Atheists as Vulcans without Machismo? An e-mail exchange…

I recently received the following e-mail query:

What do you think about the fringe criticisms against atheism that talk about the setbacks of overly concrete/logical thinking and a lack of abstract, emotional capacity commonly associated with atheists?

They criticize atheists (especially Dawkins and people like Dawkins) for being dull, unpleasant, lacking machismo and being unappealing to women. They argue that overly concrete thinking is detrimental to living the dynamic and largely abstract life outside of scientific institutions and number crunching facilities. Popular psychology even attested and perpetuated this bullshit with labels like Aspergers which describes people who are book-smart but have no people skills. I can’t cite any source that surveyed people with Aspergers and how many of them are religious or irreligious but I can guarantee a majority would be atheists.

The question is, is being 100% logical all the time really the right way to live an awesome and successful life?

You got things like music and art that you can’t build or enjoy without a level of spiritual capacity. As an example, to fully enjoy the spirit of Christmas, you gotta suspend some logic about Santa Claus and just let loose to enjoy the holiday, especially for the children whom you wouldn’t wanna ruin the fun for. Or watching cartoons and coming across many things that just don’t make sense, like the characters not falling off a cliff as long as they don’t look down and other inconsistencies in the plots of long-running anime episodes that you just don’t wanna over-analyze or be too logical about because it ruins the fun and the whole point of the show which isn’t to take it so seriously.

So essentially they are calling atheists a pack of basement-dwelling empty nerds who don’t know how to have a good time, which I gotta admit isn’t too far from the truth.

What do you think about all this?

My response was brief:

I don’t think their accusations are remotely accurate…and tell us much more about those making those accusations than the target of them.

And apparently insufficient…so the author asked for more information:

Why not? Is it not true that those prone to atheism are much more concrete thinkers than those prone to religion? You have to admit there is a correlation.

Here’s my response…

The fact that we’re not prone to accepting fantasy-as-reality doesn’t mean that we’re emotionless robots or Vulcans, incapable of appreciating beauty.

I’d argue that, in fact, the opposite is true. The individuals that I’ve met in the atheist community, are rarely dull. To the extent that we’re unpleasant, it stems from the frustrations of seeing reality treated as a minority position by individuals who credulously accept the supernatural while attempting to impose their religious views on other by legislation, coercion and indoctrination.

With respect to the lack of machismo or being unappealing to women, I find those claims absurd and sexist. They are particularly stupid charges that would be beneath response if it weren’t worthwhile to expose the ignorance and privilege of those making the claim.

There’s not a single public atheist figure that is advocating logic at the expense of emotion, humanity, beauty or empathy. (And if they’re were such a person, the rest of the public atheists would be the first in line to point out that this individual certainly doesn’t speak on behalf of other atheists).

There is no “spiritual” requirement for enjoying beauty or art…and such statements only demonstrate that the individuals have no concept of either the people their criticizing or the human condition. Most of my atheist friends greatly appreciate beauty, art, literature, fantasy, science fiction, music, films….the list goes on and on.

In addition to the television programs, podcasts, speaking engagements and activism efforts, I not only work a full-time job, but I take time to enjoy the world I live in. I read books (often fantasy and sci-fi), visit zoos, caves and museums, shop at craft fairs, hike and explore nature. I also crochet, make chain mail jewelry and oil paint. I play board games, card games, computer games and billiards. I am moved by great musical and artistic performances – occasionally to tears.

I do these things with my wife and with many other members of the atheist community. Dawkins has spoken many times about the beauty of nature. Hitchens has done so as well. I was fortunate to hear both of them speak publicly about this subject at the convention this past weekend.

As I said, the accusations aren’t remotely accurate and can only be made by someone engaged in a quixotic and xenophobic dismissal of a perceived enemy. What a sad existence one must have to presume that those who don’t share one’s imaginary friend are somehow deficient and sub-human. Curiously, they’ve often adopted religious positions that relegate the entire glory of existence to the status of a doormat – a place to wipe one’s feet while waiting for an afterlife. While their perceived enemy, to the extent that they’ve established anything akin to a religion, have largely adopted humanist positions.

And, as I’ve now wasted two e-mails responding to this absurd subject, I’ll be posting it on the blog so the reply might help prevent others from asking this.

Thanks for the question and for pushing for a follow up…but I’m most definitely finished with this particular subject.

Random Thoughts at About.com

I’ve mentioned before that I try to spend time at About.com’s Agnostic/Atheist section hosted by Austin Cline. The site offers a lot of good things, not the least of which is a good atheist community forum and an often-updated blog. Recently I posted a few comments to some of the blog posts there, and thought I’d share. The site, in case anyone is interested is at the following location:

http://atheism.about.com/

In response to the post: “Myth: You’re Not Really an Atheist, You Just Want to be Contrary”

In response to another comment in the comments section:

They are projecting. You’re correct. I had a talk last night about this very thing. Religion is implanted into infants/children. Later, when they “feel god” they don’t understand that it’s an idea that has been artificially implanted. It was drilled in so early on that they think it’s as inherent as “not liking peas” or some such.

