Mr. Knapp’s Attempts at Character Assassination Miss the Target
During January 2004, Mr. Knapp added a webpage ( see here) that purports to reveal my true motive for speaking out against the fallacies of creationism – my supposed anti-Christian bias. While I have made it clear in my correspondence with him that I harbor no ill will toward any religion, he has persisted in attempting to portray my opposition to creationist pseudoscience as a personal vendetta against Christianity. In doing so, he appears to be oblivious to the fact that many millions of his fellow Christians reject the same brand of young-earth creationism that he so zealously defends (see here, here, and here). In fact, one of the most vocal critics of creationism at this time is Dr. Kenneth Miller, a devout Christian. Even former president and professing Christian, Jimmy Carter, has voiced his public opposition to Mr. Knapp's brand of creationism. (See here.) Let me repeat one more time for Mr. Knapp's benefit, I hold no grudge against Christians in general. Some of my best friends and respected personalities are Christians.
I have tried to make it clear during our series of exchanges that I couldn't care less what beliefs individual Christians (or Moslems, or Hindus, or Scientologists, etc.) hold regarding the origin of the universe and all it contains. However, mainstream scientists have every right to be concerned about those religionists who falsely claim that their supernatural creation stories have been corroborated by modern science and demand that they be taught as fact in public school science classes. Whether Mr. Knapp acknowledges it or not, it is a concern for the integrity of science education that motivates scientists to oppose creationism – not an inherent animosity toward any particular religion. The reason that Christian creationists are the focus of opposition from the scientific community at this time is because, in this country, young-earth creationism is almost exclusively a product of fundamentalist Christianity. If it were primarily Zoroastrians who were pushing to get their creation mythology taught as legitimate science in public schools, then it would be they who would be subject to criticism from the scientific establishment.
On his webpage, Mr. Knapp lists three specific examples that he claims demonstrate my supposed bigoted attitude toward Christians.
Mr. Knapp’s Example Number 1: “[Mr. DeBaun] Called Creationists (Christians who are scientists) "fun-loving inquisitionists", i.e., likening Christians unto the inquisitionists.”
When I saw this accusation on his website, I sent Mr. Knapp the following e-mail message on 1/22/04:
Could you please direct me to the place where I describe modern-day creationists as “fun-loving inquisitionists”? I don’t deny that I may have used such a term, but I am unable to find it in any of my correspondence with you. I would appreciate it if you would point it out to me so that I can evaluate it in context.
Thanking you in advance,
Mr. Knapp replied on the same day as follows:
Guilty as charged. See http://www.sandpoint.net/tknapp/debaun1.htm And in “context” Not too tough to point out such bigoted rhetoric.
Giordano Bruno was arrested in 1592 (by that fun-filled assemblage of biblical creationists know as the Inquisition) for promoting his ideas that space is infinite, the earth is not fixed, and other worlds are inhabited.
Oh, the irony of it all. Can it be that Mr. Knapp does not understand that when he restates something from an article and encloses it in quotation marks that he must reproduce exactly what the original author actually said? Is he really so unfamiliar with the rules of punctuation that he thinks he can simply fabricate his own version of what he imagines the original author meant to say, and then enclose it in quotation marks? As far as I am aware, I have never used the term “fun-loving inquisitionists” to refer to modern-day creationists in any of my correspondence with Mr. Knapp. I may have, but Mr. Knapp’s example is certainly no indication that I ever have. Amazingly, he couldn’t even reproduce the “fun-filled” part correctly.
I think any discerning reader will agree that “fun-filled assemblage of biblical creationists,” as used above, was referring specifically to the members of the Inquisition who lived in the late 1500’s. When read in context (see here), it is difficult to imagine how anyone with average reading comprehension skills could misconstrue this straightforward description of medieval Inquisitors as referring to modern creationists. The truth is, the members of the Inquisition were all biblical creationists. At that time, there were no other competing ideologies among orthodox Christians. Furthermore, anyone who would have been foolish enough to question the established dogma would have been putting his/her life in serious jeopardy. As far as the “fun-filled” description is concerned, the records show that more than a few of the Inquisitors got their jollies from torturing the devil out of convicted “witches and heretics.” Mr. Knapp also appears to be unfamiliar with the use of sarcasm.
