Thursday, May 31, 2007

‪י״ד סיון תשס״ז * 31 May 2007: Speak in Complete Sentences Day


Today’s news and commentary:In place of the normal weird thing, today I will be giving a review for the most horrific book I have read so far for the Divine Misconceptions project: Godless: The Church of Liberalism by Ann Coulter, included below (the review, not the book). Enjoy (or be scared or something) and share the weirdness.


Review of Godless: The Church of Liberalism by Ann Coulter:

It should be kept in mind that Ann Coulter is a lawyer. The job of a lawyer in court is to portray one’s client in the most positive light possible. Unfortunately, the ideology of the extreme right wing of American politics (George W. Bush and company) has very little to objectively recommend it to most people, so in Godless: The Church of Liberalism (Coulter) she mostly resorts to one of the standard methods of rhetoric: to portray the opposition in the most negative light possible. But rhetoric is not the same thing as logic and evidence, and it is easily abused to lead people away from truth instead of lead them towards it. Furthermore, Coulter is not arguing a case in court, where a judge and jury might call her on abuse of rhetoric, so she feels free to indulge in every dirty trick she can imagine to slander her opponents unrestrained.

Truth plays very little part in Godless, and as such the book leaves much to be desired in the way of adequate research. For example, one of Coulter’s main targets is evolution (Coulter, chapters 8-11), but her understanding of it is derived entirely from creationists such as Michael Behe (may his bones be ground up) (Coulter, p. 303). The citations she brings from actual biologists are entirely of the kind which actual biologists complain about creationists taking out of context or misunderstood (Coulter, pp. 205, 208, 211, 219-225, 228, 230, 232, 237-240, 250, 255). Coulter also has a predilection to cite newspaper articles rather than authoritative sources (Coulter, pp. 213-214, 219-224, 227-228, 234, 237-238, 240, 242, 244, 249, 253). She has even been accused of blatant fraud (as opposed to mere stupidity) (S.S.M. and R.S.) and plagiarism (Brynaert; Rood; Davis). As a result of not bothering to find out what real biologists believe about evolution, she does not understand it at all. She has no clue that evolution is based on more than blind faith (Coulter, p. 203) and that all the evidence is for evolution, not for creationism (Coulter, p. 212). She has no idea that while mutation may be random, natural selection is not (Coulter, pp. 201-202, 218, 225, 245). She has no idea of what the effects of mutations actually are (Coulter, pp. 217-219). She even seems to think that mutation has a desired direction (Coulter, pp. 202, 214-5, 230-231). She wrongly thinks that “survival of the fittest” is tautological (Coulter, p. 202). She has no understanding of the fossil record and how it is structured (Coulter, pp. 215-225, 227, 230, 244). She has no idea that intermediate forms are far more common than she ever dreamed (Coulter, pp. 216-217, 223-224, 227-228, 232). She has no clue how relationships between species are ascertained (Coulter, pp. 227-229). She has no clue that punctuated equilibrium is a quibble on how evolution works and not a repudiation of evolutionary theory (Coulter, pp. 225, 228, 245). She has no understanding of speciation or how long it takes (Coulter, pp. 203, 226, 229-230, 243)—or how long anything is really supposed to take (Coulter, p. 218). She has no idea that “irreducible complexity” (invented by Behe) is a deceptively-named construct (Coulter, p. 204); she has no clue that complex structures can and do evolve (Coulter, pp. 203-205, 206-210, 232-233, 242, 245). She has no understanding of radioisotope dating (Coulter, pp. 233, 235). She wrongly denies that genetic similarity is evidence for evolution (Coulter, pp. 202, 231, 249). She has no idea that evolutionary theory does not specify how life originated or that it is irrelevant to whether evolution occurs or how it works (Coulter, pp. 201, 210-211, 240-241, 244). She wrongly denies that changes within a species qualify as evolution (Coulter, pp. 202, 231-232). She wrongly claims that evolutionists treat the cell as a “black box” (Coulter, pp. 203-204). She wrongly alleges that the position of evolutionists is that the modern phyla really did appear suddenly with the Cambrian Explosion and takes Precambrian fossils as a triumph for creationism (Coulter, pp. 220-225, 244); considering that the position of creationists is that life appears suddenly and without any precedent, Coulter effectively gets beaten silly by her own straw man. She has no clue that the biological sciences community is a community of evolutionists, with the few creationists being pariahs or keeping their creationism to themselves because they know their arguments are unconvincing, not to mention that the progress being made in biology and medicine is as a consequence of evolutionary theory and that the creationists are doing nothing of practical value (Coulter, pp. 211, 225, 247-249). Coulter takes joy in focusing on single examples with the assumption that their real or imagined toppling brings down the whole edifice of evolutionary theory, e.g., Piltdown Man (Coulter, pp. 219, 226-227, 233-241, 244). Besides making paranoid, fantastic ad hominem arguments (especially about her opponents’ intelligence) on practically every single page, she even makes such a low blow as attacking evolution over the fact that offensive people (such as Hitler and eugenicists) have (or allegedly have) used Darwin to support their ideologies (Coulter, pp. 268-280) (as if religion was never used as a justification for atrocities). To anyone who actually knows anything about evolution, Coulter’s arguments are nothing more than empty rhetoric (Musgrave; Savillo; Myers; Downard, Secondary Addiction: Ann Coulter on Evolution, Part I; Downard, Secondary Addiction Part II: Ann Coulter on Evolution; Downard, Secondary Addiction Part III: Ann Coulter on Evolution).