Even when they’re confronted with a realization that their “arguments” for god’s existence don’t make sense, they can’t shake that “feeling” that god is “there.” So, even if you can reason them out of all sorts of things, that last bit, the existence of god, still holds tenaciously. This is where we get statements like “I just know there is a god.” Or “I just feel it.” Or the disturbing “I know that I know that I know.” These are people who were used as children as meme depositories–used by a viral idea, spread by other infected adult minds/people.

When you say you don’t “feel” their god or acknowledge it, it’s impossible for them to believe it. (1) They “feel” it. (2) Everyone they grew up with likely told them they “feel” it–all the adults they trusted, mom/dad/sunday school teacher/preacher, perhaps even friends. And (3) they’ve been taught that feeling is implanted by god in every human heart. And that’s the explanation they hold to for how they “feel” it–and why they reject it when you say you don’t share that.

One of the most eye-opening things to me when I began to get outside the religious box was understanding atheists who were secularly raised did not have the things I’d been taught are inherent such as “feelings” a god exists or “supreme fear of death.” Many churches teach you’re born with an innate sense of “god” and later, as an evil/flawed adult you “sear” your conscience–and drive it out. But if that’s true, why work so hard to instill it into children? And why do secular kids not express this “feeling” even in their youth?

It’s a lie, but one that children are immersed in to the point it really does become the only reality they know. Breaking that spell is a task, for sure.

In response to the post: “Passive vs. Aggressive Atheism – Should Atheists Be Passive or Aggressive?”

I think a lot depends on where a person lives (how much influence religion exercises over his/her life in his/her region) as to whether a person is motivated to “engage” or be critical.

I’ve been asked a lot: “Why do you care what theists think?” Beyond 9-11, I can list a slew of crap religion is doing to impact the state in which I live, Texas. It’s not “benign” in my state. And if we didn’t constantly slap down the tentacles of religious invasion into state law, state education, and state politics, it would creep along invading every aspect of our lives here. What would stop it if not people standing up in opposition?

But I have learned as well that no small number of people refuse to reason and aren’t interested in dialoging rationally about ideas. These people won’t be reasoned with, and whether I adopt a kind or harsh approach seems to result in the same thing–that they won’t reason and they maintain their stance regardless of evidence in opposition to their beliefs.

This person, whether they’re “abused” (verbally, not physically) or treated kindly, I don’t care. Neither method will impact them any better. BUT, people listening and watching the exchange ARE impacted, and what I’ve seen is that if stupid ideas are taken to task in a harsh way, many people who are “reachable,” but who share similar views will contact us and say, “I saw the episode where you lambasted that creationist. I was raised creationist, and never questioned it until I saw how foolish that caller looked during that exchange.”

Even though this viewer shared the same ideology–he was able to watch safely from the sidelines as his perspective was criticized, and objectively consider whether it sounded reasonable. And when he saw fair mockery of the irrational nature of the idea, he felt no sting of personal attack, and assessed the content of the statements without being offput by the “meanness” of the responses.

For every person publicly attacked, I’ve begun to find (because I hear from them daily) there are MANY others who benefit from such attacks–by having the benefit of being able to view them and consider their own positions from the sidelines. One such person “made example of” can be publicly “strung up” metaphorically–as a lesson to others to be more critical of their own beliefs.

The scathing approach has a great benefit. And until I got more involved in the atheist community, I probably wouldn’t have seen or acknowledged that. I am, naturally, a fairly kind person. I am often harsh in response to abstract concepts, but far more friendly when I engage an actually human being–again, generally.

But many atheists I work with are less kind, and I have seen the responses to them, and outside of the individual who is being assaulted (again metaphorically), they _do_ have demonstrated beneficial results that I can’t deny. I can’t argue with success. And seeing people write in to say “that lashing you put on that caller really made me think harder about what _I_ believe.” That’s priceless. That helped someone.

Why we need blasphemy

Pat Condell, in one of his wonderfully cranky YouTube rants, opined that the Danes (I think it was the Danes) were probably wondering what the hell had happened to their free country since Islam showed up. The idea that freedom should surrender without a fight to religious fundamentalism of any kind, but especially that which has only fear and violence to support itself, is disgusting. And craven laws like that passed in Ireland, which naively strip away basic rights out of the fear of even a little bit of violence, merely give the fundamentalists what they want: a culture of oppression which is the only kind of culture where fundamentalism can thrive.

Now from Denmark comes word that a Somali terrorist has been shot (to which I say “Good,” and the PC crowd can flame away all they like) and wounded attempting to break into the home of cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who was responsible for some of the controversial Mohammed cartoons that caused such a stink some years ago. The man’s goal was, of course, not to sit down over coffee with Westergaard to offer constructive critiques and rebuttals to his work, but to murder him, which is of course a perfectly rational response to a cartoon.

Once more with feeling: if your religion cannot stand up to a fucking cartoon, it ain’t the cartoon that has the problem.

