On Association Fallacies

On multiple previous occasions, the well-know academic and biblical scholar, Dr Robert M Price, has been a guest on The Freethought Prophet podcast. Most recently, we interviewed Dr Price on  the scriptural and religious influences that are observable within prominent comic book characters and storylines. Anyone like myself, who has seen most of the big-budget Hollywood productions of this genre, but not read the original source material as extensively as Robert Price, will surely have found this interview fascinating. The inspiration that the authors clearly took from religious sources and the resulting scriptural symbolism within the associated movies, was very thoughtfully articulated by Robert Price.


Dr Robert M Price (not Luke Skywalker)
Dr Robert M Price (not Luke Skywalker)


During this interview, we also touched on the recent appearance by Robert Price on the Dogma Debate podcast, hosted by David Smalley. As we discussed with Robert Price, The Freethought Prophet has great respect for both him and David Smalley, so we suspected that we weren’t the only listeners disappointed to hear so much acrimony during their debate. Like any other broad group of people, it is inevitable that secularists will disagree on many issues, with the current election campaign in the USA being the Dogma Debate topic on which differing views emerged. I think it is always worthwhile within such discussions, to keep in mind that there are many subjects on which two entirely reasonable people can hold directly opposing views.


David Smalley
David Smalley


The narrow issue that The Freethought Prophet discussed with Robert Price on our podcast, related to the frequent observation within our discourse that conservatives are more inclined to reject objective evidence, whereas liberals are more likely to favour of scientifically informed positions. I happen to think that this is premise does not serve any debate well. We discussed with Robert Price the view that liberals are just as susceptible as conservatives to confirmation bias and other forms of motivated-reasoning, which lacks objectivity.


Are liberals less susceptible to biases?
Are liberals less susceptible to biases?


For example, it is of course perfectly fine for David Smalley or anyone else to disagree with Robert Price on who the best candidate for POTUS is. In fact, it was clear that during The Freethought Prophet interview, both questioners also disagreed with Robert Price on this point. However, there are many issues on which the Democratic candidate in the election, can be open to valid criticism. It would not be difficult to combine a list of such issues in order to present anyone associated with the Clinton campaign, as someone who is unable to evaluate such objective evidence. Of course, this would not help the debate on any particular social issue, as arguments do not become more or less compelling simply because of the political affiliations of the person making them.

As the Dogma Debate interview with Robert Price terminated very abruptly, many listeners may have formed a view that such an association fallacy provided the context for the rancorous tone of the discussion. That is, rather than evaluating individual arguments on their merits, positions may have been dismissed purely because they were associated with a Republican or a conservative perspective. It is difficult to find any political candidate who has never made a statement that is factually wrong and Donald Trump is most certainly no exception to that. However, a position does not become incorrect or untrue merely because Donald Trump holds it.

David Smalley is an intelligent man who understands this and I believe that he has no desire to be unfair to anyone, let alone a distinguished author like Robert Price. The Freethought Prophet understands that following the interview published on Dogma Debate, there was a follow-up discussion during which David Smalley apologised to Robert Price. This reflects very well on David Smalley and I’m sure that Robert Price appreciated it also.

However, it appears that the follow-up discussion (including the apology) is only available to paying Dogma Debate subscribers. This is of course entirely legitimate. Hosting a podcast is not free and someone has to pay for the associated costs. It is possible though that many listeners to The Freethought Prophet will have investigated this issue, only to find the initial antagonistic exchange but not the follow-up apology. This would be unfair to both David Smalley and Robert Price, such that we are happy to clarify this point here for our listeners.

John Hamill

National Committee, Atheist Ireland

Secretary, Atheist Alliance International

One thought on “On Association Fallacies

  1. Disappointed in the way David has dealt with the entire matter. In fairness, I have not heard the followup discussion or his apology. I would have thought David having made the controversy available to the public would have also made the apology freely available as well. You were kind in your narrative about the issue.

    I may or may not agree with Bob on any particular issue. The piously condescending tone that David took was hard to listen to. Many of the things Bob brought up are worthy of contemplation. When your co-host starts laughing at your responses to a guest maybe its a warning sign. Sadly Bob hung up instead of attacking David on his own show.

    Integrity still means something. Show the controversy in a public forum but require payment if you want to hear the apology. I have been Atheist longer than David has been alive and have watched remarkable things happen in the last 15 years in particular. I am also watching the growing pains of the movement unfold. More Atheists than most are aware do not agree with the political agenda of the liberal.

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