Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Angry Conversations with a Childhood Friend & Calvinist: Part I

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on April 30, 2009

I have been on the social networking site Facebook for more than a year, and I have been quite open about my lack of belief in my former religion. Like me, many of my friends on Facebook are adult missionary kids (MKs). Only one hand is needed to count the number of them who have been able to escape their childhood indoctrination into fundamentalist Christianity. Typically, when my friends discover that I am no longer a believer, I am met with shock and a few questions. Occasionally, someone will enter into a discussion with me about why I no longer believe. The conversations usually end rather quickly when the Christian in question gives up and makes use of Pascal’s Wager (“Why not hedge your bets by believing in your parents’ god?”) or an argument grounded in personal experience (“I once witnessed a miracle where…”)

However, I recently had a very long back-and-forth with a childhood friend who has turned out to be an extremely conservative man–both religiously and politically. He is also an academic which made the conversations even more interesting than they might otherwise have been. In fact, I enjoyed writing him and reading his responses quite a bit. I have decided to post our Facebook messages to each other in a multi-post series on this site. The messages appear as they were written and received. I have only removed portions of them that contained identifying information.

darwinHere is some context to help you pick up the thread of the discussion: prior to the following series of messages, I had posted a link to my Facebook profile celebrating Darwin’s 200th anniversary. My friend saw my post and referred me to Ben Stein’s fallacy-filled film Expelled. I was rather shocked that an academic would believe the claims in Stein’s film, since his claims that Darwin is responsible for the Holocaust are so preposterous. It just goes to show that an advanced degree is no protection against irrational thinking. I responded by pointing out the fallacies in Stein’s film, and I eventually moved our discussion of the film off of my Facebook wall. We will begin this series with his response to my comments about Stein’s poor use of argument:

Calvinist Friend:

I am pleased to see you draw upon the rules of logic. I am very familiar with the fallacies of logic. Logic was one of my favorite undergrad and grad school courses and should be the foundation for any rational debate of serious issues. You’ve misinterpreted the guilt-by-association fallacy, however. I’m not suggesting that Hitler and Darwin were buddies, which then sets up for a guilt by association. Instead I’m pointing out the dangerousness of Darwin’s ideas, in that Hitler used Darwin’s ideas to justify eugenics (read Hitler’s second book after Mein Kampf). Neither does this redirect the issue, since I thought the issue is whether Darwin was a “good” scientist. If we mean by good that his ideas were scientifically valid, then that’s a whole other discussion. Some very smart people (smarter than you or I) have provided some really brilliant arguments against the validity of Darwin’s ideas and yet ideologues believe his theory to be scientific fact. If we mean by good that his ideas promoted humanity, then he failed miserably. On the topic of fallacies though, you engage in several yourself. You suggest that ideas can’t be valid because they come from economists (such as Ben Stein), which is clearly a logical fallacy. You also must realize that macro-evolution violates one of the most fundamental laws of logic- the law of non-contradiction (I can write a whole explanation of this). You also do realize that atheism is a religion itself, don’t you? All atheists have a vested interest in protecting their “religious beliefs” so this isn’t unique to the religious right. And to the accusation that I’m being “used by Ben Stein”, this is no more true than an accusation that you are being used by any number of idealogues that you read. You use here another fallacy of logic- the good old Ad Hominen attack. And yes, you’re right that Darwin never supported eugenics directly, but Hitler used the fundamental ideas of social Darwinism to support eugenics. There’s no escaping that conclusion. And come on…you’re getting your source of info from wikipedia? I’d expect better from a professor (ha ha).

As far as the Hagen firing, well since the Inspector General concluded it then it must be true (note the sarcasm). Come on, you’re smarter than that. Look deeper and don’t settle for the easy answers or liberal talking points on these issues.

On the racism issue, don’t forget, Lincoln freed the slaves under his Republican administration. But regardless, history is history. Let’s look at modern day racism and where it comes from. From my point of view it comes primarily from the radical left.

So careful about those logical fallacies. You embark upon several yourself.

