Saturday, February 20, 2010

Shermer vs. Robertson on the radio (UK)

Oh joy! Another debate on whether secularism is the root of all social ills. If you want to read an upbeat review of this debate, please do click here. My assessment will not be nearly so flattering to either opponent as that one.

It would seem that Pastor David Robertson is not merely a Christian and a Scotsman, but a well and True Scotsman and an authentic True Christian (TM) to boot. He also seems more than happy to toss off the spurious claim that some people just don't fit the bill, and he'll give True Christians full credit for any and all instances of moral progress in Western culture, while disclaiming the role that devout Christians played in maintaining the subjugation of slaves, women, witches, apostates, and so on. Evidently, Christianity gets the credit for everything good, while the nasty secularists get credit for everything else. Such a transparently biased rewriting of history should not go unchallenged, but it would seem that skeptical champion Michael Shermer was having an off day.

Shermer weakly contests Robertson's skewing of history, fact, and logic. He never once calls him out on the True Scotsman fallacy, nor does he do a fine job of unpacking the negative correlation between religious faith and positive social outcomes even though the only significant peer-reviewed cross-national study was favorably reported in his own magazine. Even a cursory review of the data reveals this correlation between lesser social outcomes and higher levels of faith, so one really has to wonder why Shermer fails to hammer this point home. He alludes to it only once and then fails to stem the massive tide of bullshit that Robertson brings on regarding the indisputable facts on the ground in most secular nations in Europe.

Moreover, Shermer stays relentlessly on the defensive, painstakingly explaining his own position (which he does fairly well) but never pointing out the glaring holes in his Robertson's worldview. Next time, he should ask Robertson a few pointed questions of his own. I'd be happy to suggest a few. Here's one: Has any study ever found a positive correlation between religious faith and moral behavior, at any level of social organization, among similarly situated nations or societies?

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