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September 02, 2008

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moo

I must say that the post above is the most sloppy-thought-out you've written so far. I hope it is due to it being written in haste (or purposefully baiting your readers).

You confuse (I hope unintentionally) the type of beliefs between the two individuals you choose to compare. You also ignore (I hope also unintentionally) the possible effects of those beliefs.

What Mr. Dawkins believes (about lobbying, US foreign policy, the weather, the colour of his car, genetics) is most likely empirically measurable. If he's wrong it is possible to *prove* him wrong. If a lobby monopolises the government, then it is externally verifiable via obvious measures: money spent, proportion versus other causes/countries, historical behaviour and so on. You may disagree on what that means (and the exact trigger for when the word "monopolising" kicks in) but there should be no doubt that what Mr. Dawkins says is either true or false by some measure.

What Ms. Palin believes is not (by any normal process) verifiable. If you think otherwise then you should be honest about it.

Almost more importantly, what Mr. Dawkins believes does not matter directly to the world outside of the debate. If people think he's wrong they do not buy his books, generally ignore him and eventually he fades into obscurity.

What Ms. Palin believes might *directly* affect the education, beliefs and rationality of the children in a country of 300 million people. She is not writing a book that 300 million people can ignore, she is standing for vice-president.

You are right on the relatively small point that rationality is not binary, but bad actions usually have bad information behind them.

Her belief of creationism might directly affect the learning and schooling of tens of millions of children. Ms. Palin is unfit for office because her irrational, unverifiable and superstitious beliefs directly affect the policies of her country.

tom

The United States elected a vice president that believed that the automobile is posing a greater "threat to the security of every nation that is more deadly than that of any military enemy we are ever again likely to confront." This same elected vice president said that a global program should be enacted in order to "eliminat[e] the internal combustion engine over, say, a twenty-five-year period."

These extremely kooky ideas came from none other than Al Gore. Eliminating the internal combustion engine is a much more disturbing thought than letting kids hear the intelligent design theory. There is also a first amendment right to free speech and silencing theories that are not government approved is troubling. Nevertheless, even though Al Gore is an environmental radical not fit for office, he still was qualified to be vice president because the US Constitution sets out the parameters for qualification which are rather minor, such as being over 35 and born in the USA.

Shuggy

"But what exactly is the correlation between creationism and belief in conspiracy theories?"

I think Oliver Kamm's point was that the relationship between belief in creationism and conspiracy theories is not merely strong - it is that belief in the latter is *essential* if faith in the former is to be maintained. This doesn't work with Dawkins. What he said was ignorant and stupid but it isn't essential to his belief system.

"Her belief of creationism might directly affect the learning and schooling of tens of millions of children. Ms. Palin is unfit for office because her irrational, unverifiable and superstitious beliefs directly affect the policies of her country."

The point below yours is well-made. What Al Gore thought about the environment didn't do much to reduce America's enormous carbon footprint and I doubt that what Ms Palin thinks about intelligent design will have any impact on education in America at all. We're used to some minister talking shite about education and the next thing we know it's government policy. Not so in the United States.

dearieme

Creationism is bonkers, but belief in a conspiracy may be rational - they must happen sometimes. I suspect that one could trace a conspiracy forming among the Global Warmmongers as their amateurish and inept science turned out to be dud and they set about protecting their position with deceit. We shall see.

bobxxxx

moo wrote: "Ms. Palin is unfit for office because her irrational, unverifiable and superstitious beliefs directly affect the policies of her country."

Right. I agree. I would add that anyone who believes in magical creation like Palin does is just plain stupid. Her breathtaking stupidity makes her unqualified to be in any government position.

Charlieman

Moo: Both Dawkins and Palin *choose* to believe in something that is verifiably idiotic. However Dawkins claims himself to be a rationalist. But, as demonstrated above, self proclaimed rationalists are as culpable of idiocy as religious nutters.

The OP suggests that irrational beliefs are normal amongst politicians. Unless the irrational belief is outrageously offensive, voters may even pick 'em if his/her other promises look good. Which is pretty much where we are now and has been for donkey's years. Further, how many electoral promises stand up to rational examination?

bobxxxx

Shuggy wrote "I doubt that what Ms Palin thinks about intelligent design will have any impact on education in America at all."

Somebody who could become President of the United States believes a magical sky fairy said abracadabra and poofed people into existence. I think a total moron like Palin could cause great harm to science education and scientific progress if that moron was our president.

By the way, intelligent design means MAGIC. Calling MAGIC "intelligent design" doesn't make it any less childish and idiotic.

Shuggy

"I think a total moron like Palin could cause great harm to science education and scientific progress if that moron was our president."

