Sunday, September 30, 2007

Was I a "Troll" and Did I Merely Critique Deconversions During My Three-Month Stay at the Debunking Christianity Blog?

Man, I never thought intelligent atheists would be so desperate that they would have to resort to fictional, revisionist historical accounts of my past behavior in lieu of rational responses to my critiques. I expect this behavior from fringe anti-Catholic Protestants, but atheists?! Yet that is exactly what happened recently. Dave Van Allen decided to attack me personally rather than deal sensibly with my critique of his deconversion story.

He claimed that I was merely "trolling" when I visited the popular skeptical site Debunking Christianity. For those who may not be familiar with this Internet lingo, a "troll" is one who has no intention in engaging in serious conversation, but only in stirring up trouble and controversy, getting a few shots in, and splitting. The Wikipedia article, "Troll" states:
Trolls can be existing members of a community that rarely post and often contribute no useful information to the thread, but instead make argumentative posts in an attempt to discredit another person, concentrating almost exclusively on facts irrelevant to the point of the conversation, with the intent of provoking a reaction from others. The key element under attack by a troll is known only to the troll.
A person who retaliates (using whatever means) as a result of a misunderstanding (or as a way of rebelling against the overzealous application of rules) is not a troll. A troll is a person who approaches a board with the specific intention of stirring things up, either as a goal in and of itself or as a means of attacking the board perhaps motivated by opposition to the ethos of the board. For example, a neo-Nazi approaching a Jewish forum with the intention of attacking the members, purely because the neo-Nazi knows the forum to contain Jewish members, will be considered a troll.
The general element, that determines whether a malicious user is a troll or not, is the level of indignant emotions present in the person, coupled with the person's history with the forum or group. An indignant user who has had a previous normal relationship with the group is not a troll, even if the user uses methods of attack that are characteristic of a troll attack.
Interestingly, by this criterion, Dave Van Allen was the "troll" in our recent brief exchange on his blog, at least insofar as he was "concentrating almost exclusively on facts irrelevant to the conversation topic itself, with the intent of provoking a reaction from others." In his hit piece post of 9-28-07, he was clearly intending to do exactly that, since he wrote about:
1) My supposed "trolling of two other sites (Debunking Christianity and Ed Babinski's website).

2) "what other Christians think of Dave A's theology": he provided links to six examples: all from anti-Catholics. But anti-Catholics, of course, are only a tiny fringe element of Protestantism, and we all know what they think of Catholicism, so their differing from me is only a big yawner; hardly any proof that I am some sort of kook or loose cannon (as Dave was trying to "prove").
The Wikipedia article goes on to make a point almost identical to what I have stated about my encounter on Dave Van Allen's skeptical forum:
The term troll is highly subjective. Some readers may characterize a post as trolling, while others may regard the same post as a legitimate contribution to the discussion, even if controversial. The term is often used to discredit an opposing position, or its proponent, by argument fallacy ad hominem.
Often, calling someone a troll makes assumptions about a writer's motives. . . .
The word troll is often and easily (mis)used as an ad hominem attack against someone whose viewpoints and input cannot otherwise be silenced (i.e., via banning). Its successful use and misuse reveals much about how starkly different the world of technicians is compared to normal social and political discourse.
The term troll should be used with attention since it is a very easy way of undermining an opposing point of view. Sometimes, overly using the word "troll" may constitute trolling in itself.
Established forum users might all agree on one side of a message as being the universal truth; in which case a "troll" might just be some outsider adding an opposing message.
In any event, I was not a troll at all in my visit to either atheist / skeptical / agnostic / former Christian site. John Loftus, blogmaster of Debunking Christianity, proposed a variation of this charge on my blog. He claimed:
Dave, isn't this getting old with you? You came to Debunking Christianity and did the same thing with us a while back. We wrote deconversion stories of why we left the Christian faith and you concluded in each case we left for less than the best of reasons...surprise!
And in another comment:
I just think you would do better to deal with our arguments, the kind that I linked to earlier, that’s all. . . . the reason you provoked my ire is that you came to DC and evaluated personal testimonies, not our arguments, and as I said these stories are personal.
Note that he contends that I haven't dealt with his arguments and those of others who frequent his blog, and that I critiqued deconversion stories instead of regular old arguments (deconversion stories being, you see, merely "personal" and "Atheism Lite"). But this is patently false, and I proved it by citing (in three posts: one / two / three) no less than 19 serious dialogues / debates that came about during my time at DC. I guess John couldn't handle being refuted with facts, and so, as usual, he decided to become personally hostile, rather than admit that he had presented a warped, revisionist history of events that occurred in the not-too-distant-past on his own blog.

Nor was I a regular commenter on John's blog for a short time, as is the usual procedure with trolls. Looking over the debates that came about during my stay, we find that I was there from (at the very least) 16 September 2006 to Christmas Day, or about three months and a week. Sorry, folks, that is not trolling: three months and 19 major debates with several of the paticipants there, and spread out over that whole time (Sep: 3 dialogues, Oct: 9, Nov: 4, Dec: 3)? And none of these were critiques of deconversions, which were additional papers.

Additionally, at least one prominent atheist regular contributor to the blog at the time wrote to me privately and told me that he felt I was being treated most unfairly by the moderator (which was indeed true). Rather, I was (as the Wikipedia article says) an "outsider adding an opposing message" (just as I was at ExChristian.Net in that other recent asinine thread and feeding frenzy). That message was apparently found difficult to rationally refute, and so I am now being smeared as a troll and/or someone who only had one unsavory purpose that precluded my seriously considering opposing arguments.

The truth of the matter is that I visited both places in search of cordial, confident, articulate atheists who would be willing and able to engage in dialogue with a Christian. As I wrote in a recent post:
I stayed and debated until replies to me simply descended into a flurry of insults. Since that is the death of discussion when it occurs, there was no reason to remain any longer.

There is trolling and there is also rudeness, flaming, feeding frenzies and the pack mentality on the part of the mass of people on any given group blog, when someone dares dissent from the party line.
I think those who are dialogue-challenged among my atheist friends will have to do a heck of a lot better than this utterly ridiculous, groundless charge to oppose my point of view. No one is fooled by this fathomless imbecility and shameless evasion tactic.

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