Friday, July 17, 2015

Reppert on Dawkins: A Swing and a Miss

Victor Reppert recently posted this swipe at Richard Dawkins:
From a sermon by Rev. Drachir Snikwad, of Hellfire Baptist Church in Georgia:

I think we should probably abandon the irremediably gay precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven't really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

If it doesn't make them straight, it should at least keep them in the closet.
The quote attributed to Drachir Snikwad (Richard Dawkins spelled backwards, except he didn't quite get it right) is a take on an actual comment made by Dawkins, with 'gay' substituted for 'religious'.  Epic fail, Victor.

I don't really think Victor is this homophobic.  Which is why it seems such a bizarre way to strike back at Dawkins.  It might have made a little more sense if he had used 'atheist' instead of 'gay'.  At least then there would be a parallel to Dawkins' comment.  But 'gay' just doesn't work.  Being gay is not a matter of intellectual persuasion.  It is not a rational choice that people make.  It's not a choice at all.  People don't decide to be gay any more than they decide to be straight.  If you're like most people, you can't remember a time in your life when you asked yourself, "Should I be gay or should I be straight?  I think I'll be straight."  You never studied arguments for and against and then made a logical choice. 

This is the absurdity of homophobes.  They don't understand  human nature.  They think (thanks to their religious training) that being gay is a choice that people make.  Usually, they attribute it to moral failing, because that's what some idiot hellfire preacher told them.

But what Victor has done in this case is even stranger than that.  He equates being gay to an intellectual choice.  Dawkins was talking about ridiculing absurd religious beliefs, in the hopes that a fence-sitter would recognize the absurdity of those beliefs, and thereby be intellectually persuaded to change what he believes.  That's why it would have made sense to use 'atheist' instead of 'gay'.  Because being an atheist is (or at least can be) an intellectual choice, and one might be persuaded one way or the other.

If a theist thinks atheism is intellectually absurd, he might urge his fellow theists to ridicule atheists.  In fact, with or without urging from others, that is precisely what has been going on throughout history.  "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God."  Hell, even Victor's hero CS Lewis did his share of atheist bashing.

That's why I can't understand why Victor would get so upset about the "new atheists", or "gnus" as he is fond of calling them.  Theists have always treated atheists with contempt, if not worse.  The only thing "new" about this recent brand of atheism is that they don't remain silent in the face of religious absurdity, as most atheists have done in the past.  Their behavior may not be viewed kindly by theists, but it is certainly no more outrageous than what theists have exhibited for ages.  And I'm not talking about a few loose cannons.  I'm talking about highly respected theologians, philosophers, and religious leaders.

I would suggest to Victor that he lighten up a bit.  His hatred of Richard Dawkins is so irrational that he can't even manage to come up with a cogent rejoinder to the things Dawkins says.


  1. It's not a choice at all.

    From family experience, I am can prove that homosexuality can be a choice. A bit more than a decade ago, a close family relative had decided (in the most literal sense of that term) to be homosexual, and dated persons of the same sex, and presumably had sex with them (though of the last point, I can only speculate - though it seems likely). But after about 4 years of this, they (once again) decided it wasn't for them, and since then have been 100% straight. In fact, they are now married. (A real marriage - to a person of the opposite sex.) And that relationship has lasted several years now.

    (Use of the plural pronoun is to disguise as much as possible the person's identity, whose permission I do not have to post this.)

    1. Being gay is not a choice "... results suggest that while people can change their behavior, they aren't really changing their basic sexual attraction."

      Here are some statements from people who would not have chosen to be gay if they had the opportunity to make that choice.

  2. And Victor doubles down by posting this vacuous diatribe from Bill Vallicella, who insists that sexual orientation is a moral issue, and that those who take a stand against gays the ones being debased because of the "homophobe" label. His opposition to homosexuality is rational, he says. He makes the comparison of homophobia to a hypothetical irrational hatred of people who eat meat. But there's nothing hypothetical about homophobia. Homophobes really do hate gay people, and actively support denying them equal civil rights.

    It's not rational to deny the scientific information that tells us that sexual orientation is predominately inborn. And it's not rational to hate gays. Please don't try to tell me you don't hate them. I'll believe that when you stop trying to deny them their civil rights.

    Isn't it just like a Christian hypocrite to try to turn the tables and claim that the ones who are oppressed are the real oppressors, and that they are the poor, misunderstood innocent ones?

