The Oz melts down in the contest of ideas

It’s been a while since the last time I was the target of an epic meltdown at the #Ozfail (or at least, the last one I noticed). I thought perhaps Chris Mitchell had developed a thicker skin. But, today’s Oz has a full-length editorial responding to a mere tweet about a piece of creationist silliness by one Eric Metaxas, reprinted from Murdoch stablemate, the Wall Street Journal.

We get the usual Oz editorial line about how they aren’t really climate deniers (they just give space to “a couple of contributors who dare to scrutinise the scientific consensus”), creationists (they just think science “can’t explain the universe”), or a rightwing propaganda outfit (they publish Labor lefties like Gary Johns and Graeme Richardson). It’s just that they “love a contest of ideas”.

Moreover, the collection of rightwing delusionists on the opinion pages don’t represent the views of the #Ozfail

Professor, if you ever want to know what the paper thinks or where it stands on any issue, there is only one place you’ll find out. Right here in these editorial columns.

That’s a relief. Having been slagged off in special-purpose opinion pieces, Cut-and-Paste snarks, and various passing comments, I had the feeling the Oz didn’t like me. But the real view, apparently, is that of the anonymous editorialist, who (faintly) praises me as “oft-erudite”.

I do have one small disappointment though. Given the headline “140 characters not the full story” and the protestations of commitment to the contest of ideas, I was expecting the editorial to prove me wrong by inviting me to provide a full-length response to Metaxas’ silliness. Sadly, no.

144 thoughts on “The Oz melts down in the contest of ideas

  1. @zoot

    A militant atheist is just one who keeps insisting that there is no god. This is as opposed to a nice atheist, who puts up with all manner of inconsistent Gods, giving respect to those who worship each one.

  2. nick @ #23 said:

    Jack, so you and Metaxas are suggesting that because science has failed to detect aliens with godlike powers, this proves:
    1) Humans are “special”?
    2) God exists!?

    1. Science has failed to detect any kind of ETs, not even a single bloody microbe, never mind those with “god-like powers”. SETI’s futile attempt to break the ice with with any channel surfing ETs who might be lounging in nearby constellations has also drawn a blank. This is despite standard bio-chemical theory strongly indicating that the emergence of Life should be banal, its spatial incidence prolific and its endurance ancient – both on Earth and throughout the Milky Way.

    2. I am agnostic so I have no positive belief in the existence or non-existence of God. This information, despite being repeated numerous times on this thread, cannot penetrate certain people’s skulls. No wonder ET has trouble getting through to SETI with such dunderheads on the other end of the line! Metaxas can speak for himself.

    3. The existence of ET radio communication networks distributed throughout the Milky Way would not be proof that ETs have “god-like powers”, unless of course nick happens to be a member of a Pacific Island cargo cult, which would not surprise me at this stage of the game. Its probably time to drag out Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Laws of Prediction for another belting (who, not coincidentally, was the guy who first came up with the idea of using space craft for long-range communication) :

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    The tyranny of distance is not an invincible despot when time is on your side. Around 90 percent of the Milky Way stars were fully formed between 11 billion and 7 billion years ago. It harbours ten million potentially life-habitable exo-planets. Abiding by the principle of mediocrity it follows that there were ~ five billion potentially life-habitable exo-planets busily evolving away for at least five billion years before our solar system had even formed. Thats more than enough time and habitable space to produce a sizeable fraction of Type II Radio Civilization that should have had the power to establish a deep space radio relay network, if they had the will.

    nick’s crimped, Horganesque view of advanced civilizations low potential to make real technological progress in inter-stellar travel is looking a little naive and threadbare given the astonishing performance of Voyager and Rosetta. We are not yet even one human life-time into the space age and we have already sent out robotic inter-stellar radio probes and I don’t see the space agencies making a claim for deification.

    So if We could get around to it, why can’t They? The most obvious reason is that They aren’t there. Or if they are, they can’t be bothered. Which is, if anything, a more dispiriting conclusion. The prima facie evidence, and a reasonable weighing of alternative explanations, suggests that progressive life in general, and civilized humanity in particular, is “special”. I know that brute fact torments any number of the cruder kind of atheists but they will just have to be brave about that.

