bookmark_borderDualism is Unhealthy

No, seriously. (LINK)
“The fact that the simple priming procedures used in the studies had an immediate impact on health-related attitudes and behavior suggests that these procedures may eventually have profound implications for real-life problems. Interventions that reduce dualistic beliefs through priming could be one way to help promote healthier — or less self-damaging — behaviors in at-risk populations.”

bookmark_borderDraft for comments please

Here’s a rough draft of half of a chapter I am contributing to an edited volume. Comments and feedback please.
 
Very best
Stephen
 
 

What are science and reason?

 

 

 

Humanists expound the virtues of science and reason. But what are science and reason? And we should we think it wise to rely on them?

 

 

 

By science, I shall mean that approach to finding out about reality based on the scientific method. This is a method that was fully developed only a few hundred years ago. Science, as I’ll use the term here, is a comparatively recent invention, its development owing a great deal to 16th and 17th Century thinkers such as the philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

 

  Continue reading “Draft for comments please”

bookmark_borderAtheistic Moral Realism – Part 2

I am going to engage in a bit of logic chopping now.  But for those who do not have an appreciation for logic chopping, do not despair;  my close examination of the bark on one tree will lead me to make some broader points that have significance for philosophy of religion, ethics, and serious thinking about God.  The broader points might even have some relevance to evaluation of William Craig’s argument from the Existence of Objective Moral Values (Let’s rearrange those words a bit: “Moral Objective Values Exist”; hence I will refer to this as Craig’s MOVE argument).
In Part 1 of this series,  I pointed out a couple of alternative ways of stating Craig’s MOVE argument.  One of the alternatives was a modus tollens argument:
1A. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
2A. It is NOT the case that objective moral values do not exist.
Therefore:
3A.  It is NOT the case that God does not exist.
It seems to me, that (3A) is ambiguous, at least when considered by itself, apart from this argument.  It could mean either of the following:
3A’. The sentence ‘God does not exist’ asserts a false statement.
3A”. The sentence ‘God does not exist’ does NOT assert a true statement.
Notice, however, that while (3A’) is incompatible with atheism, (3A”) is perfectly compatible with atheism.  A number of atheist philosophers in the 20th century argued that sentences like ‘God exists’ and ‘God does not exist’ only appear to assert statements that are true or false, but in fact do not assert statements at all, and so these sentences are neither true nor false.
The conclusion (3A”) is compatible with atheism of the sort I just described, because such atheists would gladly agree that the sentence ‘God does not exist’ does NOT assert a true statement, because it does NOT assert any statement at all, which is why, they would argue, we should all be atheists, why we should all reject the belief that ‘God exists’, as well as rejecting the belief that ‘God does not exist’.  Both beliefs should be rejected, not because they are false, but because they only appear to assert something about the world, they only appear to describe how things are, but in fact do not assert anything nor do they describe even a possible state of affairs.
So, if (3A) can reasonably be interpreted as asserting (3A”), then the conclusion of Craig’s argument does not rule out atheism, at least not atheism of the sort that was popular among philosophers in the 20th century.
I don’t know if this objection would hold up under close scrutiny, so I’m not going to insist on it.  Even if the objection works, Craig could discard this particular way of stating his MOVE argument and use one of the other ways of stating it.  That might be enough to avoid this objection.
There are at least three sorts of objections to the assumption that the sentence ‘God exists’ makes a coherent statement:

  • The sentence ‘God exists’ makes an incoherent statement, a statement that involves an internal logical contradiction, a self contradiction.
  • The divine attribute of ‘perfect goodness’ fails to describe an objective characteristic, thus making it logically impossible for anyone to be correctly and objectively identified as being ‘God’.
  • No evidence is relevant to confirming or disconfirming the truth of the sentence ‘God exists’, so this sentence does not actually assert a statement or description of how things are or might be.

