‘Atheist Mythology:’ or, Speaking Truth to Crazy

Updated 1/21/09.

I have gone through several phases in my various ill-fated efforts to debate Creationists. At first, I made the freshman error of debating the facts, learning too late that theists have no interest in facts, and freely invent their own (as do conspiracy theorists and UFO believers).

bush-id-cartoon

Then I switched to contempt and ridicule, as theist propositions are invariably contemptible and ridiculous, whether involving Creationism or not. Unfortunately, third parties who have yet to form an opinion tend to view such dismissive and seemingly hostile tactics as de facto evidence that one has no substantive arguments to make. Said parties need only to spend sufficient time with theist arguments to reach the stage of contempt and ridicule themselves; but by this point all they remember is that the atheist was a jerk, and decide erroneously that (impossibly) both sides are equally wrong.

So I reached the third and final stage of anti-Supernaturalist pose, that reached by most professional scientists who lack the intestinal fortitude of a Dawkins or a Shermer – ignoring the idiots.

But a while back a friend emailed me a link to a blog post entitled “Atheist Mythology.” My friend knew quite well I would take the bait, and I did. In recent years I have been dragged back into anti-Supernaturalist arguments by my girlfriend who, while not exactly a believer in Astrology or Homeopathy, will vehemently defend these thoroughly discredited ideas, and views my supposed lack of open-mindedness as a character flaw.

So why am I reproducing my Quixotic efforts to debate “Atheist Mythology” here on my blog? The reasons are made clear below, but to summarize: the author of said blog post suffers from a genuine character defect common to a certain brand of theist, the apparently uncontrollable urge to censor and misrepresent the arguments of one’s challengers. He has confused the ability to edit the comments of one’s visitors with permission to do so. It reminds me of a common moral defect amongst those who self-identify as “Conservatives,” the idea that if something is legal (in the secular sense, such as profit maximization, or in the religious sense, such as child abuse) then it must be moral; and if something is illegal (in the secular law, marijuana use; in religious law homosexuality), then it must be immoral. Because the post author’s blog platform allows him to edit visitor comments, he assumes it must be ethical – otherwise, wouldn’t the God of the Internet prohibit him from doing it?

Below is the original “Atheist Mythology” post; all other visitors responses in the form in which the blog author published them; and my responses in their entirety, with the portions removed by the blog author in bold.

Atheist Mythology (the original post on BuyThe Truth)

Every belief system has an account of origins, and atheism is no exception. Narratives for atheists include the Big Bang (origin of the universe) and evolution (origin of variety and complexity of living organisms). Instead of man being formed out of the dust of the ground by God, man is formed out of the dust of the ground by evolution. It never ceases to amaze how those who espouse naturalism can poke fun at the Biblical account of origins, and yet be unable to see the ridiculous nature of their own position.

One who has studied a great deal about mythology is Raphael Madu. In his work African Symbols, Proverbs, and Myths: the Hermeneutics of Destiny he refers to earlier work by Earl MacCormac in Metaphor and Myth in Science and Religion, and Madu points out (footnote, page 96):

Because men have traditionally assumed a dichotomy between myth and science, it might be shocking to talk of scientific myths… Scientific explanations are known for being falsifiable and thus temporary, but to forget these qualities of science and assume that they are absolute and final, is to create a myth. The dissimilarity between religious and scientific myths is largely on the level of content. While the former are replete with descriptions of legendary heroes and deities, the latter are filled with mathematical symbols and references.

Evolutionists have forgotten about falsifiability, and present evolution as a dogma, and are thus creating myths. One of the most prolific popularizing narrators is Carl Zimmer, and he is going into overdrive with evolution mythology this year. He writes for the New York Times, as well as magazines including National Geographic, Discover, Scientific American, Science, Popular Science and Time. His books include Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea; At the Water’s Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back To The Sea; and the Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins – you get the idea.

The staggering thing about popularizers such as Zimmer and Dawkins is that though what they write is great narrative, it’s indistinguishable from fairy tales and ‘just so’ stories. What is lacking is any evidence and rigour. They simply recycle suggestions and postulates, and weave them into a narrative to be accepted as fact. It’s the stuff of myth. Indeed, one of Dawkins’ books is entitled The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life, complete with prologues, and a last chapter entitled Canterbury, so giving more than a nod to Chaucer’s Tales. It’s a tale indeed, far, far away from anything like science, but it goes down a treat with the atheists. Zimmer is also preaching to the converted, because for all the accolades showered upon him by atheists, what he writes sounds plain goofy, but they can’t discern it. Listen to some of his pronouncements from a recent article entitled Evolving Darwin in Time magazine.

The fossil record points to hippos and other hoofed mammals as being the closest living relatives to whales. So does their DNA.

Yes, evolutionary biologists really do believe that – both the blue whale and the hippopotamus are conjectured to have a common ancestor, a cloven-hoofed beast like a tiny deer, no bigger than a domestic cat, that lived in Kashmir and Pakistan. This is one of Zimmer’s hobbyhorses, and he has written extensively about it. Only when you accept evolution as a dogma does such a narrative makes sense – otherwise it is fantastic.

The slavish reliance on DNA (their newest toy) and the acceptance of evolutionary dogma is little different from the discipline of higher criticism in the literary world, which seeks to use ‘scientific’ methods and analysis to show the origin and evolution of texts. Applied to the Bible, this produced wacky assertions in the late nineteenth century that John’s gospel, the Johannine epistles and Revelation were written by authors who never knew Jesus, and the letters of Paul were written by the heretic Marcion. The Higher Critics built their fantastic theories, and had University faculties teaching them as facts, but a lot of these theories now look very, very silly. But we digress; Zimmer continues

Our own DNA contains clues to the bonds we share with the rest of life–it turns out, for instance, that we are closer kin to mushrooms than to sunflowers. It’s been 1.5 billion years or more since our ancestors split off from our fungal cousins. How did the genome of our ancestor change so that it could produce two-legged primates?

“There was an old lady who swallowed a fly. I don’t know why she swallowed a fly. Perhaps she’ll die.”

…Some 2 billion years ago, one of our single-celled ancestors took in an oxygen-consuming bacterium. That microbe became the thousands of tiny sacs found in each of our cells today, known as mitochondria, that let us breathe oxygen.

So there you go. Once upon a time your ancestor was a primitive microscopic one-celled entity, which swallowed a bacterium, which exchanged and scrambled some genetic code, which enabled your ancestor to evolve into a system that could breathe oxygen. Just add a couple of billion years, give or take, and some of your ancestor’s descendants evolved into magic mushrooms, and some evolved into man.

Evolutionists now teach that both the fungal kingdom and the animal kingdom are merely sub-groups of the ‘opisthokonts’, cells that have a single posterior flagellum (as animal sperm cells have), which plants lack. Cracraft and Donoghue in Assembling the Tree of Life state

The sisterhood of animals and fungi is now well accepted by evolutionary protistologists.

Well, only in the last few years as the myth has matured. To suggest that man is closer kin to a fungus than to a flower is like stating that the computer you are reading this on is more akin to a grain of sand than a snowflake because there is silicon in semiconductors, and sand contains silicon, but there’s no water in computers. But what about the fact that a snowflake has form, as does a computer, whereas sand is amorphous? It all depends what attributes are compared. Comparisons between things that are so different in their structures and complexities are meaningless. If you take evolution as a fact, then it necessarily follows that you will try to force all living things into a ‘Tree of Life’ that supports your presuppositions. Anthropologists are still arguing, based on DNA studies, about the relationship between modern man and Neanderthal man (who, it is said, disappeared only 20,000 years ago) – whether there was any interaction between populations. Yet Carl Zimmer can confidently assert that all the mitochondria in our cells, and our ability to breathe oxygen, came from an invasion of bacteria into a single-celled mould that was once the common ancestor of us all two thousand million years ago.

The same myth appears in Dawkins’ Ancestor’s Tale, and is traceable to the endosymbiotic hypothesis proposed by Wallin in the 1920s, and popularized by Margulis in the 1970s. No experimental evidence has been or can be presented to test it, so it is just another of those unscientific untestable hypotheses beloved by atheists, and it has now entered the mainstream dogma of evolutionists as it provides a rough and ready just-so narrative of how things came to be – without a designer. Myths about origins always seem so far fetched, don’t they? – except to those who believe them.

