Jeffrey Goldberg’s False Dichotomy

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic paid a visit to the Creation Museum and spent some time in Ken Ham’s office listening to him spout his usual nonsense. Then he wrote about it, carefully constructing a false dichotomy so he can pretend to be fair to “both sides.”

Ham is not only a creationist but an oppositionist. He knows that his ministry, Answers in Genesis, draws the scorn of sophisticates, and so he takes special delight in portraying himself as a rational Daniel in the lions’ den of militant secularism, the lions being the media and the scientific establishment and the ghost of Clarence Darrow and millions of liberal and even not so liberal Christians and pretty much anyone who disagrees with Ken Ham.

My sympathies, by the way, do not lie entirely where you might think. I find atheism dismaying, for Updikean reasons (“Where was the ingenuity, the ambiguity … of saying that the universe just happened to happen and that when we’re dead we’re dead?”), and because, in the words of a former chief rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks, it is religion, not science, that “answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?” Like Ken Ham, I am appalled by the idea, as expressed by Richard Dawkins, that “the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

So. Much. Wrong. First of all, no, religion doesn’t answer those questions. It pretends to, but that doesn’t mean it does (and of course, it comes to very different answers to it anyway). Secondly, the fact that he is “appalled” by the Dawkins quote has nothing to do with whether the statement is true or not, and he makes not even the most transparent attempt to show that it isn’t. And all of this is a false dichotomy. Even if atheism is the most appalling idea ever, that does not make Ken Ham’s beliefs any less idiotic.

Follow Us!
POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • raven

    Xpost Pharyngula: PZ had this thread last night.

    …that “answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?”

    Religion has answers to these. Not good answers. And huge numbers of ever shifting and evolving answers. Which is a problem.

    One of the main drivers and supports of religion is just tribalism, the human property of organzing into groups.

    Who am I? A xian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Sunni, Shiite.

    Why am I here? To support your tribe and its often parasitic leaders. The one you were born into most likely.

    How then shall I live? This is when religion really goes off the rails. There are numerous answers, some good, some bad, some just silly. Don’t eat bacon. Cut the heads off of any European reporters you find. Bomb family planning clinics. Threaten to kill biologists. Feed the homeless.

    In practice, almost everyone is just a Cafeteria Xian or Cafeteria Theist and makes their own decisions for their own reasons. You can cut out the middle mediator of religion and it makes little difference. In fact, it probably makes the world a better place.

  • raven

    Secondly, the fact that he is “appalled” by the Dawkins quote has nothing to do with whether the statement is true or not,

    QFT!!!

    Jeffrey Goldberg is an idiot. He pretends that wanting something to be true makes it true. Reality just is and doesn’t care what you think or want.

    I can’t quite think of the name for this fallacy. It might be Solipsism or Postmodernism. Or maybe just…dumb.

  • David C Brayton

    It still amazes me that people think “God designed everything” is a great answer to “What created the universe?” but “Who created God?” is an invalid question.

  • thebookofdave

    Your post is a real downer, Ed. Therefore, you never actually wrote it.

  • Chiroptera

    …it is religion, not science, that “answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?”

    I suppose that might be true if you have a sufficiently broad definition of religion. Not that I have any objection to such an extremely broad definition, but I do object to the implication that you can’t answer these questions without holding onto a bunch of superstitious nonsense and rigid dogma.

  • david

    OK, so he doesn’t agree with Dawkins on atheism. I think he’s wrong on that, but even so, why make a second (and unnecessary) error? He isn’t forced into agreement with Hamm on denying evolution, or into accepting the ark story as the only religiously founded alternative explanation. It’s not a dichotomy. He can hold religious views that are not rigidly fundamentalist and biblical, and accept the theory of evolution. Lots of other people reach that balance. I still view that as wrong, but it’s not idiotic.

  • Al Dente

    If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with Merry Christmas Updikean on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart!

    With apologies to Ebenezer Scrooge and Charles Dickens.

  • Michael Heath

    The moron Jeffrey Goldberg:

    Like Ken Ham, I am appalled by the idea, as expressed by Richard Dawkins, that “the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

    Back in in the 1980s, when I was in my early-20s, some believers were attempting to dissuade me from my non–theist position. Their arguments of course fell flat, in spite of my not having formally honed my critical thinking skills. So they started resorting to books, the kind no one actually reads first prior to promoting to others, but instead uses in lieu of an actual argument, e.g., Lee Stroebel, and Josh McDowell.

    It seemed enough for these believers that such books existed to defend their beliefs, they cared not a whit they couldn’t defend their beliefs on their own. Beliefs they “knew” were true.

    One book I received was written by a gasp, PhD! It was marketed as an intellectual approach to proving Christianity true. I think the author was from India but I don’t recall his name. Imagine my astonishment, I’m not joking I was new to the Culture Wars, to find this “intellectual’s argument” was that the Christian god existed because it was too scary to imagine him not existing.

    That argument fails even on its own merits given the biblical promise that the Christian god threatens unimaginable suffering to some for all eternity.

  • caseloweraz

    Jeffrey Goldberg’s article, I think, does express one truth: that Ken Ham’s “oppositionism” has its basis in a dislike of indifference. He hates being ignored, and if getting attention requires opposing science and reason, then, by God, he will oppose science and reason.