The Chaplain:

I question your familiarity with the rules of logic if you did not find Stein’s film disturbing. You might have liked the subject of logic, but I have been teaching rhetoric for the past 6-7 years. During this same time period, I have been teaching a four-course load every semester and two courses every summer. In almost every class I teach, we are discussing and debating issues like the ones we are discussing now. I have read nearly every research article and opinion piece on capital punishment, euthanasia, and every over current grand public issue you can imagine. I am VERY well-informed on these issues. Whereas you seem to be thoroughly immersed in the surface rhetoric and conspiracy-therorishness of Limbaugh and the like (Stein’s film fits in that same category–watch it again with a note pad and mark down every emotional fallacy he makes, then go check each “fact” he brings up. I would also suggest reading that article I posted about his film. I get the impression that you have not–that is an other difference between us–I have seen Stein’s film and read the books of folks like Rush and others–I am thoroughly versed), I have studied the issues enough to tell the difference between extremist, conspiracy-theory rhetoric and good evidence. If you think Hannity is a great guy, you definitely do not understand logic as you claim. I suggest we agree to disagree and leave it at that. You think my views are dangerous liberal fill-in-the-blank-with-whatever-crazy-lie-Hannity-told-you-to-believe, and I can clearly see that you are very emotionally invested in believing conspiracies. Since there is no common ground upon which to begin an argument, there is no point to discuss anything further. However, if there is some specific point you would like to discuss within one of the issues raised, such as a specific argument Stein makes (as opposed to the overall general point you keep repeating the Hitler was a follower of Darwin), then we can talk. Here is a link to a discussion of the fallacy Stein uses: reductio ad Hitlerum.

Your point that people “smarter than us” think Darwin’s ideas are wrong is ridiculous. How many scientists in the field of Biology and Genetics think that? It is pitifully small. You are on the wrong side of history. Also, I might point out that whether or not Darwin’s ideas are dangerous has no bearing on their truth. People have used the Bible to justify some amazing atrocities, would you suggest that the Bible is dangerous? You see what I’m saying about your use of argument? martin Let me illustrate further by using the same fallacy Stein is using and you are being convinced by: during the Holocaust (or immediately prior to it) Nazis used Martin Luther’s book “On the Jews and Their Lies” to justify their final solution. It was quite useful in convincing the faithful. See where I’m headed with this? Since your branch of Christianity was started by an anti-Semite, aren’t your ideas “dangerous”?

I did not say that Stein’s ideas were wrong because he is an economist. I said they were wrong because he uses emotional fallacies. My point was that you should go to qualified sources to get your information.

I have written about Stein’s fallacy before, and I have now forgotten the name of the person who developed the theories Hitler used to justify his final solution (as if he needed anything beyond the hatred that existed due to the charge of Jesus’ murder firmly established by Christians in the area–see how those fallacies work?). I will find it again when I get the chance to browse some of my university’s subscription databases.

