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.

Lutheran Citations

I’m going to use this forum to address a criticism made against me on YouTube.  I don’t think it warrants a video response, but neither can I properly convey my defense in comment blocks limited to 500 characters or less; especially when YouTube doesn’t allow them to be sorted and read in order, and they’ll all be difficult to find or read in sequence mere moments after posting.  I think it is much more appropriate in this case to rebut those charges here.

Whenever I’ve made any significant error on the web, be it on videos, blogs, or whatever, one of my peers would usually point it out to me early on, and I would make the necessary corrections.  For example, I once posted a quote erroneously attributed to Philip Johnson, and then retracted it immediately upon word that it wasn’t said *by* him but *about* him.  When I get something wrong, I admit it.

Yet it seems my credibility is under attack by some YouTuber who actually thinks he has something worth crowing about.  In the comments on his channel, I see allegations that I am a definitely dishonest coward, deliberately lying in order to further my ‘agenda’.  Sadly this is how theists typically react whenever they disagree with me.

I haven’t actually seen either of the videos this guy has made about me.  At this point, I’m still more than a month behind on a couple thousand comments and personal messages I’m still trying to catch up on.  I usually can’t spare the time to watch the videos I want to see, much less listening to people gripe about mere opinions.  If there was any substance to it, someone I trust would have made me aware of it by now, and that didn’t happen.  So I figured there was no legitimate complaint; just a matter of interpretation.  Now that I found his script against me on his blog, I see that I was right.  He just wants to believe that some once-respectable historic theologian was more reasonable than I think he could have been.

My challenger’s whole complaint against me is limited to this:  I cited a quote popularly attributed to Martin Luther, (the 16th century founder of Protestant Christianity) for which the original source was never posted.  That’s it, that’s my alleged ‘lie’.

Now in fairness, I have used a different quote –again from Luther- which also had no discernible source, and I stopped using that one, because I couldn’t verify anywhere else he ever said that.  Ironically that quote was him purportedly defending the tactic of lying to further a religious agenda.  That quote is also considered questionable, because it is out-of-character for Luther, not like anything else he ever said.  However the quote I am being criticized for now is typical of the sentiments Luther is known to have repeated in identified works.

“Idiots, the lame, the blind, the dumb, are men in whom the devils have established themselves: and all the physicians who heal these infirmities, as though they proceeded from natural causes, are ignorant blockheads…”

So I am accused of misrepresenting Luther, as if he didn’t really say that unless I can prove that he did.  Funny how the burden of proof shifts depending on whether one is arguing for faith vs any other topic.  Much of my challenger’s accusations stem from a misunderstanding of what he thinks my interpretation is, and whether Luther thought that means that no illness could ever have a natural cause.  That’s not quite how I read it, but that’s not the real issue.

I must admit I don’t know the origin of this particular quote either, but at least I can show where Luther *did* say this, (albeit paraphrased) in another identified work, specifically his ‘Table Talks’.  My accuser claims to have read that, and yet he somehow missed this:

DLXXXIII.
“It was asked : Can good Christians and God-fearing people also undergo witchcraft?  Luther replied: Yes; for our bodies are always exposed to the attacks of Satan.  The maladies I suffer are not natural, but devil’s spells.

Notice that Luther says that none of his own maladies are natural; they’re all caused by witchcraft.

DCCLXXXIII.
“The physicians in sickness consider only of what natural causes the malady proceeds, and this they cure, or not, with their physic. But they see not that often the devil casts a sickness upon one without any natural causes. A higher physic must be required to resist the devil’s diseases; namely, faith and prayer, which physic may be fetched out of God’s Word.”  

Notice that Luther says some diseases are devils’ work, but that physicians attempt to heal these infirmities as though they proceeded from natural causes.  My critic says that Luther permits that demonic diseases could still have natural causes.  Here we see that is not always the case –if it ever is.  Here Luther is clearly denying that there is anything natural about these illnesses.  This directly contradicts my challenger’s criticism of me.

DLXXIV.
“Many devils are in woods» in waters, in wildernesses, and in dark pooly places, ready to hurt and prejudice people; some are also in the thick black clouds, which cause hail, lightnings, and thunderings, and poison the air, the pastures and grounds. When these things happen^ then the philosophers and physicians say, it is natural, ascribing it to the planets, and showing I know not what reasons for such misfortunes and plagues as Ensue«”

Notice that Luther allows for many instances wherein demons may establish themselves into their victims.

DXCVII.
“I maintain that Satan produces all the maladies which afflict mankind, for he is the prince of death. St Peter speaks of Christ as healing all that are oppressed of the devil.  He not only cured those who were possessed, but he restored sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, strength to the paralytic; therefore I think all grave infirmities are blows and strokes of the devil,”

Notice that Luther says that *all* diseases –specifically including the lame, the blind, and the dumb, are essentially curses, spells, and hexes –not stemming from natural causes.

