Thursday, December 22, 2005

Why do atheists have to be so obnoxious?

I am constantly frustrated by atheists who write beautiful and lucid expositions and then completely undermine their arguments by being obnoxious. I can certainly understand the temptation to descend into name-calling (e.g. "Our Christian enthusiasts are evidently too stupid, as well as too insecure, to...") but it serves no purpose. I was going to paraphrase what came after the elipsis, but it hardly matters. No one but the already (un)converted is going to read past that phrase.

I have the same problem with U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III's blistering rebuke of Intelligent Design in the Dover, Pennsylvania case. Obivously I agree with his decision, but did he have to use the phrase "breathtaking inanity" to describe the ID position? The only effect it will have is to convince the ID proponents that Jones was prejudiced against them and they need to redouble their efforts.


Will said...

And let's not forget Richard Dawkins.

trimtab said...

Like Ron, I too feel the discussion should do without the name calling, and feel that questions regarding the "origins" of life are important and supremely stimulating, and therefore should not warrant disrespect.

However, I'm reminded of a situation experienced by skeptics (e.g. at SCICOP and SKEPTIC Magazine). These people are continually confronted with an incessant barrage of quack, paranormal, and pseudo-scientific claims, and after having demonstrated over 100 times each and every one of these claims as being totally bogus, the quacks still keep coming. Skeptics they are IMO entirely justified in using a harsher tone. There is a time and a place for ad hominem attacks, and such attacks should be used against intellectually dishonest people, or against individuals in positions of power and influence demonstrating _untenable_ levels of ignorance. When reason and rigorous explanation fail to stop repeated fallacy and manipulation, it's time to call a cat a "cat".

When it comes to the evolutionism vs. creationism debate, the amount of bad faith (no pun intended) displayed by the creationist camp is just overwhelming. And, as with paranormal claims, said bad-faith is incessant. It just never seems to stop. I don't believe science tries to replace religion, but religion in the US, or at least some religious elements (Christian-based mostly), sure tries to alter science!

It may be that some of Dawkins' statements are too broad, insulting, and terribly counter-productive. However, I happen to agree with many of his positions. I strive to keep a sense of wonderment about the cosmos, life, etc. However, like Daniel Dennett, I'm so much in love with the truth that I'm willing to get my bubble popped instead of deluding myself with beliefs that only superficially and temporally soothe the mind. People who foster delusion to the detriment of society (e.g. by promoting ID as science vs. Darwinism) need to be properly labeled.

John said...

RE the 'breathtaking inanity' comment:

As you correctly observed in your first paragraph, there is nothing the Judge (or anyone else) could say that would convince the I.D. (nee creationist) faithful that they're not discharging an obligation to God. I think he's talking to the middle -- the sizable majority of people who are religiously motivated to do the right thing, have tremendous respect for science*, and aren't well-enough informed to know that "teaching both sides", while it sounds like a fair compromise, favors the I.D.eologues by granting them the legitimacy they can't achieve through scientific investigation.

Hmm. I never thought about it before, but it might be that I.D.'s sympathetic reception in the US has more to do with the American electorate's willingness to make 'peace offerings' when they don't cost too much ("one little label? on one textbook? that's cheap.") than with its inherent religiosity.

* Consider the taxpayer dollars spent on the Texas supercollider (even before it got the axe), the SETI project, and the average American's obsession with Oat Bran --disgusting stuff-- in the early and mid-1990s.

cs said...

I think the judge was referring to the ID position in the *court case* and not in general.

From the MSNBC story:

Jones decried the “breathtaking inanity” of the Dover policy and accused several board members of lying to conceal their true motive, which he said was to promote religion.

This is different from saying that ID itself is breathakingly inane. Since this case had made its way into his courtroom, and he'd reviewed the facts, he was well within his rights to heap scorn.