I should like to know how this yarn differs from any of the fantastic myths about origins found amongst different peoples and cultures. In essence, it is little different from Sumerian, Egyptian and Hindu mythology: it is a makeover of ancient myths dressed up to appeal to modern man. Atheists are developing their religion and straining every nerve to play catch up with the other faiths, and we now have the myths of atheism, which sit neatly alongside the myths of so many other religions. We have the myth of evolution, and we have the myth of the Big Bang. And we have wonderful storytellers.

What we are seeing and dealing with here, when we read their writings, is evidence neither for the evolution of the universe, nor for the evolution of man, but evidence for the evolution of atheist mythology.

Previous comments:

Moses Presley
I think you are right to lump science and myth into the same category. Certainly, science is often a ‘job for the boys’ from the right background along with jobs in the media, the established church and the political institutions. You need to be careful, however, not to suggest the existence of a ‘supreme being’ or omnipotent ‘God’ as originator of all things… now that would be ‘barmy’!
Moses Presley (space cowboy)

ScientistForTruth responds
True science, of course, properly conducted, is not myth. But there are a lot of ’scientific’ narratives being spun today that are myth. When entities such as dark matter and dark energy, which nobody knows anything about, have to be invoked to constitute 96% of the universe (the remaining 4% is the real type of matter and energy that we know about) just to keep the Big Bang theory afloat, then you know you’ve entered the world of myth. The Ptolemaic system had its equivalents: the dark matter was the crystal spheres and the dark energy was angels pushing the planets round. You can’t see crystal or angels, of course, just like we can’t see dark matter and dark energy. Oh, but you can see their effects, they cry, so that proves they are there! Unfortunately the medieval entities had to be conjectured because for two thousand years the world was hamstrung by Aristotle’s physics, taught with authority. If you get the basic scientific principles wrong, everything else will be wrong.

I read your last sentence as tongue-in-cheek – I hope that’s right.

Marc
At last some sense. I was so pleased to read this page. People should remember, Darwin’s theory of evolution is just that a theory.

Also remember science is just one way of looking at the world, like wearing a pair of spectacles.

Darwin’s theory of evolution failed completely for me in 2005. Before this I had accepted the theory. After ten years of deliberation / reading / modelling I reached a conclusion in 2005. It became clear that it just does not add up.
In the same way that we need invisible dark matter and dark energy to make our physics formulas work Darwin’s theory relies on the unseen past.

What is visible to us all is just how often “true” statements in science are later found to be incorrect. Science thought that DNA would be the answer, provided by the genome project. Great claims were made. The result of completing this work was that science realised it was more complicated than it thought and each strand needs to be broken down into millions. Great, anyone notice the scope creep here. And all the big talk on this research being used to bring cures to us humans. Nonsense. We have seen few cures for human ailments but many many green mice, human ears grown on mice and modified crops (which when trailed destroyed the ecosystem it was grown in).

I’ll make some outlandish statements here just for fun which are an alternative representation of scientific fact. Monkeys evolved from humans, can you name a creature that has successfully evolved but its old version still walks the planet?

Dinosaurs were so big because gravity on earth was stronger back then than it is now.

My First Comment:

Here is my first comment, in its entirety. The blog author’s additions are in italics, and the portions he edited out are in bold.

Sometime [sic] we receive comments that are antagonistic towards the position presented in the post, yet which by their very nature and content actually prove and demonstrate the point being made in the post. The following is a good example. I have snipped parts which refer disparagingly to comments made by others.

The studied ignorance and anti-intellectualism displayed on this page, as well as the egoism, are breathtaking.

I am always astounded when theists are so eager to ensure their beliefs are not denigrated as inferior to scientific concepts, that they will willingly denigrate BOTH to make them equal. The author’s argument is based on two transparent fallacies: (1) all statements not proven absolutely true are equally true, and (2) if the author cannot imagine an idea is true, then it cannot be true. Anything the author doesn’t like (evolution, biblical exegesis) is “wacky.” Well, I guess if this writer, an individual with no education (not even self-education) in science or comparative religious studies, says it’s wacky, it must be wacky.

Of course, the author has not created a situation where science is proven false and their own personal religious bias is shown as true, which one would assume is their goal. Instead, in the author’s universe, nothing is true, ever. All “truth” is a matter of personal preference. This is because all the author can muster to defend their worldview is personal preference.

“Moses” suggests that science must be false because scientists largely work within established academia, and anyone who works within a traditional, established framework must be corrupt. This is equally as absurd as assuming that anyone working within a traditional, established framework must be a saint. Science does not claim truth from status, any more than it claims truth from revelation.

The “Scientist” for “Truth” incorrectly labels dark matter and dark energy as “myths.” They are hypotheses, which explain data that has not been otherwise accounted for. Whether they prove to describe real phenomena or not, they are useful in developing whatever eventual theory explains the data. Supernatural explanations explain nothing.

“Marc” makes several ignorant comments. In science, “theory” does not mean “guess.” No evolutionist, ever, has suggested that humans evolved from monkeys. Not even once. “Can you name a creature that has successfully evolved but its old version still walks the planet?” Sure. YOU. Mammals evolved (through countless intermediaries) from single-celled organisms, which still “walk” the planet. I don’t understand the gravity comment — scientists have never seriously considered such a claim. Are you trying to be sarcastic? And finally, your personal disappointment in DNA research does not constitute evidence of anything.

You people all seem disappointed that the universe does not conform to your personal expectations. I do not understand why you ever thought that you, personally, were so important that it should.

ScientistForTruth responds
We presume the commenter means ‘egotism’. This comment itself is breathtaking for its ignorance and egotism. The fallacies referred to don’t appear in the post. The author neither believes nor asserts the things attributed to him. The commenter is literally ignorant of the author, and yet asserts that the author is “an individual with no education (not even self-education) in science or comparative religious studies”. The commenter, Erik Even, is a copywriter with an arts degree, and perhaps not best qualified to make such a judgment. Confusing egoism (= a concern for one’s own self-interest) with egotism (= a belief that one is superior to others) isn’t a very promising start on a copywriting career, either. The author of Atheist Mythology, on the other hand, has an honours and masters degree in science and engineering, having read physics at Oxford University and engineering at Southampton University, been published in learned journals, been granted more than 40 patents, been awarded the Queen’s Award for Technological Achievement, and has 30 years’ experience practising science and engineering, specializing in magnetics. Perhaps he knows a little more about science than Erik Even. Just perhaps.

The commenter’s assertion that “in the author’s universe, nothing is true, ever. All “truth” is a matter of personal preference” is a falsehood. Even the title of the blog implicitly declares that truth is objective.

Dark matter and dark energy ARE myths. It is a particular blindspot of atheists that they cannot see that many of the things they believe are acts of faith, and self-deluding myths. The claim that “They are hypotheses, which explain data that has not been otherwise accounted for. Whether they prove to describe real phenomena or not, they are useful in developing whatever eventual theory explains the data” exemplifies just how confused are those who do not understand epistemology and evidence. Angels and crystal spheres were “useful” to the false model of the Ptolemaic system insofar as they kept the false model from being abandoned – they were useful at perpetuating error. Dark matter and dark energy play a similar role in the theory of the Big Bang, a thoroughly discredited model as unscientific as any explanation of the cosmos ever made by the most primitive religions. This theory survives only due to the myths that have to be invented to prop it up. Now here is a real logical fallacy: “they are useful in developing whatever eventual theory explains the data”. That is a fallacy known as begging the question. They are not at all useful if they are invoked to prop up a false model. They then don’t help develop a more realistic model, but serve to underpin a false one. They are invoked to put the Big Bang on life support, rather than letting the disproved theory die. The final phrase tossed in, “Supernatural explanations explain nothing” is cheap ignorant rhetoric. Since no one has the slightest idea what dark energy and dark matter are, and they cannot themselves be detected, other than by the supposedly inferred effects they have on ordinary baryonic matter (just like the inferred effects of angels and crystal spheres), then the conceptual entities are currently indistiguishable [sic] from being supernatural themselves. Mathematical entities invented to fill in the gaping holes in a discredited theory may have no real and natural existence whatsoever.

My responses:

Here is my response, in its entirety. I posted it in two parts.

