Sunday, January 31, 2010


Stirring the hornet's nest part I

The question I posed to PZ was:

"In your own words, your contributions to science are piddling. [Those are your words, not mine. I just happen to agree with them.] To that I would add that your arguments against God are just as risible as those of Dawkins and the other occupants of the new atheist clown car. Given that, why should anyone who is not already one of your chamchas pay attention to you as opposed to others who are far more accomplished and rational?"

(I added the bracketed part upon hearing a feral growl from the audience.)

PZ responded by trying to dismiss me as a creationist. Now, I don't mind being labeled a creationist, provided it is understood that I accept that the age of the earth is measured in billions of years and that I am not solicitous about the historicity of anyone before Abraham. However, my question/challenge to PZ had nothing to do with creationism, except in the broadest sense of someone who thinks God created life (somehow). I interjected that my question had nothing to do with creationism and PZ replied that his talk was about creationism. (Except the last slide was about atheism, not creationism, and that was the slide to which I was responding.) PZ then claimed I used a creationist tactic by quote-mining him in that I did not include his caveat about most (all?) individual scientific contributions being piddling. (I'll let the reader judge whether I quote-mined PZ.)

PZ then asked me which arguments for God I accepted/endorsed. I mentioned Gödel's Ontological Argument and then he adroitly turned the tables on me by asking me to defend it. Now, I was prepared to address some of PZ and others' anemic/fallacious arguments against/misrepresentations of theistic arguments but I was not prepared to defend Gödel's Ontological Argument. To adequately defend it I would needed worked out notes and access to a white board at center stage. It was essentially impossible for me to argue for it unprepared and from a seat in the audience, and I started to say as much, but I was egged on by PZ and essentially told to "put up or shut up" by a rude, corpulent chin-beard dressed in black (whose volubility was inversely proportional to his knowledge.)

Now, I'm anxious even when teaching my own class. (Although, it typically subsides as the class progresses.) However, despite my anxiety, I tried to articulate that God has every positive property necessarily and that necessary existence is a positive property.

However, at this point the audience started complaining. Zeno (a mathematics instructor at a CC in Northern CA) objected that it wasn't really a proof. I thought he was claiming that no such argument from Gödel existed, so I objected. (He later clarified that he disputed that it was a real proof, not that it existed.) Zeno and the audience made much of the fact that I described myself as a statistician, but I have a bachelors in mathematics, and even though I studied statistics in grad school, I've had graduate level mathematics courses and my advanced degree is from a mathematics department.

PZ, like his friend Dawkins, dismissed Gödel's Ontological Argument as a word game, a philosophy instructor at Sierra said "You've packed 'existence' into the very definition of God, and so your argument is circular" and some dude up front said something about thinking a certain tea was positive but that his friend did not, thereby claiming to establish the subjectivity of positivity and "refuting" the argument. This was followed up by someone in the back (sitting next to Heidi) saying "moral relativism for the win!" (The same guy also asserted that Gödel's Ontological Argument was "bullocks.")

To be continued...

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