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Final Reply to Herr Professor on Racism

 Herr Professor has issued yet another response in our saga of talking to each other without actually talking to each other.  This will be my final comments, unless the Professor in seeking the last word says something truly outrageous.

There are only a couple of points that are worth addressing.

In the first place, he thinks he still has got the upper hand in his view that I am siding with Watson’s allegedly racist remarks.  I am glad he returned to the original article, as it is a fine corrective to his accusations.  He gives several quotes which he says are undeniably racist in nature.  He fails to quote what Watson said about those remarks, so I will do so for him:

“I can understand much of this reaction. For if I said what I was quoted as saying, then I can only admit that I am bewildered by it. To those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologise unreservedly. This is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief.”

That sounds an awful lot like he denied saying the things that were attributed to him.  Don’t you think?

What does “This is not what I meant…. there is no scientific basis for such a belief” mean?  Not that he stands by the quote attributed to him and which you quoted against me.  I have already said that if more evidence about the matter emerges, for example that it becomes apparent that he really did say such things, or similar things, I’d be willing to re-evaluate the matter.   It appears that the Doc does not plan to be forthcoming on any new information.

He quotes me as saying:

Now, he continues to focus on my emphasis on the ethical indiscretions of scientists. There is a reason for it, and namely it is this: people are giving undue regard to scientists.

To which he replies,

Nonsense. That’s like citing a few examples of spectacular plane crashes and then saying that people are putting “undue confidence” in the safety of air travel.

By this he shows that he is simply out of touch with reality.

He now goes on to quote me as saying:

I thought it ironic that Herr Professor thought that Dawkins, a zoologist, was no longer speaking outside his field when he addressed religion, because, well, he wrote a book defending his views, didn’t he?

To which he replies:

That’s not ironic, it’s merely inaccurate. Perhaps he should re-read my post, and notice that it nowhere makes the claim that he attributes to me. But I suppose he has to criticize me for something, even if he has to invent it himself.

Yes, let’s quote his post, shall we?

The simplest and most accurate answer is that we’re not being asked to defer to them, except in their particular fields of expertise. And in the latter case, we should defer to them because they’ve learned more about it than we have. But Richard Dawkins doesn’t expect everybody to believe that God is a delusion merely out of deference to his status as a scientist. That’s why he wrote a whole book giving his arguments against God instead of just issuing a press release that said “There is no God and I’m a scientist so end of discussion.”

In the first clause he insists that we are not being asked to defer to scientists, except in their fields of expertise.  The word ‘but’ in this context clearly indicates that he sees an exception in regards to Dawkins.  Why is Dawkins different according to the text?  Herr Professor seems to forget he is supposed to be talking about talking within one’s field… he says that Dawkins does not expect anyone to give him deference because he is a scientist.  The Professor gives evidence:  “That’s why he wrote a book…”

The clear impression of this paragraph is that the fact that Dawkins is a zoologist talking about religion and theism and philosophy is not outside of Dawkins’s field because, after all, he wrote a book.  If that is not the interpretation the Professor was desiring, he should write with more clarity.   The paragraph struck me as incoherent to begin with.  He begins by expressly arguing that scientists are only deferred to from within their field and then goes on to justify paying attention to Dawkins on religion for what… for why…?  He gives no other reason than the fact that Dawkins’s wrote a book.

Some other silly remarks:

This is nonsense. Biology and ethics are separate fields, and are separately derived. His argument is like saying “If evolution is true, there is no place outside of Darwinism to derive tomorrow’s weather forecast.”

It isn’t like the weather at all.  Darwinism does not concern the weather.  Darwinism is allegedly the full account of how humans have come to be the way they are… in their totality.  There is no way that in such a putative ultimate explanation of our entire nature that anything we do would be exempted from Darwinian analysis.  Except by fiat.

Now let’s get to his ‘challenge.’

Morality comes from society’s experience of the consequences of certain actions. Bad consequences mean the action is bad, and good consequences mean the action is good.

And how does Herr Professor decide what consequences are bad or good?  The level of cognitive dissonance here is astounding.   We evolved, says the Professor.  If anything is objective within that framework, it is that what is ‘good’ is whatever furthers our own genes and the genes most similar to our own.  Hasn’t he read the Selfish Gene?  And whatever is ‘bad’ would be that which does not further our genes.  Eugenics, racism, forced sterilization… extermination… all are ‘good’ from our point of view… as long as it is rival genes and not our own.

What we have here is nothing more than a tautology.  What is ‘bad’?  Things with bad consequences.  What is ‘good’?  Things with ‘good consequences.’  Hey Doc, while we’re at it, why don’t you tell us what an apple is?  The Doc replies, “An apple is something that looks and tastes like an apple.”

WOW.  Folks, this is the atheistic position.  You’re looking at its finest arguments.*  This is what I’m talking about when I say that they deny that there are any moral absolutes in their words but then go on and act as though there really are.  This gives them the precious ability to deny the implications that would arise out of the realization that there is an objective morality while rejecting things- like racism- as wrong, which makes them feel better about themselves.

The Doc closes with this challenge:

Show me your “objective” standard, which is not my secular standard of consequences, and is not merely a subjective interpretation of ancient writings (you did say “objective standard,” right?).

I don’t accept the terms of his challenge.  I don’t at all agree that access to a standard should necessarily not be found described in ancient writings, nor do I believe that such analysis would be ‘subjective’ without limit.  This is all part and parcel of the notion that maintained by skeptics that you ‘can prove anything’ from the Scriptures.  Not true, by any stretch of the imagination.  But the true flaw in his argument is the contradistinction between objectivity and subjectivity. I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that though Herr Professor denies that there is an objective morality he at least concedes that there is an objective reality.  But how can he say such a thing?  Can he show me evidence of an objective reality apart from his own subjective interpretation of it?  No, he can’t.

However, I could say that while we must account for our subjectivity in all areas of inquiry, not merely into an inquiry into morality (the only place a skeptic wants to have the conversation:  fallacy of special pleading).  To show that here is an objective reality I can take into account my subjectivity, but show that it is reasonable still to believe there is an objective reality by smacking him upside the nose with a wiffle bat.  He would feel pain- subjectively, of course, though I doubt he will decide that it wasn’t an objective event just because of that.

To that extent I could similarly point to the fact that despite pockets.. even glaring pockets… of exceptions, racist attitudes are generally rejected as wrong by humankind.  It is the equivalent of bleeding from the nose after you’ve been swatted by a plastic bat.  Sure, you can always try to escape the obvious implication by pointing out that you can numb the nose or otherwise prevent someone from pain, or even bleeding (eg, by draining the fellah of blood first.  yuck.), but it would be much simpler to posit that there is an objective reality, just as the near universal rejection of racism is more simply accounted for by the existence of an objective morality.

It is not my problem that the atheistic position can not account for this.  Nor is it my problem that evolution does in fact give birth to an objective ‘morality’ of sorts and that most people find the implications of that morality so barbaric that they’d much rather try to ignore it.  I am glad they do, don’t get me wrong.  But I don’t have to think they are being coherent, because they aren’t.

*This is a caveated paragraph, but I’ve already written too much.


1 comment

3 pings

    • Anthony on October 23, 2007 at 11:38 am

    That is one of the funniest comments I’ve ever seen.

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