What a Nifty Idea – “Robert’s Rules of Theological Blog Debate”

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We, here at theophiliacs (a group of young upstarts that make frequent and protracted forays outside of our own areas of expertise), have kicked around the notion of posting a list of “comment rules.” Either because we are too damn lazy or because our detractors never stick around long enough for us to actualize the need for said rules, we have never posted anything of the sort.

I, gentle reader, have decided to do something about it – well, no, not really… what I have decided to do is lift a very clever post from Fr. Robert Hart over at The Continuum in it’s entirety. Hey! It’s Thanksgiving, be happy I am trolling the internets at all – and I quote from “Go West“:

No one should want to come across like the east end of a west bound horse. But it happens, and all too often it happens in debate. Even theological debate can lead to this when anyone fails to heed the maxim of our blog founder, Albion Land: “Robust if polite, discussion of matters theological and ecclesiological.” The problem with ignoring this rule, even more than that of causing offense, is the appearance of heading east while the horse goes west; or as a Pennsylvania Dutch farmer once observed: “Vy ist der more horse’s asses dann horses?”

Therefore, I want to present Robert’s Rules of theological blog debate for the benefit of young men who need to go west, provided that is where the horse is pointed. Breaking these rules causes one to lose points; not to lose them by any referees call, but in the eyes of onlookers.

Each of the following violations results in a loss of ten points.

1. No ad hominem attacks

Example:

Voice of Reason said:

I must disagree with Theocrat’s interpretation of the commandment. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” cannot possibly mean that we should not fry our food in anything but “pure unadulterated vegetable oil.”
2:41 AM

Theocrat said:

You are ugly and your mama dresses you funny.
2:42 AM

Notice, the response fails to actually answer the objection. Therefore, the ad hominem attack does nothing to argue one’s point.

2. No repetition of a disputed point without first answering the challenge.

Example:

Voice of Reason said:

I must disagree with Theocrat’s interpretation of the commandment. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” cannot possibly mean that we should not fry our food in anything but “pure unadulterated vegetable oil.”
2:41 AM

Theocrat said:

As I was saying, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” means that we should not fry our food in anything but pure unadulterated vegetable oil.
2:42 AM

The weakness of this approach is that it does not fool anybody. The challenge has been evaded, not refuted.

3. No Bulverism.

For the definition, I quote from “Bulverism” by C.S. Lewis, an essay in the collection entitled God in the Dock. 1

You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it “Bulverism”. Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father — who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than a third — “Oh you say that because you are a man.” “At that moment”, E. Bulver assures us, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.” That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.
Example:

Voice of Reason said:

I must disagree with Theocrat’s interpretation of the commandment. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” cannot possibly mean that we should not fry our food in anything but “pure unadulterated vegetable oil.”
2:41 AM

Theocrat said:

Well, that is exactly what we would expect to hear, coming from you.
2:42 AM

The weakness of this approach is explained in the quotation of C.S. Lewis, with this one additional observation of mine: Bulverism only works if those who observe the non-argument it produces happen to be outrageously stupid. Therefore, the loss of points may be doubled.

4. No attempt at diagnosis.

This breaks down into two kinds.

a) Psychological.

Example:

Voice of Reason said:

I must disagree with Theocrat’s interpretation of the commandment. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” cannot possibly mean that we should not fry our food in anything but “pure unadulterated vegetable oil.”
2:41 AM

Theocrat said:

Are you nuts?
2:42 AM

b) Spiritual (or moral)

Example:

Voice of Reason said:

I must disagree with Theocrat’s interpretation of the commandment. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” cannot possibly mean that we should not fry our food in anything but “pure unadulterated vegetable oil.”
2:41 AM

Theocrat said:

I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
2:42 AM

Like Bulverism and repetition, the attempt to diagnose is also an obvious evasion of the actual challenge posed by refutation.

In closing

You may have noticed that we see in these rules that points are taken away and none given. I may actually write Robert’s Rules for gaining points in theological blog debate, but only if I ever figure out how that can be acheived.

1. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, C. S. Lewis, Walter Hooper (Editor), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Reprint edition (October 1994; original copyright 1970 by the Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis).

And so, I offer you, Fr. Robert Hart a hearty congratulations on a wicked-clever list of rules by which we can all post.

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