Respectful Insolence

i-662fcdc36fa103d3c4b18ee98f72f16a-HitlerZombie-756531.jpgNote: If you’re not familiar with the Hitler Zombie, here are two posts to introduce you to the creature, with the most recent installment of his terror here, in which Orac narrowly escaped the creature.

And, now, the adventures (if you can call them that) continue….

PRELUDE: SEVERAL MONTHS AGO

It was a dreary, overcast day, as so many days were there, with the clouds seeming to reach down to engulf everything with a wet chill that went straight to the bone.

An eminent professor sat in his study typing. Gray-haired, bright-eyed, and very professorial in appearance and bearing right down to his brown sweater, he paused over his work, perhaps stuck over the exact turn of phrase he wanted to use next. He knew what he wanted to say, but couldn’t quite think of a catch phrase that was potent enough to attract attention while at the same time hammering home his message in a way that would be likely to spread, as he might say, “meme”-like. He sighed, pushed his chair back, leaned back, and closed his eyes to think.

And then he noted a faint odor. He could not quite identify what it was, other than that it was unpleasant, rather like the smell of a cesspool mixed with the smells of a slaughterhouse, all topped off with the odors of rotting meat and vegetable matter.I hope the toilet isn’t backing up, he thought, and continued his reveries over his writing.

The shattering of pottery in a nearby room interrupted his meditations, and he sat bolt upright. “What was that?” he demanded. “Lalla, is that you?”

It wasn’t.

Through the open door to his office, he now saw slowly shambling into view a skeletal being, with shards of charred and rotting flesh barely hanging on to its bones. Somehow, though, its tattered clothing was recognizable as a military uniform, and, even more amazingly, a brush of black hair remained intact under the holes in the center of its face that must once have been covered by its nose. The stench of putrescence was now overpowering.

The creature paused, looked around, and saw the professor. It paused. “Braaaaiiiinnns!”* it cried, and immediately shambled towards the open doorway.

The professor leaped up and slammed the door with every fiber of his being, throwing the force of his entire body against the door. He frantically grasped for the lock and succeeded in locking it.

The creature pounded with a superhuman strength at the sturdy door, crying over and over again, “Braaaaiiins!”*

The door bowed inward and began to shed splinters as a cat sheds hair under the relentless force of the pounding.

*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*

PRELUDE: TEN DAYS AGO, THE SCIENCE BLOGOSPHERE

“I’m tired,” said Abel.

“Tired?” replied Orac. “The concept has no meaning to me.”

“Well it does to me,” retorted Abel. “We’ve been on the run and searching for the monster for three months now, ever since our narrow escape from him at D. James Kennedy’s ministry. Now we’ve landed in this no man’s land. Where are we?”

It was true. Abel had barely escaped with his brain intact. Orac, being a mass of plastic and electronics, did not provide a palatable brain meal for the monster and thus had little to fear other than physical damage to his circuitry (which was well protected), and Abel suspected that as a result Orac was rather too cavalier about the brains of his friends. Now, they had landed in a desolate region that looked like the aftermath of a battlefield, only without the bodies. The stench of ozone wafted through the ether, and dust wafted by. Nothing appeared to be alive other than Abel from horizon to horizon.

“What is this place?” asked Abel more insistently.

“The site of a particularly nasty and pointless internecine blog battle between those who were previously allies,” snapped Orac. His lights blinked more rapidly in agitation. “We are—”

Orac was interrupted by a bolt of light screaming overhead. “Aappppeeeeaaassser!” it screamed before landing just over the horizon and producing a spectacular fireball. Abel grabbed the box that contained Orac and dove into a nearby foxhole. Another two bolts followed, with similar reports. These were was immediately answered by by a similar bolts flying overhead in the opposite direction, with the report of “doooogmaaattic aaaathhheeeiiisstss” before exploding with spectacular fireworks over the opposite horizon.

The battlefield fell silent for a moment, although the odor of overheated rhetoric was still overpowering, causing him to cough. “What the hell was that?” Abel asked.

“As I was saying,” continued Orac, apparently unflustered by the overheated blogospheric rhetorical carnage passing overhead in such abundance, “a bit of a blog war over, of all things, the pseudoscience known as ‘intelligent design’ creationism.”

“What,” asked Abel. “Are the fundamentalists trying to push that IDiocy in another public school?”

“They are always doing that,” replied Orac. “No, this is more disturbing to me because it is between those who should be allies in the fight against this pseudoscience, and it has gotten more vicious than I can recall ever having seen before. Worse, it is striking far closer to home than I’ve ever seen.”

Orac paused. A group of hunched bloggers were trodding through the no man’s land, heads down, clothes tattered. They stared blankly ahead. One of them, however, did not appear demoralized at all. He walked almost jauntily among the others, carrying a flag that looked like this:

I Love PZ Myers

“What does that flag mean?” asked Abel. But before Orac could answer, a whistle was heard overhead, and Abel buried his face in the dirt at the bottom of the foxhole.

