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← Trying to coin a catchphrase: "The Obi-Wan dodge"

Trying to coin a catchphrase: "The Obi-Wan dodge" - Comments

phodopus's Avatar Comment 1 by phodopus

This isn't the catchphrase you're looking for.

Thu, 15 Jul 2010 06:52:58 UTC | #488833

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 2 by Jos Gibbons

I have a bad feeling about this

Nah, just kidding. But it felt like a funny Star Wars quotation here.

I think this phrase is aa good idea, though for all I know there's an even better cultural reference out there. The Obi-Wan one is quite good because it's easily the most questionable thing Kenobi does in all 6 films, but it does require people to have been paying very close attention therein. For all the people who have seen those films, ignorance about them abounds, such as thinking episode V featured this:

Luke: You killed my father! Vader: No, Luke; I am your father!

Whereas what actually happened was this:

Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father. Luke: He told me enough. He told me you killed him. Vader: No, Luke; I am your father!

Incidentally, here's an anti-creationist video which uses that scene:

Thu, 15 Jul 2010 07:40:08 UTC | #488847

phodopus's Avatar Comment 3 by phodopus

Then there is the remote and unlikely possibility that George Lucas made the plot up as he went along ;)

Updated: Thu, 15 Jul 2010 08:09:46 UTC | #488858

besleybean's Avatar Comment 4 by besleybean


Updated: Thu, 15 Jul 2010 08:53:16 UTC | #488867

njwong's Avatar Comment 5 by njwong

Comment 3 by phodopus

Then there is the remote and unlikely possibility that George Lucas made the plot up as he went along ;)

There is actually a fascinating write up about this in the Wikipedia entry:


Anyway, retroactive changing of background story lines is notorious among authors. Comics books are the worse, where "origin" stories are altered again and again with each "reboot".

Even Arthur C Clarke did this in his novels "2001" and "2010". In "2001", the planet was Saturn. In the sequel "2010", the planet had become Jupiter!

I just found a Wikipedia article on the topic of Retroactive Continuity:

Thu, 15 Jul 2010 11:02:22 UTC | #488892

rsharvey's Avatar Comment 6 by rsharvey

I like it! That is a trick for which there isn't really a name (as far as I know). Its a little like a logical fallacy, except its more dishonest than that. The closest I can think of is 'moving the goalposts' but its too general..

It could certainly be effective as short-hand and an injoke. I suspect the explanation required would make it unlikely to be picked up in broader culture though, if that is your hope.

Thu, 15 Jul 2010 11:35:19 UTC | #488903

phodopus's Avatar Comment 7 by phodopus

Clinton pulled off quite an Obi Wan when he told the press that he has never smoked pot :)

Updated: Thu, 15 Jul 2010 12:00:42 UTC | #488914

rsharvey's Avatar Comment 8 by rsharvey

Comment 7 by phodopus :

Clinton pulled off quite an Obi Wan when he told the press that he has never smoked pot :)

And an even better one when he said "it depends on what your definition of 'is' is"

He had serious balls..

Thu, 15 Jul 2010 12:04:42 UTC | #488915

phodopus's Avatar Comment 9 by phodopus

Oh their god, he really said that?

Thu, 15 Jul 2010 12:09:36 UTC | #488917

HaveANiceCupOfTea's Avatar Comment 10 by HaveANiceCupOfTea

This sounds similar to what Madsen Pirie calls the 'definitional retreat' in his book 'How To Win Every Argument'. I've googled the term and I can't find it on the net but in his book - which is about the use and abuse of logic to win arguments - he says of the definitional retreat:

"A definitional retreat takes place when someone changes the meaning of the words in order to deal with an objection raised against the original wording. By changing the meaning, he turns it into a different statement".

He goes on...

"The fallacy in a definitional retreat lies in its surreptitious substitution of one concept for another, under the guise of explaining what the words really mean."

For example..."When I said that I hadn't been drinking, officer, I mean that I hadn't had more that I get through in a normal social evening".

Pirie goes on...

"The definitional retreat allows someone beaten in an argument to save face by claiming that he was really putting forward a totally different view".

The definitional retreat is explained on page 46 of his book just in case you want a quick look at it in a bookstore.

Now I'm not saying that this fits perfectly but it seems to me to at least be along the same lines as your Obi-Wan Dodge. And even if this is the same thing respect is still due to you for identifying it yourself and for coming up with a better name for it!

Thu, 15 Jul 2010 13:01:28 UTC | #488934

Rob Schneider's Avatar Comment 11 by Rob Schneider

It's "equivocation" of a broad sort. Instead of using a single word in different ways to imply different meaning, the perpetrator repurposes entire phrases.

