Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Stupid! It Burns! (making up quotes edition)

the stupid! it burns!

I usually don't comment on TSIB material, but in Why are so many scientists atheists?, Robin Schumacher commits so many sins against reason that they deserve some analysis.

First, Schumacher engages in quote mining (taking quotes out of context) and repeats what appear to be outright fabrications. Naturally none of his quotations, even the accurate ones, have a citation. Schumacher describes a conversation between an unnamed seminary professor and an unnamed biology professor. The biology professor admits that the evidence for the existence of God is persuasive, but remains an atheist "because I want to sleep with who I want and keep living how I’m living." So many Christian apologists have a seminary professor who's had this conversation that we must conclude the whole conversation is probably a fabrication. Schumacher quotes philosopher Thomas Nagel, who "want[s] atheism to be true" and who "[does not] want there to be a God." But Nagel doesn't say that he is an atheist because he wants it to be true. A larger quotation, attributed to Nagel's book, The Last Word and presented at Wikiquote, makes it clear that Nagel is "speaking of the fear of religion." And finally, Schumacher "quotes" Julian Huxley (a.k.a. "Darwin's Bulldog"*) and scientist George Klein (presumably the Hungarian biologist), but I'm unable to find any primary references for these quotations; they are almost certainly fabricated. Just fabricating quotations is enough reason to condemn Schumacher as a liar, but the stupidity continues.

*Thomas Henry Huxley was known as "Darwin's Bulldog"; Julian Huxley was Thomas's grandson.

Schumacher's attitude towards evolution is weirdly equivocal. On the one hand, he correctly notes that evolution doesn't disprove the existence of God. He quotes Richard Dawkins accurately (but of course does not cite The God Delusion), but completely misinterprets the quotation that he includes. Dawkins does not offer evolution as a reason to be an atheist; Schumacher quotes Dawkins as saying that even before evolution, and atheist could say, "God isn't a good explanation." But if evolution isn't directly probative (it just removes one more gap from the God of the Gaps fallacy), then why does Schumacher go to great lengths to equate evolution and atheism? Schumacher's atheist professor is a biologist, who, despite the evidence, will continue to "to teach evolution and remain an atheist." Schumacher's fabricated quotation from Huxley (an agnostic) just talks about why people believe evolution (supposedly "without proof"), not atheism. I can only speculate, but Schumacher apparently wants to have his cake and eat it too: he doesn't want to directly confront the mountains of evidence for evolution, but he knows his audience considers evolution to be synonymous with and equally insupportable as atheism.

Even ignoring these previous issues, Schumacher's post fails to meet the minimal standards for a causal essay in freshman English composition. Schumacher boasts of "Ph.D. in New Testament and an M.A. in Christian Apologetics;" if you are going to assert academic credentials, you should meet academic standards. Schumacher sets up his explanandum competently, showing that in a survey 31% of scientists (some fields, such as physics and biology, were surveyed at 41%) "disavowed belief in God," as compared with the much smaller percentage of atheists in the general population. He asks, "Why such a difference between this particular group of surveyed professors and the overall populous [sic]?" That's a good question, and he actually cites the study.

But the quality of Schumacher's argument quickly degenerates. His argument is entirely anecdotal, consisting of individual quotations (most of which are, of course, fabricated); you cannot even address, much less explain, a statistical truth with anecdotal evidence. And only two of the relevant quotations are (if they were real) from contemporary scientists; the others are from people long dead or from non-scientists. And he fails to address any alternative explanations; he offers one — Dawkins says that more scientists are atheists because, "well, we’re bright" — but doesn't address it head-on. Finally, he concludes that scientists are atheists "for the same reason everyone else turns away" from religion. But if scientists are atheists for the same reason as everyone else, then Schumacher has fundamentally failed to explain why there's a difference between the prevalence of atheism among scientists and the populace. His argument, even if he were given the facts he fabricates, is just one long fallacy.