Part 1 (which the blog author deleted in its entirety – therefore it is in all bold):

First, an ethics lesson.

You are free to moderate your own site, but since the “Wild West” days of the Internet, a code of etiquette has developed. This code has been formalized as the Creative Common licenses – but even people who do not subscribe to the CC are expected to show common courtesy.

You are free to delete any comment you feel is inappropriate, but editing a comment for content is unacceptable. Some sites use silly tricks, like disemvoweling; or they will notify the commenter of their objections, and permit the commenter to edit the comment. These practices constitute a worse kind of censorship than mere deletion, as they strongarm the commenter into conforming to editorial policy. If you want a contributor to edit their work to adhere to a policy, then pay them. Otherwise, just delete comments. Or be brave and intellectually honest, and publish comments you disagree with in their entirety (barring profanity, defamation and illegal content).

But what you did not even rise to that level. You edited the original comment for content, and then repackaged it within a comment of your own. Now, as a professional blogger (that means I get paid a full salary to write for a blog full-time by a corporation), I do this all the time. But I always link back to the original source; if this is not available, I credit the source and if possible quote it in full. Anyone who sees my edited version can immediately see the original, to check if I misquoted it, or if I took quotes out of context. You eliminated the original from the Internet, after editing it to conform to your own argument.

Your “snipped” sections contained no profanity, no ad hominem attacks, no factual errors. They were merely responses to the comments made in this thread. If it is this blog’s policy that commenters should not respond to other commenters, well, that would be a bizarre policy – but it should be posted on your blog’s (nonexistent) About Me page, (nonexistent) FAQ, or (nonexistent) Moderation Policy.

As for Internet privacy, I posted here under my widely and professionally-used pseudonym “Kunochan.” I did not use my real name. Honestly, I don’t care – I have never made an effort to hide my identity online, and my Kunochan WordPress identity has my real picture and links to my personal blog. Other users of your site, however, may not expect to be “researched” and have their name repeated. Many people have much stronger expectations of Internet privacy than mine, and although I find their arguments somewhat foolish (both unrealistic and unnecessary), I nonetheless respect their wishes out of simple politeness.

Finally, the blog editor has misrepresented my education and professional background. I only have an “arts” degree in the sense it is a “bachelor of arts” degree – in Anthropology, which is a science. I would have earned a bachelor of science degree, but that program was discontinued while I was at UCLA, and I chose to complete the BA program rather than switch to another department. Furthermore, I have been employed both as a museum educator and a high school biology teacher. I have never worked as a professional scientist, but I am well educated in Biology, Evolutionary Sciences, Astronomy & Cosmology, Physics, Anthropology, Primatology, and Archaeology. I follow journals and attend conferences.

None of that makes me a scientist. But neither would a career in engineering. An engineer is no more a physicist than a medical doctor is a biologist, or a biology teacher is a biologist. And a person with Physics and Engineering training is not necessarily trained in Organic Chemistry, Evolutionary Theory, or Atmospheric Sciences.

Of course, I could research your real identity, “ScientistForTruth,” but it is nowhere on your blog. The post above was not even written under that name, but is anonymous. I could probably figure out your identity by examining your posts, or with Google, but I shall refrain, since you seem to desire privacy.

However, your scientific background does not matter to your arguments. You may well be widely read in all the above topics. Simply put, your arguments against science are not based in science.

But now I am veering out of my ethics lesson and into my actual response, which is the next post.

Part 2 (as before, the blog author’s insertions are in italics):

ScientistForTruth says
Kunochan attempted an ethics lesson asserting that it was unethical to snip out parts of his comments (those parts that commented on other commenters) without allowing readers to see the whole unexpurgated comment. We don’t agree, and will not be following that advice. There are thousands of blogs out there where commenters are trading comments and insults between each other with no reference to the matter in hand. This blog is not a free-for-all. Comments are welcome, but will be moderated. They may appear in whole, in part, or not at all, and may or may not be accompanied by responses by ScientistForTruth. Deleted portions will be designated by [snip] or the ellipsis, or some other obvious means. Comments that appear, with or without deletions, do not imply that we are in agreement with them. Please try to restrict comments to the material on the post itself.

The following is from another comment by Kunochan. Because of its extreme length we have interlaced responses at appropriate sections

SFT: “We presume the commenter means ‘egotism.’”

No, we presume the commenter meant egoism. “Egotism” is the attempt to build yourself up to others. “Egoism” is the actual belief in your own superiority.

My experience with theists is that they tend to disdain egotism, while succumbing to an incredible egoism. In this case, I am characterizing the idea that the Universe must conform to an individual human being’s hopes, desires, wishes and biases as egoism – indeed, the greatest egoism ever experienced. Every religion, every supernaturalist belief system places human beings in general, and the system’s followers in particular, at the center of the Universe.

I honestly do not understand this egoism – I personally have never needed nor desired for the Universe to care about me or cater to my wishes. In fact, I’m quite glad that the Universe does not grant wishes to some people but not others; that it does not threaten us; that its laws can be deduced without the need for special revelation.

Anyway, I won’t tell you how to build a magnet, if you don’t tell me what words mean.

ScientistForTruth responds
Egoism is a technical word in metaphysics (which can variously be ethical egoism, psychological egoism, philosophical egoism, normative egoism, rational egoism etc) and means a concern for one’s self-interest, and it is an antonym of ‘altruism’. It is essentially a valueless word. You said that egoism is the belief in your own superiority, which is a value claim. The Encylopedia of Philosophy warns against this error, saying ‘“Egoism” should be distinguished from “egotism,” which means a psychological overvaluation of one’s own importance, or of one’s own activities.’ So if you actually mean ‘a belief in one’s own superiority’, then you mean egotism.

The only sense in which I can see your use of egoism as being consistent with what you write (though inconsistent with the facts) is in the sense of epistemic egoism. But epistemic egoism (=accepting no truth authority outside oneself) is the philosophy of atheism. By definition, no Christian theist can be described as an epistemic egoist – he can’t be a Christian at all if his epistemology doesn’t make room for divine revelation. American Baptist Fundamentalist Creationists (no, I’m not one of them) are certainly not epistemic egoists as they accept the Bible as an external authority. Roman Catholics additionally accept papal authority. Christians don’t believe that ‘the Universe must conform to an individual human being’s hopes, desires, wishes and biases’, they believe that an individual human being’s hopes, desires, wishes and biases should conform to the will of God as he has revealed it. It is completely the opposite of what you assert. Augustine – probably the greatest and most influential Christian figure in the western world in the last 1900 years, and accepted by the Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions – certainly asserted it. Read his Confessions. And of course the Bible asserts it.

In the same vein, your assertion that Christians put themselves at the centre of the universe is entirely false. In spite of your anthropological studies, you have been badly misinformed here. On the contrary, atheists put themselves at the centre of the universe because they see no external authority, no external rational mind beyond themselves or mankind, and therefore they (or mankind) are the sole arbiters of truth, ethics and reality, and are masters of their own destiny, with responsibility to no creative power. One really can’t get more self-centred, egotistical and epistemologically egoistical than that. Contrariwise, Christian theology teaches that man was created in the image of the eternal Godhead, is not the measure of all things, must accept certain truths by revelation, is essentially infinitesimally weak compared to his creator, who knows and upholds all things, and that man is ultimately subject to the will and judgment of God, whom he is to serve, and who is to be the ultimate object of his love. If you think that puts man (in the context of Christian theology) at the centre of the universe, then your understanding of Christian doctrine is pitiful.

SFT: “The commenter is literally ignorant of the author, and yet asserts that the author is ‘an individual with no education (not even self-education) in science or comparative religious studies.’”

You are right, I should not have written that. I apologize. I was then unaware (and still cannot be certain) of your educational background.

But it is clear from the above post, and from several other posts on your blog, that you have arbitrarily and unilaterally dismissed entire academic subjects as unworthy of consideration. I know you do not see these dismissals as “arbitrary,” but I am having trouble characterizing them in any other way.

What I should have said was, “an individual with no interest in science or comparative religious studies.” I know you won’t see it this way, either – you allege a strong interest in science. But you reject science, almost in its entirety. I can hardly evince a strong interest in English literature if I refuse to acknowledge the existence of anything written after 1550.