Luther also repeatedly makes reference to “ignorant blockheads”, although in his ‘Table Talk’, he only used that label when referring to papal authorities.  He did say doctors were ignorant though.  In the same paragraph my antagonist cited, Luther criticized medical science as ‘fanciful theories’ in which he has no faith; because he noted that different healers gave different prescriptions for the same maladies.  He said medicine could be replaced with a good diet and an early bed time, and he said that graveyards are filled with those who followed their doctors’ advice.  Luther appears to believe that natural medicine CAN work on natural bodies, but only in accordance with prayer.  Otherwise they’re guilty of homicide.  Obviously Luther’s love of medical science wasn’t as great as my challenger prefers to believe.

The last time this particular antagonist questioned my credibility, it was about yet another quote from Martin Luther’s ‘Table Talks’, but as I understand it, that time it was a quote that the entire Protestant Christian community seems perfectly accepting of –despite the implications which only seem obvious to rationalists.

CCCLIII.
reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but^^ — more frequently than not — struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.

Years ago, I read quite a lot of Luther’s ravings -especially from his sermons themselves.  From those I wrote a scathing report of him.  I could do the same for Calvin too.  These men both made careers out of pig-headed comments like these.

So I have obviously NOT misrepresented Luther’s position either on the subject of faith over reason, nor on the matter of spells and hexes vs medical science –despite how some critics claim to have ‘corrected’ me on either point.  Luther was himself an ignorant blockhead and deserves no apology from me.

On a final note, I have specific criteria required before I accuse someone of lying: (1) They have to be wrong, (2) they have to know that they’re wrong, and (3) there should be an apparent attempt to deceive someone.  If you accuse someone of lying, and they’re not, -either because they’re innocently mistaken, or especially when they’re right, then it’s rather like sinking the cue along with the 8-ball.  It means you blew it, because a false accusation is nearly as bad as the lie itself.  One shouldn’t make that accusation so readily.

No saved recording of the Bob Dutko debate

In my debate with Bob Dutko, he criticized me for not debating the existence of God -which was my choice of topics from the selection he gave.  I wish we had been able to talk about that, but instead he wasted most of that hour burning and re-building his strawman of my position while ignoring every correction.   There is a heckuva lot that should have been said, and I guess I was naive in imagining that there could have been any serious discussion of that topic on the level I wanted.

It has been my experience that whenever creationists claim to have evidence supporting their position, they invariably don’t, and the absolute best they can do is to complain about imagined inconsistencies in REAL science.  Apart from citations of misquoted abstracts, misunderstood and misrepresented, all they can do is jump to fallacious assertions or fraudulent forgeries.  Beyond that, they’ve got nothing, and I’m sure that will be the case with Dutko too.

For example, I challenged him to produce evidence indicating his otherwise unwarranted assumptions.  He said he had that, but what he failed to produce it.  Instead he gave a number of citations which he said would reveal unfossilized hadrosaur bones in one case, and another was a cache of swords allegedly bearing a precisely detailed perfectly flawless rendering of a sauropod dinosaur.   I don’t remember the other claims he made at that time.  Nor did I copy them down then.  My intention was to pull the recording and review the articles he cited.  But I just got confirmation that there will be no link to any archived recording of my debate with Bob Dutko.  So how do we hold these people accountable?

I already know for certain there were never any unfossilized hadrosaur bones, and I said so at that time, but I don’t remember the paper he named that he said would support him.  I never heard the bit about the flawless sauropod renderings on swords either.  What oriface did he extract that from?

One that I was already immediately familiar with was the pigosaurus in the Cambodian temple at Angkor Wat Cambodia.

You will notice that this highly ornate column has decorative petal patterns adorning practically everything, including the animal in the central circle.  As you look more closely, you will have to notice that the animal in question is definitely a mammal.  Some think it might be a cow or a rhino, but personally I think it’s supposed to be a pig.  Whatever it is, it apparently has either horns like a cow or the ears of a pig, and the sort of diminished dangling tail one would expect to find on any modern animal with hooves.

However Bob Dutko insists that this is stegosaurus.  Dispite the fact that a stegosaur would have a tiny head and a long tail with a double row of spikes on it, and disproportionately long back legs with long clawed toes, and this doesn’t match any part of that body plan    This is obviously a modern ungulate mammal super-imposed onto the same petal pattern as everything else in this temple.  Apparently Dutko can’t tell dinosaurs apart from barnyard animals, yet he accused me of ‘fooling myself’ when I can’t fool myself into believe this is something it doesn’t resemble and isn’t what it obviously is.

