On internet martyrdom

September 4, 2010

Rawr. That’s how I felt after spending bits and pieces of time all week busting the quotemines of a liar for Jesus on the RS forum, and he finally earned himself a nice six-month suspension for his trouble. Glad that my efforts contributed to him getting the boot. Somewhat vexing about it is that he got some skeptics hot under the collar, enough that they said things they shouldn’t have and got warned for it too.

I also find their warning-suspension-ban rules too lenient by far, but it’s not my forum, not my rules. And that argument is for another show.

Anyway, having busted this fellow repeatedly, and knowing he’s done the same damn thing in a lot of other places, I’ll give the example he got nailed on. This particular twit likes to quote Michael Polanyi, a mathematician, scientist and philosopher whose work is frequently twisted to suit creationist claims. I am honestly not sure which side he would take — evolution or ‘intelligent design’ — and his quotations can be interpreted for either side as often as Einstein’s. Here is one such line from Polanyi.

“living beings . . .can be understood only in teleological terms”

This might look as if Polanyi is claiming that living beings have an inherent purpose — what teleology studies. That is the point of a quotemine: manipulating a quotation to give the appearance of something that it is not, in context.

The ellipsis is a dead giveaway in my experience. So is a fragment of a sentence, as this clearly is. Creationists pick apart verbiage and select quotes for authoritative emphasis, and quotemining a scientist in support of their creationist drek is something of value for them. Science being a relatively acceptable authority, and all. Now here is where I found the quotemine.

A gap is opening up here between two kinds of knowledge, both of which refer to material things: one derived from an acknowledged purpose, the other unrelated to any such purpose.  The disparity of science and technology which I am examining here will prove relevant later to the relation between the science of inanimate things, in which no purpose is apparent, and that of living beings which can be understood only in teleological terms. We should keep this prospect in mind while proceeding to elucidate further the characteristic logical structure of technology.

Read as a full sentence, Polanyi was talking about ‘the science of living beings,’ aka technology, the subject of the work. Apparently this quotemine was blatant enough that the RS moderators intervened.

Unfortunately, the thread where my brutal pwnage appears is littered with more quotemining, leading me eventually to my point, a question. I am left wondering why people do this. An innocent, ignorant mistake — grabbing some reference off a creationist website — I could grant once, and overlook. Get corrected, don’t do it again, that sort of thing. But what can you say about a believer who just keeps on doing it? Who doesn’t even respond to being exposed over and over again as a liar?

To the point that some skeptics get incensed over the liar and indulge in namecalling? This is what they got busted for. Not that they were wrong; but for the insult of it. They were quite right — that is, correct, in how the shoe fits; and quite wrong — that is, an ethical offense — for saying so. Such is the fine line crossed on the ad hominem.

I am left grasping for a motivation for such a believer, to engage in such deception, to ignore being called out for it, to show no remorse or changing of ways, to do it again and again until polite society just says enough and expels them. This behavior seems to violate not just the rules of polite society, but the rules of the belief system they would advocate. They try to use these things to score points in arguments and debates, to throw up such a smokescreen of nonsense that most people can’t see through it.

I wonder what it would be like to be the one impressed by such illusory authority, to be the one converted to religion or creationism by it, only to find later that it was all lies. I guess this is where cognitive dissonance comes in, that which allows people to hold contradictory ideas in their heads. This is their truth. This is their lie.

I wouldn’t say I hate it, that seems stronger than the response I feel. I get some satisfaction over valuing truth more than such believers, and in busting them on it. My truths are unpleasant at times. But I value them for being true.

Anyway, at least here I can say what I like about the quoteminer without fear of reprisal from the skeptical community. I behave better on the forum, of course.



  1. you might like this link, if you have not already read it.


    I really hadn’t considered that jesus as a person might be a whole fiction, I always figured he lived but was just a dude.

    • It is a plausible theory that Jesus was a total myth — I followed the link, and I’ve seen stuff like it. But at present my understanding indicates that there probably was a ‘historical Jesus’ based on the consensus of historians and the techniques they use.

      This is actually the subject of a lively and ongoing debate on the RS forum I frequent. You might think that most skeptics do dismiss the ‘historical Jesus’ but I don’t; and I don’t have to. It’s easy to accept it for the sake of argument and still find the evidence beyond that, for ‘Jesus as god,’ sorely lacking.

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