News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 24, 2009 in News

Christian blogger Vox Day has replied to my first letter to him.

I’m writing an atheism book that I think I’ll be able to finish within 6 months. Little of its material will come from this blog. But, there will probably be fewer “heavy” posts published here during that time.

My index of 400+ atheism vs. theism debates still gets updated every couple of weeks.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Josh September 24, 2009 at 9:39 pm

The fact that he does not think that evolution is a worthwhile theory is enough reason to dismiss anything Vox says.

This may seem harsh, but it’s clear that Vox only denies the validity of evolution because of his religious leanings. Consider his problems with evolution:

First, I see it as a dynamic and oftentimes tautological theory of little material value to science.

lol. All theories are dynamic—that’s one of the things that makes science advance. The claim of the theory being tautological has been levied for ages, but I’ve never really seen where it comes from. The claim usually goes something like this: “You say that evolution is survival of the fittest, but you define the fittest as the ones that survive, hence, the theory is circular!” But this is such a blatant misunderstanding of the idea of fitness that it is almost not worth addressing. Fitness is often just defined as the average number of offspring you produce in your lifetime. There’s absolutely nothing circular about saying those that produce the highest average number of offspring will out-reproduce those that produce fewer average lifetime offspring. Of course it’s obvious, but it’s not tautological. Moreover, the claim that one type of organism is more fit than another needs to be backed up by substantial empirical research on the impact of some trait or another on the lifetime fecundity of an organism.

Onto the somehow even more egregious claim that it has been of little value to science. Let’s think about how wrong that is across many disciplines of science

1)Genetics
This is pretty obvious, but let’s look at some specifics. Darwin did not know how inheritance worked; in fact, the way he believed that inheritance worked would have spelled doom for evolution. But as Mendel’s work was rediscovered, there were some questions as to how to reconcile Mendelian inheritance with evolution (particularly evolution of continuous characters, like height). One of the most famous early problems led to the development of the “Hardy-Weinberg law”, which has extensive use in medical genetics and genetic counseling (as well as, of course, evolutionary theory). There were also many questions about how discrete things (like Mendel’s genes) could influence continuous characters (like height). This issue was settled by an evolutionary biologist, and in particular led to many insights into the genetic basis of complex traits.

Of course, there are more. I just went up to 1918.

2)Mathematics
RA Fisher, arguably the greatest evolutionary biologist of all time (Dawkins called him the greatest of Darwins successors) was a brilliant mathematician. He pretty much invented modern statistics, for example. But he (along with Sewall Wright and JBS Haldane) began a great tradition of mathematical evolutionary theory that has led to many interesting and novel mathematical results. For example, the Wright-Fisher process, which describes the effect of random changes in gene frequency on evolutionary trajectories, turned out to be full of interesting results, both mathematically and biologically.

Again, there’s a lot more. This isn’t to say that evolutionary biology has been as important as say, physics, in the development of modern mathematics, but it has had a large impact (along with ecology).

3)Medicine
The field called “Darwinian medicine” has recently gotten a lot of press, but many of its successes are far more subtle than first meet the eye. First of all, all ideas about virus EVOLUTION must be considered in a Darwinian framework and are extremely important for mass vaccination programs, among other things. Also, it is because of the evolutionary relationship between organisms that it’s worthwhile to do studies in mice before you do it to humans. Just think about that for a second.

4)Evolutionary biology
Duh. The field is huge and diverse and full of interesting and novel information about th eworld. Isn’t that what science is? Science tells us about the way the world works, and the field of evolutionary biology has told us a lot about the process that bring about the diversity of life on earth.

Wow, that ended up being longer trhan I thought it would. I wanted to address some of Vox’s other points, but maybe another time :)

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Ben September 24, 2009 at 9:44 pm

Vox’s response is, um, interesting. Can’t say I’ve ever touched evil before.

I’m not sure why if good and evil are just an arbitrary pattern to Vox that have been randomly assigned by any old superior being, that he is not open to other origins for the same pattern. It’s not like Jesus signed it.

And it seems he doesn’t think anyone other than Christians have ever gotten ahead of the curve on triumphing over the evil in their lives. That’s, uh, not a very “polite” opinion to have of non-Christians, to put it politely.

Then to turn around and call atheists “moral parasites” as though he can prove Jesus owns morality? please..

Ben

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Hylomorphic September 25, 2009 at 2:35 am

In his last blog post, Vox Day has shown himself to be not only a climate change skeptic, but very nearly a moon landing skeptic; he seems to think that there’s some possibility that the discovery of water on the moon might show that the evidence brought back was faked.

This guy’s not worth your time, Luke.

