More “Fan” Mail: How Are We Secular Humanists So Sure We’re Right, Huh?

August 5, 2010

Here at CFI, we receive occasional e-mails , phone messages, and letters from very angry individuals who can't believe we are so BLIND to the TRUTH about THE BIBLE/ESP/vaccines/aliens/God/Bigfoot/etc.  If I'm lucky enough to come across one in paper form, I save it in my "'Fan' Mail" file folder for future inspiration; e-mails are labeled similarly in Gmail.  Below is a recent favorite that was sent to the Council for Secular Humanism's general e-mail address: ( name deleted for privacy )

Hi Free Inquiry Folks:

I would like to know what makes you so sure you are right and billions the faithful of all religions are wrong.  You spout off on all the reasons why faith is so old school and out dated yet you offer nothing, NOTHING at all to replace it.  If faith is what gets people through difficult times, if belief in JESUS gives them comfort, if the hope of salvation gives them a reason to follow the right path in this life, what is so wrong with that?  I am a scientist with advanced degrees including a doctorate in science and yet I still have room for faith in my life.  And yes, I also believe in evolution.  But even evolution itself could very well be part of GOD's plan.  When we do anything even as simple as baking a cake we start from scratch (if we have any sense of pride as a chef we don't start from a box or heaven forbid a store bought cake).  Why, pray tell, could it not be that GOD started with enzymes and amino acids in a primeval sea with us in mind all along.  What is it about faith that scares you so much?  I have this horrible, Stephen King, nightmare of a mental picture of you folks hissing like vampires when confronted with a cross or scurrying for the exits like cockroaches when someone shines the light of truth on you.  I will pray for the salvation of each and everyone of your souls.

GOD Bless you, T-----

It's good to see that we're inspiring the creative spirit out there.

Comments:

#1 Jon Childress on Thursday August 05, 2010 at 7:41am

A doctorate in all SCIENCE? I was unaware such a degree existed. Where can I apply?

#2 Strubie on Thursday August 05, 2010 at 7:46am

Well, that was entertaining!  The closest thing I can think of to a PhD in all of science would be one in philosophy of science, but I SERIOUSLY doubt that anyone with such a qualification would write a letter like that.

#3 Ophelia Benson on Thursday August 05, 2010 at 12:24pm

Of course there are degrees in Science - just ask Dr Science!

“Remember - he’s not a real Doctor.” “I have a Master’s Degree - in Science!!”

#4 ELECTROGOD (Guest) on Thursday August 05, 2010 at 12:42pm

Well, if that person IS actually a scientist and not just another dishonest theist saying anything they think will give them some credibility, then he/she ought to know that the reason we are “sure” is because we can (and do) examine the claims of theists and find them all to be lacking any validity.  No fallacy Ad Populum, or faith (the belief in something without reason, logic or proof) needed.
If someone’s belief helps them in life because that’s all they’ve been exposed to so far then that’s fine but more often than not believers in gods don’t extend the same courtesy to non-believers.
The reason that “god” couldn’t have done it the way scientific study proposes it happened is because the specific religious texts and traditions have declared otherwise for quite a while now. 
[To the letter writer] Your interest in modifying your religion’s claim because
you’ve been exposed to more realistic modern inquiry doesn’t make your “god” claims any more credible but rather shows their inherent weakness…and the reason why we don’t buy theist’s (your) claims.

#5 Daniel Schealler on Thursday August 05, 2010 at 2:04pm

That made my day!

...

I’m actually tempted to go find a cross and hiss at it now.

^_^

#6 Jamin Szczesny on Thursday August 05, 2010 at 8:27pm

His doctorate is in Christian Science.
He claims to have cracked the theory of everything - his answer: “god did it”.
;-D LOL!

#7 Terry (Guest) on Thursday August 05, 2010 at 10:02pm

When I read the bit about making a cake, I couldn’t help but think of Carl Sagan’s quote, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”

#8 Singapore Atheist on Thursday August 05, 2010 at 10:48pm

I honestly think this person has problems and do wonder what kind of science he/she studied.  But… According to wikipedia there such a thing as a Doctor of Science maybe that is what he means???  I was thinking about buying a bunch of them on the internet from a university in Spain, but their website is down :-(((  I guess I will have to buy the Doctor of Divinity for $49.95 instead…  oppps I cannot find there website any more, but I did find on for $250….