ScientistForTruth responds
I strongly take issue with this. To say that I have “arbitrarily and unilaterally dismissed entire academic subjects as unworthy of consideration…[have] no interest in science…[and] reject science, almost in its entirety” is scurrilous nonsense. None of those assertions are true in the slightest degree. Like your ideas about words and Christian doctrine, you clearly delight in declaring falsehoods.

SFT: “The fallacies referred to don’t appear in the post. The author neither believes nor asserts the things attributed to him.”

I just conducted an interesting intellectual exercise – I’d like to teach it to you. I temporarily accepted your criticism of my post as fact – that I had misrepresented fallacies in your post – and reread my own post on those terms. Here’s what I learned.

My statement (2) “if the author cannot imagine an idea is true, then it cannot be true” holds up perfectly. In this post, you make no scientific or rational arguments against the Big Bang Model or Evolutionary Theory. You do not even refer to such arguments. You simply dismiss your own characterizations of those theories as incompatible with your own expectations. I think you’re even attempting to make the theories sound silly, but you fail, because you actually characterize them rather well. Nothing you quote sounds like a “fairy story.”

My argument for statement (1) “all statements not proven absolutely true are equally true “ is much weaker, as it comes from reading between the lines. You characterize scientific concepts as myths, and religious concepts as myths. Then you imply, although do not state, that the latter can replace the former.

I think here I may be attributing to you an argument often used by anti-science theists, which you may not consciously be recapitulating. But I suspect that, like the “Intelligent Design” movement to which you may or may not subscribe, your railing against the whole of Cosmology and the whole of Biology hides an agenda not only of supernaturalism, but specifically of American Baptist fundamentalist Creationism. One crutch used by those who argue for Creationism is to attempt to level the playing field, by presenting theology and science as equivalent and overlapping magisteria. They are in fact overlapping, but they are not equivalent.

A better way to phrase the fallacy, which may apply more closely to your own ideas, would be, “all statements not proven absolutely true are of equally unknown veracity, and therefore equally worthy of consideration.” This is fallacious and illogical.

Please attempt to consider your own ideas within the framework of the two fallacies above, rather than simply dismissing them outright. You may be surprised at the extent to which you have fallen prey to them.

ScientistForTruth responds
The reason I’m not giving an alternative worldview in this post is because the post is about Atheist Mythology, as it is entitled. Exposing atheist myths and not providing an alternative does not imply that the writer has no defensible worldview. That is an illogical fallacy. Moreover, because the writer is critical of certain aspects of science (very few have actually been tackled on this blog), this does not imply that the writer believes that all science is myth, or that he has no interest in science, or that he almost entirely rejects science. That’s another illogical fallacy. On the contrary, the author considers it a great privilege to be involved in scientific endeavour, and believes that it is possible to obtain a better understanding of truth and reality in the natural realm through pursuit of the natural sciences. The author does not believe, in spite of the assertions of Kunochan, that an imperfect and partial knowledge is a knowledge not worth having. He can try to put words into my mouth as much as he likes, but I shan’t be repeating them. Like many areas of life, there is corruption is science, and it is rife within the scientific community. I have being pointing this out since the 1970s. Corruption is most likely to take hold in those areas where experiments cannot be conducted: for example, we cannot experiment on anything outside the solar system, nor (realistically) on the earth as a whole, nor on events in the distant past. Of all the sciences, astronomy is perhaps the most corrupt. For a hundred years it has been out of the reach of impartial observers to view deep space objects. Even within the profession, telescope time is often granted only by committee, and it is now normal practice not to allocate telescope time to astronomers who do not subscribe to the prevailing dogma.

SFT: “Angels and crystal spheres were ‘useful’ to the false model of the Ptolemaic system insofar as they kept the false model from being abandoned – they were useful at perpetuating error.”

This entirely misrepresents the history. Medieval models based on Ptolemy were the earliest European attempts to build a rational model of the Universe. Philosophers postulated crystal spheres because they viewed “action at a distance” as irrational. One of Newton’s greatest breakthroughs was to demonstrate that action at a distance was not irrational, and it occurred all around us all the time as gravity. The mathematically accurate and scientific theory of “fields” (gravitational and electromagnetic) is an attempt to explain and visualize action at a distance. (Of course, gravity and electromagnetism are “just” theories.)

Newton made the crystal spheres obsolete. Without the spheres, Newton may not have had a suitable theoretical framework in which to form his own theories. We often build new hypotheses based on the flaws in old ones.

Your preconceived bias seems to be that if an idea is wrong, then it has no scientific or rational value whatsoever. This is simply incorrect. Your quote by Madu only states that sometimes people (lay people or scientists) refuse to let go of discredited scientific hypotheses. It’s the fact that they are discredited but still believed that makes them “myths,” not the simple fact that they were incorrect guesses. The luminiferous ether, Steady-State Cosmology, Lemuria, homeopathy and irreducible complexity were all once scientific theories, compatible with existing data; and they were all useful in developing Relativity, Big Bang Cosmology, Plate Tectonics, Chemistry and Evolutionary Theory, respectively. They’re only “myths” if you still believe they’re true.

ScientistForTruth responds
It was Brahe and Kepler, not Newton decades later, who obviated the crystal spheres. By observing comets, which did not crash through spheres on their way to the sun, they concluded that there was nothing solid that could be constraining the motion of the planets. As far as action at a distance is concerned, the phenomena of electrostatic and magnetic attraction and repulsion (with no obvious intervening medium) had been known since the ancient world, so action at a distance was established. The charges against Newton for occultism in other respects, were, as we know, well founded.

As far as engineering is concerned, it is true that principles and understanding can be scientifically erroneous, but technically useful. This is a view of science known as instrumentalism. It is the success of instrumentalism that gives non-scientists the sense that science must be advancing rapidly, when the truth is it has been in the doldrums since the 1920s. However, I do not consider that, in scientific realism, the espousing of false views can be said to be ‘useful’. They can surely only be useful in an instrumental sense.

This is getting too long, so let’s end with:

SFT: “Dark matter and dark energy play a similar role in the theory of the Big Bang, a thoroughly discredited model as unscientific as any explanation of the cosmos ever made by the most primitive religions.”

There is no sense in which the Big Bang Model can be honestly described as “thoroughly discredited.” The greater scientific community, the Physics community, and Cosmologists all accept the Big Bang Model as the correct general model of the Universe. Serious scientific objections were all silenced by the COBE data, and by a dozen subsequent experiments, all of which subscribe to standard scientific rigor. No one has been able to cobble together another theory that can explain the data – and many have tried. (I’d like to hear yours.)

The world secular community has no problem with the Big Bang. The Catholic Church, the world’s largest single religious group, reconciles the Big Bang (and Evolution) with a Creationist philosophy. Some Muslim countries suppress science, including the Big Bang and Evolution; but some countries with large or majority Muslim populations (China, India, Turkey, Indonesia) have modern scientific education.

You can dislike the Big Bang Theory all you want (I have no idea why) – but you can’t honestly call it discredited. It’s the second most established theory in science. (Guess which one’s the first?)

ScientistForTruth responds
The argument from authority or consensus is not a scientific argument but a political one. The persistence and extent of a myth among those who believe the myth is hardly suprising and can never be adduced as evidence that the myth represents truth and reality. It should be obvious to anyone looking fairly and impartially at the empirical evidence (and it would be better to be looked at by those who are not so close to it, to avoid conflicts of interest) that observations have disproved the BB hypothesis repeatedly. The BB hypothesis survives because of the enduring power of myth, and because entities can be multiplied to try to pretend that the train is still on the rails when it spectacularly crashed and disintegrated years ago. It is now a myth supported by dogma – that should help it. What do those who espouse the myth and pronounce the dogma do with the evidence that shatters it? – they ignore it, they describe it as coincidence, they persecute those who hold contrary views, they refuse to investigate it, they refuse telescope time to those who have doubts about the standard model, they get angry and make ad hominem attacks, and they club together to ensure that no heretics will ever prosper in their realm, and marginalize any mavericks. Not surprisingly, many observers can’t be blamed for believing that the BB is an established fact.

