Talk:Courtier's Reply

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This article's version: "The first instance of the use of this phrase was in response to criticism of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins; a standard criticism was that Dawkins had not studied theology and was therefore unqualified to discuss evidence for or against the existence of God. This is fallacious because, although as a non-theologian he is not technically qualified to discuss the nature of God, as a scientist he is extremely qualified to discuss the nature of evidence."

Evil parallel universe version: "The first instance of the use of this phrase was in response to criticism of the Lenski affair by Andrew Schlafly; a standard criticism was that Schlafly had not studied evolutionary microbiology and was therefore unqualified to discuss evidence for or against the evolution of E. Coli. This is fallacious because, although as a non-biologist he is not technically qualified to discuss the nature of bacteria, as a lawyer he is extremely qualified to discuss the nature of evidence."

I'm sure you see what I did there. Discuss. --AKjeldsenCum dissensie 18:04, 3 July 2008 (EDT)

(maybe I'm a bit tipsy to understand correctly, but) doesn't your comment above contravene your resolution of not writing about certain issues because of your important experiment? In case you changed your mind, wouldn't you edit Holy Trinity or comment on its Talk page? (Editor at) CP:no intelligence allowed 18:12, 3 July 2008 (EDT)
A time and a place for each discussion, Ed. ;-) --AKjeldsenCum dissensie 18:30, 3 July 2008 (EDT)
(EC) Whether one thinks they're sound or not, Dawkins actually makes arguments, Andy only yells "DATA???". NightFlareStill doesn't have a (nonstub) RWW article. 18:14, 3 July 2008 (EDT)
I would say that's up for discussion. For instance, if one has the opportunity, I'd recommend (re-)reading chapter 3 of the God Delusion. It's amazing that he's so busy ridiculing "refuting" complex philosophical issues that he doesn't actually take the time to argue properly against them. I'm particularly fond of his characterization of Anselm's ontological argument as "infantile".
Besides, if one might engage in a bit of apostasy, Andy does make arguments, too, from time to time - whether one thinks they're sound or not. --AKjeldsenCum dissensie 18:30, 3 July 2008 (EDT)
Maybe, and his arguments should then be refuted (and probably mocked) but him not being a theologian (or Andy not being a biologist) does not an argument make. NightFlareStill doesn't have a (nonstub) RWW article. 18:48, 3 July 2008 (EDT)

Logical error[edit]

Moreover, any discussion on the nature of God depends entirely upon first proving the existence of God. No. Compare Higgs boson, axiom of choice, free market economics, or many other subjects which are discussed at great length and detail in their own fields without first being proved to exist. Much of theology takes the existence of God as axiomatic, and this is often a legitimate first step in the construction of a valid and interesting discourse.--Nick.Barnes 10:44, 19 October 2009 (UTC)

Axiom of choice? - π 10:46, 19 October 2009 (UTC)
The axiom of choice, in set theory, cannot be proved from the prior axioms and is very useful in proving a number of other results. It says that if S is a set of non-empty disjoint sets then there is another set T containing an element of each member of S. Many mathematicians regard the axiom of choice as intuitively true - and many regard it as intuitively false - and whole branches of mathematics depend on it (including a number of counter-intuitive theorems such as the Banach-Tarski paradox). The relevance here is that proving the axiom of choice is absolutely not necessary to discussing its consequences (and is in fact impossible). So proving the existence of God is not a prerequisite for discussing the nature of God. Even if it were logically impossible to prove the existence of God, as it certainly is in many philosophical views, that would be no bar to discussing the consequences of that existence. So this sentence is bogus and should go.--Nick.Barnes 11:27, 19 October 2009 (UTC)
Fair enough. I don't know what it is about the axiom of choice that can cause some people to develop strange views about it, but I have read some "interesting" things. When ever someone brings it up either tangentially or completely unrelated to the topic being discussed they usually start spouting nonsense. Nice to see a reasoned response for once. - π 05:53, 20 October 2009 (UTC)
I assume, simply put and to make another analogy, that you don't need to prove the existence of Macbeth in order to discuss his nature. In which case, yeah, that sentence is probably a bit wrong. But what I figured the point of TGD was, was to discuss the existence, not the nature, so it's really not a point at all that's relevant. However, discussing the nature of God in anything other than a hypothetical sense, by amusing yourself with the omnipotence paradox, for example (or, by that analogy, pretending that Macbeth was a real person and Shakespeare is a historical document) does rely on proving the existence first; which is what I think that part of the article is getting at. It could do with clearing up. Scarlet A.pngsshole 11:45, 19 October 2009 (UTC)
The problem is that discussing the existence of X depends critically on knowing what you're discussing in the first place. Many logical "disproofs" all fail in exactly the same way, by attempting to derive a contradiction--which only proves that "God" doesn't exist as defined within the argument. The common example is to define "God" as "a being with the power to prevent the Holocaust and who, being benevolent, would never allow the Holocaust." The Holocaust happened. Therefore, that particular "God" doesn't exist. QED. The argument doesn't lay a glove on the Christians' God who would indeed allow a Holocaust if it served His inscrutable purposes. (talk) 15:34, 12 August 2010 (UTC)Len
The problem is not that he's not a theologian, it's that he's been intellectually lazy and hasn't done very much philosophical and theological homework, yet proceeds to touch on those issues.--Findo (talk) 20:41, 25 December 2010 (UTC)

