Saturday, January 07, 2006

Intellectual Honesty

As much as I respect my devout friends and family, one of the biggest challenges I have with most very devout folks is their lack of intellectual honesty when dealing with issues that cross over between faith and the material world.

Intellectual Honesty is an attribute of a good argument...

This is not intended to imply that these folks are not intellectuals or honest, because they are really smart and honest. I'm really talking about a general tendency that faithful people have when they discuss their faith. Maybe that's the point... faith is above discussion for many people. When their faith, however, impacts material world issues, it's not enough to simply disengage and claim that faith is not debatable.

A few examples...

  • Intelligent Design - if you want to criticize evolution, great... scientific progress is fueled by objective, peer reviewed critiques of current scientific thinking. Most people who push ID, however, start with the underlying position that God created humans and they look for any shed of evidence that supports the claim. Most are not seeking objective truth... there is no amount of evidence that would cause them to support evolution.
  • Religion in the 'Public Square' - I'm always surprised when very religious and socially conservative folks want prayer in public schools or in government. If I were them, I would only want to hear god-talk from people that I was in complete theological agreement with. For most conservative Christians, I highly doubt that public school teachers would be parents' first choice for religious education. I'm not really sure why they want prayer in public schools, but I'm pretty sure it's not to replace the role that parents and churches to play in religious education.
  • Abortion - this is an issue where the religious pro-life position is much more intellectually honest than the pro-choice folks. The central issue of abortion is: when does life begin? The pro-lifers' argument centers around this question and their answer is that life begins at conception. You may disagree, but at least they are taking a stand. The pro-choice argument avoids the topic of the beginning of life because their position (life begins at birth) is really indefensible. They, instead, focus on 'Rights' and 'Privacy'. Until the hard-c0re, pro-choice organizations (NARAL, NOW, etc.) honestly addresses the definition of life, the two sides will never be able to have a thoughtful discussion. (Full Disclosure - I believe life begins at the quickening.)


At 10:39 AM, Blogger vjack said...

Yeah, I think the thing that is so tough about trying to discuss religion/faith with a believer is absolutely everything they say boils down to "I believe that because that's what I believe." They say they believe a particular claim because of their bible, but this ultimately takes them back to believing their bible for no reason other than it is what they believe. Quite absurd when you get right down to it.

At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, the pro-life position isn't coherent either, as biology only offers us continuous processes, not discrete events. There's no magic moment that divides a cell of your body from a new human being. It's a continuous process, as is even conception. The time from contact of sperm and egg to the merged genome controlling the new cell is around 24 hours.

I also think you misunderstand the pro-choice element, which isn't about life, but about persons. Sure, that single cell is alive, but it's no more sentient than the E.Coli in your gut and thus no more a person than that any of those E.Coli. Growing from a single cell to an intelligent human person takes years, and choosing the process of birth as a marker of being a human person is an almost unprecedently conservative decision in the history of human societies.

At 1:16 PM, Blogger Early Riser said...


Help me understand the pro-choice position that you tried to explain... are you saying that only self-aware humans should be protect under the law? Infanticide OK? Killing mentally disabled OK?

You have made my point about the lack of honesty and consistency in the pro-choice community.

At 3:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, infants and mentally disabled (but not brain-dead) people ARE self-aware. Obviously, not everybody has the same level of awareness and ability to understand their environment, but that doesn't matter. If you can feel pleasure or pain, you have interests, and are entitled to have them considered regardless of your intelligence, or level of self-awareness. A barely-developed embryo has no interests so abortion then would not be a problem. A late-term fetus with a fully-developed central nervous system does, likely, have some form of interests, or should at least be given benefit of the doubt, outside of extreme circumstances.

At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed on all points. As an atheist, I have a hard time coming to grips with the left’s position on abortion. I have stated many times something very similar to what you said. Even if you are right, you need to address the question at hand, not keep trying to scare everyone.

At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both the prochoice/antichoice camps are chasing shadows; both are missing the point. If we had an enlightened attitude about sex and contraception, abortion would virtually cease to exist except under extreme reasons. As for prayer in the schools - the religionists don't care who leads the prayers. The purpose is to indoctrinate; the churches want the government to do what they themselves no longer can do: swell the ranks of members and thusly the amount of cash in the collection plates.

At 11:44 PM, Blogger Martin LaBar said...

Well said. I found your post through the Christian Carnival.

At 6:56 AM, Blogger jpe said...

The pro-choice argument is that life begins at conception but personhood begins sometime after that. People differ on when the legal rights of a full person accrue to cells, but all pro-choicers agree that a blastocyst simply isn't a person.

And, early riser, different pro-choice people differ- fiercely, at times - on the particulars. So don't naively expect conformity to one position and then attribute its lack to intellectual dishonesty. Such a move is the sine qua non of intellectual dishonesty.