Tangent: What the HELL is going on with the text preview on this site? As I type, the preview is typing my words... about 15 seconds late. Then I hit submit and it takes MINUTES for the preview to catch up and actually post? WTF??

Thu, 15 Jul 2010 15:16:01 UTC | #488975

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 12 by Steven Mading

Comment 10 by HaveANiceCupOfTea :

"The definitional retreat allows someone beaten in an argument to save face by claiming that he was really putting forward a totally different view".

The worst thing about it is that the Obi-Wan Dodge isn't merely used to hide blame and save face. If that's all it did I might not be so incensed over its use. What's really frustrating about it is that it does more than just hiding blame - It actually goes so far as to reflect that blame back onto the other person and make the other person look like the bad guy. Effectively it disguises your own moving-the-goalposts fallacy inside an accusation that your opponent was doing a strawman fallacy.

One of the biggest offenders in this is Karen Armstrong. She's really big into using the Obi-Wan Dodge to retroactively change the claims religions have made (into more mild claims), and then blaming those who argue against those claims as having a deficiency in communication and not understanding what the religions said.

Thu, 15 Jul 2010 19:29:31 UTC | #489072

rsharvey's Avatar Comment 13 by rsharvey

Comment 9 by phodopus :

Oh their god, he really said that?

Yeah. Pretty hilarious..

He was being questioned regarding whether he had lied when he said he was not having a relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and he pulled the obi wan defense. His claim was "oh I thought you meant 'are we having sex right now'". Haha :D

Thu, 15 Jul 2010 21:12:33 UTC | #489100

JJFinch's Avatar Comment 14 by JJFinch

I think that's a really good idea for a catch-phrase (although I have to admit, I've never seen Star Really. I haven't.)

I have to admit though, I think I've been guilty of using the Obi-Wan dodge on occasion, but I have been fully aware of the fact that I was wriggling when I was using it. :)

But definitely, it's a favourite of theologians.

Thu, 15 Jul 2010 21:47:00 UTC | #489114

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 15 by Steven Mading

Comment Removed by Author

Thu, 15 Jul 2010 21:53:59 UTC | #489117

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 16 by Steven Mading

I should point out, given some of the examples I've seen people use here, that when I thought of the term "Obi-Wan Dodge" I meant it to be a term used exclusively for one specific type of retroactive change of meaning - the type where you retroactively switch from a literal to a metaphorical context. The example with Clinton arguing over whether or not "Are you doing X" allows for an answer in the negative when the truth is that you used to do X and aren't doing X anymore is, if anything, the direct opposite of an Obi-Wan Dodge because it involves pretending his statement was more literal than intended.

The Obi-Wan dodge is not just for any sort of retroactive change of meaning. It's specifically for the case where you're caught out for making a false claim and go, "oh - well in that case let me see if I can trick people into thinking my literal statement was actually metaphorical." In the scene in question, Obi-Wan tried pretending he meant that Vader only metaphorically killed Luke's father, when clearly that's not how he said it the first time. And notice how he tried to pull off sounding all wise and deep about it - as if it was Luke's fault for stupidly jumping to the wrong conclusion by assuming falsely it was a literal statement the first time. Obi-Wan was behaving exactly like Karen Armstrong in that scene.

(Oh, and by the way, it actually was the case that Obi-Wan meant it literally the first time - George Lucas changed his mind about Vader's origin which is why this happened in the script between the two movies.)

Thu, 15 Jul 2010 23:02:26 UTC | #489128

blitz442's Avatar Comment 17 by blitz442

Steve, your catch-phrase is clever and the general discussion is very good. This manuever from the religious is foundational to moderate and liberal denominations and it can be very difficult to illustrate to people just how specious it is. A nice piece of shorthand will certainly help.

One point though. Some might take issue with this: "The Obi-Wan Dodge consists of this retroactive re-writing of the intent of a previous statement to pretend that the statement was originally spoken in a context that was meant to be understood by the audience as nonliteral, when if you look at the original statement, there is no such context at all in the original statement."

Some might question how you are so sure that the original intent was literal just by looking at it ("How do you know that the Bible "literally" commanded stoning as punishment for a promiscuous woman?"). The intent of the writer might only be something that can be divined by a combination of rigorous theological study and inscrutable direction from faith. Or, we as atheists have no basis for telling the religious what their holy books are trying to say, or what is the more correct or better interpretation.

