Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Error, Pride, and Bluster

Having been banned from Triablogue I'm forced to comment on their threads elsewhere, which is sometimes inconvenient, but oh well. I really probably shouldn't involve myself, but it's just too interesting sometimes.

Jason Engwer's form remains consistent as I had previously mentioned. His posts can in large part be recreated by simply cutting and pasting the same insults over and over. His recent discussion with John Loftus, Evan, and DingoDave from a thread at Debunking Christianity is another case in point.

This discussion though I think illustrates some personality differences that are very relevant to evaluating the trust that you can put in certain individuals. Here's how.

Being guilty of an error is obviously a problem. Nobody wants to make errors. But everybody does. It's certainly easy to do with regards to Christian origins. It's such a broad field and there is so much misinformation that it's easy to be misled and consequently repeat something that is false. Evan made statements that were mistaken regarding Celsus and Minucius Felix. That's a problem. But Evan's behavior after being shown the error is very important, and it suggests he's a trustworthy person. He immediately conceded the error.

I think this is a very important quality to have. I recently mentioned how Mark Shea likewise conceded an error. I disagree with Mark about a number of things, but I give him credit for admitting to a mistake. I like to think that I'm willing to admit to errors when I commit them. In this thread I mistakenly thought Eusebius was involved in the Easter controversy, when in fact he was just quoting others that had been involved with it long ago. In this thread I mistakenly asserted that the first manuscript that contained the gospel heading was 400 years after the fact, when in fact it is 200 AD. But as soon as I became aware of the error I conceded it.

I've probably made errors that I haven't conceded. Sometimes pride or lack of understanding makes it difficult to recognize them. But I make an effort.

But what of the Triabloggers? I have never seen one of them concede anything more than an inconsequential error, though in my (admittedly biased) view they are guilty of many. In this thread Steve in an effort to win a debating point redefines the term "atheist" to include Mormons. He went on to further defend this position against David Wood here. In this thread Jason shows his ignorance in making claims about Bayes' Theorem. In this thread Jason mis characterizes John's argument terribly, suggesting that because he claims that the ancients were generally more superstitious and gullible that he also believes that ancients would never consider evidence. I tried to get Jason to face his misrepresentation over and over again, but he just could not. In this thread Jason again misrepresents the position of some skeptics on hallucinations, claiming that skeptics would argue that when a group hallucination occurs this means that the group is seeing the exact same thing within their own mind. When I asked Jason which skeptics hold to such a view or why he is characterizing the skeptical position in this way he just refused to deal with my question over and over again.

What does it say about a person when they cannot concede that they've made a mistake? There's nothing wrong with failing to understand something mildly complex like Bayes' Theorem. It's not all that unusual to attribute the wrong views or arguments to someone. But what is unhealthy in my view is when these mistakes are pointed out to you that you are unable to concede them, for whatever reason. When a healthy person becomes aware of facts that he previously was unaware of, he allows those facts to modify his opinions. In this way he is more likely to hold to true opinions. Those unable to perform the self correction are more likely to hold to false opinions.

The other thing I notice is the constant Triablogue assertion that the opponent was previously "refuted." For instance, Jason is talking about how John has been "corrected many times" and he says "notice how poorly" John interacted with certain arguments in the past. This is in regards to this thread (which is the same thread that included one of Jason's misrepresentations that I referred to above).

Obviously I participated in that thread, and I don't see John as being "corrected" or that his arguments "poorly" interact with some of the information Jason is putting forward. But I also recognize that I have a bias, and I wouldn't expect Jason to see it the same way. Which is why I don't feel it necessary to pontificate on who exactly was the "victor." What value does it bring to the discussion for me to repeatedly bloviate on how I think I crushed all of my opponents?

Does Jason not recognize that he and his fellow Triabloggers may not be the best judge of who is the victor in an argument that he is involved in? How much trust should be placed in an individual that seems so oblivious to his own biases? Does he comprehend the message he's really communicating with these bloviations? Touchstone does. Read him react to Paul Manata's similar triumphalist statements here.

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