What Christians keep telling me

I keep hearing over and over that I think all Christians and anyone else who disagrees with me is plainly stupid. Here are the stats:

In fact, this post from a recently-removed-from-my-blogroll-blog largely had me in mind, as I was told shortly after it was written. But this goes beyond me. Richard Dawkins and other Gnu Atheists get the same crap – so much so that Dawkins even penned a piece about the issue six years ago:

“It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” I first wrote that in a book review in the New York Times in 1989, and it has been much quoted against me ever since, as evidence of my arrogance and intolerance. Of course it sounds arrogant, but undisguised clarity is easily mistaken for arrogance. Examine the statement carefully and it turns out to be moderate, almost self-evidently true.

This is largely my position (including beyond the subject of evolution). I think Christian arguments are almost universally awful and I find most creationists to be ignorant, but that does not mean I think every person who holds a contradictory view to me is stupid. Sure, I’ve called people stupid. Sarah Palin comes to mind. Leading creationists who should know better, such as Ken Ham, are obviously lacking in intellect. I have no doubt Andreas Moritz is a dolt. But notice: I keep it specific. I’m not saying all Republicans are stupid because Sarah Palin is stupid. I’m not saying the creationist who hasn’t sat in a biology course since high school is a moron. I am not saying all alt-med quacks are idiots. If I wanted to say any of that, I would say it. I try to be exact in my language; it is unlikely I would ever make such an oversight in my writing.

I have no delusions about how I write. I’m aggressive and unapologetic. I have little patience for bad ideas that have little to no evidence for them. I often pepper my paragraphs with disparaging remarks about the quality of whatever argument it is I am facing. It has long been my view that undeserved respect is…well, undeserved. It would be dishonest of me to pretend I hold something in esteem when the fact is I think it’s just a steaming pile. However, none of this means I think others are morons by virtue of disagreeing with me. Such a conclusion is, I hate to say, just stupid.

One fact to refute creationism

Sometimes I pity the religious for not having a person as intelligent as Richard Dawkins on their side:

Dawkins, the Bible, and titles

Richard Dawkins was recently on a BBC radio affiliate where he cited a poll which showed that only 35% of British Christians could identify Matthew as the first book of the New Testament. From this (in part), he was making the point that people in his home country aren’t as religious as most people think. That’s a fine argument, but I will leave it for now. I want to focus on the response he got from another guest on the show, Giles Fraser, former canon chancellor of St. Paul’s in London. Fraser asked Dawkins to recite the full name of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Dawkins responded:

“‘On The Origin Of Species’ … Uh. With, Oh God. ‘On The Origin Of Species.’ There is a subtitle with respect to the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”

That’s pretty close. The actual title is “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”, which is more than a mouthful. But it wouldn’t matter if Dawkins couldn’t get past the first part of the title everyone knows. The poll he was citing in regards to Christians asked them a simple factoid, a mere piece of trivia. One would expect a high number to know it; to call oneself Christian is to profess a belief in a book. And not just any belief(s). We’re talking about the most profound beliefs a person can hold. It is not unreasonable to expect people to be familiar with a book on which they have placed their eternal salvation.

And there’s the difference. Dawkins’ has not placed some holy importance on Darwin’s work. He obviously views the man as tremendously important to scientific and human history – and rightly so – but that has nothing to do eternity. It has nothing to do with salvation. The Bible does. That makes it logically invalid to compare a biologist’s specific knowledge of a long-string of words to a Christian’s general knowledge of what Christians profess to believe as a matter of determining what happens to their soul.

Craig is unworthy

William Lane Craig has his rhetoric down pretty well. He is a professional debater, after all. Ask him most any metaphysical or theological question and he will probably have a prepared answered well memorized. But that’s about as far as the guy can go. Actually engage his points and it isn’t difficult to defeat him.* But why should anyone bother debating the guy? He has made zero special contributions to his field other than to revive a long-dead, easily dismissed argument (one which, unlike a good deal of philosophy, can be directly addressed and defeated via empirical evidence). His primary claim to fame is that he likes to debate. I admit I occasionally enjoy watching debates myself, but I generally only watch the ones done by people with esoteric knowledge in a field. Craig, for that reason, is not worth watching.

And according to Richard Dawkins, he also is not worth debating.

Don’t feel embarrassed if you’ve never heard of William Lane Craig. He parades himself as a philosopher, but none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either. Perhaps he is a “theologian”. For some years now, Craig has been increasingly importunate in his efforts to cajole, harass or defame me into a debate with him. I have consistently refused, in the spirit, if not the letter, of a famous retort by the then president of the Royal Society: “That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine”.

It’s true. A debate between Dawkins and Craig, while it would rack up the YouTube hits, would only serve to benefit Craig. It would be beneath Dawkins to engage the guy.