I have spoken to a number of atheists who, with the very best of intentions, have naively asserted that the best thing to do when faced with the violence of radical religious extremists is to sit down, shut up, and not get them riled, because really, we don’t want anyone to get hurt, do we? That they cannot see how this cowardice and capitulation gives religious lunatics the power over us they wanted all along never ceases to amaze me. And does anyone actually think that, by appeasing them once in this way, they’ll be satisfied and decide they can stop shooting and bombing and whatever else it is sky-daddy has told them to do this week, “peace” be upon him? Let’s do that as a multiple choice question: A) No; B) No; C) Hell no!; D) What, are you stupid? Once they know that a tiny bit of fear is all it takes to control you, then they’ll just keep demanding and threatening more and more, until you’re afraid to wipe your tender bottom without their divine mandate.

People, what we need is more blasphemy, more anger and more outrage in the face of this lunacy. Religious extremists are the cockroaches in the kitchen, and only the light of reason will send them scurrying to hide. Belief systems propped up by violence are ones that have already failed. No respect should be given them. So pick up your pens, cartoonists, and blaspheme your butts off! And if they turn up at your door, well…shoot first. If they really think they’re the only ones out there to be feared, they obviously haven’t heard Matt Groening’s dictum: “It is unwise to annoy a cartoonist!”

We get email: “atheists can be irrational too” edition

Remember Patrick Greene? He’s the dimwit who took umbrage at Ray Comfort’s website selling bumper stickers unflattering to atheists. He declared it hate speech and threatened to sue, called in to the TV show to defend his litigiousness, was roundly mocked for such silly and petty behavior, and yet insisted that his contact information be made available on the show despite warnings from both Matt and Kazim that this was probably not the best idea.

Well, here it is a year later, and Patrick is highly frustrated that you folks are still emailing him telling him what an assrocket he is. Evidently it didn’t occur to him that, what with fans posting clips all over YouTube and the availability of the show on such services as Google Video and Blip.tv, his little announcement would be available pretty much in perpetuity. Never mind, though, because, in his narcissistic view of things, you’re all the ones with the problem. So he writes us back in full-blown petulant-5-year-old-who’s-been-told-he-can’t-play-Wii-until-he-eats-his-broccoli mode.

I received another e-mail about the bumper sticker, after a YEAR of this shit going on, so I have decided to file the lawsuit, and send you a copy of it. I am so sick to death of people keeping this crap alive……!!!!
Because of this e-mail, and the hundreds of other e-mails I have received that say the exact same thing yours does, I have decided that I will file the lawsuit, because if ALL of you think it’s a bad idea………it must be a good idea……………because all of you around the world are acting like Christians. This idea I had is a YEAR old. A YEAR OLD!!!
[Like you, Pat? —MW]
And if you all are STILL talking about it, and taking time to send e-mails about it, then It MUST be a good idea……THANKS!!!!!

Well, you can’t argue with logic like that, can you?

So, here’s the email that our courageous defender of atheism’s honor has fired off to Living Waters Ministry.

To Mr. Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron,

This is to inform you that over a year has passed since the incident of the threatened lawsuit against your bumper sticker. Since that time I have received e-mails by the hundreds, from atheists all over the world. These atheists have unanimously agreed that the lawsuit idea was not a good one, to put it mildly.

However, after spending the last year going through your blog and your store, and seeing the sheer volume of materials against atheists, I have come to the conclusion that your “free speech” constitutes hate speech.

So, since Christians by their own admission adhere to a “loving” faith, your biblical mandate of spreading the “word” must come in the form of loving rhetoric, not insulting people who do not share your belief, and not instilling hate to your followers.

Therefore, if ALL of your material against atheists is not removed from your website by October 20, 2009, I will file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Antonio, and ask the court to issue a restraining order to curtail your hate speech.

Sincerely yours,
Patrick Greene

Oh yeah. That’ll have them quaking in their boots and their lawyers scrambling to circle the wagons, for damn sure. Uh-huh. Like this thing won’t be dismissed so fast it’ll set off a sonic boom.

Patrick, if Ray Comfort is the World’s Stupidest Christian™, then you are most certainly the World’s Stupidest Atheist™. You guys are made for each other. If only you knew how good you’re making him look. Moron.

The FFRF Christmas sign, and why it’s a bad atheist message

When you have an unpopular message, however confident you are that it is factual, it is important to know how best to deliver that message so that your audience, however predisposed they may be to agree or disagree with you, is receptive, willing to give you a fair hearing at the very least.

Some atheists make the argument that Christians will never give us a fair hearing at all, so there’s no reason not to be as rude and abrasive as possible. But this simply isn’t true. The God Delusion sat pretty on the New York Times bestseller list for a solid year. And while Dawkins is certainly vilified out of all proportion to what he says and does by indignant believers, the point is, the book has sold over a million and a half copies. They didn’t all go to atheists, obviously. Otherwise, every book about atheism would be as monstrous a seller. Whether they like it or not, believers are getting the message — via books like TGD and blogs and what have you — that there are a lot of atheists out there, and that we’re prepared to defend our views with a great deal of intellectual rigor.

And yet there are effective and appropriate means to deliver those views. I’m not a Malcolm X, “by any means necessary” atheist, because not all means work. And while it’s a good thing many times to be provocative, provocative isn’t necessarily the way to go at all times. Which leads us to the Christmas sign.

