I’m thoroughly enjoying the tennis match with my friend Captain Cassidy 😀 I really do hope the feeling is mutual — she seems to be pretty sporting about it all so far, so I think I’m not overstepping my bounds to hope that she’s also getting something out of our exchange. Thanks also to others who have weighed in on the matter — I’ve gotten to meet several new people so far, which is always a good thing! Y’all are very welcome, make yourselves at home 🙂
This time, I must thank the good Captain for introducing me to a new term: PRATT, which stands for “Point Refuted A Thousand Times.” In her recent article, she establishes the groundwork for this term and then outlines a list of examples of such that I am supposed to have employed against her. (The points she made therein seemed very similar to those she made in her first response.) Some are fair points, others I’m pretty sure are not so fair — and some are more addressed at my tactics than my points themselves. (If you’re interested in my answer to some of these points, feel welcome to check out my response article and my direct response to her comment.) All, however, seem to come with a hefty dose of caricature, to the point where even I can’t find much about them to take seriously (even though I am supposed to have said them myself).
However, the article the Captain cited on RationalWiki that dealt with PRATTs had a few examples of its own — and, since they seem to be the authority on the matter, I figure I’ll go right to the source.
Now, call me old-fashioned, but I’m somewhat less concerned with the number of times a point has been refuted, and am more concerned with the quality of said refutation. A good refutation, in my experience, must contain at least the following three elements:
- A demonstrated, thorough understanding of the point being answered (i.e. no straw men);
- A demonstrated, thorough understanding of the contextual framework in which the point operates (i.e. no recontextualizations or quoting out of context); and
- A direct refutation of the point consistent with the two aforementioned elements, usually either by demonstrating how the point is internally inconsistent within its contextual framework, or externally inconsistent with regard to logic or evidence.
In other words, it doesn’t impress me if something is designated a PRATT — if a point is refuted poorly to begin with, the thousand-fold repetition of this faulty refutation doesn’t make it any less compelling. I’d rather have PAWs (Points Answered Well), even if they’re stated only once. And not all that have been categorized within the former necessarily belong in the latter.
To hear some opponents to Christianity talk, you’d think these PRATTs have been so thoroughly refuted and utterly debunked that there’s really no point to discussing these topics any further. If that’s the case, then I think they should easily be able to stand up to the three criteria given above — if they’ve really been around the block so many times, I imagine that any laziness in execution or logic would have had ample time to be scrubbed away, corrected, perfected.
If not, perhaps this is another case of the “Mission Accomplished” banner being unfurled just a little too early.
Below are all three points provided under “Religious examples” from the aforementioned article:
Religious PRATT #1
Religion is required in order for a person to be moral/There is no morality without God.
If this were anywhere near true, the world would be in chaos as a fairly sizable 16% of the world’s population has no religion. That’s nearly 1 in 6 people who would happily murder you because they lacked any form of morality — this just doesn’t stack up to observed evidence. Secular humanism has established several non-religious moral codes, and biologists and psychologists have tracked various evolutionary pathways for why we act in (what we define as) a moral manner. Perhaps most importantly, statistical analysis (rates of murder, adultery, rape, theft, etc.) shows that non-religious folks behave no less morally than those who have found religion (or had it hammered into them since childhood).
My first observation is that the PRATT contains two distinct questions, and yet the refutation only addresses the first one — which I’d consider a sort of straw man representation of of the second. I’d certainly not listen to anyone who makes the argument that one must be a Christian in order to be moral — it’s ridiculous, both evidentially and within the context of Christian belief. No one should make this argument.
The second statement, however — “There is no morality without God” — is one that, perhaps, deserves to be taken a little more seriously, at least in the cosmic sense. Simply demonstrating that the non-religious can be just as moral (even more so) than religious doesn’t answer this point, because if the Christian God exists, then we would expect Christians and non-Christians alike to be driven by a moral compass — for all were created in God’s image, not just the Christians.
I haven’t yet presented anything close to a definitive case in favor of the Christian worldview with respect to morality, but hopefully I have shown that perhaps there is something of a discussion that could be had, apart from the presented refutation — which, I think, fails most notably in criteria #2, by failing to take into account the context of Christianity.
Religious PRATT #2
Atheism is a direct cause of lawless behavior.
This is similarly untrue for almost all beliefs, with the notable exceptions of illegalism and nihilism. Of course, even illegalists could be said to follow a law of their own devising: that society is bad and should be destroyed.
If this was true, most of Scandinavia would be well-known as a hotbed of insane, godless violence. As it currently stands, it isn’t. Neither is there much obvious correlation between lawlessness and religion as most causes of crime are attributed to social and economic conditions. Religion, or lack of it, isn’t often viewed as a contributing factor.
