Morton a Victim of His Own Demon


I meant to write about this a couple weeks ago and forgot, but PZ’s post reminded me. Like PZ and Aron Ra, I knew Glenn Morton as an ally, and a very important one, in the fight against creationism. I worked with him on a couple different projects over the years. And I, too, am saddened that he has now deleted all of his writings on the subject and lashed out in a fit of irrational rage at those he previously worked with. PZ explains the nature of Morton’s Demon, an idea that Glenn came up with:

One of the concepts he crystallized, in addition, was the idea of Morton’s Demon. One of the notable things about arguments with creationists (perhaps you’ve noticed this too) is how they can stand there slack-jawed and dead-eyed while you explain an uncomfortable fact to them, and how they’ll suddenly leap into action when you say some word or phrase that cues a creationist script — you can be describing how the chemistry of the cell works, for instance, and if you mention “thermodynamics” suddenly you’ll get “The second law of thermodynamics proves that everything trends towards disorder, and is proof of a Fallen World!”…followed by slack passivity as you explain that no, it does no such thing. Morton’s Demon is the mental game creationists have going: they selectively shut out evidence against their pet theories and only allow in ideas their pastor has assured them are completely wrong.

Aron has now made me very sad. It turns out Morton’s Demon was an especially appropriate name for the concept, because Glenn Morton is severely afflicted with one. He escaped the Young Earth Creationist trap because his work exposed him to the counter-evidence every day, hammering the YEC-demon into submission…but I mentioned that he was a Christian. It turns out that he’s a right-wing conservative Christian, with a fully functioning filter tuned to select out anything from any source other than Limbaughesque talk radio.

In a post on the TheologyWeb forum, he explains why he deleted all of his important writings debunking young earth creationism in a furious and irrational screed against atheists and liberals. To wit:

The powers that be think that everyone MUST be forced to pay for contraception for the YES, slutty life style of Sandra Fluck who gave a speech at the Democratic convention bemoaning that we don’t pay for her contraception. (Rush Limbaugh got in lots of trouble for saying she is a slut, yet it is Sandra who wants to live a life of sex where everyone else pays to keep her from getting pregnant). Why must I as a Christian, who thinks such behavior abysmal, sinful and self destructive pay for her to have sexcapades without consequences? Why must my taxes be used to support what I view as her responsibility? Why does she have a right to pick the money in my pocket when she didn’t earn it? But, it seems, if you question this simple fact in today’s world, everyone will cluck their tongues at you, making you out to be the evil one. Why is it that they think that everyone MUST be forced to believe that what Sandra does is OK AND PAY FOR HER TO HAVE PLEASURE WITHOUT WORRY FOR THE CONSEQUENCES???? She can do what she wants, but don’t ask me to pay for it and don’t force me to approve of her behavior. The modern political left, and make no doubt, most anti-YEC folk are from the political left, want to enforce their conformity upon us because we can not be allowed to actually have an independent view of Sandra Fluck’s behavior or anything else, including anything they deem to be wrong. That is not to be allowed. Enforced conformity is what they want. I must smile while I give Sandra my money to pay for her sexcapades.

That’s painful for me to read and it just makes me sad. The whole thing is. It just reads like an old crank screaming at those atheist kids to get off his lawn. Glenn is getting old and he has faced some serious health problems, and I’d like to think those things are contributing to this, but I don’t know. It’s been years since I spoke to him. Regardless, I will continue to value his contributions to the public’s understanding of science, especially geology. His work in debunking common creationist arguments regarding the geologic column is outstanding. I wish he’d left them up.

Comments

  1. says

    His arguments can’t be lost. The internet never forgets. Is the problem that nobody has the right to post them? After that long, aren’t they public domain?

  2. says

    It amazes me how many right-wingers blow a gasket over Sandra Fluke that entails misrepresenting who she is and what she is advocating. If she were my daughter, I would punch Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly in the face if I were in the same room as them.