    1. We are watching and witnessing the terminal thrashings and the final writhing intellectual contortions of the rabidly religiose as they experience the exorcism of their homophobia, that long-held, deeply ingrained irrational hatred towards all things homosexual. Such exorcism is painful, no doubt, and painful to watch the moment at which irresponsible people are cleaved of their dangerous and absurd religious beliefs.

      Victor, Plank, crude, Vallicella et al are on the wrong side of history, a history that is now redressing the ethical, moral, legal and social wrongs unjustly perpetrated on those in our community, who by the accident of, and inopportune random genetic variability have been mercilessly targeted and persecuted through the appalling and monstrous ignorance of religious privilege.

    2. However long it may take for them to get over their misunderstanding of what makes gay people who they are, I have a feeling that they will only redouble their efforts to demonize others in place of the gays. Atheists and rational thinkers are likely targets that come to mind.

  3. Please don't try to tell me you don't hate them.

    Please don't refuse to listen when we tell you we don't.

    I'll believe that when you stop trying to deny them their civil rights.

    No one's civil rights were ever being violated. Homosexuals were as free to marry as anyone else. They chose not to. (What they're doing now is definitely not getting married. I have no idea what to call it, but sure as heck ain't marriage.) I actually have no interest in what homosexuals do with their free time. Just don't try to make me approve of it. I don't approve of smoking either, despite the fact that it's perfectly legal to do so. Does that make me a hater or a smokaphobe?

    1. Does that make me a hater or a smokaphobe?

      - Disapproval of the behavior of others does not make you a hater. You might even wish to place restrictions on the ability of smokers to foul the air that you breathe. That doesn't qualify as an irrational hatred, and it is reasonable, because you can make a legitimate case that they are impinging on your rights.

      Gays are not impinging on your rights. If they get married, it doesn't cost you anything or harm you in any way. When you place restrictions on them, it is for no other reason than your own irrational hatred. And even if you don't think that it is real marriage according to your peculiar religious definition, the fact is that they are not asking your church to concede anything or to make any allowances for them. They want equality under the civil laws of the state. Your definition doesn't matter, unless and until you try to impose it on them. And when you do, it is a malicious act.

    2. "own irrational hatred"

      Are you really incapable of seeing that your using such terminology is tantamount to a demand that we acquiesce in approving objective evil, simply because society has gone off the deep end? I'm sure that 1st Century Christians were spoken of in the exact same way when they wouldn't approve of gladiator fights in the arena. "What's wrong with you people? Gladiator fights are perfectly legal. The courts have said so. In fact, the government funds them with your tax money! And after all, the violence is consensual."

      You know, im-skeptical, you like to imagine yourself as an objective, free thinker. Why then are you so willing to be such a sheep, and allow yourself to be mindlessly (dare I say "irrationally") swept along with the fashionable tide of what's currently "in"? That's not "rational", but rather the very opposite! There's no virtue in thoughtlessly following along with the latest facebook fad. I know how hard it is to be unpopular, to risk being thought of as "not with the times". Is that so important to you? Are you so utterly lacking in intellectual courage? Try using your brain - you say you have one. You even claim to know how it works. You'd never know it from reading this blog.

      Just for once, I'd like to see some genuine, independent thought coming from you.

    3. So please tell me, what constitutes independent thought? Are you an independent thinker because you read copious amounts of church propaganda and bleat the church's party line? Are you an independent thinker if you still believe the same old fairy tales they told you when you were a baby? If I joined your flock and started to bleat along with you, would you then be satisfied that I'm an independent thinker?

  4. [W]ould you then be satisfied that I'm an independent thinker?

    Actually, yes. That would cause me to rejoice. But suspecting that's not going to happen anytime soon (though one can always hope), I'll just have to keep posting here in order to "speak out against [your] bullshit."

    1. You keep speaking out, but I hope you can come up with some worthy arguments.

      For my own part, when I first stared too comment at Victor's blog, I knew very little about what was currently fashionable among non-believers. I had never heard of "new atheists". I had never read any Richard Dawkins. I had never visited any of the web forums for atheism or "free thought", with the single exception of the Secular Web site. I couldn't tell you what the latest fad was, because I had no idea about it. Since that time, I have been somewhat surprised to find that there are others who substantially agree with much of my own thinking, but there is also considerable diversity, and a lot that I disagree with.

