Saturday, June 23, 2007

Christian deception about The Art of Deception

Bill Muehlenberg's blog has a review of Robert Morey's 21-year-old book, The New Atheism and the Erosion of Freedom, which he applies to "atheist storm troopers such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris." Muehlenberg characterizes Dawkins and Harris as trying to "suppress all religious freedom, not unlike what was attempted in the former Soviet Union." Muehlenberg offers nothing to support this accusation, but that's not the point I'd like to respond to.

In his review, he makes the following statement:
He [Morey] even quotes from a famous atheist debating guide, in which every trick in the book is offered to fellow atheists as they attack theists. Published by Prometheus Books, the main atheist publisher, The Art of Deception by Nicholas Capaldi teaches atheists how to deliberately use deception to refute theists. After reading Moray’s [sic] description of, and quotations from, the book, it occurred to me that all the atheists I have been debating must have well-worn copies of the book. It certainly explains why actually having a rational debate with an atheist is so difficult. All the dirty tricks, ruses, ploys and deception makes any debate with them a one-way affair.
Muehlenberg has been deceived by Morey, and is deceiving others with this description. First, Nicholas Capaldi is not an atheist, he is a Catholic who teaches at Loyola University New Orleans and has written a number of religious publications from a Catholic perspective (though his central focus is on business ethics). Some of his publications include "From the Profane to the Sacred: Why We Need to Retrieve Christian Bioethics" and "A Catholic Perspective on Organ Sales" (both in Christian Bioethics).

Second, The Art of Deception is not "a famous atheist debating guide." The book's content is fairly standard introductory material for a course in informal logic, logical fallacies, and critical thinking, and there is no focus on arguments for or against the existence of God. There are four examples of such arguments in the book (pp. 97-100, 120-121, and 142). The first set of pages includes a circular argument for God's existence from the Bible's say-so and a refutation of the argument from design from David Hume, the second gives the example of an appeal to ignorance to argue for the existence of God from an inability to disprove God's existence, and the third is an example from Paul Tillich of arguing that your opponent really agrees with you, for example from the claim that a respect for logic is "a sign of ultimate concern and therefore a proof of God's existence." (Similar arguments are made regularly by presuppositionalists--that if you use logic you are presupposing the existence of God.) Note that three of these four arguments are deceptive arguments for the existence of God, not against, and the fourth is an example of a refutation of bad use of analogy to argue for the existence of God. There's nothing in Capaldi's book which even purports to teach atheists how to use deceptive arguments against theists.

Finally, Capaldi's book was not written with the intent to promote the use of deception. Rather, he wrote the book in a Machiavellian style in order to make it more entertaining. Capaldi's explicitly stated purpose is to enable the reader to recognize and not fall for deceptive arguments from others. He writes in his introduction (pp. 13-14):
... I have written this book from the point of view of one who wishes to deceive or mislead others. On the assumption that "it takes one to know one," I have found that people are able to detect the misuse or abuse of logic if they are themselves the masters of the art of deception. I ask the reader to contemplate the prospect of a world in which everyone knew, really knew, how to use and thereby detect the misuse of logic.

To exemplify this perspective, I wish to use an analogy with writings on politics. There are at least three great books which seek to describe political reality: Aristotle's Politics, Hobbes's Leviathan, and Machiavelli's The Prince. Aristotle fails because he is so dull that he is often not read, while Hobbes's perceptiveness is lost in the controversy over the theoretical context in which he embeds his insights. Machiavelli's vivid account is the most popular and the most effective. I believe that more readers have learned about politics from reading Machiavelli than anyone else precisely because Machiavelli's Prince is presented in a format of active manipulation rather than passive recognition. I hope that my presentation of informal logic will have the same kind of impact as Machiavelli.

I draw the conclusion from the facts of the matter that either Morey did not carefully read Capaldi's book, or he is himself being intentionally deceptive. I hope that Muehlenberg will allow the comment I've posted at his blog through moderation and refrain from further misrepresentation of Capaldi's book.

