Internet Infidels Newsletter

May 1996

In this issue:


New Additions to the Secular Web

We have been busy uploading several new documents to the Secular Web:

In the near future, we hope to add the following to the Secular Web:


Theistic Sites Which Recognize Secular Sites

Jeffery Jay Lowder

 

The title of this article was originally going to be, "Theistic sites which refuse to link to secular sites," but as I started compiling a list of one-sided sites, I quickly realized there were so many I would have to use an entire newsletter to list them all. So I instead decided to take a more positive approach and list the few theistic sites which do link to opposing websites:

We congratulate all of the above web sites for their open-mindedness!


Martin and Stein Respond to SCCCS

Jeffery Jay Lowder

 

A small but vocal group of Christian theists -- "presuppositionalists" -- reject traditional theistic arguments and instead defend what is known as the "transcendental argument for God's existence" (TAG). They are launching presuppositionalist home pages on the World Wide Web, where they not only promote TAG, but attack atheism and its defenders, including Michael Martin and Gordon Stein.

The purpose of this article is not to refute TAG, but rather allow Michael Martin and Gordon Stein the chance to respond to their presuppositional critics.

Background

Until his death in 1995, Greg Bahnsen was one of the two leading proponents of presuppositionalist apologetics. (The other was and still is John Frame.) Bahnsen's ministry, the Southern California Center for Christian Studies (SCCCS), has a special interest in refuting atheism. Bahnsen conducted two high-profile, oral debates on the existence of God (the 1985 Bahnsen-Stein Debate and the 1993 Bahnsen-Tabash Debate); a third debate, which was scheduled for 1994, was cancelled for reasons which will be discussed below.

In 1995, SCCCS established a home page on the World Wide Web. SCCCS, which markets and sells Bahnsen's materials, included their catalog on their home page. This catalog lists, among other things, the Bahnsen-Stein Debate (2 cassettes), the Bahnsen-Tabash Debate (2 cassettes), and various materials attacking Michael Martin (14 cassettes).

(Other presuppositionalist sites followed, including Contra Mundum and Jon Barlow's "Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics". Barlow's Center hopes to become a non-profit organization and is planning a major refutation of Martin's books.)

The catalog does not have anything positive to say about Stein, Tabash, or Martin. Concerning the Bahnsen-Stein Debate, the catalog reads, "the university's own student newspaper reported that atheism suffered a defeat in this exchange." Edward Tabash is "arrogant," has not wrestled with "fundamental philosophical questions," and "could not even make sense of brushing his teeth" "apart from the Christian worldview." And Michael Martin is a "philosophically competent antagonist to Christian theism" who is "prejudiced" and "ineffective." Moreover, we are told that Martin backed-out (read: chickened-out) of a debate with Bahnsen because "he did not want the debate recorded."

The Secular Response

Out of curiosity, I decided to contact Martin and Stein to get their response. The comments which follow are based upon my telephone interviews with them.

Gordon Stein concedes that Greg Bahnsen was able to catch him off-guard with TAG (although Stein says he now has a refutation of the argument); he was even more surprised to learn that SCCCS was marketing tapes of the debate. Stein claims that the agreement he signed with Bahnsen allowed each debater to record the debate for their own personal use, but contained no provisions whatsoever for mass-duplication and distribution. Stein does feel this constitutes good grounds for a lawsuit, but does not have any plans to sue SCCCS.

Michael Martin said that the debate with Bahnsen was scheduled four months in advance. Three weeks before the debate was to take place he was informed for the first time that Bahnsen would not debate unless Martin gave written permission to SCCCS to tape the debate. The tape would be sold to support SCCCS. Although SCCCS did offer joint rights to the taped debate, Martin rejected the offer because he did not want SCCCS to profit from his participation. He made it clear that he was willing to debate if the debate was not taped and that he never would have agreed to debate had he known the conditions required by SCCCS. However, SCCCS refused to let Bahnsen debate without the debate being taped. The debate was canceled.