The BB is in fact discredited as a hypothesis under the normal terms of scientific enquiry, but you are tying the concept of whether something is discredited to the opinion of a large body of people. In terms of opinion, yes, it is still a powerful force. I was meaning discredited in the sense that a belief has been demonstrated to be untrue in the sense of scientific realism. Sure, there are a whole host of reasons why folk choose to continue to believe passionately in something that is demonstrably false – that is exactly why the BB is most appropriately called a myth according to your own definition.

The problem began in the 1920s when Edwin Hubble’s made empirical measurements of red shift of nearby galaxies. Hubble was a great astronomer, for whom I have considerable respect, and I generally accept his findings that for certain classes of object (local galaxies) there is a relationship between redshift and distance. I don’t know of anyone who disputes this. But Hubble was too good an astronomer to suggest that this necessarily implied a relationship between distance and velocity. Estimates of distance were measurable by comparing size, luminosity, Cepheid variables etc. But velocity was not, and never has been measurable. So, so-called Hubble’s Law, which Hubble himself never espoused, was promoted off the back of the Belgian priest Lemaitre’s questionable ‘solution’ to Einstein’s equations to propound a Big Bang (though not called that at the time). Lemaitre’s solution is questionable (but still espoused by the BB theorists) because it allows for singularities – division by zero in ordinary understanding. Einstein himself thought this was cranky. This led to fanciful ideas such as black holes and the universe emerging from an infinitesimal point. There are far more reasonable solutions that don’t involve breaking the laws of physics. However as a very tentative hypothesis – that redshift was a result of Doppler shifting, and that therefore the universe was expanding – it was acceptable to see where it could take us. However, when evidence has arisen, as it has since the 1960s when highly redshifted objects were detected, that all was not well with the original assumption, and one could see that it was going to become a train wreck, the whole basis should have been re-evaluated, especially as it was built on a solution that broke the known laws of physics. Since then, evidence has poured in confirming that the assumptions in the 1920s were incorrect, yet the BB is still propounded, and all manner of esoteric mathematical fixes (none of which has been found to have any physical reality) have been introduced to pretend that the train wreck didn’t happen, or that the train miraculously sprouted wings and flew over the hazard. So we have inflation (which supposedly saves the day by proposing a scalar field, which has no known physical objective reality), dark matter, dark energy, and a mass of other practically supernatural entities that are now supposed to make up 96% of the universe and break the known laws of physics. They are practically supernatural because they have never been detected themselves, no-one has the slightest idea what they are, and there are no known laws of physics applying to them. In that sense, they cannot be demonstrated to be any less supernatural than angels and demons, which apparently do not have to comply with our laws of physics either, but can interact with real baryonic matter, and have real existence, since they were created. If it is asserted that these cosmological mathematical entities are not supernatural, but some form of ‘natural’ substance or energy that we don’t know about, so be it: but then angels and demons and any other created spiritual non-baryonic entity can be put in the same class, and such a class has traditionally been called supernatural. The thing is, atheists are so afraid to be classed as supernaturalists that will try hard to wriggle out of such a connection – they can denounce angels and demons as supernatural, but can have like entities so long as they are not branded supernatural – how deceitful! Of course, any discredited theory can be rescued by continually multiplying supernatural entities and varying the laws of physics to keep everything jogging along – this is what happened with the Ptolemaic system, but William of Ockham has something to say about that.

The COBE measurement of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation was simply a more accurate measurement of what had been measured since the 1940s, and only connected with the BB since the 1960s. This is regularly trotted out as a proof of the BB, but that is both farcical and hilarious. Those who held the BB cosmology did indeed propose a background radiation, but what was their proposed thermal temperature? Well, it climbed from 20K in the 1940s, to 20-30K in the 1950s, to 40-50K in the early 1960s. When Wilson and Penzias measured it at around 3.5K in 1964/5 it was hailed as a confirmation of the BB. The COBE measurement was around 2.73K. Now let’s see: the difference in energy density terms (i.e. something that has physical reality, since energy density is the fourth power of temperature according to Stefan-Boltzman law) between the accurately measured level and what was the BB prediction by Robert Dicke and George Gamow just before Wilson and Penzias stumbled upon it (without knowing what it was) is a difference of over 100,000 times – 5 orders of magnitude. Do you think an error of 5 orders of magnitude is confirmation?

Wilson and Penzias asked Robert Dicke for help to understand what they were measuring and he told them it was what was expected from BB cosmology – except it wasn’t: Dicke had estimated it as over 27,000 times too high from orthodox BB cosmology, so he was – to say the least – being completely disingenuous

Now, compare this with the predictions made by those not working from the BB hypothesis: first proposed at 5.6K in 1896 by Guillaume, refined by Eddington in 1926 to 3K and by Regener in 1933 to 2.8K; and measured and estimated at 2K by McKellar (1941) and 3K by Tigran Shmaonov (1955). The twentieth century predictions and measurements average at 2.7K, which is very close to the measured 2.73K. Given that non-BB concepts predicted almost exactly what was measured, whereas the BB proponents were many orders of magnitude out, wasn’t it the height of dishonesty for Dicke and the BB proponents (and all others since) to claim that this result was predicted from BB orthodoxy? As a plain fact of history, it wasn’t, and as a plain fact of history the non-BB proponents were extremely close – in fact Gold’s work in the 1950s (he espoused Steady State) predicted 2.78K, which is exceptionally close to what is measured. None of this proves that the Steady State or other cosmologies were correct – the point is that those who try to falsify history to underpin a false dogma are liars. Of course the BB was ‘fixed’ after the measurements were made (4-5 orders of magnitude of fixing is really something) as it always has – the lesson is, never throw out a convenient myth or question its assumptions (as it’s now dogma), in the face of inconvenient truths – always fix it by inventing and multiplying entities.

Now, the isotropic nature of the CMB radiation was for a long time an embarrassment, as it was thought that there should be significant anisotropy to account for the settlement of the universe into galaxies. The COBE measurements showed that the temperature fluctuations were of the order of +/- 0.00027 degree, equivalent to energy density variations of +/-0.04% across the whole sky. Again, this almost insignificant anisotropy was taken to be a confirmation of the BB hypothesis. But an impartial scientist, seeing that the universe is visually inhomogeneous, and the sky visually anisotropic will have no difficulty seeing that a connection between +/-0.04% anisotropy of any measurable phenomenon and an expanding universe (where the predicted energy density was 5 orders of magnitude out, not to put too fine a point on it) is nothing less than charlatanism.

My response. It is entirely in bold, because ScientistForTruth refused to publish it.

Between arguing with you (not debating – too many of your responses are mere negation to constitute a debate) and conversing with certain other magical thinkers recently, I have become aware of a new (to me, anyway) strategy in magical thinking. The major strategies of which I was previously aware are (1) make rational and irrational thought equivalent, something you do but vehemently deny; (2) hide behind specialized jargon, whether theological or philosophical, and deny the equivalence of certain words and concepts (again, you are guilty); and (3), misrepresent your opponents arguments even more than you misrepresent your own (SUPER GUILTY!).

The new, alarming strategy is to not merely couch supernaturalist fallacies in scientific language, but to insist that magic is science. Not like science, or better than science, or compatible with science – but actual mainstream science. Homeopaths, osteopaths, and subluxation chiropractors do this; Ramtha-ites and transcendental meditation practitioners do this; Intelligent Design frauds do this; and you do this. You have adopted the persona of “scientist” into your self image almost as strongly as you have adopted the persona of believer in magic, and the effort to reconcile the irreconcilable has led to you a cognitive dissonance so extreme that one of your identities, scientist or theist, had to go. So (and pay attention here, this is the root of your entire problem) instead of abandoning your identity as a scientist, you decided that EVERY OTHER SCIENTIST IN THE WORLD is not a scientist; indeed they are all corrupt, and out to get you.

Some points:

“The argument from authority or consensus is not a scientific argument but a political one.”

With whom are you arguing? You said that the Big Bang theory was a thoroughly discredited model – yourself making an argument from (lack of) consensus – and I corrected you. There is no sense in which an honest person, even an opponent of the theory, can call the central tenet of Cosmology “thoroughly discredited.” By characterizing the Big Bang as widely accepted and well supported, I was not making an argument from authority – I was discrediting yours. Thoroughly. And since belief in a Christian god is the ultimate “argument from authority,” I find your criticism ironic.

