Archive for the ‘Freedom of Expression’ Category


So Much for Free Speech

In Christianity & Atheism,Freedom of Expression on July 7, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: ,

Vandalized Charlotte Billboard

As reported by the Charlotte Observer and others, a billboard created by the Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics was recently vandalized.  The billboard, pictured above, quoted the original phrase from the Pledge of Allegiance — “One Nation Indivisible” — before “under God” was inserted after “one nation” in 1954.  The sign, which went up about a week ago, was controversial for its message and for its location along a road named for Billy Graham, the Charlotte-born evangelist who preached to hundreds of millions worldwide.  The Pledge was written in 1892 by a Baptist minister, but it included no religious language until “under God” was inserted by an act of Congress at the height of the Cold War.

The Institute for Creation Research put out a message affirming that the vandalism is wrong, but with insufficient conviction:

“While vandalism should not be condoned, these recent events shed light on what some Americans will do when they feel that their freedom of speech is threatened.”

Let’s be clear.  Absolutely no free speech rights are threatened by the billboard.  Indeed, the billboard is an obvious example of how speech rights work in a free society.  The Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics are free to put up the billboard.  Those who disagree with its message are free to speak against it or even to put up a countering billboard.  Simple.  The ICR should have sat this one out. 

Not to be outdone, World Net Daily published a commentary by Chrissy Satterfield that’s even worse, hard as that may be to believe.  Entitled My Kind of Vandals, the piece gives lip service to the idea that vandalism is wrong, but it’s clear that Satterfield has other ideas in her heart:  “Never would I encourage vandalism, but in this case I think I’ll let it slide.”  Indeed, Satterfield goes so far as to say that “[i]t’s nice to know that I am not alone in my beliefs and that some people are still willing to stand on the right side of truth.”  Last I checked, truth didn’t require vandalism.  She even makes this nonsensical claim:  “We will only take so much before we stand up against our oppressors.”

Let me say this as clearly as I can.  Speech isn’t oppression.  The answer to speech one doesn’t like is more speech.  It isn’t censorship.  It isn’t vandalism.  It isn’t threats.  Speaking the truth in love should always be good enough.  It was good enough for Jesus and should be good enough for the rest of us too.



Tone Trolling

In Freedom of Expression,Science & Religion on June 24, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: , ,

There has been a great deal of discussion — some pretty heated — about the level of discourse in the science- religion “wars” which closely mirrors the debate within the public square as a whole.  It isn’t rocket surgery to figure out that the overall level of public discourse is pretty low.  It’s a symptom of our increasingly fractured society.  But that’s not to say that strong criticism or even harsh commentary is necessarily bad.

In my view, at a personal (especially one-on-one) level, courtesy and generosity are almost always appropriate.  I’ve never experienced a situation where anyone was convinced of his or her error through personal abuse.  Sean Carroll’s Being Polite and Being Right is especially insightful in this regard.  As he says, “I just think it’s possible to have convictions without being a jerk about them. ‘I disagree with you’ and ‘You are a contemptible idiot’ are not logically equivalent.”  On the other hand, “[i]t’s also wrong to fetishize politeness for its own sake. Some people manage to forfeit the right to be taken seriously or treated politely. But that shouldn’t be the default position.”  Thus I agree with Sean that the “obnoxionists” (Sean’s phrase) are generally in the wrong.

But I would also offer a caveat, of which I was convinced by — of all people — Malcolm Gladwell (here).  Discourse in the public square is different amd different rules should apply.  In the public arena, strong language and arguments are more appropriate and are often necessary.  Moreover, when one is attempting to overcome a cultural paradigm seen as wrong, “being nice” may well be a detriment (as Gladwell points out).  Of course, such a viewpoint doesn’t mean that courtesy is bad or even inappropriate, and I think (with Sean) that it should always be one’s default position.

Indeed, I suspect that people are far too obnoxious far too often.  The internet is rife with poor behavior and poor excuses for poor behavior.  That’s not news. Yet being an “attack dog” in argument may work with some people even if their number is likely to be few.

I have no dog in the fight over tone among accomodationists and those who oppose them.  Obviously, each individual will need to decide (and keep deciding) if and when his/her message will be enhanced by moving beyond polite or if being harsh will decrease the chances of being heard and understood.  Not everyone who is concerned about how an argument is made is a tone troll and not everyone who makes a strong argument is hurting the cause (whatever one’s cause is at any given moment).

That said and as for me, I have no quarrel with strong criticisms and strong arguments.  I should even confess to a certain fondness for well crafted invective, even when it’s directed at me.  And I think we all spend too much time worrying about style and too little about substance.

Fire when ready, and as appropriate.

Addendum:  Rabbi David Wolpe has an interesting take here.  A snippet:

The growing style of debate in this nation, politically and religiously, is to speak more and more emphatically to those who agree with you and simply bypass dissenters. This is a good prescription to reinforce the convictions you already have, but it bodes ill for developing a flexible, mutually respectful polity. When you scream that loud, I can’t hear you.


Throwing Out the Baby with the Bathwater

In Christianity & Atheism,Freedom of Expression on June 19, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: ,

[Edit:  6/30/10:  Update (6/20/10, 11:25pm PT):  Benson seems to have gone completely over the edge.  Her latest — utterly partially false — conspiracy theories are described here and commented upon by YNH hereBenson continues to ignore Abraham Lincoln’s sage advice to her extreme embarrassment:  Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.]

Update (6/20/10, 7:10am PT):  Benson has now phonied up the record by changing and removing posts.  Perhaps she feels guilty for her outrageous and silly behavior.  We can only hope.  Then again, I googled some of the language quoted below to try to verify what happened and, even though it comes up first on the search (see here), establishing that my recitation below is accurate, the cache has been cleared.  She has even added altered a post of her own to say:

So I doubt that I’ll be allowing you to comment here any more.