Shortly after the cancellation SCCCS issued a press release accusing Martin of cowardliness. Marty Field, the debate organizer and a Christian, was mortified by SCCCS' action and expressed amazement that Christians could act in such a unChristian way. He said his organization was distancing itself from SCCCS because of the press release. However, he defended Bahnsen saying that he could not believe Bahnsen approved of SCCCS's action and even suggested that the press release might not have been authorized by the officials of SCCCS. Martin said that he pointed out to Mr. Field that Bahnsen had offered no apology for the press release and, until he, Martin, received evidence to the contrary, he had every reason to suppose that the press release was officially sanctioned and had Bahnsen's approval.

Bahnsen showed up at the appointed site of the debate -- at the exact time the debate was scheduled -- and delivered a lecture attacking Martin. Before Bahnsen spoke Martin requested that a written statment he had prepared giving his reasons for not debating and expressing his dismay concerning the SCCCS press release be read to the audience. (Whether this statement was actually read he does not know.) Although it did not mention the press release, Bahnsen's lecture was filled with innuendoes concerning Martin's motives for not debating. Martin described his experiences with SCCCS as one of the most unpleasant in his life. Because of it he now refuses to engage in oral debates with theists on the existence of God.

In 1994, the theme of Bahnsen's summer seminar was "Michael Martin Under the Microscope." Both the lecture delivered at the debate site (2 cassettes) and the seminar (12 cassettes) are available from SCCCS; the former for $13 and the latter for $68.

The upshot is that Martin is now publishing articles on the existence of God and transcendental arguments. He has already published one article in the New Zealand Humanist & Rationalist , "Transcendental Argument for the Non Existence of God," and is allowing the Internet Infidels to republish it on the Secular Web (now available on the Secular Web at <URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/michael_martin/tang.html>). Moreover, Martin says he has been hard at work on a major refutation of TAG for CODESH's Free Inquiry. During the course of his research, Martin has been unable to find any article on TAG in any peer-reviewed philosophical journal.


The Hovind-Patterson Debate

Ron Patterson

 

On Saturday night, April 20, I debated Dr. Kent Hovind, a young earth creationists and dinosaur hunter. Dr. Hovind freely admits that creationism is not science but is instead, religion. Dr. Hovind does not strive to get creationism in schools, he just wants evolution out of public schools. That was the topic of our debate, "Evolution Should not be Taught in Alabama Public Schools."

Dr. Hovind had nothing new other than a few weird claims that any intelligent being would reject. Then he rehashed the same old arguments that have failed many times before. Like most other creationists, he seems to think that evolutionists claim that evolution is driven by macro mutations in a single animal. Of course, no evolutionist since Richard Goldschmidt, in the early part of this century, has ever advocated such a thing.

He kept hammering on the difference between "micro evolution", which he believes in, and "macro evolution" which he does not. Like other creationists he cannot understand that macro evolution is nothing more than a lot of micro evolution over the entire population of a species. One is at a loss to explain why creationists cannot understand that enough "micro changes" equals "macro change". That is, if there are enough small changes, you would have an entirely different species.

It is ironic that in one sense, Hovind and his followers are stronger evolutionists than the evolutionists. According to Hovind, all several hundred thousand species living today evolved from just a few hundred "kinds" that were aboard the Ark. All of this happened in about four thousand years. No self respecting evolutionist would claim that so much evolution could possibly happen in such a short period of time. It must be asked, what was the driving force behind the creationists "super swift evolution"? If it was not survival of the fittest, then what? Also, they are always bad mouthing "mutations". How did they have evolution without mutations?

The most remarkable thing about Kent Hovind and his followers, is their extreme gullibility. It seems that they will believe anything, absolutely anything, as long as it fits their make-believe model. Among the many absurd things that Hovind expressed in this debate and previous seminars and debates were:

