Why I don’t argue with YouTube, redux

A few months back I posted a statement of policy about refusing to argue with YouTube videos. It has served me pretty well since then, because now every time we get email saying “Watch this video and tell me what you think!” I link to that post and reply with “Please sum up the points in that video that you found compelling, because I’m not going to watch.” I’ve seen several other members take a similar approach more often as well.

I have to say, however, that over at the Conspiracy Science blog, this post provides a much longer and more thorough explanation of why arguing via YouTube videos is (1) mostly fruitless, and (2) so beloved of people who don’t really have a good argument. Read it! Although it relates to conspiracy theories and not atheism in particular, they face a lot of the same issues. A couple of excerpts to get you over there:

Because there’s no difference in a conspiracy theorist’s eyes between any two sources based upon the nature of those sources, they have no way of telling whether a source is true or false. David McCullough, a respected academic historian with decades of credentials, is no more reliable a source than David Icke, an ex-football player who believes that the world is controlled by reptilian shape-shifting aliens. John Maynard Keynes, one of the most influential economists in recent history, is no more credible than bloviating radio talkshow host Alex Jones on matters of economics. This is why conspiracy theorists generally interpret any questioning of the credibility of their sources as an “ad hominem” attack, because to them credibility is irrelevant. Taken to an extreme, this idea results in the bizarre belief that a YouTube video can be just as true and credible as a peer-reviewed scientific paper published in a nationally-respected journal.

Conspiracy theorists hate experts and intellectuals mainly because they are forced to. Few if any real experts in anything—engineering, economics, metallurgy, political science, or history—agree with conspiracy theories, and conspiracy theorists know that this is a major obstacle in their attempts to gain mainstream acceptance. Honestly, if one structural engineer with questionable credentials says that the World Trade Center towers were dynamited and 99 real structural engineers say that theory is bullshit, which side are most people going to believe? Consequently, conspiracy theorists have to tear down experts. They do this mainly by denigrating the real value or relevance of expert opinion, which usually means casting aspersions on expert status in the first place. This has two effects: first, they think it blunts the attacks of experts on their theories, and second, it elevates non-expert opinion into the same realm as expert knowledge.

Also, in the interest of not having a double standard, I want to say something else.

(Pausing to look sternly at the Atheist Experience audience.)

I hope you guys don’t argue that way.

Something I prefer not to see is using a clip from TAE as an authority. We’re not one. Thus, if you’re in an argument and you say “You’re wrong! Here, watch this video!” … You’re doing it wrong. You know they won’t watch the video, and if they do, they will dismiss it as quickly as possible.

It’s the arguments in the video that are meant to help you, and they don’t carry any additional weight just because some slobs with a few bucks to blow on producer licenses said them in front of an audience. If you thought the arguments were good, do yourself a favor and learn to use them. The effort of typing in your own version of the Euthyphro dilemma or the argument from evil or whatever, will serve you much better in the long run than proving you can paste a URL into a window.

A Letter to Nelson McCausland

Texas SBOE have found a friend in Northern Ireland:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/may/26/northern-ireland-ulster-museum-creationism

If you haven’t been following, Culture Minister Nelson McCausland is pushing for museums in his country to promote creationism along side displays illustrating scientific theories of origins. One of his constituents shared a letter to McCausland with me, and also granted permission to use it at the AE blog. So, without further introduction, here is a reprint of that correspondence:

Mr McCausland

I am writing this letter out of concern, not out of religious intolerance or to force my own agenda. The concern is due to your letter to the National Museum trustees about the possibility of inclusion of alternative views of creation. I hope that you will take the time to read this to understand exactly why this is a mistake and hopefully to shed a little light on a few things you seem to be mistaken about.

Firstly I would like to highlight the fundamental flaws of creationism and the so called ‘scientific proof’ of it. I am not sure if you are aware of the Kitzmiller/Dover Trial in America 2005 when concerned parents took out a lawsuit against a public school district that required the presentation of intelligent design/creationism as an alternative to evolution as an explanation of the origin of life. Creationist ‘scientists’ were invited to the trial to show their evidence and prove that it was scientific, and they faced off against accepted science and scientists. It is worth mentioning that the scientist charged with defeating the creationist/intelligent design camp was a devout Christian (Kenneth Miller) and that the judge was also a devout Christian (Judge John E. Jones III) and a right hand man of George Bush.

