Internet Infidels Newsletter

October 1997

 

Contents:


How Not to Debate

Jeffery Jay Lowder

When I was a high school student, I joined the debate team. One of the very first things I learned was the concept of clash. As a verb, "clash" means "to respond or to refute an opponent's arguments." But "clash" can also be used in an expression as a noun (e.g., "the amount of clash") to measure the amount of contention between debaters in a debate. From a competitive debate perspective, good debates have a high amount of clash; poor debates don't.

The importance of clash in a debate cannot be overemphasized. When debaters fail to clash with their opponents, they make their position look stupid. Although all competitive debaters understand that one should not decide the truth of an issue upon a single oral debate, sadly most people in the audience do make decisions this way. Thus, when a debater fails to clash with their opponent in a debate, most of the audience will assume that is because they can't. That is why in competitive debate we have the expression "silence gives consent."

Sadly, the vast majority of freethought "debaters" either do not understand the importance of clash or they do not care. Either way, we would be much better off if such "debaters" simply stopped debating. Consider the Craig-Zindler Debate on the existence of God, the Habermas-Flew Debate on the resurrection of Jesus, the Moreland-Nielsen Debate on the existence of God, or the Craig-Lüdemann Debate on the resurrection of Jesus. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of hearing or reading these debates knows exactly what I am talking about. I suspect that Zindler, as a biologist, simply lacked the required philosophical background to debate Craig. Similarly, Flew, as a philosopher, lacks the requisite New Testament background to refute Habermas and thus was forced to rely heavily on philosophical counter-arguments to alleged "historical" evidences, which hardly constitutes direct clash. Nielsen hardly even acknowledged Moreland's arguments because he was too busy advancing his highly controversial thesis that "'God' is meaningless." And, as Michael Martin and Tyler Wunder reported in last month's Newsletter, even Gerd Lüdemann did not clash with his opponent: at the last minute he decided to abandon his prepared remarks and give an impromptu speech. Lüdemann's performance is especially damning because, as a New Testament scholar, Lüdemann has actually criticized Craig's views in one of his books; yet he did not even use these arguments in his debate! With friends like these, who needs enemies?

For the record, I do not blame freethinkers who do not wish to be bothered with debating. But I do blame freethinkers who don't take their debates seriously, and who do more damage to our position than our opponents ever could. It is always better to decline an invitation to debate than to accept an invitation and make one's position look bad.

Fortunately, there are freethought debaters who do actually clash with their opponent's arguments: Dan Barker, Farrell Till, Keith Parsons, and Michael Martin, to name a few. But, in my opinion, the most impressive debater to date is Doug Jesseph. As both a philosopher of religion and a former intercollegiate debater, Jesseph has the knowledge and the debating background to clash with his opponents very effectively. Indeed, after his debate with Craig, Craig wrote in his newsletter to supporters that Jesseph was the toughest opponent he had ever faced.

What is needed, then, is for freethought individuals and organizations to start taking debates more seriously. They should contribute money to support freethought debaters, encourage effective debaters to engage in more debates, discourage ineffective debaters from further debating, train prospective debaters in fundamental debate techniques, and decline invitations to debate topics for which no qualified freethought debater is available..

I'm willing to debate any freethinker who disagrees with me on this.


Advertising for Separation of Church and State?

Jeffery Jay Lowder

A couple of weeks ago I received a message from a retired humanist who had worked as a professional copywrighter for such clients as Safeway, Toyota, and Bank of America. His suggestion was that freethinkers who want to effect real change should become proactive and adopt some basic principles of marketing. His specific proposal was to start an immediate campaign of print ads, radio spots and brochures. Sample themes included:

  • Why Theists Should Support a Secular State
  • Protecting Christianity Through Religion-Neutral Goverment
  • Why Atheists Need Believers (Are You One?)
  • Theists and Atheists: Working Together for a Better America

First, what is needed is a coordinated campaign that can be supported and reproduced by a broad spectrum of freethought organizations, publications and venues. For example, a single full-page ad could be created which could then be published (same ad) as a public service announcement on webpages, in magazines, and as part of other freethought literature. A :30 radio spot could be created for distribution as a free public service message or as a paid spot. REPETITION (what in the business is called "impressions") IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS, as well as a powerful creative concept.

What is required here is someone willing to do the legwork to contact the media outlets, find sympathetic people who are decision-makers, and get the ads and spots placed. My advertising friend claims anyone can do this in their local market, even on a free basis. All that is required is the time and energy to make the contacts, follow-ups, thank-you's, etc. Of course with money it is easier, as the time or space can just be purchased outright.

Again, successful campaigns rely on powerful creative themes and massive repetition. They go on-and-on, using the very same ads and theme (i.e. Oscar Meyer wienermobile, "Good to the last drop," etc.). It is this kind of single-minded campaign that wins results, and that is lacking in the freethought community.

