Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Vox Day doesn’t like Ricky Gervais’s atheistic holiday message

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Ricky Gervais
Ricky Gervais

Last Sunday, Ricky Gervais showed the size of either his balls or his love for rousing rabble when he brazenly, almost impetuously, took to the Speakeasy blog of the Wall Street Journal, that traditional conservative den, and posted an essay explaining why he’s an atheist. It’s a good read overall, not especially provocative or reflexive, similar to the countless others of its sort that we’ve seen over the years, but still worth checking out.

Of course, the main reason why I check out atheistic sermons (oh, you know what I mean) isn’t so much for expanding my mind, but to regale in the assured tooth-gnashing to come from nearby anti-atheists. And indeed, the response has not been disappointing, least of all on the part of my favorite chew toy, Vox Day, who just can’t miss a good opportunity to attack atheists and, in doing so, reveal once again just why no-one’s willing to share a debate scene with him. (Hint: It isn’t, as he’s whined about in the past, because others are afraid of losing to him.) Unlike Gervais’s measured, civil and generally interesting piece, Vox’s contains no more than the sort of empty insults, distorted facts and general childlike seething that we’ve come to expect of him. Hence why I so enjoy dissecting his diatribes every now and then.

So, as usual, from the top:

No, you can't have your own facts. And yet, that is exactly what Gervais attempts to do throughout his "sensitive and reasoned answer". First, Gervais is too socially autistic to to understand that the statement "I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe” is no more patronizing or impolite than science is arrogant.

It is Gervais himself that people find patronizing, impolite, and arrogant, not his illogical statement or anthropomorphized science. He is the walking, talking evidence of the existence of the definitive Dawkinsian atheist, who does not believe in God because he is an asshole. Despite his attempts to blame people's natural dislike of him on other things, there is no irony to be found because there is simply nothing there.

Worry not if you find yourself unable to weed out any sort of logical argument against anything Ricky Gervais said. There isn’t any. Gervais explains that most people treat the subject of god(s) as a matter of faith when it’s especially a logical one, and that science (which he obviously uses in the sense of the whole of human scientific knowledge, expertise and curiosity) provides answers and tools that cancel out the need for such faith. Vox then claims that Gervais’s use of “anthropomorphized science” (a phrase showing Vox’s own critical lack of point-getting) is somehow “illogical”, and that the reason people like him (and Richard Dawkins, and PZ Myers, and who-knows-how-many-others) don’t believe in God because they’re “socially autistic” assholes.

Well, as long as you’re keeping things civil and logical, Vox. (Never mind the untold millions of god-believing assholes roaming around, of course – Vox being a prime, if somewhat superlative, representative. Nor how self-defeatingly redundant, meaningless and contextually illogical is that favorite anti-atheistic epithet of his, “socially autistic”.)

I’d also like to briefly point out how that article Vox links to, purportedly showing how Gervais is a mean little blowhard, is yet another representation of Vox’s unfortunate (for him) tendency to take singular pieces of evidence (if we may even call it that) and claim they’re proof for some broader phenomenon. What he needs are some remedial statistics lessons, wherein a teacher might finally hammer it into him that, for example, you can’t use one screed written by one critic to support your claim that “people” – as in most people – think anything of anyone.

Vox then spends the next two logorrheic paragraphs trying to detail just why Gervais’s use of “anthropomorphized science” is wrong:

No one accuses science of being arrogant, they accuse scientists of being arrogant, which they often are, sometimes even with reasonable justification. And they accuse science fetishists like Gervais of being arrogant, which they usually are on behalf of science in a weird, cultish, and totally unjustifiable manner. Gervais's elevation of science into an anthropomorphized quasi-deity in which he places inordinate trust is downright hilarious, as science, by which he clearly means "scientody" or "the scientific method", does not "know" anything, it is not "humble", and "it doesn't get offended" for the obvious reason that it cannot. Atheists like Gervais make a false god of science, place their blind and uncomprehending faith in it, then sputter in outrage when others quite reasonably point to what without question merits being described as religious behavior.

Gervais is not so much incorrect as completely incoherent when he says that science "bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence". First, he reveals the usual atheist's inability to distinguish between "evidence" and "scientific evidence". Second, science does not possess either conclusions or beliefs and it does not base them or anything else upon evidence; Gervais clearly doesn't understand how the scientific method works because it is used to produce evidence (of the scientific variety), it is not based upon evidence of any kind. Third, his example is spectacularly ignorant, as science not only did not develop penicillin, but the parochial arrogance of scientists actually retarded the development of the effective medical application of what had been the very sort of traditional medieval practice that Gervais disdains for decades. His knowledge doesn't even rise to the level of Wikipedia: see the story of Ernest Duchesne and his 1897 paper that was ignored by the Institut Pasteur.