Bullshit to that. The literal meaning is often quite obvious, as you say just by reading the damn context. You can also look at how the religous have historically intepreted the verses; if the interpretation at some point changes from literal to metaphorical, is there a good reason for this? Was the original interpretation wrong? Finally, for many passages that have recently become metaphorical or symbolic, what could those metaphors or symbols possibly be? Did God metaphorically flood the Earth and wipe out almost all life? Did the Hebrews symbolically exterminate the Caananites?

Fri, 16 Jul 2010 00:58:05 UTC | #489144

besleybean's Avatar Comment 18 by besleybean

Yes. Or tho I'd like to think they intergrated.

Fri, 16 Jul 2010 07:30:46 UTC | #489195

HaveANiceCupOfTea's Avatar Comment 19 by HaveANiceCupOfTea

So, I’m thinking now that the Obi-Wan is in fact a definitional retreat with a twist and a cherry on top. The twist being that the retreat is specifically from the literal to the metaphorical and the cherry on top is that you get the blame for not knowing that the text was supposed to taken metaphorically in the first place.

Is that broadly correct?

If so it does indeed allow somebody to change what was meant or said and to blame the misunderstanding on the other person. This could happen genuinely though couldn’t it, it is possible that somebody really does just misunderstand what was originally meant.

If I am on the right lines then it seems to me that the Obi-Wan is an amalgamation of several fallacies into one: the definitional retreat, shifting the goalposts, apriorism and wishful thinking.

I say apriorism because if you accept that the word of the Bible is the truth then you have to interpret contradictory facts in light of that ‘truth’ and find some way to make what is written fit with what is known, rather than accepting the possibility that what is written could just be wrong. And one way of doing that is to decide that what is written is not meant to be taken literally.

It’s a great cop-out because switching from the literal to the metaphorical allows each individual to bring their own interpretation to the text which means that the text of the Bible no longer needs to be true ‘overall’, it just needs to be true for those who wish to believe in it with their own interpretation ala the Ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi “So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view”.

Also, I wonder if there is a form of special pleading going on here too. Would they accept Richard Dawkins or anybody else pulling the same trick? If it was discovered and accepted that the Cambrian Explosion actually happened 50,000 years ago, would they be ok with Dawkins explaining:

'when I wrote that the Cambrian Explosion happened around 500 million years ago, I was using the term 500 million years as a figure of speech to mean 'a long time ago' and not literally to mean 500 million human years, and let’s be honest 50,000 years is 'a long time ago' isn’t it, so what I said is true - from that point of view - and I can’t help it if you didn’t realise how I was using the term 500 million years ago’.

Am I on the right lines here Steve?

Updated: Fri, 16 Jul 2010 11:13:43 UTC | #489225

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 20 by Steven Mading

Comment 19 by HaveANiceCupOfTea :

Am I on the right lines here Steve?

Yes - that's the Obi-Wan dodge.

Fri, 16 Jul 2010 12:47:37 UTC | #489243

Mathias Pius's Avatar Comment 21 by Mathias Pius

I love it. I absolutely love it :)

Fri, 16 Jul 2010 19:24:58 UTC | #489315

NH King's Avatar Comment 22 by NH King

This is probably lost beneath some other great comments above, but I'm on the "agree" side. I like it, and will probably use it. I think it's great for not just religious apologists, but a host of other skeptical concerns.

(the following is to be added if this catch phrase fails and makes everybody look stupid)

What I meant was I agree that Obi-Wan was lying, and that religious people shouldn't lie because it concerns some people. So I was right about the catch phrase, from a certain point of view.

Sat, 17 Jul 2010 02:21:27 UTC | #489410

Beeblebear's Avatar Comment 23 by Beeblebear

Ha Ha. I love this site!

What more proof do you you need in order to see that religions are simply (very un-comical) comic book stories that have been through the hands of many writers over many years, with the back-stories or even origin story being tweaked or re-written to fit the new writer's perspective? I've seen this happen many times in Batman, for example. It's no coincidence that comic fans talk about cannon and non-cannon story elements.

So, is that what these apologists are?


And we're supposed to be geeks?

Sun, 18 Jul 2010 14:17:42 UTC | #489897

Beeblebear's Avatar Comment 24 by Beeblebear

By the way, for any of you who don't already own it, 'The Book of Genesis' illustrated by R.Crumb is well worth getting, as it doesn't deviate from cannon once.

Updated: Sun, 18 Jul 2010 14:30:33 UTC | #489899

Beeblebear's Avatar Comment 25 by Beeblebear

Sorry, having just looked at it again, it just seems to be a compilation of competing and self-contradictory origin stories.

Searching for the true origins is a pretty tough gig. I might just give up. It seems hard to distinguish between fact, fiction, kooky ideas and delusion.

Sun, 18 Jul 2010 15:19:33 UTC | #489910