#9 Debbie Goddard on Friday August 06, 2010 at 8:03am

@Ophelia, Dr. Science was new to me!  I just read through the Wikipedia page and found some clips on YouTube, because those lines were funny. 

#10 Ray Wall (Guest) on Friday August 06, 2010 at 10:51am

Many people find heroin comforting.  Are we not allowed to point out that it distorts their perceptions and inhibits their reasoning capabilities unless we provide them with an alternate method of getting high?  Nonsense - heroin addicts get thrown in rehab, no questions asked.  Why do emotional addicts get special treatment?  Why is there no rehab for Jesus junkies?

#11 steph (Guest) on Sunday August 08, 2010 at 10:57am

Correspondent writes: “I am a scientist with advanced degrees including a doctorate in science and yet I still have room for faith in my life.  And yes, I also believe in evolution.”  It is extraordinary that supposed advocates for science, free thinking and so called ‘humanists’, must mock this correspondent for declaring this.  I’m sure you have qualified scientists in america, just as we most certainly can get a PhD in science from any normal British or European or other non american university.  It is perfectly reasonable to call it a doctorate in science without specifying the aspect of science, just as a historian can claim a doctorate in history without specifying his thesis topic.  There are plenty of scientists thank goodness with doctorates in physics, genetics, chemistry, biology etc - and plenty of scientists who do not reject faith of some sort.  From Copernicus, to Kepler, to Galileo, to Newton, including Darwin himself, Einstein, Descartes and many modern scientists today, do not reject faith of some sort.  Yet while theists have room for God in their lives, I have never have believed or needed to make room for a God in my life.  I’ve never believed that God is real. I can refute certain religious beliefs, but I cannot prove God does not exist.  Can you?  Have you even acknowledged the correspondent’s question?

#12 Daniel Schealler on Sunday August 08, 2010 at 2:44pm

@steph

Well - the obvious point to make is that we don’t credit the claim as true. The context of the claim alone renders it suspect. But the phrase ‘doctorate in science’ just doesn’t ring true.

Secondly - the correspondent’s question? Which question?

We’ve acknowledged that the correspondent questioned us as to the comfort faith can bring. We dismissed this as rubbish. Example cited above: Heroin brings comfort too. Something more substantial?

The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality.

- George Bernard Shaw

Comfort is not a heuristic for truth. (@Ophelia, recently read Why Truth Matters, loved it!).

Now, we may not have addressed the claim that it might be possible that God guided evolution. But why should we? Fairies might have guided evolution - that doesn’t make it true. Fact of the matter is that there is no evidence that evolution is a guided process - and much to contradict it given the rampant wastefulness and imperfections found in nature.

Finally - you’re so concerned over our mocking tones, but what about this bit of niceness:

I have this horrible, Stephen King, nightmare of a mental picture of you folks hissing like vampires when confronted with a cross or scurrying for the exits like cockroaches when someone shines the light of truth on you.  I will pray for the salvation of each and everyone of your souls.

...

Do you really have to ask why we don’t take this person seriously?

Simple: Ridicule is the only appropriate response to the ridiculous.

#13 steph (Guest) on Sunday August 08, 2010 at 4:38pm

It does nobody any credit to mock when you have no evidence the correspondent was not telling the truth.  I am surprised you cannot accept people can have a ‘doctorate in science’ and call it a ‘doctorate in science’.  I know several, including one in the family.  His thesis was genetics but we call it a doctorate of science from Cambridge.  If you really think it so ridiculous, why not ignore it?

The correspondent’s question was ‘what makes you so sure you are right and billions the faithful of all religions are wrong’ (sic).  They did not ask you to aaddress their religious views.

I like George Bernard Shaw very much but I wouldn’t quote him like gospel.

True, the correspondent’s mockery was silly and unnecessary - arrogance responding to arrogance may have been that correspondent’s intent.  But not all PhDs are by any means civil, and some are even quite silly about ordinary things, and socially inept.

#14 Random (Guest) on Sunday August 08, 2010 at 6:10pm

@Terry, #7: For the record, the accepted quote is “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” You’re only two words off, and it doesn’t meaningfully change the context, but the pedant in me couldn’t resist.

@steph, #11 & #13: Concern troll is concerned…

“It does nobody any credit to mock when you have no evidence the correspondent was not telling the truth.”

Au contraire, mon ami. Others have already pointed out reasons why the claim is suspect. Many apologists like to cloak themselves in the false authority of fake scientific credentials, and questioning a fishy claim is not just acceptable byt appropriate. Further, a science degree in itself does not make one inherently qualified to question the reasoning of the irreligious.

