May 12, 2009

Richard Posner: “Religious Criteria in the Selection of Public Officials” (Partially) to Blame for Death of Conservatism

Posted in Atheism, Law tagged , , , , at 2:22 pm by Andrew

Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner has a new blog post up entitled Is the Conservative Movement Losing Steam?, in which he laments the current state of conservativism in the U.S. (as being “at its lowest ebb since 1964”). The cause?

The major blows to conservatism, culminating in the election and programs of Obama, have been fourfold: the failure of military force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives; the inanity of trying to substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the neglect of management and expertise in government; a continued preoccupation with abortion; and fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.

Lawyers know Posner as the guru of the law-and-economics movement, an unbelievably smart guy who always seems to be on the short list of potential Republican Supreme Court nominees. But before reading this, I would not have associated Posner with any sort of sympathy towards secularism; I’ll have to go back and read his Establishment Clause decisions.

Shorter Posner: “Monica Goodling? You’ve gotta be kidding me….”

More on “Creationist Liars”: Ben’s Plea for Civility

Posted in Atheism, Creationism tagged , , at 11:31 am by Andrew

I suggested the following guidelines for whether atheists should call a particular creationist a liar:

I think it’s reasonable to hold someone who is representing himself to the world as an expert to the standards one would expect from such experts.

Such standards include, at minimum, that if one reads someone else’s research and draws conclusions not present in the original article, you should (1) contact the original author to get his views; (2) represent that author’s views of your conclusions fairly in making your own argument; and (3) submit your argument to a scientific journal for review by other professional academic peers within the respective scientific community.

When you bypass all of that … I think it’s fair to call that “misuse” at best and yes, even “lying.”

Commenter Ben responds:

I was actually thinking of that same distinction in the car yesterday and trying to decide whether it’s justified or not. I definitely agree the “expert” is much more responsible for the intellectual integrity of their claims, and I definitely agree that your three criteria are reasonable expectations for them that they should be held to. But it still seems to me that this forces you into a perspective rut where virtually every single “expert” creationist is now an official liar. Round them all up and in all likelihood every single last one of them supports some position paper on their side that you and I might agree misrepresents the source material. Surely they’ve even read some response from our camp that points that out. Are they really ALL liars? Even most of them? That’s just implausible like the whole mainstream creationist movement is composed of charlatans.

As it is, this gets instantly complicated because one of your criteria opens up the “Expelled”-esque can of worms and rather than focusing on the issue (whatever it happens to be), we now have to deal with defending against auxiliary politics and conspiracy. That’s a lot of work and a lot of yuck to sort through. Decision theory, in my opinion, would favor, A: Not calling even creationist “experts” liars even if they might be lying since laity typically rally around mainstream position pieces that get lots of attention. B: Politely encouraging and giving partial credit for honoring criteria 1 and 2 since that in and of itself would be progress. C: Allowing our criticism of their papers even in their own journals to partially count as criteria 3 since that’s basically what it is. In other words set aside the “this sucks because it wasn’t published in a mainstream journal” talk and just show qualitatively why it wasn’t published in a mainstream journal.

I could be wrong and granted I’m not always that polite myself, but I am working towards that goal in the long term and it seems to me that we would be better served that way. We could surely test it. The next big quote-mining fiasco or the next big news splash on PZ Myers blog that has “creationist” and “liar” in the same title…try out a different approach and see if you like those results better. Can’t really hurt can it?

I think it’s worth a shot. Thoughts?

Why I Blog About Creationism

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, Creationism tagged , , , at 10:50 am by Andrew

In response to recent posts about the ICR, their lawsuit, and creationism generally, commenter Phil takes me to task:

“Evaluating” Christianity by picking on the Institute for Creation Research is like “evaluating” atheism by picking on the Rational Response Squad.

It’s true that the thrust of this blog is directed at scholarly and popular apologetics, starting with my Summary Case for Atheism and the pages linked from there, and continuing with posts I’ve made on the Argument from Morality (see also here), presuppositionalist apologetics, the so-called “Minimal Facts” argument for the historicity of the Resurrection, and so on.

It’s comforting to see Christians like Phil concede that the ICR is a group of morons; I wish more of his co-religionists would see the light on this issue, and perhaps Phil and others like him who decry the ICR as undermining the intellectual rigor of their religious beliefs can actually speak out against them.

But the prevalence — I would say the ubiquity — of creationist arguments even among scholarly Christians is disturbing, and it contributes to my general case against Christianity. For example: if 99% of atheists believed that paying your taxes was voluntary, or that Sarah Palin faked a pregnancy while Governor of Alaska, or that the Apollo moon landing was a hoax, or that George W. Bush was the mastermind behind a 9/11 conspiracy, or whatever, then, yes, that would increase my skepticism about atheism. Generally speaking, I’ve found that conspiracy theorists tend to be unreliable sources of information.

So the fact that — as far as I can tell — 100% of all Christian apologists subscribe to absolute crackpottery is indeed relevant to me. This is not just the ICR; it’s leading lights such as William Lane Craig and Lee Strobel publicly proclaiming nonsense while other educated Christians refuse to call them on it.

That’s a problem. Now, let me be clear: the fact that Craig and Strobel parrot outright scientific falsehoods without the slightest criticism from their colleagues is not evidence against Christianity per se. It is not even evidence against their apologetic arguments in other fields (except insofar as a general misuse of science indicts one as a source for other arguments from science; e.g., cosmological and teleological arguments). But it does suggest that (1) these people are not reliable, and (2) their followers either don’t know or don’t care, and from there, we should go looking for explanations for those two facts and see if that explanation affects our view of Christianity.

And what do you know? It does! Unsurprisingly, both Craig and Strobel are Biblical inerrantists, which is to say that their view of Christianity — the God in which they believe and for which they are arguing in their books and debates — is one who literally revealed every word of every book selected by Christian elders to be compiled into the Bible, and that said Bible:

…is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.

That’s the endpoint of Craig’s argument; of Strobel’s argument; of Geisler’s argument; of all of these guys’ arguments. And if you can’t swallow creationism (or million-man battles in ancient Mesopotamia, or any of the other stories passed off as “world history” in the Bible), then you don’t believe in Craig’s God.

I don’t believe in Craig’s God. And that’s why I blog about creationism.