Spend Gerry Rzeppa’s Money

9 05 2008

As I blogged last month, Gerry Rzeppa wants to pay Richard Dawkins a shitload of money for the privilege of proselytising to him. Rzeppa is offering Dawkins

$64 000 of my very own money if he will join me before a live audience to answer a single question about my little poem. I’ll read the story aloud and pose the mystery query. He’ll answer and walk away with the loot. Simple as that.

There are very good reasons to be skeptical about whether it is possible to collect on these “challenges,” given the likelihood that goalposts are greased up and ready to shift at a moment’s notice. As for whether Dawkins himself will ever take up Rzeppa’s challenge, you do have to bear in mind that he’s been lied to by Christians before. And let us not be sucking each others’ jagons here: who doesn’t look at a “challenge” like this and think to themselves that the author might as well have written, in the subject line of the mass-email, “CONGRATULATIONS!! RICHARD DAWKINS MIGHT ALREADY HAVE WON $64,000!!!”

Still, Rzeppa assures us that his gauntlet is being thrown down in good faith:

My offer to Dr. Dawkins is essentially a speaking fee. ANY response he cares to give to my question at the public event — even “No comment” — will be acceptable and will result in his collecting the $64,000.

Which causes me to wonder. Richard Dawkins is doubtless a wealthy man by now. If Rzeppa has a small fortune that he’s willing to just give away, can’t he find a more worthwhile use for it than to deliver to a man who probably doesn’t need $64,000 to begin with? That kind of money could go a long way in one of the 63 villages devastated in the Burmese district of Labutta last weekend. It could help deliver sanitation, hygiene education and safe water in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World. Wouldn’t something along these lines be a more productive investment than the opportunity to preach to Richard Dawkins? That’s all I’m saying, and I don’t care if you’re Gerry Rzeppa or David Coube Larry. As long as you’re prepared to give away tidy sums of your cold hard cash, there have to be more worthy causes out there than preaching in public to celebrity atheists.

So here’s my challenge to my readers. Suggest a more worthwhile use for Gerry Rzeppa’s money.

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25 responses

9 05 2008
Scote

If this guy really had an worthy question he’d publish the question in advance.

He probably has some unanswerable question like, “If you are so smart, Mr. Scientist, howe can you prove that god doesn’t exist.”

9 05 2008
Matt

He could buy himself some good science books, it’d be a start.

9 05 2008
AV

He probably has some unanswerable question like, “If you are so smart, Mr. Scientist, howe can you prove that god doesn’t exist.”

I detect an incredible amount of disdain for atheists in Rzeppa’s challenge to Dawkins. The idea is that atheists are supposed to be exactly like religious fundamentalist sheep, hanging on every word of their Popes and their pastors–and if Rzeppa could only manage to convert Pope Dawkins to theism, or at the very least, stump him or make him look silly, millions of atheists, who are only atheists on the strength of their absolute faith in Dawkins, will convert with him.

How often have you heard apologists trundle out the “I used to be an atheist” or “Antony Flew used to be TEH WORLD’S BIGGEST ATHEIST” lines?,” as if they expect you to become born-again on the spot?

9 05 2008
Sean the Blogonaut

I suggest he rolls it and sticks it somewhere.

9 05 2008
Gerry Rzeppa

Ah, AV. You misjudge me. In my view, this a David-vs-Goliath kind of affair. And if you read the story (1 Sam 17) you’ll see that David wasn’t there to convert the Philistines…

9 05 2008
Bruce

Ah, AV. In my view, this a David-vs-Goliath kind of affair.

No, I’m pretty sure AV is aware of the histrionic egocentrism in all of this. The clarification may help others.

That you are bothering to cast yourself in this debate guarantees that it can’t be serious. Comparing yourself to biblical figures…

Aside from the peanut gallery who probably like the narrative, you are doing a great job at showing people why Dawkins doesn’t have to pay attention to you.

10 05 2008
Gerry Rzeppa

I think this is telling. The master of the blog asks for suggestions regarding worthwhile ways of spending $64,000 — even providing a suggestion of his own to get the ball rolling — and the responses from his atheist friends are… well, see above!

10 05 2008
Matt

Yes, to buy some science books so you might actually get a clue.