“But epistemic egoism (=accepting no truth authority outside oneself) is the philosophy of atheism… Christian theology teaches that man was created in the image of the eternal Godhead…”

Oh my God. I invoke “God” ironically, of course. There’s almost too much here to get my head around. At least you finally got around to admitting that your “dissent” against science comes from typical 19th century Christian biblical literalism, and nothing interesting or new.

1.) Why would you choose to misrepresent atheism to an atheist (Huxleyan agnostic, a more extreme position, but that’s semantic nitpicking), who knows many atheists, and reads many atheist works? It’s only going to work on someone who doesn’t know what atheists think. Atheists don’t accept any truth authority whatsoever, whether inside themselves, or the kind you believe in which is inside yourself but you pretend it’s outside. Atheists accept reason and observation only. Scientific consensus is accepted provisionally. Atheists have taken a good hard look at the universe, and figured out it has no anthropomorphic qualities. Atheists look to humanity to develop morals and meaning, not because we applaud ourselves or the human race, but because there’s simply no one else to do it. That’s not a “myth” – it’s an observation. An observation you have also made, which is why you expend so much effort to maintain your “faith.”

2.) You claim you’re not guilty of egoism, because you supposedly subordinate yourself to a magic creature. Yet this magic creature, which in your cosmology not only made the universe but is the universe, loves you individually; loves humanity out of all the vast universe (you accept that the universe is incomprehensibly vast, right? I know the conspirators won’t let you use a telescope); is concerned with every detail of your life; will give you specific instructions on how to live, if you ask right; will violate the laws of physics on your behalf; and thinks you are so damned special, it will preserve your existence for all of infinite time.

But no, you’re not an egoist.

“..we cannot experiment on anything outside the solar system, nor (realistically) on the earth as a whole, nor on events in the distant past”

Ah, the Laboratory Fallacy. I see you skipped Science 101. Scientific inquiry is not, has never been, and cannot be confined to simple laboratory inquiry. Laboratory experiments are not the only way to prove hypotheses and develop theories. General Relativity was demonstrated by Eddington through an observational experiment. Events in the distant past are observed by the effects they leave behind in the universe today. Hell, we can SEE events in the distant past through the telescopes that you claim a vast international (no doubt Jewish?) conspiracy keeps from honest inquirers such as yourself. It is not necessary to place a black hole in a beaker to know that certain radio objects have exactly the characteristics predicted by black hole theory. You don’t have to smash a fossil in a rock tumbler to count strata and figure out how old it is. It’s funny that someone who believes in a firmly Hard Anthropic Universe trots out the Soft Anthropic Principle to try to disprove every scientific advance since Alfred Russel Wallace was hit in the head by a flying frog.

I have examined your diatribe against the Big Bang theory, and understood more of it than I thought I would. I should thank my college Cosmology professor. But it is littered with statements that are inaccurate at best, lies at worst. Velocity is measurable. Black holes have been observed thousands of times. There is no relationship between singularities and “dividing by zero;” singularities have been successfully described mathematically – in fact, they were invented mathematically. You seem to be confused about how scientists characterize dark matter and energy, as if they weren’t disturbed by their ignorance in these areas. You commit fallacy number one above by equating dark matter and energy, which if they exist must conform to physical law, with angels and demons, which are the very fairy stories you mock elsewhere. The difference is that, despite your mischaracterization, dark matter and energy must adhere to science, while magic does not. Then, amazingly, you quote Occam’s razor. Unfortunately for you, the most convoluted amalgam of inflation, dark thingies, string theory and quantum nonsense is by definition far simpler than the “God hypothesis.” God is the most complicated thing imaginable, since it must contain all other systems. And of course, it explains nothing.

Saying that “’supernatural explanations explain nothing’ is cheap ignorant rhetoric” is cheap ignorant rhetoric. I know because your response constitutes nothing more than “nuh uh uh.” Supernaturalism can explain nothing because explanations require logic and reason, or they are not explanations by definition. Magic denies that logic and reason can explain the universe – by definition. Once you define a magical space creature, a Jewish zombie or otherwise, as the ultimate cause of reality, the obvious question, raised by every schoolchild, is what created the zombie? When you reply that the zombie is uncreated, or (in the ultimate abandonment of logic and English syntax) self-created, the more intelligent schoolchild simply points out that if the Great Space Ghost can be uncreated or self-created, then so can the universe – we just cut out the middleman. Occam’s razor.

You keep referring to metaphysics. Although this is a traditional branch of philosophy, which counts scientific Cosmology as a sub-discipline, it is entirely inappropriate to introduce metaphysical concepts into a scientific discussion. Metaphysics has yet to abandon supernaturalism; therefore it has nothing to say about science. It is, for all intents and purposes, theology.

You write of a conflict between science and “atheistic naturalism.” Science IS naturalism; its original name was “natural philosophy” for good reason. Science is materialism; to assign science a supernaturalist component is to destroy it. Naturalism and supernaturalism, science and religion are opposites by definition – your misuse of these terms renders them all useless. This is not a matter of taste, nor of philosophy – adding magic to science would be the same as removing magic from religion – science wouldn’t be science just as religion wouldn’t be religion. The very definition of science is the search, through rational investigation, for materialistic laws of the universe. If you posit a magical universe, then you must also posit a universe without science – after all, magic has no rules, the incessant efforts of theologians to invent these rules out of thin air notwithstanding. Since you completely misunderstand what science is, I’m not surprised that you also misunderstand Biology and Cosmology – mo matter what education you claim.

As an analogy, a Marxist economist may disagree with Capitalism, may even despise it. But if he or she does not understand what Capitalism is; misrepresents it; refutes that its principles even constitute economics; then that person is not an economist. They are not even a Marxist, since Marxism relies on Capitalism as its basis.

You say you are someone who “considers it a great privilege to be involved in scientific endeavour.” Your lack of understanding of the most fundamental principles of science; your willingness to discard any scientific evidence or conclusion that conflicts with your bias toward magical thinking; your habit of opposing scientific conclusions based not on evidence or reason, but on their perceived incompatibility with Conservative politics; these make your statement not merely incorrect, nor a faulty opinion, but an outright lie, of which I believe you are consciously aware.

You have reached the erroneous conclusion that you can’t be a good, moral person unless you adhere to a fictional magic worldview. This is nonsense. And as long as you pretend that you are some kind of scientist, you are not only a liar, but also a fraud.

Perhaps you will view this as an insult, and not print it. That would be in character, but certainly ironic – you already characterize all atheists, all liberals, and most scientists as liars and frauds on your blog.

I’m sure you will continue to misrepresent science on your blog, and to suppress dissenting voices, as you seem to lack the bravery and moral character necessary to examine your own worldview critically. But I’m hopeful that someone visiting this site who is confused on these issues will learn enough to seek out genuine information.

UPDATE: 12/17/09, Davy left a comment, into which ScientistForTruth inserted a reply.

Full disclosure: Davy is an offline friend of mine, who found this post via my Facebook page.

Davy
Why have Kunochan’s comments been censored? It’s dishonest to edit out the parts of his arguments with which you can’t contend, but respond to the rest as if it were the whole of his argument.

I see also that you’ve deleted two of his replies to you in their entirety – but he’s posted them elsewhere, and it does you poor service, and quite undermines any attempt at intellectual honesty you might make, to eliminate his polite disagreement with your thesis.

ScientistForTruth replies
You are misinformed. I have not deleted two of his replies. Firstly, I’m not obliged to put up any or every comment received here. Secondly, the whole post not put up was referred to in my reply to another comment of his – it was a rather silly comment hectoring about the ethics of editing comments, and frankly unworthy to be put up here. You’ve seen it elsewhere so you can judge for yourself. I don’t go round changing people’s wording, and tampering with comments like that. If I remove parts it is because they are abusive, off topic, prolix etc, and removal is shown by the ellipsis or [snip]. The two parts I removed from his comment related to comments on other people’s comments, nothing to do with the content of my post. I will continue to use my judgment to remove such comments in future.

By the way, his disagreement is far from polite. His characterization of the Christian God as a ‘magic creature’ and Jesus as a ‘Jewish zombie’ is completely out of order.

Moreover, his making false assertions of what people believe, when he either does not understand or is wilfully misrepresenting, is disgraceful and dishonest.