  3. @Jack Strocchi

    So essentially you can’t do without the security blanket of having others believe in God (or the supernatural in some way) even if you can manage agnosticism yourself.

    Paradoxically you are claiming all of;

    (A) I am strong enough, ethical enough, smart enough to live existentially without belief in God or the supernatural.

    (B) Others are not so strong (an instrinsically elitist and paternalistic position)

    (C) I actually feel more secure if some believe (thus refuting or diminishing the claim of A).

    There is another possibility. A certain class of Machiavellian likes masquerade as a Conservative in order to secretly be belief free and ethics free and yet be able to exploit others who are encouraged to remain credulous, superstitious and obedient.

  4. ” .. others who are encouraged to remain credulous, superstitious and obedient”

    I guess these would be the ‘edible mushrooms’ in Jacks nomenclature, opposite to his undesired “poisonous mushrooms” which have sprung up of late.

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  6. @Ootz

    I’m not disputing that; what I am saying is that even if it were true that every word of the argument given by Eric Metaxas had been personally endorsed by Aristotle, Avicenna, Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Su Song, and Rabindranath Tagore that would have no effect on how silly it is.

  7. J-D, I was referring to Jack Strocchi’s argument to give Metaxas’ credibility as appearing to be desperate rather than silly.

    I am not disputing that Metaxas offerings are silly. Hence I call him out as a vaudeville act, which the oz then recycles into it’s own growing medium for ‘edible mushrooms’, to stay with Jack’s mycological theme.

  8. In short what must have happened is, the high priests from the national daily fish wrap went on a well deserved sabbatical leaving an apprentice in charge who dutifully shovelled the usual mushroom compost (would you like chips with that, it is the festive season after all?). When Prof Q called it for what it is, the said apprentice got most indignant and took a potshot at the heretic and blessed the mushrooms with a set of free steak knifes.

    Now that the SMH and the Guardian have picked up the Pope’s recent contribution wrt climate change and for that matter social justice, when o when will the high priests of the national fish wrap be dignified to do engage in that contest? Probably it will require for the expatriate Moses to bear it on his tablets first.

  9. @Ootz
    Keep going with the fish and chip scenario. It is working a treat. And yes, I’m also looking forward to some media question of Abbott in the light of the encyclical.

  10. @zoot
    A militant atheist is someone, who when faced point blank with someone demanding they believe and supplicate to God, truthfully states that they don’t see adequate evidence to accept even the remotest likelihood of a god, let alone “the God” that they are being assailed to submit to.

    Yep, that’s me, just walking along minding my own business, and then—blam!—two very animated individuals with some indecipherable jibberish on placards decided I was fair game, not wanting me to get past them before a dose of their religious salts was foist upon me. Nope, they weren’t militant Christians, but I am a militant atheist. Go figure.

  11. I’ve always wondered why some people feel that society is better if there is a religious system in place. I especially wonder at the people who defend religion by saying that even if there is no God, etc, having the religious system in place is still better for society. Why the necessity to believe, or claim to believe, in one or several deities, in the first place? Couldn’t society function well enough if it has a good system of law, and an education system which inculcates the respect for individuals and each other? Being well behaved has little to do with religion.

  12. @Donald Oats
    I’ve always read the idea that the world would be worse without religion as a type of threat made by religious sociopaths who know, deep down and dirty, exactly how they would act out their nasty Jungian imaginations in the absence of Gawd to run their conscience. sort of Serbia redux. Pretty creepy imo.

  13. @jungney
    Quite possible. Of course, when people make this statement about religion making a better world, they are thinking of their own religion; perhaps they are actually thinking of their moral/cultural anchor: without it, they think they would be cast adrift upon a sea of moral relativism.

    People often make the mistake of thinking that a lack of moral absolutes implies that anything goes. It just means that we have to seek a common agreement as to what we consider a transgression worth punishing, and what punishment to mete out for such transgressions. This, in turn, defines what we mean when we say we are civilised: our laws and our punishments define us. This is one of the reasons I am of the view that we should never resort to execution as a punishment, whatever the crime. If the state sanctions deliberate killing, then where do we go from there?

  14. … we need to arrest the degenerate aspects of the current post-modern liberal era …

    Dear oh dear, Jack. You’re getting all Spengler on us.

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