Wirthless Ideas

I’m trying to get caught up on a couple of things from last week. Here’s one of them. You may have seen this on Pharyngula. As PZ Myers explains:

A couple of college students in Toronto…took offense at the patent absurdity of the “Bible and Bible Studies” section of a large bookstore at Yonge and Eglinton, and decided to help organize the shelves by filing their contents more appropriately. They quietly moved the contents to other places in the bookstore, like Fiction, Humour, Sexuality, Erotica, Cuisine, Parenting, Mental Disorder, Parapsychology and the Occult.

The aftermath

I actually did something similar on a much smaller scale last year. One of the culprits of the Toronto incident describes the event in more detail at his blog, Phaedron Rising.

What I wanted to bring to your attention, though, was his follow-up article:

Many comments on Pharyngula suggested that Science shelves should be bereft of such gems as Michael Behe’s intelligent-design manifestos, or any book on new-age pseudoscience.

It’s with this that I must take issue. When, in my email to Dr Myers, I referred to the democratic marketplace of ideas, I was not paying lip service. It is a fundamental tenet of western democratic society that as long as nobody is literally hurt, every opinion has a right to be heard. I’m not saying that every opinion is worth the paper it’s written on, just that anyone has every right to make their case. This is especially the case in the rigours of the scientific process, where any theory—new or old—is continually vetted by a process of peer review and critique.

In the case of Behe’s ID idiocy and New-Age acupressure guides, they belong squarely in the science section. The questions that they address (Who are we? How did we get here? How can the flow of Chi affect my basement grow-op?) are fundamentally scientific ones. Just because a particular author’s answer to a real scientific question is completely insipid does not mean that it does not belong on the Science shelf.

Call me Naïve, but I truly want to believe that in the great marketplace of ideas, theories will ultimately rise and fall on their own merits.

If you want to rid your local science section of wastes of wood-pulp like Behe’s books on Intelligent Design, here’s how to do it.

Let his opinion be heard.

There is only one appropriate response to a ridiculous proposition, and that response is thorough ridicule. Give Behe and his ilk a seat at the table. Engage him. Expose his ideas for the unscrupulous shams that they are. I’m not advocating that anyone treat fools with kid gloves—far from it. All I’m saying is, give these people just enough intellectual rope to hang themselves with, then help them build their gallows.

That article sums up some of what we do here at BoF. It’s great fun pointing out how foolish the “freedom fighters”, Concerned “Women”, and Family “Researchers” are, but our fun has a very real purpose. These people want to pull our society back to the Dark Ages. Ridiculing these ideas is one of the best ways to expose them for the frauds that they are.

15 Responses to “Wirthless Ideas”

  1. Brian Says:

    Few things in this life give me as much pleasure as blasting ignorant religious dullards for their ridiculous notions. It’s not only excruciatingly necessary, its also a hell of a lot of fun!

  2. Spirula Says:

    Short comment. I live in a university town in the South. Around the corner from me is a large, national bookstore. I went looking for some Bart Erhman books in the religion secion, and someone had scattered them all over the place (out of alphabetic order, unlike non-critical Christian books). Sales attendant helping me find them told me they had to move Dawkins “The God Delusion” to the science section because “some people” would hide or move it if it was in the religious section. He said that it was a common problem with books critical of Christianity.

    Sure it’s the south, but it is a large secular university town. Can only image what it is like in less “open-minded” locations.

  3. Spirula Says:

    Uh…oops. This is short.

    Assholes.

  4. Sarah Says:

    This article makes a valid point, HOWEVER…by allowing people like this to ‘sit at the table’ it shows the rest of the world that anyone can get into the standards of science without following the actual method that defines it.

    Now rational onlookers would see through this, but unfortunately the average person’s IQ could hardly grasp the basic concept, let alone see it for what it really is. They will assume that this man (For being let into the field) and his views on the subject matter have been proven to be true. To them at first glance they see it as “Well why else would they invite him? If he was wrong then why did they let him into their club in the first place?”

    Most people will miss this subtlety and it will cause a negative effect rather than a positive one for the majority of the population. Even when he is beaten back down and his theories shot, their minds will still be locked onto the image of him sitting in his booster-seat all high and mighty, grinning and down at them all like a moron.

    Anyway, that is my two cents on the matter.

  5. Glen Says:

    As a person of a certain age, I disliked the “New Agers” a lot. (“Oohhh? What’s your sign?” Guaranteed turnoff. “Oooohhhhh, do you like my crystal?” Doubly guaranteed turn off.) Don’t get me started on the various “human potentialist” movements…. (Such as some guy, Erhard, who is now less-well remembered than pet rocks?)

    Could we agree to describe Behe, Dobson, et al., as “Old Agers”? As in circa 1200 CE.

  6. Parrotlover77 Says:

    So the Young Earthers will be Old Agers who want to return us to the Middle Ages. Excellently confusing! I approve.

  7. The Watcher Says:

    I know it’s funny, but I guess I have to be the wet blanket here and disagree. That’s private property, and it’s not the college students’. They didn’t have the right to rearrange the store shelves that way.

    I opened up pretty bigtime on some fundies who behaved similarly, and I don’t want to be a hypocrite.

  8. Ron Britton Says:

    Watcher:

    Your article seems entirely different. You describe a case where fundies are trying to censor something they don’t like. In the bookstore case, the students were merely making the point that the books were miscategorized. The Bibles were still for sale, just in the places you’re more likely to find them, when you go looking for depravity.

    Also, the fundies who are trying to censor Redbook are trying to effect a permanent change. The Bible re-filing was a one-off incident in order to make a point.

