Mischaracterization and Credibility

I firmly believe in the importance of being exposed to opposing viewpoints and putting the Socratic method to practice. This is one way to counteract complacency and dogmatism in our own personal thinking and consequently in society as a whole. For this reason I still read books and subscribe to blogs that reflect opinions and views that contradict my current beliefs. One of those happens to be the blog of one of my former professors at Taylor University, Jim Spiegel. Dr. Spiegel is a professor of philosophy who taught a number of my courses and served as my advisor for my senior thesis. He maintains a fairly fundamentalist view of the Christian faith, which I take issue with for various reasons.

He recently entered a post entitled “Theism, Atheism, and the Significance of our Lives,” in which he makes the assertion that religious believers’ lives hold more significance than atheists’ by virtue of a belief in an afterlife and that the impact of their deeds and actions will reverberate throughout eternity. He admits that he isn’t offering any argument for the truth or falsehood of either worldview, but rather is merely claiming that if theism is presupposed to be true, then the theist’s existence has infinitely more meaning than the atheist’s.

Aside from the fact that an argument can be made against his position from the standpoint of quality versus quantity, Spiegel makes a couple claims in his post that really shocked me coming from a trained scholar in the field of philosophy, which claims included the blatant mischaracterizations of the views of two famous atheists on the meaning of life (Bertrand Russell and Albert Camus). I attempted to point this out to Dr. Spiegel in my comment on his post. We’ll see if he responds.

Varying viewpoints, I believe, are a good thing so long as they promote civil discussion and debate, but part of civil discussion is avoiding mischaracterizations of opposing views. What Spiegel did in his post is only a microcosm of what seems to take place in every arena of life every day. It’s all too easy to misstate opposing viewpoints either out of laziness or utility (I’m not sure which is worse). If you’re going to assert what someone else believes, you’d better do your homework, otherwise you risk a serious compromise of personal credibility, in my opinion. This is a good lesson for us all, me included. Keep it real, folks!

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One comment on “Mischaracterization and Credibility

  1. JT
    May 2, 2010 at 8:14 pm #

    Simple yet brilliant post, Lou. Straw men are always the easy way out. You model what you’re calling for better than anyone else I know. There’s so much to be gained from engagement, but unless it is genuinely authentic engagement, it will most likely result in further isolation and ignorance. Such is sadly the legacy of most worldviews, whether theist or atheist. Let’s turn the tide and take a stand for authenticity. Risky?Sure. Scary? Absolutely. But the reward of knowing we truly own our beliefs as a result of the hard labor of engagement is the kind of liberation that empowers all of us to take satisfaction – even joy, in life we choose to lead. I look forward to a lifetime of honest dialog with you. Well done, my friend.

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