It is not mere hyperbole to state that this was the most important moment in the defense of science. It was to much relief and satisfaction that the court ruled emphatically against the creationist/intelligent design position. In his 139-page decision Judge Jones took the creationist case to task and I find this point most relevant:

“ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.” (Page 89)

It is clear that when asked to come forward and put their case and all their evidence on the table they didn’t just fall short, they had nothing. It would be hoped that this would have put this situation to rest but it is still thriving in the United States and apparently in our home country. I recently visited a creationist seminar in a local church, and it disturbed me at what was being taught to the congregation as ‘fact’, I feel that people in the position of talking and administering to the congregation/public have a responsibility of being honest with what is fact and not bending evidence to fit the worldview they have.

To say that the world is 4,000-10,000 years old is nothing short of irresponsible, you have in a single statement infused doubt in people’s mind of the accuracy of geology, paleontology, chemistry, physics, biology, morphology, genetics, molecular biology, cosmology, biogeography and so on, all of which help each other positively in the proof of age of the earth. There is no mere speculation here, we can put the evidence on the table and show you how these things work and how they prove what accepted science is. I would hope that you have at least researched behind the claims of creationist science before publicly claiming them as a viable alternative but I feel you haven’t as you would have quickly seen that the so called proofs are nothing short of pseudo-scientific speculation.

Christianity is not negated by accepting the big bang or evolution; the scientific evidence can be seen as the method and not the reason. In fact there is a wide acceptance of these matters throughout the Christian community and I would urge you to read some of the American Scientific Affiliation’s work who are a fellowship of Christians in science. Science is not out to disprove god, and I would dare say it can’t, so there is really no need to want to put a faith-based position alongside science in a museum.

We have a responsibility in this world to operate within what we know, what we can observe in our shared reality. What we cannot do is subvert overwhelming evidence for the sake of a faith position, which is a dangerous path to put a society on. If we do this where would we stop? Would we also delve into pagan creation stories? If you want to open a display talking about religious creation mythology which covers the scope of all religions in our community I would be absolutely behind it but only if it was all inclusive and not running alongside scientific displays.

You made the point that the majority of this country is Christian and that this is somehow a justification for including creationist myth and I just want to say that it is a completely logical fallacy to assume that ‘might makes right.’ Science is in no way a democracy; it’s constantly scrutinized, re-evaluated and goes where the data takes us not where we want to take it. It is worrying to hear an elected minister talk in such a way and I’d hoped that our country would be able to be more religiously progressive given the past we have had, but this is in fact a severe step back whether you can see it or not.

If you feel strongly about this, as I am sure you do, then perhaps you could push for a public forum where we can get creationist science and accepted science to debate their cases. I assure you that it is not intellectual elitism or over-confidence when I say that it would become apparent very, very quickly that there is no case or evidence for creationist science and it would leave a lot believers confused as to why the people in power have been misleading them.

If religion is to survive in any meaningful context in this society it is necessary that it accepts reality, this in no way takes away people’s beliefs but will hopefully enrich their view of the world around them.

I look forward to your reply,

—Gareth

This is not Photoshopped

Seriously. It isn’t. This is an ad that appeared in my Facebook sidebar today, presented as is. Who knows, maybe Liberty U. is having a truth-in-advertising moment.

An Islamic response to drawing Mohammed

Via Rationalists: Some Muslims decided that the best response to everybody drawing Mohammed was to start an “everyone draw the holocaust” day.

Which is dumb. It’s not even that offensive (says the token Jew on the blogging team). I mean sure, it’s in poor taste, but considering that it’s an attempt to shock and horrify, I think it falls far short. The thing is, there is no specific religious injunction against drawing murdered Jews.

