“Communication is Hard”
My wife is a very intelligent woman. I enjoy discussing religion, politics, and philosophy with her. When I lay out an argument, either for my own viewpoint or (as the devil’s advocate) for some alternative viewpoint, she almost always raises one or two sharp objections to the argument. She is also a person of good common sense and practical wisdom. One of her bits of wisdom that comes up often is this:
“Communication is hard.”
This little mantra has a couple of important implications. First, even between people who know each other very well, miscommunications and misunderstandings are to be expected from time to time; they are inevitable. Second, good communication requires work, effort, attention, and care.
So, when she is talking to me in the morning, in order to have a better chance of good communication, I need to set the newspaper down for a moment, look her in the eyes, and actually focus my attention on the words coming out of her mouth. Like most people, I’m not so good at multi-tasking. Looking her in the eyes gives her some assurance that I’m listening, and setting the paper down helps me to focus my mind on what she is saying. Good communication requires work, effort, attention, and care.
“What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate”
In Part 3 of this series, I harshly criticized Mr. Loftus for problems of UNCLARITY in his presentation of what I take to be the central argument of his book Unapologetic, namely Reason #9 in Chapter 5, an argument for the conclusion “Philosophy of religion must end.” I stand by this criticism, at least the basic idea that Mr. Loftus’ presentation of this argument is seriously flawed because it is UNCLEAR.
However, in his responses to my criticisms, Loftus has raised a point that stings a bit; he raises an objection to my critique which has some merit. Although I don’t think he realized this, one of his comments basically turned my own critique around, and pointed it in my direction, with some justice:
“As to some working definitions of these words goes, with a little research you could find what I say of them.”
Mr. Loftus wants a big “mea culpa” apology from me, and he is not going to get that. However, I will admit to a degree of inaccuracy and unfairness in my criticism of Unapologetic in Part 3 of this series, and I will also admit to a bit of hypocrisy, but I will attempt to do better in this post.
In short, there is a failure of communication between Loftus and me concerning Reason #9 in support of his view that “Philosophy of Religion must end.” That failure of communication is partly because Loftus FAILED to properly clarify the meanings of some key words and phrases in this central argument of his book. However, the failure of communication is also partly because I FAILED to put in sufficient work, effort, attention, and care as a reader and interpreter of Unapologetic.
Work, Effort, Attention, Care, and Hypocrisy
Good communication requires work, effort, atention, and care. Because Reason #9 consists of an argument involving the words “faith” and “reason” and “philosophy” and “religion”, as well as the phrases “philosophy of religion” and “faith in X”, and because these words and phrases are vague, ambiguous, and unclear, Loftus ought to provide in this book: (a) clear definitions of each of these unclear words, and (b) some reasons and evidence in support of the proposed defintions.
Ideally, he ought to provide an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the word “faith” and an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the word “religion”, and an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the phrase “philosophy of religion”. He did not do this.
A less than ideal, but perhaps adequate, approach would be to provide one chapter clarifying all three of these terms, writing a subsection of about ten pages defining and clarifying each term. Loftus did not do this. So, Loftus FAILED to provide adequate clarification of the key terms of his central argument, terms that are OBVIOUSLY and NOTORIOUSLY unclear. I justifiably pointed out in Part 3 of this series that there was a serious problem of UNCLARITY in Loftus’ presentation of Reason #9.
However, my irritation with Loftus, as with Norman Geisler, and as with William Craig, is based on an expectation of a certain level of “work, effort, attention, and care” on the part of a philosopher or intellectual in presenting an argument or a case for a point of view. I tend to use words like “lazy” and “sloppy” and “careless” and “not a serious effort”. Clearly, I don’t like intellectual sloth in philosophers and intellectuals.
But in that case, I need to apply this same value and standard to my own thinking and writing, and I’m afraid that my critique of Loftus in Part 3 falls a bit short on this important standard. Good communication also requires “work, effort, attention, and care” on the part of readers and interpreters, not just on authors and writers, and I fell short on this requirement. I threw in the towel too quickly, and I did not work hard enough to find clues that would clarify what Loftus was trying to say.