      Why don't you tell me, which of these "fads" do I follow, and given that atheism is still a minority view, why don't you think you're the one who follows the crowd?

  5. which of these "fads" do I follow?

    The fad I was speaking of is the currently fashionable one of calling everyone who disagrees with the new political orthodoxy a "bigot" or a "hater". That is where you personally, im-skeptical, are truly a sheep - not thinking for yourself, but just going along with the crowd.

    Read Victor's posting on Plantinga on the "courage" of atheists - it's quite relevant here.

    1. OK, so you think it's some kind of fad to call bigots what they are. In this post I gave my definition of what bigotry is, and I attempted to show how certain religious people actually meet that definition by virtue of what they say and do. This isn't just a matter of slinging names or epithets.

      Plantinga, on the other hand. appears to be saying that it doesn't take any courage for an atheist to come out in the open, and he has no justification for his claim. Has he ever been an atheist and subjected to the kinds of abuse that they often face in their daily lives and their workplaces? Do people like you and Plantinga have any idea what it's like to be a hated minority? I don't think so.

  6. Victor says:

    "I must ask, isn't he doing EXACTLY what the Freethoughtpedia says is the Appeal to Ridicule, a fallacy? Getting people to the right result is more important to him than fostering critical thinking and getting to the right result for the right reason. I do find this offensive, which is why my reactions to New Atheists are different from my reactions to atheists of another stripe."

    No, Victor, what he's doing is talking about the use of ridicule, not engaging in a logical fallacy - not actually ridiculing anything. If you want to say that Dawkins is committing a fallacy, you need to come up with an example where he actually does what you accuse him of. As I pointed out in my post, this is what theists do all the time, and they have been doing it for ages. You do it when you call people "gnus". So this really seems like a case of throwing stones inside your glass house.

  7. You do it when you call people "gnus".

    It is my understanding that "gnu" was thought up by, and popularized by, atheists themselves.

    1. Yes, it was - at first. But it quickly became a term of derision and ridicule used by theists. These days, that's the manner in which it is used. It's like so many other derogatory terms - a word that started out as something not intended to be offensive, but the derogatory usage has become dominant.

    2. I wouldn't take too much offense if I were you. After all, it's one heck of a lot preferable to your use of bigot and hater against Christians who are anything but. I'll start worrying about Victor's use of gnu when you swear off the use of those terms. Otherwise, I'd advise you to grow a thick skin.

    3. You obviously didn't listen to what I said. Why do you think it's OK for Christians to do these things (and of course, there is much more than the use of a derogatory term going on), but not for atheists? That's sheer hypocrisy.

  8. Exactly when did any Catholic leader call for a campaign of ridicule against atheists? Now your side's spokesperson is on record for doing so, but I can't think of an equivalent statement by, for instance, the Pope. (And I care not for what any Protestant says, so don't even try to quote one.)

    No hypocrisy, sheer or otherwise, on my side.

    1. Let's start with the bible. Then we can move on to Catholics such as Augustine. Let's face it - this has been the standard attitude for ages, as I have pointed out numerous times.

  9. Huh? The Bible? Where does it even mention atheists? Sure, there's a great deal of ridiculing of idolatry. Is that what you're thinking of?

    1. Don't you even read what I write? "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God."

      If you want some modern-day Catholic intolerance, try Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor:

      "Man is by nature and vocation a religious being. Coming from God, going toward God, man lives a fully human life only if he freely lives by his bond with God."

      "There is something not totally human if you leave out transcendent [God] and you [atheists] are not fully human. They have an impoverished understanding to what it is to be human. We are all made by God."

  10. Don't you even read what I write?

    Of course I do - that's why I responded.

    "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God."

    That passage has absolutely nothing to do with atheism. Now you're the one not reading. Psalm 14 is a condemnation of the oppressors of the poor, "the evildoers
    who eat up my people as they eat bread." The psalmist is saying that they are fools for thinking they will not face retribution (i.e., God) for their crimes. Atheism doesn't even figure in here. If that's all you've got, then we may safely say that The Bible does not ridicule atheists.