[Here is what I have since rediscovered: Historians have noted that Francis Galton coined the term “eugenics” in 1883. It is very well documented that Darwin did not support this idea. Following this, Americans (no strangers to racism) turned eugenics into a plan of action and created the Eugenics Record Office (ERO), and promoted these racist theories at state fairs, etc. There were other American organizations like the American Breeding Association (ABA) and numerous others. All of this led to the racist Immigration Act of 1924. The Nazis looked to the American model to construct their programs promoting eugenics. Alfred Ploetz was a leading German eugenicist who looked to the literature of American eugenicists. When Hitler was in prison in 1924, he read American eugenics literature and he wrote a friendly letter to one of these Americans, Madison Grant. Passages of Mein Kampf are very similar to passages from Grant’s book, The Passing of the Great Race. Hitler also praises American sterilization laws and immigration laws in his book. (source: Edwin Black War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race.) The person whose name I alluded to above in my response to Calvinist Friend is Houston Stewart Chamberlain. He wrote a book titled The Foundations in which he argues for a master race. Follow the link to read about his massive influence on German Nationalism and the Nazi movement. He was visited multiple times by Hitler–who even attended his funeral. Lastly, let me note that Nazi eugenics was a politically right-wing ideology. Nazis supported their final solution from a scientific standpoint by pointing to promoters of Social Darwinism–like this right-wing Chamberlain guy. Nazis justified their final solution religiously by point to Martin Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies among other forms of “evidence.” Many people, like Calvinist Friend, think that because Social Darwinism has the root name “Darwin” in it, that it must be something that originates with Darwin. It does not. The ideas of a pure race it draws on the most heavily predate Darwinism. Darwin was not a racist. He saw all races as fundamentally the same–with only insignificant differences in appearance due to changes coming from geographically different locations. He did not subscribe to the ideas of his cousin Francis Galton or any of the Social Darwinists. Period. If I were to make use of the guilt-by-association fallacy Calvinist Friend uses, I would point out to him that Social Darwinism was a right-wing ideology and antisemitism had in roots in the Bible. Of course, this is a guilt-by-association fallacy, because it matters not where ideas take their root. Darwinism is not incorrect because some murderous Nazis and right-wing intellectuals twisted aspects of Darwin’s science to justify themselves, just as the Bible or right-wing politics are not “dangerous” because Nazis used aspects of their ideas. This obvious fact is what caused me to attack Calvinist Friend’s understanding of logic. If he cannot immediately recognize an obvious fallacy like the one Ben Stein was using, it is probable that his emotional investment in his beliefs in the supernatural is shutting down his reason when it comes to issues where he feels his religious beliefs are being attacked. This causes him to blindly accept all arguments against his “enemies” regardless of whether they are good arguments or not.)]

I assume you are joking about Wikipedia. I am aware that it is an open-source, so I would not use it in an academic research paper. But you can get a general sense of the issue, and you can see what sources are used as well. For that, it is quite useful.

Your sarcasm concerning the Inspector General confirmed what I already detected, you are very emotionally invested in believing conspiracy theories about anyone who does not share your views. I don’t think that having a “my team is always right” mentality and a “everyone else is out to get us” view is the best way to approach issues.

zeusAs far as atheism is concerned, you are wrong that it is a religion. How about this, I will consider atheism a religion if you will say that your lack of belief in Zeus is a religion. Atheism is simply an assertion about the hypothesis that the Judeo-Christian God exists. That is all. I know a lot of atheists, and unlike Christians, they have very little in common (aside from the fact that they reject that hypothesis). So what do you and an a-Zues-ist farmer in China have in common? Since he is a Buddhist, do you share the same religion?

I don’t need your explanation of macro-evolution; I have read the people you would quote (Behe and others I would imagine). Those ideas have been thoroughly debunked by the scientific community. Behe and those others never get stuff published in peer-reviewed journals because their arguments are completely untestable. It’s not science; it’s an attempt to rationalize the irrational. Just as ID is a laughable attempt to poke a hole in Evolution. It is just another “God of the gaps” argument (if there is something science can’t explain yet, God must live there!) Read the Dover trial transcript–very, very sad.

Lastly, I am not an atheist. That is not logically defensible. I am an agnostic non-theist. Just as I cannot prove that an invisible pink unicorn does not exist, I cannot prove that Zeus does not exist (or your Jewish God). However, I’m pretty confident there isn’t. Even if I wasn’t confident, I wouldn’t know whether to choose Zeus, Zoroaster, Ganesh, etc., etc. By the way, if my posts get your panties in a bunch, you should check out my blog: http://www.fffmks.wordpress.com
It’s a good read.

Let me end by saying that despite the thinly veiled insults, I actually enjoy discussing this stuff with you. I would just ask that if we continue conversations like this that we keep the insults off my [Facebook] wall. Of course, I will take my own advice. Also, it would help if we discuss very specific arguments within the issues.

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2 Responses to “Angry Conversations with a Childhood Friend & Calvinist: Part I”

  1. JN said

  2. The Chaplain said

    Now THAT is dangerous. Is that a deus ex machina I see?

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