I’d once again like to register how grievously idiotic that other favorite epithet of Vox’s, “science fetishism”, is. Regardless of whether some scientists may indeed be relying a little too heavily on science in their worldviews, merely doing what Gervais did – pointing out that science is responsible for pretty much every beneficial development we’ve had in the past few centuries in one way or another – is not idealizing science (or regarding it as some sort of a “quasi-deity”, as Vox ludicrously puts it), it is accepting and understanding the reality of scientific history.

Science (meaning, again, the whole body of all human knowledge, experimentation, questioning and curiosity, and not that garbled interpretation Vox somehow gleaned) is responsible for penicillin (along with every other tellingly named science-based medication in existence), and science as a concept and a practice is humble and unoffended by new discoveries and facts (contrary to religion, which tends to try and avoid facts that contradict its wild claims like the plague, if not denounce those who make such discoveries as heretics. Galileo, anyone?). And also, people like Gervais (to avoid using Vox’s idiotic term) do know the distinction between “evidence” and “scientific evidence”. They just don’t generally feel (using myself and others I know as an example) that the former type is really worth mentioning in general unless the difference between any random garbage and actual, verifiable evidence is specifically called upon.

The next three-and-a-half paragraphs in Vox’s post are essentially trying to decorticate Gervais’s claim about how the religious demographics in US prisons are greatly unequal when it comes to Christians and atheists. This is, of course, a well-known and commonly accepted fact, but let’s hear Vox try to take it apart, anyway:

Speaking of facts, Gervais blatantly makes up his own when he claims that "75 percent of Americans are God-­‐fearing Christians; 75 percent of prisoners are God-­‐fearing Christians. 10 percent of Americans are atheists; 0.2 percent of prisoners are atheists." But he has no basis for this and we KNOW he has no basis for this because no reliable statistical study of American prisoners has ever been done. And we also know he is not only wrong, but dishonest because he is using a bait-and-switch on his definition of atheist; only 0.7% of Americans actually call themselves atheists versus the 15% who the American Religious Identification Survey describes as Nones/No Religion.

Firstly, ‘bullshit’ to Vox’s claim to the supposed nonexistence of statistics for religious demographics in US prisons. Vox has apparently not bothered conducting so much as a five-second Google search, or else he was too dishonest to report the findings, for there is, in fact, plenty of available data to support Ricky Gervais’s claim about there being only about 0.2% of atheists in US prisons. (It may not be the most up-to-date data, admittedly, with the most recent report my cursory search turned up dating from 1997, but it’s doubtful that these numbers will have changed in any statistically significant manner in only 13 years, anyway.) According to numbers obtained from the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1997 [table trimmed for brevity]:

Response Number %
Catholic 29,267 39.164%
Protestant 26,162 35.008%
Church of Christ 1,303 1.744%
Pentecostal 1,093 1.463%
Adventist 621 0.831%
Atheist 156 0.209%
Total known responses: 74731 = 100.001% (rounding to 3 digits does this) = 80.259% of all prisoners

Now, your definition of a “reliable statistical study”, as Vox put it, may vary, but I’ll put my stock in this one for being credible, if mostly because I’ve yet to see anyone, anywhere, contradict it with conflicting data. And given the intense amount of research and interest surrounding this subject, that’s good enough for me. At any rate, assuming it is reliable, it does serve to blow a hole right through Vox’s claim that Gervais doesn’t and can’t know how many atheists are in US prisons.

Vox also once again criticizes the conflation of atheists with “religious nones”. Once again, it apparently fails to occur to Vox that irreligious folks are by very definition atheists, even if they refuse to use that label (usually out of fear for the reactions the “atheist” label incurs). An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in any one or more divine being(s). A non-religious person is someone who rejects religion, and therefore, also rejects any divine being(s) that come inherent with religion. Sure, there are a few exceptions here and there, but they aren’t statistically significant in terms of the context of any supposed difference between atheists and “religious nones”. (One might bring up Buddhism as an example of an atheistic religion, insofar as Buddhists neither believe in nor worship any supernatural being(s), but Buddhism tends to be more of an ideology than an actual, textbook religion.)