    As for the Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor quote where's the ridicule in that? He's just saying it like it is. No ridicule, but rather heartfelt pity, spoken out of love. You'd do well (you: specifically) to take what he says to heart. Heck, I myself have said much the same to you several times. To be an atheist is to willingly cast one's self into a prison of your own making. There's a Great Big World out here that you've shut your eyes and ears tight to, lest a ray of light or a sound of music break past your iron walls of self seclusion.

    Recently over on the Strange Notions blog, there was an interesting article that pointed out that the atheist materialist would answer Hamlet, when he says "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy," with "No, Hamlet, there are less."

    1. "That passage has absolutely nothing to do with atheism."
      - Wow. That's a creative interpretation of what it plainly says.

      "As for the Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor quote where's the ridicule in that?"
      - Calling atheists less than human may not sound like ridicule to you, but then you're not the object of the cardinal's insults.

      And finally, your little quip about Hamlet just drives home the point. Do you not ridicule atheists for not seeing the things in "heaven and earth"?

      I think I see the issue here. For people like you, it is so normal to insult and ridicule atheists, you don't even realize you're doing it. You just think, "How dare those gnus say anything bad about us? It's totally uncalled for."

  11. Do you not ridicule atheists

    No, I most emphatically do not. No more than I would ever dream of ridiculing a homeless person, or someone with a speech impediment.

    That's a creative interpretation of what it plainly says.

    Read the Psalm. It has nothing to do with atheists, and everything to do with evildoers. If you truly cannot understand that, then perhaps I do have reason to ridicule you.

    And yes, I agree 100% with the cardinal. It is less than fully human to be an atheist, in the same way that it is less than fully human to have no appreciation for the arts, or music, or love. That's not ridicule, but just a bald statement of fact.

    When Shakespeare wrote

    The man that hath no music in himself,
    Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
    Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
    The motions of his spirit are dull as night
    And his affections dark as Erebus:
    Let no such man be trusted.

    was he ridiculing people with no ear for music? (Answer: No.)

  12. "Read the Psalm. It has nothing to do with atheists, and everything to do with evildoers. If you truly cannot understand that, then perhaps I do have reason to ridicule you."
    - Yes, it's not only calling atheists fools, it's also calling them evil or corrupt. The only thing I can't understand is why you think it has nothing to do with atheists. It's about atheists.

    "And yes, I agree 100% with the cardinal. It is less than fully human to be an atheist, in the same way that it is less than fully human to have no appreciation for the arts, or music, or love. That's not ridicule, but just a bald statement of fact."
    - Nothing contemptuous, dismissive, or derisive about calling atheists less than human, is there? You might think this is simply a statement of fact. But I could just as well say that people who believe in theistic fairy tales lack the intelligence of a rational human being. That's not ridicule - just a simple statement of fact.

  13. Psalm 14

    Verse 1 is like a blare of trumpets, announcing the theme: "The man who fears not retribution is a fool."

    Verses 2 through 4 identify exactly who the psalmist is referring to - evildoers. The key line is in verse 4, "all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread."

    The second half of verse 4 says clearly that the evildoers fail to call upon the Lord - NOT the reverse (as you have confusingly interpreted it) - that those who do not recognize the Lord are evildoers. You got it totally backwards.

    Verses 5 through 7 explain why the evildoers (not atheists) are fools - because retribution for their crimes is inevitable, and ultimate justice is certain.

    Psalm 14 has nothing whatsoever to do with atheists. To even imagine so, one would have to either be
    a) a person incapable of understanding plain English,
    b) a person not making the effort to do so, or
    c) an inattentive reader.

    1. or d) someone who takes the words for exactly what they say.

      The psalm doesn't refer exclusively to atheists (especially since there were none at the time it was written. What it does is to equate everything bad and evil to the denial of god. In modern times, this passage is definitely used by theists as a put-down of atheists.

  14. Your first link is to a bunch of Protestant commentators associated with Liberty University, who do not speak for me, and whom I have no obligation to defend. I care not what they have to say.

    Your second link actually backs up what I am saying. To use Psalm 14 as a dig against atheists is totally inappropriate. (And why? Because it's not even talking about them!)

    someone who takes the words for exactly what they say

    As good a description as any of what I am doing here.

    1. "I care not what they have to say."
      - Nor what any reasonable person has to say. You only know what your church tell you.

      "And why? Because it's not even talking about them!"
      - That's not at all what the article says.

      Q: Who says "There is no God?" A: atheists say that.
      You can put your Catholic spin on it, but it says what it says.

