Sunday 30 August 2009

Airing out

Let me begin by saying that I have always known that by publicly stating I am an atheist, a secular humanist, (I've described myself as a Bright in the past as well) I may lock myself out of some art & illustration jobs. There's an excellent xkcd cartoon about this, my very favourite. I know some people may not feel comfortable hiring an atheist who loves evolution to paint for them. Like many artists, I have my areas of interest and my specific abilities, and it's not going to suit everyone.

However, in some recent posts about a popular contest here on The Flying Trilobite, a young person spouted a series of lies about me. I responded, they backed down and deleted their long comment. I re-posted it for a couple of days, not appreciating the hit-and-run.

I then rationalized, perhaps I will remove the comments, and try to engage this person in dialogue via email. (Which I may no longer do. I will think about it.)

I've changed my mind again. You see, I don't like to think of myself as an aggressive and insulting atheist, though I believe for things to change, some ridicule of some beliefs is likely to help some of the time, just as conciliatory and across-the-table discussions will help some of the time.

I am going to re-post the exchange, to air things out on this blog. My contest was very very popular, I am happy to note, and now I am concerned that the higher-than-normal readership may have the wrong impression due to a single commenter's lying remarks. I've had a couple of responses from professional correspondents now who think I have called religious people "idiots" or "insane". I believe it is likely that in reading this person's comments, people have the wrong impression of me.

I always knew I may miss some art jobs and experiences based on my beliefs but I don't want to miss some based on lies about my beliefs and statements.

Comments are in chronological order below. I am only re-posting things that were originally publicly available on this blog, and not private exchanges. I am removing the commenter's name since to me they appear conflicted about science religion, and though they go off on these rants on a number of blogs, I believe they truly do love paleontology. I'll refer to the commenter as "MC" for "misguided commenter". Edited only for the amount of spaces between paragraphs, and the person's name.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
-The original post showing a painting and it's explanation is here.

-Keep in mind I don't specifically mention "religious people" and instead present the painting as an homage to atheist bloggers I admire, and mention how painting themes of an atheistic nature is difficult for me since I don't want to be overly mocking.

-MC comment #1:

I agree with you that religion is dangerous and Most "Christians" take it TOO far, though I have to speak from an Darwinist Christian much like Paleontologist Robert T. Bakker. I do NOT agree that it should be taken out completely, though, let me set this straight. I may be a Christian, but I am NOT religious!! I do NOT do the whole Zippity-doo-da and become an @$$ to others!! I live the Zen and by Reason and Science! We ARE having that problem in U.S. and we may have to do that, though technically we can't because of our First Amendment in our Bill of Rights. Basically, any, and all attempts to do so are Unconstitutional. We COULD Amend it, though I think that it NOT everybody, even, Democrats would agree that it would be the best option. Doing so may start another Civil War, sadly.

Anywho, I'm afraid that cutting out religion just isn't fair, as it's NOT everybody who does this. I feel the same way you do, but calling their belief in a God and Jesus insane, not only insults them, but me as well.

I think I am hurt by your suggestion that you sterotype people like me and Dr. Robert T. Bakker like that.

Don't get me wrong, I KNOW and AGREE of the dangers of religion, but simply persecuting and insulting their beliefs is the same thing they do.

There, simply, must be another way.

I'm sorry to say, Glendon, I respect and agree with Richard Dawkins from a scientific standpoint, but his insults about MOST Christian people that ARE good and Open-Minded, just hurts me that someone like him stereotypes religious groups because he is Aetheist. I may NOT always agree with him, but I still respect his opinions and yours.

Please, forgive my rant. :P

-My response:
Hi (MC),

I must admit I think if anyone should feel insulted it might be me after the accusations you have thrown my way. However, I'll give you some benefit of doubt, and make myself clear.

(Please feel free to correct me if I am misrepresenting my views from an earlier post.)

Bakker's book The Dinosaur Heresies is one of my all-time faves. Exploding dogmatic ideas and amazing art. That doesn't mean I need to agree with him on everything though, or with you on everything.

What exactly do you think I am saying your country's constitution should be changed to? I don't recall making any such assertions. I'm Canadian by the way.

I also haven't advocated persecuting anyone for their beliefs.

I don't specifically recall tweeting, blogging, IM-ing the moment where I said "belief in God or Jesus is insane" as you are saying I did.

I do think I have the right to call a belief of any kind an insulting name, or give it a compliment as I wish. One of my favourite things about Canada and the 'States is freedom of speech. I like to think I am measured in my responses, though I can't please everyone.

As for your opinion of Dawkins, my best response to read some of his work.

