular situation if I have time upon request and availability. If someone wants to know my actual positions on things they can refer to this page, my other blog posts or contact me directly and I will be happy to answer what questions I can for them.

 

 

1) About being blocked-

I have always maintained that anyone in a dialectic or discussion can walk away at any time, for any reason. I also believe the block feature is a very powerful tool at peoples disposal (to avoid things like harassment, trolling and toxic people). I myself use it frequently for these very reasons. I personally have never, to the best of memory, ever blocked anyone merely for inundating me with notifications, and I get a lot of them… sometimes over 1000 at a time. I’ve learned, however, that I can mute conversations and/or I can mute specific people who just Tweet 24/7 with absolutely nothing of value to say. We all know the type. While this is just how I manage my time, Matt’s reasons to block me are his own and how he manages his time and honestly, to me, requires no justification nor explanation. He can, like anyone else, block who he wants for any reason and it doesn’t require a reason to be given. However, in this particular case, he did give a reason on three separate occasions to people I consider friends online and his reasons just do not comport with the facts of what actually transpired. I will be giving my account and ask anyone who can still review the Twitter timeline for accuracy of my accounting.

 

Simply put, I was discussing with someone that I believe that classical logic is not the best form of logic to talk about beliefs as it loses nuance and that I think discussions about beliefs, when it comes to logic, are best described by multi-valued logics (Where p can be True, False, or Unknown). (I also think fuzzy logic or doxastic logic is a better way to express beliefs). Matt Dillahunty interjected in the thread and merely just Tweeted “no”. That was it, just “no” to which I asked him what he was not agreeing with. At which point he said that I was wrong and that you either believe or you do not believe, and in classical logic that is most certainly true..it is also a reason why I don’t think classical logic is the best way to talk about beliefs, but his comment seemed to me to be out of place as it is something that is, of course, true but completely irrelevant to the discussion I was having with someone. This did however spark my interest in if I could “break logic “ and perhaps argue maybe that wasn’t true and maybe it is possible to believe and not believe at the same time, maybe using paraconsistent or doxastic logic, but all cards on the table I do not know if I produced a great argument as I have gotten very little feedback on it from those who are experts in this topic and I could very well be completely hosed on that specific argument, but if you want to read it and evaluate it then you can read it here: https://greatdebatecommunity.com/2018/11/17/breaking-beliefs-can-you-believe-and-not-believe-at-the-same-time/

 

I then proceeded to merely ask Matt why he felt my reasoning or logic was wrong. Several days later, he blocked me without explaining to me what he was objecting to in my argument in that particular thread. I only responded to him a handful of times and overwhelming notifications were from other people on the thread, just like any other thread he has interjected himself, into people are bound to respond with their point of views. That is how Twitter works. If you decide to respond to a Tweet in a thread then you will receive notifications on that thread unless you mute the conversation. While, again, I take no umbrage to Matt blocking me, it does raise the question…did he block everyone on that thread? Why specifically did he block me when I had only responded a few times to him directly? He seems to indicate I kept tagging him or responding to him which was simply not the case, as anyone can read the thread for themselves and/or review the screenshots provided.

 

 

2) About the accusation that I prescriptively argue that atheist that do not hold to more formal or sensu stricto definitions (Atheist: Someone who believes theism is false or ontologically that God(s) do not exist) are not atheist-

I find this accusation to be quite puzzling (and I challenge anyone to find a video, blog post, or interview that I have done where I have ever expressed this sentiment anywhere). I have always argued that if someone wants to accept colloquial definitions (Atheist as someone who merely does not believe in God(s) (sensu lato)) then they are an atheist, as that is a recognized definition of atheism. Matt has subsequently stated that it is “smug” to prescriptively try to tell someone what label they use and that labels are important, and I agree with him to some extent…and this is exactly the argument I use as to why people should not label me an atheist. Since an “atheist” is most commonly understood to mean, in philosophy and academics, to be someone who believes theism is false or ontologically that there are no Gods, then in that regard I would not meet the requirements to be an atheist, as I do not have a belief that God(s) do not exist.

 

Personally, I hold to more academic definitions of atheism, which are mutually exclusive from agnosticism (Draper 2017, Oppy 2018, Malik 2018) and that it is inappropriate for people to apply their preferred use of sensu lato definitions to me… and I have never once at any time argued someone has to accept the definitions I used in order to called an atheist or to be an atheist. My argument is simple and is the same as Matt’s here which is: people are free to choose the definitions which best communicates their position. Matt, however, consistently insists that anyone who is not a theist is an atheist, seemingly forcing his preferred colloquial definitions upon to others, an approach used by a number of other atheists (Flew 1973, Smith 1979, Bullivant 2013, Silverman 2015), insisting that this is a truism when that is simply is not the case. If one holds to more formal definitions then it is almost trivial to show if one is not a theist then one does not have to be atheist:

https://greatdebatecommunity.com/2018/10/24/agnosticism-atheism-theism-and-logic-101/).