Appppeeeeaaaassseeerrr!” it screamed as the shell landed a mere 100 yards from the group and exploded with earthshaking power, raining dirt and rubble into the foxhole. After the dust settled, Abel cautiously poked his head over the lip of the foxhole. For long moments, nothing but swirling dust was visible. But then he could make out the shape of the man with the flag slowly rising. He brushed himself of, gave the middle-fingered salute in the direction from which the shell had originated, and continued onward in the direction he had been heading. The others slowly rose as well, and scattered in all directions. One, however, stayed put. He appeared to be writing, as if documenting the entire battle for his blog.

“I think now’s as good a time as any to get while the gettin’s good,” said Abel.

“Agreed,” replied Orac. “Activate teleport!”

Abel and Orac disappeared in a flash of light, a mere second before another shell obliterated the very foxhole in which they had been seeking refuge.

*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*

LOCATION: SCIENCEBLOGS HOME OFFICE. TIME: EARLY IN THE A.M.

Orac was back in his usual spot on a table in the corner of the home office of ScienceBlogs in New York. Relieved, Abel had retreated back to North Carolina, wanting to get as far away as possible from the ideological battle raging around him. Orac, however, wanted to identify the source of this blog conflagration. He had therefore taken control of the Liberator and left Avon with no chance but to wait as Orac teleported down to the planet to interface with the ScienceBlogs mainframe and from that interfaced with every computer in the world simultaneously, an ability designed into him by his creator Ensor. As a classic bit of Avon’s bitter humor, he had sent the cowardly Vila down to the planet with Orac, knowing how much Vila’s constant questioning would irritate Orac, who viewed Vila with even more contempt than even the rest of the crew of the Liberator.

“How long are we going to be staying here?” whined Vila, his back against a wall, blaster raised, and eyes darting to and fro.

“Until I have the information that I require,” snapped Orac. Make yourself useful and look at this quote that I have located by biochemist Larry Moran regarding the “Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists”:

These are scientists who are willing to compromise science in order to form an alliance with some religious groups who oppose Christian fundamentalism. Do you believe in miracles? That’s okay, it’s part of science. Do you believe that God guides evolution in order to produce beings who worship him? That’s fine too; it’s all part of the Neville Chamberlain version of intelligent design. Souls, moral law, life after death, a fine-tuned universe, angels, the efficacy of prayer, transubstantiation … all these things are part of the new age science according to the appeasement school. There’s no conflict with real science. We mustn’t question these things for fear of alienating our potential allies in the fight against the IDiots. Welcome to the big tent.

Ed Brayton has declared himself one of the leading members of the Neville Chamberlain School. And now, John Lynch and Pat Hayes have joined the Ed Brayton team.

Me and PZ are on the side of science and rationalism.

“So what?” asked Vila. “Other than his appalling grammar in that last sentence, I don’t see the problem.”

“Do you not see?” snapped Orac. “This is one of the posts that got this latest firefight going into high gear, and I suspect it as a direct result of an attack by the monster.”

“The Hitler Zombie? I’m don’t see it, Orac. There’s no mention of Hitler or the Nazis there.”

“Review your history,” continued Orac. “This is nothing more than a form of argumentum ad Hitlerium or ad Naziium.

“I still don’t see it.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to see it,” retorted Orac. “Nonetheless, I shall try to explain in such a manner that one with your limited intellect can undestand. Think. Who was Neville Chamberlain and what was he known for?”

“I never did pay much attention in history. (Too busy stealing things, I guess.) I think he was the British Prime Minister before World War II. Wasn’t he the one who appeased Hitler by giving him part of another nation?”

“Correct. In 1938, Neville Chamberlain made a deal with Adolf Hitler that gave Hitler part of a nation called Czechoslovakia called the Sudetenland. Chamberlain’s hope was that this would appease Hitler and prevent a general European war. Indeed, he came back to Britain to great acclaim, stating that he had secured ‘peace with honor’ and ‘peace for our time.’ It didn’t work, of course. A year and a half later, Hitler invaded Poland, triggering World War II. Ever since then, Chamberlain’s name has become synonymous with moral cowardice and appeasement. It can be argued that the scorn heaped on Chamberlain’s name is not completely fair, because at the time his people overwhelmingly opposed war, and the memory of the mass carnage of World War I contributed to a desire in Chamberlain and the British public at large to avoid another big war almost at all costs. Even the U.S. approved of Chamberlain’s deal. Also, at this point, it was not yet clear that Hitler could not be bargained with. Be that as it may, Chamberlain’s name is now often used as an epithet against those who are perceived as not adequately standing up to evil.”

“So what does this have to do with the Hitler Zombie?” asked Vila.

“Isn’t it obvious? Whom are these “Neville Chamberlain” evolutionists ‘appeasing,’ in Moran’s view? Theistic evolutionists and creationists, of course! Religionists! Therefore, whether he realizes he’s doing it or not, Moran is implicitly likening ‘intelligent design’ creationists and theistic evolutionists to Hitler and explicitly likening the ‘Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists’ who don’t criticize whom he thinks they should criticize the way he thinks they should be criticized as moral cowards who are afraid to stand up to a Hitler-like menace. Indeed, argumentum ad Naziium a very important secondary aspect of the Neville Chamberlain gambit. Why do you think the neocons who wanted to invade Iraq used to like to play the Neville Chamberlain gambit so much against opponents of the war with regards to Saddam Hussein? In Moran’s hands, it is a ridiculously overblown Hitler analogy, but cleverly concealed just under the surface, so that it is not nearly as obvious as the crude Hitler analogies used by, for example, Michael Ruse or D. James Kennedy, but just obvious enough that people link the common enemy being “appeased” with Hitler at least subconsciously.”

