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Nov 24 2012

Morton’s Dementia

Back in the days of Usenet, one of the posters to Talk.Origins was a former creationist named Glenn Morton.  He is the author of a meme, Morton’s Demon which explained the sort of confirmation bias at work in the religious mindset.  This he had witnessed from within and without, and his story is an interesting one.  His career as a petroleum geologist forced him to an epiphany -wherein undeniable facts persistently refuted erroneous beliefs required by his prior association with dogmatic propaganda groups like the Institute for Creation Research.  During his slow transition from Young Earth Creationism to theistic evolution, there was a period where he was somehow able to understand how the earth was billions of years old Monday thru Friday, but he was still able to pretend it was only thousands of years old on weekends.  Eventually his mutually-exclusive dichotomy came into focus as an inevitable consequence of overwhelming evidence.

Empirical rationalists like myself once turned to him as an inspiring example of intellectual honesty, illustrating the importance of evidential analysis over whatever fraudulent fantasies one might prefer to believe.  My own perspective at that time was that it didn’t matter whether one believed in gods or spirits or fate; the important question was whether one would accept or reject evident truths that might challenge those beliefs.  It seems I had underestimated the extent of cognizant detriment which religion still has even in a diminished state.

My own experience with Morton was deeply disappointing to say the least.  At first he was open to share useful and interesting data with me in a very rational and intelligent manner, and I appreciated his time and knowledge very much.  Then in 2005, I invited him and two other Christian scientists to moderate a debate between me and an ‘ex-Darwinist’ now claiming to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution.  My opponent was busily courting certain members of the State Board of Education who had already become infamous for their rejection of science.  So I invited a couple of the worst ones at that time to co-moderate our debate and see which side the science really backed.  My opponent selected a 3rd moderator from another fundamentalist creationism ministry, a man who gave a face to the phrase, “bewildering inanity”.  I balanced the equation with three professional scientists, a geneticist with the human genome project, a famous paleontologist involved with Jurassic Park, and of course Glenn Morton.  All of these respected scientists were experts in their fields.  My thought was that any false claim my opponent made would be immediately refuted by at least one of them.  They were also each devout Christians, chosen in an attempt to keep the focus on the science, and not let our discussion degrade into theism vs atheism.

Sadly that attempt failed with my own selected moderators turning against me instantly.   The geneticist dropped out at the onset when my opponent’s mod accused my chosen mods of not being ‘true’ Christians.  The paleontologist (who was also a Pentecostal preacher) told me initially that creationists were simply ‘bigots’.  Yet he ignored everything that was being said by either side, and instead used my forum -at my invitation- to soap-box his own bigotry against atheists.

Morton did the same -only worse.  Turns out he hates atheists, HATES us simply because we are atheist -even though he was once very nearly atheist himself.  That is until he found some way to rationalize his continued belief, -something I couldn’t do, and wouldn’t do as a matter of honor.  How does Morton justify his unreasonable hatred of atheists?  By accusing us of being bigoted.  Theism seems to thrive on irony and projection.

So during our debate, he openly criticized me with complete contempt.  I had the impression that he was negotiating support of my opponent behind the scenes, because Morton revealed that he didn’t care how accurate the claims of either side actually were.  To Hell with education, facts be damned; he said he just didn’t want an atheist to win a debate against a Christian.  That’s how little accuracy or honesty matter whenever they confront religious biases.

To prove my point, he has done it again.  On my 50th birthday, (coincidentally) Glenn Morton deleted all his files from his own web-page.  His explanation, ‘Why I left Young-Earth Creationism‘ is still available on other websites, but no longer on his own.  His explanation for ‘Why I took my creation web pages down‘ is a disorienting decent into madness.  In it there are many lines of cascading failure, including this gem:

“I watched the leftist party vote 3 times to drop God and Jerusalem and then watched their leaders steal that election on national TV and everyone knows that election was stolen.”

Wow.

Sorry Glenn, but there is no ‘leftist party’.  Many normally conservative registered Republicans voted Democratic this time either because they didn’t want to be associated with religious insanity, or because they didn’t want to be ruled by theocracy, or they voted for a host of other socially, environmentally, or financially conscious reasons that might have nothing to do with religion.  Nobody, NOBODY voted to “drop God’ or Jerusalem.  As for ‘stealing’ the election, according to Global Research, all the vote-stealing machines were owned by Republicans, if not by the Romneys specifically.   So maybe we don’t all really ‘know’ what Morton obviously doesn’t know either.

