I think most readers here loathe two character flaws quite a lot. That would be hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty.
It always amazes me when people wear their dishonesty on their sleeves, though, because somehow, they don’t seem to see it themselves. Recently I got a letter that was illustrative of a particular sort of dishonesty we see far more often than we should. The writer asked the following question:
“Is there any explanation for why I appreciate the ornate interior of a Church or any structural painting or more importantly natural wonder. As an example, take the Autumn Crocus or Rhododendron, both beautiful flowers with beautiful scents but both are astonishing poisonous & can result in a painful death. Hypothetically, from an evolutionary stand point, we as early herbivores, should have recognized the danger of such plants & evolved to find them offensive.”
Let me butt in here just to note the underlying passive claim being made: “If evolution is true, how can this be?” The implication being “Evolution is not true” (as we see by the end of the below paragraph):
“From a biological stand point, yes they may herald good weather or spring, but some equally herald rot & decay by growing in infertile places or smell foul (e.g. carrion flowers), to the bee they are bright & smell pleasant so the bee will pollinate the flower but we serve no symbiotic biological function. So why then does the Autumn Crocus look so attractive to us, whilst the harmless slug is so revolting, yet so benign? I, or rather the religious part of my brain, likes to attribute this appreciation to the idea of a grand designer, what many might call God. I would not go so far as to call ‘it’ God, but like to think of it rather as some divine equation. (Strange I know).”
And here’s where the crap enters in. Argument from (Willful) Ignorance 101. To paraphrase:
“I could look up research into human aesthetics, but then I might find an actual answer about what drives that mechanism. So, I’d rather pretend it’s a mystery and attribute it to god, and then feign I really do care about the answer by writing to atheists, rather than behavioral psychologists or evolutionary biologists who likely would be qualified to offer the real answer I so desperately wish to avoid.”
And the finale he offered:
“I don’t pretend to have the answers or maybe even the relevant questions, but would dearly like to know your thoughts on the matter. Have you come across this argument or similar arguments before? Do Primates find such natural objects beautiful?”
No, you don’t pretend to have an answer. You pretend you care about the real answer. And then you pretend there is no answer by using a question to make an assertion. Why ask atheists if they have an answer to a question that should be put to an evolutionary biologist or behavioral psychologist?
Who hasn’t seen the lying theist (he claims to be an “agnostic”…but what do you think?) a million times asking the atheist “how do you explain this?,” rather than the expert in the relevant field? If I want to know about a cure for leukemia, I ask an oncologist, not a florist. But how stupid to go to a florist and assert, “But there is no cure for leukemia…do you know of one?” If I want to honestly know about a leukemia cure, why wouldn’t I go to the expert in the relevant field?
Hint: Because I don’t really want to know the real answer. I want to try and stump the atheist.
Here is why this vexes me: I’m not your personal Google Slave. But you seem to want to use me like I am.
In zero time, I found the answer to his mysterious question without an answer. What drives human aesthetics?
I also shared a story about a bird that would shed some light:
“Birds also have demonstrate aesthetic sense. Some birds will build elaborate dwelling places to attract mates. I watched a documentary where researchers moved some of the stones and other gathered items when a male bird left to collect more things to add to the dwelling. On his return, he ‘rearranged’ the objects that had been moved. It seemed he not only was dropping baubles around as shiny or colorful objects, but had some sense of where they actually belonged–although to the human, it looked like a mess of stuff on the ground. One day maybe well gain some grasp of ‘bird aesthetics.’”
I also explained a bit about misrepresenting evolution—by looking at a single trait in isolation. And I explained that some traits that seem harmful can actually have overall benefit. Additionally I wrote the following:
“Ironically I find that this sort of argument also lends itself to having one’s cake and eating it too. If the world were perfect, surely theists would claim that as evidence of divine creation. So, how do flaws also equal evidence of divinity? If it’s perfect, it’s god; if it’s imperfect, it’s god. So, what would a _natural_ universe look like then? Is there anything that would indicate “no god” was involved? If not–then the claim god was involved is useless and meaningless. It boils down to saying “I don’t care what you show me, whatever I see, I’ll just say god did it.”
I thought my reply was fairly civil, but then I got a response that contained something odd:
“If I had one admonishment on the surge in atheist activity lately it would be the tone in which you deliver your arguments. People do not like to be talked down to, & that may seem the easiest thing to do, especially if they represent an idiotic standpoint in your opinion. And with some people, I don’t even think it’s a question of intelligence in grasping your views, I believe some people’s brains are just wired to believe in Divinity ‘I don’t care what you show me, whatever I see, I’ll just say god did it.’. Maybe those people are a lost cause.