At 9:26 AM, Blogger Early Riser said...


I have never heard a professional pro-choice advocate publicly discuss the question of when personhood begins.

I agree that pro-choice have different opinions... the loudest choice proponents, however, only focus on rights of the mother and evade any discussion of personhood.

At 1:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quickening? Did you know that first time mothers generally feel and recognize quickening about two months later than multiple gravidas? So... a baby is a baby at five months if it's the first, and at 3 months if it's the fourth...
And the unborn child who is extremely active and thrashes about is more likely to be seen as human than the mellow little one who doesn't really kick, but just kind of slowly rolls this way and that (my first kicked dozens of times in an hour, my second would do just that very slow roll, maybe three times- and it took me a while to realize that's what was going on).

As for anonymous, yeah, there is this magic moment- when the egg is fertilized- at that very moment it has its own DNA, separate and apart from the mother's.

At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Women who favor abortion have said to me that they believe firmly that the fetus is a group of cells of no consequence, as are spit cells. I then pose the following: assume you are going to have an abortion, say in the 4th month. I (playing doctor) will deliver the fetus alive and you have to destroy it either by a scalpel or by stepping on it. They are horrified at my suggestion, and irritated at me. They fail to see their own inconsistency.

At 4:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to get back to your original point of discussion, you know, the one indicated by the title of this post: Intellectual Honesty.

I have a dear friend who is different from me in almost every way imaginable. She is devoutly religious (and not the bible-thumping, hell-threatening, party all week but regularly attend church on Sunday type) and I have profound respect for her and for her faith.

The irony is that in trying to figure out an effective way to discuss issues on-line, in a blog format or public debate format, she came to me with a tool she had created and asked for my help with this intro:

When I get into discussions with people who don't agree with me on an issue, one of the most daunting challenges is the lack of intellectual honesty. However, it is pointless and off-putting to explain to a person that they are being intellectually dishonest.

So you can imagine my joy upon reading your post and your statement regarding the problem with intellectual honesty and devoutly religious. What beautiful irony.

Now the question I have for you is this: isn't it reasonable that anyone who honestly believes that they are right beyond doubt, will automatically see the other person as being intellectually dishonest?

In this context it's more like an allegiance to intellect than honesty. Isn't it more reasonable to claim that people are committing intellectual treason or intellectual betrayal when they don't subscribe to your point of view?

I don't know how to respond to her because while I respect her whole-heartedly, I can't help but feel that her statement is self-declarative more than anything. (Thanks for the post, btw)

At 5:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to the statement beginning with "Women who favor abortion", that is such loaded vocabulary that it's not even funny. But none the less, if I cut a tumor out of your chest and then asked you to cut it up or stamp on it on the floor, wouldn't you be grossed out and horrified as well? In fact, what if that was the only way to get rid of it--was for you to have to do something grizzly and disgusting with it.

So, you are a smoker and you chose to smoke cigarettes, causing the cancerous lump in your chest that was going to kill you, sorry. Live with it (or not).

And at what point were you given the ability (as a Doctor in this scenario) to deliver an embryo alive? Heck, if you can do that, perhaps we don't need to worry about abortion after all: you could just deliver all the babies alive while assuring that the woman from whom you plucked these cells was healthy enough to cut it up or step on it.

Well, then it wouldn't matter because the thing would be alive and no one is advocating the murder of a living baby.

The point is that without the mother, this clump of cells has no more chance of living than an internal organ removed from the body--and no more will or sentience. But you don't see "pro lifers" going on at the mouth about the removal of organs. I mean, if my kidney is killing me and keeping it is likely to cause both my kidney and I to die, get rid of it. If keeping my kidney is going to preclude me from living a healthy life, get rid of it. But don't characterize me as a "kidney killer" and don't crucify me for murdering something that has no chance of living outside of my body.

If you can remove the clump of cells that make up a baby and keep them alive while assuring that they will most likely be able to subsist without the need of life support (eventually), then it's murder. Before that, it is such a grey area that I, for one, am not qualified to decide one way or the other. But I can't help but think that it would be no different than keeping an organ alive while waiting for a host. Discarding it is a shame, but it's not criminal.

I'm not pro-organ removal by any means, I am just willing to acknowledge that there are situations where having an organ removed is the best answer.

The same is true for abortion. I am not in any way pro-abortion, but I certainly am not pro-misery or pro-poverty or pro-unwanted child either and I am willing to acknowledge that for some situations, abortion is the best answer.

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At 12:06 PM, Blogger ~o said...

I like this post. It made me think. I am however not clever enough to comment too much on intellectual honesty, yet. Btw, I borrowed some of your points in my musings on the topic. I hope you don't mind.

At 1:11 PM, Anonymous PENNY STOCK INVESTMENTS said...

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