Final Response to ScientistForTruth (1/21/10):

Well, it’s clear that ScientistForTruth isn’t going to reply to my last post. That’s his right, I guess. (Online handles are funny. ScientistForTruth is as much a scientist for truth as I am a female Japanese child — as “Kunochan” implies, at least to the
anime-impaired.)

But I want to say one thing in response to Davy, who privately contacted me to concur with ScientistForTruth on a single point, that certain phrases I used in my reply were disrespectful, or at least counterproductive. (I don’t remember Davy’s exact words, and if I’m misconstruing his message, I apologize. If he corrects the record by commenting below, I promise not to censor him.)

Theists need to control language, for the exact same reasons that Ingsoc invented Newspeak. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to address this as it regards Christianity – but every single supernaturalist belief system, from Buddhism and Islam to Homeopathy and Paranormalism, does precisely the same thing.

When I say “Jewish Zombie,” I am saying something accurate about one aspect of the messy pantheon of supernatural entities that Christians believe in. “Jesus” is described as “Jewish.” That’s the Greek Scriptures, not me. (The name “New Testament” is anti-Semitic, so I tend not to use it.) Jesus is described as undead. “Undead” means one was alive, then died and became a corpse, then came to life again. This is the precise sequence of events in the Christian myth. Yet even the neutral term “undead” is unacceptable to Christians. “Zombie” is right out.

I can also say “Space God.” The God of Christianity, a kind of vague, dumbed-down version of the ancient Jewish Yahweh-El, is said to be omnipresent. Well, 99.999-add a few thousands 9s-% of the universe is empty space. So, “Space God.” Accurate, but they won’t have it.

Christians worship a pantheon of Six-Limbed Bird-Men. They will object to “worship” and “bird-men” – I don’t know about the “six-limbed” – but all these characterizations are perfectly accurate. Some Christians even believe you turn into a Six-Limbed Bird-Man when you die, giving you the power to watch over and grant wishes to your descendants, just as in Shinto. But call it “granting wishes” or compare it to Shinto, and Christians get their knickers in a twist.

I can call all of these beings “creatures,” because that’s what they are. They’re not humans (not even the dead humans, not anymore) and they’re not animals. But Christians don’t like “creature,” although they are strangely okay with “being.”

Christians cast spells. They never, ever call it that. They call it “prayer,” or “blessing.” But a prayer is still just a ritual meant to
appease a supernatural entity – a spell. A blessing is still a ritual meant to imbue an object with supernatural power. It’s all meant to get one of the three gods, or one of the pantheon of spirits, to violate the laws of the universe for your convenience.

(By the way, and this is an aside, but using that last line, which paraphrases the comedian Emo Philips, reminded me that I discovered who popularized ScientistForTruth’s unattributed quote about black holes “dividing by zero” – Steven Wright. You know, the imminent cosmologist and mathematician Steven Wright.)

If you don’t use the precise terms the theists use, you will “offend” them. ScientistforTruth says it’s “completely out of order.” He
doesn’t even defend this, not just because he can’t, but because he doesn’t think he has to do so. In polite society, one doesn’t
characterize religious concepts in any fashion that is not approved by religious persons.

This is ridiculous. Seriously, it needs to be ridiculed. It deserves no respect.

It comes out of the reprehensible idea that some ideas are special and cannot be questioned or examined. Two types of belief systems adopt this idea: religions and dictatorships. Religions call it the “sacred.” “Sacred” means “question this and I’ll kill you.”

And remember, the entire point of ScientistForTruth’s original post above was to ridicule scientific theories. He fails, because
scientific theories are not sacred. He can’t offend anyone. He just sounds silly. But it also shows that ScientistForTruth affords this special sanctity only to his own ideas, and no one else’s.

What’s most bizarre, at least with Christians, is the whole idea that calling their beliefs “magical” is somehow offensive. It’s the perfect word. God is magic. And if that bothers you, then STOP PRETENDING THERE’S A GOD.

ScientistForTruth claims I’m “demonstrating the horrors and the delusional nature of the atheistic mindset.” He hasn’t been able to identify any delusions, unless accepting an idea that ScientistForTruth finds personally distasteful for undefined reasons
counts as delusional.

But what are the “horrors” of the atheist mindset? Here they are:

  1. Humans are not the center of the Universe, nor the reason for its existence.
  2. The Universe operates according to set and relentlessly fair laws; it was not created and is not operated by creatures that can violate these laws.
  3. The Universe will not provide humans with a list of rules for organizing their society; humans must invent these rules themselves.
  4. The nature of the Universe will not be revealed by revelation; it must be discovered through the hard work of rational inquiry.
  5. Humans deserve to forge their own destinies, and not be trapped by the whims of fictional supernatural creatures or the humans who pretend to represent them.
  6. Humans cannot violate the laws of the Universe by concentrating really hard. They may, however learn the rules under which the Universe works and through this, accomplish amazing things.
  7. You are going to die.

These are the ideas that horrify ScientistForTruth. I’m not being sarcastic – they really do horrify him.

ScientistForTruth claims I don’t know what he really believes, and that I misconstrue his beliefs. Of course I don’t. I know exactly what he believes, because I have been bombarded by these beliefs my entire life. It’s not hard. A theology degree is not necessary – in fact, it would get in the way.

ScientistForTruth just doesn’t like the words I use to describe his beliefs. They are accurate words, but not the words he wants to use. So he tells me I’m wrong.

It’s a Jewish Zombie. If you like worshipping a Jewish Zombie, then don’t deny it, don’t apologize for it. If you don’t like worshipping a Jewish Zombie, then STOP.

I’m going to post this to the original blog, where he won’t approve it. But fair is fair.

This has been interesting. The whole point has been to work on my rhetorical skills, which are admittedly weak; and to try to find ways to ridicule the ridiculous without alienating the open-minded. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.

And ScientistForTruth – in the end, I feel sorry for you. Not because of all your hate and paranoia, or the delusional refusal to view the world as it is. I feel sorry for you because Science is WONDERFUL.

Prop. 8 Proponents Need to Look to Their Own Issues

From a blog post I just wrote for JD Journal:

The fact is, Proposition 8 was hateful, and opposition to gay marriage is bigotry, no matter the basis for your beliefs. Californians, and all Americans, have the inalienable right to protection from enforced religious law. If homophobes were being victimized with violence, that would absolutely be wrong, although some blame would have to rest with the “victims,” whose “victimizers” would never have even known of their existence if the “victims” had not interfered with their private lives. But that scenario is not playing out. At all.

Having your political contributions publicized is not harassment, violence or intimidation. Protests at public locations, even angry protests, are not harassment, violence or intimidation.

Activists who wish to use the government to enforce their religious beliefs on others should instead do some soul-searching, and ask why they seek to overthrow the religious and personal liberties this nation was founded upon.

Gay Marriage Controversy Reaches UM Law School

The Ten Worst Sci-Fi Films of All Time: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Day the Earth Stood Still poster

For more on how I am choosing these films, see my post on Battlefield Earth.

Yes, yes, I know what the comments will be before I even begin.

How can you call the original Day the Earth Stood Still one of the worst sci-fi films of all time? It’s a masterpiece! A classic! I own it on Blu-Ray, DVD, VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc and an original 35mm print! I named my daughter Helen and my son Klaatu! You’re an idiot who doesn’t understand sci-fi and you should burn in Hell forever!

Except the comments will be riddled with typos and make less sense.

The world is full of things that the general public considers to be brilliant, which are at best mediocre. Like The Eagles. Babylon 5. And Isaac Asimov.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of those things. It’s not really one of the worst sci-fi films of all time. But it is such a colossal disappointment in comparison to its reputation that I have no problem placing it on this list.

Certainly the film contains some good ideas, and its failures may have more to do with the era in which it was filmed than with any lack of talent by the people responsible for it.

_

SPOILERS FOLLOW (Warning: plot elements from the 1951 film may appear in the 2008 film, so if you plan to see that, be careful.)

The Day the Earth Stood Still is the story of Klaatu, an Anglo-Saxon alien from an unnamed planet 250 million miles from Earth. He lands in front of the White House in his silver classic saucer that glows and makes electrical noises in flight.

Emerging from the saucer in front of a crowd of soldiers and onlookers, Klaatu announces that he has come “in peace and with goodwill.” He offers a sex toy to a soldier, who promptly shoots him.