Moreover, his argument is so fundamentally stupid that he has to resort to fabrication and fallacy. Schumacher might have an interesting point if he were to argue that people choose their unfalsifiable, unprovable metaphysical beliefs to rationalize their desires and preferences. Of course that argument cuts both ways: if nonbelievers choose atheism to rationalize their licentiousness, then believers choose theism to rationalize their repression, and of course history is littered with examples of people (such as Joseph Smith) using God to rationalize their licentiousness. But Schumacher attempts a much different argument. He asserts that nonbelievers choose atheism in the face of persuasive evidence to the contrary. For example, he places the admission in the mouth of his unnamed biologist:
I think you’re right. I do think the evidence you’ve presented is correct with respect to God. ... [but] I’m still going to teach evolution and remain an atheist ... because I want to sleep with who I want and keep living how I’m living.
If people would deny the evidence with regard to God, why wouldn't they do it with regard to, for example, the United States government? We have a lot of people who want to break laws and who actually do break laws. Some of them believe they won't get caught, and some of the more crazy believe the US government has no legal jurisdiction over them, but no one denies the persuasive evidence that the government exists to rationalize their criminal activity. Human stupidity (as Schumacher demonstrates) may well be infinite, but his thesis so contradicts ordinary logic and basic common sense that it requires far more than a transparently fallacious anecdotal argument.

More than a decade ago, I "entered the fray" to discuss religion. I sincerely believed that religion and superstition was due only to a lack of education and understandable and excusable ignorance and confusion. (We really do live in a subtle and complicated world, after all.) I hoped to do my bit to help alleviate this lack of education. What I discovered, however, is that Schumacher (a credentialed scholar) is not the exception but the rule: religious belief is supported by a level of mendacity that simply cannot be unintentional. I cannot reason with someone who intentionally lies or willfully remains ignorant; I can only fight, and call him a liar and a fool.

2 comments:

  1. Hello Larry –

    Let me see what I can do to address your concerns.

    First, no I did not provide sources for my quotations. Reference usage many times depends on the vehicle being used for communication. It is perfectly acceptable for various informal articles and news stories to contain quotes without references, and given this is a personal blog entry and not something like an academic journal article, I didn’t provide references.

    However, since you would like them, let me see what I can for you. The story of the professor (Dr. Carlson) and biologist is referenced in Dr. Norman Geisler’s (the former head of my seminary) book, “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist”, page 163.

    The Huxley quote appears on that same page in Dr. Geisler’s book and is footnoted in the Notes appendix. However, this may be insufficient for you. Perhaps a quote from his younger brother Aldous – who sports the same position for rejecting God – will suffice (From Ends and Means, 1969, pp. 270, 273): “I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently assumed it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption....The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom”. Let me know if you would like me to swap the quotes.

    The George Klein quote comes from his book “The Atheist and the Holy City: Encounters and Reflections”, page 203.

    My Nagel quote is not out of context whatsoever. Of course the statement was made in regard to his fear of religion. That’s pretty much my point.

    My primary argument in the blog post that you say fails to meet the high school test boils down to two positions: (1) Atheists reject God because of the rebellious will that we all (including myself) have and they look for any rationale to reject God’s moral commands - something that has strong Biblical support; (2) Scientism-driven atheists reject God because of their a priori commitment to philosophical naturalism, a point that the quotes in the article aptly demonstrate. I’m sorry it wasn’t framed more to your satisfaction.

    Lastly, as to me being a fool… In the same way the Apostle Paul defines fool in the worldly sense, I can be called a fool (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21; 4:10). However, I am not a fool in the Christian sense: “The fool has said in his heart. ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). What kind of fool are you, Larry?

    A suggestion: in the future, rather than resort to character assassination and ad hominem attacks, why not respectfully and calmly ask for references that are absent in an article or clarification of a position? I find it amusing you attack me for supposedly not living up to a particular standard while you violate a very basic one yourself.

    I hope this helps and I appreciate your suggested corrections. God bless.

    --Robin

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