“In a sense it worries me that, here we stand on the brink of enlightenment, with the possibility of a new ‘superstition’ free society, thanks to the ideas & work of a great many atheists, including yourselves. And yet simultaneously you alienate those who need explanation & discourse, not condescending rants. I am not having a cheap shot at you or atheists in general, I just hope for the sake of mankind, we can get everyone to agree on a new broad thinking sense of society.”
Again, sort of odd, especially since the writer himself is guilty of what he accuses those “lost causes” of doing? Didn’t he just duck to miss a real answer, and then try to insinuate the cause as god? How is that different than the “god done it” crowd?
Well, you pretty well know the AETV stance on mocking stupidity. I’m arguably the kindest cohost, but even I had to defend Matt’s refrain that “ridiculous ideas are, by definition, worthy of ridicule”:
Here is my reply interspersed with the correspondent’s note:
HIM: If I had one admonishment on the surge in atheist activity lately it would be the tone in which you deliver your arguments. People do not like to be talked down to
ME: Then they would do well to look up the issues they write/speak to us about before they come to us with them. If a person writes/calls and wants to discuss evolution, and has a fundamental misunderstanding of what evolution is and how it functions, then why should I speak to him/he
r as though he/she is informed and can speak intelligently on the issue? Frankly, until they demonstrate they _care_ enough to study the topic to inform themselves before spouting ignorant opinions, I don’t see why I should treat them as though they’re anything but ignorant people spouting ignorant opinions…?
HIM: that may seem the easiest thing to do, especially if they represent an idiotic standpoint in your opinion.
ME: If a person doesn’t want to be addressed as an idiot, and their views are idiotic, I would advise they not make their stupidity public. That, to me, is the most basic and simplest solution to keep them from being put off by negative response. OR, they can grow a thicker skin. For example, theists think I’m evil and going to hell, and I simply think they’re wrong. I’m not “offended” by someone else’s idiotic beliefs. And I also don’t feel obligated to show deference to any person’s stupidity. And I don’t ASK anyone to do that for _me_. If I say something dumb–I may expect to be corrected, and not always kindly. But regardless of the approach, I’d do well to accept deserved admonishment and not blame the messenger, even if he’s unkind. If I walk away more informed and less likely to repeat a stupid claim to someone else, I’ve been done a favor.
HIM: And with some people, I don’t even think it’s a question of intelligence in grasping your views, I believe some people’s brains are just wired to believe in Divinity “I don’t care what you show me, whatever I see, I’ll just say god did it.”. Maybe those people are a lost cause.
ME: Again, they have the option to keep quite if they don’t want people criticizing what they think. They have a right to believe and say what they like. But anyone who expresses their views to someone else _invites_ a response, and to think everyone will agree or be kind in response is extremely naive.
HIM: And yet simultaneously you alienate those who need explanation & discourse, not condescending rants.
ME: Again, I’m free to rant racist crap all day long, but I’m a fool to expect people to embrace me or my ideas if that’s what I do.
HIM: I just hope for the sake of mankind, we can get everyone to agree on a new broad thinking sense of society.
ME: I sincerely hope I will denounce stupidity and harmful ideas to the day I die—no matter who expresses them or how taken aback they are to hear dissent to their assumptions.
Now, what I got back became increasingly agitated and, well, full blown crazy strawman. It seems that what I said above is evidence that I would like the world run as a Totalitarian Police State? Note how he takes my general comments as personal (martyr much?):
“I would say thank you for your reply but I think that would be dishonest. To be frank I found the whole e-mail quite scathing & I’m really not sure what I have done to warrant such discourse. I merely wanted to point out that you should be tolerant of someone’s ideas, because it is ‘your opinion’ that you think them idiotic. You can never persuade someone’s thinking by patronising them or suggesting their intelligence is substandard. I learnt this the hard way working in the medical profession, a lesson that might well be forgotten in the dark lonely halls of academia.
“‘Should not people presenting poisonous ideas be alienated by an enlightened society?’ Really? To be honest I’m suprised that such an apparently intelligent person would deliver such a outrageous statement. First off all what kind of enlightened society do you envisage that would alienate anybody? And the notion that an idea should be poisonous is also ridiculous, it’s only the society that implements such an idea that is dangerous, not the idea itself. What you seem to suggest as an enlightened society sounds like some totalitarian erudite state. In fact your statement might well have come from the mouth of some megalomaniac church leader.
“’To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to lnowledge.’ –Benjamin Disraeli”
OK, “me” again. See, this is the problem: Theism must prefer a society where criticism isn’t leveled at unsupported or unreasonable ideas. Now, the supreme irony is that theists call us evil, Satanic, vile, worthy of condemnation—and they have a history of killing anyone who disagrees, depending on the time and place. But criticism of ridiculous theistic ideas, apparently is the same as breaking people’s doors down in the middle of the night and dragging them off to never be heard from again. Because I say bad ideas should be checked publicly, I’m the voice of Totalitarianism.