In The Coherence of Theism, Richard Swinburne argues briefly against the Logical Positivist objection in the third bullet.  He spends much more time dealing with the problem of apparent logical  self-contradictions in the concept of ‘God’,  the objection in the first bullet.  In Chapter 11 he briefly makes a case for moral realism (or what he calls ‘moral objectivism’), a case which does not depend on either theism or atheism, and that case would take care of the second bullet.
Concerning the problem of apparent logical contradictions within the concept of ‘God’, Swinburne acknowledges that skeptics are correct about some of the contradictions that have been pointed out in the concept of ‘God’.  Swinburne gets around these correct objections by making modifications to some of the traditional divine attributes.
For example, Swinburne acknowledges that there is a contradiction between divine foreknowledge and human freedom.  But he points out a more important contradiction along the same lines between divine foreknowledge and divine freedom.  God, according to Swinburne’s analysis is perfectly free.  But if God knows everything that is going to happen in the future, then God knows everything that God will decide to do in the future, but then God would not be free to do anything else other than what he already knows he is going to do. Thus, God’s perfect freedom contradicts God’s unlimited knowledge or omniscience.
Swinburne gets around this problem by limiting the extent of God’s knowledge of the future.  God can know every little detail about the past and the present, but God does NOT have perfect and unlimited knowledge of the future, because God does not know with certainty today what God will himself decide to do tomorrow. In other words, God’s knowledge of the future is limited and constrained by God’s perfect freedom.
I think Swinburne was on the right track in trying to salvage the concept of ‘God’ from various apparent internal logical contradictions.  However, he did not go far enough, and thus left open various other potential logical contradictions.  It is very difficult if not impossible for a finite and imperfect human mind to anticipate all of the various complex logical relationships and interconnections between a set of several abstract concepts.  Swinburne is assuming that his careful examination of various historical objections to the concept of God would be sufficient to enable him to grasp all of the various possible logical implications and interactions between the several abstract concepts that constitute his definition or analysis of the concept of ‘God’.
The problem is, I believe, that when you add adjectives like “perfect” or “infinite” or “unlimited” to abstract characteristics like ‘knowledge’ or ‘power’ or ‘goodness’, the logical scope of those concepts is magnified tremendously.  In other words,  in pumping up these characteristics, one is bound to create logical contradictions between them.
Just as theists argue that there can only be ONE God, ONE supreme being, similarly there can only be ONE divine attribute that trumps all the other attributes.  If, for example, perfect freedom comes into conflict with perfect knowledge, then one of those attributes must be sacrificed for the other.  That is to say, one of the two conflicting attributes must be qualified or limited in relation to the other conflicting attribute.
Another similar philosophical problem occurs in the field of ethics. Mill’s Utilitarianism proposed a criterion for moral evaluation of actions.  An action was good or right if, in comparison with alternative actions, it would result in the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.   But this criterion is problematic, because it really contains two different criteria or values:  (1) the greatest happiness and (2) the greatest number.
But sometimes these two values or goals come into conflict with each other, and a hard choice must be made. Suppose you have to choose between one action A that would bring about a moderate amount of happiness for a large number of people and another action B that would bring about a large amount of happiness for a moderate number of people.  The principle of Utilitarianism does not help decide which of these two actions is best.  It fails to provide an answer because the two criteria in that principle point in opposite directions in this case.
In ethics, when you have multiple basic values or goals or criteria to use in evaluating the goodness or rightness of an action, the most reasonable strategy seems to be to give differnt weights or priorities to different values or goals.  In other words, when one needs to employ multiple values or criteria to make an evaluation, one should set up some sort of hierarchy of values/goals.  What is the most important value or objective?  What is the second most important value or goal?
Take for example, the following classic moral dilemma:  “If  you lived in Germany when Hitler was in power, and some Jews were hiding in your house, if a Nazi official came to your front door and asked you if you had seen any Jews in the neighborhood recently, should you lie to protect the lives of the Jews hiding in your house, or tell the truth which would almost certainly result in the Jews being taken to a concentration camp and murdered?”  Although some people think that it is always wrong to lie, most sane people recognize that in this situation the moral duty to tell the truth is outweighed by the duty to protect human lives.
Truth telling is not as important as life saving.  The above scenario is only a dilemma for stupid people who fail to recognize the obvious truth that moral principles and values can sometimes come into conflict, and thus that moral principles and values need to be arranged into a hierarchy so that we are not stuck without any guidance when two rules or two values do come into conflict.
It seems to me that if one is to have any realistic hope of constructing a concept of God that will not run into various internal logical contradictions,one must set up a hierarchy of divine attributes.  For Swinburne,  perfect freedom was more important, more basic to his concept of God than the divine attribute of omniscience. So, Swinburne allows the attribute of perfect freedom to limit the attribute of omniscience.  Setting up an overarching hierarchy of divine attributes seems to be the only possible way of making sure that one avoids internal logical contradictions or incohernce in the concept of ‘God’ and in the claim that ‘God exists’.
Only ONE divine attribute can be supreme. Only one divine attribute can be utterly and completely unlimited, and all the other attributes must be subject to limitation by that supreme attribute. Only ONE attribute can be second in importance, and all other attributes, besides the supreme attribute and the secondary attribute, would be subject to limitation in relation to those top two divine attributes, and so on.
TO BE CONTINUED

bookmark_borderAtheistic Moral Realism – Part 1

In his essay “Why I Believe God Exists”, William Craig gives three main reasons for believing in God (Why I am a Christian – hereafter: WIAC – edited by Norman Geisler and Paul Hoffman, Baker Books, 2001, p.62-80):

