Tuesday, November 17, 2009

That's your argument? More thoughts on the debate.

I woke up this morning with pictures in my head of Dr. Bergman waving around that copy of "Hitler's Ethic," needing us to understand that no scientists openly resisted Hitler; needing us to acknowledge that this was somehow supportive of the case for intelligent design. It made me wonder about the lengths to which people will go, in order to maintain belief.

That length for arguing against atheism is often Hitler, and now I guess it works for creationism, too. He's the worst example of palpable human evil that we can come up with, and the events of the Holocaust happened practically yesterday in the scope of time.

It's pretty extreme, I think, and it's meant to be a trump card: you don't believe in God? Well, Hitler was an atheist. So there. You use science to achieve knowledge? So did Hitler. So there.

Hitler has become the biggest "So there" in the history of debating.

And the thing is, it's not an argument. Even if it were true that no scientists openly opposed Hitler, it would not mean that scientists are bad or science is wrong. Even if it were true that Hitler was an atheist, it would not make atheists bad or atheism wrong.

Plus, I don't see that it's helpful to their own argument: saying that scientists supported Hitler and then bragging about all the scientists who support you.

It has made me wonder about myself: are there beliefs* that I hold onto, only seeking out evidence that supports that belief and denying everything else? I'll be thinking about that for awhile as I evaluate the world around me and my reactions to it and assumptions about it, and if only for that reason, last night's debate was a good thing.

*by "belief" here, I mean assumptions about the way things are, that are held based mainly on emotion. I do not "believe" in evolution; evolution is a fact that is not there for me to believe or disbelieve. It is there to be understood and studied.


James Sweet said...

The answer to your question is, "Almost certainly," but never fear, as long as you're aware of that as a possibility, it shouldn't get out of control.

I read in Pinker's The Blank Slate of an experiment on patients whose brain hemispheres had been physically separated as a side effect of some kind of radical surgery. Apparently by dividing the field of vision, you could communicate with one brain hemisphere without the other hemisphere's knowledge.

As creepy as that is, here's the part that is the most disturbing: The left hemisphere was constantly making up a plausible narrative to justify the person's actions. The experimenters would instruct the right hemisphere to please stand up and walk to the door. Then they would stop the person and ask the left hemisphere why he had just stood up. "Oh, I was just going to get a Coke," or "I was on my way to the bathroom," with apparently no intentional guile.

Chew on that for a while. We are all almost certainly coming up with ex post facto "rational" explanations for crap that we were going to do anyway. It's unavoidable.

So we all just do our best, eh?

kittywhumpus said...

James, that's very interesting. I am currently working on a piece regarding the anti-vaccination movement and how it got to me when my baby was in the hospital. Now, I can look back and see how their "arguments" really screwed with my head in a very stressful and emotional time, transforming me from a person who resented the dumbasses who weren't vaccinating their kids to a quivering mass, worrying about giving her baby DTaP.

Phil said...

I agree entirely that it doesn't matter whether Hitler was or wasn't an atheist.

BUT, it's a historical fact that he was raised Roman Catholic. In Mein Kampf he mentions his faith several times (see: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/quotes_hitler.html)

Hitler may have later abandoned his religion, but there is no question that his character (and sense of ethics) was formed under religious tutelage. More importantly, the undercurrent of anti-semitism he drew upon had been centuries in the making and had been stoked by the churches.

Lastly, one must ask: In a nation such as Germany (98 percent Christian), how did the largest genocide in history take place? Even if (and it seems a big if) Hitler himself wasn't a Christian, the guards at Auschwitz were.

While there is some evidence that Hitler's faith waned along with the Third Reich (perhaps he felt God was no longer "on his side") there is no substantive historical evidence to suggest he became an atheist.

It's just a little too convenient, I think, for believers to suggest the crimes of the Third Reich, rooted as they are in a mistaken and mythical view of Judaism, have anything to do with atheism.

We should actively refute this slur.

SQB said...

I think the only possible refutation is along these lines:
Hitler was a vegetarian, so there.
Hitler drank milk, so there.
Hitler breathed air, so there (please stop breathing now).

Anonymous said...

About "belief", I think there's nothing wrong with saying you believe in evolution. If you think something is true, then you believe it: "conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence" (Merriam-Webster). Nothing in there about being "based on emotion". Far from it, it says "especially when based on examination of evidence". I expect any educated person to believe in evolution.

The reason I nitpick this way is that I see your rather idiosyncratic, emotion-emphasizing definition spreading among defenders of evolution. And a lot of them will insist that this newfangled idiosyncratic definition is the correct one (so that the ordinary dictionary definition is wrong). Happily, you don't make this insistence, but still I think it's wrongheaded and alienating to redefine perfectly good English words, especially when there's no natural substitute available ("accept" is about as close as it gets, but it's a lot broader than "believe").

Qwerty said...

Kittywhumpus will have to answer for herself, but there are a lot of people who avoid the "I believe in evolution" statement because it gives creationists the opening to say that evolution (or Darwinism as they most often call it) is just another religion.