  • Noah was probably twelve feet tall and probably had an IQ of about four hundred.
  • Six or seven twelve foot human skeletons were found in a coal mine in West Virginia.
  • A ninety foot plumb tree, complete with fruit was found frozen in the ice, north of the Arctic Circle.
  • A man was swallowed by a whale and lived in his stomach for two days before the whale's stomach was cut open to free the man. Hovind says the man completely recovered in about two weeks.
  • The leg bones of the Australopithecine "Lucy" were found a mile and a half from the head bones, in strata 200 feet deeper.
  • Living dinosaurs can be found in many places on the earth. Hovind admits however, that he has never found any.
  • Living sea monsters can be found in many lakes through the world.
  • Twelve pharaohs, listed in chronological order by the Egyptian calendar, were all pharaohs at the same time and ruled over different parts of Egypt.
  • Modern evolutionists say "no missing links can be found", they say "maybe a reptile laid an egg and a bird hatched out."
  • The geological column does not exist.
  • NASA says that the earth's magnetic field has a half life of eight hundred and thirty five years.
  • Ice becomes magnetic at three to four hundred degrees below zero and the ice ages were probably caused by a comet that blew apart when it approached the earth. The earth's magnetic field pulled the ice to the poles.
  • Ice at the South pole is fourteen thousand feet deep but it never snows there.
  • Thomas H. Huxley said: "The reason we have chosen evolution is because of our sexual freedoms we get with this lifestyle." In other words, this devoted family man, Thomas Huxley who argued the "evidence" of evolution at every opportunity, publicly stated, during the height of Victorian times, that the real reason he believed in evolution was that it allowed him to be sexually promiscuous.
  • The story of Jacob placing striped, speckled and spotted sticks before animals when they mated and therefore causing them to have striped, speckled and spotted offspring, (Gen. 30:37-39) is just an example of "artificial insemination." (Yes, believe it or not, he actually said that and I have it on tape to prove it.)

All the above claims are pure fiction, yet Hovind's audience seemed to believe his every absurd proclamation. Hovind has stopped telling the story of Lucy's bones and the story of the ninety foot plumb tree. Not that he has admitted that they were bogus, but in his own words, he no longer advocates these things. The rest however, are still part of his fantasy world.

In summary, I thought the debate went very well. Hovind claiming the most absurd things, the audience, which were mostly creationists, were lapping it up like it was the inspired word of God. His major claim was that evolution was a religion and should be removed from all schools and textbooks. Most rationalists at the debate felt that I won and most of the creationists felt that Hovind won. But isn't that the way it always goes, the scientifically illiterate cheers every absurdity while the scientifically literate shake their heads in disbelief.

I pointed out that evolution is part of virtually every field of science, astronomy, geology, and nuclear physics as well as biology. I pointed out that Hovind even wished to alter history to show that no civilization could have existed before 4000 BCE. This was his whole motivation behind the "twelve pharaohs" story. The audience did not seem to care if Hovind was successful in changing all history books, just as long as he made it fit the Bible story.

In the words of Stephen J. Gould, "Human gullibility has cash value, and enormous amounts of money can be made by any skilled manipulator.... When people learn no tools of judgment and merely follow their hopes, the seeds of political manipulation are sown." Kent Hovind is a skilled manipulator and can readily sway any audience as long as they are extremely scientifically illiterate. I do mean EXTREMELY scientifically illiterate for anyone even moderately literate in science would laugh at Hovind's absurdities.

Kent Hovind has not proven that evolution is religion but he has shown that creationism is religion, pure religion. Without religion, the creationists would be a laughing stock. Hovind is doing his best to make them a laughing stock, even with their religion.

 

"Creationism is wrong; totally, utterly, and absolutely wrong. I would go further. There are degrees of being wrong. The creationists are at the bottom of the scale. They pull every trick in the book to justify their position. Indeed, at times they verge right over into the downright dishonest. Scientific Creationism in not just wrong, it is ludicrously implausible. It is a grotesque parody of human thought, and a downright misuse of human intelligence. In short, to the believer, it is an insult to God."
Michael Ruse: Darwinism Defended.

Ron Patterson
Ron O. Patterson
277 Stephens Rd.
Hazel Green, AL 35750


The Internet and the "Real World"

Dan Barker

 

I have heard some people say that we Internet freaks should turn off our modems and go out and smell some flowers.

Well, I spent much of last weekend pulling weeds, visiting a nursery, planting, mowing, and watering the gardens around our house. While I was working, I was simultaneously doing two other things.

First, I was mentally working over possible lyrics for a new song based on Robert Ingersoll's insightful freethought observation that the one who pulls up weeds is just as much a gardener as the one who sows the seeds.

Second, I was cultivating freethought on the World Wide Web. I knew that while I was away from the office, where FFRF's computers were turned off for the weekend, the Foundation's Web Page was still awake on the server at "www.infidels.org." Like a flower that opens up to attract insects, the Secular Web is constantly drawing visitors into rational thought.

