Thursday, June 14, 2007

Maintaining beliefs in complete contradiction to fact

One of the subjects which I had intended to make part of my Ph.D. dissertation on social epistemology (pertaining to how most of what we know is known on the basis of testimony) was an examination of how some social groups manage to maintain beliefs that are completely at odds with the facts. This would allow me to incorporate data accumulated from some of my hobbies, like criticizing creationism and Scientology. Unfortunately, I never got past the first chapter of my dissertation, but I still think about such topics, especially as I encounter new examples.

I recently encountered another example of the strategy of finding an excuse for dismissing claims without examining them, on the blog of a woman who homeschools her children and teaches them young-earth creationism. I posted a comment on her blog contradicting some of her specific claims, and pointing to Christian sources (both old-earth creationist and theistic evolutionist sources) contradicting them. Here's her dismissive response:

Shortly after you initially posted, I formed a point-by-point rxesponse. I posted it, and it got lost in the internet ether. I wrote it out again, this time meaning to copy it onto a document in case it got lost again, but clicked on “Submit Comment” out of habit before I did so, and whaddya know? It disappeared again. Wireless connection problems, or something. I wasn’t really up for writing it a third time, so I backed off, which gave me time to better-consider my answer.

I’m ready now to respond, but it’ll be in a way in which you’re probably not going to be satisfied.

Reading your post here, and following up a bit by looking into your blog and the site you moderate (, and reading the e-mail you sent to me offline, I was struck with this parallel: You remind me of a pro-choice activist. I have this theory — I’ve had it for so long, I don’t remember if it’s an original thought, or if I gleaned it from someone else — that one of the reasons that many women pro-choice activists are so vehement in their stance is that they have actually had an abortion, and are desperate for someone to not be able to tell them, legally, that it was wrong. They’re desperate to avoid that judgement; they don’t want anyone to tell them that they were wrong in aborting their baby. SO, they take up activism to ensure, to the best of their abilities, that no one will be able to do just that.

Similarly, I had a good friend in college who was gay. He startled me by stating that it was well-understood in the gay community that the men who most assertively proclaim their hetero manhood are the ones most likely to be harboring some homosexual tendencies, and by their “super-hetero-manly” actions and/or words, are overcompensating to hide/stuff/avoid such tendencies. Oddly, sadly, ironically, the men who actively are hateful towards the gay are very often “closeted” themselves.

Not that you are either an abortion activist or gay. My point is that your time spent proliferating the anti-creationism message is EXTREME. You have admittedly “spent over a decade researching the creation/evolution controversy”. You have just about every book on the topic, and have written much on it yourself. You (co-) moderate probably one of the largest anti-creationism websites out there. [This is an error on her part--I'm a listed moderator of the Usenet newsgroup, not the website, and the newsgroup's actual moderation is completely automated. -jjl] You obviously have such topics on an RSS feed, or are trolling in some other manner for articles/blog posts/etc. on the topic; you found my lowly blog post a little more than 7 hours after I posted it. It appears to me that you are *highly* preoccupied with what, truly, should be a fairly peripheral topic.

Your tone in this post (and in your e-mail) is very friendly. However, my suspicion meter is blipping.

I think it would be unwise for me to embroil myself in a debate with you. Not because I’m wrong, necessarily, but because you’re better armed.

I don’t think you’re really interested in what I think, other than to shoot me down. On the surface, anyways, that’s how I think you’d react. However, I think there’s something deep inside you that really longs for creationism to be right & true, and you’re waiting for it to be “proven” to you. While I think God honors a truly searching heart, I think it’s unlikely that you’ll find what you’re looking for. Not here, anyways. What I believe you truly want, you going to have to ask God to speak to your heart, in a way — language — that you understand; in a way that’s meaningful to you.

Thanks for stopping by, and thank you for compelling me to pray for both yourself and others who may read our posts.


She made the issue not about YEC claims, but about me--an ad hominem argument. She says I "seem" friendly, but suggests, via remote psychoanalysis, that I'm not. Rather, I'm an angry atheist who wants to wipe her out in debate, and I'm angry because I'm searching for God. Therefore, there's no need to consider anything I've said, and she can continue teaching her children falsehoods from Answers in Genesis.

I fully understand her desire not to get involved in a debate. While I used to actively debate a variety of subjects online, I don't have time for it anymore. When people try to engage me in an email exchange on subjects like creationism, I'm glad to help out those who are inquiring for information, and occasionally will engage in discussion if the other party seems rational and not just a parrot of ridiculous views who's not willing to think. But the parrots are only worth my time to respond to publicly, where somebody else can potentially get some value from it--the parrot isn't going to get any.

The reason I posted on her blog was that in her initial post, which I found while looking for blogs commenting on the Answers in Genesis/Creation Ministries International dispute--she was raising potential doubts about YEC and the idea of OEC. This led me to believe that she is not just a parrot, and is someone willing to consider other ideas. So I shared my experience with young-earth creationism and pointed to sources I thought she and her readers would find valuable.

