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Discussion 2 to Meditation 872
Passion, Misinformation, and Agendas

by: JT (John Tyrrell)

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I'm going to start this response to Jon Smith's message with a caveat: I do not know with sufficient certainty that the writer is indeed named Jon Smith, and I have a slightly lower degree of certainty that it is the Jonathan C. Smith who motivated my writing of Meditation 872. Now this isn't a case of either Smiths' "the jury is out" - I simply do have not enough information to refer the decision to a jury, nor do I care to put the effort into seeking the information. Let us rather leave open to Jonathan C. Smith the option of "plausible deniability," depending upon what Jon Smith's unclear message actually means. I must also consider it possible that I am being punked with the aim of provoking an intemperate reply[1].

Let me start with a charitable interpretation of

I indeed embrace the "jury of straw men," frequently and with shameless passion. I offer a perspective that my students have found quite useful.

I note with considerable satisfaction that the writer has essentially used my term "jury of strawmen" and not Jonathan C. Smith's "the jury is out." This suggests to me that the writer is telling us that he been deliberately presenting in class an idea that he knows is a strawman argument with the purpose of provoking discussion leading to an awareness of the strawman fallacy. I would hope that they also arrive at an awareness of the true meanings of agnosticism and atheism. If that is the case, then the writer is to be highly commended for this approach to teaching.

However, in no way does this justify using "the jury is out" in the Skeptical Inquirer article discussed in Meditation 872 where it amounted to nothing more than an unwarranted, unprovoked, and dishonest attack on agnosticism. This is not addressed at all in Smith's reply.

So, if we accept Jon Smith's words as written by him and understood by me, we end up with a contradiction - what he apparently claims to be teaching in class vs. the clear and unequivocal words in Skeptical Inquirer - a contradiction which I suggest is highly unlikely to be resolved through the suggested Pastafarian Quatrains[2].

Given that contradiction, I will consider a less charitable interpretation. The writer made an error. My phrase"jury of strawmen" was stuck in his mind, but he actually intended to write Jonathan C. Smith's original "the jury is out." This assumption leads me to consider the writer intended to write:

I indeed embrace "the jury is out," frequently and with shameless passion. I offer a perspective that my students have found quite useful.

I admit this requires an assumption, but with that assumption, the contradiction disappears. We are just left with the writer holding fast to an untenable position and proudly teaching it to his students who end up with an invalid lesson.

I must say that I indeed embrace "the jury is out," frequently and with shameless passion. reminds me of positions taken by so many others. For example:

It is all misinformation promoted with shameless passion for the sole purpose of advancing a one-sided agenda. Just like "The jury is out" is misinformation about what agnosticism is all about presented with shameless passion with the sole purpose of advancing some kind of atheist agenda.[3]

As I've written more than once recently, I do not see much value in fighting the atheism vs. agnosticism issue, unless it is to defend agnosticism against unwarranted attacks from the atheist camp. "The jury is out" is a misrepresentation worth fighting about. Suppose instead of my current live-and-let-live attitude, I were to argue like Jonathan C. Smith - or similar to what I think Jon Smith may have intended in his message. Well, then I would note that from the earliest time that atheist entered the English language, one of its definitions has been non-Christian, which meant the word atheist included the possibility of any other religious belief. And so, over the years the word has been used at times to mean an atheist is a follower of the devil, or even a Satanist. Some Christians today still claim atheists follow the devil or are practicing Satanists. So as that definition is still in use, I would be as warranted in attacking atheists as devil worshippers as Smith is attacking agnostics for "the jury is out."

Obviously that would be silly. Satanism is not the same as atheism, regardless of what definition some Christians assign to atheism. For me to make such an argument based on such a claim would be to knowingly misrepresent what atheism is all about and would show a lack of personal integrity.

Agnosticism is not the same as "the jury is out." Anyone who equates the two is misrepresenting agnosticism. The reader can decide what it says about integrity, particularly if that misrepresentation is made frequently and with shameless passion by a professor in front of a class.

But, as I said at the beginning, I don't know that Jon Smith is the same person as Jonathan C. Smith. I don't know what Jon Smith really meant in his message - either interpretation I give it opens it to criticism[4]. It certainly failed to address the points made in Meditation 872. Of course I could attempt to clarify those two issues of identity and of meaning, but I'm afraid the answers might end up further lowering my opinion of the author of a book on critical thinking.

And isn't critical thinking what this is all about? We on the non-belief side, regardless of what label we choose for ourselves, pride ourselves on using logic and reason. It's extremely disappointing when critical thinking goes missing while making a baseless and pointless attack on fellow non-believers. Such attacks cannot be jokingly brushed off with a reference to Pastafarianism.



  1. It would not be the first time, but as regular readers know, it's not necessary to punk me to get me to write hotheadedly.
  2. GOD SPEAKS The Pastafarian Quatrains By Jon Smith (It is, as Jon Smith writes, currently a free download from this page.
  3. If it is not obvious, it is the the so-called shameless passion that really rankles me.
  4. Of course it is possible I have totally misinterpreted Jon Smith's message with both the interpretations I came up with. Alternate viewpoints are always welcome for publication.