The second thing is that such a campaign MUST appeal to theists rather than nontheists. Theists are the people whose support we need to be successful with the campaign. It makes no sense to go after those who already agree with us. This means using the same techniques used by large corporations, governments, and even the religious right, i.e. appeals to:

  • tradition
  • family
  • decency and kindness
  • the welfare of children
  • fear

All good campaigns stimulate inner fears, and then offer the solution through the product or service. This is just a fact, it is nothing to be ashamed of. Do I stink? Will my plane be late? Is my boss an idiot? Does my spouse like my cooking? These are the appeals that lie behind all successful media campaigns, as everyone in the business knows so well.

What is needed is a single "media package" (brochures, ads, spots) that can be distributed to sympathetic people who are media decision-makers. This package should convey a single, simple theme which appeals to tradition, liberty, freedom, and Americanism. It should give good reasons why God-fearing people would want to keep the government separate from the church. It should use quotes, images and ideas from historic American figures to reinforce these ideas. This kind of campaign can win the minds of the people, and actually restore a secular government to this country. My advertising friend has stated that he "would be more than pleased to donate [his] creative services to any serious effort"; all that is needed are individuals willing to commit their time and energy to making this happen.

If you think you might like to contribute time or money to this idea, please contact us at Internet Infidels and mention the "Separation of Church and State Advertising Campaign."


IRS Tax-Exempt Status Application

Jeffery Jay Lowder

I'm pleased to report that Internet Infidels have officially incorporated in the State of Colorado, and have submitted our application for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status to the IRS. IRS tax-exempt status will make II eligible for grants from foundations; that status will also make all donations to II tax-deductible. (Technically, donations received prior to IRS recognition will retroactively become tax deductible after IRS recognition, but I will understand if anyone chooses to wait to donate money to II until after we are recognized.) We will keep II supporters advised of the progress of our application.


Kent Hovind: Creationist and Liar

Tim Gorski

Kent Hovind -- or "Dr." Hovind as he's sometimes called by virtue of a Ph.D. in education -- is a schoolteacher and a Christian fundamentalist young-earth creationist who goes around saying things that aren't true. Unlike the case in real science, though, his creationist comrades never make an issue of anything that he says, even when it's a blatant lie.

Besides peddling the usual creationist nonsense, Hovind has been going around saying that evolution by natural selection has to be rejected because it has destructive moral and social effects. And he makes a very specific accusation to "prove" his claim which recently saw print.

But I'll let Hovind speak for himself. Here's what he said, verbatim, during a May 4, 1997 local radio interview by Rick Donaldson and Alfred Adask. The transcript appeared in AntiShyster Volume 7, Number 3, which just came out this summer [1997], on pages 14-19. Here's what Hovind says on page 16:

 

"Yes. Sexual liberation is also a logical consequence of evolution. After Darwin wrote his book on evolution, he ran and hid. But everyone else went wild pushing his theories. In the 1860's, Thomas Huxley was called 'Darwin's bulldog' because he promoted Darwin's theory all over Europe. Huxley said, 'We've accepted this evolution theory because it gives us sexual freedom.'" [emphasis in the original]

Hovind's email address was given in this source, which is <dino>. So I wrote him and asked for his reference. He replied by email and cited Aldous Huxley's 1937 book, Ends and Means, pages 312-316.

Aldous Huxley, of course, is not T.H. Huxley. But I was willing to give even Hovind the benefit of a doubt, supposing that perhaps Aldous might have been quoting or discussing the elder Huxley who died the year after Aldous was born. It is no secret, incidentally, that Aldous was something of a flake and dallied with various forms of mysticism and transcendentalism. He was neither the scientist nor the writer (in my humble opinion) that T.H. Huxley was. Anyway, I tracked down the 1937 edition of Aldous Huxley's Ends and Means.

That entire book, and the pages cited by Hovind, have absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with T.H. Huxley or the events of the 1860's. Nor do the several pages 312-316 even mention evolution. Rather, the passage consists of Aldous Huxley's considering the reaction against "a certain political and economic system and ... a certain system of morality" that he speculates was the driving force behind the rise of what he calls "the philosophy of meaninglessness," or what we now call nihilism.

That is, the source that Hovind cites has to do with the opinions not of Thomas Henry Huxley but of Aldous Huxley. The time period is not the 1860's but the 1930's. And the objective scientific idea of evolution by natural selection is not at issue but, rather, something completely different which is the subjective philosophical idea of nihilism. Nor does Aldous Huxley, in rejecting nihilism after critiquing it, ever assail evolution or appeal to creationism or anything remotely like it.