To recap events of the last week: the Freedom from Religion Foundation had a sign placed next to a nativity scene in front of the Washington State Capitol building in Olympia. (Let us, for the moment, blow off any tangential arguments about the church/state separation issues that may be involved there.) At some point on Friday it was ripped from the ground and found some miles away tossed in a ditch. “Ah ha,” sayeth the atheist blogosphere, “does this not prove how petty and small-minded and censorious those Christian thugs are? How thin skinned they are about allowing any belief contrary to their own in the public sphere?” Well, maybe, but then, let’s look at what the sign — which has been used by FFRF before — actually said, and remember that it was placed next to a traditional Christmas decoration.

At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE may reason prevail. There are no gods, no angels, no devils, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

That last sentence is an example of what is commonly called “overplaying your hand.”

Look, you won’t get any arguments from me about the truth content of the sign as a whole. But, mindful of the whole “time and place” concept, as well as the general mindset of the people (Christians) whom you intend to reach with the message…well, what they read when they read the last sentence is not necessarily what might have been intended by the FFRF. You see, they aren’t going to read that last sentence and think, “By golly, they’re right. How gullible and foolish I’ve been to shackle my mind to these ancient superstitions.” No, what the last sentence of the sign says to them is this.

Hey, Christian fucknuts. You know this Christmas thing you’re all into right about now? You know, that time of year where you gather together with your family, decorate the tree, put lights up around the house, sing carols, stuff yourself silly with yummy turkey and cranberry sauce, wrap presents while eagerly imagining the looks on your childrens’ faces when they unwrap them, then snuggle with your loved one under a comfy blanket before a roaring fire while sipping eggnog and reminiscing about Christmases past and how big the kids are getting? Yeah, you know, all that insect-brain three-hanky horsepuckey? Well, the reason you like all that is because you’re a gullible, hard-hearted, uneducated, dimwit FUCKTARD! So come on over to our side, where we don’t have any of that sentimental shit we just listed, but we do have the thin and feeble pseudo-satisfaction of looking down our noses at everyone we pretend to be better than.

Pretty much something like that, anyway.

Given that’s what the message says to them, is it any wonder it was ripped from the ground? Is it any wonder they nurture their persecution complexes? Is it any wonder they never lack for ammunition in their bleating about a “War on Christmas”?

In short, the sign is provocative when an atheist message delivered this time of year ought to be nothing but fluffy bunnies. That doesn’t mean watering down your atheism. It means putting it in a positive, humanitarian and humanist context. You know, that thing we mean when we refer on the TV show to “promoting positive atheism.”

The irony here is that the FFRF has gotten it right before, with their billboards that simply read “Imagine No Religion.” That is a message that simply seeks, in Dawkins’ words, to raise the consciousness of the reader. All it asks is, imagine a world without religion. The believer may do so and see nothing but a bleak, nightmare void. But that’s where the discussion can start and the consciousness-raising can begin in earnest. You see, signs need only the pithy consciousness-raising message. They should not try to encapsulate a detailed atheist worldview — the whole “religion is superstition and, really, isn’t it kind of silly for grown adults to believe in invisible magic men in the sky” thing — in a nutshell. Especially not in a venue where the received message will be, “What, you like Christmas? What kind of shithead are you anyway?”

“But Martin,” you say, “the FFRF is suing because the city had their harmless, inoffensive, ‘consciousness-raising’ billboard pulled down after two days! So positive atheist messages are no better, obviously!”

Yes they are, my little sprogs. Because while few people will blame Christians for tearing down a provocative atheist sign next to a nativity scene — and I’m sure the FFRF has been dismissed in a number of media outlets for simply pulling a publicity stunt — when they try to suppress truly inoffensive messages such as that on the billboard (or the even-less-offensive one that simply read “Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone.”) then they do look like reactionary, thin-skinned bullies, and it’s easier for atheists to claim the moral high ground and come across, even to some in theistic camps, as more sinned against than sinning.

So while it’s all fine for us to throw punches at religion in most of the forums available to us — our blogs and books and TV shows — when atheists make the choice to take the atheist message out to the general public on their turf (and yes yes, you can say “the Capitol grounds is everybody’s turf,” but I’m dealing with the way things are in this country, not the way they should be), then that message needs to be 100%, undiluted, positive atheism.

If I were to place a sign next to a creche, I’d have it say something like this.

During this holiday season, and at all times of the year, let us remember our shared humanity and come together in love and mutual support, striving towards a better future for us all. A person’s goodness comes, not from what they believe or don’t believe, but from who they are inside and what they do to better the world around them.

And then, when people look at the small print and see it’s from an atheist organization, will they think the sign is attacking them in the way a sign telling them they have hardened hearts and enslaved minds seems to be? Would they still want to pull it out of the ground? Or would they be less inclined to think of atheists as petty, mean-spirited pricks who are just bitter because they don’t have Baby Jesus and eggnog and crackling fireplaces in their lives? Would they have their consciousness raised? Maybe only some. But I bet that’s more than the FFRF’s present sign has won over.

So happy holidays, bountif
ul Solstice, and merry Christmas. Everybody.