10 05 2008
AV

And if you read the story (1 Sam 17) you’ll see that David wasn’t there to convert the Philistines…

He was there to hand them over a $64,000 appearance fee?

I think this is telling. The master of the blog asks for suggestions regarding worthwhile ways of spending $64,000

Rzeppa does have a point, my atheist friends. (Though, as someone who seems more prepared to give away hefty sums of his own money to someone who doesn’t need it rather than those who might need it, he certainly is one to talk.)

I am curious, though, about what he thinks of the suggestion that he should give his money to a charitable cause rather than to a wealthy man. Did he ever consider it, I wonder, when he dreamed up his “challenge”?

I mean, perhaps the lack of success he’s experiencing with Dawkins is due to poor framing. Which of the following sounds less likely to be a con or a stunt to you?

“Appear in front of a live audience with me, and I’ll donate $64,000 to charity.”

“Appear in front of a live audience with me, and I’ll give you $64,000.”

10 05 2008
Gerry Rzeppa

AV says, “I am curious, though, about what he thinks of the suggestion that he should give his money to a charitable cause rather than to a wealthy man. Did he ever consider it, I wonder, when he dreamed up his “challenge”?”

Of course I considered it. Do the math. If Dr. Dawkins refuses to answer, I’ll still have the original $64,000 to invest in some other worthy cause. On the other hand, if he agrees to appear, I’ll sell a lot of books and will have even more to invest in worthy causes. And the doctor will have $64,000 to invest in his favorite charity as well. I’m presuming, of course, that you’ll keep on him to make sure he does…

10 05 2008
AV

If Dr. Dawkins refuses to answer, I’ll still have the original $64,000 to invest in some other worthy cause.

Which raises two questions: (i) why is Dawkins listening to your question in front of a live audience a worthy cause? (I mean, I understand that you think it is, but why should Dawkins or anyone else think it worthwhile?) And (ii) why is it a worthier cause than any charitable cause one might care to name?

On the other hand, if he agrees to appear, I’ll sell a lot of books and will have even more to invest in worthy causes.

Why would Dawkins–who obviously doesn’t need the money–think it worth his while to help you sell your books?

10 05 2008
Gerry Rzeppa

AV asks, “Why is Dawkins listening to your question in front of a live audience a worthy cause? (I mean, I understand that you think it is, but why should Dawkins or anyone else think it worthwhile?)”

Dr. Dawkins should think so because he presumably (a) believes his doctrine to be true, and (b) wants to disseminate it to the widest possible audience. I’ve offering him a chance to reach a segment of the population he might not otherwise reach — with a rather generous speaking fee to boot.

Others should think the experience valuable for the clarity it brings to the issues, and the opportunity it gives them to discuss these matters with friends and relatives. The fact that people buy my little book — even though they can read it for free online — attests to the value of the thing. I wonder why Dr. Dawkins doesn’t offer his works, for free, online?

AV also asks, “Why is it a worthier cause than any charitable cause one might care to name?”

It’s not, of course. But I don’t really think it’s possible to rank charitable causes in such a way. Different members of the Body of Christ are called to do different things and different times. Hands and feet find different things worthy of their attention, and work in different ways. Besides, you’re the ones talking charity here, not me. I’m investing now so I’ll be able to do more later. This whole project is but the tip of the iceberg for me — a mere means to a much greater end.

The AV asks, “Why would Dawkins–who obviously doesn’t need the money–think it worth his while to help you sell your books?”

Who knows? Why did Goliath accept David’s challenge? Pride, perhaps. Maybe he thought it would be fun to make a fool of his unlikely adversary. Maybe he didn’t want his legacy tarnished.

Or perhaps Dr. Dawkins will be forced to take the challenge when his publishers realize that the market for my kind of book is a hundred times larger than the market for his obtuse and ponderous tomes — and they greedily decide to work both sides of the street with him in tow.

10 05 2008
AV

Dr. Dawkins should think so because he presumably (a) believes his doctrine to be true,

What is Dawkins’ “doctrine?”

and (b) wants to disseminate it to the widest possible audience. I’ve offering him a chance to reach a segment of the population he might not otherwise reach — with a rather generous speaking fee to boot.