  9. LadyRavana Says:

    Hey Ron. Great website here, hilarious commentary. I do love watching you rip on the Fundies.

    Anyways…out of curiosity, I did a bit of research (okay, so I went to wikipedia) and read about the history of Christian Fundamentalism.

    I have a question…and others, feel free to answer me, but is it just me, or have the Fundamentalists gotten even more extreme as time has gone on? I mean, reading an (albeit, condensed) history on them, sees them as being pretty hardcore even back in the day…but I wonder if they’re as bad now as they were back then, or even worse? It seems to me that as mainstream society (more or less) as it becomes more liberal, they seem to become even nuttier to the point of being hilarious, but also, to be taken seriously, because of the threat they could pose to others freedoms, should they ever gain power. (God forbid)

    Anyways…I’m rambling here. Once again, hilarious site, and love your posts!

  10. Ron Britton Says:

    LadyRavana:

    I’m not sure. Certainly there is a bigger contrast between them and the rest of society now. It seems to me that in order to be a fundie in our modern world requires them to be even nuttier, because now there is so much science that they have to flat-out deny. It’s more than just evolution. It’s also geology, astronomy, and especially psychology. If you listen to their rantings about homosexuality or pornography, it’s clear that they have no clue as to how the brain actually works. I guess if you don’t have one…

  11. LadyRavana Says:

    Thanks for the reply!

    LOL, I remember the Barinology post. I was seriously tempted to hope that was some kind of joke…but, knowing those nutbars, sadly, they were dead serious.

    I wonder, being a believer in Darwinism, (theory of evolution and social Darwinism) surely this movement has GOT to die out sooner or later. Or maybe I’m being too optimistic?

    But then, knowing our species, and history, and society in general, there will always be idiots, there will always be extremists, and there will always be easily led sheep being suckered in and bamboozled by a charismatic televangelist.

    You know, I LOVE Jefferson’s idea. He was on the right track.

    I know that we, as a country, are supposed to be tolerant to the point where we’ll willingly tolerate even the most violent extremists (just as long as they don’t, you know, commit any actual crimes) but, as Bill Maher once said: “Don’t become so tolerant that you tolerate intolerance.”

  12. ericsan Says:

    Off-topic… I just started reading Matt Taibbi’s new book “The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire.” Fun, but frightfully insightful. He’s essentially saying that our society is breaking down because we no longer agree on a common perception of reality, and makes a really scary parallel with the end of the Roman empire. The killer chapter is of course his stint as a parishioner at Hagee’s church. Anyway, great fun book, but don’t read it if the pathetic state of the country is already making you depressed…

  13. Parrotlover77 Says:

    because of the threat they could pose to others freedoms, should they ever gain power. (God forbid)

    Unfortunately, they already have power. That’s the problem. We’ve been suffering in the USA under 7 years of a fundie presidency. McCain will only be worse…

  14. LadyRavana Says:

    Well…yes, they do have power.

    I should correct myself: More power than they have ALREADY.

    I have to ask…okay. I think like, 70%–75% of this country is Christian, right? (Need to look up some statistics) I wonder, how much of Christianity do the Fundies really represent? I do know that if I were a Christian, I wouldn’t want those nutcases representing my religion in ANY way, shape, or form, and I’d be distancing myself from them and their ilk as much as possible. (I’m sure the more tolerant Christian sects do, but…)

    I imagine a country where abortion is made illegal, the Bible becomes part of the school curriculum, women and people of color are even further suppressed…Oh, and our higher-ups playing the game of “Gee, how many MORE rights can we take away from the American people for shits and giggles?”

    George Orwell warned us this would happen. I need to pick up a copy of 1984.

  15. Phaedron Rising Says:

    Thanks for the accolade, Ron.

    In the aftermath of the Pharyngula mention, I found my way to the blog of Tall Penguin, the employee at the bookstore who ended up hunting down all those feral bibles. We exchanged a few emails, and despite the fact that she found it kind of funny, I ended up sending an apology; she ended up having to clean up my mess.

    It wasn’t really meant as a statement of reciprocity with fundies who would do the same with a book like the God Delusion. To be completely honest, my friend and I were just in a bit of a dick-ish mood after seeing harold and Kumar 2. The irony of this whole thing is that for all the credit I give to the value of free intellectual discourse, it was in the wake of a slightly immature prank that I ended up starting my blog.

    The truth, though, is that I don’t really live in a culture too saturated by fundamentalism. I consider myself fairly lucky to live in Canada, where – for the most part – religion is something that is kept to one’s self. Most people believe in god, I’m sure, but it’s not the norm to be too over-the-top about it.

    That being said, I can appreciate the position of others who aren’t so lucky. My girlfriend is from Alabama, where religious fundamentalism is a bit more prevalent. While I my public high school was teaching sex education to incoming freshmen, hers was arranging a group abstinence pledge. Of course, if those pledges were anywhere near as effective at preventing premarital sex as the fundies would have you believe, I would be a much less happy man than I am today.

    It’s one thing to give anyone a spot on a bookshelf, and another entirely to proselytize beliefs, explicitly or implicitly, through schools. Just because an an unscientific answer to a scientific question (i.e. ID) belongs within the realm of scrutiny of the science bookshelf, does not merit it a place in a textbook. Putting ID on the science shelf is an expression of faith in the power of free discourse, that noble marketplace of ideas; putting ID in a textbook, or “teaching the controversy,” gives the unfounded impression that the latest creationist blather has been tried, tested, and merits serious scientific considerations.

    That’s more than a travesty. It’s a crime.