Invincible Ignorance

The number of different religions on this planet is vast, and all their associated arguments and apologetics form a library that’s vaster still. No matter how well-read or well-traveled any atheist is, they’re bound to run into claims every so often that they’ve never heard before. It happens to me at least once a month, on average. And I have to admit, when I first hear a religious apologetic or miracle claim that’s new to me, often my initial response is to feel a little tremor, as I wonder, “Could that really be true?”

You would think I’d know better by now. Invariably, in the cases I’ve looked into, the fact being claimed is either false, unverifiable, or doesn’t prove what the claimant thinks it does. And even if one such fact were to bear out, it would have to overcome a considerable weight of contrary evidence. Still, I’m glad of that momentary tremor of doubt. To my thinking, it’s a reliable sign of open-mindedness.

Not everyone shares this trait. On more than one occasion, I’ve run into theists who are so arrogantly certain their beliefs are supported by the facts that they feel they don’t even need to check what the facts actually are. When these smug and ignorant assertions are in conflict with reality, the results are always hilarious. Culled from the responses I’ve received on this blog and other sites, here are some of my favorite examples of arrogant apologists who don’t let their ignorance get in the way of a good talking point:

Was Tyre destroyed and left barren as the Bible predicts? A commenter at Greta Christina’s by the name of Rev. Cawley asserted, in contradiction to my essay “The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists“, that the Bible contains many miraculously fulfilled prophecies. Here was one of his examples regarding the ancient city of Tyre:

Of Tyre, God said through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 26: 4, 5, “And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God: and it shall become a spoil to the nations.” Today, fisherman mend their nets on the barren rock where Tyre once stood. God also said in Ezekiel 26:14, “And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the Lord have spoken it, saith the Lord God.” The site of ancient Tyre is quite suitable for habitation, but the prophecy has stood fulfilled now for over 2, 000 years, and Tyre has never been rebuilt.

In response to Mr. Cawley’s claim that Tyre has never been rebuilt, I posted satellite photos of the city today. No doubt, the 115,000 or so inhabitants of Tyre would be quite surprised to learn that they’re living in a city that has never been rebuilt.

In reality, although Tyre was fought over and conquered many times in antiquity, it has been inhabited almost continuously since 1300 BCE, and was an important commercial site and trading post for much of that time. Evidently, Mr. Cawley could not be bothered to check whether the city actually existed before asserting that it no longer does, because the Bible says so. His blithe willingness to erase whole cities from history in the name of an apologetic talking point is a superb example of invincible ignorance.

Did PBS put words in the mouths of creationists to make them look bad? Another of my favorite examples from Greta Christina’s: a post where she discussed “Judgment Day,” the PBS special about the Dover, Pennsylvania intelligent-design trial in which the IDers were decisively defeated.

In her post, she quoted an exchange from the show in which plaintiffs’ lawyer Robert Muise got the ID proponent Scott Minnich to admit he had never bothered to do any of the experiments that would have tested his ideas about ID. An offended creationist commenter named “blilley” huffily asserted that an exchange which paints ID in such a poor light couldn’t possibly have been real, and must have been made up by PBS to make proponents of ID look bad:

I guess in instances where PBS doesn’t have any real evidence to back up certain propoganda objectives they can always resort to using imaginary, made-up evidence confident that people like you will call it “overwhelming”.

In fact, the reenactments in “Judgment Day” were taken directly from trial transcripts, and this “imaginary, made-up” exchange between Muise and Minnich actually happened in the courtroom. Clearly, blilley thought that Minnich came away from the cross-examination looking foolish. In the future, I suggested to him, he should consider why that is, rather than leaping to accuse scientists of inventing arguments to attribute to creationists that make them look bad.

Were the original twelve apostles “Earth shakers”? In my post from last year “How Did the Apostles Die?“, I pointed out the curious fact that there are no contemporary historical records of the twelve apostles, neither of their lives, nor of their deeds, nor of their deaths. They vanish into obscurity almost immediately after being named in the Bible – a fact which fits with the conclusion that Christianity began with a belief in mythical figures that only gradually transmuted into belief about real people in history. A commenter took issue with this conclusion:

What you are forgetting here is that these 11 men, who were previously fishermen, carpenters and tax collectors, suddenly became Earth shakers. This group of nobodies were somehow able to convince thousands upon thousands that there is one true God and that his son Jesus came so that we may know the one who created this Earth and everything on it, in it, above and below it, on a personal level.

If the apostles were indeed “Earth shakers”, then one would think that it would be trivial to list some of their mighty, earth-shaking deeds. Was this commenter up to the challenge? Manifestly not, because when challenged, he vanished without ever elaborating on this comment. Apparently, he felt no compunction in grandiosely claiming that the apostles were men of tremendous influence even though he didn’t know of a single specific thing that any of them said or did. His blustery assertion only served to confirm the point that there are no contemporary historical records of how the apostles lived or died.

Did interracial marriage ever need to be affirmed by court order? This last howler comes from the apologetics website CrossExamined, whose author Frank Turek set up a post about same-sex marriage and the danger it poses to our society. It seems this danger is that allowing gay marriage will cause everyone to turn gay and cease reproducing, thus spelling the doom of civilization – clearly the conclusion Turek was putting forward, even if he didn’t explicitly spell it out. But this isn’t the howler I was referring to. In the comments, I and several others pointed out the similarity between arguments of anti-gay-marriage advocates now and anti-interracial-marriage arguments a generation earlier, and asked if this reasoning could also be used to prove that anti-miscegenation laws should have been allowed to stand. A commenter named “Plumb Bob” seemed bewildered by this point:

In response to:
“For Pete’s sake, if we left all civil-rights decisions up to “the people” interracial marriage would probably still be illegal. This is one of the reasons the Supreme Court and the Judicial Branch in general exists in the first place.”

This is simply and completely false. I don’t know of a single instance where a high court ruling was required in order to allow interracial marriage.

This is slightly less ignorant than trying to erase the city of Tyre from history, but not by much. For someone who cares so deeply about marriage, Plumb Bob evidently had never heard of the landmark 1967 civil rights case Loving v. Virginia, in which the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down all state laws against interracial marriage.

Obviously, a person is not required to have a comprehensive knowledge of American history before being allowed to argue against gay marriage. But one would think, at the very least, that a person lacking such knowledge would have the humility to approach the topic with caution – rather than pronouncing, as in this case, that assertions made by more knowledgeable people are “simply and completely false”. Like many of the invincibly ignorant, he never even considered that the facts might not line up with what he preferred to be true, nor that others with whom he disagreed might know more than he himself.

I leave you with this gem of a classic – a creationist using one of the most hilariously inept variations of the second-law-of-thermodynamics argument against evolution ever seen:

One of the most basic laws in the universe is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This states that as time goes by, entropy in an environment will increase. Evolution argues differently against a law that is accepted EVERYWHERE BY EVERYONE. Evolution says that we started out simple, and over time became more complex. That just isn’t possible: UNLESS there is a giant outside source of energy supplying the Earth with huge amounts of energy. If there were such a source, scientists would certainly know about it.

This passage has been widely reproduced on the internet under the title “Creationist Almost Discovers the Sun”.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.