Lessons learned from 25 years of battling creationists, Scientologists, and fundamentalists online
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Lessons learned from 25 years of battling creationists, Scientologists, and fundamentalists online



Suggested rules of thumb for online debate based on experience arguing with fundamentalists, creationists, and Scientologists. Given at the American Humanist Association conference, Tempe, AZ, June ...

Suggested rules of thumb for online debate based on experience arguing with fundamentalists, creationists, and Scientologists. Given at the American Humanist Association conference, Tempe, AZ, June 4, 2009.



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Lessons learned from 25 years of battling creationists, Scientologists, and fundamentalists online Lessons learned from 25 years of battling creationists, Scientologists, and fundamentalists online Presentation Transcript

  • Lessons learned from 25 years of battling creationists, Scientologists, and fundamentalists online Jim Lippard American Humanist Association conference June 4, 2009
  • Agenda Introduction Wikipedia? Christian Conclusion fundamentalism Role models Young-earth Resources creationism Q&A Scientology
  • Introduction Thesis: Suppression of criticism is a failed business model in the age of the Internet. This doesn’t mean truth wins--it can be unnoticed, or attacked with wrong but unanswered criticisms. Truth can be promoted through archives of information that earn reputations for trustworthiness.
  • Christian fundamentalism The Five Fundamentals: Inerrancy of the Scriptures The virgin birth and divinity of Jesus Doctrine of substitutionary atonement by God’s grace and human faith The authenticity of Christ’s miracles (or pre-millenial Second Coming)
  • Lesson 1 Minds can be changed, possibly including your own.
  • Lesson 2 Publish and preserve an archive of your work.
  • Preferably in an archive with a positive reputation. The Secular Web regularly links to, and sometimes publishes, rebuttals to its own work, as well as fosters online debates, formal and informal.
  • Lesson 3 Others will use your work to accomplish new and surprising things.
  • Young-earth creationism Creation Research Society Statement of Belief: 1. The Bible is the written Word of God, and because it is inspired throughout, all its assertions are historically and scientifically true in the original autographs. To the student of nature this means that the account of origins in Genesis is a factual presentation of simple historical truths. 2. All basic types of living things, including man, were made by direct creative acts of God during the Creation Week described in Genesis. Whatever biological changes have occurred since Creation Week have accomplished only changes within the original created kinds. 3. The great flood described in Genesis, commonly referred to as the Noachian Flood, was an historic event worldwide in its extent and effect. 4. We are an organization of Christian men and women of science who accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The account of the special creation of Adam and Eve as one man and one woman and their subsequent fall into sin is the basis for our belief in the necessity of a Savior for all mankind. Therefore, salvation can come only through accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior.
  • The CRS Van Andel Creation Research Center is right here in Arizona. And so is Walter Brown’s Center for Scientific Creation.
  • Lesson 4 Do your homework.
  • Most of creationism consists of attacks on evolution. There are two key exceptions in young-earth creationism: Flood geology as an explanation of the geological and fossil record, and a 6,000-10,000-year-old earth. These are two points that Duane Gish of the Institute for Creation Research always refused to debate.
  • The Gish Gallop Presenting your opponent with many brief arguments against his position, across a wide range of fields, most of which are outside his area of expertise. Two effects: Gish looks like an expert in many fields. The opponent can’t address most of the evidence due to lack of sufficient time and expertise.
  • Philip Kitcher’s response Set terms of the debate as a comparison of biblical creationism vs. evolution as an explanation for the evidence. Provide the case that Gish declined to give, and refute it.
  • Lesson 5 Collaborate with others.
  • Mark Isaak, The Counter- Creationism Handbook, 2007, University of California Press
  • Lesson 6 Specialize, and dig as deep as you can.
  • Lesson 7 Be honest. Admit and correct your mistakes.
  • Lesson 8 Be willing to criticize people on your own team. Sometimes scientists and skeptics can be unreliable.
  • Lesson 9 Use the principle of charity.
  • Lesson 10 Be willing to befriend, or at least be civil and polite, to people you disagree with. In most cases, you probably share some common ground, such as a commitment to pursuit of the truth.
