Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hector, Hector, Hector

If one were to rank the people connected, even remotely, to the ID wars, in the order of how closely they resemble clichés, Iowa State’s little professor Hector Avalos would come out on top. Call central casting and request a pseudo-intellectual anti-religious Religious Studies professor, and the smarmy Hector would get the call every single time. He is truly detestable, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t like him even if I were on the nu-atheist team. Some people, even if you happen to agree with them, still leave you feeling dirty. Such a man is Hector Avalos.

He was, you may recall, an enemy of Guillermo Gonzalez, the ID Astronomer who was denied tenure at Iowa State. Gonzalez’s tenure review, regardless of whether or not it reached the correct decision, will forever have an asterisk associated with it, thanks to Avalos. Instead of allowing the review process to play itself out behind closed doors, as is customary, Avalos launched a pre-emptive strike, a public relations campaign that only the true zealots with their heads in the sand would dare deny was nothing less than directed squarely at derailing Gonzalez’s candidacy.

The “true intellect” of this, um, scholar can be measured by examining his writing. For example, on ISU’s website we read how, after studying a number of cases, a insightful new theory emerged through the mind of Avalos, a theory regarding conflict:
In the book, I [Avalos] explain why religion causes violence. After studying a number of cases from the ancient world, a theory emerged related to scarce resources. Violent conflict usually results from a real or perceived scarcity of something valued," said Avalos.

We simply must call this Avalos’ Theory: the idea that conflict is related to the scarcity of a desired resource. I wonder why nobody ever thought of that before?

Now our Hector, writing for Talk Reason, has focused his keen mind on the connection between Creationism and Genocide.

I must say, rarely is an entire article of this length, from a full professor, all bad, and consist exclusively of poor scholarship. But this one achieves the distinction. For example, let’s look at the section entitled From Luther to Hitler. Before you even read it, can you guess what it will say? I did, so I bet you can too.

Exactly as expected, exactly as it appears daily in the comment sections of countless blogs around the world, Avalos, the noted scholar, makes the argument: Oh, so you think Darwin lead to Hitler? Well let me tell you, it was actually Luther! Do you not know that Luther penned some horrible anti-Semitic rants? (No Hector, we didn’t take any European history. And we hadn’t noticed that Luther’s anti-Semitism is one of the most frequently visited topics in blogdom.)

I don’t have to paraphrase: the actual writing is as awful as any caricature I could present:
In particular, Weikart [whom Avalos is critcizing] never mentions that Martin Luther (1483-1546), the father of Protestantism, espoused a seven-point plan for the Jews in 1543, hundreds of years before Darwin came on the scene. For this reason, Luther's plan bears repeating at length:
First, to set fire to their synagogues…
Yes, it really is the age old asinine comment war: Darwin led to Hitler! No Luther led to Hitler! No, it was Darwin! No Luther! placed inside a very thin veneer of scholarship. (Avalos uses references! He must therefore possess gravitas!)

In the section on abortion, Avalos once again seems to believe that any idea he has must be a fantastic new insight. He writes
That would mean that abortion should result in a 100% salvation rate for fetuses who are aborted. Abortion would also eliminate completely the risk of sending aborted fetuses to an eternal torture in hell. So, by this logic, creationists should be for abortion, not against it.
The italics are his, indicating that he believes that he has said something smart. But what he has “discovered” has been said many times, for many years, including on this blog, where I have written that the logical conclusion of the “all dead infants go to heaven” theory is that abortion is a mercy killing. Avalos, however, attempts (and fails) to extend this obvious point beyond what it really is (a provocative point demonstrating the perhaps unforseen complications with an all-babies-go-to-heaven doctrine) to what it is not—indicative of some inferior view on the value of life held by creationists.

Avalos explains, by the way, the superior view on life held by the secular humanists:
Valuing genetic diversity can lead to valuing the preservation of life.
Yes. I hear that argument all the time. It is very compelling—so much more than the argument about man being made in the image of God.

Avalos’s article is too awful to counter, point by point. I invite you to look at it. I didn’t pull out particularly weak sections: they all are that childishly argued.

I will, however, look at one more. Avalos wrote a section called Child Sacrifice is Biblically Approved. Now this intrigued me. Knowing the bible fairly well, I would think that I would have recalled when it called for children to be sacrificed to Yahweh. This must be juicy—because surely a man of Avalos’s intellect must have uncovered something new. Surely he would have something more than Exodus 22:29-30.

Alas, no. He has Exodus 22:29-30.
29 "Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats. "You must give me the firstborn of your sons. 30 Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day. (Ex. 22:29-30)
Here we have a case that, even if you pull the verses out of context, as Avalos did, they still don’t say what you want them to say. This passage is not an advocacy of child sacrifice. As if in the middle of his instruction on the minutia of social rules for the Jews, God would cavalierly institute child sacrifice—with no details, and no instructions for such an important rite.

If you do not see that this passage refers to the sanctification of the first born, and to circumcision, then it is only because, like Avalos, you don’t want to see the obvious. So you sprinkle your argument with references such as: As the brilliant Dr. So and So pointed out,” (translated: I found someone who agrees with me) and hope, or probably actually believe, that it renders your argument sound.

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