Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Logic of a Mystic

I have, more than once, had the unmitigated pleasure of debating with a theistic mystic.  But what, I hear you ask is a “theistic mystic”?

Put it this way, if I were a theistic mystic, I would ask you what you thought a theistic mystic was.  Fortunately I am not a theistic mystic (TM).

What I mean by the term is a theist who tends to argue by putting out statements that appear deep and then when asked to clarify a term asks what the questioner thinks the term means.  If the person seeking clarification falls into the trap of presenting a definition of the term, the TM then says no, you clearly don’t comprehend and you need to do some more research.

The TM will usually then make a new statement related to either the original, still as yet unclarified statement or the attempted definition.  Sometimes, the TM will attack his/her opponent based on the attempted definition, as the opponent had made a statement of position rather than trying to get clarification.  This can, for the unwary, trigger a defensive reaction leading to an apparent defeat since few people can successfully defend a position that they don’t really hold (and the TM will claim that the opponent is retreating).

What a skilled TM will never, ever do is properly clarify.

neopolitan (in a discussion with someone else) – … the right thing to do really depends on the circumstances of the situation.

dyster (the theistic mystic, or TM) – So you are a moral relativist.

neo – Well it depends on what you mean by “a moral relativist” …

dyster – What do you think “a moral relativist” is?

neo – I’m guessing you mean someone who is not a moral absolutist.

dyster – Are you trying to tell me that you don’t believe in absolute morality?  What about rape, is that not always wrong?

neo – We-ell, rape is clearly not always wrong to the person perpetrating rape.

dyster – So rape is ok in your world, what about killing children or torturing puppies?

neo – I didn’t say that rape is right, I ...

dyster – Yes you did, you condoned it.

neo – No, no, I didn’t.  Look, you seem to say that there is an absolute morality.  On what do you base this absolute morality?

dyster – Logic.

neo – Logic?  But what are your premises?

dyster – Look … some things are true, ok, and some things are false.

neo – Ye-es, but what are your premises?

dyster – Are you now trying to say that nothing is true?

neo – What? No, I’m …

dyster – So some things are true, some things are wrong and some things are right.

neo – But if you are going to say some things are right and some things are wrong, you are going to have to have some basis on which you make the determination.

dyster – Aren’t you listening?  I just told you the basis, logic.

neo – You still haven’t given me any of your premises.

dyster – You clearly don’t understand logic, you need to go away and do some study.


This was pretty much how a real conversation went, although it was longer and a little more heated.

As you can (hopefully) see, the logic of a mystic is on a whole different level to that of an apologist.  You know what the TM is claiming, but it is never clearly articulated.  This may tempt you to try to short circuit it thus:


neo – Look, you are just saying that things are right or wrong based on what your God thinks about it.

dyster – What do you mean by God?

neo – It’s your God, not mine, you’d need to define it.

dyster – I didn’t bring God into the discussion, you did.  You need to define your terms.

neo – Hang on, you didn’t define your terms before.  What do you mean by a “moral relativist”?

dyster – Really?  You just want to run away from the discussion now and go back to an earlier point that we’ve already discussed at length?

neo – Alright, have it your way.  The God I think you mean is the omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent God one of the Bible.

dyster – Your dismissive tone just indicates that you need to go study some theology.  How can we have a profitable conversation if you don’t understand what you are talking about?

(neo ducks off to spend 4 years in seminary college)

neo – Right, here is the definition of the God that I think you meant ...

(neo downloads 4 years’ worth of theology)

dyster – Oh, that’s not the understanding of God that I have, you have to study more widely …

(Early the next morning, the mystical Mr dyster is found nailed to a tree with a little sign saying “Is this the sort of God you meant?”)


All you can really do with a TM is remain politely sceptical as long as humanly possible and be dogged in your demands for clarification and evidence.

Then, if the TM doesn’t crack, you buy a hammer.


  1. "you have to study more widely"

    that's just nonsense. I would say that is what this conversation is about. If you think I've misused something please feel free to enlighten me. Telling me I have it wrong but being unwilling to explain what is right is garbage.

    1. The most amazing thing is that the technique does actually work, at least with people who are less sure of themselves. I'm not sure that it works after the argument is over, but a few times I've heard people talk about this person as knowledgeable despite the fact that he never, ever shares any of the knowledge that he claims to have.

    2. Yeah, I think you are right on people not being sure of themselves. Also people who haven't come across anything like that before, part of the technique seems to be about speed. Quickly moving from topic to topic so they don't have the time to realize the trickery that is happening.


Feel free to comment, but play nicely!

Sadly, the unremitting attention of a spambot means you may have to verify your humanity.