  • Lesson 11 This may lead to personal attacks from people “on your side.”
  • Lesson 12 Lessons 7-10 may lead to interesting and unusual opportunities.
  • “Facing the Fire,” a 2008 creationist documentary about the 1988 Plimer/ Gish debate, released on DVD with the entire 3- hour debate.
  • Plimer is now facing criticism from others about his most recent work, a book arguing that there is no scientific support for man-caused climate change.
  • Scientology v. the Internet Church of Scientology Media Relations Director Leisa Goodman on a 1995 MTV special on cults: KURT LODER: I do understand there's like a galactic overlord, Xenu. Is there a whole staff of characters, or is that not true? LEISA GOODMAN: Oh, I...I don't think...I don't really know what you mean, what you're talking about.
  • OTIII--Operating Thetan III, in L. Ron Hubbard’s own handwriting. To read this without appropriate training (being “clear” and successfully completing OT I and II) was to risk serious illness or death.
  • Lesson 13 Some people don’t play nice.
  • Scientology’s past 1963: Scientology raided by FDA for medical claims about E-meters. 1972: Scientology frames Paulette Cooper for bomb threats (and in 1976, tries to get her committed to a mental institution). (“Operation Freakout”) 1973: Scientology Guardian Office infiltrates government offices (IRS, Treasury, Interpol, DEA, etc.), but two participants get caught in 1974. (“Operation Snow White”) 1977: FBI raids Church of Scientology locations in CA and DC, discovering plots against Cooper, the mayor of Clearwater, FL, CSICOP, and others. 11 Scientologists are indicted, including Mary Sue Hubbard, who takes the fall for her fugitive husband. Scientology engages in extensive litigation against critics and former members, and is dubbed by Time magazine “The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power” (May 6, 1991). Scientology sues Time Warner and journalist Richard Behar.
  • alt.religion.scientology A Usenet newsgroup created on July 17, 1991, which became very active in 1994.
  • a.r.s, Summer 1994 An email from Elaine Siegel, CSI Office of Special Affairs (OSA) was leaked.
  • a.r.s, late 1994 Sep. 14: An anonymous poster leaks a Scientology plan to handle Internet critics. Nov. 10: Former Scientologist Arnie Lerma, who had been posting court documents pertaining to Scientology, is personally visited by two men with an unsigned affidavit in his name. The document says he recanted his attacks on Scientology and that he “left the Church entirely because I could not maintain a high enough ethical standard and wished to protect the organization from my destructive behavior.” He didn’t sign, but called the FBI and the Washington Post, which reported the account on December 25, 1994 (also reported by Associated Press, January 3, 1995). Dec.: Scientology secret materials are posted anonymously, and declared genuine by former Scientologist OTVIII Dennis Erlich, who started posting in August. Forged cancellation messages begin to be issued to delete these postings, including Erlich’s commentaries. The unknown entity responsible is dubbed the “Cancelpoodle.”
  • Lesson 14 There can be significant real-world consequences of online activity.
  • a.r.s, 1995 Jan. 3: Religious Technology Center attorney Thomas Small gives notice to anonymous remailer operators that they are infringing Scientology copyrights by allowing anonymous posts to a.r.s and alt.clearing.technology (a.c.t) Jan. 10: RTC attorney Helena K. Kobrin attempts to remove the a.r.s and a.c.t newsgroups from all Usenet servers, which fails. Feb. 13: A team of people shows up at the home of Dennis Erlich at 7:30 a.m. with a writ of seizure. Erlich calls 911 but is told he has to let them in. They confiscate floppy disks and tape backups, photocopy many of his personal papers, and delete files from his computer. RTC serves Erlich, his ISP, L.A. Valley College BBS, and its upstream provider, Netcom, with a lawsuit for copyright infringement, and a TRO is issued against them.
