2012-07-13

The Fanboy Defense — An Excuse for Doing Nothing While the World Burns

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by Tim Widowfield


I smoke because Picasso smoked. And because Hitler didn’t.

— Albert Finney

Pablo Picasso 1962

Pablo Picasso 1962 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re all for evolution, but . . .

Robert Wright, a senior editor at The Atlantic, in his recent piece called “Creationists vs. Evolutionists: An American Story,” explains why the U.S. has seen a recent uptick in the number of people who believe in Young-Earth Creationism (YEC). Is it because of the endless hammering by the holy hucksters on TV? Is it because of the 24-hour, nonstop Right-wing noise machine? Is it because of politicians who pander to ignorance and supernatural mumbo-jumbo?  Of course not. It’s because of those mean old “new atheists.”

Jerry Coyne’s response over at Why Evolution Is True effectively debunks Wright’s distressingly poor thesis, especially the part where we were supposed to have been in the middle of a truce between science and superstition until extremely rude people like Richard Dawkins forced people to choose. I can add very little to Coyne’s remarks.

What intrigues me is this idea that people would choose to support or not support a given scientific theory based on the people associated with it. Over at the HuffPo, Michael Zimmerman, the founder of the Clergy Project, asks: “Who’s Responsible for the Evolution/Creation Controversy?” You know the kind of article it’s going to be from the start when he adds, “It’s Not As Simple as Some Would Have You Believe.” Ah yes, the old “plenty-of-blame-to-go-around” piece, as predictable as earwigs after a hard rain. But catch what he says about men (and women, we suppose) of the cloth and their role in the debate:

As head of The Clergy Letter Project, an international collection of religious leaders and scientists who promote evolutionary teaching, I have good reason to believe that the rhetoric of people like Coyne, Dawkins and [PZ] Myers have, in fact, moved people away from a pro-science, pro-evolution perspective and toward religious fundamentalism. I’ve interacted with tens of thousands of clergy members over the years and I’ve been depressed by how many of them have pointed to the position of the “new atheists” saying that if they’re the spokespeople for evolution, they want nothing to do with it. Have these clergy members actively promoted creationism? I have no way of knowing, but what they haven’t done is promote evolution as have the thousands of their colleagues who have joined The Clergy Letter Project. (emphasis added)

Is this a good reason for burying one’s head in the sand? I’ll be the first to admit that one of the main reasons I own an Android phone is that I can’t stand Apple fanboys. But it’s just a phone. My question is whether it’s ever valid to come to a decision on a really important issue based mainly on your visceral reaction to its proponents or opponents.

I’m not crazy about rising sea levels but . . .

Do you remember back when Michael Shermer finally came out and embraced global warming? He seemed to think that it was a perfectly understandable to have been a climate-change skeptic for so long. Was it because of the cogent arguments made against anthropogenic global warming? Was it the data? The climate models? Nope.

[I]n spite of what I now see as overwhelming evidence for anthropogenic global warming, there are still plenty of skeptics out there, and I believe that they are primarily motivated for the same reason that I was — they got burned by environmental extremists.

By the way, I’ve said since at least the mid-90s that eventually (i.e., when it’s too late), all climate skeptics will admit there was a problem and they’ll blame their inaction on the people sounding the alarm today. Apparently, not liking Al Gore is sufficient reason to let the ice caps melt.

The message is fine, but the messengers are so unpleasant


[T]heir folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.

So has our modern world come to this? Do people start believing in God again because they don’t like new atheists? Do they miss the civility of the old atheists like Thomas Paine and H.L. Mencken? Yeah, Mencken, there was a nice, friendly fellow.

The [New York] World is displeased with Mr. [Clarence] Darrow because, in his appalling cross-examination of the mountebank [William Jennings] Bryan, he did some violence to the theological superstitions that millions of Americans cherish. The New Republic denounces him because he addressed himself not “the people of Tennessee” but to the whole country, and because he should have permitted “local lawyers” to assume the “most conspicuous position in the trial.”