Your president, you mean. I don't live there but even I know that the president doesn't run science education - and the idea that they can 'cause great harm to scientific progress' is completely absurd. As if having a scientifically-illiterate as VP is something akin to Calvin's take-over of Geneva or something? Calm down.

chris

Sarah Palin is of course not the first prominent politician to support teaching creationism. Tony Blair has said - though what exactly he meant is unclear - that he was "very happy" with the teaching of creationism in one of Peter Vardy's foundation schools:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/jan/15/features.politics
But Oliver does not believe Blair was unfit for office.

ajay

Charlieman: "Both Dawkins and Palin *choose* to believe in something that is verifiably idiotic."

Are you suggesting that there isn't an Israel lobby in the US? Because there is, you know. They've got a website and everything. It says "America's Pro-Israel Lobby" at the top.
http://www.aipac.org/

Or are you suggesting that the Israel lobby has no influence on US policy? Because that'd be a bit odd. AIPAC's spending all that money, funding all these election campaigns, organising letter-writing efforts, and you think none of that's having any effect? In fact, presumably, you don't think any lobbyists have any effect on US policy?

Or perhaps you don't think the US is very pro-Israel?

Help me out here. There is a self-named Israel lobby; it spends a vast amount of money trying to influence US politics in a pro-Israel direction; US politics have been taking such a direction for the last few decades... and yet, somehow, you think suggesting that the Israel lobby has a powerful influence on US policy is not only wrong, but so obviously wrong that it's idiotic.

Not sure I agree with your reasoning 100% there, Norm.

paul ilc

I don't know what Mrs Palin's personal beliefs are; but I do know that creationism is a spectrum of positions - from instantaneous creation ex nihilo to partly directed evolution (or intelligent design). Michael Behe's book Darwin's 'Black Box: the biochemical challenge to evolution' is certainly more coherent than 'The Selfish Gene', which is pseudo-science and full of conceptual confusions. For anyone interested, I do recommend 'Darwinian Fairytales: selfish genes, errors of heredity, and other fables of evolution' by the atheist philosopher, David Stove.

Tom

From what I've read and seen it seems creationists have us much influence on US foreign policy as this Israel Lobby hoo-ha.

I know Tony Robinson may not be the most reliable source, but his documentary (available on 4OD) sheds much light on the role of "end-timers" (those who are trying to fulfill the revelations prophecy) in manipulating US foreign policy, particularly (and pretty much wholly) in Israel.

But back to creationism, to have that even taught in schools as science if quite frankly disgusting. Not sure if anyone has seen Dawkins on Darwin, but even in the UK we have science teachers who believe the earth is 10,000 years old. That, and pussies afraid to offend other peoples religious beliefs. Religion is no trump card people can use to justify idiocy, if they're wrong, tell them and kick them in the balls if they say otherwise.

QuestionThat

Like @ajay, I'm rather baffled by this post.

Are you saying that Dawkins is wrong, and the pro-Israel (and, yes, Jewish) lobby does not have a powerful effect on US foreign policy?

If so, you're going to have to put a lot more into backing that up than just stating that it is an irrationality!

chris

@QT - I personally couldn't give a toss who influences US foreign policy. I cited Dawkins' view because I'm pretty sure Oliver would regard it as horribly mistaken, so we have a strong example of how a rationalist can believe something Oliver finds wrong. So by his lights, opposition to creationism does not guarantee having good political beliefs.
The correlation between creationism (or not) and good politics by Oliver's standards is therefore less than one. The question is: how much less? How many creationists have "good" opinions elsewhere? I suspect the answer is a few (not many) more than zero.

Peter Risdon

Don Boudreaux just republished a piece from 2004, drawing a comparison between creationism and the political left:

http://cafehayek.typepad.com/hayek/2008/09/social-creation.html

My comment included: "... it does seem strange to me that people who are very able to conceive of a natural world in which free, unregulated individual actions give rise to complex, well-integrated, high-functioning and continuously adaptable systems seem unable to extend this concept to human affairs."

http://freebornjohn.blogspot.com/2008/09/economic-creationism.html

These arguments suggest the apparent contradiction between rationalism and superstition (for want of a better word, in this context) are even more fine-grained. Someone can accept the idea of biological evolution and yet feel that successful social systems require a 'creator'.

ajay

Chris, I should also have mentioned the massive, glaring mistake you made.

Allow me to demonstrate just how glaring it is with a quick summary of your post, as I understand it.

"Oliver Kamm thinks that Sarah Palin, because she is a creationist, will automatically believe in silly things such as conspiracy theories. But But what exactly is the correlation between creationism and belief in silly things such as conspiracy theories? I, Chris Dillow, can prove that the correlation is less than 1, because here is Richard Dawkins, not a creationist, also believing in a silly thing (or more accurately something that Oliver Kamm would consider silly)."