In fact, here’s how stupid it is: Jews themselves have certainly done more to draw attention to the holocaust than Muslims are doing now. There’s a holocaust museum founded by Jews in the United States. There’s another one in Israel. There has been great literature based on the holocaust, and many excellent movies, even comedies even comedies*. Yes, really! Tons of famous photographs, and several Choose Your Own Adventure books for crying out loud.

The point is, Jews aren’t trying to stop you from showing scenes from the Holocaust. As an attempt to respond in kind, it’s an utter flop. It isn’t breaking a religious taboo. At worst, it’s just being kind of a dick.

Now arguably, you could say that those of us who chose to draw Mohammed were also dicks. But so what? Isn’t that kind of the point? We don’t contest anyone’s right to be a dick. We support their free speech. We just think they’re wrong.

* The struck out link is a clip from “The Great Dictator” starring Charlie Chaplin. Since it was correctly pointed out that Chaplin was making fun of Nazis before the holocaust occurred, I’ve added an alternate (and equally hilarious) clip from the original “Producers” by Mel Brooks. This link is more appropriate anyway — Chaplin, while attacked with rumors that he was Jewish, was baptised and probably agnostic. Mel Brooks, on the other hand, was and is a big old loud and proud Jew.

Bigots Don’t Get to Claim the Moral High Ground

Uganda plans to introduce the death penalty for gays, but the government there says it’s more likely that the bill will only pass with life imprisonment:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8693560.stm

I’m not sure why, but in the last week, I’ve been presented with several issues that all involve gay hate and persecution in the Christian community. I’ve wanted to post about it, but wasn’t sure how to put it into a concise and linear statement. So, I’ve given up trying; and instead I am including below some abbreviated recent thoughts I’ve sent privately to a few correspondents:

Correspondence 1:
…I’m getting near to a boiling point with the whole anti-gay thing and religion. It may be difficult to believe, but I actually am more angry at the religious persecution of gays than of women. With women, the idea is a submissive existence, where women are acceptable—but only if they know their place. But gays have no “place” in Abrahamic religion, generally. Even some of the most educated Christians I know seem to have difficulty admitting there’s nothing wrong with it. The stupidity they spout, such as “Well, that’s up to god, I don’t judge.” As though they think there is some sort of dilemma. Judge what?!

I met a gay guy this week who was raised by fundamentalist parents. They believe in faith healing, and all manner of garbage. They taught him that gays were vile, evil, crimes against nature, abominations to god, the whole nine yards. He said he didn’t really think about it until he hit 13-14 and began to have sexual thoughts about the other boys in his school. Then he started worrying and wondering why god made him with these feelings, but was going to send him to hell. He told me he would engage in regular teen-boy activities in his room, and then feel so bad about it he’d go and shower and scrub himself until he bled. Finally, around 17, he took a bunch of pills. He said the attempt was half-hearted. And I’m happy for that—because today he’s a talented musician with a lot to offer. About his parents, he said he knows they only did what they were taught, and they didn’t know any better. He loves them and says they took care of him and tried to keep him from harm. But I can’t help thinking of all the trouble they caused, and how easy it would have been to keep him from that harm, if only they’d just asked: “Why are we saying this is so bad?”

His father told him eventually that he’d always known/suspected his son was gay. He explained he couldn’t understand how a loving parent could suspect their child is gay, and still proceed to tell them all the horrible hateful things his parents told him about homosexuality.

I have brown eyes. Most people on the planet have brown eyes. That doesn’t mean people without brown eyes are unnatural. And it’s certainly no license to persecute or hate them. “Uncommon” should never be equated with “evil.” “Evil” needs far more justification than that.

I have trouble grasping how people who exhibit hatred and bigotry and persecution—even violence in some cases—against gays can be considered to be on the “right” side of anything, while a gay man who forgives all the pain that has been inflicted on him, and just wants to live and be happy and not hurt anyone, is the vile abomination?

I seem to be getting a lot of prods on this issue recently. And until social equality is reached in this arena, I suppose everyone on the side of reason should be weighing in on this. ACA always supports the Gay Pride Festival locally. And I think this is an issue that is ripe for constant hammering. Hateful bigots who comfort themselves that they’re on the side of right really need to be told as loudly and often as possible they’re on the side of pure, unadulterated evil.