But these facts aren’t stopping Craig from continuing “in his efforts to cajole, harass or defame” Dawkins into a debate. At one of his entertainment shows in England, Craig is going to place an empty chair on the stage to represent Dawkins’ absence. I’ll let the good doctor take it from here:

But what are we to make of this attempt to turn my non-appearance into a self-promotion stunt? In the interests of transparency, I should point out that it isn’t only Oxford that won’t see me on the night Craig proposes to debate me in absentia: you can also see me not appear in Cambridge, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and, if time allows, Bristol.

Okay, I’m happy Dawkins isn’t going to debate the guy, but it wouldn’t be so bad to hear a few more knockdowns like that.

*When I went over to Mike’s to find some Craig links, it turned out he already had a post on this topic, as well as another Craig post. Further searches will reveal a good number more posts.

The lying has got to stop

That “Elevatorgate” bullshit got an article in USA Today recently. The actual content was a dead non-topic from the get-go because as Richard Dawkins said, “zero bad happened”, so I don’t care to rehash something the Watsonites lost long ago. What I want to talk about is this from PZ:

What this one incident did was expose a small, fringe group of obsessive sexists who suddenly had the privileges they took for granted questioned…and oh, how they did squeal, and continue to squeal.

There are two points to be taken from this. First, it is a blatant, bald lie to say it has been those who disagree with Watson and PZ that have been making this into a big deal. Who watches Rebecca Watson videos? Who re-blogs those videos (prior to controversy)? It certainly isn’t all those “obsessive sexists”. No, it is people who are fans of Watson, those who support her, those who wanted to make this into a big deal. How anyone can say it is the other side that has made this into something it isn’t – and PZ has said so at least twice – astounds me. It is obviously the fault of Watson’s side – especially the guy with a blog that regularly cracks the top 100 blogs on the Internet – that anyone beyond a few dozen people even know about this.

Second, “obsessive sexists”? Really? PZ obviously means those who have been vocal about disagreeing that anything bad happened here. After all, that is the majority of the dissent – not those who say disgusting things or make it a point to publicly comment on Watson’s appearance or gender. And who else is included in that majority dissent? Why, Richard Dawkins, of course. Has PZ called him an “obsessive sexist”? Nope. In fact, he has explicitly said he doesn’t think Dawkins is sexist. (PZ instead condescendingly said Dawkins was just removed from the situation, as if that wasn’t the case for every fucking person on the planet except two.) Weird, huh? It’s almost like a certain someone isn’t able to stand back and be objective when it comes to sex and gender issues.

Dawkins on Perry

The good doctor nails this one:

There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.

Let’s not forget that the likes of Palin, Bachmann, and Cain have also been bandied about as serious options. The Democrats may put out individuals deficient in charisma a la Gore and Kerry, but it is nothing like the Republicans where either stupid or ignorant people consistently rise to prominence. And, of all things, that is actually a point of pride for the party.

Wonders of the Universe with Brian Cox

I’ve never felt terribly comfortable with the display of passion from believers. It isn’t that it bothers me that people believe false things (though it does) or that someone is claiming to be so emotionally moved by their belief. It’s that it lacks something. It’s one of those intangible things that’s difficult to really identify. It’s like the body from Weekend at Bernie’s. Yeah, it was moving and it fooled a lot of people, but it was ultimately lifeless.

That isn’t to say I think believers are being insincere or that they aren’t really wrapped up in their belief. Of course they are. But when they try and convey that, they lose me. And it isn’t merely that I find what they believe to be silly. Hitler believed a lot of moronic things (including creationism), but when he conveyed them, he didn’t lose anyone in the room. He had a real passion, awful as it was.

And the same goes for a lot of figures, including one’s much more revered in history. Sticking with the WW2 theme, Churchill and FDR conveyed some real passion in their words. Moving further up in history, JFK and MLK both passed on their passion. You could feel it. You knew they meant what they were saying.

I think the same goes for a number of scientific figures, but probably for different reasons. With the political and social people I just mentioned, I’m not so sure what it is that really drove them. For Hitler, it was probably simple hate. For the others, they probably had convictions fundamental to who they were as humans, I would hazard to guess. But I’m not sure there was one underlying thing that made their passion so real. For people like Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, though, I think what makes their passion so special is that it is underlined by a deep understanding. When they speak their beliefs, they know they are as close to truth as anyone can get. Religious believers may think they’ve found truth, but since they have zero methods for determining as much, they can’t know it.

And that brings me to Brian Cox. He currently has a fantastic show on The Science Channel right now called Wonders of the Universe. Throughout every moment of the show, it’s obvious he has a passion. You can feel it. And along with the Dawkins’ and Sagan’s and Tyson’s of the scientific world, he conveys it in a way that is uniquely powerful, unavailable to mere believers.

I won’t be so bold as to call him the next Carl Sagan, but he has that same passion, that same fire. It’s really exciting stuff, under all of which lies an intensely deep understanding.