Ibrahim on rhetoric and sophistry vs. reason
Ibrahim Lawson says here (scroll to end) that, in defending Islam,
“The ‘reasoning’ I would use might resemble appeal to evidence and argument but would not be functioning as such, having been uprooted from its empiricist context, so to speak. It would resemble more a rhetorical form of argument or sophistry, which has got itself a bad name in the western tradition. But let’s not forget, the purpose of having an argument is to win; it’s only you rationalists who insist on the use of reason exclusively, and, like good catholics, have declared all other forms of argument heretical.
So I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere while the criticism of religious belief is that there is no evidence to justify it and that it is therefore indistinguishable from any arbitrary belief you can invent or indeed, schizophrenia…”
STEPHEN RESPONDS: I agree with anticant – “the purpose of an argument is to win” is a quite extraordinary thing to say (note the “the“). A central point of a rational argument is to reveal what is true (indeed, a nice feature of cogent deductive and inductive reasoning is, if you feed true premises in, you will get, or are likely to get, true conclusions out).
Mere rhetorical ploys and sophistry aim to convince irrespective of truth. That is why they are rightly viewed with suspicion. They don’t provide a different sort of “evidence”. They don’t provide evidence at all.
Indeed, once you’ve said all that matters is winning (convincing your opponent), hey, why not just go straight for indoctrination, brainwashing – indeed, anything that convinces!
Oh, I forgot – you do.
As you said on Radio 4:
IL: [t]he essential purpose of the Islamia school as with all Islamic schools is to inculcate profound religious belief in the children.
ER: You use the word “inculcate”: does that mean you are in the business of indoctrination?
IL: I would say so, yes; I mean we are quite unashamed about that really…
(Ok sorry, that was a bit cruel, Ibrahim, but still, can you understand my horror at your remark?)
I think we might here have got to the nub of something.
POST SCRIPT FRI 15TH FEB: Incidentally, this earlier post explains the same point I make here more fully. Ibrahim, I would certainly be interested in your response to this part:
There are, correspondingly, two ways in which we might seek to induce belief in someone. We might attempt to make a rational case, try to persuade them by means of evidence and cogent argument. Or we might take the purely causal route and try to hypnotize or brainwash them or apply peer pressure, etc. instead.
What’s interesting about these two ways of getting someone to believe something is that generally, only one is truth-sensitive. The attractive thing about appealing to someone’s power of reason is that it strongly favours beliefs that are true. Cogent argument doesn’t easily lend itself to inducing false beliefs. Try, for example, to construct a strong, well-reasoned case capable of withstanding critical scrutiny for believing that the Antarctic is populated by crab-people or that the Earth’s core is made of cheese. You’re not going to find it easy.
On the other hand, hypnotism, brainwashing, and peer pressure can just as easily be used to induce the belief that Paris is the capital is the capital of Germany as they can that Paris is the capital of France.
Sound reasoning and critical thought tend to act as a filter on false beliefs. Admittedly, this filter is not one hundred percent reliable – false beliefs will inevitably get through. But it does tend to allow into a person’s mind only those beliefs that have at least a fairly good chance of being correct.
Indeed, unlike the purely causal techniques of inducing belief, the use of reason is a double-edged sword. It cuts both ways. It doesn’t automatically favour the “teacher’s” beliefs over the “pupil’s”. It favours the truth, and so places the teacher and the pupil on a level playing field. If, as a teacher, you try to use reason to persuade, you may discover that your pupil can show that you are the one, not the pupil, who is mistaken. That is a risk some “educators” are not prepared to take.
[Some “post-moderns” insist, of course, that “reason” is just a term used to dignify what is, in reality, merely another purely causal mechanism for influencing belief, alongside brainwashing and indoctrination. Reason is no more sensitive to the “truth” than these other mechanisms, for of course there is no “truth”.]