Making Satire Redundant

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The satirical newspaper The Onion has an “Onion in History” feature whereby they present back issues with wild headlines about past events. This week’s “Onion in History” is an issue dated July 20, 1925, and contains a headline blaring, “SCOPE’S MONKEY TRIAL RAISES TROUBLING QUESTION: IS SCIENCE BEING TAUGHT IN OUR SCHOOLS?

It contains a few amusing articles, but sometimes the reality of the situation is bad enough that it’s impossible to exaggerate. Below the fold, we’ll compare an excerpt from one of the “joke” articles with an actual report from the ongoing Creation Mega Conference.

First, here’s a segement from an opinion piece by The Onion’s “crime and science” editor Edward Tillich:

As a man that holds that the welfare of the country takes precedence over any other human concern, I must stand firmly against the teaching of Science in our schools. This Science has already caused turmoil among God-fearing folk who did not wish to learn that they, as human creatures, may have descended from apes. What if Science were to champion other truths, provable and real, which people do not want to hear? Should we allow our citizens to become aware of facts which go against their chosen beliefs, it would cause untold turmoil and strife among our people! The people’s reaction would cause division and conflict in our nation that would doubtless outweigh any benefits of the actual Scientific discovery.

Should we teach out children facts? No, I say, a thousand times no! As they grow into tomorrow’s farmers, housewives, mill workers, and coal miners, facts are the last things they will need. Manners! Subservience! Above all, obedience! […]

Once something is accepted as true, it should be true forever. This noble ideal, with its emphasis on unquestioning acceptance of and obedience to authority, is what we should teach our children. It is the rock upon which we have built our government, our religion, and our American way of life, and it is the very ideal which Science seeks to thwart with its new “discoveries” and impersonal ledgers of “facts.”

Ha ha ha, very funny. No one could ever actually think like that, could they? Well, Ronald Bailey of Reason magazine gives us a report on the ongoing Creationist Mega Conference, in which he tells us…

Scientific creationists have a different understanding about the proper way to interpret facts and phenomena. In his talk “What’s the Best Evidence that God Created,” Carl Kerby explains, “You should allow the Word of God to drive your understanding of the evidence.” Ham tells a story of how, during one of his lectures at a college, a professor yelled out “The Bible is not a science textbook.” To which Ham replied, “I’m glad the Bible is not a science textbook because science textbooks change every year.” What he doesn’t mention is that they change because human knowledge advances and old theories are replaced by better ones.

However, the longer I listened the clearer it became that creationism is not about science. It’s about morality. Specifically, creationists worry that biological evolution undermines people’s moral beliefs, leading to lawlessness, family breakdown, homosexuality, pornography, and abortion. The real heart of creationism is existential dread.

Philip Bell, former British cancer researcher and now fulltime creationist, in his talk “Ape Men, ‘Missing Links’ and the Bible,” explains, “If Adam is your ancestor then you were created specially and have a purpose in life. If evolution is true, we are descended from ape-like animals with no morality, no aesthetic sensibility and no soul.” If evolution were true, Bell tells the conferees, then “you would have no purpose for your existence.”

In his welcoming remarks, the Reverend Jerry Falwell similarly declares, “If we don’t understand the young earth and how God created it in six 24-hour days, then our values are skewed. If we believe that we evolved from a blob of protoplasm, we have zero values then… If we evolved, then there was no Fall in the Garden and there is no sin and no need for redemption and Christ’s death was unnecessary and meaningless.”

As with the fictitious Tillich, the real-life creationists operate with an absolute, unquestioning obedience to an authority which “should be true forever”. Any pesky facts that contradict said authority are seen as an intolerable threat not only to their belief system, but to the very moral fabric of society itself.

Consequentialist arguments of this kind are of course absurd – aside from the fact that blind obedience to authority is mostly good only for the authoritarians (who appear, among other things, to be raking in the dough), being good for society is never enough to make something true. Nor does being verifiably true require being good for society. One hopes that discovering true things is good for society more often than not, but the idea that everyday notions of right and wrong are wholly dependent upon believing that great white sharks were once vegetarians, for example, defies simple logic. You have to seriously worry about people who tell you that, absent their inflexible belief system, they’d have no reason not to kill you.

The only difference between Tillich’s satirical screed and the genuine article is that the real-life creationists vehemently deny that the facts contradict their beliefs. This is because, as they say quite plainly, they start with the premise that no fact could possibly contradict their beliefs, and it is through this doctrine of infallibility that all “facts” are to be interpreted and understood. Sadly enough, it’s impossible to exaggerate just how backwards this reasoning is. That makes The Onion’s satirical stab look almost like an actual report from the year 2005, not a parody of how fundamentalists may have thought back in the 1920s.