“Neocons?” asked Vila. “What are they?”

“Oh, never mind,” snapped Orac, exasperated. “Suffice it to say again that the use of the Neville Chamberlain gambit is an implicit form of likening a common enemy to the Nazis, and that is why I suspect that Moran may have had his brain eaten by the monster.”

“But I’ve heard that term before,” said Vila. “Moran didn’t come up with it.”

Orac paused. Sometimes Vila actually surprised him. He would have to remember that Vila was not always as stupid as he usually appeared. “Quite correct. Moran did not originate the term. Another appears to have done so. Consider this quote”:

In response to such threats, an evolution defense lobby has sprung up, most notably represented by the National Center For Science Education (NCSE), led by Eugenie Scott, indefatigable activist on behalf of science, who has recently produced her own book, Evolution vs. Creationism. One of NCSE’s main political objectives is to court and mobilize ‘sensible’ religious opinion: mainstream churchmen and women who have no problem with evolution and may regard it as irrelevant to (or even in some strange way supportive of) their faith. It is to this mainstream of clergy, theologians, and non-fundamentalist believers, embarrassed as they are by creationism because it brings religion into disrepute, that the evolution defense lobby tries to appeal. And one way to do this is to bend over backwards in their direction by espousing NOMA [Stephen Jay Gould's idea that religion and science occupy non overlapping magisteria (NOMA)]–agree that science is completely non-threatening, because it is disconnected from religion’s claims.

Another prominent luminary of what we might call the Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists is the philosopher Michael Ruse.

“But didn’t you already say that Ruse’s brain had been eaten?” asked Vila.

“Do not interrupt me when I am trying to educate you,” snapped Orac. “Yes, Ruse’s brain has been eaten. You’ll see that yet again the rest of the quote”:

From a purely tactical viewpoint, I can see the superficial appeal of Ruse’s comparison with the fight against Hitler: “Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt did not like Stalin and communism. But in fighting Hitler they realized that they had to work with the Soviet Union. Evolutionists of all kinds must likewise work together to fight creationism.”

“There’s more,” continued Orac:

I do have one thing in common with the creationists. Like me, but unlike the “Chamberlain school,” they will have no truck with NOMA and its separate magisteria.

And finally:

The Chamberlain tactic of snuggling up to ‘sensible’ religion, in order to present a united front against (‘intelligent design’) creationists, is fine if your central concern is the battle for evolution. That is a valid central concern, and I salute those who press it, such as Eugenie Scott in Evolution versus Creationism. But if you are concerned with the stupendous scientific question of whether the universe was created by a supernatural intelligence or not, the lines are drawn completely differently. On this larger issue, fundamentalists are united with ‘moderate’ religion on one side, and I find myself on the other.

“Ah, very clever,” said Vila, with a smile. “I can see what you mean now. The ‘Neville Chamberlain’ gambit does liken creationists to Hitler and the Nazis. But who said all that?”

“The first part can be found in chapter 2 of a recent book called The God Delusion, and the final quote was found here.”

“I never had much use for God or gods,” said Vila. “Always trying to keep an honest thief from making a buck–unless, of course, that thief is a minister fleecing his flock, which even I wouldn’t do. I could make a lot of money at it, but I still like to do my thieving the old-fashioned honest way: with a lockpick.”

“Coming from you, that’s surprisingly sensible,” said Orac.

“Thanks–hey, wait a minute!” Vila paused, deciding it wasn’t worth trying to come up with a retort. Orac could be cranky, and there wasn’t much point in sparring with him when he was like this. Instead, Vila asked, “Who wrote the book?”

“A famous evolutionary biologist named Richard Dawkins wrote the book, and is now touring the world promoting it.”

“But how could this Dawkins character and Moran have fallen victims? On the surface, both seem like they should be far too smart for that, and their analogy isn’t nearly as over-the-top as the ones produced by previous attacks of the monster.”

Orac’s multicolored lights blinked for several seconds. “You are incorrect. The analogy is nearly as over-the-top in its own way. ID creationists may be a threat to good science education; a small minority of them may even be theocrats; but they most certainly do not represent an evil or a threat anywhere near the order of Hitler. Also, clearly, the bite of the monster works different ways with different people. Ruse, for example, likens creationists to Hitler as a means of justifying alliances with more moderate religious people. This tactic allows him to try to claim the mantle of Roosevelt and Churchill, implicitly likens creationists to Hitler, and also likens theistic evolutionists to Stalin, if you take the analogy to its conclusion. A rather ironic twist, really, given that Stalin was an atheist.”

“I really hope we don’t have to deal with the Stalin Zombie as well,” interjected Vila. “He’s every bit as nasty a piece of work as the Hitler Zombie.”

“True,” continued Orac. “but note also how Dawkins also uses the same overblown analogy to liken people like Ruse to Neville Chamberlain appeasing Hitler and himself to Winston Churchill stalwartly refusing to yield. One aspect of this whole affair that is particularly disturbing about this is that Dawkins usually shows many admirable characteristics. He is blunt; he does not suffer fools; he values reason; and he is not afraid to argue his point. It is indeed disturbing to see him use this analogy. Even though it is a small part of his book, he repeats the analogy frequently in his public appearances and interviews. He clearly likes it and wants it to spread.”

