Internet Infidels Newsletter
- Editorial: Strong and Bitter Words
The editor notes the timeless wisdom (when properly qualified) of a fortune cookie message.
- An Account of the Buckner/Parrish-Parker Debate
Ed Buckner gives a report of the 20 Nov 1997 WisdomSeekers Int. debate at Lawrenceville, GA, which pitted him and Fred Parrish against creationist Gary Parker.
- Associate Memberships
Internet Infidels PR Director Clark Adams asks the readers what benefits they might like to receive from "associate memebership" in Internet Infidels.
- New Supporter
Internet Infidels welcomes astronomer Alan Hale onto its list of supporters.
- Call for More Papers
Internet Infidels is soliciting more papers from its readers on specific topics.
Mark I. Vuletic
Fortune cookies, more often than not, contain either vague portents of future happiness, or boring moral platitudes we all know. However, the fact that a moral is widely acknowledged does not necessarily mean that it is not worth repeating - sometimes it is helpful to bring to the forefront of consciousness that which we are already aware of. In fact, just a few days ago, I received a message via fortune cookie that I believe bears repeating to freethinkers:
Remember - strong and bitter words indicate a weak cause.
I assume I do not need to elaborate much on how the phrase "strong and bitter words" fits in with the freethought debate - anyone who has been in the debate even briefly, especially on IRC, has probably not only heard strong and bitter words from freethinkers and their opponents, but also uttered his or her fair share, as well. Your friendly editor is no exception.
Now it is not always true that a direct connection exists between "strong and bitter words" and a weak cause - for instance, the case for atheism is strong irrespective of whether or not some individual atheist goes around asserting that anyone who believes in god is an idiot. Likewise, it is not always true that a direct connection exists even between strong and bitter words and lack of personal knowledge - for instance Farrell Till, James Randi, and Martin Gardner are paradigms of completely tactless people whose knowledge, however, is inversely proportional to their tact. All of this stands to readon, since a true proposition spoken in a bitter or ridiculing fashion is still true. However, the actual truth or falsity of the message of the fortune cookie is not nearly as important as the fact that many take it to be true.
It should be easy enough to understand why anyone would believe the adage - when one encounters hostility, one generally closes oneself to whatever is said. It is an incredible feat of strength to look beyond ridicule and bitterness and agree with the neutral factual claims made by someone who expresses the additional sentiment that you or your current beliefs are stupid. Indeed, it is sometimes easier to rally around a proposition one knows, deep down inside, to be false, than to admit that someone who called you an idiot actually was right about something you and he argued about. I think this probably accounts for why so many Christians ask nonbelievers whether their lack of belief stems from being hurt by Christians - since some Christians can be brutal to the weak or the different, there probably are some unbelievers out there who oppose religion simply because it is too difficult for them to acknowledge that something such cruel people believe in might be true. No doubt the reverse would apply if the majority of people were atheists. In any case, however, it is certainly true that any time an atheist calls a believer stupid or foolish, or tells her to go **** herself, it makes it that more difficult for that person to ever accept freethought, even if she should ever start to realize at some level that freethought is true.
So, given that strong and bitter words can close off potential new freethinkers from liberation - given that they do nothing but harm (except perhaps to give one the pleasure of being mean - and I will leave it to the reader to assess the merits of that pleasure) - I recommend that all freethinkers make an effort to be more hospitable and open to their opposition. It is a difficult task, especially given that the opposition is itself frequently quite unkind, but it is a worthwhile goal to aim for.
[With all of this said, the editor would, of course, like to acknowledge that he himself has a long way to go towards being gentle, as the reader may easily verify by looking at the feedback section. However, that doesn't mean I can't try to change.]
 The latter two are more skeptics than freethinkers, but I include them here since many freethinkers double as skeptics.
Over 700 people (675 or so of them--I do not exaggerate--devoted creationists), came to a civic auditorium (and to an overflow set-up with monitors, etc.) to hear what the sponsors described as "The Great Debate" between professional creationist Gary E. Parker, Ed.D., and Ed Buckner (Ph.D., but like Parker's in education, not in science) and Fred Parrish (Ph.D. in Biology). Only Parrish really knew much biology, as became apparent during the debate. Parker gave the same tired, distorted arguments that he and other creationists have given to hundreds of audiences before, and Buckner and Parrish had far too little time to explain complex scientific ideas to an audience most of whose members had no foundation for understanding those ideas and no real interest in them anyway. Few minds were changed, though it is possible to hope that long trains of thought might conceivably have been begun (a "special creation" in need of lots of evolving thought to become sustainable?). Many children were there, reportedly getting "credit" for attending from home schools or church schools; few of these seemed able to sustain their attention for the whole thing. The Fred and Ed Show got good support from Becky Long, President of the Georgia Skeptics, and Skip Evans, President of the Atlanta Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State--who served on the panel that filtered and asked questions from the audience.