This, of course, stands in direct opposition of the narratives that the Atheist Experience and American Atheist have always maintained but does not change the fact that, given formal definitions, one does not have to be atheist nor theist, as there are other positions which are simply neither… such as agnosticism. (I will be writing a blog on agnosticism and the consistent erroneous narrative that “agnosticism” is about knowledge, which atheist activists like Matt Dillahunty, Jaclyn Glenn, and the Atheist Experience claim. They seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what “agnosticism” means with respect to a proposition as it has absolutely nothing to do with knowledge, but is the suspension of judgement on the proposition (Friedman 2011). More specifically agnosticism is the psychological belief of being agnostic on p where agnostic means someone who tried to evaluate p but suspends judgement on it such that they do not hold p is true nor hold that p is false. (Draper 2017). The often repeated claim that “gnosis” means that “agnosticism” infers someone who lacks knowledge is actually quite incorrect. While agnosticism in the most broadest interpretation, which a colloquial or descriptive dictionary gives can be inferred to mean a position that someone does not have knowledge or even such that no one can even have knowledge (hard agnosticism) it is incorrect to say that when Huxley coined the term “agnosticism” that it meant “to not have knowledge”. “Gnosis” in this respect meant to refer to the “illusion of knowledge” (Flint 1903) as Huxley believed that no one was justified to claim that they had knowledge or belief one way or another about the existence of God(s). In this regard agnosticism was more of a method, principle or philosophy which was an early form of evidentialism. (Draper 2017). To say that knowledge deals strictly with knowledge disregards the entire reason why the term was coined by Huxley to begin with.)

 

3) About what I wrote on FB-

 

Matt said he blocked me on FB for a post I made, which in of itself seems odd to me, as it was post that didn’t involve him in any way. My post was a post noting that some of the people who were disagreeing with me on my arguments were people who seemed to have never read a philosophical or epistemological paper and merely by fiat claim that I am wrong. I noted that one was a gardner, DJ, gamer etc…while a number of PhD’s, while not experts in epistemology, have at least read some papers in this area or are familiar with reasonable argumentation. I specifically noted in this post (see screenshot) this was not an appeal to authority, but merely an observation. No different than noting that it seems that those who argue the Earth is flat are generally average laypersons…and not academics. At no time in my post or argument did I ever suggest that someone who is a layperson can not make a valid counter argument. I am a layperson, a complete layperson. One that worked in retail for 20 years. It would be absolutely absurd to think that I would ever demean someone because of their profession, which is the implicature I took away from what Matt said about my post. I should note that even if this was an appeal to authority…so what? It is perfectly acceptable and even expected in philosophy to appeal to authority, as it is called a legitimate appeal to authority to support one’s argument based upon previous arguments given in the philosophical literature. We call these citations. But putting that aside, what was so egregious to warrant a block? Especially when Matt never once has ever bothered to contact me directly to perhaps ask for clarification of what I said in my post…not that he of course had any onus to, however, it just seems odd that someone who is supposedly about free thought and dialogue blocks someone for such seemingly trivial reasons. Anyone who has ever followed me on any social media should know my posts are often a little controversial or written to elicit a response…that is how many great conversations as well as dumpster fires get started:

 

If I had wanted to make an appeal to authority I would have just straight out made it, as I have done so in the past, since I am, as of yet, to find a PhD in philosophy that maintains you must be theist or atheist and that I am wrong for saying “in philosophy, generally speaking, it is to be more often understood in the modern literature that atheism is a belief and merely not having a belief.” I recently had Dr. Oppy on my channel and he agreed this (atheism being a belief that theism is false) was indeed the most common understanding of what atheism means in modern philosophical literature. There is absolutely nothing wrong with appealing to authority to support one’s position, it is a fallacy when one says something along the lines of, “I am right (or p is true) because expert X says that I am,” as experts can be wrong and them saying something is true does not guarantee the veridicality of the claim…it does however lend support to one’s argument positing a claim.

It is absolutely remarkable to me that a few people have actually tried to say that quoting an expert to lend support to one’s argument is a fallacy, although I am not clear if this is what Matt was implying, but I have had other people specifically say to me that it was a fallacy to cite an expert. I find absolutely nothing wrong with noting, as an observation, that a number of experts and very well educated people that have read my blogs or posts, have taken time to evaluate them, and not merely dismiss them out of hand. It isn’t too often when any of them actually straight up tell me I’m wrong, but when they do… I listen. I don’t know if any experts have explained to Matt that he is wrong on a number of things, such as the presupposition that if you are not theist you must be an atheist, as that is merely contingent upon his colloquial definitions and can’t be ubiquitously applied to everyone as some type of necessity (meaning that the proposition p=”theist then you ‘must’ be an atheist” is simply and demonstrably not true given formal definitions…but if any have or would explain to him this, would he listen?). (It would only hold true with the colloquial broad definition which isn’t how atheism is most commonly understood to mean in philosophy.)

If anyone has any questions for me please feel free to contact me directly via email Steveaskanything@Gmail.com, by Twitter DM Stevemcrae_ or by Facebook (Steve McRae). Just to reiterate, I have absolutely nothing against Matt for blocking me, and I enjoy watching him… we just fundamentally disagree on some things. But isn’t that what Matt and I look for online? People who disagree with us? If you disagree with me, please feel free to let me know… just bring some source of citation other than a dictionary, American Atheist, or a college handbook of a collection of opinion pieces (Oxford).

 

Thank you!

Steve McRae

List of citations


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