“Yes, I can see why you’d like him. But Dawkins also seems utterly clueless as to why people would find his “Neville Chamberlain” analogy so offensive. Rather like you, in some ways.”

Orac ignored Vila and continued on. “I can propose three likely hypotheses to explain Dawkins. One possibility is that Dawkins’ superior intellect was enough to fight off the monster before it could eat enough of his brain to reduce him to drooling Dobson-style polemics. Another possibility is that the monster found Dawkins’ brain unpalatable because of its intellect, and therefore aborted the attack before finishing it off. The final possibility that I can imagine is that the monster completed his attack, but even with little brain left Dawkins still remains intelligent enough to couch the overblown Hitler analogies inspired by the monster in terms that make them less obvious.”

“But what about Moran?”

“Moran is clearly thrives on confrontation even more than Dawkins but seems to have much poorer judgment, given the way he delights in heaping contempt on those whom he views as too soft by labeling them “Neville Chamberlains.” Indeed, arguably he is the one who primarily accelerated this latest flare-up with a breathtakingly ill-considered remark about ‘flunking the IDiots that he now lamely claims was a joke.”

Orac paused, his lights blinking, patterns ever changing. It was almost as though he were thinking, if such a thing were possible by a computer. Then he went on, “Of course, as much as I’ve defended Dawkins before against similarly spurious uses of the Hitler analogy, now that I think of it, I have caught him before making arguments based on a dubious understanding of history.”

Not everyone would agree with you on that last bit,” said Vila, smiling because he loved to see Orac get a comeuppance, and betting that Orac would be surprised that he knew of that little fisking.

“My basic point was correct,” snapped Orac, his lights blinking red, “but I will concede that I may have overplayed my hand with respect to discussing Bomber Harris, who was a true ideologue. Certainly the Americans would have embraced the technology, even if Harris did not. In any case, it was one more bit of evidence that Dawkins has become somewhat sloppy, which may be yet another indication that he was indeed attacked. There is no doubt at all that Moran was attacked, most likely after Dawkins, and he clearly retains less of his once-formidable faculties than Dawkins does. In any case, I believe our work here is done. Curse this primitive planet. If its technology were not so rudimentary, I could have interfaced with its networks from the Liberator, without taking this risk of encountering the monster again before we are ready. In the meantime, I must try to repair the damage among advocates of sound science education that has been done. The monster has done grievous harm to those who do not wish to see science corrupted by religious nonscientific beliefs.”

“‘Repair the damage’? How are you going to manage that? By pissing off both sides in your usual inimitable fashion? By taking sides?”

“Why not? It works for PZ,” Orac responded.

“Next, you’ll be saying PZ‘s had his brain chomped.”

Orac ignored Vila’s provocation. It was clear that Vila was just trying to get a rise out of him, which, because Orac was a computer (albeit a cranky one whose personality was based on his famously prickly creator and who had no patience for fools), was usually difficult. “As usual, I have already considered this possibility,” replied Orac. “It is possible that this has happened, but insufficient evidence exists to conclude one way or the other. I have done a complete search of the Pharyngula archives, and I am unable to find an instance of him using argumentum ad Naziium in the form of the Neville Chamberlain gambit, or any other gambit for that matter.”

“Well, that’s a relief. It’d be bad if ol’ PZ had had his brain chomped.”

“It is not entirely a ‘relief,’” said Orac. “Although I do not believe that PZ’s brain has yet been eaten, he did mention Dawkins’ use of Neville Chamberlain once and was not in the least bit critical of the term. Indeed, he seemed at least not to object to it (and possibly he even approved of it), and in the past has himself railed against ‘appeasers‘ in much the same way that Dawkins and Moran have, even as he has ratcheted up the rhetoric. He simply has not chosen to use the ‘Neville Chamberlain gambit.’ This suggests to me that he has probably not been attacked yet, but that his overheated rhetoric may attract the monster to him. We must act now, while he has cooled down a bit.”

“So you mean he might be in danger? Let’s get out of here.”

“Calm yourself. PZ is nowhere around here. He is 1,000 miles away. Still, my calculations indicate that he is at risk. We must return to the Liberator–”

“Now you’re talking!”

“–and then teleport to Minnesota to make sure that PZ retains his brain,” continued Orac.

“Do we have to?” asked Vila, reaching for his teleport bracelet. “I’m not a big fan of the cold. Love my comfort, I do.” He paused, wrinkled his nose, and looked up. “What’s that awful smell?” There was indeed a horrible smell, very similar to the one smelt by the professor, although Vila had no way of knowing that.

“Teleport now if you value what little brain you have!” hissed Orac. “The creature is here!”

Vila turned, to see something shambling toward him. It was shrouded in shadow, but its shape could be made out, a vaguely human shape hunched over, with tatters hanging from its limbs, but with its right arm straight and raised forward, as if in salute. The light caught its side, and Vila could see that it was wearing a red armband with a white circle and some sort of black symbol resembling a bent cross in the circle. The stench was overwhelming, and Vila felt his stomach contents rising in the back of his throat, bitter and full of acid. He fumbled for the controls on the communicator on his teleport bracelet, “Avon, get us out of here!,” he croaked. “I mean it! We need teleport now!” he cried frantically into the bracelet, touching Orac’s clear skin to make contact so that they would both be teleported to the Liberator.