  • God makes sense of the origin of the universe (the Kalam Cosmological argument, p.62-68)
  • God makes sense of the complex order in the universe (the Fine Tuning argument, p.68-74).
  • God makes sense of objective moral values in the world (his argument from the Existence of Objective Moral Values, p. 74-80)

One problem with the Kalam cosmological argument is that it fails to establish the existence of a perfectly good person.  At best, the Kalam cosmological argument proves the existence of some sort of ultimate first cause in a causal chain that led to the formation of the universe.  But it is far from obvious that this first cause must be a perfectly good person.
The Fine Tuning argument, a modern version of the Argument from Design, suffers from the same problem.  Both the Cosmological argument and the Fine Tuning argument raise the problem of evil.  How can a perfectly good person be the first cause or the designer of a world that contains so much moral and natural evil?
It is essential that a case for God show the existence of a person who is perfectly good, not just the existence of an omnipotent or omniscient being.  Craig’s discussion about God as the source of moral values indicates why this point is crucial:
…by definition, God is a being who is worthy of worship.  When you think about what it means to worship someone, then it is evident that only a being who is the embodiment of all moral goodness is worthy to be worshiped. (WIAC, p.78)
If some very powerful and very knowledgable person is cruel, unjust, and blood-thirsty (like Jehovah, for example), then that being would NOT be worthy of worship, and thus could not possibly be God.  In fact, some very powerful and knowing person who is generally good but who sometimes does things that are selfish or morally wrong, would also be someone who was not worthy of worship.  So, any person who is to properly be called ‘God’ must be a perfectly good person.
The only argument here that has any hope of establishing the existence of a perfectly good person, is the argument from the Existence of Objective Moral Values.  So, that is the argument that I’m going to focus in on, analyze, and evaluate.
Craig states the argument very simply as something like a  modus tollens:
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values do exist.
Therefore:
3.  God exists.
It is not quite a modus tollens because the second premise and the conclusion of a modus tollens are negations:
IF P, THEN Q.
Not Q.
Therefore:
Not P.
But Craig’s argument can be re-stated as a modus tollens:
1A. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
2A. It is NOT the case that objective moral values do not exist.
Therefore:
3A.  It is NOT the case that God does not exist.
It seems a bit odd that Craig did not state his argument more straightforwardly as a modus ponens:
1B. If objective moral values do exist, then God exists.
2B. Objective moral values do exist.
Therefore:
3B.  God exists.
I’m not sure if this is significant, but we should keep these different ways of stating the argument in mind, in case there is some subtle difference between them that is significant.
TO BE CONTINUED…

bookmark_borderMaterialism and Beauty

In response to a post by Victor Reppert, I left the following comments on his blog.

Victor — I’m very late to this thread, but I hope you’ll respond to this comment.
I read the linked article. Maybe I misunderstood it, but it seems to me that even if everything that article said were correct, it wouldn’t follow that materialism cannot explain beauty. What that article talked about is one recent attempt by neuroscientists to offer a (neuro-)scientific explanation for beauty, an attempt which apparently didn’t work out very well. Have I missed something?
I don’t identify as a materialist because I understand materialism to be logically incompatible with abstract objects. Since I deny the existence of supernatural beings but allow for the existence of abstract objects, I identify as a metaphysical naturalist.
I’m aware that some philosophers (including Swinburne) have argued that beauty is evidence favoring theism over atheism (or naturalism). While I can usually understand why theists find various theistic arguments convincing, that’s not the case with the argument from beauty. I am baffled why anyone finds *that* theistic argument convincing.
In my experience, defenders of arguments from beauty usually (1) conflate the existence of beauty with the existence of observers who can appreciate beauty; and (2) assume without argument that the concept of “objective beauty” is coherent. I, for one, find the concept of “objective beauty” to be unintelligible. And if beauty is not objective, then beauty does not favor theism, since evolutionary naturalism can explain beauty, including non-utilitarian beauty, as well as theism. (As TaiChi has pointed out, not every inherited trait need be adaptive.) If, on the other hand, beauty is objective, then it’s far from clear why theism is a better explanation for non-utilitarian beauty than, say, neo-Platonism about beauty.

bookmark_borderSome Thoughts on Robert Gagnon’s “Secular Case against Cultural Endorsement of Homosexual Behavior”

I’ve often suspected that the only valid* reasons for opposing homosexual behavior were religious ones, so I was very interested to read Gagnon’s self-described “secular case.” I view it as a “good thing” that religious opponents even feel the need to offer a “secular case” because there was a time when a list of Bible verses probably would have been sufficient to settle the matter.

So what are his secular objections to homosexual behavior?

1) The nature argument. Marriage is not just about more intimacy. It is about merging with one’s sexual other half or counterpart, a complementary sexual other. Erotic desire for what one is as a sexual being is sexual narcissism or sexual self-deception: an attempt at completing oneself sexually through merger with a sexual same. Most people intuit something developmentally deficient about being erotically attracted to the body parts and essential gender that one shares in common with another.

1. This argument gets off to a bad start: “Marriage is not just about more intimacy. It is about merging with one’s sexual other half or counterpart, a complementary sexual other.” This is simply an expression of a priori bias against same-sex marriage: Gagnon rules out same-sex marriage as a matter of definition. But let that pass. Whether we call it same-sex “marriage” or “schmarriage,” what secular reason is there to believe that it needs to be about merging with one’s sexual other half or counterpart? So far as I can tell, Gagnon doesn’t provide one.

2. “Erotic desire for what one is as a sexual being is sexual narcissism or sexual self-deception: an attempt at completing oneself sexually through merger with a sexual same.” To call that “narcissism” seems like a stretch to me. It’s not as if homosexuals are trying to have sexual relations with their identical twins (who would have genitals identical to their own). As for “self-deception,” I’m aware that someone who believes Romans 1 to be the word of God may believe that homosexuals are self-deceived about their orientation. From a secular perspective, however, I don’t see any reason to think that self-deception is the best explanation. Rather, when someone professes to have a homosexual orientation, I think the best explanation, by default,  is that the person is truly sincere and not just superficially sincere (as the product of self-deception).

3. “Most people intuit something developmentally deficient about being erotically attracted to the body parts and essential gender that one shares in common with another.”

“Developmentally deficient”? That seems like a very odd description. It suggests that normal development includes going through a homosexual phase before arriving at a heterosexual one, which strikes me as implausible. I doubt even Gagnon believes that. In any case, I do not find any evidence or reasons in Gagnon’s article to think homosexuals are “developmentally deficient.”

 

Okay, I’ve lost interest in blogging a response to the rest of Gagnon’s case, at least for now. I welcome others to respond in the combox, however.

* By “valid*,” I mean reasons that would be objectively valid for religious believers, given their worldview.

bookmark_borderRobert M. Price on Westboro Atheists

For the April issue of Zarathustra Speaks, Robert M. Price has published a well-written essay describing what he calls “Westboro Atheists.” I agree with pretty much everything he writes, especially this:

This is why I cringe every time I hear about the latest attempts of the Freedom from Religion Foundation to scour every expression of faith from the public square.

He then goes on to write this:

Just today I dropped by Town Hall to pay my utility bill, under the wire, I might add, and I was disappointed to find the place closed in observance of Good Friday. But my instinct was not to get on the phone with the ACLU and to start legal proceedings. I believe that the FFRF and like-minded zealots are operating from a basic confusion. They see as a church-state issue what I believe is better understood as a culture-state issue. For local government to allow a manger scene on public property or to allow crosses to adorn veterans’ graves is in no way tantamount to a legal establishment of religion, though making churches tax-exempt probably is. Posting “Thou shalt have no other gods besides me” in public schools is.

That’s an interesting way of looking at things, which I hadn’t considered before. Of course, it’s possible that something can be both a church-state issue and a culture-state issue. In fact, it seems to me that that is the case. But there are church-state issues and then there are church-state issues. Do I think having God on U.S. coins is a church-state issues? Yes. Do I think it would be better if the coins dropped the reference to God? Yes. Do I think it’s a battle worth fighting? Not really; litigating God on coins strikes me as the church-state equivalent of a police officer giving out a speeding ticket to a driver for going 0.5 mph–half of one mph–over the posted speed limit. To put it bluntly, that strikes me as a bit anal retentive.

bookmark_borderBollocks Venn Diagram

Check this out:
https://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash3/555126_545134965509748_787704957_n.png
This is terrific! I note that Scientology lies in the intersection of all four categories of nonsense. I guess that means that it is the most irrational of all.

bookmark_borderSkeptical Atheism and the Fine-Tuning Argument?

The multiple universes objection is a common objection to fine-tuning arguments for God’s existence. Paul Draper once wrote an interesting essay comparing that objection to that argument to the same objection applied to arguments from evil. What I’ve often wondered is this: what if we tried to draw another parallel between fine-tuning arguments and arguments from evil, this time focusing on “skeptical theism”? In other words, I think it would be interesting to compare, on the one hand, skeptical theism as an objection to arguments from evil, to, on the other hand, skeptical atheism as an objection to fine-tuning arguments.
For example, here are three theses often associated with skeptical theism (ST):

S1 We have no good reason for thinking that the possible goods we know of are representative, relative to the property of figuring in a (potentially) God-justifying reason for permitting such things as hiddenness or horrors, of the possible goods there are.
S2 We have no good reason for thinking that the possible evils we know of are representative, relative to the property of figuring in a (potentially) God-justifying reason for permitting such things as hiddenness or horrors, of the possible evils there are.
S3 We have no good reason for thinking that the entailment relations we know of between possible goods and the permission of possible evils are representative, relative to the property of figuring in a (potentially) God-justifying reason for permitting such things as hiddenness or horrors, of the entailment relations there are between possible goods and the permission of possible evils.
Now consider the following parallel thesis of “skeptical atheism,” taken from a recent paper by J.L. Schellenberg:
S4 We have no good reason for thinking that the considerations opposing the epistemic force of religious experience we know of are representative, relative to the property of (potentially) figuring in an undefeatable defeater of religious experience as justification for theistic belief, of the considerations opposing the epistemic force of religious experience there are.
Schellenberg’s focus is on investigating “skeptical atheism’s” ability to undercut the epistemic force of religious experience. But we can try extending the scope of “skeptical atheism’s” reach by applying it to fine-tuning arguments:

S5 We have no good reason for thinking that our universe is the only universe.

S6 We have no good reason for thinking that the physical constants (free parameters) which make our universe life-permitting are anything but the chance outcome of unknown, physical processes operating at the level of the multiverse.
S7 We have no good reason for thinking that our present understanding of physical cosmology is mature or reliable enough to justify inferences regarding the (a)theological implications of physical cosmology.
Is the “skeptical atheism” objection to fine-arguments stronger than the “skeptical theism” objection to arguments from evil? Thoughts?

