Monday, 18 January 2016

Pimping the Well

The recent comments by Scott Church and Anonymous on "poisoning the well" may reveal an interesting strategy on their part, one that I call "pimping the well".

Their argument is that some people, such as myself, employ a strategy in which the intentions of their opponents are maligned rather than addressing their arguments.  An inherent assumption here is that such efforts will work (or would work if there wasn't a shrill chorus of "poisoning the well" accusations).  This might be the case if the arguments did not stand by themselves and they absolutely needed some authority on the part of the person making the argument.

Scott Church was quick to point out the credentials of Luke Barnes and even went so far as to say that Barnes' "home page (linked from this blog) lists his CV, his research, his popular and refereed publications … everything one needs to vet his claims".  This, I think, is a clear case of "pimping the well".  Look how well (ha ha) credentialed this person is, his arguments must therefore be true.

That's not how it works.  Barnes' arguments would be correct if they are correct, even if he were a complete nobody with no history.   And they'll be incorrect, if they are incorrect, despite having ticked all the boxes.


While I am at it, I would like to point out another little peculiarity.  Scott first, but then Anonymous, wanted to paint me as guilty of poisoning the well.  Anonymous even wants me to "to withdraw the objections rather than keep defending the indefensible".

It seems to have escaped their notice that, at least in recent times, I have posted two different comments on Barnes' blog: one addressing his paper with Geraint Lewis (reproduced with links intact here) and another addressing his diproton disaster.  These are quite different comments.

The former, which I wrote first but which appeared on his blog later, attacks his stance as a cloaked theist in general and his association with the Templeton Foundation specifically.  I made absolutely no comment on the content of the document that he was referring to, the paper co-authored with Geraint Lewis.  I have no idea what arguments they have deployed, so how could I?

In the latter, I made comments about the arguments in his diproton disaster paper, but I made no comment whatsoever about his theism.

The accusation of "poisoning the well" only stands if you read these comments together and ignore the fact that they are completely different comments addressing different issues, written at different times.  Effectively, what these people (Scott Church and his anonymous admirer) are implying is that since I have questioned Barnes' impartiality in a comment (and a number of my own blog posts), then any comments I make about his arguments, no matter how hygienically (ie without making any attempt to poison the well in my comments on his arguments by acknowledging his theism, be it cloaked or otherwise), then I have fallaciously poisoned my own well, making my objections invalid.  In other words, they are saying it's a fallacy when they (erroneously) claim that I have committed it, but it's not a fallacy when they imply that I am the victim of it (apparently as an "own goal").

One has to admire the chutzpah of these people.  I'd be ashamed to be involved in such duplicity, but they have an extraordinary level of self-confidence and self-righteousness that the rest of us can only aspire to.  And their efforts to be cast in the role of victim are worthy of an Oscar.


  1. My comment here was deleted without explanation.

    Could the blogger here please explain why? Just curious.

    1. I thought you deleted it. I got an email announcing a comment, then I spent some time thinking about it, drafting a response in my head, but when I sat down to write it, I was disappointed to find the comment wasn't there.

      I can't reinstate it, but I do have the text of it if you want it send me an email and I'll send it to you.

    2. Here's a copy.

      I am the anonymous who reviewed and confirmed that this author resorted to fallacies in the previous blog post.

      Since I am partially the subject of the author's blog post here, let me lay out for the reader the context of this discussion.

      Everything starts with an innocuous Barnes blog post, where, in the comment section, a seemingly animated commenter going by 'neopolitan sokare', and later 'n30p0litan' investigates Barnes' background, and upon finding him supported by a Templeton grant, becomes agitated by it.

      The unfortunate odor of atheist fundamentalism becomes pronounced at that point. This type of atheist, as you know, is deeply angered by and prejudiced against academic work that might possibly be construed as sympathetic to theism, and 'Templeton' is one of their dog whistles.

      The more moderate atheists among us have no problem with Templeton because Templeton provides valuable support to a diverse set of initiatives and does a good job of affording research independence.

      So how does n30's hostility come to bear at this point? He demands that Barnes explain himself for accepting Templeton support given his neutrality on the question of the theological value of fine tuning.

      To n30 and fundamentalists like him, you're not allowed to take Templeton support if you are neutral on the theological question. That's forbidden. To do so, in his own words, is to "act from a covert position as a theist with apologetic leanings". Thus n30 demands Barnes state his public commitment to the fundie line, and promise he's not "one of them".

      It's easy to see how atheist fundamentalism poisons academia with such overbearing and paranoid Orwellian demands and pressures to commit to their ideology, which is where I repudiate this kind of extremism. It hurts academia, is totally unnecessary, and ends up making atheists look like lunatics!

      But the real issue here is the well-poisoning charge. Why do I think n30 is well-poisoning? Because of n30's absurd Templeton rage.

      I don't think taking Templeton money on its own says anything about your allegiance to theism or atheism, nor is it, on its own, a mark against your scholarship. Plenty of atheists I know have taken Templeton money. None of them have seen or spoken of undue influence or produced compromised scholarship.

      As I've pointed out, only fundamentalist atheists have this problem. Given the paucity of evidence for it, the only basis for arguing such a point is on faith (of a slightly unusual sort, given the atheism of its proponents).

      I stand by the view that charging that someone's work is tainted on the basis of their funding or personal views alone, with no further evidence or engagement with their claims is well-poisoning.

      Stop embarrassing the rest of us with this silly ghostbusters witchhunt. Let us, both atheists and theists, get to work in peace.

    3. Yep, that's pretty much it, although I note that you corrected a typo.

      Apparently blogspot considers you to be a spammer and has shunted your posts into the spam folder. This is probably because you are anonymous. Since I too have problems with continued interaction with you using the moniker "Anonymous", I am going to call you Charlie.

      I'll respond to your comment separately.

    4. Response is here -


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