Sensing his prey about to escape, the creature let out a cry that sounded as though it came from an old newsreel echoing filtered through the crypt, “Brraaaaaaiiiins!”* The creature lunged–and managed to grasp Vila’s arm with its skeletal hand.

And, in a flash of light, all three, Orac, Vila, and the zombie disappeared.

(TO BE CONTINUED…)

*All translated from the German, of course!

Comments

  1. #1 themann1086
    December 4, 2006

    Such suspense! I’m on the edge of my seat!

  2. #2 Benjamin Franz
    December 4, 2006

    ID creationists may be a threat to good science education; a small minority of them may even be theocrats; but they most certainly do not represent an evil or a threat anywhere near the order of Hitler.

    Umm..I beg to differ on this point. Theocrats do represent an evil/threat of the magnitude of Hitler. And there is an uncomfortably close relationship between ID Creationists and Theocrats (as in the latter appear to be bankrolling the former). Not every comparision with the Nazi’s is incorrect. Just 99.99% of them. But if the Theocrats succeeded in taking full control of the US I would move to another country. Because it would be just a matter of time until Taliban-like laws ruled the land.

    Great post otherwise.

  3. #3 Joshua
    December 4, 2006

    *GASP*

    The suspense is killing me!

  4. #4 Blake Stacey
    December 4, 2006

    I suspect that a term like “Neville Chamberlain evolutionists” can spread memetically among those who have studied more biology than history and thus would have no reason to question its appropriateness. People can say it without having been chomped by the zombie: they’re just weakened by the textborn virus contaminating the blogosphere.

  5. #5 Blake Stacey
    December 4, 2006

    To elaborate: if you hold the view espoused by Dawkins, Myers et al. on the deleterious effects of theism, and if your understanding of World War II is congruent with a good public school education — accurate in names, dates and places but less than complete in backgrounds and attitudes — then you will find the phrase “Neville Chamberlain evolutionists” perfectly appropriate. We can dispute the second proposition on historical grounds without saying anything about the validity of the first proposition. In essence, we would be denying the validity of linking “Neville Chamberlain” with “appeasement” in any circumstance, not just the one currently at hand.

    Those bloggers who have adopted the “proud Neville Chamberlain atheist” flag have implicitly accepted the naive interpretation of Chamberlain’s career. They accept proposition #2, the one actually relating to World War history, but dispute proposition #1. Have they been chomped by the Hitler Zombie?

    (The weak form of Godwin’s Law does not state that the first person to argue ad Naziam loses the argument; rather, it states that beyond this point, discussion is simply pointless, an important distinction to note.)

  6. #6 Joshua
    December 4, 2006

    For my money, I think the whole thing is completely overblown.

    Larry Moran’s kick-off post was pretty irresponsible, that much is certain.

    At the same time, the response has been equally irresponsible. Why? Because that kick-off post should have been disregarded from the outset. Ed Brayton and the other “Neville Chamberlain atheists” should have ignored it completely and got on with their lives rather than playing along with this stupid drawing of lines in the sand. Why? Because the kick-off post was obviously not talking about them.

    The common “Chamberlain” response has been to say, “Oh-ho! Not true! I’m for science! I don’t abide by any encroach of religion and sloppy woo-logic into science!” To which I say, fantastic! Wonderful! I’m glad to hear it! So, then, why are you upset? Larry Moran was applying his epithet to a subset of people who do abide by the encroaching of religion and woo-logic into science but reject the narrow field of woo called creationism. They are the “Neville Chamberlains” of his historically-inaccurate analogy. So if you’re not in that group, you have no legitimate grounds to take offence.

    Unfortunately, Larry Moran was especially irresponsible to name names. Worse, he named people who don’t do what he accused him of doing. So the offence is, after all, understandable, but we’d all have been better off if the targets just ignored it as a case of (temporary?) profound bad judgment on Larry Moran’s part and let their own views stand to define whether they’re pro- or anti-reason.

  7. #7 Lab Cat
    December 4, 2006

    As a Brit, I have to quibble with this point:

    “the scorn heaped on Chamberlain’s name is not completely fair, because at the time his people overwhelmingly opposed war, and the memory of the mass carnage of World War I contributed to a desire in Chamberlain and the British public at large to avoid another big war almost at all costs.”

    Many upperclass Brits opposed the possibility of war but it is not true of all Brits. This is not the same as “the British public at large”, many of whom, especially on the left and working class, were very disappointed when Chamberlain appeased Hitler.

    I only know this from family conversations; my Dad especially, who was around at the time and is still alive today.

  8. #8 PZ Myers
    December 4, 2006

    I do not use the term “Neville Chamberlain school”, etc., except in an ironic way because I don’t like it. I think there’s a germ of a valid idea in there — I do object to the way certain people automatically dismiss the contribution of atheists to modern science, and think the only way to win over people is to downplay the conflict between religion and science — but loading it up with all the complicated and irrelevant cargo of a WWII analogy is just awful, and detracts from the real debate. Even now, I’d argue that the substance of Dawkins’ and Moran’s points are being ignored in the reek of the Hitler zombie.

