Thoughtless Scoffing Masquerading As a Question

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Ah, the joy of sticking your nose into other people’s conversations! On my Critical Conversations book web page I set up a Q&A page. It’s a book for Christian parents. The Q&A was for them, too, or for people with legitimate interest in the contents of the book. And Q&A is different from debate, right?

Well, who shows up there but Bob Seidensticker, the scoffing mocking atheist whose “civil critique” of Christianity is anything but that (especially in his and other’s comments), and John Irenicus, whose proven intention likewise is to undermine Christian belief and morality.You’d think they would have recognized this was someone else’s conversation.

But no. Bob barged in anyway. I answered his question there, since it was the kind of thing some people might have asked who actually had a legitimate interest. John followed up with a thoroughly thoughtless argument thinly disguised as a question, destined to turn that Q&A into the same kind of long debates we have here. I said I would respond here instead of spoiling the Q&A. So here goes.

John asked

Imagine that you and your wife would have found out that you are infertile shortly before you got married. Would your wife have had a moral obligation to break off the engagement and marry someone else? If not, explain why not and explain how exactly the reason you come up with doesn’t apply to gay couples.

This is the kind of “moral dilemma” argument people like to pose in philosophy classes, too:

Suppose x happens; not that x ever does happen, but suppose it does anyway. What does your moral philosophy, which you use to guide daily decisions about daily questions, have to say about x, which never happens? If it turns out x is hard to answer, maybe your whole moral system is wrong!

These kinds of arguments deserve their own skepticism. No one ever said moral systems need to be airtight against all imaginable unlikely circumstances.

Let’s see now what John Irenicus was really asking. I can’t think of any scenarios that would fit his question except something like,

Suppose that shortly before the wedding, the man suffered an emasculating injury, or the woman had a sudden serious disease requiring emergency hysterectomy, or one of them became a quadriplegic through an accident. Would they have a moral obligation to call off the wedding now because they couldn’t have children?

Either that, or,

Suppose the couple had been trying and trying and trying to have kids before they got married,  until they went to a fertility specialist and discovered one of them had a problem. Should they call off the wedding?

I think John thought he was lobbing a simple stumper in on someone else’s conversation. What he was really asking, though, had he given it half a minute’s thought, was a stupidly insensitive question about how two people should handle sudden tragedy with disastrous lifelong implications at the point of their also becoming married. That, or else it was a question about how to apply moral answers to an already immoral circumstance — which is never easy, either.

Either way, I’m having trouble seeing why his question deserves the respect of an answer. It wasn’t an argument. It wasn’t even properly a question, considering how poorly it was thought through.

I don’t have time for this kind of thoughtless scoffing. Not even here where the point is to have a good debate. There’s no good debate to be found here.

If you want to have a real debate, ask a real question.

8 Responses

  1. Irenicus says:

    If you want to have a real debate, ask a real question.

    I did. And I got an answer ;-).

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    No, actually, what you got was me re-writing your question into a form that displayed it for what it really was.

  3. Irenicus says:

    No. I got the only answer you are able to give: deflection and posturing.

    That you think you are equipped to prepare Christian teenagers for hard questions about their moral beliefs wrt homosexuality is nothing but pitiable.

  4. Irenicus says:

    I see that you’ve edited your response, so I’ll address the edit here:
    “No, actually, what you got was me re-writing your question into a form that displayed it for what it really was.”
    Yeah, right. As if that wasn’t obvious before. And what’s really telling is how you are not answering it because that would be “stupidly insensitive”, while you are happy to give to give the exact same stupidly insensitive answer to gay people. I know, I know, that’s totally not self-serving and hypocritical because…. hey, look! A Squirrel!

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    I did deflect the question, yes, I agree. It wasn’t because I couldn’t answer a good question about gay marriage, though; it was because none was asked.

    I didn’t say I wasn’t answering it “because that would be ‘stupidly insensitive.'” Read again. I didn’t answer because it wasn’t a good question: It was a “stupidly insensitive question about how two people should handle sudden tragedy with disastrous lifelong implications at the point of their also becoming married.”

    (“Stupidly insensitive was in there, but it wasn’t the whole problem with the question; and “stupidly insensitive” wasn’t the problem with my answering, it was the problem with way it was asked.)

    And no, it’s not the exact “same stupidly insensitive answer I give to gay people,” because when gay people ask good questions, I don’t treat them the way I did this poor one. I answer them to the best of my ability. This one didn’t have enough in it to bother answering.

  6. Irenicus says:

    There was (and is) exactly zero substance behind your posturing here.
    What you have is this:
    1. “Suppose x happens; not that x ever does happen, but suppose it does anyway. What does your moral philosophy, which you use to guide daily decisions about daily questions, have to say about x, which never happens?”
    2. “What he was really asking, though, had he given it half a minute’s thought, was a stupidly insensitive question about how two people should handle sudden tragedy with disastrous lifelong implications at the point of their also becoming married.”

    #1 is one level false (“never happens”) and on another level silly (a moral dilemma cannot expose inconsistencies in a moral framework if it presupposes a scenario that happens rarely? Yeah, right.)

    And #2 is hypocritical. There is no relevant difference between that scenario and a gay couple what-so-ever, no matter how much you want one to be there. In both cases, the couple cannot have sex that could lead to procreation under *any* circumstances – and they know it. Saying that the question is “stupidly insensitive” is silly, and even if that would be the case, it still wouldn’t do anything to render the scenario disanalogous to a gay couple that is in love.
    The reason for your deflection and posturing is that you have no rational response to that scenario, and you know it.
    That’s also why this question bothers you so much – hence the angrily and hastily written post (you even had a typo in the headline as the URL still shows). Showing that you have plenty of time to answer the question and consider it necessary to address it in *some* way, but choose to spend that time on deflection and posturing instead of offering anything of substance.

  7. Tom Gilson says:

    There is no relevant difference between that scenario and a gay couple what-so-ever.

    There is no relevant difference in the life of a couple that’s going through major permanent life-changing tragedy?

    Please.

    The reason for your deflection and posturing is that you have no rational response to that scenario, and you know it.

    You know a lot about me, don’t you? You know that I made that typo in the URL because it was such a hasty answer, too, right?

    Actually, Irenicus, I wrote and posted this thoughtfully. After it posted I noticed that the software for some strange reason had assigned the article a number URL. It was something like https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2016/05/30/36380, but I can’t remember exactly what it was; I know that’s not right but it doesn’t matter. I thought looked stupid, so I went into the back end and hastily typed in a word-based URL. That’s when I made the typo.

    You know a lot of things about me that aren’t true, Irenicus.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Showing that you have plenty of time to answer the question and consider it necessary to address it in *some* way, but choose to spend that time on deflection and posturing instead of offering anything of substance.

    I felt no need to answer your question “in *some* way,” and I never said I did. I did want to address it, obviously, to explain why I felt no need to answer it. Otherwise some people might have thought I was unable to answer the question, when in fact I had good reasons for being uninterested in answering it. Or they might have been bothered by the question, not recognizing the assumptions hidden in it, which I took time to expose. That kind of thing is all perfectly legitimate.

    I offered nothing of substance by way of answer, I agree — except to show that the question was lacking in thought and substance.

    I don’t even think it’s worth furthering this debate.