I just need to find the right words. But maybe those are the right words? Maybe that’s all that needs to be said?

Thanks for your letter. Sorry that gay people everywhere have been somehow singled out to put up with the worst of this bullshit, honestly.

Correspondence 2:
Maltreatment of women gets a lot of media attention. And well it should. But to me, the crimes against the gay community are so much worse—not by magnitude of numbers, but by sheer irrationality and vilification. Even the most misogynistic religions will allow a place, however disdainful, to women. But with gays—I mean, I can’t imagine being stoned to death because of how I was born. I loathe to see a woman persecuted for refusing to wear a veil. But I know that horrible as it is, she can hide behind that veil and live in hopes the oppression will end. With “gay”—there is no “king’s X”—no compromise you can strike. What you are is wrong.

To try and make it more clear, I host a party every year in November at a local Lake lodge. I invite friends, and we hang out for a weekend. One year, a gay friend told me that the location I use is notorious in the gay community for a gay hate murder that happened there years ago.

Here’s the point that bothers me: There are men who will rape and murder women. But I am aware society condemns those men as monsters and criminals. We haven’t quite reached that level of understanding with “gay.” Today, if someone kills a “fag,” I’m disturbed to know there are still a number of people in our culture who think the “queer” got what was coming to him. Literally, he shouldn’t have been gay.

And there is no rational basis for this hatred and vilification. These are good people who happen to be a minority percentage who are attracted to same sex mates for whatever reason. They’re not hurting anyone. They’re not converting anyone. They just want to do what any of us do, and be open about who they are and live their lives. And for that, they are vilified and persecuted.

I recall when I was in church, “gay” didn’t even require an explanation for why it was a sin. It just was. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” right? Phenotypic attributes occur in populations on a bell curve—nearly across the board. You have the most dominant traits, and then you have less dominant extremes on either end, and a lot of diversity in between. I have gay friends who say they could have sex with opposite sex partners if push came to shove (some have even been married before), and others who say it wouldn’t be possible for them. I have straight friends who can’t fathom gay behavior, and others who say it’s six of one, half dozen of the other. In anthropology, you study different cultures around the globe, and by no means is homosexuality vilified in all areas like it is in our culture. And historically, it’s the same. Depending on where/when you happened to be born—you may be accepted, considered to be special to the gods, or executed.

There used to be a commercial where they sold contacts to change your eye color. In every commercial they shot, the woman they were selling to had brown eyes. Well, blue and green eyes are beautiful, I agree. But the fact is, if you want to sell contacts to color eyes, your target market is brown because brown eyes are the dominant trait in humans: Africa, Asia, South America, India, Aboriginal Australians, Native Americans, the Mid East—you get the idea. What if it was determined that since most people have brown eyes, eyes that aren’t brown are a crime against nature? Unnatural and therefore a sin? Punishable by death, imprisonment, or being persecuted and vilified by your society? Can you imagine the label such an initiative would get in today’s society? Not one person would think you were sane to suggest such a thing. And yet that’s exactly what we do to gays. And nearly all
the haters think you’re crazy to question “why?” To them, that question, by itself, is evidence of your own moral depravity. It’s “obvious” what’s wrong with these people—in the fundamentalist mind. They’re not the standard, so they’re wicked. But loads of people have attributes that are nonstandard, and we don’t think it’s fine to kill them. And the false facts cooked up to vilify it are just aggravating. I recall some years ago showing someone once that AIDS was most prominent in heterosexual, not homosexual populations. They refused to believe it until the statistics were staring them in their face. It’s frustrating to know good people who are subjected to this sort of prejudicial treatment, and then recognize a lot of people in our culture don’t understand what the motivation could possibly be to make it otherwise.

A Final Note
Just to add that the reason in the Christian Bible for condemning homosexuality is that it places a male in the position of a female. In other words, it’s a misogynistic argument that it’s wrong for a man to be used as a lowly woman. It’s a disgrace to male superiority, and any man who humiliates himself (puts himself on the level of a rank female) needs to die.

