My recent interactions with James Lindsay remind me of discussions I’ve had in the past with opponents of Intelligent Design theory. They fit under the heading, “Prove everything or you’ve said nothing.”
Here’s how it went at least twice in those ID discussions. I brought up some specific point of illogic and poor reasoning I had seen on an anti-ID website. I don’t recall the exact point at issue, but I remember at least once it had to do with some misrepresentation of Intelligent Design theory. I quoted a certain person who had said something about ID that was clearly, identifiably false.
You would think that people who care about truth would respond by rushing to make things right. That didn’t happen.
You would also think that people who disagreed with me would hold me responsible to demonstrate that I was right about that specific error. That’s didn’t happen either. Instead, I was confronted with and held responsible for Michael Behe’s “failure” to account for the TTSS in the development of the flagellum, for the Discovery Institute’s “Wedge Document,” for creationists’ “mindless reliance on an ancient holy book,” and on and on and on.
In other words, I confronted them with a specific (and easily corrected) error within their own ranks, their response instead was to demand that I handle, explain, and defend everything ever done by anyone supporting Intelligent Design.
That game has been replayed on another field recently. I have shown some specific, clearly identifiable errors made by Peter Boghossian. James Lindsay has ignored all that. He insists that I have no argument unless I can also prove the existence of God and the complete reliability of all Christian knowledge. He does this in spite of Boghossian’s errors being unrelated to whether the truth of God and his word can be proved.
It’s a replay of the same game. “Prove everything or you’ve said nothing.” I point out a specific, clearly identifiable error by someone who holds a different worldview, and someone rushes to his defense by demanding that I prove everything is true in my worldview.
It’s a tactic that leaves my actual argument unanswered, and (in this case) Boghossian’s errors unexplained and undefended. They’re still hanging out there as serious, identified failures in the use of evidence and reasoning, and there’s no reason to think they’re anything but that.
So Lindsay has a weak approach to reasoned argument with respect to Boghossian—if one could even call it an approach at all. More accurately it’s avoidance.
It’s pretty good strategy, though, in spite of that. It’s a diversion. It gets us off the embarrassing topic of the mistakes Boghossian has made. If it works–if I play along with the strategy–it rocks me completely back on my heels; for after all, it really is a huge project to prove everything about Christianity is undeniably true, and even most Christians (myself included) would only say that we accept its truth based on the great preponderance of the evidence, not based on proof.
Tactics, diversions, rhetorical tricks–how about if some atheist just takes an honest look at Peter Boghossian’s flawed evidences and reasoning and calls him to account for it, instead of trying to divert our attention away from it all?