If all his arguments and all his evidence is really this weak, then it’s no wonder he won’t keep an archive of his shows and has no way to accept correction on any point.  His need to believe far outweighs any desire to understand.

MotorCops for kids toy run

Skepticon was my last conference/convention for the year, and 2012 was a great year for me:  The GAC in Australia, the Reason Rally in DC, TAM in Las Vegas, and other events in several other states.  I was on 33 airplanes this year, but I still drove to many of the rallies I attended.  I also used my 9-passenger SUV as a limo to cart around the Dillahunty’s, Prof & Mrs Myers, the cast of Dogma Debate, and several of the VIPs at the Texas Freethought Convention crammed in all at once.  At one point, I think I had the entire Richard Dawkins Foundation in my car.  More importantly, I feel like I did something this year, like I was involved in something that actually mattered -if only on the grass roots level.

But now I finally have maybe three months or so in which to catch up on my backlogue of some 2800 unsorted comments and personal messages still-unread.  So if you wrote to me a month-and-a-half ago, and I haven’t responded, please be patient.  I also really need to take this break to work on my book before the publisher loses patience with me.

This weekend, this Sunday, I’m doing one more thing for charity, but this one isn’t related to atheism, secularism, humanism, or skepticism, and it isn’t promoting science education either.  I finally get to do what I used to do back before I became an activist.  I’m goin’ back to my roots.  I’m gonna ride in the 11th annual Motorcops for Kids toy run donating to underprivileged children for the winter holidays.

It’s normally a beautiful course with several hundred motorcycles cruising together -with police escort provided by four neighboring towns.  So if there are any freethinking godless bikers in the DFW area who would like to putt for a cause this Sunday, you know where I’ll be.  Come ride with me.

Aron Ra vs Bob Dutko – ADDENDUM

While I was on the Bob Dutko show, he made several claims purportedly supported by peer-reviewed science.  It’s a great tactic in any format where such claims cannot be evaluated on-the-fly.  This allows superstitious showmen to misrepresent some comment in the abstract of a peer-reviewed paper such that will make creationists feel as though they have the support of some faction of actual science.  We see this type of assertion quite often -especially in live media, but it only sounds good until you look into it and invariably find a mirage instead.  Knowing this, I directed Dutko’s listeners here -to my blog- where I promised to post links exploring each of his assertions on the air.  To that end, I have also posted a thread on the League of Reason forums, which (I think) still works even in protracted, data-intensive, or highly illustrative analyses.

Discuss.

Aron Ra on Dogma Debate

Wednesday November 7th, I will be on Dogma Debate

from 7:00pm to 9:00pm central [Texas] time.

I’ll be on with David Smalley and Shayrah as we take live callers at 214-377-1166.

Hear it live at dogmadebate.com

Listeners who don’t want to call can tweet their questions/comments to the host @davidcsmalley

The show will podcast to iTunes immediately after the live broadcast.

I should have promoted this event better than I did

I very much enjoyed the Secular Rally this weekend in Tallahassee, Florida.  I thought it was very well arranged.  There were plenty of good presenters, several tents and tables representing secularism, atheism, and aspects thereof.  They provided porta-potties, two food wagons, lots of amplification and recording equipment, and everything one should have considered to put on a fine event, and it was a very good event.

The only thing they didn’t have was a crowd; very few people turned up.  Now part of that is that it was Tallahassee.  Northern Florida is the really red part -where the Hovinds and their ilk are.  Southern Florida is much more blue.  Many of the folks who did show up came in from out-of-state.  The locals who would normally have supported us might have been distracted by Bill Clinton’s appearance at another rally on the same weekend.  Tallahassee apparently isn’t big enough to host the both of us.  Another problem was likely a lack of promotion.  On Sunday I looked for the sites advertising the event, and found one that -at the time when I saw it- said it had been posted 19 hours ago, but was advertising what was ‘going to happen’ 27 hours ago.  That probably wasn’t the most effective way to get the word out.

Skepchick blogged about it, as did I, Jessica Ahlquist tweeted about it, and I know one person who drove over three hours on that notice alone.  It was the first time Zinnia Jones had ever spoken in a live venue before, and she may be the only speaker who made a promo video.  I should have done that too, because I reach a lot more people that way than I do on this blog.  So I may as well blame myself and take it as a lesson for next time.  I will personally promote whatever future events I intend to attend, and assume responsibility myself when the turnout is poor.

By the way, Skepticon 5 is this coming weekend, November 9th – 11th in Springfield Missouri.  It’s always a good event, and it’s free, but they run on donations, and they need some right now.  So try to help out if you can, and I’ll see you there.