Logic, Subjectivity, & Persuasion...

We all know the phrase “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” Well, in philosophy, it goes something like “be careful what you study, it just might change your point of view…whether you like it or not.”

This is somewhat of a continuation of the previous post. However, the aspect of atheism that I'd like to dissect here really has nothing to do with atheism at all and more to do with perspective, attitude, and persuasion.

I'm currently taking a class entitled Language, Logic, & Persuasion. (it’s essentially an Intro to Logic course), and I've enjoyed this class immensely thus far. One of the most important things to me in any class is the professor. I like a professor who has a point of view but knows how to effectively teach objectively. It matters not to me what their point of view is (in life or on particular topics), but I like to know what they are because it's interesting and helpful to know where he or she is coming from. The following are some thoughts that I began to put together in my head more clearly via several conversations with a fellow classmate of mine (Joe, if you're out there and you find this blog, I would enjoy your comments).

So in the case of this class my professor is an atheist. I have no problem with this and it's of little consequence to me. I knew this from the start because the professor has his own website with course materials as well as personal stuff and I took the initiative to read his bio at the beginning of the semester. It’s interesting but like I said, in the end I couldn’t care less where a professor is coming from so long as they can, in fact, teach objectively. However, I begin to notice certain things...

One, in presenting and dissecting arguments, he has, on numerous occasions, pointed out some classic Christian and theistic arguments and why they are faulty or at least weak. At first this really doesn't bother me much, mostly because he's right in his analyses and they're often arguments against portions of Christianity that I don't personally subscribe to anyway and I really appreciate learning that. But what I've noticed at this point is that not only is he an atheist, but that he likes to embrace opportunities to "point out" Christianity. Still no problems yet, just interesting observations.

Next, I began to notice that he doesn't seem to have a strong concept of deconstruction and it's mental and psychological effects on the individual. In other words, you can't simply crush a person's worldview (which they may depend on to a very strong degree) simply in the name of truth. I say "truth" here as nothing more than the individual's perception of objective truth through the eyes of a subjective experience. He will very casually make comments about theism (particularly Christianity) and do so with a hint of a smirk or attitude that suggests "this stuff is really quite ridiculous and you guys shouldn't buy into it." What I think is interesting is that throughout the course he has never so much as taken an informal survey of the class's religious or lack of religious convictions (which philosophy professors commonly do). There are always some students that will respond in humorous agreement with him when he makes these comments, but what of those who make no comment? For all he knows, they could all be devout Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Agnostics, even Jehovah’s Witnesses (as the professor indicates in his bio that he himself was raised as, but now thinks is essentially ridiculous.....”like all other religions”). I guess the point I'm trying to make in this paragraph is that for those who have been given the “power” of philosophy, which is inherently a very dangerous but infinitely valuable and important study, much responsibility has to be included (Spiderman, anyone?). In a philosophy class (or any class), you’ve got one instructor, and that instructor has free reign to teach whatever he or she likes. And for the simple fact that that teacher inherently has about a thousand times more knowledge than the student, they can twist it in any way they like. Or to quote Jack Black in School of Rock, “all I need are minds for molding.”

In this latter half of the semester we are studying the concept of critical thinking, which could be otherwise described loosely as "reasonable skepticism" or the “reality of belief in something without good reason." This is where the class has taken a turn of difficulty for me, but not for reasons one might guess. The material is fascinating and I'm embracing critical thinking more and more. In fact, I'm discovering that I've been a critical thinker for several years now, but never knew what to call it (the church generally doesn't embrace critical thinking and for obvious reasons doesn't do much to encourage it; if it's not supported by the teachings in the bible, it's not true, and that's really all you need to know). No, this class is becoming difficult because the professor is using a lot of biased philosophy (oxymoron) to make points that benefit his atheistic perspective. Last week after class my friend and I speculated on the possibility that our professor believes the following:

“If you take critical thinking to its absolute limit, you will have no choice but to end in atheism.” (i.e. radical skepticism)

Where this gets interesting is that the whole idea of critical thinking is to evaluate things in the world that people believe but generally have little to no good reason to. Obviously as an atheist it would seem that my professor would say that this includes ALL things that cannot be explained by science, including religion in general (though he has yet to specifically state this). Side note: how does this guy teach metaphysics? But to come back a bit, what’s happening here has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I’m a theist and he’s an atheist. I really couldn’t care less about his personal beliefs. Actually, if I were the atheist student and he was a Christian professor trying to slip in biased opinions about the absurdity of atheism while masking them as objective philosophical reasoning, it would probably irritate me even more. But what’s getting to me is his attitude toward what he believes and more importantly his attitude toward that which he does not believe, which speaks against his whole background in philosophy.

Ok, so I actually began writing this a couple weeks ago and put it down until now, so I’ve lost a bit of the passion that I had about this particular topic and I’m not entirely sure where I was headed. But I think there’s enough stuff here to serve as, at the very least, some food for thought.

I guess my point, if anything, was that as humans we tend to adhere to the “rationale” that helps our agenda, or more specifically, we tend to buy into the arguments that encourage our point of view (this is the fine line that traverses theistic apologetics). We never seem to give weight to the arguments against our beliefs. We find one argument (with strength level x) to support our argument and ascribe value x + 10 to it. Then we find one argument against our position (also with strength value x) and multiply it by -1, negating it and making our overall position shine above all as undoubtedly true. The overlying problem is that math and logic are not subjective, but the way we present them often is.

If this is confusing to anyone, I will probably go into this a bit more in the next post, so hang tight. If it’s not confusing, please share your thoughts.


Mike said...

hmmm. i am not sure that objectivity is attainable. i would prefer a professor or journalist or a commentor or author to just come out and say what they believe and that "duh, of course" this affects their point of view and how they present information.

Tony said...

I could not possibly agree with you more. It actually occurred to me while I was writing it that it might be perceived that way, but I can't account for every potential circumstance, right?

The wording I used there was definitely a bit off. What I meant is that I love it when teachers have their own point of view (can they not?), and I love it when their point of view influences their teaching perspective (again, it's inevitable). But what this professor is doing is using biased reasoning to push his subjective viewpoint and then calling it objective. It is, in effect, an abuse of his position as an educator.

I should also say that I have had several other conversations with him after class before and I actually really like the guy. What was getting to me when I began writing this post a few weeks prior was just the topic of study that we were in at the time. Now it's not nearly as irritating, but like I said, still food for thought.

Mike said...

i wonder if he thinks it is possible to be objective? that would explain why he says he is being objective but in reality he is not.