Coulter’s attempts at writing about religion are likewise unspectacular. The whole premise of this book is that “liberalism” is a religion. Now, “religion” is a vaguely defined term, with certain ideologies, such as communism, atheism, and even science, being labeled “religion” or “not religion” for political reasons. “Liberalism”, however, has very little that most people would identify as “religion”. There is no creed, set of laws, moral code, or philosophy which “liberals” have to follow. In fact, “liberals” frequently purport to believe the same things as or similar things to “conservatives”, the major disagreements being how to arrive at the same goals. One does not need to be dedicated to anything to be a “liberal”. Liberals are not an ethnic group, race, caste, tribe, or nation. “Liberalism” has as much history, tradition, culture, and literature as “conservatism”, and no one is proposing the existence of a “conservative” religion. There is no “liberal” language. There is no model of reality which “liberals” have to accept. There is no “liberal” mysticism. “Liberals” do not have to belong to any particular organization. There are no “liberal” rituals or sacraments. And finally, there is no “liberal” scripture or theology. In short, “liberalism” is not a religion. Attempts by Coulter to claim the contrary require incredible lies akin to blood libels and paranoia about nonexistent witches who worship Satan. Does anyone really care about or pretend to care about “undermining national security, aiding terrorists, oppressing the middle class, [or] freeing violent criminals” (Coulter, p. 78)? Does anyone consider abortion to be a sacrament (Coulter, chapter 4) and Roe v. Wade to be holy scripture (Coulter, p. 89)? Does anyone really think that criminals should never be punished (Coulter, chapter 2)? Can anyone sensibly justify that public school teachers are a priesthood (Coulter, chapter 6)? Who in their right mind would believe that the substantial majority of the country which are not part of the extreme right wing are all part of an evil, simultaneously atheistic and Neopagan, environmentalist conspiracy (Coulter, chapters 1-11)? Arguably I should be part of this conspiracy, being an evolutionist and an opponent of Bush’s policies—and no one invited me to the meetings! (Maybe I am being shunned due to being neither an atheist nor a Neopagan.)

Coulter has not even mastered her own religion, Christianity. She arguably does not even know what constitutes Christianity, since she includes Judaism within Christianity without any justification for doing so and “barely” includes Episcopalianism (Coulter, p. 3). Her hold on valid religious reasoning is also nonexistent. She cites “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16) as the reason why abortion is murder (Coulter, p. 93), but she is clearly ignorant of Hebrew and is unaware that King James got the translation wrong. An accurate translation would be “You will not murder.” Other passages in the Torah make it clear that killing is not prohibited under all circumstances. Animals are permitted for food, requiring them to be killed properly first (Deuteronomy 12:21), and there are even circumstances under which humans are to be killed (e.g., Exodus 21:20; Leviticus 20:10, 20:14; Deuteronomy 13:17, 22:24, 25:19). Furthermore, Coulter is unaware of the law that if two men are fighting and one of them pushes a pregnant woman, causing an abortion, the punishment is a fine (Exodus 21:22); in contrast, the punishment for accidental homicide is exile and for deliberate murder is death (Numbers 35:9-34). For someone with a law degree, such ignorance of the law is a shocking oversight. And if she wants to claim, like most Christians, that the Torah is no longer binding, what point is there is condemning people for allegedly not following it? And whatever happened to the prohibition on bearing false witness (Exodus 20:12, 23:1, 23:6; Deuteronomy 19:16-21, 5:16), which is violated on practically every page? She also does not realize that her morality (or rather lack of it) is in gross contradiction to what Jesus preached, e.g., not to be judgmental (Matthew 7:1-5).

In short, Godless is a dismal failure in the history of delusional writing. What Coulter does not realize is that if one is going to write something delusional, one should write something fun. For example, the Loch Ness Monster is fun. People love lake monsters. People enjoy speculating about Nessie. People even go to Loch Ness just to see Nessie. Even people who cannot take the Loch Ness Monster seriously can enjoy the phenomenon. Similarly, Bigfoot is fun, and Roswell is fun. Ogopogo is fun. Haunted houses are fun. Lost lands and mysterious races are fun. The Earth being hollow or inside out is fun. Coulter’s delusions, on the other hand, are not fun. Nothing in Godless is anything but extreme-conservative propaganda, delivered in a writing style so caustic and lacking in basic human decency (and dare I say it, un-Christian as well) that I doubt many people who are not already Coulter fans will ever read the entire book. The book is a wedge that drives people apart. If Coulter wants to keep writing delusion, she needs to come up with something that everyone can enjoy.

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