In Leviticus 18:22, the Bible says, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” It’s right between rules against burning children as human sacrifices and having sex with animals. That’s where you rank if you’re gay, according to the Christian god (to whom these statements are attributed in verses 1 and 2 of the same chapter).

Later in Leviticus 20, which also starts out attributing it’s content directly to god, in verse 13 it says, “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

I can hear it already, though: “That’s the Old Testament.”

Yes, it is. It’s the Old Testament, the first part of your Christian Bible, and it says your Christian god instructed this harmful idiocy. You either believe these statements are correct and that god, in fact, did instruct His adherents to do these things—in which case you agree these statements, and any compliant actions resulting (such as murdering gay men) were actually justified by your Christian god (and therefore acceptable to you—if you are an adherent of this same god); or you think your Bible is incorrect when it comes to what it says god tells people to do, in which case, how is the book even helpful, as it’s admittedly untrustworthy?

If you believe your Bible is correct, and you agree with this content and worship this personality you think ordered the murder of these people as moral “law,” for the crime of not inheriting the most common phenotypic attributes of their overall populations, then as I said earlier, you are on the side of “pure, unadulterated evil.” You and your god are no more “moral” than another historic figure who also once decided that people with the “wrong” phenotypes should be removed from the human population.

Kcuf the muthakcufas!

So. We have artificial life. Kickass. But wait, what’s this? Why, right on cue, if it isn’t a bunch of showboating, pious old cretins in dresses wagging their fingers at the presumptuousness of scientists, and insisting that the creation of life is the sole purview of some invisible magic man in the sky they seem to believe in.

“We look at science with great interest. But we think above all about the meaning that must be given to life,” said Fisichella, who heads Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life. “We can only reach the conclusion that we need God, the origin of life.”

Now, one could respond to that in the usual way, by pointing out that before they can make claims like that about their God, they should prove the old spectre exists in the first frickin’ place.

But of course, we don’t even need to go there. Because the very idea of an organized crime syndicate responsible for enabling and protecting the largest and most appalling epidemic of child rape in the history of civilization having the audacity to lecture anyone, let alone scientists, on “the ethical dimension” of anyfuckingthing, is quite simply gobsmacking. Now, at least, you know why those guys wear those huge flowing robes. They need them to contain their colossal solid brass balls!

So all that’s left is to give this little ditty another airing, I do believe. Take it away, Timbo.

PS: The comments on that Yahoo news article are gold. The RCC has a serious public image crisis. I wonder why…

Draw Muhammad Day…

I support the efforts of Draw Muhammad Day. I took a few minutes and made a quick drawing and posted it to Facebook…and that was going to be the extent of my participation.

Fortunately, our local religion reporter made a blog post and she couldn’t have managed to misrepresent the subject more, if she’d tried.

I took the opportunity to correct her…and I was sufficiently irritated that I thought I’d copy that correction here. As next Sunday’s show is cancelled, consider it a replacement rant.

“Again, I thought this would fizzle out, but apparently it’s become all the rage to make a spectacle out of demeaning Muslims.”

How does this demean Muslims? Be careful you don’t break your back while trying to twist this issue to portray the Muslims as the victims…

The fact is that some Muslims have repeatedly demonstrated remarkable and violent hypocrisy when it comes to free speech. They demand that their views be respected by everyone else in society – and anyone who offends them may well suffer a violent response.

“If it’s true that the Prophet Muhammad is not drawn or depicted by Muslim artists based on Islamic beliefs, why revel in ignorance? In other words, if it were considered heathen-like behavior to draw Jesus, would that be tolerated with the same level of revelry – or is there something else at work?”

Of course it would be tolerated. What sort of journalist doesn’t grasp the basics of free speech and expression?

There is no right to not be offended. There is no right to impose your ignorance, fears and superstitions on the rest of society.

Why do you think this is happening? If there had never been a gross over-reaction to cartoons, do you think anyone would have organized people to draw Muhammad?