To be a good example of the intellectual values and standards that I use to criticize other thinkers, I need to make a greater effort to understand what Loftus is saying in Reason #9. Loftus had a responsiblity to be provide more clarification of the key words and phrases in his central argument, but I also have a responsibility to make a greater effort to figure out what he means, especially to understand Reason #9, the key argument found on page 135 of Unapologetic. I intend to get back into the ring, and make a more serious effort to arrive at a clear understanding of this argument.
Reason #9 is an interesting and significant argument about an important question. So, I should be willing to put in a significant degree of work, effort, attention, and care to try to understand that argument.
One critical comment that I made in Part 3 , I now regret:
His failure to provide any definition or analysis of the meaning of any of the key words and phrases in his central argument suggests that he does not have a clear idea of what those words mean.
This criticism is not accurate and is unfair to Loftus. I had no intention of deceiving anyone, or of making a false statement about Unapologetic, but this criticism is exaggerated and inaccurate, and I would not have made this criticism if I had made a greater effort to figure out what Loftus’ means, and to find clues in Unapologetic that would help to clarify Reason #9.
Although I am clearly unhappy with the amount and degree of clarification that Loftus provides about the key terms in his central argument, he does provide some statements in Unapologetic that appear to be definitions of “faith” and he does provide at least one statement that appears to be a defintion of “philosophy of religion”, and there are other clues in the book that should be considered in trying to understand what Loftus means when he talks about “faith” and “religion” and “philosophy of religion”. I will now pay more attention to those statements and clues, to try to figure out the meaning of the argument constituting Reason #9.
“Philosophy of Religion” means…?
There is a discussion of “philosophy of religion” on page 114 of Unapologetic that sheds some light on what Loftus means by this phrase. Here are are a couple of key statements from that discussion:
PoR is a discipline that has traditionally concerned itself with the claims and arguments of religion.
…PoR seeks to understand the claims of religion (if possible) and examine the arguments put forth both pro and con by the canons of reason and evidence. This is how PoR has historically been understood among Western philosophers.
I don’t think this is a great definition, nor do I think this is an appropriate level of clarification for the most important concept in the whole book, but it is something, and it might be enough to help me to figure out and understand Reason #9.
Loftus contrasts this understanding of “philosophy of religion” with how the discipline is actually carried out:
In practice, however, this is not the case. Philosophers of religion are dealing with religion in religious, creedal, and confessional ways. (Unapologetic, p.114)
This contrast between the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion” and how the discipline is actually carried out in practice makes a legitimate point of criticism about the discipline. It also introduces ambiguity into the meaning of the phrase “philosophy of relgion”.
However, it seems fairly clear to me that in Reason #9, Loftus makes use of the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion”, at least in the premises of the argument:
2. If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.
This explicit premise suggests another unstated premise:
A. Philosophy of religion uses reason to examine the claims of religion.
This is close to the statement about the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion”. So, I think we can expand and clarify this unstated premise by substituting the apparent defintion of “philosophy of religion” from page 114 in place of this unstated premise. Loftus appears to be invoking the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion” in Reason #9.
Although I’m not happy with the degree of effort by Loftus to clarify the meaning of the word “faith”, a more careful reading of Unapolgetic reveals some statements that appear to be brief definitions of this word, as well as a couple of other passages which shed some light on what Loftus means when he uses this word:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence. (p. 55)
…faith is always about that which lacks sufficient evidence or even no evidence at all. I consider faith to be an unrecognized-as-yet cognitive bias that gives believers permission to pretend what they believe is true, even if there is no objective evidence at all… (p. 92)
Just consider what’s wrong with Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses…. Faith. The adherents of these religions do not believe based on sufficient evidence, because faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities. If they thought exclusively in terms of the probabilities by proportioning their belief to the evidence (per David Hume), they would not believe at all. (p.125)
Faith should one day be labeled a cognitive bias. It keeps one’s cognitive faculties from functioning properly. Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (p.152)
In addition to these brief definition-like statements about the meaning of “faith” Loftus has a couple of other passages that shed some light on how he understands this idea (on pages 57 and 160).
Although these definitions seem inadequate and problematic to me, they do provide some good clues as to what Loftus means by the word “faith”, and with a bit of effort on my part, this might well be enough information for me to figure out and understand the meaning of the argument constituting Reason #9. So, I’m going to go back to work on that task, and when I have a clearer understanding and interpretation of Reason #9, I will share that here in Part 5 of this series of posts.
“Communication is Hard”