Randal Rouser, the Christian Theologian who is currently the Associate professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary, owes the popular atheist blogger, Mike D., of The A-Unicornist an apology.
Allow me to explain.
Randal Rouser has recently removed two blog posts that he had initially written in response to my brother-in-blog Mike D’s review of Rouser’s book on Heaven entitled: What on Earth do We Know About Heaven?
Mike considered the book a waste of time and money, but was considerate enough to write a lengthy review of it from the atheist perspective, raising some key objections to the book’s content, in a review posted on his blog The A-Unicornist called: “What on Earth do We Know About Heaven?” Pretty Much Nothing.
Rouser’s first article was a response to Mike’s review. Needless to say, Rouser took offense at something Mike had said in the initial review when he made mention that much of the book’s information seemed rather like B.S., or that Randal was perhaps guilty of “making shit up.”
Randal then proceeded to ignore the content of the review and screen-captures were exchanged, as Randal continued to focus on the perceived slight and began defensively arguing from a position of credentialed authority.
In fact, Randal went as far to write a follow-up post called “Arguing with the ignorant” in which he took to task the uncredentialed atheists he was arguing with–but namely Mike D.–who was lucky enough to be the focus of Randal’s ire, as he had seemingly ruffled Randal’s feathers more than anyone.
|Book in Question
When Mike commented that Randal hadn’t, in point of fact, addressed any of his comments or concerns about the book, and summarized Randal’s tactics to duck the issues raised by falling into esoteric epistemological conversations which have no bearing on the general criticism which Mike had initially offered, words were exchanged, and when Randal felt he had caught Mike mess up in a specific area related to his specialty (not Mike’s), Randal pulled out his credentials and wrote the following:
I adhere to externalism, moderate foundationalism, and proper functionalism combined with particularism (as opposed to epistemic methodism). A thorough understanding of those concepts will identify me on the epistemic landscape and provide you with the understanding you seek for what it means to be epistemically justified in accepting theological claims (or to know theological claims).
Right. Because if Mike had as thorough of an understanding of the concepts Randal mentions above, then Mike would be at least as well educated as Randal, and that would mean that Randal wouldn’t be able to use his credentials as leverage to claim that Mike was ignorant, as he did on multiple occasions.
Of course, this comment has since been deleted by Randal, along with the rest of the content, but those who were following the conversation, I can sincerely say, we were extremely shocked and let down by Randal’s passive aggressive behavior.
After all, how much of an ego trip do you have to be on so not only hold your credentials over the layman, but then call them ignorant for not specializing in a field of study that you yourself have spent decades studying in? Now, I’m not saying professionals shouldn’t be given the credit of doubt when talking with genuinely ignorant people, but Mike had taken the time to read Randal’s book and then give a thoughtful review of it. So he wasn’t ignorant where the content of the book was concerned. If Mike didn’t understand something about the book or its content, that’s on Randal, the author.
So Randal’s behavior was unbecoming, especially for someone who should have known better, as it was akin to an Olympic medal winning swimmer pushing a kid into the deep-end of the pool then mocking him because he couldn’t swim.
Mike took it more gracefully than Randal did, however, and wrote in response that:
The bluster here is rather pathetic. If one accepts all of Randal’s epistemological assumptions, then it may be the case that they have created a framework in which his beliefs about Heaven are acceptable. But they’re not inevitable. There’s nothing about Randal’s epistemology which inescapably leads to his conclusions. One could quite easily adopt all of the above epistemological assumptions and still form entirely different beliefs about Heaven. Randal hasn’t gotten out of the need to answer the above three questions in clear, concise terms.
So that is what came of my partial review of What on Earth Do We Know about Heaven? – a senseless diversion about epistemology followed by grandstanding over academic credentials….
What’s ironic about all this is that after my recent post confessing my exasperation with arguing with religious apologists, I thought I’d read Randal’s book anyway simply because he claimed the book answers four questions that I had long taken to be devastating problems for the Christian concept of Heaven. I thought it’d be interesting to hear someone tackle those questions head-on. I never imagined the whole thing would spiral out of control so quickly and dramatically, but it’s certainly hammered home my belief that reasoning with religious apologists is, pure and simple, a complete waste of time.
I’m not entirely sure if Randal took down the entirety of two posts because they made him look bad or because he didn’t like dealing with the amount of atheist criticism he was getting.
Regardless, I guess one negative review from a nonbeliever was just too much though, and Randal went off the deep end. In fact, after a series of exchanges with atheists and theists, it seemed that certain aspects of the conversation were beginning to make headway. I was beginning to understand the position of a couple of theists and was able to begin directing my comments toward their concerns instead of simply talking past one another. They seemed to make the same realization too, but just as the conversation started to look like a real conversation, suddenly everything disappeared.
Randal had this to say about the disappearance of not one, but two blog posts and related threads:
After much reflection I have decided to delete two posts from this past week, ”A most surprising exchange: The first atheist review of my new heaven book” and ”Arguing with the ignorant”. I regret the direction the conversation took in the articles and ensuing threaded discussions. It was not edifying or illuminating and generated more heat than light. Since this is my blog, I must own the lion’s share of the blame.