Deeper Logical error[edit]

The Coutier's Reply is just a reversed appeal to authority: i.e., an appeal to the opponent's lack of authority. As such, it is only fallacious to the extent it is untrue: we routinely appeal to the creationists' lack of authority to discuss natural selection, on the grounds they haven't the faintest idea what the theory is or how natural selection works. And we're right to do so. Conversely, when a writer--even one as brilliant as Dawkins--steps outside his field of competence, he risks making a botch of the subject. A common error of this type is to critique Pascal's Wager without understanding the philosophical underpinning or even accurately knowing what Pascal said. Pascal was wrong, but many critiques fail to identify the error correctly, because the author of the critique is working outside his area of competence and misrepresents Pascal's Wager itself and/or employs fallacious arguments in rebuttal. (talk) 15:34, 12 August 2010 (UTC)Len

Not quite the response[edit]

a standard criticism was that Dawkins had not studied theology and was therefore unqualified to discuss evidence for or against the existence of God.

Actually, the charge was not really that he was unqualified to discuss evidence for or against God, it's that he was fairly ignorant of the best theological arguments. The response, as I understood it, was to say that he didn't need to deal with theology to argue God's non-existence, which is actually true - the problem being that he didn't suffice himself to deal only with arguments about existence, but that he did touch on theological issues such as the nature of God and the biblical accounts. In the language of the analogy, he didn't suffice himself to declare the Emperor naked, but touched on the nature of the stitching as well. --Findo (talk) 20:38, 25 December 2010 (UTC))

the very fallacy committed within the article[edit]

"although as a non-theologian he is not technically qualified to discuss the nature of God"

What utter nonsense. This itself is an example of the Courtier fallacy, a form of appeal to authority. — Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs 08:17, 25 July 2011 (UTC)

A double strawman[edit]

If your aim is to refute an idea, you should try to refute the strongest version of it you can, not a weaker version. To do otherwise, is to commit a sort of strawman. And, the claim is, Dawkins has done this, because in attempting to refute religion, he has not picked the strongest form of religious arguments to attack, but weaker versions. Why might Dawkins have done this? Part of the reason, is that he is not very familiar with the literature of theology and the philosophy of religion, where the stronger form of these arguments is presented.

And, the whole idea of a "Courtier's Reply", is itself a strawman - because, the best version of this criticism of Dawkins, does not claim that the fact that he is not a theologian automatically means he is wrong, it claims he is wrong, and puts forward his lack of knowledge of theology as a causal explanation of why he is wrong in that way. He is not wrong because he is not a theologian (i.e. simply by the reason of not being one), but he is wrong because he is not a theologian (i.e. this is part of the causal explanation of how and why he holds the mistaken beliefs he does.

Compare this to someone who was not familiar with the serious literature of the biological sciences, and then sought to refute mainstream biology, but actually refuted some distorted version of it. Such a person would not be wrong by the mere fact of not being a biologist, but the fact that they are not a biologist is an important part of the causal explanation of why they are in fact wrong. (((Zack Martin))) 10:49, 25 July 2011 (UTC)

I tried to take this into account and pointed out with references the bulk of theology is irrelevant to whether or not God exists. Despite this a small part of theology is relevant and merits study. Proxima Centauri (talk) 09:18, 15 January 2013 (UTC)