35 Comments

What amuses me is the insistence that without an absolutely literal Bible, morality can’t exist (Falwell’s claim that if there’s no Bible, there’s no sin makes even less sense–has he read the paper lately?), frequently expressed by conservative commentators as “If we’re just animals with no higher purpose what’s to stop me from stealing/killing/sodomizing farm animals/running over puppies?”

In other words, they’re such complete sociopaths that if they couldn’t sit down and look up a Thou Shalt Not, they would have no personal qualms about doing whatever they choose, and apparently would choose the worst. Presumably the same reason they sit around worrying that if gay marriage was legalized it would “destroy traditional marriage”–maybe they’re afraid that if it was legal, they’d all come out of the closet.

If evolution is true, we have no souls, and we’re no better than animals, right? And the danger is that we’ll behave as animals?

So let’s do the comparison - human society vs. chimps, gorillas, bonobos, etc. Which has more gratuitous violence? Which has more “sinful” behavior?

Highly subjective of course, but I’m skeptical that human society would compare favorably, even if we only used Christian fundamentalists as the ‘ideal’ human representatives. You could probably make a good case that animals are typically more moral than humans.

Maybe that’s what the Biblical literalist science-deniers are so worried about. They don’t want to be equated with animals because they’re afraid they’ll be held to a higher standard.

;-)

You know, that ID talk at this conference about the ID movement hasn’t really ended up being as exciting as I thought. The same general creationist/ID strawmans are trotted out all over the place and such forth, but then again this is the creationists here.

http://info.answersingenesis.org/mc2005/?cat=7 Is the direct podlink for Dr. Georgia Purdoms talk.

Basically:

1) She doesn’t like they don’t mention God.

2) She doesn’t like that they only apply their methods, IC, specified complexity and the like to limited things.

3) Importantly, she DOESN’T like that suboptimal design is allowed and that evolution can occur.

4) Perhaps even more so, she takes exception to the fact they are deceptive creationists rather than outright creationists.

I think the tent has fallen over.

http://www.iidb.org/vbb/showthread.[…]#post2557157 I posted a general overview of her talk in this internet infidels thread. Nothing overly exciting in the end and the complaints are fairly predictable. They essentially complain that the ID movement aren’t overtly creationist enough for them in professing that the bible isn’t their base.

…she takes exception to the fact they are deceptive creationists rather than outright creationists.

I think the tent has fallen over.

Maybe, but folks like FL and Cordova are still waving their pom-poms under the collapsed canvas.

“If evolution is true, we are descended from ape-like animals with no morality, no aesthetic sensibility and no soul.”

So? Deal with it.

By killing, raping and generally maiming everyone in sight.

How else would you deal with it?

This is the issue: How to communicate to the average person who is offended/humbled by reality. We are just not as “important” as their religion says. It is a devestating reality to “believers”. So, how to reach out?

For some reason, it is okay to believe in something because religion says so, but if I believe that people can walk on water and the Earth is moved by God, then I am the crazy one.

When one stops to think about the atrocities committed against humanity and nature, God as a motivating factor comes up far too often. I’m not even talking about Jihad or Crusades or anything like that: Consider a young girl that can’t bear the thought of her Christian parents finding out that she had sex and got knocked up out of wedlock? Wouldn’t fundamentalist Christian faith be the primary reason for her seeking a quiet abortion? Science does nothing (literally) to advance or beat back morality, but can organised religion really say they’ve done better? They have the manpower, money and moral influence to bring peace to the world but instead, they persecute, burn and molest in the name of God (oh, and to amass obscene personal wealth). Where would morality be without the Bible? Given the way people are reading it these days, probably better off…

In other words, they’re such complete sociopaths that if they couldn’t sit down and look up a Thou Shalt Not, they would have no personal qualms about doing whatever they choose,

Some of the more insane christians have openly admitted–I should say clamed–that they would be rapist murderers in lieu of religion. Vox Day is one such idiot. I have no idea why one would admit to being a sociopath.

Ned Flanders said it best: “Science is like a blabber mouth who ruins a movie by telling you how it ends. Well, I say that there are some things we don’t wanna know. Important things!”

claimed.

“If evolution is true, we are descended from ape-like animals with no morality, no aesthetic sensibility and no soul.”

Then again, bonobo society never produced an individual like Eric Rudolph.

HPLC_Sean asked “Where would morality be without the Bible? Given the way people are reading it these days, probably better off…”

I heard rather a good, and topical, sermon the other day about Matthew 13:24-30. “.. and the servants say unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather [the tares] up? But he saith, Nay; lest haply while ye gather up the tares, ye root up the wheat with them.” If certain of our leaders were actually to read the Bible .….