  3. says

    So basically it comes down to a bunch of slut shaming – a line of thinking, in terms of arguing what health care should cover, that can only be coherent if everyone is forced to live in small padded rooms where they can’t possibly be hurt.

    Recreational biking, rock climbing, going for a walk, playing soccer, putting up a Christmas tree, etc, would all have to be uncovered because why should other people have to pay for your risks you take while enjoying life without having to worry about the consequences?

    Setting aside his staggering ignorance about how the birth control works, and that the quantity of sex isn’t even a factor, almost nothing could be covered by health insurance.

    In reality, much healthcare is saved in societies where women have full access to contraceptives, and that’s ignoring the medicinal value of the birth control in question, in certain circumstances.

    If we want to save money, this is the way to go – and if we want any concept of health care at all, you’ll have to accept that you’ll be pooling money with people who are doing things you wouldn’t approve of. That’s the practical reality of it.

  4. laurentweppe says

    I don’t think “Morton’s Demon” qualifies here: Morton’s behavior look too “My team will never be in power again unless we manage to drive the religious nuts into an even bigger frenzy so I will pander to them from now on“-ish: that is: more dishonest than fanatical

  5. says

    It’s more and more disheartening to find that men with great minds who do great work turn out to be raving misogynists, because they have less and less of an excuse for it.

    Dementia would be an excellent excuse, yes. There’s nothing else that rescues a person with a few brain cells to rub together in a modern Western country from proper blame for this kind of hateful nonsense.

  6. eric says

    I am having a difficult time fathoming why a person would remove arguments for an old earth in order to protest health insurance companies being required to offer contraception coverage.

    Is this some sort of ‘cut of your nose to spite your face’ manouver? Is Morton deciding to punish the cause of science literacy since many of that causes’ supporters are also social policy liberals?

    What a strange, non-sequitury response.

  7. baal says

    heddle, copyright in the US for written works lasts 70 years beyond the death of the author. Of course, if the only people with standing to bring suit are also dead or don’t exist, feel free to infringe away.
    Also, copyright is for the expression only. Ideas can not be copyrighted. As such, if someone were to write the ideas out in their own idiom (and it wasn’t too much like the original), we could use that (with permission, unless it’s given an open license or is explicitly dedicated to the public (you can give up a copyright but it’s not necessarily easy to do)).

  8. says

    ” If she were my daughter, I would punch Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly in the face if I were in the same room as them.”

    Perhaps Ms. Fluke would be interested in being a foster child? I mean, I would not NEED any reasons beyond the fact that he’s an odious fuckbag, to punch Rushbo in the face, or O’liarly, but the jury might go easier if it was because he insulted my niece or summat.

  9. eric says

    Ah, just got back from reading his OP. Have to say, Ed, IMO your excerpts from PZ and from Morton’s post really don’t reflect the gist of his complaint.

    Now, his reasoning still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me but I’ll try and summarize what I think are the real main points (and do so charitably):
    1. Atheists are attacking all of Christianity, both YEC and OEC. He wants religious people to stand together against such attacks, so he no longer wants his arguments beeing used to split/cause strife between different believers.
    2. The will of the majority should rule and people allowed to make their own mistakes. Schools should be allowed to teach creationism. State governments should be allowed to put up creches. Catholic hospitals should not be required to provide abortions and Georgetown’s health plan should not be required to cover contraception, etc. Because his words have been used by secularists to argue against the teaching of creationism in schools and so on, he’s withdrawing them so they can no longer be used for that.
    3. He still thinks YECism is wrong, but he thinks that his material is being used to censor (my paraphrase, not his word) religious thought out of the public square rather than intellectually critique it in the public square. Since he sees this as the wrong way to respond to YECism, he doesn’t want his material being used to do that.

    I think he’s wrong, but at least the three points I’ve outlined above are a bit more relevant to his decision than just ‘Sandra Fluke. Liberals and their social policies. Nyah.’