      But this is a diversion from the topic at hand.

  15. One last word (hopefully) on this subject. When you read Psalm 14 holistically, any idea of its being about atheists becomes nonsensical. First of all, look at the writer and his times. An unknown Hebrew during the Kingdom period of Israel, probably living in the Northern Kingdom. (Yes, I know the psalm is said to be "Of David", but that almost certainly means "in the style of" rather than actual authorship.) Like nearly all the Old Testament prophets, his concern was about injustice to the poor of the land. What we would today call an "exploiter class" is oppressing the general populace. They "eat up my people as they eat bread." They "would confound the plans of the poor." It's not some imaginary cabal of atheists grinding the poor into dust, but a very specific, very visible power structure, and the people who hold all power in the land. (In fact, far from being atheists, these "evildoers" were likely quite friendly to the religious authorities.)

    But Who precisely is the defender of the poor? Who is going to set things right? None other than the Lord! "The Lord is [the poor's] refuge." "The Lord [will] restore the fortunes of his people."

    And who is not taking this into account? The oppressors - the evildoers! They fear not God, they "do not call upon the Lord" (suggesting that, in contrast, the people they are oppressing do). And what does this make them? Fools! Their contemptuous sneer, "There is no God" cannot be understood through an anachronistic 21st Century lens. What they're saying is "there is no one we need fear, who will set things right, and favor the cause of those we are "eating up".

    The psalm is in two parts, mixed together. First, the oppressors of the poor are foolish in their delusion that they will not have to pay for their crimes. Second, the triumph of justice is sure.

    That's what Psalm 14 is all about. Any attempt to turn it into some sort of dig at atheists simply guts it of its meaning.

    1. "That's what Psalm 14 is all about. Any attempt to turn it into some sort of dig at atheists simply guts it of its meaning."

      - Unless you're completely blind, you have to admit that it equates evil with a denial of God.

  16. Replies
    1. I see what you see. But unlike you, I am able to distinguish reality from fantasy.

      It doesn't take any special "vision" to have a sense of awe when you contemplate the cosmos. It requires no extraordinary perceptiveness to interpret a biblical passage in the way your church prescribes. Anybody could blindly accept whatever their church tells them. It takes a modicum of courage to leave behind the comforting promises of ever-lasting life, to open your eyes for the first time, and see the world for what it is, rather than what you wish it to be.

      When you're dead, you're dead. That's reality. Your heaven is a fantasy. Your God is a fairy tale. Eternal life is an empty promise. You see what you want to see. You don't separate fiction from reality.

  17. to interpret a biblical passage in the way your church prescribes

    I arrived at this interpretation all by myself. In all truthfulness, I've never read (or even seen) a single line about this Psalm from any Catholic source. It isn't so hard to do (and I totally agree with your comment that it requires no extraordinary perceptiveness) when you actually read the thing the way it was written, without imposing your 21st Century perspective on it.

    It takes a modicum of courage

    Ahh... and now we get to the Heart of the Matter (as Graham Greene would say). What you want is to think of yourself as being somehow heroic, and a Man of Courage in the face of Implacable Opposition . You want Psalm 14 to be some sort of attack on you, so you can pat yourself on the back about how you are nobly standing your ground against the bigots and the haters.

    Well, here's another scriptural quote for you, that is terribly apropos here: The wicked flee when no man pursueth. You are desiring to be attacked, when no one is doing so - makes you feel good.

    When you're dead, you're dead.

    Prove it.

    1. "What you want is to think of yourself as being somehow heroic, and a Man of Courage in the face of Implacable Opposition"
      - I said a modicum of courage, not heroic. That's all it takes for one to discard the security blanket that you have continued to cling to, well past the time when childish things should have been set aside.

      "Well, here's another scriptural quote for you, that is terribly apropos here: The wicked flee when no man pursueth. You are desiring to be attacked, when no one is doing so - makes you feel good."
      - You are referring, of course, to the Christian persecution complex. And that gets us back to the original point of this post. It's what Victor feels when the takes umbrage at Dawkins' suggestion that ridiculous beliefs should be ridiculed. Those nasty gnus. They're so unfair to us. What did we ever do to deserve this horrendous treatment?

      "Prove it."
      - Did you ever see a dead person? He's dead. Period. If you think he still lives, that's something you need to prove.