Addendum: Well, predictably enough, not only have a number of readers completely misunderstood my point in this post, but some of them seem to have gone out of their way to make a special effort to do so, with one idiot even accusing me of “Uncle Tom” atheism. Another commenter wrote, “What you are saying boils down to, ‘If you’re not saying what I want you to say in the manner that I want you to say it, then shut the fuck up.'” Which is, of course, not what this post boils down to at all, period, not even a little bit. I’ve responded in detail in the comments myself.

Crippled dogs and one-trick ponies

I’ve just returned from the Texas SBOE hearings on Science TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) standards, and I’m so full of disgust and dismay that I’m at a loss for words to express it with enough rancor. You can, however, expect me to go on at length anyway. The whole thing was such a goddamn farce from the outset that I’d had more than enough after only one hour, at which point I could only roll my eyes and walk out the door. If you haven’t encountered the gall and dishonesty of creationists on their own turf before, and even if you have many times, it’s always the kind of experience that leaves you feeling worse about humanity in general.

As I write this, people are still speaking, and will be for a few hours yet. I saw no point in sticking around, but for all I know there could be, at any time, a real first-rate speaker who could get across the points that needed to be gotten across, and who would call out the creos on the disingenuous rhetoric they repeatedly spewed. As it is, I left the whole charade with two key observations: 1) That the big pitch the creationists are using isn’t merely the weasel phrase “strengths and weaknesses,” but their defense of that phrase as an expression of support for “academic freedom” that the scientific community apparently opposes; and 2) that the pro-science side, at least as I saw it today, is singly unaware of how to respond to that rhetoric properly and forcefully.

This cannot be understated: Just as the anti-gay contingent of the Christian right sells its opposition to gay marriage as a “defense” of “traditional” marriage that can in no way be compared to opposition to interracial marriage or anything of that sort, so too are the creationists now abandoning the overt, lawsuit-bait language of “intelligent design” for “academic freedom” language that makes them seem like the ones encouraging students to use their minds to think about and evaluate ideas that are presented to them in class on their merits. Conversely, the pro-science side wants to shut this kind of inquiry down, and just require students to be obedient little sponges soaking up whatever the textbooks say.

Why this is a misrepresentation and gross misunderstanding of the opposition to such terms as “strengths and weaknesses” was, to his credit, appropriately explained by Texas Citizens for Science spokesman Steve Schafersman. But he didn’t make the point forcefully enough, and even he seemed taken aback when challenged by one of the creationist board members after giving his alloted three-minute address. I’ll discuss that last, because it was after Schafersman spoke that I ducked out. After all, if a veteran front-line soldier in the science education wars like Schafersman falters when some creationist puts him in the hot seat, it’s clearly time for the pro-science side to step back and understand just how dishonest the rhetoric is, and how it has to be addressed in a no-nonsense manner, calling bullshit bullshit, and stating the pro-science position with sufficient force and clarity that no sleazy creationist ideologue can sit there lying about it and sounding smug and reasonable while doing so. I don’t see that the pro-science speakers today fully appreciated the ideological scrimmage line they were going up against, nor the fact that the game plan was going to be offense all the way.

A quick rundown of some of the speakers I did see.

As I had a number of errands to run early in the day, I was worried that I may have missed a lot of the good stuff. I didn’t end up getting downtown to the Travis State Office Building until about 3:30. But as the TFN announced that the hearing itself wouldn’t start until likely after lunch, and as I recall the last set of hearings I attended in the same building five years ago went on until well into the night, I figured I hadn’t missed too much.

Turned out my timing was excellent. The hearings on the science standards started right around 3:55. That must have been some sheer pain for those folks who’d been there since 9:00 AM.

As the title of the post indicates, what ensued was the kind of dog-and-pony show where the dog has only three legs and all the pony knows how to do is turn in a circle. The first speaker was a dignified and well spoken older gentleman named Dr. Joe Bernal, who was himself an SBOE member in the 1990’s, and who spoke eloquently on the need to keep science scientific and avoid the pitfalls of allowing room for non-scientific ideas. He stated that it was the duty of parents, not schools, to determine a student’s religious instruction. He also reiterated the support among the scientific community for evolutionary theory.

Now, after a speaker has done his three minutes, board members can ask questions of that speaker if they wish. I saw it coming even before it started. The instant the bell chimed on Dr. Bernal’s address, creationist board member Terri Leo leapt out of the phone booth with her Supergirl costume on and hit the ground faster than a speeding bullet.

Her first agenda: discredit the recent survey, cited by Dr. Bernal, that showed 98% of biologists and science educators in Texas support evolution. “Who funded that study? Wasn’t that study funded by the Texas Freedom Network?” Dr. Bernal admitted it was, but stated calmly that whoever funded the study was beside the point. He actually got in a good comeback to Leo, noting that even the science teachers selected by the SBOE to review the science standards voted in the majority. But Leo wasn’t finished. “I always thought that taking polls wasn’t how you do science.” Well, of course not, and the poll wasn’t an exercise in doing science. The science is already done. The point of the poll was simply to get a show of hands among professionals in the relevant fields as to what theory is appropriate to teach in classrooms. But this is the kind of dishonest rhetoric that creationists will throw out there to get the pro-science side on the defensive.