The thing went on too long, but the setting was fine, the host group--WisdomSeekers International, led by John Crayton--was congenial and fair. Fred and Ed pointed out Gary's misquotations and misrepresentations, explained what science really is, and explained that most of the scientific world finds creationism ridiculous. Perhaps a few heard us. Fred and Ed had a good time, and at least the creationists were not able to say that no one would debate them.
After the debate I was beseiged by people who approached our table, including a number of children, a woman who offered me Pascal's wager (but was not interested in any reply), a couple of men who just wanted to denounce the "Anti-Christian Lawyers Union" and separation of church and state (based on utterly false information), and a few with more thoughtful or generous or even supportive comments. Fred reports similar experiences. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed two (perhaps it was three) children (girls, I think), of perhaps 10 or 12 or 14 years of age, slip up to the side of the table, toss a piece of notebook paper on it, and run away. Their demeanor seemed more mischievous than fearful, but I cannot be sure. On the folded paper was written in pencil "To: Mr. Parrish & Mr. Buckner." Inside was headed in large letters, "GOD IS LOVE!" Beside this in the margin was printed "They don't serve breakfast in Hell! I hope U know that!" The main "text" was the full quoting of John 3:16, with the children's own "endearing" addition: "but if you don't you will suffer in hell forever. Where there is Nashing and grinding of teeth forever!" Other marginal notes: "God is everywhere and he will Judge you someday!" and "God is Real! We know it!" The bottom half of the page was filled with a "Song for You'all" that echoes the purple dinosaurs of television rather than the fearsome lizards of the distant past: "God loves you, I hope you love God. You could be a family with a great big hug and a kiss from him to you. Won't you say you love him, too?" It was signed,"Just remember that: GOD LOVES YOU! AND SO DO WE! Gods children." Off to the side was a sort of P.S.: "We have felt the presents of God Many times! Even right now!" Had they stayed around to watch me read it, I wonder what I would have said to them.
I did not thank at the debate, for lack of time, the many who helped: my wife Diane and my son Michael; Fred, Skip, and Becky; Ed Kagin; Keith Parsons; Ken Saladin; Molleen Matsumara; Ian Plimer; John Crayton; Ted Andrews; Jeff Lowder; Kevin L. O'Brien; Ed Babinski; and Ron Hicks (of Gary Eugene Parker's alma mater, Ball State University). I thank them now.
We have had several requests from friends of the Internet Infidels wanting to become "associate members" of the Internet Infidels. The Board of Directors of the Internet Infidels has discussed this, and we want to know what you, friends of the Infidels, would want in an associate membership in the Internet Infidels. We would want to keep it as affordable as possible. Some benefits of membership could conceivably include the following:
- Membership Card
- Vanity e-mail addresses that we already sell
- Optional link from the Secular Web to associate members' home pages. We want to keep the option of confidentiality open to anyone who desires it, and we will not sell or lease our lists to anyone (never did it, never will).
- WWW redirect. e.g. http://www.infidels.org/~joe would link to "Joe's" home page.
- Third Level WWW redirects. e.g. http://joe.freethought.org would link to "Joe's" home page. These are much more expensive and more difficult to do from a system standpoint than the other type of redirects.
- T-shirts, mugs, key chains, or other merchandise.
- The inherent pride of an associate member in knowing that he or she is helping to forge a way for freethought in the twenty-first century.
Please send any comments, additions, suggestions, criticisms about this issue to (email address removed).
Thank you very much for your support.
Internet Infidels is proud to announce that astronomer Alan-Hale (of the Hale-Bopp comet fame) has agreed to be listed as an II supporter. Hale has recently contributed to the Secular Web an excellent e-mail debate with a creationist.
Internet Infidels is adding several new paper topics to its call for papers. Specifically, we are interested in publishing one new critique of each of the following books:
- Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe
- Darwin on Trial by Philip Johnson
- Reason in the Balance by Philip Johnson
- Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds by Philip Johnson
A complete list of solicited paper topics as well as submission guidelines are available at www.infidels.org/infidels/call_for_papers.html.