    I think also you’re overlooking what I saw as the primary problem, the one that everyone is skipping over. Moran’s initial salvo was a strong (some say too strong, I disagree) criticism of creationists, not religious people, not the Waffen SS, no Churchillian references or invocations of Hitler. It was Brayton who replied with damnation and rejection of those fundamentalist atheists (to which the best reply would probably have been, “WTF, dude, are you off your meds?”) and suddenly we have the universe split into “Ed’s Team” vs. Evil.

    Hey, if I’m going to be assigned to the Evil team, I’m not going to hold back. Lasers, Day One.

  9. #9 Ahistoricality
    December 4, 2006

    Last I heard, the Stalin Zombie had — ahistorically, but that’s a zombie error for you — joined forces with the Mao Zombie and was stalking libertarians….

  10. #10 Joshua
    December 4, 2006

    Hang on, what’s this about “zombie error”? Sounds suspiciously vivicist to me. When will the undead get a fair shake?

  11. #11 Ahistoricality
    December 4, 2006

    The term “Zombie Error” comes from Michael Tinkler: “I always call them ‘zombie errors,’ by the way, because if you put a stake in the heart of a ‘vampire error’ it stays dead.”

  12. #12 Chris
    December 4, 2006

    By that definition, isn’t creationism itself a zombie error? Along with teleology, anthropomorphizing anything that moves and some things that don’t, etc.

    Anyway, I don’t buy that comparing someone to Neville Chamberlain is an argumentum ad Hitlerum. A flawed historical analogy, maybe, but IMO argumentum ad Hitlerum isn’t just a flawed analogy but an attempt to short circuit reason by invoking Hitler. Chamberlain’s name just doesn’t have the right kind of mojo for that.

    The important thing is whether or not modern theocrats pose a real danger to anyone who doesn’t believe as they do (I think they do), not whether or not the precise magnitude of that danger is or is not sufficient to compare them to Nazis. Even if they are less bad than Nazis there is quite a lot of room for them to be very bad indeed and their badness should be addressed on its merits, not sidetracked by talking about whether or not we are allowed to talk about Hitler (or someone else who is remembered largely for his interactions with Hitler).

  13. #13 Joshua
    December 4, 2006

    Ah, so it’s a reference to the legendary tenacity of our zombie brothers. I was worried for a second that it might have been anti-zombie hate language. I’ll have none of the latter, thanks!

    (Wait, am I accepting that positive stereotyping is ok? Is that wrong? It’s probably wrong Crap, I just don’t know anymore! *explodes from PC overload*)

  14. #14 llewelly
    December 4, 2006

    Off topic:
    Zombie Hitler rampages Rick Santorum’s brain: Gathering Storm .
    (Actually I think the entire Zombie Third Reich is involved …)

  15. #15 Orac
    December 4, 2006

    think also you’re overlooking what I saw as the primary problem, the one that everyone is skipping over. Moran’s initial salvo was a strong (some say too strong, I disagree) criticism of creationists, not religious people, not the Waffen SS, no Churchillian references or invocations of Hitler. It was Brayton who replied with damnation and rejection of those fundamentalist atheists (to which the best reply would probably have been, “WTF, dude, are you off your meds?”) and suddenly we have the universe split into “Ed’s Team” vs. Evil.

    My dear PZ, lighten up a bit. The utter ridiculousness of this entire kerfluffle (which, sadly, I was not immune from foolishly throwing myself into in the comments of your blog) cried out for the loving embrace of the Hitler Zombie. Besides, Orac is right now in the process of trying to save you from the monster (and crew of the Liberator looks like they may be on the verge of getting their brains chomped for his bother); the least you could do is express some gratitude. In any case, the only reason you didn’t get a chomp in the above story yourself is because you were sensible enough not to repeat the meme except while quoting Dawkins. (Besides, I thought the part about the blogospheric war, complete with Razib and his “Proud Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists” banner was a nice touch, if I do say so myself.)

    But, to be serious (and to address Chris, too), there was always something that bothered me about the whole “Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists” from the very first time I read it in Chapter 2 of The God Delusion, and it was Larry Moran’s repeated invocation of it to shower contempt on those who didn’t agree with him that finally led me to think more carefully about exactly what it was that irritated me about it. Chris may have a point that the name of Neville Chamberlain doesn’t have the same mojo as a direct reference to Hitler, but that’s what makes it so insidious the more it is repeated. I would say the “Neville Chamberlain” gambit is an attempt to short circuit reason for two reasons: First, it attacks the person it’s aimed at as cowardly and not willing to fight for what he believes in and, second (and here’s where the argumentum ad Naziium comes in), because it plants the comparison between creationists and Hitler in the minds of those hearing the analogy onan almost subconscious level, particularly with repetition

    Indeed, I mentioned the neocons for a reason. Remember in the run-up to the Iraq War, how those who advocated letting the U.N. do its work or were against pre-emptively invading Iraq were tarred with the “Neville Chamberlain” gambit? There was a reason for that.