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IntelligentDasein September 25, 2009 at 4:22 am

I think Hylo is right Luke. I know you are a gentleman, but this guy does not deserve your time. His reasons for questioning evolution are worse than most holocaust deniers reasonings. In addition to that, all of his reasons for being a Christian have been answered a thousand times over.

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drj September 25, 2009 at 4:38 am

I don’t know… SOMEBODY has to argue/dialog with those sorts of people. Especially the loud boisterous ones who are likely to sway people through their relentless “tough talk”.

But the guy DOES write for the World Net Daily (ie. news-porn for the extreme Christian right)… that’s just about all the evidence you need he’s gonna be “out there”.

BTW Hylomorphic, I was really enjoying your exchange with Vox (and his posters) on some of those threads!

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Ben September 25, 2009 at 4:43 am

drj: I don’t know… SOMEBODY has to argue/dialog with those sorts of people. Especially the loud boisterous ones who are likely to sway people through their relentless “tough talk”.But the guy DOES write for the World Net Daily (ie. news-porn for the extreme Christian right)… that’s just about all the evidence you need he’s gonna be “out there”.BTW Hylomorphic, I was really enjoying your exchange with Vox (and his posters) on some of those threads!

I concur. You can’t set standards like that and expect there to be anyone left to talk to.

Ben

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lukeprog September 25, 2009 at 5:17 am

I see value in the dialogue. I am being exposed to a brand of Christianity I rarely interact with, and Vox seems to have indicated I represent a stream of atheism he rarely sees.

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Taranu September 25, 2009 at 5:30 am

Luke, about the atheism vs theism debates, any chance of adding the Morriston vs Craig debate?

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lukeprog September 25, 2009 at 5:35 am

If it existed online, I would certainly link to it.

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Ben September 25, 2009 at 6:05 am

lukeprog: I see value in the dialogue. I am being exposed to a brand of Christianity I rarely interact with, and Vox seems to have indicated I represent a stream of atheism he rarely sees.

I agree with all three points.

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Justfinethanks September 25, 2009 at 6:43 am

I’d never thought I’d say this, but you could find smarter, more educated objections to evolution from Answers in Genesis. Every single objection he has is either demonstrably false, irrelevant, or both. Frankly, I doubt anyone who has read a single book on the topic would raise these objections. And after that parade of ignorance he says:

“I will not go into further detail on the subject in this dialogue except to say that all three of those statements can be verified in substantial detail by anyone who wishes to investigate the matter.”

Um, yeah. “I’m right, there are facts to defend myself, but I’m NOT ACTUALLY going to defend myself.” Cowardly horseshit.

Do you think that he would ever accept: “I don’t buy the ressurrection account because Jesus never existed. But since our topic is philosophy, not history, I’ll leave that discussion alone, except to say it is extremely well supported by anyone who objectively researches it.”

Hell no. You make an EXTREMELY bold claim like that, you damn well better pony up and back it up.

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Lorkas September 25, 2009 at 6:49 am

Justfinethanks: I’d never thought I’d say this, but you could find smarter, more educated objections to evolution from Answers in Genesis. Every single objection he has is either demonstrably false, irrelevant, or both.

Er… that second sentence applies to every AiG objection to evolution I’ve ever read or heard as well. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard an objection to evolution that wasn’t demonstrably false, irrelevant, or both.

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J Wahler September 25, 2009 at 8:14 am

Luke, You quickly mention above that you’re writing an Atheist book to be added to the ever growing library of atheist literature. Any hints you could drop as to what we can expect of your work? (i.e.-popular level, scholarly/philosophical, meta-ethics,…???) Anything particularly novel you think will make it worth the read? Thanks.

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TK September 25, 2009 at 10:17 am

Luke, I hope you realize what you’re getting into. Vox Day isn’t just some Christian. He represents a bizarre combination of the furthest-right of Christian wingnuttery, slavish devotion to the Ron Paul school of paleoconservatism with its associated lunacy, laughable misogyny (including maintaining that rape within marriage is not immoral and that women should not be allowed to vote), antivaccinationism, and global warming denial. Top this all off with a hefty dose of arrogance (Day knows almost nothing about either logic or biology but fancies himself an expert in both) and you’ve got one tough contender.

You’d have more luck trying to convince a fish that water is poisonous.

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Hylomorphic September 25, 2009 at 12:06 pm

drj: BTW Hylomorphic, I was really enjoying your exchange with Vox (and his posters) on some of those threads!

Heh, thanks. I don’t know how long I’ll continue, though. Vox seems to have convinced himself I’m a sockpuppet for some guy named Rich.

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Rich2 September 25, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Hylomorphic: Heh, thanks. I don’t know how long I’ll continue, though. Vox seems to have convinced himself I’m a sockpuppet for some guy named Rich.

That’s be me. Sorry. I left a note on your blog.