Worst of all, he considers it acceptable to teach children alleged facts which we can all prove -and HE can prove- are certainly wrong.  He says religion has a right to be wrong, and that means it’s OK to lie to children in the guise of ‘teaching’ them.  He says creationism is factually wrong, and a detriment to his religion, but he still prefers that to atheists NOT indoctrinating other people’s children.  He says that offering only an actual factual education instead is somehow tantamount to a totalitarian forced conformity.

(shakes head in wide-eyed bewilderment).

It occurs to me that Glenn Morton’s notoriety -and all the respect he has ever rightfully earned- was based on a single honest reflection, a period of clarity -which his religion has since found a way to retard and reverse; much the pity.

33 comments

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  1. 1
    maxdwolf

    This is a disappointment to me, but not a surprise. I was unaware of his treatment of you in 2005, but I had been following some of his attacks on climate science. It was clear he could be forced to be somewhat rational if the facts bludgeoned him strongly enough, but that he followed a path of lesser resistance.

    1. 1.1
      Marcus Ranum

      That’s not “somewhat rational” – that’s just “a coward.” Facts either support one’s position or they don’t. It’s pretty simple.

  2. 2
    godlesspanther

    “To Hell with education, facts be damned; he said he just didn’t want an atheist to win a debate against a Christian. That’s how little accuracy or honesty matter whenever they confront religious biases.”

    We see this over and over with the xtian right. It is not uncommon for them to just clearly admit that their doctrine is more important to them than reality, facts, and honesty.

    When David Barton was met with criticism from fellow xtians, they then decided to listen. I read some articles in which they admitted that as long as the criticism was coming from “leftists” and “atheists” they were under no obligation to pay any attention to it.

    It matters not to them what is being said, all that matters is who is saying it.

  3. 3
    tonyagudo

    Aron, the link to “Morton’s Demon” isn’t working because there’s an “http://” at the end of it, and your link to Morton’s “Why I took my web pages down” is also borked. Here are the correct links: http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/postmonth/feb02.html
    http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/showthread.php?153082-Why-I-took-my-creation-web-pages-down

  4. 4
    Kees

    So he didn’t slay the demon. It just transformed into its second form.

    1. 4.1
      Hank_Says

      It was, after all, under intense selection pressure.

  5. 5
    Yoritomo

    I think the “stolen election” doesn’t refer to the presidential election but to the Democratic Party convention where the decision to (re-)add mention of God and Israel to the party platform was arrived at under rather dubious and disgraceful circumstances. I’d agree with him that election was stolen – by the theists. See the Daily Show’s coverage.

    1. 5.1
      dogrun81

      I seriously doubt this was “stolen” by theists. More likely Dem leadership realized the positions would greatly hurt election chances and changed for the good of the party. Politics often trumps beliefs. (Applies to both sides – don’t attack me for it.)

  6. 6
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    I think it’s that dubious assertion that by stopping the voter suppression tactics in some states, the U.S. allowed “illegals” and “frauds” to vote multiple times in the election. That doesn’t make sense to me. In Canada, we have a list of voters with their addresses. You show the voter card that was mailed to you or ordinary ID and your name gets crossed off the list when you get your ballot. No one who is not on the list can vote and no one can vote in the name of someone who has already voted. It’s simply a whine from the losers. Karl Rove’s reaction on election night make me suspect that he expected the voting machines to be tampered with at 11:15, just as in 2000 or 2004, to produce a Republican win and he was thrown off balance when it didn’t happen.

  7. 7
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    It seems a tragic waste to lose all those articles and posts. Does anyone have experience with: WayBack Machine and Google’s Cache ?

    Alternatively does anyone have likely keywords we can search?

    1. 7.1
      Dyslexic DNA

      It seems the last useable cache was taken in 2010 – I’m not sure how much, if any, Morton had added to his site since then, but it is currently available on the Wayback Machine – http://home.entouch.net/dmd

      I went and downloaded pretty much everything for posterity’s sake, since Morton could theoretically request deletion from the archive.

      Also of interest – almost every article has permission to freely distribute as long as no alterations are made or money is charged.

    2. 7.2
      Dyslexic DNA

      Here’s a direct link to the Wayback Archive of his site: http://web.archive.org/web/20100811062417/http://home.entouch.net/dmd/

      1. Atheara

        Just to completely undermine and infuriate him I suggest setting up a blogspot site or similar and re-hosting all his deleted material. Given the permissions he set he couldn’t even get that taken down…

  8. 8
    wilsim

    What you describe happened to you at the debate infuriates me.