  • Picketing begins
  • Mar. 24: Scientology-hired private investigator Eugene Ingram visits Jeff Jacobsen’s employer, his sister’s house, and makes frequent drives through his neighborhood and questioned his neighbors. Mar. 28: Jacobsen is served a subpoena to be deposed by Scientology attorneys in a case involving the Cult Awareness Network. Apr. 4: Jacobsen is informed by his local telco that three attempts have been made to access information about his phone records. Picketing continues.
  • Aug. 12: Arnie Lerma is raided, like Erlich, and sued for copyright infringement and trade secret misappropriation along with his ISP, the Washington Post (which had printed a short excerpt from OT7) and reporters Richard Leiby and Mark Fisher. Numerous a.r.s participants posted the same short excerpt for its humor value, and for the status of receiving an Avagram--a cease and desist letter and lawsuit threat from RTC attorney Ava Paquette.
  • OT 7-48 1. Find some plant, trees, etc. and communicate to them individually until you know they received your communication. 2. Go to a zoo or a place with many types of life and communicate with each of them until you know the communication is received and, if possible, returned.
  • Sep. 15, 1995: Federal Judge Leonie Brinkema throws out the injunction against Arnie Lerma, vacates the writ of seizure, orders his possessions returned. Nov. 28: The Post and its reporters are released from the lawsuit and RTC ordered to pay its court costs. Lerma is found liable for copyright infringement and ordered to pay the statutory minimum damages of $2,500 for five instances of non-willful infringement. The trade secret claims are thrown out. Aug. 2, 1996: RTC settles with Netcom and Erlich’s ISP.
  • Lisa McPherson Lisa McPherson died in the care of Scientology on December 5, 1995. She was severely dehydrated and had bruises and bug bites.
  • The Internet v. Scientology
  • A few high-level defections since 2000 Tory Christman, OT7 active on a.r.s (joined around 1970, left in 2000 and is now a public critic of Scientology) Mike Rinder, Executive Director of the Office of Special Affairs and a chief spokesman for the Church of Scientology (joined at age 18 in 1974, left in 2007 and is not speaking publicly) Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of the head of the Church of Scientology, David Miscavige (her parents left in 2000, she left in 2005 and now runs exscientologykids.com) Jason Beghe, film and TV actor (joined in 1994, left in 2007, has spoken out publicly against the church in online videos) James Packer, Australian billionaire and friend of Tom Cruise (became involved in late 1990s, distanced himself from the church by 2008)
  • Wikipedia? Wikipedia is a valuable archive, but needs to be supplemented by archives managed by people within areas of expertise. Wikipedia’s entries on creation/evolution and Scientology are quite good, mostly due to active knowledgeable editors. The Wikipedia Arbitration Committee voted to ban contributions from all Scientology IP addresses on May 29, 2009. Some anti-Scientology editors have also been banned from editing Scientology pages.
  • Conclusion It’s possible to engage in productive and entertaining online debate without being sued or injured, and to actually change some minds. Well-constructed and maintained online archives help.
  • Ray Hyman’s “Proper Criticism” 1. Be prepared. 2. Clarify your objectives. 3. Do your homework. 4. Do not go beyond your level of competence. 5. Let the facts speak for themselves. 6. Be precise. 7. Use the principle of charity. 8. Avoid loaded words and sensationalism.
  • Role models Piet Hein Hoebens, Dutch journalist and skeptic (1948-1984) Richard Kammann, New Zealand psychologist and skeptic (1934-1984) Marcello Truzzi, Michigan sociologist and skeptic (1935-2003) Tero Sand, prolific Finnish talk.origins contributor (1965-1996) Robert Schadewald, Minnesota science writer and creationism critic (1943-2000) Barry Beyerstein, British Columbia psychologist and skeptic (1947-2007)
  • Resources Critiques of Christianity The Secular Web, http://www.infidels.org/ Critiques of Creationism The Talk.Origins Archive, http://www.talkorigins.org/ The Panda’s Thumb, http://pandasthumb.org/ Critiques of Scientology Xenu.net, http://www.xenu.net/ Dave Touretzky’s Secrets of Scientology, http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/Secrets/ Jeff Jacobsen, “We are Legion: Anonymous and the War on Scientology,” http://www.lisamcpherson.org/ pc.htm