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lukeprog September 25, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Wahler,

This one is popular-level. The subject matter has been copiously, but never this way before. That’s all I should say right now. It will not be as interesting as two other projects I have dream of one day writing: Morality Demythologized: A Defense of Desirism and Several Dozen Arguments for Atheism.

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lukeprog September 25, 2009 at 1:55 pm

TK: ox Day isn’t just some Christian. He represents a bizarre combination of the furthest-right of Christian wingnuttery, slavish devotion to the Ron Paul school of paleoconservatism with its associated lunacy, laughable misogyny (including maintaining that rape within marriage is not immoral and that women should not be allowed to vote), antivaccinationism, and global warming denial.

Seriously? Can you link to all of those?

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Rich2 September 25, 2009 at 2:03 pm

lukeprog: Seriously? Can you link to all of those?

Yes.

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Hylomorphic September 25, 2009 at 2:20 pm
Hylomorphic September 25, 2009 at 2:32 pm

For the record, I don’t think you should pull out of the discussion, Luke. That would be rather rude at best at this point. At worst, it’ll damage the reputation of atheism even further.

Rich2:
That’s be me. Sorry. I left a note on your blog.

Oh, heck. Not your fault. Vox’s sloppy thinking and barely disguised paranoia is to blame.

I’d point your comment on my blog out to him, but he probably still wouldn’t believe; it’s incredibly hard to prove you’re not a sockpuppet.

Also, that thread you pointed me to on antievolution.org is hilarious.

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TK September 25, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Luke, Orac (http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/03/if_you_hand_me_some_stupid_yes_in_fact_i.php) keeps a pretty good running record of the horrible, stupid, and reprehensible things Vox Day has said.

For someone who professes to be so intelligent, he really has some of the dumbest and most wrong beliefs I’ve ever seen. I only skimmed the surface of the waters. He’s also advocated expelling all illegal immigrants (on the grounds that Hitler managed to “expel” 6 million Jews, so why can’t we do it, too?) and has suggested that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote because they are “fascists at heart”. I don’t even need to begin with his bullshit regarding evolution–Josh has given a good overview.

I’m convinced he must be a very, very deep troll, and I have no idea why you’ve chosen this hateful little monster of all people to debate with.

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Lee A. P. September 27, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Make some more goddamned video games Vox.

Evil exists! I’m sure of it! Therefore: JESUS! Then fulfillment! Also a whole bunch of Gods and supernatural bullshit exists too, (but MY God is king cock creator) and therefore I should frantically and pathetically attempt to knock down the empiricle sciences based on my bullshit emotional intuintions!

Oh, also, If God tells me to ass-fuck an infant then I’ll do it. Cuz if God says so, then it’s moral!

Vox is a fucking assclown through and through. I’d just cut the coorespondence right now Luke. Treat him like Dawkins treats creationists — not worth your time.

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lukeprog September 27, 2009 at 6:44 pm

Lee,

Please do be civil. You may not see any reason to respect Vox, but I am trying to conduct this dialogue in a context of mutual respect.

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Lee A. P. September 27, 2009 at 7:22 pm

Ok Luke, fair enough. But it IS literally true that Vox believes that it is perfectly ok to kill children (or do anything else, like rape them, or eat them) if God says to.

http://moderateleft.com/?p=3084

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lukeprog September 27, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Yes, of that I am painfully aware. :(

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David September 29, 2009 at 7:20 pm

lukeprog: Lee,Please do be civil. You may not see any reason to respect Vox, but I am trying to conduct this dialogue in a context of mutual respect.

My personal view is that respect must be earned. What would you say Vox has done that should earn him any respect, let alone enough respect to have this discussion with you? His arrogance and ignorance are astounding, and I dare say they will make you regret this exchange, luke. I hope not, of course :-D

I’d like to know what your process of correspondence selection was for this dialog and who else you are hoping to work with in future conversations.

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Ben September 29, 2009 at 9:03 pm

David:
My personal view is that respect must be earned.What would you say Vox has done that should earn him any respect, let alone enough respect to have this discussion with you?His arrogance and ignorance are astounding,

You know what? You’ll see the exact same sentiments on their side of the fence. And all it does is ensure everyone on both sides has the right to act like a bunch of monkeys throwing their poo at each other forever and ever and ever.

Perhaps, upon some reflection, we should think *further* respect must be earned, but some base respect of our mutual humanity and even the histories behind our differences should be the default setting.

I just hate to see conversations degrade because both sides have infallible excuses to be douches. Besides, sometimes you have to put your ideological enemy’s best foot forward (or even manufacture it wholesale on their behalf) and they might surprise you.

Ben

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David September 30, 2009 at 4:04 am

Ben:
You know what?You’ll see the exact same sentiments on their side of the fence.And all it does is ensure everyone on both sides has the right to act like a bunch of monkeys throwing their poo at each other forever and ever and ever.

