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Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Conservapedia Two-fer.

As I said yesterday, I recently noticed something on Conservapedia that I thought was noteworthy. You know... aside from their dislike for women. Specifically, I happened to run across this headline:

For those who can't read the image and don't feel like clicking on it to receive an enlarged version, the circled text reads:

Atheists, not content with censoring school prayer, now protest a mere visit by a religious figure to a university. "We inhabitants of the real world need to take every opportunity to expose religious idiocy, and the undue respect accorded to it," one commented. Does anyone think atheism is tolerant?

Wow. I get pretty snarky myself but, really, even I don't argue that we should "take every opportunity to expose religious idiocy." Who are these frisky atheists the Conservapeons are writing about?

Well, as it happens, they are referring to a story about how a number of scientists in Italy are protesting a visit by Pope Benedict XVI because of his stated views on Galileo. Specifically:

Sixty one Italian scientists have signed a letter protesting against a planned visit this week by Pope Benedict XVI to Rome's Sapienza University because of his stated views on Galileo.

In a letter to Renato Guarini, the university rector, the scientists said the visit was "incongruous". The signatories include distinguished physicists such as Andrea Frova, author of a study of Galileo's persecution by the Church, and Carlo Maiani, the recently appointed head of the Italian National Council for Research or CNR.

The letter said scientists felt "offended and humiliated" by a statement made in 1990 by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the modern descendant of the Inquisition - suggesting that the trial of Galileo for heresy because of his support for the Copernican system was justified in the context of the time.

The scientists said they hoped the visit by the Pope on Thursday would be cancelled out of respect for the "secular nature of science" and the fact that the university was open to "students of every belief and ideology". Students at the university said they were preparing to welcome the Pope with banners of protest and loud disco music. As a cardinal, Benedict once attacked rock and pop music as the "work of the devil."

As one continues to read the article a number of things become clear including (a) there are a number of individuals in the same University who disagree with the letter and (b) there is absolutely no mention of the religious views of the signatories to the letter. None. So far as I can tell they could be atheists, or Christians, or Buddhists, or even practice Santeria.* So, Conservapedia's claim is based on their (frequently refuted) belief that everyone who works in academia is an atheist or, perhaps more accurately, that everyone they disagree with is an atheist. An additional item of note is that the quote Conservapedia presents doesn't appear in the article at all. Seriously. No participant in this whole deal is, at any time, quoted as saying that religious idiocy must be opposed at every turn. No, instead, the quote comes from a comment left in response to the article by one James Freeman of Cardiff. Seriously:

I don't mind getting criticized for something I'm actually responsible for, and my fellow atheists can be condescending assholes sometimes.** That said, is it really so much to ask that Conservapedia at least try to present things with a modicum of honesty?

As for the protests themselves, I don't know enough about Benedict XVI's views on science generally so I don't have an opinion. On the one hand, I think that the guy should probably be allowed to speak, on the other he has made some iffy statements in the past. Read up on the issue and make your own call if you like- I'm staying out of it.

Since I first noticed all this, however, Conservapedia has continued following this, and other, hot stories about atheists misbehaving. Specifically, check out these two additional headlines:

Again, for folks who don't want to click the image, they are:

Atheists censor Pope's university speech, force him to cancel.

Dinesh D'Souza asks, "Isn't it remarkable that atheists, who did virtually nothing to oppose slavery, condemn Christians, who are the ones who abolished it?"

About the former I can only remark that reading Conservapedia sometimes makes me feel much more powerful than I really am. I mean, to hear them tell it, atheists rule the world, controlling science, government, finance, and so forth with an iron fist. That's a lot better than what journalism or peer reviewed science has to say.

About the latter, I really can't say whether or not atheists opposed slavery if only because when slavery was prevalent in the western world atheism carried an even stronger stigma than it does today. So, you know, even if there was massive opposition to slavery among atheists they likely wouldn't discuss that aspect of it. That said, I think it would be unfair to accuse Christianity of either supporting or opposing slavery. The biblical remarks on the subject are a bit... confused. Historically speaking, as well, many Christian congregations were for slavery before they were against it. I think the most accurate comment would simply be that slavery was more or less a daily reality in the world of Jesus and that Christianity can be either for or against it depending on which parts of the bible receive more weight. I don't think Christianity, or Christians, intrinsically support or oppose slavery.

But, hey, I'm just a damn dirty atheist. What the hell do I know?

* That would be SO awesome.

** As opposed to me, who is a condescending asshole pretty much all of the time.

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Blogger Mister Troll said...

Pharyngula would be easy to quote mine for those kinds of condescending statements.

BTW, I like your Conservapedia posts! Well, a little part of me dies every time I read the inanity you point out.

Friday, January 18, 2008 5:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are the protesters historians? The Galileo affair in fact is rather different from the account in popular mythology. Galileo could prove few of his assertions at the time, and his system was quite as complicated as that of Ptolemy which itself accounted for the known facts.

Friday, January 18, 2008 5:51:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

Mister Troll: I'm glad you like the posts and am sorry that part of you dies each time you read them. Then again, the same thing happens to me when I write them, so I reckon it's all fair.

Anonymous: Maybe so, but I think the main issue in the Galileo affair are the stakes. If a modern scientist loses out in a peer review process, there are no consequences aside from professional ridicule or failure to publish. We don't have guys with red-hot tongs waiting in the wings.

Friday, January 18, 2008 9:30:00 AM  

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