Once more, alas, I find myself unable to follow the best Liberal thought. What the [New York] World‘s contention amounts to, at bottom, is simply the doctrine that a man engaged in combat with superstition should be very polite to superstition. This, I fear, is nonsense. The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.

True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season, and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But he certainly has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge. Did Darrow, in the course of his dreadful bombardment of Bryan, drop a few shells, incidentally, into measurably cleaner camps? Then let the garrisons of those camps look to their defenses. They are free to shoot back. But they can’t disarm the enemy.  (H.L. Mencken Baltimore Evening Sun, 14 September 1925)

See what I mean? Why can’t Dawkins be more like that?

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-07-13 12:39:36 UTC - 12:39 | Permalink

    After so much crooked Hoffmann prose, what pleasure to go back to straight-shooter Mencken. It’s like a fresh breeze sweeping away all those tortuous cobwebs spun by Joe the spin maker.

    Hoffmann has just posted his good-bye to Vridar
    http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/a-farewell-to-vridar-and-the-gang-of-four/
    Less Hoffmann and more Mencken should be a boon for our brains craving for clarity and openness.
    And no more this diagonal shot of his pink forehead. What a relief. This picture always gave me the creeps. It’s as if the oblique view was the right view for him, as if he always was hiding something or plotting something.

    In his good-bye, he starts pontificating as if he were Jesus, is smart enough to sense his imitation of the provider of wisdom, and tries to deflect the comparison “Oh no, don’t think I am Jesus.”

    Mencken speaks for himself, square and straight, never as Jesus or a parody.
    Imagine a whole life spent on obsessing about Jesus! What a waste, especially of his talent for sarcastic barbs, which have not much play in NT studies.

    Mencken knew his forte and went for polemics and opinion journalism.
    Hasn’t Hoffmann ever wondered whether he would not have been happier practicing his gift of tongues in another field: standing comedian, tabloid journalism, or playwright?

  • GakuseiDon
    2012-07-13 12:57:35 UTC - 12:57 | Permalink

    My 2 cents: If one side appears open-minded, and the other appears closed-minded (regardless of whether appearance matches reality), then people will naturally tend to side with the open-minded group. I suspect that this is why some people on the internet spend so much time trying to show that the other group is closed-minded rather than building an argument for themselves — easier to get the “fanboys” on side. For Creationists, it is much easier to attack the personalities of the New Atheists than to show that creationism is the better supported argument. Demonstrating (in their own minds at least) that the New Atheists are incapable of looking at the evidence with an open-mind, somehow translates into a negation of their (the New Atheists’) arguments.

  • Bob Carlson
    2012-07-13 13:00:47 UTC - 13:00 | Permalink

    On the creationism vs. evolution issue Kevin Drum concluded:

    The fact is that belief in evolution has virtually no real-life impact on anything. That’s why 46% of the country can safely choose not to believe it: their lack of belief has precisely zero effect on their lives.

    I don’t think global warming being real makes much difference because I don’t think anything can be done about it short of restricting growth of the human population. That is, anything that is done to reduce carbon emissions will be more than offset by the effect of population growth. Melinda Gates has recently been promoting birth control for developing countries, but it is countries like the USA in which birth control would have a far larger benefit because of the fact that the rate of consumption and waste generation (and not just CO2 either) is so much higher per capita in developed countries. I don’t see US politics permitting a national birth control policy in the lifetimes of even the younger of us.

  • 2012-07-14 00:37:22 UTC - 00:37 | Permalink

    This is why it is psychologically important to have no heroes and no villains. You do yourself a disservice when you think of arguments as coming from “the good guys” or from “the bad guys”; the level of bias goes much deeper than you can consciously attempt to avoid. You don’t have conscious control over individual neurons.

    When I read message boards like FRDB, I always try to read the contents of the post and only reply to the post instead of reading who posted it. Reading who posted it almost always colors my perception and interpretation of the post. Unfortunately people love the narrative of good guys and bad guys. From Joe the plumber down the street to the most learned scholar in history. It’s a pretty basic human need, and wouldn’t be avoided unless one had a good grasp of how brains work.

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