*sigh* If putting up a painting with chess pieces to describe my feelings about science and religion is going to lead to this many misunderstandings in a single comment of yours, please feel free not to come back to my blog (MC). You and I have now cluttered up enough contest entry space with this. Done.

-MC's response:
You're right, Glendon. ;( I'm sorry! It's just a sensitive topic for me and I will delete my response promptly. :( Dude, please forgive me.
(response deleted by commenter)

-My next response:
I don't appreciate the hit-and-run. I received your two apologies, but I am copy-&-pasting your original comment that you deleted.

Accusing me of saying things I never said doesn't get you off the hook just because of a simple "sorry" and deletion. Disagreeing with me is fine, though I will debate and argue back. If you really want to apologize, do it with your actions and stop throwing wrongful accusations around in the future.

Your words from the deleted comment above, minus some of the large spaces between paragraphs:
(I then re-posted MC's original comment from above.)

-After a couple of days, I deleted all the comments from this exchange.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I'm not sure where to go with this next. I'm upset that my professional reputation could possibly be injured by a drive-by set of ridiculous comments about things I never said. What is likely, is that I will erase the comments from MC in the future as soon as they come. I'm not about to institute moderation for everyone for one person.

I hope the words above will clear the air somewhat, and that the painting can be seen as hardly provocative of the comments this person threw at it.

- - - - - - - -

Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***


Paleo King said...

Yikes, Glendon!... I'm not an atheist or a Dawkins fan by any means... but that guy "MC" really went off the deep end with all his lies and insinuations. He is certainly no equal or associate of Bakker. And I don't appreciate it when anyone's career gets put at risk because of mudslinging, atheist or not. If anyone posts these kinds of "baiting" comments on my blog, I would expose him too.

For the record, people, nobody is persecuting Christians in the United States or Canada. They are the vast majority in both countries, and THEY are the ones in power making the laws - most politicians and CEOs here are Christians of one sort of another, a new church or bible version pops up every minute in America, and none of them are under ANY threat. Especially in this post 9/11 era, one gets the impression that Christians are the group FURTHEST from any sort of victimization, bigotry or persecution in the USA. Just putting that out there.

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks for the support Nima.

I don't like censorship. I reeeeally don't. But this went to far. The issues of whether the person is Christian or not are almost irrelevant to me, compared to them putting words in my mouth.

I don't chat a lot about atheism, and I paint about it even less. One aspect of this whole affair that baffles me is how the painting that launched the whole thing could have provoked such a response in anyone.

Paleo King said...

I don't see how this painting could offend anyone. It's NOT even anti-religion, let alone anti-Christian. All I see in the painting is chess pieces, one side has some interesting organisms including pea pods (I guess this represents science via Gregor Mendel, who was certainly not an atheist) and the other side has a bishop with a mustard seed on top (does this represent some sort of church? Many religions make mention of mustard seeds as a metaphor...)

I don't even think science "accommodating" religion should be an issue. Religious people of all faiths have to grapple with this on their own. Science deals only with what can be tested and proven/disproven. Thus science will change considerable over time, and if someone's religion is indeed the TRUTH, then science will in the end have no conflict with it. The problem is, most religions are burdened by POST-scriptural "liturgies" and "catachisms" which are NOT even considered by their known human authors as divine revelation - yet they become a fixed, literal, and immovable part of their orthodoxy. Such was the case with Rome's belief that the universe is geocentric, which led to Galileo's being tortured.

About 99% of the conflicts between science and "religion" (actually a corruption of religion) stem from these ecclesiastical additions, which are undoubtedly man made, even for the most fervent acolyte, so science is not an attack on anyone's holy books.

People need to realize the difference between a religious message and a science textbook, until then they will continue with wrongheaded bigoted thinking. Science and religion should not conflict because science by its nature makes no comment on whether God exists. Science only deals with that which can be empirically tested, i.e. results we can observe and replicate. Forcing a conflict between religion and science is like asking "can a train beat up a whale"? Well, a train will never be able to function underwater, so it's a totally pointless question. They operate on totally different planes. It goes without saying that science does not impose or endorse atheism either. Thus it's no threat to religion (unless we're talking about a blatantly false religion based on anti-scientific and ridiculous scriptures....)

By pushing for science to "accommodate" one PARTICULAR religion in public schools, etc., creationists and the like are basically saying their dogma is weak and can't stand up to scrutiny so it needs special treatment - a handicapped belief system. Which by implication can't possibly be TRUTH.

So overall I don't see anything too inflammatory about this painting. I mean, it's not like some sort of icon splattered with dung!