But wait, isn’t he only supposed to appear in order to answer your mysterious question?

Others should think the experience valuable for the clarity it brings to the issues, and the opportunity it gives them to discuss these matters with friends and relatives.

If you were really interested in this, you’d state your question now and give people the opportunity to discuss it and respond to it.

The fact that people buy my little book — even though they can read it for free online — attests to the value of the thing.

The fact that your book is for sale to begin with means that you’ve pretty much conceded whatever moral high ground you’re attempting to seize. That people have chosen to pay for a book you’re offering freely online might attest that it holds a certain value for those people–but then again the value might reside in the fact that it is still more convenient to read a hardcover or paperback version of a book (even if this means paying for it) than it is to read it from a laptop or desktop computer screen.

I wonder why Dr. Dawkins doesn’t offer his works, for free, online?

There is a lot of material by Dawkins available for free online, if you care to look. Start with his official website. And I suppose he doesn’t offer his books for free online for the same reason Rick Warren or Lee Strobel don’t offer their books for free online: they don’t see anything morally objectionable about earning an income from the sale of their books. Also, there are these places called “libraries” where you can read books for free.

But I don’t really think it’s possible to rank charitable causes in such a way.

I didn’t say it was. But what makes Richard Dawkins’ bank account a charitable cause, in your view?

I’m investing now so I’ll be able to do more later.

But you’ve chosen to offer the money directly to Dawkins, rather than promise to direct that sum to a charitable cause if Dawkins answers whatever question you want to ask him in front of a live audience.

I’m suggesting that your purpose–“investing now to be able to do more later”–could just as easily be achieved if you has pursued the latter strategy rather than the former. It would also be a sign that you are acting in good faith.

Or perhaps Dr. Dawkins will be forced to take the challenge [. . .]

Richard Dawkins has a policy on not debating creationists, and he has been very specific about it:

The point is not [. . .] whether or not you would ‘win’ the debate. Winning is not what the creationists realistically aspire to. For them, it is sufficient that the debate happens at all. They need the publicity. We don’t. To the gullible public which is their natural constituency, it is enough that their man is seen sharing a platform with a real scientist.

I don’t know if you are a creationist. But I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Dawkins’ policy probably extends to apologists like yourself, given that there is probably a large amount of overlap between the market for creationism and the market for your book. It doesn’t matter what his response to your question would be. All that matters is the oxygen his appearance would give your book-marketing campaign.

Which returns us to the question: why would Richard Dawkins be interested in helping you sell more books? It can’t be for the reasons you suggest. This is a wealthy and internationally-renowned individual, and I daresay he didn’t get that way by spamming the email inboxes of atheist bloggers and whoring his website at atheist discussion forums. So I doubt, no matter how greedy you claim (without providing any substantiation) his publishers might be, that they would have any luck influencing him to appear with you.

Put yourself in his shoes, for a moment. Here is a man who has been lied to by Christians before, most recently when he was interviewed under false pretenses for the creationist film Expelled. And you, an obscure Christian writer (I hadn’t heard of you until PZ Myers posted about your “challenge,” and you subsequently emailed me about it), expect him to appear with you to address a question you won’t even allow him to see in advance? Alarm bells are ringing.

obtuse and ponderous tomes

I read your book. You’re certainly one to talk.

10 05 2008
Matt

Of course, one point hasn’t been mentioned yet.

Such a setup as the proposal seems thick with intellectual cowardice. It is very easy indeed to ambush any given person with a surprise question and leave them stammering for a coherent and comprehensive answer.

An honest approach would be to publish the specific question so that a proper response can be properly researched and considered, thus giving a proper response from both sides.

10 05 2008
AV

Such a setup as the proposal seems thick with intellectual cowardice. It is very easy indeed to ambush any given person with a surprise question and leave them stammering for a coherent and comprehensive answer.

An honest approach would be to publish the specific question so that a proper response can be properly researched and considered, thus giving a proper response from both sides.

Precisely.

10 05 2008
Gerry Rzeppa

Matt says, “An honest approach would be to publish the specific question so that a proper response can be properly researched and considered, thus giving a proper response from both sides.”