This ties in somewhat with the first PRATT — it is, in a way, a sort of corollary to the first statement. And, in like manner, I don’t think the point as stated is a very good argument, so it might be guilty of straw-manning the issue — especially since I think there is a more engaging point behind it that is not being addressed.
I cringe a little when I skim over this old article of mine (it’s amazing how one’s perceptions can change over the course of a year), but I brush up against this idea a little in discussing the end-game implications of secular morality. In short, if we have nothing but our evolution to thank for the moral sense we possess, then the same could be said of the kinds of personal experiences and perceptions that cause people to believe in God — and I see no authoritative framework by which we can conclude that the latter should be rejected and the former upheld. In other words, you can personally disagree with the nihilist and the illegalists — but there’s no legitimate authority you could cite, under secularism, by which you could judge your moral framework to be any better than theirs. Secular moral theories postulate why we are moral — they cannot authoritatively declare that we ought to be moral.
Religious PRATT #3
Atheism is a religion.
While it’s pretty certain some people can be quite passionate and organised about atheism — and even issue out religious-like edicts about what atheists should and shouldn’t do — atheism, itself is not a religion by its very definition. It has no dogma to follow and is a completely non-prescriptive belief system. As proof of this, there have been quite a number of (often mutually exclusive) dogmas, philosophies, and prescriptive belief systems bolted onto atheism, of which the three best known are secular humanism, Marxism, and Objectivism.
While you could alter the “definition” of religion to include atheism, the practical result is really that the term “religion” loses a lot of its value as a category (except in the context of constitutional law, where classifying atheism as a “religion” greatly simplifies things conceptually), and the point would lose any power as an argument — becoming not only readily ridiculous but also self-defeating.
The simplest way to explain this is that “Atheism” is as much a religion as “Monotheism” or “Polytheism”. There are Monotheistic religions, but Monotheism itself is not the religion. There are at least two well known ancient Atheistic religions, Confucianism and Buddhism (though some versions incorporate the supernatural). It’s entirely possible to believe in the existance [sic] of one or multiple gods without deriving any morality from them, in much the same way you could believe that life on Earth originated in a different star system without joining any alien-worshipping [sic] cult.
This one is a fair point — but it falls, I think, more to semantics than to pragmatism. In other words, it’s technically true that “atheism is not a religion” because atheism as a term is narrowly defined in such a way as to excuse it from having to have any position at all. It’s a nothing, and that easily qualifies is as “not religion”.
However, again, the way the point is stated misses the more engaging point behind it, which comes in two parts: 1) most rational people who consider themselves atheists probably ascribe to a worldview philosophy that probably does make some positive assertions, and 2) is there, perhaps, a level of faith required to believe in these worldview assertions? These, I think, are relevant questions that are worthy of discussion and that are not addressed in the refutation.
So, again, I haven’t provided enough meat to make a proof-positive case for my worldview — however, hopefully I’ve shown that just because someone believes a point to have been refuted countless times before, it does not necessarily mean that the refutation is any more compelling than the original point being made. Both the point and the refutation must stand or fall on their own merit, not on the number of times they have been discussed or the number of people one can persuade to roll their eyes. (Incidentally, like parroting, eye-rolling requires no critical thought whatsoever.)
To call something a PRATT and dismiss it (and the proponent of it) as unworthy of your time is just as much a “Thought Stopper” as the use of a PRATT itself is supposed to be — perhaps even more so. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, as the saying goes.
Along those lines: In a lovely discussion I’ve been having with kelpie98 on this very subject, I mentioned that both sides have their own PRATTs — it’s not a vice exclusive to the religious. Anyone, regardless of belief or creed, can resort to “tired old arguments” to support their point of view — it’s human nature, it seems, to be prone to allow poor reasoning to creep into our worldviews. Maybe someday soon I’ll provide my own list of anti-religious PRATTs 😉
In my view, though, what it really comes down to is this: There seems to be a lot of unnecessary “us vs. them” attitudes surrounding this debate in the world (from both sides) that I find neither is warranted nor effective, where one or the other group is categorized and caricatured in such a way that they are positively dehumanized. I certainly feel the brunt of this attitude pretty often, as it seem the Captain feels similarly since her very first PRATT example uses the following language on behalf of Christians:
Poor widdle things, bless their cotton socks, gosh, it’d suck so much to be an atheist–are they really even human at all? They can’t be if they’re that lacking in the loftier aspects of being human, aspects which WE automatically get upon conversion.
This should be enough for show that, on the whole, both groups feel they are being treated similarly by the other. Which is more important: Being right (and asserting, unequivocally, that rightness), or connecting with someone and taking the time to share respective viewpoints? Do we buy into the caricatures, or do we get real and just acknowledge that we’re all human beings stuck on this rock together, warts and biases and poor reasoning and all — and can’t we just all get into the same boat of trying to figure out what in the hell is actually true? Because that’s a boat I’d willingly board — even if Cassidy is the captain.