Do you really suspect that the individuals drawing and encouraging others to draw Muhammad are simply cruel-minded bigots poking a stick at the poor Muslims?

This is not only about free speech, it’s valid social commentary and a serious issue. There are people who travel with bodyguards and live under constant threat of violence or death for exercising basic freedoms that we should all support. People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Salman Rushdie and Lars Vilks.

What a staggeringly myopic perspective one must have to shrug this off as someone else demeaning Muslims.

Muslims, on this subject, have demeaned themselves.

A Zacharias follow-up

Because there was no indication Matt had done it, I thought it would be interesting to email the link to his post answering Ravi Zacharias’ “Six Questions to Ask an Atheist” to the contact address I found at the RZIM website. Monday afternoon I received this response, not from Zacharias himself, but the ministry staffer who posted the actual “Six Questions” article to the site.

Dear Martin,

Thank you for your recent email to RZIM in response to the article “Six Questions to Ask an Atheist” in our “Engaging Conversations” section of the website. I want you to know that I read the posted response in its entirety including the comments. On the whole, I found these responses to be very helpful and challenging. I am the author of this essay, and I borrowed heavily from a framework used in Brian McLaren’s book “Finding Faith.” I can completely understand how since you do not know me, the “tone” of this article seemed to be antagonistic rather than genuinely interested in either conversation or learning from your perspective. I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. I am seeking to learn, just as I assume you are, and I have learned a great deal from this post and the responses.

If you would permit me some time to more carefully reflect on what has been written, I would like to respond to you. While I know that what I may write will likely end up as “public domain,” I would appreciate it if we could exchange emails initially that are between the two of us. If you find something useful – either to critique or to stimulate further conversation, you are welcome to post it. But, let me do some thinking first, and then respond.

Again, thank you for sending this to me and for the very thoughtful
interaction that was presented in this post.

Sincerely,

Margaret Manning

Speaking Team/Associate Writer

So there. I replied that I would be delighted to continue a dialogue (which I’ll bring Matt in on, as he wrote the original post, of course), while assuring Margaret that I wouldn’t post any of it here without securing her permission. But I thought there’d be no harm in letting you guys know there was a response, and a polite and receptive one at that. It does appear as though Margaret had not in fact field-tested Ravi’s Six Questions among any actual atheists before. So hopefully there will be an eye-opening series of exchanges to come.

We get email: we iz childrens of teh Basement Cat!

Not much going on around here today. We’re just prepping for a busy Sunday, what with the textbook rally at the Capital in the morning, then the show at its usual time, followed by Threadgill’s. And here I was thinking part of the fun of being godless is you got to sleep in on Sunday! Ah well. Here is some kooky fun from the mailbag today, to put smiles on all your heathen faces. Also, our “Christian Psychiatrist” dude wrote me back, but I’ll get on that later. Toodles!

Dear Atheist Experience Show,

I think it’s a shame that most of the people who call-in to your show are either ignorant of the scripture or they are merely religious people that do not have a clue about what they are saying because they have never heard the voice of God anyways. It’s obvious that God “IS” real and it is also obvious that He has never sent anyone, an actual child of God, to speak on your show and probably never will. Here is why, all human beings in their natural born state are wicked and evil, such as yourselves. Most religious people, churchies, just cannot figure this out. You have experienced atheism, but you have never experienced God because you are the children of Satan. This is why Yesu, <– Jesus, said that a human must be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This heresy that God loves everyone is a lie! God loves those who persues righteousness! God loves His children. Satan's children, the wicked, or the world will be burned up and then casted into the Lake of Fire. Another fact is, is that unless God draws you to The Christ then you "cannot" come to Him, nomatter what you do. I do not care what the world or atheist do, thinks, or says because it does not concern me and should not concern any other "real" Christian anyways. It's not a Christians duty to go around fixing the world because that's just impossible. Only God can fix the world and is going to do so in due time with some serious heat. In the end the losers become the winners and the winners just get burnt. You are not the Devil like many people say on your show, but you are one of his many children.

I think I actually will start calling Christians “churchies”! I like that!