    I recall what may be the most honest expression of the dismay that both Ken Ham and Jeffrey Goldberg feel. It came from a teen-aged girl I saw interviewed on TV, in one of those “man on the street” opportunistic surveys. She was asked about an aspect of evolution, and her reply was, “I don’t believe early man lived in a swamp because… I wouldn’t like to live in a swamp.”

  • raven

    Jeffrey Goldberg’s article, I think, does express one truth: that Ken Ham’s “oppositionism” has its basis in a dislike of indifference.

    You are being way too charitable here.

    The Ken Ham clan seems a lot more interested in the money. I’ve estimated that they rake in somewhere around $1 million a year. He may or may not believe but he is nevertheless, IMO, a conperson.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Goldberg reads Updike, and therefore we must consider him a Very Serious Person.

    So, his opinions Matter. When he finds that science does not “uplift” him, that’s science’s fault.

  • Chiroptera

    “Where was the ingenuity, the ambiguity … of saying that the universe just happened to happen and that when we’re dead we’re dead?”

    Although it seems obvious to me now, I would think it was pretty ingenious when people first figured out the universe doesn’t operate the way that they would like.

    …Jonathan Sacks, it is religion, not science, that “answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?”

    So now, just one sentence later, ambiguity isn’t such a good thing any more?

  • John Pieret

    Where was the ingenuity … of saying that … when we’re dead we’re dead

    What exact ingenuity will keep us from being dead when we’re dead if that’s how the universe works?

  • Francisco Bacopa

    With his love of Updike you’d think he would know that Roger’s Version has some of the best arguments ever against the Fine Tuning argument and other arguments from design. It’s a pretty cool book. I’d highly recommend it.

  • Dave Maier

    +1 for Roger’s Version. I also liked S., which was the next one I think, about a new-age con man.

  • marcus

    I have to say that for the endeavor to live without a safety net over literal oblivion requires a lot of attention. I admit I leave a small gap for the possibility of a naturally occurring universal intelligence. It is more metaphor than belief and it give me a small comfort, even though I realize that I am being emotionally weak. It’s why I identify my philosophy about life as pagan atheism. However, the validity of that small hope would in no way validate Ken Hamm’s view any more than it would validate the Dalai Lama’s or Joseph Smith’s nor have any resemblance to the tens of thousands of religions that have gone before in human history. I mean really, Christianity is not even a decent metaphor, for, as practiced, it has no relationship to reality.

  • raven

    Where was the ingenuity … of saying that … when we’re dead we’re dead

    I don’t want ingenuity. Or fairy tales, or myths. Or lies.

    I want the truth.

  • Sastra

    it is religion, not science, that “answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?”

    What bothers me particularly about these questions is the jumbled nature of the categories in which they belong. Some questions are at least partly scientific, in that “why am I here?” is addressed by an objectively rational assessment of the facts. It’s not going to have a personal, moral, teleological answer but an evolutionary one of physical cause and effect combined with the history and psychology of one’s own particular chain of proximate events. There is no evidence that the cosmos in general has some sort of loving plan for you — regardless of whether or not your parents planned your birth and/or future.

    But ‘who am I?” and “how shall I then live” are psychological, ethical, or philosophical questions. Throwing them blithely into the category of ‘religion’ not only reduces their significance but entails that atheists can’t know who they are, can’t live meaningful lives. Reflective people do not dismiss reflection.

    The Dawkins quote is beloved by the religious because it seems to be saying that there is no meaning or love or pity at ANY level. He’s not. Religion is the answer to a straw man’s greedy reductionism.

  • Phillip Hallam-Baker

    “Show me another book in the world that claims to be the word of one who knows everything”

    Where does it say that in the bible?

  • raven

    Where does it say that in the bible?

    Might be in Isaiah.

    Where some anonymous author claims that god claims to have created good and evil. Thanks god, we couldn’t have thought up evil on our own after all!!!

    I’m too bored to play bible trivia right now. You can find it with Google.

  • raven

    Isaiah 45 God talking to Cyrus, the Persian Pagan:

    7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.

    Now I”m even more bored. This is where god claims to be all powerful. We know this is true because the bible itself claims to be true.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    raven @ # 21: … Cyrus, the Persian Pagan…

    Note, ftr, that Cyrus was also “anointed” – that is, literally, a messiah.

  • Dark Jaguar

    I had to look up what Updikean meant. Is this person saying he gets his philosophy for how to answer real-world knowledge claims from a bunch of fiction? I don’t even know what that particular fiction has to do with philosophy. Artists, am I right?

  • freehand

    it is religion, not science, that “answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?”

    .

    Yes. Religious fundamentalists, and possibly most of the other religious folks, prefer certainty to ambiguity, They pay a high price, however – the truth. Not The Truth as in I speak for God inspiration, but rather the ability to correctly answer the simple questions, like:

    1. When I’m dead, am I really dead?

    2. Where did the universe come from?

    3. What is this spot on my ear?

    They may never get answered, or answered to your satisfaction, but saying “I don’t know” is not only more honest, it is closer to the truth than anything you can make up. These folks, early in life, get into the habit from shying away from difficult questions, and reach a point where they are successfully lying to themselves. Their entire life is morally suspect. If you are not willing to face the truth, how can you claim to be acting properly? For example – vaccinations. If they truly work (they do), then fighting to dissuade people from using them (especially on children) is evil behavior. Shying away from honest knowledge is invariably a result of fear, tribalism, laziness, and other less than admirable traits.