In the armchair with Gerry Rzeppa

19 08 2008

If you’ve been following the book-spammer 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 is beginning to stray from the topic of book-spammers and authoritarianism, and towards the topic of Rzeppa’s opinions on life, the universe and everything else, I thought I’d continue it here. And of course, you’re welcome to participate, too.

Here is Rzeppa’s most recent contribution, with my own responses:

You say, “…at least [I] haven’t sunk to lying.” Is lying a bad thing? How do you know? Exactly what do you mean by “bad?” Apparently you think lying is worse than other things. What do you mean by “worse”?

Gerry, why do you put words in my mouth? I don’t recall using the words “bad” or “worse.” I do find it ironic, however, that those who seek to promote a biblical worldview do so by means of violating what we are told is one of its central tenets (the 8th Commandment if you’re Roman Catholic, the 9th Commandment if you’re Protestant).

I don’t know if would go so far as claiming that lying is in all circumstances something to be avoided. What I am prepared to tentatively propose, and I am willing to stand corrected upon the production of evidence to the contrary, is that given that humans are social animals, a society in which lying is deemed acceptable in all circumstances, and whose members would therefore exist in a state of mutual distrust, would be untenable, and would not survive for long against competitor societies in which it is held that lying, as a rule of thumb, is something to be avoided. I don’t see why anyone would need a “commandment” to figure this out; all you need to do is conduct a simple thought experiment: what would it be like to live in a society whose members exist in a state of mutual distrust, how stable would that society be, and how long is a society like that likely to survive? I also find intriguing what cognitive psychologists such as Marc Hauser are discovering about this issue: the possibility that certain of our moral ideas are hardwired, that we evolved with the belief, for example, that lying is (as a general rule) wrong, and that being animals in possession of such a belief gave us a reproductive advantage. Of course, simply having the belief that lying is wrong is not proof that lying is wrong, and if the possession of such a belief is endemic to our species this would not explain why lying might be wrong. Read the rest of this entry »

Bring out the gimp . . .

17 08 2008
Read this book. Discuss it with your friends.

"Read this book. Discuss it with your friends."

I’ve been wondering what to make of book-spammers. These individuals travel from blog to blog, comments thread to comments thread, with no intention of actually participating in the discussion. Their sole intention is to dump (as a seabird would a heap of guano) a cut-and-pasted blurb about some paradigm-shifting tome promising to change your thinking about x, where x equals evolution, or the existence of deities, or education policy, and so on, and so on.

The following, whom I’ve encountered, may ring a bell, especially if you frequent blogs in the Atheosphere: the Young Earth Creationist cdavidparsons (Google “c david parsons The Quest 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 answer to the works of Richard Dawkins”), and Edbooked, whose agenda (beyond getting you to read and purchase a certain book that purports to solve whatever ill-defined problems he sees in the US public education system) is unknown (Google “Twilights Last Gleaming On Public Education a portion of which may be viewed online”). Read the rest of this entry »

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.

The Atheist’s New Worst Nightmare: Gerry Rzeppa’s rhyming couplet apologetics

12 04 2008

Have any of you received an email from a Gerry Rzeppa regarding a $64,000 challenge he’s laying down to Richard Dawkins? (I only ask because I noticed a post on Pharyngula about it a few days ago, and if it has made its way to my inbox I can only surmise that this Rzeppa bloke is spamming everyone on the Atheist Blogroll.) Apparently Rzeppa has promised to pay Dawkins the princely sum if Dawkins will answer a question about Rzeppa’s shithouse Christian poem, “Some of the Parts“:

I’m offering the doctor $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. 

The poem, in which non-believers are cast as heartless skeptics who smash infants to death with hammers, is hailed by some Christian reviewers as a “good defense against atheism,” though one of them seems to be unwittingly making our argument for us when he praises the way the poem

brilliantly captures the antithesis between Christianity and atheism. Joyful submission and hyper-skeptical folly; intelligent trust and angry fist-shaking are both beautifully portrayed within the lines. 

Skepticism bad; submission good. Ouch. Read the rest of this entry »