Perhaps, upon some reflection, we should think *further* respect must be earned, but some base respect of our mutual humanity and even the histories behind our differences should be the default setting.

I just hate to see conversations degrade because both sides have infallible excuses to be douches.Besides, sometimes you have to put your ideological enemy’s best foot forward (or even manufacture it wholesale on their behalf) and they might surprise you.

Ben

You make a good point, Ben. While I may not give others the benefit of the doubt with respect to their ideas and ideologies, I would hate to see respectful people like luke take my stance and shut down all communication.

In this case, though, I should have been more clear. I’d like to know what makes Vox appear to be respectable, when all I’ve read has earned my disrespect and distrust. I love reading these exchanges and seeing ideas challenged and defended. I just don’t see the point of this exercise with this particular blogger. Then, again, I’m not an avid reader of Christian blogs, so I couldn’t really name anyone else to dialog with, but just as luke is a source of rational thought on the atheist side, there must be a contemporary on the theist side. I think that discussion would be more productive, enlightening, and entertaining.

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Ben September 30, 2009 at 6:21 am

David,

Some more thoughts…

David:

In this case, though, I should have been more clear. I’d like to know what makes Vox appear to be respectable, when all I’ve read has earned my disrespect and distrust.

As far as I know, Vox is respectable in the sense that he runs a popular theist blog and has written a book confronting the neo-atheists. He at least advocates a live and let live mentality, is passionate about what he believes, and will return respect when it is presented to him. I’ve seen him advocate a number of sensible sub-positions I don’t often find in theistic literature.

That being said, naturally there are tons of things to be disgusted with. But there’s a huge laundry list of things I could choose to be actively disgusted with up front with mainstream Christian dogma. Often normal Christians are cool with the genocides from ancient Israel. That’s pretty extreme. They often think homosexuals deserve to burn in hell for all eternity or that their loving relationships are on par with pedophilia and bestiality. That’s pretty extreme. So if you can tolerate that kind of bs, I don’t see why a bs of a different color demands special rejection. And some of Vox’s anti-mainstream positions actually make more sense than that of his Christian contemporaries.

It’s a mixed bag and since you can say that about just about everyone (to some rather alarming degrees in general), I find it rather difficult to judge. People do have their strong points and often all we see is the extreme rhetoric we may never have noticed the effects of in ordinary life if we actually knew them personally. Even Rush Limbaugh comes off as a human being on the Jay Leno show when he’s not at his pulpit. And in principle, the virtue of finding common ground regardless and forging some kind of friendly terms is more important than precisely calculating Vox’s sins from our perspective.

David: I love reading these exchanges and seeing ideas challenged and defended. I just don’t see the point of this exercise with this particular blogger.

Vox chose to focus on many of the secular intellectual sins of the neo-atheist movement in his book. Luke agrees with a lot of the criticism and no doubt a lot of it is warranted. For one, if nothing else, it’s good PR to be critical of your own team, when your team’s primary virtue is supposed to be critical thinking. If we are going to blast cultish thinking when we see it, it’s important to not exude that trend ourselves.

More importantly it’s good to proliferate some of the corrections which may come out of that discussion to less critical atheist readers. That advances education and the atheist/theist collective discussion in general. Sam Harris may not be able to take his conversation with a Christian nation forward, but perhaps Luke might. And that’s a two way street. Christian thinking is often a downer, but uncorrected fallacious atheist thinking in our ranks is equally so. There’s a completely respectable avenue to pursue for Luke.

And if/when that happens, Vox will be left having to actually deal with the primary issues. If it is true that Vox is more skilled at misdirection than superior reasoning as many have alleged (myself included), that could be evident entertainment. :D I don’t know where exactly the exchange will go, but there are at least some opportunities there that I see. I’m sure Luke has some of his own ideas.

David: Then, again, I’m not an avid reader of Christian blogs, so I couldn’t really name anyone else to dialog with, but just as luke is a source of rational thought on the atheist side, there must be a contemporary on the theist side. I think that discussion would be more productive, enlightening, and entertaining.

Perhaps you might be right if Luke had only one opportunity ever to talk with a theistic blogger. I think Vox more than qualifies and establishing relations with theists of many stripes over time probably makes plenty of sense from Luke’s perspective.

Productive conversation in a value war is reaching out to your ideological enemies with kindness and respect, while being honest with all the issues to the best of your understanding. It’s not about refuting people who don’t disagree with you all that much. That’s my perspective anyway. Hope this post length comment was enlightening! :D

Ben

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Joe Jimenz May 12, 2010 at 5:28 am

I was studying something else about this on another blog. Interesting. Your perspective on it is novel. – I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. – Woody Allen Born 1935

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