This endeavor is not happening in a fake world. Real, flesh-and-blood people view our pages and many of them respond by e-mail or by regular mail. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has heard from many hundreds of serious prospects since we went online in June 1995. These are people who indentify themselves as freethinkers, who support our cause, and who give us their name and physical address. The last time I checked (March 1996), more than 50 of these people had become dues-paying members of the Foundation. These are real people who sent us real checks to join us and help us keep state and church separate. Many of these new members, plus others who have not joined yet, have purchased freethought products from us--products that help to advertise freethought in the "real world."

The Foundation actually had a presence on the Internet long before we went online. Jeff Lowder, a Foundation member and perhaps the most infamous of the Internet Infidels, had already added FFRF, Inc. to the "Organizations" page of the Secular Web and had graciously keyed in a number of FFRF's documents and speeches. By the time I took over maintaining the page, in June 1995, the Foundation had already been picking up new members and contacts. This was one of the facts that made it easy to sell the concept of having a Web Page to FFRF's Executive Council.

All of us Internet Infidels have had the satisfaction of hearing from readers who write to say, "Thank you for providing this information. It has helped me tremendously." I can recall a number of e-mail messages from people saying, "I had some questions, but now I can proudly call myself an atheist," or something to that effect.

Besides attracting members and educating the public, FFRF's Web Page has made other differences in the real world. The following story, reported on the front page of the May 1996 Freethought Today, is a poignant example.

A few months ago I received an e-mail from Adam Butler, a high-school senior in Alabama, an atheist happy to have found the FFRF Web Page. (He had done a search on the word "atheism.") He was wondering what he could do to further freethought. I gave him some suggestions, including the possibility of starting an atheist/agnostic/humanist club on campus in order to provide a counter to the ubiquitous Bible Clubs and Christian Ministries that hound most public high schools, especially since the Mergens "Equal Access" decision that permits such groups to meet. (The Supreme Court basically said that a public high school can not prohibit a religious student group from meeting on-campus if it allows other non-curricular activities.) I thought it would be interesting to test the fairness of such a practice in the real world. To my knowledge, there has never been an Atheist Club or Freethinker's Club on a high-school campus in this country.

We sent Adam some freethought literature, including many of our nontracts and samples of Freethought Today. A few weeks later Adam agreed to try to form a freethought club on campus. He had been angered by an aggressive Christian student organization that was placing posters around campus advertising prayer. I put Adam in touch (via e-mail) with FFRF's Alabama chapter near Birmingham, and Adam went to their very next meeting. The chapter director, Pat Cleveland, gave Adam some pointers and put him in contact with other freethinking and state/church separationist individuals in the area.

Adam then approached the principal of Pelham High School asking for a freethinkers club. After a few more meetings of stalling and stonewalling, the principal finally told Adam, "There will be no Freethinker's Club at PHS."

Undaunted, Adam contacted us. FFRF President Anne Gaylor and our Alabama chapter contacted the principal advising him that he was in violation of the Equal Access Act. Pat Cleveland also alerted the ACLU about the problem.

On April 8, the principal reversed his decision, and the Freethinker's Club of Pelham High School has been meeting ever since.

Who says the Internet is not the "real world"?

[Dan Barker, a former fundamentalist minister, is now Public Relations Director of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin. His book, Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher To Atheist, was published by FFRF, Inc. in 1992. He can be reached at (email address removed). Adam Butler can be reached at (email address removed)]


The alt.religion.scientology Spam Attack

Keith Spurgeon

 

[The following article is a text-only version of document originally written in HTML. Some of the references will not make sense unless you view the original page: http://www.bway.net/~keith/spam/spam.htm ]

Scientology ® and some Scientologists have exhibited antagonism to the discussion, on the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology (a.r.s.), of the ideas of L. Ron Hubbard and the tactics of Scientology. Ron Newman has chronicled this battle on his Scientology versus the Net page.

On 19 May, 1996, the already high volume of a.r.s. was boosted considerably by "Chris Maple" , who posted a large amount of Scientology copyrighted material to the newsgroup, in many separate messages. Here is a sample message. Most of the text of these messages is taken directly from Scientology's public relations pieces. The introduction accuses a.r.s. of being rife with falsehoods, however the poster does not choose to address specific alleged inaccuracies, but only seems to wish to flood news servers with propaganda.