What are these ever so strong arguments in favour of religion which Dawkins fails to address? WéáśéĺóíďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 09:21, 15 January 2013 (UTC)
Sophisticated theology is always somewhere else, when you look for it you're always looking in the wrong place. Proxima Centauri (talk) 15:14, 15 January 2013 (UTC)
I actually agree with zach, in the fact that some (or many?) atheists tend to think the issue was 1) about religion on the whole, and 2) that the only challenge made to dawkins was that "he's not a theologian". I tried to deal with that on the theology and "sof-tho" page. I personally won't change anything here, cause I've not read the book carefully, I've not really seen Courtier's reply, and I don't know who or what was really into playing the game. Others were far more informed about all of that. but it is worth keeping in mind that there are far more detailed arguments against dawkins rather simplistic presentation of religion, and and his rather single minded view of all religion as somehow the same. Green mowse.pngGodot She was a venus demilo in her sister's jeans 15:36, 15 January 2013 (UTC)
PS, Prox - just so you see it, my arguments are pro religion (or some religion), not claiming they "prove" god. They do not. I've never read a single peice of theology anywhere that proves god. Course, that's largely why i'm an athiest and have been since at least 6. :-) "proof of god", is, as you say, really not out there. hence "faith" and "belief" and "why should i prove it to you" comments. but proof that religion has value is out there. in sociology arguments, anthropology arguments, and the more day to day, almost appeal to emotion (but without the fallacy) arguments of "people say it helps them" and they should know. Green mowse.pngGodot She was a venus demilo in her sister's jeans 15:39, 15 January 2013 (UTC)
There's anecdotal evidence of people saying religion helps them. There's also anecdotal evidence of atheists who are former believers saying not believing in God is liberating. Former believers say not worrying about God looking over their shoulder and judging them helps them. That's the way I feel, of course I and those other liberated people would never have admitted religion restricted them before deconversion. There's evidence that the happiest nations in the world are relatively secular. Does religion on balance do more good or more harm? We don't know but the best way to find out is free uncensored discussion. There should be websites putting the case for religion and there are plenty of religious websites. There should also be websites putting the case against religion. Atheism Wiki does that. I believe RationalWiki should either work to counter religious websites in this area or, better state the case scientifically about how far religion helps and how far religion harms people. Proxima Centauri (talk) 15:34, 19 January 2013 (UTC)
The Courtier's Reply is basically what Eagleton was doing when he said "Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them?" (which is funny because Eagleton has a similar negative opinion on football but obviously hasn't read anything on Mourinho or Ferguson - bad-dum-tish). But it's simple enough; it's arguing that Dawkins doesn't know how to jump the second, third, and forth (and so on) hurdle of the 110 metres, which is all well and good but completely irrelevant to his argument because he's merely pointing out that the first hurdle is actually 100 ft high brick wall that no one else has managed to cross and are completely ignoring. Scarlet A.pngd hominem 17:41, 15 January 2013 (UTC)
Zack M's comment above also looks a lot like the Courtier's reply. WeaseloidWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 20:08, 15 January 2013 (UTC)
Zack M is an idiot who worships an imaginary bat. Theory of Practice "Now we stand outcast and starving 'mid the wonders we have made." 23:13, 15 January 2013 (UTC)
That too is a straw man because the bat is totally real. Scarlet A.pngd hominem 18:01, 16 January 2013 (UTC)

Nick Corrado's criticism[edit]

Proxima plopped this as an answer to Armondikov's last post (16 Jan) in the thread above.--ZooGuard (talk) 16:04, 19 January 2013 (UTC)

RationalWiki and the Courtier's Reply: A Criticism Proxima Centauri (talk) 15:24, 19 January 2013 (UTC)

Note that the post is dated 6 November, and by that time the article looked like this. It's not that it has changed much in the meantime, though...--ZooGuard (talk) 16:04, 19 January 2013 (UTC)
That still doesn't really address anything. It's merely doing exactly what Plantinga did, which is to turn "but nuh-uh!!!" into more than two and a half words. Dawkins approached it from treating God as a testable hypothesis that should produce expected results on the real world. No amount of insisting that theology is somehow "philosophical" negates this approach, or even begins to truly criticise it. Even the philosophical concept of a necessary being is just an argument by assertion, if not outright circular. Indeed, it's tantamount to saying that "of course God has no real effect on the world", but that would come far too close to admitting that belief is a futile waste of time. Scarlet A.pngpostate 16:09, 21 January 2013 (UTC)
In other words, it's just a courtier's reply. Corrado misses the entire point of the concept really. EVDebs (talk) 02:13, 22 January 2013 (UTC)

It's not a fallacy if I use it[edit]

This is the defence of the author(s) when they are accused of using the Courtier's reply. Well, you know, the person is not well read, so the fallacy does not apply. They mustn't be well read because they've have stated an opinion that contradicts my dearly held opinion.

"Therefore it cannot be used, for instance, by people not liking that they are being asked to read more about global warming if they deny it." The use of this argument, with the presumption that the person is not well read on the topic and/or the person calls out the fallacy because they do not like that they are being told they need to read up, is why the fallacy came into being in the first place. "Denunciation of this particular fallacy, however, is quite easy to misuse. Whenever one is told to read more about a subject that he disagrees on, it is easy to accuse one's contradictors of giving a "Courtier's Reply". The maker of such an argument presents no evidence nor argument that the person is not well read nor versed in the argument, and adds a circular fallacy to the Courtier's fallacy. You need to read more. Isn't that the Courtier's Reply fallacy? No, the fallacy does not apply. Why? Because you are wrong? Why am I wrong? Because you need to read more. Isn't that the Courtier's Reply fallacy? The author seems to believe that the fallacy does not apply, when he/she makes an argument. He/she cannot be wrong, so if the other person disagrees, then they are either wrong and/or have not read enough or accurately.

Even the examples given present a false choice. Deny, do not deny. If you question anything, then you are anti-science and a denier(the origin of this term and it's shameful misuse does not seem to bother the ones who use it.) You are not well read. You either believe there is nothing wrong with world's climate(s, it's plural) or you believe anything and everything said about said climates. Yes, I believe the climates are changing and that humankind played and plays a huge part, but I also believe that the models used have been hideously inaccurate due in part by attacking anybody that disagrees with you as being anti-science and not well read. Why produce better models when you can fling about fallacies.

The cause and effect warped beyond all proportions, and what was once part of the hard sciences has been corrupted by a political anti-capitalist, anti-west agenda. 

I could tell you to read up on such authors as Professor Petersen of the University of Toronto, but then I would be committing the Courtier's reply. To attempt to refute this by saying that I am not well read up on it would be to commit the same fallacy. — Unsigned, by: / talk