If someone can't tolerate a simple surrealist PAINTING with no obvious agenda (which many people in the "religious right" in America probably would simply because the painter is an atheist) it's hypocritical of them to claim to stand for freedom of speech, complain about suppression of Christians in China or North Korea, propose carpet-bombing the Middle East and converting them by force (i.e. Ann Coulter), or put up banners on their blogs saying "Buy Danish, support free speech!" My my, this thing is so harmless and neutral, it can't even be COMPARED with the Danish cartoons.

Talk about "a twig in their eyes and a log in one's own"!

Come on now, bible thumpers. You can't have it both ways. Free speech is not just a privilege for Christians. It's doesn't give one the "right" to insult others and whine about their reaction, but then claim immunity from being insulted yourself. Free speech implies respecting social boundaries you want respected for yourself, which basically means "don't be a douche to others, and if your violate that, then shut up and grow a thicker skin already". Either everybody should have it, or nobody.

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks for the comments Nima,

There is much I agree with you on, however I would disagree with you about the NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria, coined by Gould).

The problem with your analogy of science vs religion being like a train beating up a whale ( please paint that!) I think misrepresents some of the conflict a little. I realize you are speaking in general terms, but it seems to me that the major areas of conflicts for many religious people (not just Christians, either) stem around the origin of we humans, and the origins of the universe.

Both of these origins (human and universe) are spelled out in various creation myths, and science has discovered some evidence that refutes the stories, and there the conflict is born. Many people take the religious stories as metaphors, but for others, it is literal, scriptural truth. Again, see this story about Ardi to see it's not exclusively Christians.

At any rate.

What I was thinking about when I created this painting was my concern and the concerns of some notable scientists and science commentators was about how far should science accommodate specific religious sensibilities when reporting discoveries or new fields of research.

The two issues that seemed to be the talk of the biology blogs this past summer were Francis Collins beliefs, and his appointment and the launch of Unscientific America by Mooney & Kirshenbaum and its apparent hectoring of scientists for failing to do better P.R.

Whatever opinion you or others may share on those issues, the quote I made via Twitter that started this painting

("I'm thinking scientific accommodation of religion is akin to letting someone take your King's Rook off the board because you're winning.")

had more to do with the foolishness of science backing down because someone's religious feelings may be hurt(and they are legion, so some denomination will feel it).

That's why I have symbols for stem cells and vaccines being knocked from the board. The haloed bishop (I like the mustard seed interpretation, tho') stands alone, science moves on, and yet we're knocking science off of the board.

I think this is now my longest reply ever. :-)

Thanks for the engaging discussion!

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Nima and Glendon- I feel like an ant stepping inbetween two titans... excellent points on both sides, and I agree with most on what is being said.

Though Nima I just wanted to link two of your points. They are conflicting, but I think you'll see I don't mean any disrespect, but rather find them usual for illustrating why Religion is still throwing in on the "train vs. a whale" match, and why this needs to be acknowledged rather then ignored.

You said in your second paragraph:

"I don't even think science "accommodating" religion should be an issue. Religious people of all faiths have to grapple with this on their own."

On a purely philosophic level I agree with you, and if things were all equal (to quote Mr. Spock :P) this should be the case. The two could exist side by side, and it'd be a matter of choice for the individual. Again coming down to free speech

However sadly things are not equal, and as you point out in your first comment:

"most politicians and CEOs here are Christians of one sort of another"

This is the issue. Religion, contray to their prosecution complex holds more power than none religious entities. Some of these religious sects (but by no means all!) have made it their business to impose their religious views and morales on everyone.

When it comes to science this has caused interference and meddling with science education, cutting of funding to scienctific institutions and research, and in some case outright legal sanctions against certain branches of science (stem cells for example).

This is I think is the issue of the train and the whale. The train has hauled the whale out of the water and onto the tracks, and is running it over... Science as you pointed out is a process, not a polticial of social institution like the church, and thus is getting attacked in arenas it is neither equipped or suited to fight in. Such as legislatures and courts (though due to its basis on logic, science has been kicking @$$ in the courts for the most part!... sadly logic and brains seem to be counter to the modern democratic legislative process...).

Here I think Glendon's painting holds true. In the realm of knowledge science holds the board, but yet in the meta game (the chess players) science is having to concide ground to the religious player for issues not related to the game.

I personally think this is an issue should not be side stepped to protect people's feelings. It is actually hurting people!

If you don't believe me just look to the impacts on Environmental issues and medicine, anti-science has been having lately. We live in such a technological based society we can't afford for people to feel science is optional. (For example I really want nuclear power plant personal to understand what they're managing... I hear those mushroom clouds hurt a lot!)

At the same time you'll note I don't say abolish religion. They just need to acknowledge the real world around them, and stop ignoring the parts that don't fit into their dogma.

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