My apologies to those who value the comments they labored to type which they now find lost to posterity. But this strikes me as an important first step in cleaning house and setting the blog on a new road to being a positive forum for critical reflection and mutually enriching discussion.
Personally, I thought the comments were rather positive overall. The only criticism Randal couldn’t handle was that of his book. But the criticism was literary in nature, and not simply senseless ad hominems tossed out by angry village atheists, so it’s kind of strange to delete the conversation which came out of a genuine book review with the assumption that it wasn’t critical or mutually enriching.
One of the things I have learned as an author (myself) is that you won’t always receive positive reviews. There’s simply no satisfying everybody. But even your harshest critics might say something, or raise points, that are valid criticisms.
Even when one reviewer wrote that my book Bitten was “Total crap” and a “waste of money” I still found some valid pieces of criticism in his review. I now know that I need to research military jargon better to make my characters sound more realistic. As an author, I realize not all reviews will be happy, light hearted, praise. But I took what I could from the review and turned it into something positive.
What bothers me most about Randal’s above comments is that he makes reference to “cleaning house.” Why? Because some atheists happened to disagree with him on some things? Or does he simply view atheists as pieces of trash and wanted them gone?
He also says the posts generated more heat than light. Maybe this is true, but I was one of the commenters following the conversations, and one of the reasons there was heat is because the atheists weren’t backing down from their position (but neither were the theists–so fair enough). But here’s the thing to keep in mind, we had questions, the questions weren’t being answered, and all the theists simply retorted something along the lines of the following: It’s a position of faith, it’s a book about faith, you guys weren’t the intended audience. Move along. Move along.
Because, you know, atheists shouldn’t have opinions on things.
So much for enlightened discussion. But I think maybe it has more to do with the fact that Randal was fearful that we were winning the argument, as he clearly had no answers, and his defenses amounted to little more than sophistry. As Louis D. Brandeis once said:
Fear of serious injury alone cannot justify oppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.
It sounds to me more like Randal was deleting the atheist comments because he didn’t appreciate the amount of protest he was receiving, and then because he handled it so poorly (as documented on Mike’s blog) he wanted to cover his tracks after becoming disheveled and acting less professional than would be expected of someone with his qualifications. As I said, if you want to read remnants of the exchange to decide for yourself, Mike has supplied screen-caps of Randal’s actual comments–before he deleted them all.
All of this “cleaning house” reminds me of Hubert Hoover’s comment that dictator’s suppresses all speech but for their own. I’ve run into many blog-dictators (of all stripes) over the years. Some with comments policies egregiously long. Some with none. I’ve run into blog moderators who’ll block you out of a conversation if their subjective interpretation of your tone doesn’t agree with their subjective mood of that particular moment, and I’ve met blog moderators whose only rule is *be cordial. Many have used the excuse that their blog being a personal blog it is their personal turf, their bit of cyberspace, as if the were laying claim to some prime state realty. I often run across this claim that they can do what they want in their territory and censor and ban who they want from their land.
I’ve always found such an attitude insulting.
Free speech is a legal right afforded the individual. Nobody can grant it or take it away. As Thomas Sowell once mentioned:
Both free speech rights and property rights belong legally to the individuals but their real function is social, to benefit vast numbers of people who do not themselves exercise these rights.
I can’t help but feel it would have simply been better of Randal to leave the posts and comments threads up. As Anna Quindlen once quipped:
Ignorant free speech often works against the speaker. That is one of several reasons why it must be given rein instead of suppressed.
If Randal really did believe that his commentors were divulging into unlightened blather and where there couldn’t be any edifying conversation, then he probably should have let the posts stay up so as to let the atheists dig their hole even deeper allowing them to make themselves look bad–if that were the case.
However, I think Randal took down the posts because the opposite was true. The atheist commentors had declared war, and when victory was imminent, Randal used the same excuse all blog dictators use–it’s my blog–and I don’t like you, so shut up, and goodbye.
The thing is, in all of this hoopla, Mike D. was singled out as ignorant, was abused by Randal who ridiculed Mike’s ignorance for not being a knowledgeable as a PhD in the subject matter, even when Randal very well knew Mike was a layman offering a simple review.
For that bad form Randal owes Mike D. an apology.
As for my opinion of Randal Rouser, let’s just say it sank rather low after this display of unprofessionalism. If I was his employer, I’d think twice about keeping him on my payroll. Or at least, I’d have to recognize that in hiring such a person comes along with him a surprisingly massive ego that needs to feel constantly satiated by praise and recognition, otherwise, he will employ unfair tactics to get what he wants. That’s simply not the kind of person I would want working for me. But maybe Randal is good at hiding his more questionable quirks in person. Online, however, Randal makes it clear that he’ll put on an air of civility, but the next instant he’ll bad mouth you, call you names, and complain when he doesn’t get his way.