An 8-foot tall silver being called Gort, which everyone immediately knows is a robot despite the fact it looks just like Klaatu, emerges from the saucer and and destroys all the soldiers’ weapons with some kind of Prop Removal Beam.

Klaatu is taken to a hospital, where he is examined by one scientist and no one takes his picture. He is also visited by the President’s secretary, because apparently the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the President’s Chief Science Adviser and the President’s hair stylist were all too busy to meet a freakin’ alien from another freakin’ planet.

Klaatu explains that he has an important message for the whole world, and not just for the United States, so he wants to address the United Nations. He fails to explain why he landed in Washington, DC, instead of New York where the actual UN is located. It doesn’t matter — the President’s secretary tells Klaatu that the world’s leaders will never gather together to hear his message. The half of the world that misinterprets Karl Marx is too angry at the half of the world that misinterprets Adam Smith.

No one suggests that Klaatu individually visit world leaders in his space ship, or that he just go on television.

Klaatu escapes from the hospital. I applaud the filmmakers for assuming that an alien from an advanced space-faring civilization would be able to defeat a Kwikset lock, but not the idea that human officials would be surprised by this.

Klaatu then spends the entire second act of the movie in a dull subplot about a secretary, her son and her asshat of a boyfriend.

The second act ends when Klaatu sneaks past the two guards — TWO GUARDS — guarding his saucer, goes to the control room and presses the button marked “Turn Off All Electrical Devices On Earth For A Half-Hour.” This is where the movie gets it almost, but not entirely inaccurate title.

In the third act, Klaatu has convinced the world’s greatest scientist, a frizzy-haired Jew who for copyright purposes in not Albert Einstein, to collect all the world’s other greatest scientists to meet at the saucer. Unfortunately, the US government is afraid that the escaped alien is some kind of communist (he’s not — he’s a fascist, see below). So they kill him.

Fortunately, Klaatu has taught the secretary a phrase, “Klaatu barada nikto,” which translates as “Hey Gort, Klaatu is dead. Go to the police station where they’re holding the body, blast through the wall with your Scenery Removal Ray, pick up Klaatu and carry him — through the streets of Washington, unnoticed — back to the saucer, where you will use the Main Character Resurrection Device to resurrect him.”

The aliens speak a very economical language.

The secretary finds Gort, and actress Patricia Neal gets to speak the most famous line she’ll ever speak in a career spanning six decades.

Gort succeeds in barading Klaatu’s nikto, and Klaatu and the secretary step out of the saucer to speak to the assembled scientists. Klaatu finally conveys his Message to the Earth, which takes about 90 seconds and makes you wonder why he took 90 minutes of movie to get around to it.

It seems that the “other planets” — the ones within 250 million miles — are concerned that humans will build nuclear rockets. Klaatu offers humanity two choices. In the first, humanity will be lorded over by robots like Gort, who will destroy the Earth if humans exhibit any aggressive behavior toward other planets.

The other choice? The robots will destroy Earth right now.

Klaatu does not wait for a response, since any response but “we’ll take door number one” would be pretty silly. He also does not have sex with the secretary. He gets in the saucer and flies back to his planet. The end.

(By the way, I called Klaatu a fascist, not a communist. Communists establish a totalitarian police force, then kill all the rich people. Fascists establish a totalitarian police force, with the cooperation of all the rich people. Klaatu’s Peace Through Robot Annihilation regime seems closer to the latter.)

END OF BITINGLY SARCASTIC PLOT SYNOPSIS

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Now, apart from the plot elements I lampooned in my bitingly sarcastic plot synopsis, what bothers me about this movie? Let me check my notes (no, really, I have notes).

“Two hundred and fifty million miles.” This is a ridiculously short distance astronomically, yet Klaatu uses this figure several times to impress us with how incredibly far he’s traveled. But this puts his homeworld well within the Solar System.

I have worked out, based on the orbit of the Earth and the orbits of the other seven — seven — planets, the minimum and maximum distances between Earth and those planets for all positions throughout time, adjusting for Mercury’s 7° deviation from the plane of solar rotation. Okay, no I haven’t. I’m spitballing. But it seems to me a limit of 250,000 miles means Klaatu must come from Mercury, Venus, or Mars. (At the outside, traveling at the closest distance, maybe he could originate from a moon of Jupiter. But Klaatu said “other planets,” and I’m taking him at his word.)

Scientists knew in 1951 that, like a McDonald’s McDLT, Mercury is a blasted cinder on one side and a frozen wasteland on the other. There had yet to be any radar observations of Venus, and astronomers did not yet even know that the planet’s rotation is retrograde — but they knew it was an uninhabitable swamp of hot gas. And as for Mars, well, even scientists who thought nuclear radiation was safe and beneficial understood that Mars was an uninhabited rock.

Sci-fi writers, when putting astronomical distances into the mouths of aliens, never say “miles.” Use “light years.” But don’t use “parsecs” — that’s a unit of time.

Let’s see, what else bugged me? Oh — did anyone else notice that NORAD was located in a Chinese restaurant? Or that foreign language news shows had English-language signs so you’d know what country they were in?

Speaking of foreign languages, the alien word for “follow me” is “meringue.” Seriously, watch the movie. I’m not kidding.

Here are some script notes for Klaatu. First of all — SIT DOWN. In almost every scene, Klaatu stands, even when everyone else is sitting. Is this an alien thing, like Mork sitting on his head? Also, Klaatu, a “train without tracks” is not a train. It’s a bus.

The score was recorded using not one but two theremins, proving for all time that one theremin is enough.

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But let’s get beyond the nitpicking. I think this movie fails primarily because of when it was made — the early 1950’s, when sex, race and free speech were still stuck in the 40’s but everyone was afraid of the Reds.

The film was directed by Robert Wise, who would go on to direct such other sci-fi classics as The Andromeda Strain and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which means he’s one for three. (I’ll note here that Star Trek: The Motionless Picture is not on this list of worst sci-fi films only because I want to limit myself to one Star Trek film, and there is one worse. Maybe two.)

Wise is not exactly considered an auteur, although for TDTESS he seems to have borrowed two ideas from Citizen Kane — use extreme shadows for dramatic effect, and employ a semi-documentary style to pull the audience into the film.

The documentary feel of the film was apparently considered quite impressive in 1951, and would be copied by many later films. Wise wanted the audience to accept that this science fiction scenario was something that conceivably could happen in real life (Caucasian Martians notwithstanding), so there are lots of shots of random humans from throughout the world responding to the arrival of the saucer, the suppression of electrical devices, and the panic over an alien on the loose.

Way, waaaaay too many shots. Almost as many as there are of military vehicles patrolling Washington looking for giant silver robots and tall Englishmen who can’t sit down.

The entire film is fundamentally composed of (Act One) reaction shots, (Act Two) talking, and (Act Three) a speech. Kind of like Atlas Shrugged, except the speech is 1/10,000th the length. And interesting.

Act Two sucks because it adheres to a 1950s style of filmmaking. I can hear the producer now: “Hey Bob, this flick’s got too many spacemen. We need something people can relate to. A family. Maybe they live in a boarding house. And the wife’s a widow, see, with a kid. The kid can hang out with the alien, and the wife can fall in love with him. And there’s no bad guy in the script, so give the wife a cad of a boyfriend who betrays the alien. And have a cast of nutty characters in the boarding house who talk about the alien. Oh – is there a dog?”

Great.

Also, the original script called for Klaatu to be brought back from the dead, but the censors didn’t like this. They didn’t want Klaatu to meddle in the domain of the Christian god; so Klaatu’s resurrection became temporary, and he says this:

Helen: You mean… he has the power of life and death?
Klaatu: No. That power is reserved to the Almighty Spirit.

Gack. My problem with religious space aliens deserves its own post. Let’s just say that, unless you’re David Brin, you’re doing it wrong.

Robert Wise was a leftist who wanted to make a powerful film about the dangers of the Cold War, and the necessity of the United Nations and the international cooperation it represents (at least theoretically). Even the film as released was considered “subversive” by some, probably because it suggested that the issues of contention in the Cold War did not merit mutually assured destruction.

Unfortunately, The Day the Earth Stood Still is not that film.

Next: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier