Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Letter to Doug Groothuis

I occasionally visit the blog of Doug Groothuis, a Christian philosopher and intelligent design apologist. I find it a puzzle, because while many of his posts seem to be about the intellectual failings of others, he rarely bothers to provide a coherent argument himself. Instead, his blog seems to be a forum where he can enumerate his prejudices in one or two lines.

This is a typical example: Groothuis describes a presidential proclamation that "Nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers, a step-father, a grandfather, or caring guardian" as "against all reason". But he refuses to explain why, and he also refused to publish my comment pointing this out.

Like many Christian bloggers, Groothuis routinely censors comments. About half of the things I've submitted have been rejected, with no explanations.

So I was particularly amused to see this post, which expressed Groothuis' "despair" over the "dearth of discourse". Well, if you routinely censor comments, then of course there's going to be a dearth of discourse.

So I wrote to Groothuis, as follows:

Dear Prof. Groothuis:

I'm sending you this comment via e-mail because - ironically - you do not permit comments to your posting of July 11 about comments.

In that posting you express your despair over the "dearth of discourse". I think you're wrong, and here's why:

1. Blogs typically aren't viewed in the same way as academic articles or formal debates. They're typically more like a conversation in your home. In a conversation in your home, people don't expect every utterance to be a formal presentation, and they'd probably leave rather quickly if you insisted on it. If you want a more formal setting, there are lots of opportunities, such as academic journals.

2. I'm not sure you meant "dearth", because later you say "death". But assuming "dearth" is what you meant, I see no "dearth of discourse" in blogs. On the contrary, more people are discussing more ideas than ever before, because the opportunities for discussion are greater. Just look at a newspaper site like the the NYT: in print, the NYT publishes perhaps at most 15 letters from readers a day. But on their website a single article can, and often does, result in hundreds of reader comments.

3. Your implication that discourse is worse off now than in the past is - ironically - not supported by any evidence you have presented. I'd suggest reading /American Aurora/ to see that public discourse 200 years ago suffered from many of the same problems you have pointed out.

4. Your claim that "People do not study the art of argument or the forms of fallacies" is - ironically - unsupported by any actual data. Why not present some?

5. How is a posting where you say "This is a severe attack on freedom of religion and freedom of speech", but without giving any rationale for why you think so, contributing to "discourse"? Another example is "Against all Reason - Obama endorses homosexual parenting on Father's Day." You offer no explanation why you think this is "against all reason". What kind of "discourse" is that? If you don't have time to do so, that's understandable, but then you can scarcely rail against the dearth (or death) of discourse.

The other point I'd like to make is that it's a bit rich to decry the "dearth of discourse" on the one hand and randomly shut off comments on your posts and censor commenters. If you want people to read and react to your blog, then let them. I have, on several occasions, spent half an hour or more composing what I thought was a carefully-reasoned response to your blog, only to have it not appear because it apparently violated some internal rule of yours. This is not conducive to "discourse".

No response from him.


Ty said...

Of course there's been no reply. YOU ARE STIFLING HIS DISCOURSE!!!

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

I just bought a house in Uppsala, Sweden, where I am moving to since I got a chair in the math. dept. The house was owned by two ladies, married to one another, and who are both priests in profession.

I wonder what Doug Groothuis would think of that. He'd say: "it is against reason and against god" and leave it at that.

Anyway, don't bother him too much. He does seem to be against discourse as much as he is against intercourse. It's only fitting to his religious dogma.

Norm Olsen said...

What he really means is "where are all my sycophants!?"

Doug Groothuis said...

I don't publish rude and uncivil comments. That is my policy. Arguments given with respect are published.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I don't publish rude and uncivil comments. That is my policy. Arguments given with respect are published.

That's a falsehood. Many of your posts don't permit any comments at all. And you refused to post comments that were completely respectful.

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

"I don't publish rude and uncivil comments."

One can then extrapolate, from this statement--assuming it is valid, that Groothuis's blog attracts a large number of rude and uncivil comments (which never see the light because they are not published).

One the wonders why it is the case that his blog attracts such rude comments.

Anonymous said...

Though I've since stopped for a long time now, I too have left some comments on his blog in the past that I put nearly an hour of my time carefully writing, only to find that they've been denied outright.

Of course, since I find most of Doug's assertions to be vacuous politicking under an enormously inflated guise of Christian righteousness and purity, my comments have rarely been in alignment with his, and I've almost always presented arguments contrary. Yes, Doug is very heavy-handed and censorious with his blog, permitting flippant "dittohead" comments--often exhibiting rudeness and/or hostility towards whatever target Doug chose that day (Obama, etc.)--while censoring comments (with footnotes and citations, dammit!) exhibiting a calmness and attention to argument otherwise nearly extinct in the blogosphere.

Of course I know that he does receive inexcusably rude and uncivil comments (what blog doesn't?), but Doug also seems to often interpret "rude and uncivil" as equivalent to "disagreeing with me."

"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted." - Ralph W. Emerson (Nov. 8, 1838)

I immediately thought of Doug Groothius when I saw post #158 at the Stuff Christian Culture Likes blog: "Censoring the Comments"



Jeffrey Shallit said...


One more thing: when a professor at another university writes to you, it's considered polite to respond personally and promptly.

Anonymous said...

Is a seminary a university? (Do they have the freedom to think and criticise). In that case I don't think he is obliged to follow your rule, Jeffrey.

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Anonymous, you are quite right:

A seminary, theological college, or divinity school is an institution of higher education for educating students (sometimes called seminarians) in theology, generally to prepare them for ordination as clergy or for other ministry. [Source: Wikipedia]

Therefore, seminaries, being primarily religious, have staff who are not used to rational arguments. Rather, it is dogmatic concepts they abide to, and, for instance, their right to self-righteousness is taken for granted.

Sirfab said...

Dear Professor Shallit:

I, too have had the great fortune, along with many others, of being banned from Douglas Groothuis's The Constructive Curmudgeon. I say great fortune because I used to spend a lot of time pointing out the illogical, biased, mean-spirited nature of many of Groothuis's posts against a variety of targets (mostly Democrats, mainly President Obama).

The Constructive Curmudgeon is Douglas Groothuis's blog, which apparently--in his mind--entitles him to smear those whose policies and ideas he finds objectionable, particularly if the rebuttals involve pointing out to him that his positions lack basis in fact, are unsupported by any credible research, and clash with his rigid ideological positions.

Suffice it to say that Groothuis hailed Sarah Palin as the great hope of the nation against O (not Oprah, Obama, as Groothuis disrespectfully referred to the President), that he is a staunch supporter of the Discovery Institute and that he has extolled Ben Stein's Expelled! as a clear example of the persecution against proponents of ID (which Groothuis considers a scientific theory), and that he rallied his students to vote for President Bush against Sen. Kerry during his classes (barely falling short of naming names.)

As I said, my life has greatly improved since I stopped worrying about sending him comments that he routinely suppressed and I hope you will do the same.

The guy wants to be treated with respect, while offering none to those who object to his harsh characterizations of people and policies he not only objects to but openly despises.



Jeffrey Shallit said...


I'm not in the least worried - I just find his hypocrisy amusing and wanted to have it for the record.