But since Hovind was so proud to cite this 1937 book of Aldous Huxley, and obviously relies on it to support an outrageous and malicious lie about T.H. Huxley and about evolution by natural selection, it is fitting that Aldous Huxley should be heard on the subject of Christianity, which he brings up (among other places) on page 315 of this work, right in the middle of the passage that Hovind so confidently cites. For after condemning nihilism and linking it to the personal madness of the Marquis de Sade and to the social/political blight of totalitarian nationalism, fascism, and Communism, he writes that:

 

"The desire to justify a particular form of political organization and, in some cases, of a personal will to power has played an equally large part in the formulation of philosophies postulating the existence of a meaning in the world. Christian philosophers have found no difficulty in justifying imperialism, war, the capitalistic system [which in Huxley's time effectively meant completely laissez faire capitalism under which, for example, such things as concoctions of radioactive materials could be sold -- and were sold -- as health tonics], the use of torture, the censorship of the press, and ecclesiastical tyrannies of every sort from the tyranny of Rome to the tyrannies of Geneva and New England. In all these cases they have shown that the meaning of the world was such as to be compatible with, or actually most completely expressed by, the iniquities I have mentioned above -- iniquities which happened, of course, to serve the personal or sectarian interests of the philosophers concerned"

 

[Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means (New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1937), p. 315.]

Kent Hovind, besides being completely wrong in assailing science, and utterly blinded in his mission by his own superstitious ideology, makes use of an abominable lie in pursuing his imbecilic crusade. But he is, of course, following the example of the God-inspired Saint Paul, whom Christians say could only have been writing inerrant truth when he rhetorically, and perhaps somewhat indignant asked, at Romans 3:7: "For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?"

[Tim Gorski, M.D. is the pastoral director of the North Texas Church of Freethought.]


www.infidels.org vs. freethought.tamu.edu

Jeffery Jay Lowder

It has been almost a full year since the Internet Infidels from its old location, freethought.tamu.edu, to our permanent location, www.infidels.org. Yet many sites still link to the old location. How many sites? Consider the following search queries (and their results) on two of the more popular search engines:

Please take a moment and ensure that all of your links to the Secular Web are correct.


Other New Services Available on the Secular Web

While the Internet Infidels Newsletter was dormant, the Internet Infidels started three other new services on the Secular Web. In case you have not yet seen them, we'd like to briefly mention them here.

Discussion Boards

The Secular Web now boasts three interactive discussion boards: These boards allow interested parties to post and read messages on a particular topic. The three topics currently available on the Secular Web are: open forum, evolution, and young freethinkers. If you have not yet checked this feature out, we invite you to visit the Secular Web's discussion boards at http://www.infidels.org/.

Freethought Families Project

Internet Infidels are also proud to sponsor a new Internet initiative to assist freethinking parents in raising their children. This initiative is called the Freethought Families Project (FFP) and is headed by Internet Infidel Robby Berry. The project currently consists of a collection of web resources (available at http://www.infidels.org/people/ffp/) and an FFP mailing list (to subscribe, visit http://www.infidels.org/electronic/email/secular.html#ffp).

For more information about the FFP, or to volunteer to help with one of the FFP's projects, please contact Berry at <berry>.

Activists' Corner

Finally, the Internet Infidels have a devoted a small section of the Secular Web to the legal and political dimension of freethought. This section has information on the latest battles over the separation of church and state, the radical religious right, etc.


Call for Papers

Atheism

  • Atheistic Teleological Arguments (ATAs)
    In his book Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, Michael Martin argues that the traditional teleological argument for the existence of God can be flipped on its head and used as an argument for atheism. Contributions should assess the soundness of such ATAs. Discussions of methodological issues, such as the burden of proof, are welcome, but not required.

  • Definition of atheism
    Many atheist writers have defined atheism as the "lack of belief in God or gods." Others, however, maintain that atheism is the positive belief that there is no God. Which side is right? Is there a "right" side? Preferred submissions will address whether definitions can be objective; if so, what criteria should be used to separate "true" definitions from "false" ones; and an application of that criteria to the word atheism.

Book Reviews

Internet Infidels will publish one review of each of the following books:

Church-State Issues

  • Are some church-state battles "silly things"?
    In their recent book The Godless Constitution, Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore state that "Americans seem to fight about many silly things" concerning separation of church and state. These "silly things" include battles over whether a judge can post a copy of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, whether public property can host a holiday display of the baby Jesus, and whether moments of silence are acceptable in public schools. Is it true that such practices are "harmless" and "threaten no one"?

Radical Religious Right

  • We're looking for a list of companies that support radical religious right wing causes, as well as other such things. We've heard that Amway, In & Out Burgers, Target, and Domino's Pizza are major contributors to groups like Focus On the Family and the Christian Coalition, but we'd like to see a DOCUMENTED list of corporations and the right wing political and religious causes they support.

Prospective contributors should consult the "Secular Web Submission Guidelines" at http://www.infidels.org/infidels/call_for_papers.html#submission


New Editor

Jeffery Jay Lowder

On an administrative note, II Secretary Mark Vuletic will become the editor of the Internet Infidels Newsletter starting next month. I know that he will do an excellent job and I look forward to reading the Newsletter under his editorial control.


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

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