The thing about Terri Leo is, she’s so dumb and sleazy that she cannot resist overplaying her hand. And she did it right away by using shameless creationist language while simultaneously denying any creationist agenda on her or the SBOE’s part. Note that Dr. Bernal only brought up religion in passing in his speech, pointing out that it’s a private family matter and not fit for science class. Leo leapt on this like a hungry tiger, railing that the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” was not religious language, and that the only people making a big deal about religion supposedly being shoehorned into science curricula are “militant Darwinists.”

I am not shitting you. She actually used that term, out loud, in front of a packed room, in her questioning of the very first speaker of the day.

I couldn’t stop myself. I laughed out loud, loud enough for her to hear. (“Hey…sorry, but…”) That was when I knew that the whole day was going to be a complete joke.

Dr. Bernal responded quite impressively by bringing up — and I’m so glad he was the first speaker, which is when it needed to be brought up — that the SBOE had themselves enlisted known anti-evolutionists affiliated with the Discovery Institute, who have not exactly been secretive about their own religious and creationist agendas, to be among those assigned to review science standards. Specifically he asked (to the delight of the crowd), “Why is someone from an institute in Seattle being asked to review Texas science education standards?”

And here we saw, for the first time, the depth of the SBOE’s egregious dishonesty they were going to display today. The presence of the DI’s Stephen Meyer, and creationist textbook writers Charles Garner and Ralph Seelke was brought up many time by many speakers, and no one on the board would defend or even address it. They simply were not going to justify their actions in this regard to the public, or at least, they didn’t in the hour I was there. If anyone reading this stayed through to the end, and he
ard anything from Dan McLeroy or Terri Leo about why these men, with their overt ID affiliations, were asked to review the Science TEKS standards for Texas, do let us all know in the comments.

Unlike 2003, when Terri Leo (working hand in hand with the Discotute) front-loaded that day’s speakers with creationists, I only heard one creationist speak today, some idiot who sleazily brought up the DI’s long-ridiculed “list of 700 dissenting scientists” as if it represented some kind of major controversy within science over Darwinian evolution. (As Ken Miller pointed out hilariously in his talk back in the spring at UT, this number represents barely a single-digit percentage of the total number of professionals in the relevant fields, and the list includes a number of names of non-biologists and similarly unqualified people who happen to have Ph.D.’s.) This guy then shamelessly rushed headlong into Godwin’s Law while the audience groaned, averring (after supposedly having watched Expelled too many times) that by refusing to allow ideas to be questioned in class, we were doomed to be heading down the same path those poor misguided Germans went down.

This inspired such derision from the crowd that Terri Leo — shocked, shocked at just how “rude” people were being in response to the entirely reasonable comparison that had just been drawn between themselves and Nazis — exhorted everyone to be more “respectful” of this poor man, who had taken valuable time out of his day to come down here to call everyone Nazis, and would the board please be more diligent about controlling such inconsiderate and shocking outbursts.

I can’t really put into words the atmosphere of disbelief that circulated around the room at this point. People were being calm, but among the audience and people waiting for their turn to speak (and I saw a very reassuring majority wearing “Stand Up for Science” stickers on their lapels), there was a definite vibe of “Just how much bullshit are we expected to endure?” Well, people, that’s what we all have to remember about creationists and religious ideologues: they are a Perpetual Motion Machine and Bullshit Factory all rolled into one, unleashing an unstoppable deluge of bovine feces that would even make Noah throw up his hands and say, “Fuck it, no ark is gonna save us from this one.”

Finally I come to Steven Shafersman, a man I admire and whose work in battling creationism over the years and fronting Texas Citizens for Science is unimpeachable. I had already made up my mind to disembark this ship of fools, but when I heard Shafersman’s name announced I stuck around, deciding he’d be the last guy I’d hear.

Shafersman did well, but unfortunately his talk left an opening for one of the creationist board members (a portly man whose name I didn’t catch, but who’s been identified by a commenter as Ken Mercer) to pounce on. See, Shafersman’s main point was that the reason it was inappropriate to have language like “evaluate strengths and weaknesses” in scholastic standards is that it requires activity on the part of the students they haven’t got the expertise for. Mercer tried to obfuscate this by making it seem as if Shafersman and the pro-science side didn’t even want students to be allowed to raise their hands and ask questions in class. This is emphatically not the case, of course, and Schafersman explained that, going on to say that in science, theories are critically evaluated in the field by working professionals, not by students hearing the theories for the first time and lacking the proper expertise and frame of reference to do a “critical evaluation” in the first place.

But Mercer kept hammering the false point repeatedly. What about errors and hoaxes in the past? What about Piltdown Man? What about Haeckel’s inaccurate embryo drawings, that were in textbooks for years? If people weren’t allowed to question these things, wouldn’t these errors and hoaxes have gone unexposed, and wouldn’t students be learning misinformation today? Why try to stifle the sort of open inquiry that led to these very necessary corrections?