    Finally, I have to disagree strenuously that ID creationists or the religious are anywhere near the evil represented by Hitler (or Stalin, for that matter). Is anyone really arguing that they’re about to murder millions upon millions, as Hitler and Stalin did. Really, such comparisons show a lack of historical proportion.

    I do agree, however, that creationism may be a zombie error. However, I got the impression that “zombie errors” were more like incorrect factoids that just won’t die. Creationism is an entire incorrect pseudoscience that won’t die; so I’m not sure if it truly is a “zombie error” or a zombie pseudoscience.

  16. #16 Orac
    December 4, 2006

    One more thing. Glenn Greenwald was quite right when he wrote:

    Screaming “appeasement” and endlessly comparing political opponents to Neville Chamberlian is not a serious, thoughtful argument, nor is it the basis for any sort of foreign policy. At best, it is an empty, cheap platitude so overused by those seeking war as to be impoverished of meaning. More often than not, though, it is worse than that; it is the disguised battlecry of those who want war for its own sake, and who want therefore to depict the attempt to resolve problems without more and more new wars as being irresponsible and weak.

    In the first sentence, replace the word “political” with “ideological” or “religious” and replace the words “foreign policy” with “advocating for science,” and the above quote comes close to my view of the use of this Neville Chamberlain with respect to this whole sad affair.

  17. #17 Joshua
    December 4, 2006

    Why can’t it be a zombie pseudoscience based on zombie errors? There are many levels of both wrongness and just-won’t-dieness involves with creationism.

  18. #18 decrepitoldfool
    December 4, 2006

    PZ, since you’re apparently reading this: In practical terms, what is the advantage of alienating religious people who share your desire for secular science education and separation of church and state? These are people I should want on my side unless my primary goal were the unrealistic desire to make all people agree with me about everything.

  19. #19 Orac
    December 4, 2006

    Decrepit Old Fool: I’m not sure PZ is coming back to check replies. His comment had the whiff of a one-off appearance. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s the sense I got. He rarely shows up in my blog for more than one or two comments in a thread, if that.

    Joshua: You may have a point. It was just that my impression was that zombie errors tended to be factoids, rather than elaborately constructed worldviews or pseudosciences.

  20. #20 PZ Myers
    December 4, 2006

    I regularly read other comments, I don’t dive in too often simply because I’ve got this mob over at Pharyngula sucking up my attention.

    Orac, I don’t quite see the point of your reply: my comment was that I do not endorse the “Neville Chamberlain appeaser” appellation, so telling me how bad it is again seems a little redundant.

    DOF, I am not planning to convert everyone to my way of thinking. I expect that atheists will be a minority in my lifetime and in my children’s lifetimes. That does not mean I should stop stating my point of view strongly and without ambiguity. In practical terms, what I want to do is stick out my elbows enough that the religious will have to make room for us. They won’t do so if we’re meek and unobtrusive.

    As for alienatiing religious people, I have to ask…do you ask Christians what they hope to gain by alienating atheists?

  21. #21 Coin
    December 4, 2006

    Hm.

    The people being described as “Neville Chamberlain atheists” here do not exactly approve of or side with theists, and in fact have probably been at open war of some kind with theists on other subjects in recent memory– but do want to join with theists where appropriate in temporary alliance in order to defeat something much worse and more threatening, specifically theocrats and creationists. This is not analagous to anything Neville Chamberlain did.

    It is, however, exactly analagous to what Winston Churchhill did when he allied with Josef Stalin to defeat Hitler, since however much Winston Churchhill may have disapproved of Stalin, at least he wasn’t Hitler.

    Conclusion: The more appropriate term for “Neville Chamberlain atheists” would be “Winston Churchhill atheists”.

    Sub-conclusion: World War II comparisons are way, way too easy to construct, even when the comparison is completely ridiculous and random.

  22. #22 Jurjen S.
    December 4, 2006

    I acknowledge that there are valid reasons for being annoyed by Neville Chamberlain references, but I think there may be a mitigating factor, which is this: it is the one example of (ultimately) ineffective appeasement with which one may safely assume the overwhelming majority of one’s readership is familiar, saving one from having to digress into a historical explanation for readers unfamiliar with it. If there were another generally known example which didn’t involve trying to appease specifically someone who turned out to be as odious as Hitler, I would like to think Dawkins (and Moran) would have preferred to seize on that, thereby avoiding the obvious (and not unjustified) charge of committing an argumentum ad Nazium.

  23. #23 PZ Myers
    December 4, 2006

    Except that I don’t think we need a historical example, especially such a flawed one. We ought to grapple with the insipidity of the apologists for religion directly.

  24. #24 Sastra
    December 4, 2006

    I was going to ask a question, but Jurjen may have already (implicitly) asked it. Fine, “Neville Chamberlain School of Appeasement” is out: not good history, and calls forth the Hitler zombi. What then would be a better analogy — or a better term — for those evolutionists who want to “snuggle up to ‘sensible’ religion in order to create a united front against (intelligent design) creationists” by tactfully refusing to address the larger question — of creative supernatural intelligence — scientifically?

    In other words, if you were ghost writing for Dawkins, what pithy phrase or memorable word picture might you have come up with instead?