In bringing up this example of my purported bias towards Christians, Mr. Knapp has demonstrated that his language skills are as rudimentary as his understanding of science. Either that, or he knew he was purposefully fudging the facts and thought he could get away with it. To be charitable, I will assume that, in this case, he was not intentionally bearing false witness. He should be careful in the future, though. People have been sued for libel for lesser acts of calumny.
Irony is often a source of humor. Mr. Knapp’s cocky attitude in his e-mail reply to me, coupled with his incompetence in dealing with the material he “quoted” represents irony at its best. I thank Mr. Knapp for a good laugh. Nonetheless, I would advise him to tone down his inflammatory rhetoric until he upgrades his English skills a bit.
Mr. Knapp’s Example Number 2: “[Mr. DeBaun] Referred to Christians as scientific illiterates for essentially not believing in evolution. Implied that Christian opposition to evolution is setting America back in science education. See feedback."
I am not singling out Christian creationists for condemnation. Anyone, regardless of their religious affiliation, who publicly promotes the notion that young-earth creationism is on par with mainstream science is fair game as far as I am concerned. As stated above, the reason Christian creationists come under such close scrutiny from mainstream scientists is because it is primarily fundamentalist Christians who are trying to shoehorn their religious worldview into the public school classroom under the guise of legitimate science. In order to be a proponent of young-earth creationism, one must be either scientifically illiterate or so afflicted with religion-induced cognitive dissonance that contradictory scientific evidence can be blithely ignored or shamelessly misrepresented. At the very least, they would have to be ignorant of the vast amounts of scientific evidence that contradict creationist teachings. For some examples of such contradictory evidence, see here and here. And if Mr. Knapp thinks young-earth creationism is based on sound scientific evidence, then he should prove it by taking the challenge (here).
Advocacy of creation anti-science is not solely responsible for the sorry state of science literacy in this country. Other factors such as poor teacher training and under funding are also contributing factors. Nonetheless, we can ill afford further degradation of science education by acquiescing to creationist demands to incorporate their pseudoscientific doctrine into the science curriculum. Diluting an already mediocre science curriculum with creationist pap will only increase the numbers of those who lack a firm grounding in basic scientific principles. Apparently that is exactly what the creationists are hoping for. For more on the plight of science education in this country and the ramifications, see here, here, and here.
Mr. Knapp’s accusation that I am indiscriminately attacking the scientific literacy of all Christians is as bogus as the tenets of creationism. As mentioned above, I acknowledge that there are many millions of Christians who are scientifically astute and who are advocates of the theory of evolution. My gripe is not with Christians in general, it is with creationists in particular. Admittedly, young-earth creationism is not a belief system peculiar to fundamentalist Christians alone. There are, for example, Islamic versions as well. Nevertheless, anyone (regardless of their religion) who falls for the malarkey peddled by young-earth creationists of any stripe is giving every indication of suffering from a profound lack of scientific acumen.
Mr. Knapp’s Example Number 3: "[Mr. DeBaun] Referred me to anti-Christian links which are overtly atheistic/humanistic. A recent email referred me to a forum called "internet Infidels" which displays anti-Christian ad-banners. The internet infidels forum itself is an anti-Christian site which basically espouses the religious positions of atheism and humanism."
Sometime in early January, 2004, Mr. Knapp’s website included a link to a so-called “challenge to evolutionist debate dodgers” which was featured on the True.Origins website. This challenge involved the dubious requirement for two participants to deposit $10,000 each in escrow, for one of them to present evidence in favor of evolution and the other for creation, and then for a judge (presumably hand-picked by creationists) to determine which side had presented the best argument and would pocket the full $20,000. The claim was made that all mainstream scientists that had been presented with this challenge (including the likes of Steven Hawking!) had failed to participate because evolution lacked any evidential support.