'Chris Maple' posted through a mail-to-news gateway (which allows internet e-mailers access to Usenet) at Yale University. Initially, Yale blocked posting from 'Chris Maple,' though after further abuse of the gateway, Yale restricted posting to a.r.s. entirely.

'Chris Maple' was followed by a series of accounts posting the same or similar material, one usually starting within minutes after another ended. Sometimes this material was quoted in full from prior messages and followed up with characteristic one-line Scientology cheerleading such as "Great!" Those posting the Scientology spam have not undertaken to address any issues, answer any questions, or indeed produce new material to significantly alter their repetitive messages. They have merely continued to pump news spools and newsreaders around the world with thousands of copies of identical posts. Ron Newman provided a sample listing of headers for posts by some of the Scientology-materials-spammers.

Some accounts or faked accounts used to post these identical messages include:

  • "Chris Maple"
  • (Dennis Goldwyn)
  • (Shirley Lemaine)
  • (Aline Gervais)
  • (Nathan Slade)
  • (ARS INFO SERVICE)
  • (gordon e. jones)
  • (Emily Faulkner)
  • (jeremy rojas)
  • Brad
  • Dolphin
  • "Jamie Bryson" (mach1.directnet.com!)

Deana Holmes posted an analysis of the volume of the repetitive flooding posts to a.r.s., as did Frank Copeland. Dave VanHorn posted about the volume of spam at his site.

Here is a screenshot of my newsreader looking at a small portion of spam. Each thread (group of messages beginning with a name in the "Subject" column) comprises identical Scientology-materials messages posted by each of those listed in the "From" column. And here is another newsreader screenshot showing repetitive postings by the pseudonymous "ARS INFO SERVICE."

The sheer volume of this flooding is a hardship to Internet Service Providers and Usenet users, whose newspools, bandwidth, newsreaders, and wallets are straining under the weight of megabytes of repetitious--and probably semi-mechanically posted--materials.

Are these actions sanctioned by Scientology? To date, lawyers representing the cult have not responded to this message, nor to this one alerting them to the massive repetitive posting of their copyrighted materials.

On the other hand, this attack does appear to be consistent with messages from Scientologist Russell Shaw, other scientologists and from an agent of Scientology's Office of Special Affairs (the cult's dirty tricks and PR wing), Elaine Siegel, though her flooding plans were apparently officially disavowed by Scientology.

One effective method of boosting the signal to noise ratio on a.r.s. has been proposed by a.r.s. regular Sherilyn and dubbed the "Sheri Convention." It calls for:

  • posting with SUBJECT: lines containing the word "Xenu," which is the name of the evil galactic overlord in one of scientology's formerly secret scriptures.
  • crossposting mesages to alt.religion.scientology.squick.squick.squick, alt.religion.scientology.xenu, and possibly talk.religion.misc, as well as other appropriate groups based on the content of the post.

For those who believe that one copy of each message is enough, consult your newsreader's help file, or here is information on filtering and killfiling.

To Marina Chong's large collection of links about Scientology and related matters.

This page created by Keith Spurgeon. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by bway.net nor any other individual or institution.


Internet Infidels Supporters

 

  • Dan Barker, Freedom From Religion Foundation
  • Taner Edis, Iowa State University
  • Greg Erwin, Humanists of Canada
  • Tim Gorksi, Freethought Exchange and Freethought Observer
  • R. Joseph Hoffmann, Oxford
  • Doug Jesseph, North Carolina State University
  • Jim Lippard, Skeptics Society
  • Tim Madigan, Council for Secular Humanism
  • Molleen Matsumura, Free Inquiry
  • Robin Murray O'Hair, American Atheists
  • Keith Parsons, University of Houston at Clear Lake
  • Quentin Smith, University of Western Michigan
  • Gordon Stein, American Rationalist
  • Vic Stenger, University of Hawaii
  • Farrell Till, Skeptical Review
  • Spike Tyson, American Atheists
  • Corey Washington, U. of Washington
  • Frank R. Zindler, American Atheists

The opinions expressed in the Internet Infidels Newsletter are not necessarily those of Internet Infidels, Inc.

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