Here is where Shafersman fumbled the ball, because there was such an easy and obvious response to this that it was all I could do to hold my tongue and not blurt it out as loudly as I could shout. I just wanted Shafersman to say one simple thing, and he never said it, because I think he was so flummoxed by the aggressiveness of Mercer’s questioning that he allowed himself to fall into the trap that had been set for him, forcing him to go on the defensive. (“Why, as a matter of fact I was one of the scientists instrumental in getting Haeckel’s drawings out of textbooks!” To which Mercer simply replied, “Right! So why then…”)

Here’s what I think Shafersman should have said in reply to Mercer:

“Sir, your examples support my point. The Piltdown Man hoax and Haeckel’s drawings were both shown to be false by working scientists, not students. It wasn’t as if some 14 year old in 9th grade biology class pointed to those drawings and said, ‘I don’t know, teacher, those just don’t look right to me.’ Because that student could not have done that. He would not have had the knowledge and expertise. And that is why requiring the analysis of ‘strengths and weaknesses’ is inappropriate language, as it requires students to do something they’re not equipped to do. Imagine a history class where you’re teaching about Alexander the Great. Then you say to your students, ‘Okay, kids, write a critical analysis of Alexander’s battle plans against the Thracians.’ How can they do this? They aren’t generals, they’re teenagers. They aren’t qualified. First, you have to teach them the facts. Then, later on, if they pursue this field as a vocation they may gain the expertise to critique ‘strengths and weaknesses.’ But for now, they just need facts. And that’s why we’re opposed to this language in the TEKS. Our opposition is not a synonym for stifling all academic inquiry or even simple questions, and to claim that it is is an extremely dishonest red herring.”

That’s how he should have shut Mercer down. And to his credit, he did make some of these points. But Shafersman was never as forceful as Mercer was. The best Shafersman could do, it seemed, was feebly try to regain control of the questioning with very weak-sounding responses (to the effect of “We don’t really need to go into the details of Haeckel right now…”, which embarrassingly sounds like an attempt at dodging the issue).

I simply could not handle any more. I bolted.

It was clear that the creationist contingent knew that the pro-science side was going to show up in force at these hearings, and they came loaded for bear with every bit of disingenuous rhetoric in their how-to-play-dirty playbook. You’ll recall in Kazim’s recent critique of the “rumble in Sydney,” in which Alan Conradi debated a minister, that Kazim made a very important point: ultimately, public debates are a matter of the performance, not the content. While these hearings were not a debate in the formal, forensic sense, they were an informal public “debate” not unlike that which goes on in The Atheist Experience and similar live venues, where topics are argued, often skillfully and often not, in an off-the-cuff manner with minimal prep.

The hearings today were that kind of thing, just an extremely farcicial parody of it. In one corner, a sincere collection of educators and science activists simply trying to ensure that the state’s educational standards aren’t diluted by trojan-horse language that, while non-inflammatory on its face, still leaves room for religious teaching to be slipped into classrooms by unscrupulous teachers (like, oh, John Freshwater); in the other, a board dominated by ideologues who aren’t the least bit interested in understanding the views presented to them (all the while hypocritically claiming to promote freedom of inquiry), and who made every effort to obfuscate, mi
srepresent, and lie about those views.

In other words, a joke. A complete and utter joke.

And they wonder why people say Texas is a laughingstock.

Two more observations before I sign off (and remember, this whole epic-length post was simply my report on viewing one hour of this rubbish today):

  1. I would have liked to have stuck around to hear the woman speak who showed up dressed (quite attractively) as if she’d stepped off the set of Little House on the Prairie. I imagine she was going to make some point about 19th century education being unsuited for a 21st century world, but there’s no way I could have endured more of Terri Leo and Ken Mercer’s verbal diarrhea while waiting. If any of you did hear her, tell us what she said, please.
  2. The pro-science side does seem to have one solid ally on the SBOE, in the person of Mary Helen Berlanga. Ms. Berlanga was very polite and thanked all of the pro-science speakers, including Steve Shafersman, for their hard work and efforts. But that just made me want to hear more from her. Why not be as aggressive with the questioning in the way Bradley and Leo were? Why not be the one to answer the repeated queries about why known ID-supporters and anti-evolutionists were allowed to review the Science TEKS this year?

Addendum: Made corrections once Ken Mercer was identified in the comments.

A fool’s last hurrah

This is the last we’ll speak of Patrick. He tries to go down swinging with this infantile non-apology that he emailed us and, presumably, all of the people who sent him the emails he asked for on the program and yet somehow failed to give him the validation he so desperately craved.

I wish to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to all atheists for my actions in the past few days.
They were unwise and I have rectified everything with Ray Comfort. The bumper sticker is back for sale. We atheists will for all time, be taken as the evil people that the Christian ministers teach their congregations. That way they can be assured that when their congregations vote, not one of us will ever be elected so much as a dog catcher. And, everyone of you that wrote me, encouraging me to tuck my tail between my legs, and tell them that they are right, and their bumper sticker is the full and complete TRUTH.
I have kept my promise to not file the lawsuit. And all of you have opened your hearts to me, and behaved like total cowards. It’s no wonder that the Christians think we all are so evil. All of you should be ashamed that you even think of yourselves as intelligent.

