Monday, April 11, 2011

It all starts with the "Myers' Shuffle".

Now that I have a wee bit more time I can start blogging again. New blog thus.

Anyway many things are wrong in many people's mind these days... and it is clear that this is caused by a strong case of mental blindness. A blindness that starts with the foolish dismissal of what one does not understand: The so-called Myers' Shuffle. To explain what it is I report what I had written in my past (now defunct) blog: 

Some time ago I encountered a very interesting article by philosopher Edward Feser , author of the books 'The Last Superstition' and 'Aquinas'.

One of the most popular responses of 'New Atheists', when challenged with the FACT they they are ignorant of philosophy, theology and other subjects, is the "Courtier's Reply" tactic, invented by PZ Myers and applied often by Dawkins in his books.

Here's a fragment of what Feser writes, debunking the "Courtier's Reply" argument (I added the enphasis and underlining):

How does it work? Well, suppose you confront a New Atheist with the overwhelming evidence that his “objections” to Aquinas (or whomever) are about as impressive as the fundamentalist’s “chicken/egg” objection to evolution. What’s he going to do? Tell the truth? “Fine, so I don’t know the first thing about Aquinas. But I’m not going to let that stop me from criticizing him! Nyah nyah!” Even for a New Atheist, that has its weaknesses from a PR point of view. But now, courtesy of Myers, he’s got a better response: “Oh dear, oh dear … not the Courtier’s Reply!” followed by some derisive chuckling. One’s intelligent listeners will be baffled, wondering how shouting “Courtier’s Reply!” is supposed to excuse not knowing what one is talking about. And one’s more gullible followers—people like the faithful who have been buying up The God Delusion by the bushel basket—will be thrilled to have some new piece of smart-assery to fling at their religious friends in lieu of a serious argument. In the confusion, the New Atheist can slip out the back door before anyone realizes he hasn’t really answered the question. Call it “the Myers Shuffle,” and feel free to fling that label back at the next fool atheist who thinks yelling “Courtier’s Reply!” should be enough to stop you in your tracks.

(For the full article see:

The "Courtier's Reply" tactic is one I encountered before. Someone who was reading 'The God Delusion' said that Mr. Dawkins argued in the introduction of his that he 'had enough knowledge to criticize religion/theology/arguments for God/etc...'

Of course I replied asking: "how can someone criticize something he knows very little about" and made the parallel with blind creationists who know very little of biology and the theory of evolution and yet criticize it, hence making Mr. Dawkins basically equal to them.

Quickly this person tried to apply the "Courtier's Reply" tactin in this manner:

You can prove evolution, but you cannot prove God.
Since there is no empirical prove in philosophy it's ok to criticize it even with little knowledge of it.
You cannot compare biology with philosophy...

One might immediately recognize the "Myers shuffle" here, making foolish mistakes that indeed indicate lack of philosophical knowledge.

I agree with the last comment, biology and philosophy are different disciplines, but that is not an excuse at all.

First mistake is an epistemological one. Not all 'proofs' are 'empirical'. Most mathematical proofs, just like metaphisical ones, are LOGICAL proofs based on axioms and not empirical and falsifiable ones.
Hence not every truth in the world can be proven by an experiment.

The second mistake is related to te first one and tries to downplay philosophy just because it is not necessarely an empirical science. However this is irrational.

Let's take Shakespeare. Many write about Shakespeare and his works, comment them, try to understand the meaning and themes in his plays. A fascinating subject.
Now if I would like to criticize someone's ideas on Shakespeare, wouldn’t it require knowledge of Shakespeare's works? Studying Shakespeare is certainly not 'hard science' where you do experiments, yet, if I would know my Shakespeare my criticism would not be a criticism at all, but only an uneducated opinion.

I doubt ANY English literature scholar would accept the “Myer’s Shuffle” as a valid answer and they would laugh if I cried “Courtier’s Reply”.

Yet, that is what many 'New Atheist' provide as an answer. These opinions might fool their 'worshippers' but hardly make a dent in the mind of more educated people.
Even atheist people, as a matter of fact, scorn Dawkins and Myer’s ludicrous tactics.