  10. eric says

    Heddle @1 – Morton says that his articles are copywrited and he’ll fight efforts by others to use them. So his words are probably out of the public domain. But as baal says, the same arguments and ideas can probably be expressed in new ways. “Morton’s Demon” is a very nice allegory of the confirmation bias, but its not like he can copywrite the confirmation bias.

  11. fastlane says

    So, based on eric’s synopsis, Morton:
    1) Thinks tribalism is more important than truth.
    2) We could bring back slavery if the majority wanted it.
    2a) Morton would be totes ok with Muslim displays in school and banning of pork, as well as the whole facing Mecca, etc, if they were a majority. (Color me skeptical.)
    3) See 1).

    Not that much more subtle, and really, it shows him to be more of a douchecake than anything else.

  12. barrydecicco says

    tommykey:

    “It amazes me how many right-wingers blow a gasket over Sandra Fluke that entails misrepresenting who she is and what she is advocating. If she were my daughter, I would punch Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly in the face if I were in the same room as them.”

    I’ve come to believe that on the right, freudian projection explains almost everything. If there’s one thing that the right has demonstrated it’s their willingness (eagerness) to use government power to get money. And I’ve also come to believe that accusing others of doing what you are already doing is pretty good politics.

  13. Dennis N says

    There is a subset of political beings in this world for which there is no greater crime than being liberal. This trumps all other concerns, no matter the consequences.

  14. says

    Glenn is getting old and he has faced some serious health problems, and I’d like to think those things are contributing to this, but I don’t know

    Pascal’s wager?

  15. says

    Morton says that his articles are copywrited and he’ll fight efforts by others to use them.

    Who cares about his thoughts, now? It seemed as if the only reason his writings were interesting was because he was a religiot who was temporarily being intellectually honest. That’s nice, and that makes him a good example for others. But when he stops, well, then his example is worthless as are his writings.

    With players like Hume, Voltaire, Dawkins and Hitchens on the atheist side, it’s highly unlikely that he was better, clearer, cleverer or more powerful than the rest of the field. So let him return to well-deserved obscurity, another mind hopelessly wrecked by religion.

  16. wscott says

    a line of thinking, in terms of arguing what health care should cover, that can only be coherent if everyone is forced to live in small padded rooms where they can’t possibly be hurt.

    That used to be a common conservative argument against socialized medicine. (Back in the days when conservatives bothered to make actual arguments, rather than just repeating dogmatic rhetoric and boilerplate rants.) The idea is that if I as a taxpayer am helping to pay your medical costs, then I have a legitimate financial interest in your behavior, particularly any behavior that increases your risk and therefore the costs to me. Thus it gives the government a license to tell you how to live your life, further expanding the reach of government into your personal business.

    OK, so it’s not the most logical argument, but it beats “Socialism Is Evil!!!”

    @ eric #11: Thanks for the OP summary. Still nutty, but less of a total non sequitur.

  17. matty1 says

    Glenn is getting old and he has faced some serious health problems, and I’d like to think those things are contributing to this, but I don’t know

    Pascal’s wager?

    Unlikely, the wager is supposed to be an argument for being religious, which Morton was all along so that can’t really explain the change.

  18. says

    …yet it is Sandra who wants to live a life of sex where everyone else pays to keep her from getting pregnant…

    Even if that was true(*1) penny-wise, pound foolish.(*2)

    *1. Which it’s not, as she was talking about insurance that students, in part, pay for not covering contraception, even when it’s being used for non-contraceptive purposes.
    *2. Every dollar Medicaid spends on family-planning, for example, saves it four times that in costs later on {cite}.

  19. says

    Marcus Ranum,

    Who cares about his thoughts, now? It seemed as if the only reason his writings were interesting was because he was a religiot who was temporarily being intellectually honest.

    No, he apparently had some really good rebuttals of YEC geological false-arguments. As Ed stated. In the OP.

Leave a Reply