Right?

Your argument is very obviously flawed, because it follows the same pattern as this:

"Oliver Kamm argues that all dogs have fur. But what exactly is the correlation between being a dog and having fur? I, Chris Dillow, can prove that it must be less than 1, because here is a picture of a cat, which also has fur."

See the point?

Just because some irrational people are not creationists doesn't mean that some creationists are not irrational...

Larry Teabag

Last time this Dawkins business cam up I wrote this:

http://www.thesharpener.net/2007/10/10/culture-war-not-conversation/

I guess the chink in Chris' argument is that if you quizzed RD about his beliefs, he'd probably deny the full literality what he said... whereas Palin would not.

chris

Ajay - your logic is correct. But it actually illustrates my (clumsily made) point.
I'm just saying that irrationality is all around us. If you disqualify someone from office because of their irrational beliefs, you'll disqualify everyone.
The question is: what sorts of irrationality can we tolerate in our politicians?
What worries me about points like Oliver's - and militant atheists generally - is that they seem to give the impression that the religious have a monopoly upon irrationality. Such a view is false and dangerous.

ajay

But you haven't actually shown that - you produced an example of a non-creationist (Dawkins) saying something that you acknowledge may well be true, but which you think that someone else might think was irrational... If you'd come up with an example of Richard Dawkins supporting dowsing, or practising the fallacy of the excluded middle, that might have been relevant.

And I think that you're attacking a non-existent enemy when you say that people like Kamm "give the impression that the religious have a monopoly upon irrationality". I think they do nothing of the kind - I would guess that someone like Kamm or Dawkins would be as quick to criticise non-religious nuttery such as, say, the theories of Immanuel Velikovsky or Rupert Sheldrake.

You could have more justifiably criticised the impression they tend to give that _every_ opinion held by a religious person must be irrational - while in fact it's quite possible that someone who is completely out to lunch on the creation of the universe might none the less have sensible opinions on, say, the merits of a carbon cap-and-trade scheme.

Nicole Segre

'Are you suggesting that there isn't an Israel lobby in the US? Because there is, you know.' I think you'll find Dawkins is not thinking about AIPAC, but more about some ill-defined Jewish conspiracy, and that his views on this subject are indeed nonsensical. You can read about the power of the Jewish (and Arab) lobbies here: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/lobby.html

Charlieman

@Ajay: Dawkins' comments appear idiotic to me because they are sloppy and ill considered. The expression "[they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see" panders to anti-semitism and is clearly untrue. The foreign interests of the USA extend far beyond the Middle East, which is why the USA belatedly intervened on behalf of the predominantly Muslim populations of Kosovo and Bosnia.

You correctly say that the "Jewish lobby" campaigns in favour of Israel in USA foreign affairs and is persuasive; other groups are free to campaign, and we both have to acknowledge that other Middle Eastern countries use their economic leverage in opposition to Israel. Plus, we have to remember that USA foreign relations policy is not just about the Middle East; it is about free trade within the Americas, relations with Russia and China etc. Sloppy wording like "[they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see" lends support to those who argue that Jews rule the world. I'm not accusing Dawkins of being an anti-semite, but on that occasion he spoke like an idiot.

Charlieman

CD: "I find it possible - in theory - to believe that someone can be a creationist, and yet rational in other contexts."

As stated previously, I don't have any problems with politicians holding irrational beliefs unless they drove the individual to destroy secular, liberal democracy. By that, I mean "Aryan Nationalism" values or similar for which there is no rational defence.

However, I strongly oppose the admission of irrationalists into some professions. I don't want to work with creationist geneticists or geologists, with flat earth astronomers or meteorologists, with alternative therapists posing as medical practitioners etc. The irrational beliefs are incompatible with science, so the irrational believers have no place there. This should not prevent irrational believers from entering scientific professions such as engineering, chemistry and most medicine.

At the same time, I think that weird and wacky people have a role in politics. We should give them space, whilst the constitution and political culture should defend us all from illiberalism. Norman Baker MP is a great seeker of facts, but his book about David Kelly is a bit bonkers. From the Labour benches, Chris Mullin MP has campaigned against legal injustice. Even the Trots had a good 'un with Paul Foot, especially in that supplement in Private Eye about PFI.

To reverse CD's proposition: "I find it possible - in theory - to believe that someone who believes in impossible things has moments of great wisdom."

ajay

"I think you'll find Dawkins is not thinking about AIPAC, but more about some ill-defined Jewish conspiracy"

Ah, well, hence my mistake. Next time I'll have to remember to use my telepathic powers.

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