  25. #25 James
    December 4, 2006

    This is the trouble when politics is mixed with religion, you get confusion between politicl arguments and religious ones. To me it looks like the “Neville Chamberlain” school are simply approaching religion at a strictly political level. In a free society people do not need to beleive the same things to get along (at least I hope not) so the key issue is ensuring society stays free, thus an alliance between secular atheists and secular christians (secular is not a synonym for atheist and should not be used as such, too many people on all sides make this mistake) against those who want to impose their religion on everyone.

    The other argument is religios, is there a god/gods of some sort or not. Since these possibilities are mutually exclusive you get the theists against the atheists. This colossal flame war is the result of mistaking one argument for the other.

    So as you can see WWII is not the correct metaphor. You have four different armies fighting in different 2 vs 2 combinations to figth two different wars on the same battlefield. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there is no historical precedent for that.

  26. #26 Joshua
    December 5, 2006

    PZ just used the better term: apologist. It’s already got traction within the religious context, and that’s who we’re actually talking about anyway. And, as I’ve said a bunch of times now… if the term offends you because that’s not what you are… then it’s directed at you, and you shouldn’t be offended. Unless someone is being silly and directly calling you an apologist when you clearly aren’t, which is kinda what kicked this off.

  27. #27 JohnnieCanuck
    December 5, 2006

    The WWII aspects of the rhetoric are more of a distraction than anything else as far as I am concerned. The self censorship aspect is what I would like to see resolved.

    Ed Brayton et al have expressed an opinion that atheists like Dawkins and Meyers are hurting the cause of teaching evolution in public schools. The hypothesized mechanism as I understand it, is that they are allowing the case to be made that teaching evolution will enable atheism.

    Isn’t it a little late to be suppressing this idea? As far as I can tell, all the players accept this. Some fight against it, some are not concerned and some embrace it.

    How then does asking strong atheists to censor themselves really make a difference? I don’t see a Ken Miller quitting the cause because of atheist criticisms. The supporters of the wedge document intend to push the evolution=atheism equation any chance they get and won’t be deterred by a sudden silence. Quite the opposite, I’d expect. They would happily seize the chance to spotlight such a conspiracy.

    This leaves the great mass of voters who might want evolution taught but would not want to give up their warm and fuzzy traditions. Just because these people are able to swallow a system of mutual self deceit doesn’t mean they will be fooled by such a ploy, assuming they don’t just block out such sources of uncomfortable ideas in the first place.

    I also see no chance that Dawkins, Myers and the rest would ever have been so accommodating as to pipe down. What then was the point of bringing up the subject in the first place?

    Perhaps the political types just need to be able to show that they are not one of ‘those’ kinds of atheists. It is hard to play at politics for long without losing friends and getting as dirty as the opposition.

  28. #28 Orac
    December 5, 2006

    Orac, I don’t quite see the point of your reply: my comment was that I do not endorse the “Neville Chamberlain appeaser” appellation, so telling me how bad it is again seems a little redundant.

    Glad to hear it. I suspected that at least you didn’t share Larry Moran’s misguided enthusiasm for this very bad historical analogy and am happy to hear that you don’t approve of it.

  29. #29 Orac
    December 5, 2006

    It is, however, exactly analagous to what Winston Churchhill did when he allied with Josef Stalin to defeat Hitler, since however much Winston Churchhill may have disapproved of Stalin, at least he wasn’t Hitler.

    Conclusion: The more appropriate term for “Neville Chamberlain atheists” would be “Winston Churchhill atheists”.

    Sub-conclusion: World War II comparisons are way, way too easy to construct, even when the comparison is completely ridiculous and random.

    Indeed. In fact, the analogy that you cite above is Michael Ruse’s analogy, which was quoted by Dawkins in The God Delusion. In many ways, the Neville Chamberlain analogy is not only a disguised argumentum ad Naziium but is also very bad history. Having read a few of his polemics, I don’t expect Larry Moran to know better, but Richard Dawkins really should.

    Maybe I should write a follow-up post in a non-Hitler Zombie format for the Carnival of Bad History. I don’t think the regular readers of that carnival would “get” the Hitler Zombie (although they might).

  30. #30 Prup aka Jim Benton
    December 6, 2006

    Johnnie Canuck:
    Yes, the creationists will continue to use the evolution=atheism comment, repeatedly. But NOW they can quote a prominent voice (two, Dawkins and PZ) as ‘proof’ of their statement. Since it is the strongest gun in their arsenal, I really regret that someone on ‘my side’ keeps reloading it for them. (It is, for most people, much stronger than the ID ‘arguments’ which aren’t really aimed at the ‘public at large’ but at courts and legislators.)
    As someone involved in a couple of OTHER arguments against particularly warped religious views, ‘bible-based baby beating’ and ‘theophostic psychotherapy’ (the latest incarnation of ‘recovered memory’ ideas) I am VERY glad to have a number of very conservative Christians — whose other ideas might be repulsive to me — on my side in these battles, since they can both ‘speak the language’ and be heard where a proudly atheistic bisexual like myself would be rejected because of who I am.

    I also wish that PZ would learn the difference between arguing strongly against someone else’s ideas and attacking the person directly. This whole thing started because of his alliterated asininity against Ed. Sadly, it has probably cost him more of the respect he had earned than anything else he’d said, among people who’d ordinarily be on ‘his side’ in general.

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