Feser reports these interesting quotes in his article:

Philosopher and prominent Darwinian Michael Ruse has said that Dawkins’s book made him “ashamed to be an atheist” and that Dennett’s book is “really bad and not worthy of [him].” Another atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel, has described Dawkins’s “amateur philosophy” as “particularly weak,” and his attempts to counter the philosophical difficulties inherent in his own position “pure hand-waving.”

Another important point is that Dawkins often argues that although he is neither a theologian nor a philosopher he still is, as a scientist, extremely qualified to discuss the nature of evidence.

This is an enormous fallacy... a gaping maw in logic that eventually swallows any other arguments Dawkins & Co. make into oblivion.

The fallacy is the result of Dawkins & Co. ignorance itself:

1- To discuss the 'nature of evidence' one MUST have some decent understanding of philosophy and in particular epistelomology. Without a decent knowledge of these subjects one is seriously crippled when it come to discussing ‘the nature of evidence’ and the question ‘what is truth’.

2- Not all 'evidence' is evidence that can be scrutinized by physical sciences alone... most of it in fact is not. Dawkins & Co. probably try to enforce the idea that only empirical evidence is evidence, but such notion is false and reduces the discussion in the chains of materialism. However materialism itself cannot be proven empirically, so the new atheists fall immediately into a contradiction.

3- Dawkins & Co. criticize the various 'arguments for God' but they do not know what they are.
Sure they argue how a theist can criticize the ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ (FSM) without knowing ‘Pastafarian theology’. An educated philosopher and theologian wouldn’t. If I want to deny the FSM I would do so, after investigating what the FSM movement and ideas entail.
The fact that FSM is ridiculous is true for a lot of reasons, but it’s not something one should argue ‘a priori’, because even if someone makes a foolish and perhaps outrageous argument, it is the duty of the critic to know that argument before he can correctly criticize it.
So no matter how stupid one person's claim might be or appear to another person's eyes, to properly criticize it one should understand it and properly know what the arguments for the claim are.

Painful proof (for Dawkins & Co.) of this are the comments on 'the five ways of Aquinas' in ‘The God Delusion’, where Dawkins stupidly misinterprets completely what Aquinas wrote and meant to say.

Feser points that out quite clearly (enphasis added):

Richard Dawkins is equally adept at refuting straw men. In his bestselling The God Delusion, he takes Aquinas to task for resting his case for God’s existence on the assumption that “There must have been a time when no physical things existed”—even though Aquinas rather famously avoids making that assumption in arguing for God. (Aquinas’s view was instead that God must be keeping the world in existence here and now and at any moment at which the world exists, and that this would remain true even if it turned out that the world had no beginning.) Dawkins assures us that Aquinas gives “absolutely no reason” to think that a First Cause of the universe would have to be all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing, etc.; in reality, Aquinas devoted hundreds of pages, across many works, to showing just this. Dawkins says that the fifth of Aquinas’s famous Five Ways is essentially the same as the “divine watchmaker” argument made famous by William Paley. In fact the arguments couldn’t be more different, and followers of Aquinas typically—and again, rather famously (at least for people who actually know something about these things)—reject Paley’s argument with as much scorn as evolutionists like Dawkins do.

And those are only (some of) the errors on pages 77–79.

Now, if Dawkins & Co. are so finicky on 'evidence'... well this is the evidence that their ignorance CANNOT be shoved away by the "Courtier's reply" tactic... and the the "Myer's Shuffle" they are so keen to apply is just a way to put sand in someone's eyes and confuse their audience to hide their ignorance and fallacy of their arguments.

So the "Courtier's reply" tactic is nothing more than try to deny the truth of one's ignorance and bigotry.


More on E. Feser:

His blog:

His website:


Unfortunately this tactic of 'waving away' (theistic) arguments with the 'Courtier's  Reply' is getting more and more popular... and truly there is NO reasoning with those who use such tactics, since they refuse to reason in the first place...

From there, only blindness can follow...

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