So, I tried to explain it to him as though he were intelligent:
ME: I fail to understand what you found personally scathing–since almost nothing I said was personally directed at you. Please be assured that any offense or discomfort you experienced is solely self-inflicted.
HIM: You can never persuade someone’s thinking by patronising them or suggesting their intelligence is substandard.
ME: I agree, but I think if a person is as unreachable as those you described, then a kind approach is no better. I find using them as examples for others less close minded ends up “helping” those who see the humiliation understand how idiotic the theist looks. Then they can safely examine their own beliefs without suffering the same fate. These people write to us daily saying they’ve watched and learned. And as they _are_ reachable, we are helping people–the people who can be reached. I frankly don’t waste time concerning myself about people who don’t wish to be helped. Expending concern on things I cannot improve is wasted energy. I focus on the areas where I can help. And I don’t apologize for that.
HIM: First off all what kind of enlightened society do you envisage that would alienate anybody?
ME: Would you embrace Nazis and racists? Jihadists? NAMBL? Please think before you speak. Again, they have a right to their beliefs–and to express their beliefs. But for society to try to include those beliefs as part of “enlightened” dialog is idiotic.
HIM: And the notion that an idea should be poisonous is also ridiculous, it’s only the society that implements such an idea that is dangerous
ME: No, it’s dangerous to say it’s illegal to think or speak it. It’s intelligent to judge it and say “your concepts are harmful, and if you try to put them into practice, I will oppose you to the last.”
HIM: What you seem to suggest as an enlightened society sounds like some totalitarian erudite state.
ME: Only if you totally ignore what I said. I did not call for thought police. I did not call for silencing anyone by force. I said that if a person spouts ignorance they should expect criticism. That’s totalitarian? That’s public dialog, I thought? And I still say that those who don’t have the capacity to defend their beliefs should think hard before expressing them–else they get shown up as the ignorant fools they are. I’m not asking they be executed or arrested, just shown to be exactly what they are.
HIM: In fact your statement might well have come from the mouth of some megalomaniac church leader.
ME: Except I can show you wher
e churches HAVE tried to silence others via force. That’s NOT what I’m doing. And if you still think it is, then you’re simply incapable of listening.
What I got back was not a response from someone interested in honest dialog. It was further strawmen and a statement from someone who is monologuing, not dialoging. Rather than respond to what I said, he merely kept asserting I’m advocating a police state:
“Just a small point. It’s not public dialog to alienate ‘people presenting poisonous ideas… by an enlightened society’. Alienating a person based on the belief that there is something greater than we understand would entail alienating most of the people on the planet. Totalitarianism ‘recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible.’ When you talk of alienating people based on their ‘poisonous ideas’ you are speaking of totalitarism.
“To alienate 1 : to make unfriendly, hostile, or indifferent especially where attachment formerly existed.”
So, again, saying it’s OK to call stupid things stupid means I “recognize no limits to my authority.” I mean, how can someone type this without spitting milk through their nose and disabling their keyboard? Surely he’d have to be laughing at the time? I know I would have been!
And really, this is where it just became too funny to read further. How could I take it seriously any more? A person saying “your ideas are stupid,” does not a “police state” constitute. Martyr, Martyr, Martyr. You DO NOT have a right to not be offended. You DO NOT have a right to say whatever you like and not endure public response. You simply DO NOT. You may think what you like. You may say what you like. But others may say what they like as well, including that you’re an idiot. Free speech does not just belong to theists! It’s free speech and public dialog–for everyone, Peaches–not just you! I support anyone’s right to believe and say what they like. And the fact you claim you can twist that in your cheese brain into “totalitarian” ideology only further demonstrates your capacity for dishonesty and self-deception.
Is there no strawman too big?
At this point, what else could I say?…
“Criticizing people’s stupid concepts is not the same as ‘recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible.’ Get honest. Mocking stupidity is not a police state. Have you utterly lost your brain?!
“Please drop your ridiculous histrionics. You’re only making yourself look foolish.”
This received the mature response of “I know you are, but what am I?,” as follows (and note the haughty tone–I was so intimidated by his faux eloquence):
“Given that I have no hystera that would be an impossibility. But for you, on the other hand, it would be relatively natural.
“Good day to you.”
I couldn’t think of anything more along the lines of poetic justice than to give him firsthand access to an experience with what Free Speech means in the modern age. So, I told him he made our public blog, and that I’d be posting his ideas shortly for the judgment of the rational viewing public. My guess is that he’s going to get a horribly Totalitarian response—that is, people actually voicing criticism of these concepts. I do, however, honestly hope he survives it. If it’s too scary, perhaps he can seek political asylum in Switzerland–if he doesn’t mind living with secularists?