bookmark_borderA Taxonomy of Interlocutors

This post is mostly addressed to nontheists who engage in online debate with theists. If you discuss a topic as controversial as religion in a public forum, you will get challenged. The resulting debates are sometimes intellectually stimulating, instructive, and fruitful. Other times…not so much. Here at SO I recently engaged in two discussions on the problem of evil. One debate was engaging and edifying, the other a pointless waste of time. If you want to avoid useless debates it helps, early on, to identify what kind of interlocutor you are facing. Some kinds promise a fruitful debate, others just lost time. Therefore I offer the following taxonomy of interlocutors, a classification of potential debate opponents along with recommendations of whether to contend with them or not. I start with the worst and proceed upwards to the best. Please note that I name no names here. If someone thinks that I am talking about him it is probably because the shoe fits.
1) The Troll: Trolls are stupid or deranged and, while incapable of rational argument, they are full of foaming rage. One infamous Canadian troll used to threaten atheist bloggers regularly, but I think the Mounties finally got him. Trolls’ irrelevant, rambling, and sometimes threatening screeds serve only to remind us all of the importance of funding mental health services.
Recommendation: Do not respond in any way unless they threaten you, in which case you should report them to the authorities.
2) The Total Jerk: Unlike Trolls, Total Jerks are often highly intelligent and well informed, but their severe personality defects make it pointless to debate them. These guys have serious anger management issues, or maybe latent feelings of inferiority and insecurity for which they overcompensate by treating others with contempt. Their attitude is one of utter scorn towards anyone who has the temerity to disagree with them and they ladle vitriol over anyone, even a fellow Christian, who dares to gainsay them. If you try to engage in rational debate with a Total Jerk, he will ignore or distort your arguments, ridicule them, or dismiss them on irrelevant grounds. He is very free with the vituperation and name calling, and not at all above referring to debate opponents in derogatory terms. Ad hominem, straw man, and well-poisoning are his stock-in-trade. His own arguments are clever but shallow, generally amounting to little more than talking points and rhetoric. He really has no respect at all for the intellectual process of debate, because such respect requires a corresponding respect for your opponent and the recognition that he can be a reasonable and responsible inquirer though his conclusions are diametric to yours. For the Total Jerk the only purpose of debate is to humiliate and abuse an opponent. In some ways it is really a shame not to debate some Total Jerks, because, as I say, some are very smart and raise some interesting points. However, as Scott Adams advised in The Dilbert Principle, you should get rid of the assholes, even if they are smart and talented, because assholes are always a lot more trouble than they are worth.
Recommendation: Don’t debate. You may be tempted just so you can enjoy kicking their asses, but it would be like kicking a rock. They would never even recognize that they had been kicked.
3) The Sophomore: Though people can be sophomoric at any age, these are usually young. They have read a few books by C.S. Lewis and William Lane Craig and some posts by Ed Feser and they have had a course or two of philosophy. With such preparation they think that they are ready for the big time. They are generally pretty smart, though seldom as smart as they think they are. The biggest thing about them is attitude. Fully validating Francis Bacon’s observation that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and full of zeal to smite the infidel, they rush into combat against nonbelievers. With all the arrogant presumption of few years and little learning, their discourse is long on sarcasm, rudeness, and condescension and short on logic. Generally, they get knocked about rather badly by the much more knowledgeable and experienced debaters they encounter, and soon make their retreat. The really hard cases will stick around spitting invective for a while. These persons remind me of the story I heard about a bright young guy who figured out a “system” to beat the bank in Vegas. He went to the casino with his system, a bankroll, and an attitude. He emerged two hours later with just the attitude.
Recommendation: Don’t debate.
4) The Endless Looper: Some interlocutors also are quite often very smart and well informed, and, unlike the Total Jerks, they are, at least at superficial level, polite and friendly. The problem with these guys is that they hardly ever concede any point, however minor, arguing everything ad nauseam, and they absolutely must, must have the final word. If you reply a hundred times to them, expect them to give one hundred and one. The only alternative to conceding the final word to them is to engage in an endless loop of reply and counter-reply. Their chief rhetorical tool therefore is argument by sheer exhaustion. They not only must have the last word, each of their replies tends to go on at very inordinate length, getting longer and longer as you proceed. They never get tired. The impression you cannot help getting is that these guys have no other lives and do this full time. Those of us who have day jobs and other responsibilities (e.g. grading papers, faculty meetings, non-blog reading and writing) just can’t engage in an endless loop. After a while you will have to break off and get some real work done, and that concedes the final word to the Endless Looper, who treats your withdrawal as his victory.
Another problem with Endless Loopers is that if you really press them, their answers become increasingly obscure until they finally deteriorate into arcane theological gibberish. You really can’t debate gibberish. My favorite scene in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles is where one grizzled character stands up in the town meeting and launches into a furious and unintelligible tirade. Another character then stands up and asks “Now, who can argue with that?!?” Exactly. However, if you break off the debate because it has descended into gibberish, the Endless Looper will again have the last word and will use it to accuse you of failing to appreciate that his gobbledygook is really as profound as Gödel. I guess, exercising superhuman patience, you could give them the benefit of the doubt and work with them to see if you can extract any meaning or intelligible argument from the profusion of esoteric verbiage. However, for most of us life is just too short and you are almost certainly just pushing a Sisyphean rock up a hill anyway.
Recommendation: Debate only if you have far more patience than Job, a very high tolerance for extreme long-windedness, and you are retired or independently wealthy and have few other demands on your time. Being a masochist would also help.
5) The Rational Responder: Fortunately, not all who would engage you are crazy, obnoxious, or obsessed. The Rational Responders tend to be the smartest and the best educated and they know how to disagree, at times passionately, without denigrating an opponent. They are willing to make concessions when concessions are appropriate, and they know how to hold their own in a debate without resorting to obscurantist jargon. They respond at reasonable length and at times are willing to let you have the final word on a topic. They honestly believe in, and practice, the give-and-take of rational debate. In debating the Rational Responders you learn a lot. Almost certainly you will never see eye-to-eye on the really fundamental issues because your basic epistemological and metaphysical commitments are just too divergent. Yet you can come to agree on a lot. Also, you learn which elements of your own position are facile and superficial. Worthwhile debate does not have to end in agreement. It is worthwhile if you end up with a more intelligent and informed understanding of the nature of your disagreement.
Recommendation: Certainly, yes. Conversation with people like this is the whole point of debate.