You must remember that I’m not proposing a debate or a discussion — this is much more like a final exam. The doctor has had thirty years to prepare, and the remarkably brief text from which the “oral essay question” will be drawn is readily available for him to study. If he’s unwilling to answer a single question about a children’s book in front of ordinary people, so be it. There are a lot of other things I can do with $64,000.

10 05 2008
Matt

False analogy. In a final exam, you can fully expect (and have studied for) a very precise set of topics/questions. Whereas in the setup proposed any question at all could be the proverbial (and literal) $64,000 question.

The setup, even if the question is one based in science and is not some fallacious piece of philosophical nonsense, assumes that Dawkins has all the evidence, research, experiments and such fully memorised so he can instantly fully respond.

I stand by my claim that intellectual honesty seems very thin on the ground in the proposal.

10 05 2008
Gerry Rzeppa

Matt says, “The setup, even if the question is one based in science and is not some fallacious piece of philosophical nonsense, assumes that Dawkins has all the evidence, research, experiments and such fully memorised so he can instantly fully respond.”

He won’t have to “instantly” respond. We’ll play that little tune they use on the Jeopardy television program while he ponders.

10 05 2008
Matt

So it goes from ‘instantly’ to ‘momentarily’. Right. And that solves the problem about having to remember every bit of research, experiments and general information how, exactly?

It also, in no way, addresses the problem of the extremely open ended nature of any possible question. What sort of question is it set to be? Philosophical? Purely scientific? Rhetorical? Personal? Maybe some oddball mix of all of the above?

If you want to ask an honest question then you have to do so in an intellectually honest manner, there is simply no way around it.

10 05 2008
AV

You must remember that I’m not proposing a debate or a discussion — this is much more like a final exam.

I didn’t think it was possible to pack that much hubris into a single sentence.

10 05 2008
Iain

This is a publicity stunt. Having Dawkins there is worth $64,000 to him. The question is irrelevant. The whole exercise should be ignored, if only to avoid inflicting that poem on anybody else.

I have just been watching a preacher in the street..no actual arguments that make sense, but it is frightening how many people can be swayed by someone who really believes what they are going on about. The tactic seems to be

1) Get audience members to engage in an argument about evolution. This works for them because a lot of people are not very good at expressing their views in a public forum, so they often don’t do a very good job. The preacher man is also assisted by having amplification that he turns on when he needs to make a point. People debating him get a microphone, but it is really quiet.
2) Move seamlessly from “evolution is not true” to the Xtian God is true
3) Get going on all the “be born again” bullshit. And possibly rig the crowd a bit at the end with church members to give a bit of a positive feeling about it all.

Made me feel a bit ill to tell you the truth. It was the kind of insane faith driven righteousness on display here that led Hitler and Stalin to do what they did, not atheism.

24 05 2008
Michael DePaula

Rzeppa said, “You must remember that I’m not proposing a debate or a discussion — this is much more like a final exam. The doctor has had thirty years to prepare, and the remarkably brief text from which the “oral essay question” will be drawn is readily available for him to study.”

Methinks the doctor has taken enough exams and proven his credentials in full.

If it’s an answer to a question you seek then state it clearly and succinctly on your site and address it to Professor Dawkins. This will allow him to respond in time should he wish, and would more than likely be your best shot at getting his cooperation.

Incidentally, I saw your ad, read your “little” poem (that took me “only” 10 minutes to bumble through) and I fail to find anything of substance save an emotional plea to sympathetic ears. Perhaps you’d like to ask this atheist something. Or does God favor certain individual’s souls over others now?

17 08 2008
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[...] for Right, a series of 7 textbooks created for the public schools”), Christian apologist Gerry Rzeppa (Google “My name is Gerry Rzeppa and I’ve written a short children’s book in [...]

19 08 2008
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[...] thread, you’ll have noticed my conversation with one Gerry Rzeppa, whom I’ve blogged about previously. Given my policy on off-topic discussions, and given that my exchange with Rzeppa [...]

9 09 2010
jesse_wiedinmyer

If you feel that your question is that contributory to whatever discussion occurs or that enlightening, why not merely quit with the money altogether?

Simply pose the question. Spend less time wondering whether it sells the book(s) or whether you get to publicly shame one man’s doctrine.

If you are concerned with truth, that would be all you need do.

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