I have no idea why one would admit to being a sociopath.

Because one is also an imbecile?

I think what depresses me the most about the fundamentalist view on these things is how BORING it is. Whenever I hear all this talk about the Bible and Christianity giving MEANING and PURPOSE to our existence, I think, “What, our purpose is to spend our whole lives following an arbitrary moral code so that we can either be rewarded or punished when we die, and thus spend the rest of eternity either strumming on harps or writhing and gnashing our teeth in the Lake of Fire?” What the hell kind of purpose is that?

I also imagine God just shaking his head when someone like Jerry Falwell shows up at the Pearly Gates. “You know,” says God, “the human brain is one of my proudest achievments. It took me a long time to get all the synapses and neurotransmitters and whatnot lined up properly, but on the whole it came out pretty well, if I do say so myself. The human brain is capable of remarkable things. What the hell gave you the idea that I didn’t want you to use it?”

Goethe poem, paraphrased from memory: It’s the Day of Judgement. Christ appears before the risen multitude and says, “Sheep to my right! Goats to my left! And you reasonable people come with me!”

Yeah, true dat. Whatever my purpose is, if such a thing exists, it’s not eternal slavery.

“If evolution is true, we are descended from ape-like animals with no morality, no aesthetic sensibility and no soul.”

Um, can somebody lend these guys a Kant reader?

“Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.”

“If evolution is true, we are descended from ape-like animals with no morality, no aesthetic sensibility and no soul.”

Having read Falwell’s chillingly jocular description of how his daddy killed a co-worker’s cat and served it to him as a ‘joke’, I’d have to agree with his assessment of his ancestry.

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Perhaps we should be a little more humble about the Scopes business: http://volokh.powerblogs.com/archiv[…]l#1099763167

Some sobering excerpts from Scopes’ textbook.

Gav said:

I heard rather a good, and topical, sermon the other day about Matthew 13:24-30. “.. and the servants say unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather [the tares] up? But he saith, Nay; lest haply while ye gather up the tares, ye root up the wheat with them.” If certain of our leaders were actually to read the Bible .….

In modern English your passage appears to read: Don’t bother removing the weeds from your field because you might uproot the wheat you’re trying to grow there. That advise has obviously been well heeded. If you take child-molestation cover-ups and the fact that high clergy have been lining their pockets with the tithes of the faithful for many hundreds of years we can easily conclude that the fields are overgrown with weeds with very few stalks of wheat to show for it. As a matter of fact, were we actually talking about a farmer’s field, it would have been razed and lain fallow long ago.

PaulP Wrote:

Perhaps we should be a little more humble about the Scopes business: http://volokh.powerblogs.com/archiv[…]l#1099763167

Some sobering excerpts from Scopes’ textbook.

The problem with Volokh’s post is that only the first excerpt comes from the section on evolution. You read that section in its entirety here. It’s lamentable that the book places white Europeans as the “highest” of races, but that was a common belief in the West long before the Scopes trial, and even long before Darwin.

The other sections on eugenics come from a different part of the book. Without seeing the context, I don’t know what part of the book they came from, but it was most likely a section on genetics. As I understand it, the eugenics movement in the early 20th century was mostly born from the emerging science of genetics and not evolution, which had already been around for half a century.

Re: Comment 38825

Civic Biology was republished as New Civic Biology in 1927. This textbook was the same except that the evolution section was removed. It was approved for use by Tennessee after the trial. It had the eugenics section just as in the original Civic Biology used by John Scopes in violation of the Butler Act.

In other words, the eugenics section was entirely distinct from the evolution section, and the people who objected to the evolution section didn’t object to the eugenics section.

Apologies if this is duplicated, more or less.

HPLC_Sean said “As a matter of fact, were we actually talking about a farmer’s field, it would have been razed and lain fallow long ago.”

That is the point, rather. Is rooting out the innocent - “collateral damage” as they say - acceptable in order to get at evil-doers? Very Old Testament. Someone’s got the makings of a good fundamentalist!

the eugenics movement in the early 20th century was mostly born from the emerging science of genetics and not evolution, which had already been around for half a century

I’m not so sure. The connection is Social Darwinism, which may have been a set of bad ideas but which was nevertheless linked to evolution. (Whatever one thinks of Evolutionary Psychology, it is still linked to the theory of evolution).

Now put yourself in the shoes of William Jennings Bryan, who was a champion of “the common man” and not an expert on evolution. If, as Social Darwinists claimed, their cruel ideas were both correct and the ineluctable consequence of the theory of evolution, then his opposition to “Darwinism” is forgivable. He was not qualified to dispute the claims of the Social Darwinists that they were right because evolution was right.