“The correspondent’s question was ‘what makes you so sure you are right and billions the faithful of all religions are wrong’ (sic).”

But this is inherently the wrong question. The religious are the ones making special claims about the universe without backing in evidence. It is incumbent upon them to provide evidence for their worldview, not us to provide evidence refuting it. Until the religious back up their bold claims, it is an entirely rational position to reject those claims as unsupported. The problem is that society wants to wrongly shift the burden of proof on to the irreligious, and have us accomplish the impossible: a negative proof.

#15 Daniel Schealler on Sunday August 08, 2010 at 6:24pm

@steph

My days of taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle.

1)

I like George Bernard Shaw very much but I wouldn’t quote him like gospel.

The implication being that I did quote him like gospel? O_o

I included the reference merely because he phrased it better than I could. I cited him simply because I didn’t want to take credit for words that weren’t my own.

2)
You say:

They [the correspondant] did not ask you to aaddress their religious views.

The correspondent asks:

If faith is what gets people through difficult times, if belief in JESUS gives them comfort, if the hope of salvation gives them a reason to follow the right path in this life, what is so wrong with that?

The subject of this sentence is religious belief - and from the context of the sentence, it is reasonably to conclude it references the correspondent’s beliefs. Note the question-mark on the end of it.

3)

I am surprised you cannot accept people can have a ‘doctorate in science’ and call it a ‘doctorate in science’.  I know several, including one in the family.  His thesis was genetics but we call it a doctorate of science from Cambridge.

I thought I was clear earlier. Here it is, in case I’m being obtuse:

I accept that someone with a doctorate in a scientific discipline may refer to it in casual conversation as a ‘doctorate in science’.

That said - even if it is a legitimate claim, it’s a very weird thing to say.

Then place that claim into context with the overall tone, PRESENTATION and content of the email… It reads like a ridiculous and false appeal to authority. In context, it just rings false.

The correspondence just doesn’t read like someone with a doctorate in anything. I very well may be wrong - but if I am, then justifiably so.

4)

It does nobody any credit to mock when you have no evidence the correspondent was not telling the truth… If you really think it so ridiculous, why not ignore it?

Ridicule is a legitimate mode of critique when it is addressing the genuinely ridiculous.

Given that our correspondent claims to be a scientist, do I need to justify why critique is a good thing?

#16 Daniel Schealler on Sunday August 08, 2010 at 6:27pm

@Random:

Concern troll is concerned…

I just LOL’ed for real at work. That was awesome. I’m so stealing that line.

#17 Random (Guest) on Sunday August 08, 2010 at 7:12pm

@Daniel,

Glad I could make your day. I only wish the phrase was mine. It’s not often one gets to work “concern troll” into a meaningful conversation, but steph displayed the signs so well that it seemed appropriately fitting.

#18 steph (Guest) on Sunday August 08, 2010 at 7:26pm

“Troll”.  Haha - that’ll teach me for challenging the attitudes expressed on the CFI blog!   Concerned?  Not really - but interested in the attitudes of the CFI and mockery is certainly what it does best.  Thank you for the insight.

#19 Daniel Schealler on Sunday August 08, 2010 at 7:29pm

@steph

Concern Troll: A working definition

Nevermind my rebuttals, then. ^_^

#20 steph (Guest) on Monday August 09, 2010 at 6:37am

ahaha - it’s normally a relief, as an expat, to talk to a fellow Kiwi, but when someone resorts to name calling, it is a sign that talking has become pointless.  As Kiwis, we are generally more comfortable with independent thinking than groups, and I was not on anyone’s ‘side’.  And I have not ‘pretended’ to believe anything I do not, so your epithet ‘concern troll’ is just ‘ridiculous’ perhaps. ^_^  It was also pointless responding to you ‘rebuttal’ because you had ignored or just contradicted what I had said.  Even in NZ universities including my own, science graduates can get doctorates in science. Unfortunately in NZ we have that ‘tall poppy syndrome’ so many of us can feel comfortable with some degree of ridicule.   Kia Kaha

#21 Daniel Schealler on Monday August 09, 2010 at 2:59pm

@everyone else

I know I’m feeding. I’m enjoying myself tho. ^_^

@steph

1)

It was also pointless responding to you ‘rebuttal’ because you had ignored or just contradicted what I had said.