    I assume the lesson was learned and there are no more christian moderators picked by you to referee any future debates?

  9. 9
    Meldinoor

    Is there any way to see the debate in 2005? I’ve looked around a little, but my google-fu seems to have failed me.

    1. 9.1
      aronra

      The person who put that 2005 debate together relied on substandard hosting sites and lost most of it.

  10. 10
    Quine

    I have noticed a trend to vote to recognize reality. Perhaps this observation is wishful thinking on my part.

  11. 11
    grumpyoldfart

    Perhaps Morton is heading back to fundy land. He may have heard a voice asking, “Why dost thou persecute me?”

    It’s happened before – with huge effect.

  12. 12
    silentsanta

    I liked the part where Morton thinks his monies should clearly not be used for things he disagrees with like contraception, but everyone else’s monies should support the cheerleaders pushing Bible verses at a state-funded school.

  13. 13
    24fps

    Off topic a bit – you reference globalresearch.ca in your post. You should be very careful using them as a reference as they are a Canadian crank site, fond of conspiracy theories and pseudoscience. Sometimes they get something right, but I wouldn’t take anything from there without corroboration from another source.

  14. 14
    Yeg

    Overall, excellent description of events. Is there some record of the debate, or did I miss the link?

    On the topic you raised about vote stealing, I felt a little disappointed when I followed your link to Global Research. The link seems to be a simple editorial summarizing 3 or 4 men’s hypothesis to explain theoretical statistical anomalies within a small sample size. A hypothesis that involves a large criminal conspiracy to empower the party that actually lost the election. Some parts of the article read like the common ramblings of a 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist: “Don’t take our word”. I don’t like the electronic voting machines because of their lack of transparency and potential for mischief. I would also love to have those votes opened to scrutiny. But until then, it’s just conjecture with insufficient scientific rigor applied for one to assert, “all the vote-stealing machines were owned by Republicans, if not by the Romneys specifically“.

    1. 14.1
      Nathanael

      Well, there are various “election machine” companies.

      Most of them are owned by Republicans. This is easy enough to heck.

      1. Nathanael

        er, to “check”. :-)

  15. 15
    samharris

    I lost my respect for Morton about 6 years ago during an exchange on a cre/evo forum. He was arguing that the ‘information’ in DNA is just like the information on a hard drive, and he listed a series of supposed commonalities that ‘proved’ this. One of the commonalities was compressability. I asked his to expand, and he described things like jpegs and programs like winzip. So, silly me, I asked him how one compresses DNA. He dismissed the question and told me he didn’t understand.

    1. 15.1
      reynoldhall

      It wasn’t on TheologyWeb was it?

      1. samharris

        why, yes!

        1. reynoldhall

          Thought so. He and John Sarfati really used to duke it out on there. As did I sometimes. I never would have guessed that Morton would fall like this.

    2. 15.2
      Crissa

      Of course, you have to decide what is the important bits and what is the important outcome. And then you also know how it’s encoded. You can always just compress data by finding like strings and eliminating them then setting a way to unfold it…

      So sure, maybe DNA can be compressed. But it’s n unfair question, as we’ve barely sequenced it, let alone understand all the folding and unfolding that it does – it is still successfully secure by obscurity.

      ^-^

  16. 16
    Marcus Ranum

    If I encountered a gravity denier, I’d try to talk them out of jumping from an airplane, but at a certain point you’ve just gotta let nature take it’s course.

  17. 17
    Pip R. Lagenta

    You relate a sad but familiar story, AronRa. I have seen this kind of thing before, and I am sure that I will see its like again. It seems that most of humanity is subject to self-delusion to one degree or another. I suspect that the tools available to keep self-delusion to a minimum have to be actively applied. Too many people choose not to do so.

  18. 18
    bradleybetts

    “Sorry Glenn, but there is no ‘leftist party’. Many normally conservative registered Republicans voted Democratic this time either because they didn’t want to be associated with religious insanity, or because they didn’t want to be ruled by theocracy, or they voted for a host of other socially, environmentally, or financially conscious reasons that might have nothing to do with religion.”

    It’s simpler than that, you don’t have a leftist party full stop. At least, not a main stream party. By European standards, you have a center-right party and a right-wing party.

  19. 19
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  1. 21
    Sunday links and open thread: debunking myths on Reddit, Mabus update, and more

    [...] to end on a rather bizarre and depressing note, Glenn Morton (of Morton’s Demon fame) has taken down all his online writings because he’s still a fundamentalist at heart and doesn’t want his accurate criticisms [...]

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