Vox then takes data from the British prison system and goes at mind-numbing lengths to try and differentiate between self-avowed atheists and “religious nones” to try and prove Gervais wrong, apparently determined to attack Gervais and atheism at all costs. But I won’t even bother trying to refute his conclusions, here, for Vox is completely missing the point. Gervais claimed that atheists comprise 0.2% of US prison demographics. Vox then falsely claimed that there was no data for this claim, and then actually pulls out data from the British prison system (which he assumes is where Gervais got the ‘0.2%’ figure from, as if Gervais were too stupid or dishonest to differentiate between two bloody countries separated by over a thousand miles of ocean) which also showed that atheists comprise 0.2% of the prison population, there.

Vox did not refute anything. He falsely called Gervais a liar, and then proceeded to amaze us with his mental acrobatics in trying so desperately to show how Gervais was wrong, when he plainly isn’t. Gervais’s ‘0.2%’ claim was about atheists in jail. He never once mentioned “religious nones”, so Vox asserting that the latter make up over 30% of the prison population in the UK is just as relevant as if they comprised 80% of inmates on Mars.

Perhaps growing tired of spouting off nonsense in expounded form, Vox then goes into hyperdrive, riddling the reader with several other claims about Gervais’s supposed wrongness in his penultimate paragraph:

There are many more errors of fact and logic that I have not troubled to highlight, but the reader should not find it difficult to identify them. Gervais goes on to plagiarize Stephen Roberts's fallacious "One Less God" argument without crediting Roberts[1], admits his atheism is quite literally a childish belief[1], follows that admission with an exemplary demonstration of moral parasitism[1], and finally closes with a baseless and self-deluded declaration of his own good[1]. This takes us right back to the starting point, which is that it is not science, but Gervais that is an arrogant ass.

Oh, my.

  • 1) Of course, Vox is referring to this quote:

    “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

    Of course, it’s only natural that Vox would deride it as “fallacious” without offering so much as a peep regarding why it is so. I doubt his reasoning would be any more logical than what we’ve already seen. Roberts’s quote is perfect: Most people don’t believe in other gods because they are silly and outdated constructs, and atheists simply apply the same thinking to the Christian God, for whom there certainly hasn’t been any credible evidence presented in support of his existence. And as for the claim that Gervais “plagiarized” Roberts – seriously? That’s not only illogical, it’s downright silly. One doesn’t need to credit the source of every single famous quote or phrase one uses. (I’d finish with a famous quote, here – without attribution! – but as it happens, I don’t know any that would be relevant. So, boo.)

  • 2) Yes, Gervais does state that he lost his faith when he was a child. But this is a common phenomenon, and is evidence, not of Gervais sticking to childhood myths, as Vox so stupidly asserts, but of him simply questioning a myth he previously believed in and realizing how it failed even basic scrutiny. The same thing occurs when children eventually stop believing in Santa Clause, but apparently, by Vox’s logic of demeaning beliefs gained during one’s prepubescent years, every single adult in the world believes in that juvenile fantasy of the flying, red-coated fat man’s nonexistence.

  • 3) I don’t even know what Vox means by “moral parasitism”, much less what he might be referring to. Gervais simply states that in removing that religious cloak from his mind, he opened himself up to the true wonders of the natural world, something that undoubtedly occurs to the majority of newly deconverted atheists. But of course, leave it to Vox to take exception to that somehow. But then, to someone as deeply entrenched in cynicism, pessimism and overall douchiness, it’s rather unsurprising that he would consider such statements wrong in some manner with their message of happiness and reason.

  • 4) As usual, Vox finishes with his stupidest criticism of all. Apparently, he doesn’t register the fact that Gervais was obviously declaring that lack of religion does not make one evil and soulless and any of the other horrible things religionists like to claim of atheists. But to Vox, simply stating that you’re a good person is apparently “baseless” and “self-deluded”. Because I am certain that if anyone knows of the hypothetical skeletons in Ricky Gervais’s closet, it is some random blogger living thousands of miles away from the man himself.

    Makes sense.

Vox finally comes to his gloriously petulant conclusion:

Regardless of whether you believe in God's existence or not,it is very difficult to read Gervais's ludicrous attempt to justify his atheism and not reach three conclusions. First, it takes a truly epic fool to say, not only in his heart but in the Wall Street Journal as well, that there is no God. Second, this is less a case of atheistic evangelism than the agnostic variety as any intelligent atheist will be tempted to convert immediately to agnosticism out of sheer embarrassment. And third, if God does exist, it would be impossible to blame Him for deciding to throw such a smug and annoying little bastard into Hell when faced with the alternative of being inflicted with his company for eternity.

Now, now, that’s no way to disagree, dearie. Go on, shake his hand and just tell him he’s hurt your feelings, then you can both go and play in the sandbox. (And try not to eat too much of it, this time.)

I really take too much time and pleasure in doing this.