The Free Exchange in the Marketplace of Ideas

by Max Andrews

The English poet John Milton did well when he said that “Truth will rise to the top through a free and open exchange in the marketplace of ideas.”  I am so encouraged when I have and see a substantive dialogue with someone concerning an issue.  This is certainly important in every day discussions, blogs, and teaching.  I assist in managing and teaching an Intro. to Philosophy course at university and I always encourage my students to make us work hard to convince them of what we believe to be true.  Do not simply sit there and take what I say and teach prima facie–challenge me, challenge the thoughts, challenge your thinking.

"An Open Exchange of Ideas," Intaglio, 2009. Ed. 7.

This marketplace is critically important in scholarship.  I appreciate scholarly societies and journals like the Evangelical Philosophical Society and The Society of Christian Philosophers who have atheists participate in the discussions like Graham Oppy and Sean Carroll.  Peer-review is critically important.  I appreciate the role of referees and reviewers in this process by offering their criticisms.

My concern is the upsetting trend of rejecting this free exchange in the marketplace.  I recent wrote a blog post, Dawkins and PZ Myers on William Lane Craig–That’s It? and New Atheism’s Cancer and Eventual Cause of Death: Monologue, where I criticized Richard Dawkinss and PZ Myers’ refusal to dialogue with [arguably] the world’s leading Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig.  Dawkins and Myers are two major leaders in the new atheist movement yet all they want to do is monologue.  Unfortunately, this is going on in the Christian sphere as well.  I recently publicly criticized Al Mohler and Norm Geisler for their unwarranted attacks on Mike Licona for dissenting from a popular interpretation of a Matthean passage (See My Support and Endorsement of Mike Licona).

We need to put our views in empirical harms way.  It is virtuous to be intellectually open minded and, I believe, we have a moral obligation to follow the evidence.  We should encourage dialogues, especially with the best persons of the other position for the best dialogue available.  We should allow scholarship to play its role in researching opposing views and and in keeping our own views accountable.  We need to have a reasonable allowance for dissenting views.  There is a way to respectfully disagree and argue against another position.  Calvinists and Arminians may respectfully disagree.  Molinists may disagree with the other camps along with open theism.  Allow Darwinists a seat at the table and conversely allow design and agency proponents to defend their case.  It’s hard for me to say, but we should even allow young earth creationists a seat at  the table and hear them as well (phew, that was difficult for me!).

We need to have substantive dialogue and allow reasonable room for dissent.  There is no room for monologue in a genuine pursuit for the truth.  We need to have our beliefs be accounted for by others.  We need to have a desire for the truth and not be so dogmatic that what we currently believe is all there is.  In the words of Augustine, we must “hear the other side.”


5 Comments to “The Free Exchange in the Marketplace of Ideas”

  1. William Lane Craig, channelling the late Osama bin Laden, has gone public with a claim that murder is morally obligatory if his god commands it, and it is not even murder if the killing is because a god commands it.

    If only Osama were alive today to see how his ideas have caught on among Christians.

    Of course, Dawkins made sure that Craig’s views were exposed to the free market place of ideas by putting them in a national newspaper.

    Craig though , seems to operate on the idea that there is no such thing as bad publicity. If a newspaper prints a story of him defending genocide, it gets him in the headlines, which is what he wants.

    Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder.

    The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.

    On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command.

  2. I appreciate you taking on this issue on, Max, and hope to hear more on it. This is a serious problem.

  3. @Steven Carr
    There’s a huge difference between WLC and OBL. WLC isn’t advocating murder or genocide as a contemporary practice and neither of any of his followers. Try as you might to distort the true meaning of the Bible, it just doesn’t teach us to behave the way you and Dawkins claim it does.

    Like it or not, God (not man) is sovereign over life and death. Same would go for the goddess of naturalism, “mother nature” who would “murder” every living thing without an inkling of hope, restoration, justice or mercy. God provides all of the latter in spades

    If Richard Dawkins has a problem with that he should face William Lane Craig in a format where the ideas of both men can have a fair exchange of point–counterpoint. Dawkins’ excuse for declining is pathetic and the ad hominem treatment of Craig from Dawkins and his “amen chorus” is beneath dignity.

    Props to the men who did go toe-to-toe with him in respectful discussion. Dawkins should join them. Even I think he is a better man than represented by his handling of this matter.

  4. Several mentions in this post are refreshing, even encouraging: truth will rise to the top; ideas can be judged empirically; follow the evidence; expect accountability; and respect dissent. The core message, however, is but one more installment of the recurrent pine for Richard Dawkins to debate William Lane Craig. Despite Dawkins repeatedly declining the opportunity, this does not stop the badgering.

    Apparently, this author finds insufficient promoting a point of view solely by writing dozens of books and giving thousands of speeches. This is deemed monologuing, a term notably reserved for theater (not scholasticism). This may be fitting since the yearned for debate is likely more for theater than scholasticism. Regardless, we can readily see history to be replete with authors successfully publishing their ideas in carefully considered papers and surviving subsequent written rebuttal.

    Enough material easily exists on both Dawkins and Craig to draft their debate in abstentia. The debate would not resolve differences in their world views. It could only result in simultaneous monologue: two well articulated points of view aired once again; two ships passing in the night without any real possibility of engaging one another. Their very epistemologies leave them occupying altogether separate realms.

    Dawkins is a naturalist. He is content, as the opening dedication to The God Delusion notes, to see the beautiful garden without looking for fairies. He would applaud empirical adjudication and following an evidential trail. He would only wish Craig to share those notions in the observable, natural world.

    Craig, however, is busy chasing fairies. He badly wants to reason his creator into existence by First Cause, a subject and train of thought older than Aristotle. Dawkins, of course, finds that position hopelessly unproductive, even eventually destructive. He discusses the non sequitur briefly in Chapter 3 (as argued by Aquinas). He rejects the idea that God is immune from cosmological regress. The line of thought cannot be confirmed by observation or evidence in the natural world. Thus, Milton’s truth did not rise to the top with Aristotle or Aquinas. It cannot with Craig. Rehashing this old ground is not Dawkins’ idea of a suitable way to spend even one evening. Rather, the idea of it surely makes his skin crawl and he has no time for it. That Craig’s fairy-seeking, faith-sharing fans do not understand as much is a pox on their existential home, not Dawkins’.

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