The only difference between Tillich’s satirical screed and the genuine article is that the real-life creationists vehemently deny that the facts contradict their beliefs. This is because, as they say quite plainly, they start with the premise that no fact could possibly contradict their beliefs, and it is through this doctrine of infallibility that all “facts” are to be interpreted and understood. Sadly enough, it’s impossible to exaggerate just how backwards this reasoning is. That makes The Onion’s satirical stab look almost like an actual report from the year 2005, not a parody of how fundamentalists may have thought back in the 1920s.

That is exactly the point of the satire–to point out that today’s creationists haven’t progressed one bit. Of course, they probably take that as a compliment…

FYI, The Onion has a long track record of publishing articles that are just too true for comfort (witness the headline after the 2000 elections: Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity is Finally Over).

PaulP Wrote:

I’m not so sure. The connection is Social Darwinism, which may have been a set of bad ideas but which was nevertheless linked to evolution. (Whatever one thinks of Evolutionary Psychology, it is still linked to the theory of evolution).

But we’re talking about eugenics, not Social Darwinism. The two may be linked, but they are not identical.

From what I’ve heard (I’m no expert on this), there was never anything that could be called the “Social Darwinist movement”. There were any number of individuals that advocated ideas that we would now think of as Social Darwinism, but no unified movement. Eugenics was somewhat different. It was basically considered a branch of science, and various Western governments actually put its principles into law.

If evolution were true, then you would have no purpose for your existence.

Not true. I decide what is the purpose of my existence.

The purpose I decided for me is much more sensible than the purpose decided for me in the people who wrote the Bible. For example, I shall not dedicate my life “to gain eternal life” somewhere else.

Steve:

It is often difficult to disentangle ideas that coexist in time. Certain notions can seem so natural that they are not questioned. Somewhere in “The Mismeasure of Man” (I think) Gould notes how the racial inferiority of people from Mediterranean Europe was considered proven by their adherence to inferior versions of Christianity ( Catholicism and Orthodoxy) while in another context the inferiority of those types of Christianity was considered proven by the inferiority of the races who adhered to them.

Similarly with Social Darwinism and eugenics. I do not conider it a mere coincidence that eugenics - the idea of applying one set of biological ideas to society - sprang up shortly after Social Darwinism - the idea of applying another set of biological dieas to society.

Most of these extreme literalists fear their own humanness. Their own “weakness”. Their own sexuality. Their own willful ignorance. The rest are making lots money off the others.

Why and how would evolution imply lack of purpose of our existence, anyway? That would presuppose that the presumed purpose requires particular results in anatomy, biochemistry, and the location and timing thereof. To claim that evolution implies a lack of purpose, one really needs to know the details of that purpose to determine if it has requirements of that sort.

Henry

Whenever I hear all this talk about the Bible and Christianity giving MEANING and PURPOSE to our existence, I think, “What, our purpose is to spend our whole lives following an arbitrary moral code so that we can either be rewarded or punished when we die, and thus spend the rest of eternity either strumming on harps or writhing and gnashing our teeth in the Lake of Fire?”

A can opener has a purpose. One can see the power of existential anguish in this widespread desire to be a tool.

As for “giving meaning to our existence”, this is a nonsense phrase, a semantic error verging on an ungrammatical construct. It involves two different category errors. Such things as words and sentences can have meanings; lives and existence cannot. And it would make more sense to talk of giving a lollipop to our existence – a lollipop is at least the sort of thing that can be given. All this anguish (and wasted energy and violence and war) over “the meaninglessness of life” when life simply isn’t the sort of thing that can have or lack meaning. Very sad.

As I understand it, the eugenics movement in the early 20th century was mostly born from the emerging science of genetics and not evolution, which had already been around for half a century.

Actually it was born from the politics of slavery and rejection of the egalitarian underpinnings of Adam Smith’s economics, as detailed in this remarkable historical study by economists David M. Levy and Sandra J. Pearl:

The Secret History of the Dismal Science: Eugenics and the Amoralization of Economics http://www.econlib.org/library/Colu[…]dismal6.html

“For the Eugenicists, Adam Smith’s sympathetic principle, the Christian Golden Rule, and the Utilitarian Greatest Happiness Principle were to be replaced with the imperative to create the new model person: bigger, better, whiter.”

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on July 20, 2005 9:53 AM.

Quote of the Day - 19 July 2005 was the previous entry in this blog.

Report on the 2005 Creation Mega Conference, Part One is the next entry in this blog.

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