And I’m taking my ball and going home! Waah. Christ, what a weasel. Seriously, Pat, you ought to take lessons from some right-wing politicians, or, hell, even Nancy Pelosi, on how to do hypocritical blame-shifting and passive-aggressive lashing out skillfully. This kind of foot-stomping petulance wouldn’t even qualify you to run for dog-catcher.

I sent him off with a spanking.

Sorry Patrick. But we stopped taking you seriously long ago, and this “apology” pretty much confirms all we need to know about you: that you’re a childish and dishonest narcissist whose ego is way too invested in being the hero of your own movie. If you honestly think that what people were trying to tell you when they criticized you for threatening to sue Ray was that we all think the bumper sticker was true, then you’re even more of an immature assclown than any of us thought, and your constant recourse to self-flattering bluster is some pitifully obvious overcompensation for the unwillingness to admit that maybe, just maybe, YOU could ever be wrong about something. And your failure to comprehend your own recent role in the damage the reputation of atheists has taken among believers also speaks to the depth of your obtuseness and lack of self-awareness. I’d tell you to grow up, but as you’re already in your 60’s it’s far too late for that. You failed to launch a long time ago.

Heard back from the FCC yet?

And that’s a wrap on Patrick. Next post: back to grown-ups and grown-up matters.

Breaking the Yomin Barrier

Okay, we’re all familiar with the Yomin situation last month, and the coining of the phrase “pulling a Yomin,” which has entered Internet parlance as a term referring to anyone who has an excessive, histrionic, emotional, and deeply hypocritical and dishonest overreaction to any perceived slight, particularly when that behavior incorporates playing the victim when one’s problems can most truthfully be laid at one’s own doorstep. Lately the term has been used liberally to refer to the actions of Patrick Greene, about which you all have been reading for the last couple of days. Well, today, Patrick has outdone himself and entered what can only be called Trans-Yomin Space, a new dimension, not of sight and sound, but dimness and chaos. Get a load of the latest “here is my revenge for the crime of disagreeing with me and failing to herald me as a champion of atheism” letter he’s sent us.

I did some research on the FCC webpage, and called them. I have filed the following complaint with the FCC.

Matt Dillahunty, the host of the Atheist Experience program, read my e-mail to him, referring to him as an “asshole”. I was speaking to him via telephone, when his program was live on Sunday July 27th. During the conversation between us, where we were disagreeing on a subject, he referred to me as an “asshole” live on the program.
I don’t know if this is acceptable language for the middle of the afternoon, when children could be viewing. You can view this program at this website, the top one, #563
http://www.atheist-experience.com/archive/

I can only laugh at this. This is how far this loser has sunk in his need to validate his sense of victimhood and avenge the horrible crime of being disagreed with. Any time anyone says something that pisses him off, he wants to find a way, however specious and feeble, to sic the law or the courts on them. Stupid comes in many colors. I think Patrick has found the Stupid Rainbow Connection. The morons, the dreamers, and he.

By the way, public access cable is not governed by the FCC. Oh well.

I make nice with Ray Comfort

No surprise, Ray Comfort offered a jeering post about Patrick’s threat of a lawsuit on his blog. That’s the biggest problem with taking this kind of ill-conceived action, and it’s completely predictable. It gives the opponent completely justified moral high ground from which to criticize you, when before he was just slinging a fairly juvenile insult.

So I wrote my own comment there, pointing out that Patrick does not represent all atheists, and that in fact we dedicated a fair bit of show time to criticizing him over the weekend. Ray didn’t let the comment go unedited: I tried to supply a link to the video and audio broadcasts, and he says he doesn’t allow any links from commenters. Meh? I think that’s a silly policy, but I read the rules now and it wasn’t just me. In any case, Ray was kind enough to personally post the comment himself, sans the links. So if nothing else, I know he’s read it.

If you want a score count, I estimated that the total number of emails sent concurrently to Patrick and us, as of this morning, is pretty close to 50. I’ve stopped reading them all carefully, so it’s possible that I’ve missed something. However, my back-of-the-envelope calculations show that somewhere around, um, oh, call it 100% of the emailers agree with us. Patrick’s response seems to be that they are all now self-admitted fools, and that since all the atheists in the world have not emailed him, everyone who didn’t explicitly say he’s wrong must secretly be on his side.

Face, meet desk. Ow!


Hmmm… it looks like Ray just made a special post to highlight my comment, and also claims that Patrick wishes to withdraw his suit based on these emails. I notice that Ray is aggressively avoiding a link back, even cutting out the name of the show. Typical. Now I feel better, because I can’t handle having sympathetic feelings toward Ray for too long. ;)

Yesterday’s show

This one was a corker, so I thought I’d get it up here right away. Above and beyond the whole exchange with Patrick, there’s “Eve,” aka Microbiologychick, who punks Matt with some of the funniest Poe-ing you’re going to hear all week.

Oh, by the way. Apparently the latest backwash of Patrick’s foolishness is this: Living Waters has announced, I am informed, that they’re no longer going to be selling the bumper sticker that got Patrick all riled up. Now they’ll be giving it away for free!

Bravo, Patrick. You fucktard.


Addendum by Russell/Kazim:

To hear “Eve” call in, fast forward to about 54:00 in the video.