Saturday, 22 October 2011

Of Tone Trolls and Courtiers

From Ivan at fromwinetowater, who articulates something I've felt for quite some time.

Dawkins and his cronies love to bring out the Courtier’s Reply (if you are unfamiliar with it, you can familiarize yourself here, here, here, and here) at this point. It has plenty of good uses, but it also has limits .. if one is arguing that given the suffering in the world, there cannot be a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then one must address the particular points of particular theologies ... one cannot pick parts of a theology to attack without listening to the parts of the selfsame theology which answer the attack.

A deep suspicion of the Courtier's Reply and of 'tone trolling' is very common in atheist circles, for good reason.  There are plenty of courtiers and tone trolls around.  However, these arguments should be treated very carefully, since it's very easy to attack a believer on theological grounds and then dismiss their theological response as a Courtier's Reply.  It's very easy for an atheist discussion space (the comments on Pharyngula, for example) to descend into insults and invective, with any movement towards civility - or accuracy, according to the excellent Daniel Fincke - branded as tone trolling and ignored.

Any argument that dismisses the substance of what somebody's saying is a dangerous argument.  This includes picking out 'logical fallacies', as well.  If somebody says that Christ taught love and therefore Falwell/Hitler/Bush wasn't a proper Christian, shouting 'No True Scotsman!' isn't going to be very helpful in working out what they mean by Christianity.

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