I know I have contradicted much of what you’ve said. This is because I disagree with you - so I’m making the case for why I think you’re incorrect. As a result, my case will frequently contradict your own. That’s what’s called a rebuttal.

If I’ve ignored any substantive point you’ve made, cite it in a block-quote and I’ll look again. I’m trying to focus on the underlying points you’re making, but that of course relies on my perspective of what your underlying points actually are. I could be wrong. If so, enlighten me.

2)

Even in NZ universities including my own, science graduates can get doctorates in science.

Scan back to my last post. I accepted this claim. I put it in bold, even. Look:

I thought I was clear earlier. Here it is, in case I’m being obtuse:

I accept that someone with a doctorate in a scientific discipline may refer to it in casual conversation as a ‘doctorate in science’.

I’m no longer at Uni - but I’ve known a few Master/PhD students in my time. I don’t recall anyone ever referring to their degree according to their faculty. I very much used to people referring to their specialization.

Could any of them refer to their PhD by faculty in casual conversation? I guess. But it would still sound weird, the same way that incorrect grammar sounds weird.

Then when you take the weirdness - and grandioseness - of the claim, and put it in context with the tone, PRESENTATION and content of the original email… The claim becomes in-credible.

3)

Additionally (Important Point): An argument rests on its own merits, not on the credentials of its author. (No-one here has said this explicitly - its been taken for granted, as it should)

If the argument put forward by the correspondent had been better, we might have been more willing to credit the (still very weird) claim to authority it contained.

However, the overall tone, PRESENTATION and content of that argument was amateurish at best. So first and foremost, the claim to holding ‘advanced degrees (O RLY? more than one?) and a doctorate in science’ doesn’t hold much water.

It looks like a lie, and it smells like a lie. We’re pretty sure it’s a lie, because:

Seriously? Gratuitous misuse of block caps, appeals to subjective experience as evidence, the fallacy of decomposition, confusing ‘comforting’ with ‘true’, the assertion that just because something could be true we should respect it as though it is - regardless of any prior plausibility or absence of evidence, the obvious admission of bias in the form of an ad hominem (I still want to go find a cross to hiss at, though), and coming to a conclusion that rests on two counts of disingenuous posturing (I will pray for you filthy cockroaches, and GOD bless you, you hissing vampires).

And in the middle of this vichyssoise of drivel, we find a claim to authority. That the author is ‘a scientist with advanced degrees including a doctorate in science’.

Right! Sure you are, buddy - and I’m the Queen of England!

O_o

This has been fun, steph. But my days of taking you seriously are now well past their middle.

You seem very concerned that we’re teasing the claim to authority and saying mean, mocking things. But you haven’t actually presented any substantial rebuttal to anything. You’ve shifted the goalposts a couple of times and repeated an argument from ignorance (We don’t know for sure that the correspondent doesn’t have any degrees, so we must assume they do, regardless of how transparently false the claim appears in the context presented). But you’ve given us nothing to work with, really.

You’ve just whinged about what big meanies we are.

So I’ll give it to you, steph. You’re right. We are big meanies. That’s how we roll. If an argument can’t stand up to critique, then it wasn’t worthy in the first place. That’s how critique works!

If you want to play with the big boys, be prepared to play hard. Save the kids’ gloves for the playpen.

Anything else?

#22 steph (Guest) on Monday August 09, 2010 at 3:11pm

mildly amused but you missed the point - I said ‘normally’.  That’s independent minded Kiwis who don’t cling to the group.  And no, I’m not ‘very concerned’ - just perhaps pointing out what I thought silly.  Perhaps you’re right about the correspondent but the point was, why bother?  It just makes everyone look silly. Having an argument is different from contradiction.  And no, I don’t think I take the CFI seriously.  Serious people have left the fold.  ‘If you want to play with the big boys, be prepared to play hard.’  I’m only sorry I can no longer dismiss it as an american phenomenon where fundamentalisms thrive. ‘If you want to play with the big boys, be prepared to play hard.’ - says it all, really - just can’t take that seriously. It’s too funny. :-D.

#23 Daniel Schealler on Monday August 09, 2010 at 3:15pm

@steph

Ah well. I suppose what really counts is that you’ve found a way to feel superior to us, despite our meanness. That’s what counts. ^_^

Bored with you now.

#24 steph (Guest) on Monday August 09, 2010 at 4:34pm

that’s a relief but I never said you were ‘mean’ and I certainly wouldn’t describe you as ‘mean’ at all.

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