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Two Complete Morons

Entry 1522, on 2013-04-22 at 16:22:31 (Rating 5, Skepticism)

OK, before I go any further I have to admit that the title of this entry is probably a bit unfair because it is a bit extreme and deliberately confrontational. The two people I am going to discuss clearly aren't really complete morons, they just act that way sometimes. In reality at least one of them is very intelligent most of the time, but just acts like a moron occasionally. The other seems to act like a moron almost all the time, so maybe he more clearly deserves the label.

And yes, I know the original meaning of the word was for someone with a mental age between 8 and 12, but I'm sure we all know by now that it has changed to be a general term of disrespect for someone who shows a lack of mental acuity.

Anyway, who are the two people in question and under what circumstances are they morons?

The first is our old friend, Christopher Monckton and his area of moronity (yes, I believe that really is a word) is global warming denial (note that I use the word "denial" here, in preference to "skepticism", quite deliberately).

The second is a well-known defender of Christianity who I haven't ranted about before (yes, I was surprised too). His name is John Lennox and he is a British mathematician and philosopher of science who is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford. You would have to assume this guy is pretty smart in general (how else would he attain those lofty heights in academia - by the way that isn't sarcasm) but when defending his Christian beliefs he really does sound like a moron.

The phenomenon of being really brilliant in one area and totally hopeless in another is quite common. I have already discussed it in relation to Francis Collins in a blog entry titled "Brilliant Stupidity" on 2009-09-22 and John E Hare in "Religious Intellectuals" posted on 2011-08-14.

So let's look at some of the claims these clowns (I love that word in this context) have made in recent interviews on Radio NZ. Let's start with Monckton...

First, he claims to be a mathematician and consistently implies he is an expert in the area of climate change. This is simply not true. He has no advanced formal training in maths or science, he has published no scientific papers in reputable journals, and he has done no original research in the area. If he genuinely believes these claims he is deluded. If he knows they are false yet makes them anyway then he is a liar.

If you read his biography on a neutral source such as Wikipedia it quickly becomes obvious that he has a fantasy-prone personality having made many fanciful and false claims about many aspects of his life. Clearly we should be highly skeptical (I use that word in the real sense) of his opinion based on this alone.

So clearly Monckton has a person has no credibility at all but that doesn't mean he's wrong. What about some of the "facts" he quotes? Well he's not wrong about everything and he does make some reasonable points, for example regarding the safety record of nuclear power and how many people from the "Green" side of politics have an illogical dislike of it, but that doesn't detract from the numerous false and misleading statements he makes about climate change.

Just as an example he makes the false claim that there has been no warming since 1998. All real statisticians know that a single data point like that cannot be used when trying to establish a trend. If Monckton really was an expert he would know that too. Maybe he does.

The numbers he quotes regarding the costs and benefits of global warming reduction interventions are just about as far from reality as you can get. Maybe he sourced them from somewhere with credibility, I really don't know since he didn't say, but at the very least he's taken the most extreme numbers from any source and used them in a misleading way.

And so it goes on for point after point. The interviewer, Bryan Crump, generally has a rather neutral (often to the point of vapidity) style, but you could tell from his responses that he knew he was being scammed by Monckton. Dishonesty of that sort is hard to hide.

So let's move on to the second interview of John Lennox done by Kim Hill. Kim certainly has a reputation for not putting up with too much nonsense and, while she didn't exactly outright challenge Lennox as being deliberately deceptive, you could see that she also knew she was being scammed.

As I said, unlike Monckton I have no complaints about the academic standards of Lennox but he is a Christian apologist and I'm sorry but in my experience if someone can be labelled that way (and it certainly applies to him) then they simply have to misrepresent the truth, you simply have no alternative because your worldview, when examined logically, simply cannot withstand any scrutiny. So even people who use the most rigorous techniques and critical self-examination in other areas of their life just demand a "free pass" to repeat unsupported nonsense when defending their religion.

So let's look at some examples...

He claims the new atheists aren't driven by scientific thinking and are confused about the nature of both science and god. OK, some of them aren't science oriented - Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris would probably be more seen as having a political or philosophical approach - but surely others, such as Richard Dawkins, are very much science oriented and understand what it is.

As to what the nature of god is, well who knows? Every believer seems to have a slightly different idea and even Lennox seems to change his definition to fit the particular point he wants to make. So if the new atheists are confused about what god is then so is everyone else. Why? Because god doesn't exist except int he mind of the believers. Is it surprising the idea of god has no consistent meaning?

He claims science and god are compatible and also claims his religious views are evidence based. But later in the interview he makes morality based decisions simply because that's what is attributed to Jesus in the Bible instead of what makes sense. Clearly evidence and logic don't matter to him that much, unless they fit in with what he wants to believe, of course!

He uses the tired old argument about how great contributors to science, like Newton, were also religious. That really doesn't work though because at the time people almost had to be religious, and it was a requirement for the post that Newton held. Also, Newton was also an alchemist. Does that mean that science and alchemy are also compatible? It just doesn't make sense and surely Lennox knows this. But because he has to defend a false belief he is obliged to use weak arguments like this one.

He cherry-picks the most ridiculous statements from the Bible in an attempt to validate his beliefs. Accepting the idea that the words "in the beginning" from the Bible vaguely agree with the Big Bang theory while ignoring a dozen other errors on the same page is deeply dishonest.

He also defends Christianity with the old "no true Scotsman" fallacy. According to him anyone who acts badly because of their beliefs isn't a true Christian but anyone who acts in a good way is. Well you really can't do that. If people act badly because of their religion then their religion is to blame.

And of you think the problem is one of interpretation then God should have made his message a bit clearer instead of disguising it in a confusing, contradictory, obscure, outdated text like the Bible. Buy any reasonable analysis Lennox loses on this point.

That's enough. As I write this I'm listening to the interview again and I can't take any more. It's not nice being lied to and mislead. In the case of Monckton it's not so bad because he's just a joke, but in Lennox's case it somehow seems more egregious because he is an intelligent person who is prepared to use any means to advance his point.

Maybe I should correct my original title. In the case of these two people, only one is clearly a moron, but the other is much worse!


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