But if you believe a particular scholar is a sophist, restrict yourself to analyzing the arguments and let the reader draw the conclusion about your interlocutor’s character. Otherwise you merely create another road block to other people hearing and processing your legitimate arguments. (emphasis and link added)
Well said, Randal.
I would add that Jesus has a relevant teaching here:
Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5)
(No – I’m not implying that Stark is hell-bound.) I take it that Jesus’s point is about contempt - a settled hatred of, despising of, another. Jesus’ teaching is to leave this behind, even leaving behind (as far as possible) garden-variety anger. These are his standards.
I’m also reminded of this teaching by James:
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3)
This whole attitude is wholly compatible with giving someone’s book or article a thorough refutation. And as Randal points out, a hefty dose of contempt will render your arguments largely ineffective, at least, to the very people you might hope to convince (as opposed to your own cheering section).
Sure, it feels good – but sin almost always does… at first.
Finally, I think of the men who taught me in grad-school – mostly non-Christians, mostly not even theists. They would gladly refute their opponents, and most thoroughly, but would never willingly descend to public abuse. If we are Christians, can our stardards be lower than theirs?