Perhaps if I had not been an atheist, but a Christian advocate of old-earth creationism, she would not have felt the need to be so dismissive. This is why I support non-atheist responses to creationism--I think that in many cases, OECs have the best chance of communicating with YECs, theistic evolutionists with OECs, and so forth. There are exceptions, however--sometimes it's the opposite extremes that communicate best with each other, like fundamentalists and activist atheists who see the world in black and white. It's common for new converts/deconverts to swing from one extreme to the other, from evangelizing fundamentalist to evangelizing atheist, with both criticizing the liberal believer who's willing to accept ambiguity and thereby exhibit "wishy-washiness."


Pierre Stromberg said...

So to recap, Jim Lippard is a gay man who's still harboring guilt over the abortion he had years ago.

Watch out public schools, this home schooler's a rocket scientist, and she's coming after you!

Karen Joy said...

Oh, my goodness. You prove my point. You're obsessed with the peripheral. Thanks for the link, though.

If you read my OP, and if you read my responses to others who don't agree with me, you will see that you alone, Mr. Lippard, got a "dismissive response." It's not because, specifically, of your athiesm; it's because of the way you presented your beliefs, *and* because I'm suspicious of your obsession. Deride it an ad hominem argument if you want, but the fruit does speak volumes of the tree.

I did not use my post as an attempt at prosyletizing anyone. It is clear, though, that prosyletization *IS* your main goal, and anyone who doesn't bow down to Mr. Lippard's Superior Brain is going to be ridiculed, which, incidentally, is one of my beefs with OECs, and evolutionists in general.

I'm not maintaining "beliefs that are completely at odds with the facts." It's my assertion that the evidence for either a YE or an OE can often be interpreted *either* way, but that I happen to find the evidences in support of a YE more compelling.

I don't find you angry, btw. I find you coldly calculating. Frankly, I find anger more trustworthy; at least its not veiled.

Pierre Stromberg said...

Karen I'm sorry to inform you that Jim is taken and happily married.

Karen Joy said...

Pierre: ~giggle~

p.s. Jim ~ The Valley is a huge expanse, and I don't know where in the Phx area you live... but I'd be happy to see you at my church, Vineyard Phoenix, on the NE corner of 51st Ave & Greenway. I'll be teaching preschool this Sunday the 17th, but come any time after that and introduce yourself. :D

Lippard said...

Karen: My obsession is for truth and accuracy, which I don't see as peripheral. I don't think I've ridiculed you, nor demanded worship of my intellectual capacities. I would have liked to have seen some engagement with my actual statements and citations, but you've made it clear you have no interest. But apparently you do have interest in coming here to engage in further ad hominem. I'll leave the psychoanalysis of that to the reader.

You state that "the evidence for either a YE or an EO can often be interpreted *either way," but in fact there is not a single reliable method of measuring the earth's age that leads to a young earth conclusion, but numerous reliable methods which all lead to an old earth conclusion--there's not a shred of ambiguity about what the empirical evidence supports.

Lippard said...

Karen: I'm in South Phoenix, and attending church isn't exactly my cup of tea, especially to meet someone who has expressed a disinterest in anything I have to say. I'm not averse to meeting and interacting with people who disagree with me, but I'd like to at least have some hint that there would be some mutual respect and potential for beneficial exchange before driving across the valley on a Sunday morning.

BTW, it's quite possible that you may know one or more of my family members (most of whom are born-again, evangelical Christians living in north and central Phoenix), so there may be other opportunities for us to meet.

jackd said...

Karen, after what you wrote, you think Jim is "obsessed with the peripheral"? You claim that "prosyletization *IS* [Jim's] main goal", and then invite him to your church?

Nothing I write here will change your mind in the least, but you really should know that your descriptions match your own behavior much better than anything Jim has done.

Don Sheffler said...

I like the comment that arguments for a young earth are more "compelling".

Karen, that just means you would rather believe the young earth version.

At least, unless you clearly lay out your case, and counter the arguments against it, that's all it really means.

ALL reliable scientific methods applied to the question of the Earth's age show it to be an old Earth.

Now, if you are only referring to biblical arguments when you say OE and YE arguments could be interpreted either way, you are right. Anything based on scripture could be interpreted in any number of ways. It's not science. And it gives you the luxury of believing whatever version you would prefer to believe. That is not in itself a bad thing. However, if you make a claim and you are then presented with arguments supported by facts which contradict your argument, it's kind of dishonest to not engage because you claim your opponent is "obsessed", or that you perceive him to possess some sort of undesirable personality characteristics.

Don't you think coming here and continuing to point out his "obsession" actually belies your own?? And still NO substantial arguments about your point?