As a side note, one of the commenters on Muehlenberg's blog post is Creation Ministries International staffer Jonathon Sarfati, who writes:
It’s hardly surprising that antitheistic authors like Nicholas Capaldi published by antitheistic publishers like Prometheus Books should advocate deception. Under an atheistic world view, where we are just rearranged pond scum, there is nothing wrong with deception. It’s about time that Christians realized the implications of an atheistic evolutionary worldview and stopped being so trusting of evolutionary “science” that can provide no objective basis for the rightness of truthtelling.
Sarfati has also been deceived about Capaldi and his book, but goes on to engage in outrageous falsehood himself by claiming that it is an implication of "an atheistic worldview" that "there is nothing wrong with deception." This is a lie that Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis is also quite fond of repeating. Even most atheists who reject objective morality (which is not a logical consequence of atheism alone) would not agree that there is "nothing wrong" with deception, but I have never seen a young earth creationist actually engage with any writings or arguments defending nontheistic metaethics (which arguments may in many cases be authored by theistic philosophers). They write things like the above as propaganda against atheism, not as an expression of interest in truth.

UPDATE: I've just come across a review of Morey's book by Jon Nelson that shows that Morey has apparently fabricated quotes from Capaldi's book, as well:
After complaining that "some atheists deliberately use deception to refute theism" (pg. 87), Morey cites Nicholas Capaldi's book The Art of Deception as "proof" of atheistic deception. Morey quotes page 117 of Capaldi's book thusly: "Never admit defeat... ". The only problem is that Capaldi never says this (or anything like it) on this or on any other page. Morey has numerous other false quotes attributed to Capaldi, such as: "Refuse to be convinced. Even if you feel that he has a good argument and that your case is weaker, refuse to be convinced of your opponent's case". Nowhere does Capaldi advocate, as Morey accuses him of doing, that atheists should "use any invalid or deceptive argument as long as it helps him (to) win his case". Morey concludes this amazing series of lies and defamation of character by noting that his examples provide "a small sampling of the 'dirty tricks' methodology that seems to pervade modern atheism", and that, as a consequence, "my personal experience has proven this makes rational debate with an atheist very difficult".
I also note that the Wikipedia entry on Robert Morey states that Morey has claimed to be a reliable information source to the FBI and Naval Intelligence about Islamic terrorist activity inside the United States, that he gave a speech to a San Diego church stating that he had "advised the State Department to blow up the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina if they wanted to win the war on terror quickly," and that he's written an anti-Islam book published by Jack Chick. If these claims are correct, then I'd class Morey with Chuck Missler--a complete huckster who has no qualms about relying on bogus claims or fabricating them himself to promote his "ministry." My bullshit detector goes off when somebody claims to be an important intelligence source and have access to secret inside information--not to mention when they're published by Chick, who has repeatedly published fabricated works by frauds.

UPDATE 2: It looks like Morey has been involved in a religious schism between his church and another, and there are many websites on the Internet critical of Morey and his claims, in particular about Islam. Morey runs the California Biblical University and Seminary, an unaccredited school, which claims to be pursuing accreditation. Morey has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the unaccredited Louisiana Baptist University.

UPDATE 3 (June 25, 2007): My comments submitted to Bill Muehlenberg's site never got past moderation. Instead, he allowed through this correction from Jonathan Sarfati:

I’ve now been informed (by a fair-minded atheist who has taken fellow atheists to task for unfair attacks), then investigated further, that Morey doesn’t seem to have read Capaldi’s book or know much about his background. Checking on Amazon, its full title is The Art of Deception: An Introduction to Critical Thinking : How to : Win an Argument, Defend a Case, Recognize a Fallacy, See Through a Deception, Persuade a Skeptic, Turn Defeat into Victory. It appears to cover introductory logic, critical thinking, seeing through fallacies and contructing powerful arguments. The contents pages on the site and the reviews show that it’s not a how-to-defeat-Christians guide.

Also, Capaldi is Distinguished Scholar Chair in Business Ethics at Loyola University of New Orleans. So there is a good chance that he is a Catholic, rather than an antitheist. Publishing in an antitheistic press which has a virtual monopoly on the “Jesus never existed” nonsense is hardly encouraging, and this should send up red flags just as “Chick Publications” does for atheists (and informed Christians too). Nor is the fact that many Catholic universities are really CINO (Catholic In Name Only), e.g. teaching higher criticism and inviting pro-abortionist commencement speakers, and Loyola seems to fit the description. But it’s hardly plausible that they would appoint a high-profile atheist to be a chair, if that’s what Morey claims Capaldi is.

UPDATE (December 29, 2009): Looks like Morey's church shut down earlier this year amidst scandal.

1 comment:

AlisonM said...

Well, this makes sense. If your post had gone through, he'd look stupid and unreasonable. This way, he can put it in his own words and feign umbrage that he was deceived. *sigh*