After a link to this challenge first appeared on a creationist’s website, it was actively discussed on this forum. To make a long story short, the participants on this forum eventually exposed the challenge for the joke that it actually was, and True.Origins was shamed into removing it from its website. When I learned from the forum that it was no longer featured on that website, I e-mailed Mr. Knapp to inform him of his dead link. In that e-mail, I also included a link to the forum to provide him with some background as to why it had been deleted. Shortly after my communication with him, Mr. Knapp also removed the link to this bogus challenge from his website.
Now Mr. Knapp gives the impression of being in a twit because I referred him to a website whose banners offend his religious sensibilities. I referred him to that website because, at the time, I was unaware of any other forums that were critically discussing the subject. (If he knows of any such websites, I wish he would bring them to my attention.) As it turns out, the participants in that forum were correct in their condemnation of the challenge and were instrumental in getting it removed from the True.Origins (and ultimately, Mr. Knapp’s) website. As I recall, I referred Mr. Knapp to the forum in question on one other occasion when he challenged me to debate some creationist organization or another. At that time, I suggested that he should enter into a debate with the experts on this forum. I did not do so for shock value. I did so because, in my opinion, many of the participants on this forum are some of the best-educated, best-informed, and most articulate spokespersons for evolution on the Internet. At the time, I did not realize that Mr. Knapp’s faith was so tenuous that it could not tolerate a little exposure to alternate viewpoints from time to time.
Mr. Knapp has often referred me to the overtly Christian websites such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research. The former equates scientific pantheism, my philosophical belief, with idolatry, and the latter associates it with astrology, witchcraft, and Satanism. I have not made an issue of these disparaging remarks because I realize that such rhetoric simply goes with the territory. I am not enamored with their attitude about my beliefs, but I don’t let that stop me from seriously evaluating what they have to say. Scientists do not reject creationist arguments because of the pro-Christian slant of these websites. They reject them because the arguments are groundless and scientifically invalid. The participants in the aforementioned forum were accurate in their critical assessment of the challenge. Their arguments were sound and the questions they raised were pertinent and insightful. I thought Mr. Knapp would like to know the reason why the challenge had been removed from one of his favorite websites. Unfortunately, he appears to be more concerned about the philosophical inclinations of the messengers than about the validity of the messages they convey.
Incidentally, atheism is not a religion. Atheism is nothing more than a lack of belief in god. A lack of belief is not a religion. And humanism can be either religion or secular based. For a description of my take on scientific pantheism, see here.
Later in his article, Mr. Knapp says, “He [Mr. DeBaun] makes a failed effort to make a case in our feedback debates that it is the Christian religion that has inhibited knowledge going forward in the past as well as in the present, while at the same time denying the historical Christian roots of science.”
Trying to demonstrate that religion is the driving force behind scientific advancement is as futile as trying to prove that it is the driving force behind secular humanism. For a discussion of this topic, see here, here, here, and here.
In Conclusion –
Mr. Knapp claims on his webpage that he is “not out to character assassinate here.” Nonetheless, throughout our dialogues, he has continued to falsely characterize me as a militant Bible-basher whose rejection of creationism is based solely on my aversion to his religion. (See here.) Like so many other creationists, he is unable to entertain the possibility that scientists are on an honest search for the truth that has nothing to do with religious beliefs. Lacking any reliable scientific evidence to bolster their own claims, creationists attempt to compensate for this deficiency by pretending that there is an evil anti-Christian cabal which is responsible for their lack of scientific respectability. Because of this inherent distrust of anyone who questions their teachings, creationists reflexively insulate themselves from the very sources of information that could help to set them straight.
Notwithstanding Mr. Knapp’s claims to the contrary, he has been engaged in character assassination from the inception of these dialogues. One need look no further than the three contrived examples discussed above to understand how he manipulates the facts in an effort convince his readers that my criticism of creationism stems from a deep-seated prejudice against Christians. In fact, based on these examples alone, if one were truly motivated by an anti-Christian agenda, one could (with some justification) accuse Mr. Knapp of lying (or at the very least, seriously embellishing the truth) for god. (Of course, I would never stoop to such a level.) Unfortunately for Mr. Knapp, in his efforts to assassinate my character, he has succeeded only in shooting himself in the foot. The only casualty of his latest assault on my integrity is what little credibility he had left before introducing his last webpage.