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Drystone Wall

The fall of Conrad Black

Conrad Black wrote an entertaining commentary last week in The National Post titled, “The shabby, shallow world of the militant atheist.” You can imagine the reaction. So he’s back this week with, “A reply to my atheist critics — they protest too much.”

What I find most surprising is his arguments are chock-full of fallacies. I have no doubt that Black is a smart man, if somewhat pompous and didactic, which is why his latest missives take me by such surprise. I can see these fallacies, just off the top of my head: appeal to authority, appeal to consequences, appeal to the stone, appeal to widespread belief, argumentum ad hominem, fallacy of composition, judgmental language, suppressed evidence, unwarranted assumption … and no end of proof by verbosity. Indeed, from end to end Black seems to just hammer his message home, and if you take the entire message as a whole, it’s hard to argue. The problem is that if you think about each assertion he makes, they fall like a long line of dominoes.

I found myself writing a message to Mr. Black because his argument is such an utter mess. But then, I saw what could explain it all:

From: Rick Pali <rpali@alienshore.com>
To: cbletters@gmail.com
Subject: What?!
Date: March 28, 2015 at 8:29:27 PM EDT

Mr. Black,

You wrote: “The atheists’ domination of our centres of learning and information is a great vulnerability in the West: it creates acute resentment and dissent among the more religiously tolerant majority, separates learning and information from the greatest pillar of our civilization’s historic development, invites contempt from violently sectarian societies, especially Islamists, and is repugnant to the entire concept of freedom of thought and expression that our universities and free press are supposed to be defending.”

So among all of the religions, races, and nationalities in our multicultural society, atheism alone is such trouble? Even with this tolerant majority? If atheism is so wanting, as you put it, one must wonder what the religious majority is so resentful about. And feeling free not to believe in a supernatural being is repugnant to freedom of thought? Surely Mr. Black, you can do better than this.

I can’t help but believe you’re just having a lark and enjoying stirring the pot because the number of fallacies you’ve employed in your two articles is more surprising than your conclusion! I can see you winking at us, between the lines.

I expected no reply. Why would I? In his second piece, Black expressed his position clearly:

I have always believed that with religion, as with sex, people should inform themselves and decide their own preferences and precepts, be discreet about them, and respect the practices of others unless they are sociopathic or insane.

Given this thought, one would wonder why he wrote those two articles in The National Post. The only explanation I can see is that he’s trying to get a rise out of his readers.

Then I received his reply.

From: Conrad Black <cmb@blackam.net>
To: “rpali@alienshore.com” <rpali@alienshore.com>
Date: March 29, 2015 at 1:58:09 AM EDT
Subject: FW: What?!

What on earth are you babbling about? Give it a rest; you’re overwrought. CB

Well, he sent me a message, but there is no reply (at all). I wonder why he bothered. Either my conclusion is correct and he won’t admit it, or he simply has no reply because his argument is nothing but a lot of hand-waving.

I’m surprised Black got into this mess at all. One can’t prove the supernatural, yet he rushed in and tried. If he hadn’t replied to me, I would have been certain I knew his true motive. But given the reply, I can’t help but believe he’s lost his edge.

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3 Comments

  1. Dee

    That is astounding! The whole lot of it. The fact that Conrad Black is still treated like a credible source of opinion. All the fallacies you describe. Just a few examples from the quote you used:

    “atheists’ domination of our centres of learning and information” : Really, atheists have established such a majority? Or are dominating despite being a minority? This is a just a given that doesn’t need to be explained because we all know about atheist domination of “our centres of learning and information” (what does that even mean — universities and government?)

    Then, “the more religiously tolerant majority” is opposed to these dominant atheists because, of course, atheism means the same thing as intolerance for religion. Uh-huh. Those who don’t have a belief in God can’t be part of the religiously tolerant majority. In a Venne diagram of “atheists” and those who are “religiously tolerant” (i.e. tolerate the existence of religion) there would be no overlap between the two group, right? This doesn’t require evidence or anything. That’s just how it is.

    Etc. Like you said, it just goes on and on and on.

    Conrad Black churns my stomach.

    • Rick

      I knew I was going to write about his first commentary as soon as I read it, but something about it just didn’t sit right. I let it churn for days until I realized that it was his point of view. He didn’t mention that he’s a devout Catholic, nor that he was an atheist until he ‘found religion’ while he was in prison. His writing style is that of the disinterested viewer, going through the evidence.

      Of course, he cherry-picks the evidence to an astonishing degree, and belittles the non-religious while praising the religious as if it’s all so obvious. Perhaps this actually is his point of view, and if so, it must be a nice cozy place he’s constructed for himself.

      What really topped things off for me was his reply to my message. There was nothing there. He just had to have the last word. It fit nicely with the impression I got about him through his writing.

      • Dee

        No kidding. You could have pasted his response to you and sent it back to him as commentary on his article and it would have made way more sense than it did as a response to your comments.

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