Thursday, January 25, 2007

We're Not Anti-Religion, But... (Part 3)

In the previous parts of this article (one, two), we began revealing a now-hidden page on the BCSE website which blows apart their present claim to be religiously neutral: the BCSE's own "Rough Guide To Fundamentalism". And then we briefly examined the BCSE's use of the term "fundamentalist".

And Now...

Today we will begin looking at this page in a bit more detail. Just what does it say about the BCSE's leaders. Will they prove their reasonableness? Or not?

In previous investigations, we have commented on where the BCSE source their "research" from. In one particularly egregious example, we saw that the BCSE entirely overlooked all the primary sources which pointed in one direction in favour of a single source of another campaigner of their own ilk which said the opposite. Not a great way to prove your own adherence to the principles of science or rationalism.

"Fundamentalism" seems to be the BCSE's pejorative way of referring to Biblical Christianity. What would be the best sources to go for to investigate what Biblical Christians believe?

Well, I am in a different "theological camp" to the following men on some questions, but I have to recognise that they have been the major spokesman and authors in evangelical Christianity in the last fifty years. I would say that the primary sources for investigating what evangelicals in the United Kingdom believe today would be Dr. John Stott, Dr. Jim Packer and Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones. Between them these three have written over a hundred books and Bible commentaries, pastored some of the UK's largest evangelical churches, preached at the most popular conferences, and so on. They've even had published their own summaries of Christianity, including "Evangelical Truth" and "What is an Evangelical?", by Dr. Stott, "What is an Evangelical", by Dr. Lloyd-Jones and "Knowing God", by Dr. Packer. At a more academic level, the writings of Dr. David W. Bebbington are most widely recognised as carrying authority.

So, what kind of sources will the BCSE's author (Roger Stanyard) go to in order to inform his readers of the true nature of evangelical Christianity?

But First...

But before we get into that, I want to introduce a certain website.

Some of you may remember that many moons ago in Internet time (about three weeks), I published a parable concerning the arguments employed by Professor Richard Dawkins in his own anti-religious campaigning. (Incidentally, that parable now appears around 30th if you Google for "Dawkins" - if you'd like to see it rise even higher, please blog it or link it from whatever websites you have!).

This parable has been viewed around 1,200 times so far - and had all kinds of response over the Internet. There was one response, though, that made me laugh out loud.

That response came from a website called "Fundies Say The Darndest Things" (FSTDT). This was not a website I had visited before. The idea of this site seems to be that people submit silly quotations from "fundies", and then everybody else gets to post their own comments on them. I assume that the users of this kind of web-site have more spare time than I do!

Well, somebody picked up the first paragraph from my parable - and posted it to "FSTDT". And then the responses came in.

What kind of response did the parable get? This: The readers of "FSTDT" took it completely literally. What kind of idiot could really believe that Richard Dawkins doesn't exist, they wondered? Look, it's really easy to prove! And so some of the commenters started providing counter-arguments to refute me. Here are a few samples:

"A birth certificate and a number in the census is enough."

"Go to his website and see him in action."

"go see richard dawkins speak, or watch him on tv"

"What an idiotic comparison. For one, Richard Dawkins does not claim to be an invisible being in whom you have to have faith. There are ACTUAL pictures of him. There are recently published books written by him. There is no way of verifying that an ancient tome was written by someone nobody has ever seen or spoken to. Crazy people and people in myths don't count."

Most of the comments, though, are from people who are obviously seriously angry about any mention of God or religion - and presumably hang out at "FSTDT" in order to vent that anger at those darned "fundies". Most responses are simply rants. I don't recommend you visit the page, as it's full of foul or crude language - but if you want to verify my quotes, here it is:

It wasn't until the twenty-second comment that somebody pointed out that FSTDT's readers weren't quite grasping how to interpret my piece:

He obviously isn't serious. His write up is a parable warning of hyper-sceptism.

My other two favourite responses were these.

"If there is a Dawkins, why hasn't he shown himself to me?"

Because you failed the entrance requirements for the university where he lectures.

I did? Bother. I hate entrance exams! Still, they let me in anyway and I enjoyed my time there enormously. (I never met Professor Dawkins though).

And finally this one:

The fact that the book exists should be proof that Richard Dawkins exists as someone had to write it.

Brilliant! This one made me laugh out loud. Now, please complete the following sentence:

The fact that the universe exists should be proof that ... ?

My overall impression of "FSTDT", based upon the inability to understand the concepts of metaphor, parody or parable, and the level of abuse, was that it is basically populated by angry adolescents. Teenagers who had trouble parsing non-literal language, and with a lot of dislike of Christianity that they want to express.

Which Brings Me To...

But what's the point, David, you say? Here it is. Guess what Roger Stanyard writes at the bottom of page of "research"? Guess what his major source for showing us just what evangelical Christianity is, was? Oh yes...

Most of the information for this article has come from the web site Fundies Say the Darndest Things ( The site has a vast number of quotes from fundamentalists, nearly all of them in North America. It presents a picture of a movement of pig-ignorant inarticulate bigots, racists, xenophobes, anti-Semites, misogynists, homophobes, rape apologists, AIDS deniers, government haters, scientific illiterates, gun-lovers, murderous paramilitaries and others predisposed towards extreme violence, half-baked misfits and haters, all obsessed with their own religious and moral superiority.

Much of it reads like something out of Germany in the 1930s. A lot of the stuff in it I couldn’t reproduce on my own blog because it is so extreme and offensive. With this evidence it is impossible for me to conclude otherwise than that the protestant evangelical fundamentalist movement is not a benign movement at all. Much of it is dangerous, obnoxious and vile.

Yes, my good readers. Mr. Stanyard's main source for his quality research is... a collection of angry adolescents.

My own personal library has over a thousand books by evangelical authors. And not one of them bears the slightest resemblance to anything that Mr. Stanyard writes above. But I suppose that you knew that.

And I suppose that Mr. Stanyard knew that too... which is why he doesn't go anywhere near them, lest they spoil the yarn he's trying to spin.

Frankly, I take the fact that Mr. Stanyard has to stoop to this level as a pretty good sign. After all, if that's how far you have to go to make evangelicalism look bad, then ... ?

Bringing This To A Conclusion

This isn't credible research, is it?

Rather, it is the same picture we've seen many times before - the BCSE cherry-picking the most unlikely sources, then distorting them, and then presenting them to the public as solid facts.

This isn't the way to make yourself seem credible. Isn't it rather the way to make yourself seem ignorant, prejudiced and bigotted?

In my opinion, this kind of thing is why present Darwinists of the campaigning atheist variety are on the road to losing the origins debate in the public mind. In the short term, you can create a lot of smoke and gather a raging mob of supporters by shouting about how some alternative theories are all promoted by "movement[s] of pig-ignorant inarticulate bigots, racists, xenophobes, anti-Semites, misogynists, homophobes, rape apologists (etc., etc., etc.)". But in the long term, this kind of extreme ad hominem just makes you look silly. Certainly those who call others "pig-ignorant" or "bigots" need to check just what kind of glass their own houses are constructed from. As supporters of intelligent design and other theories pile up more and more compelling arguments, shrill ad hominem becomes a less and less credible response.

But in my opinion, because of the BCSE's leaders' lack of actual science/educational experience, it was inevitable that this would be what was on offer.

David Anderson

Non-anonymous factual corrections welcomed by e-mail. Comments are moderated - please read my comments policy.

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