Really?  So the cover-up continues.  Benson may wish to alter history, and she is surely entitled to her own opinion, but she is not entitled to her own facts.

Update (6/30/10, 9:10am PT):  As I have noted elsewhere, YNH has been shown to be based upon a pack of lies and, as a consequence, Ms. Benson has been shown to be essentially correct in her criticisms of it.  YNH is now no more.  I, apparently, have been caught in the crossfire.  To mix my metaphors, I am the baby that Ms. Benson threw out with the bathwather.  Details are available here.  Since I have now received a (partial, qualified) apology from Ms. Benson, I have changed the title and art of this post as a gesture of goodwill.  Her actions toward me, though still not justifiable in my book, are at least understandable now.  I have left the post itself and the previous updates as they were, unless clearly identified, but they should be read in context with what we have subsequently learned.


The whole situation with Ophelia Benson and my banning from Butterflies & Wheels (see here and here) just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser, funnier and funnier.  In comments here, Benson tries to justify her actions by claiming that she fears “rebellion,” that I’m “an elaborate sock puppet with an agenda” and that she has “reasons for [her] suspicions.”  Moreover, there is a major conspiracy brewing against her:  “But the internet makes it possible for people to do elaborate things with fake identities – and there is a person or a set of people busily doing such things at the moment, so I am wary.”  She has even begun a e-mail campaign of some sort to deal with me.  As a poster reveals in a response to her:  “In personal emails, as well as here, you expressed neither evidence nor certainty, just suspicion and an elliptical reference to a slip-up.”  She still claims to have her reasons, even though she won’t say what they are:  “I don’t go on vague hunches. I have reasons, and I said I have reasons – I’m not about to post them here!”  You see, even though my behavior was not objectionable in any way and even though she has no evidence for the claims she makes (she can’t — they are absolutely and entirely false), she just knows exactly what’s going on:

One more thing – part of what I suspect is that the reasonableness is a performance. A lulling of suspicions. An act. I’ve seen the act before. This is judgment, not gut – I didn’t ask you to defer to my gut, I said you could have taken my word for it that I had reasons.

The conspiracy is vast, donchaknow, V-A-S-T.  Take her word for it.  And don’t forget the hollowest claim of all:  “It’s not a matter of views I dislike.”  Riiiiiiight[Edit (6/30/10):  It turns out that YNH did elist a number of sock puppets in an effort to discredit OB.  She was right about that.]

Indeed, her entire charade is almost too ludicrous to believe.  What kind of ego, hubris even, does it take to believe that I would take the time and trouble to create this blog and publish its contents not because I had something I wanted to say, but simply as part of an elaborate ruse somehow, in some way, to “get” her.  Everything is not all about you, Ophelia.  [Edit (6/30/10):  Given the YNH debacle, it is more believable than I gave her credit for.]

[Edit (6/30/10):  Ophelia Benson’s connection to reality isn’t even tenuous at this point.  But we can laugh about it (and at her) just the same.  Due to what happened with YNH, OB’s actions are far more understandable than I gave her credit for, even though still entirely misguided in my case].


Delusional Conspiracy Theorists

In Christianity & Atheism,Freedom of Expression on June 18, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: , ,

In a post entitled “The New Martyrs,” YRN makes the point that the so-called “New Atheists” are “becoming the new conspiracists, atheism’s analogue for climate deniers.”  My recent banning from both Jerry Coyne’s blog, Why Evolution Is True, and Ophelia Benson’s Butterflies & Wheels provides support for that view in spades.  You can read about this mess in detail here.  In short, I was banned by Coyne for asking where the case for the philosophical incompatibility of science and faith has been made and by Benson for denying her claim that I have some sort of vendetta against her. 

Ridiculous.  Outrageous.  Stupid.  But typical and fully to be expected.  So much for the freedom of expression.  Benson’s touching call for freedom of expression here is surely tarnished by her raging hypocrisy in my case.

What a joke they are, because all I can do is laugh.



In Christianity & Atheism,Freedom of Expression on June 16, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: ,

Update (1:15pm PT, 6/18/10):  Now I have been banned at B&W.  I made the following post a few minutes ago.  It went up and was immediately pulled down.  What a shock.

 43: “’Signal’ has a bug up its ass about me, one that predates the debut of its blog last Saturday and its debut here on Monday. ‘Signal’ is not ‘Signal’ but someone else, someone with an agenda.”

 This is a lie.   It also suggests that you have a martyr complex, a messiah complex, or both. 

 43:  “I don’t particularly want to host extended conversations between two people that are not particularly on-topic.”

Then I won’t continue it.

To be clear, I have “an agenda” in that I have a point of view.  But the idea that I am somehow out to get Ms. Benson is, to put it kindly, delusional at best.

Update ( 11:40am PT, 6/18/10):  My “You might learn something” reply at B&W has shown up, a day late.  But at least it appeared.

Update (9:40am PT, 6/18/10):  My “Knock Three Times” post at B&W is still missing and a follow-up post from yesterday in the “You might learn something” thread has not gone up.  It may be a case of technical difficulties and/or moderation purgatory, but it’s hard not to be suspicious that censorship is at work.

Update (10:15am PT, 6/17/10): On the other hand, it appears that I have been banned from Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True blog for having the temerity to ask, in this thread, where the case for the philosophical incompatibility of science and faith has been made. I haven’t seen it. Clearly, at a minimum, Coyne is a hypocrite when it comes to his alleged support of free expression.

Update (7am PT, 6/17/10): My post in the “Knock Three Times” thread remains missing.

Update (4:25pm PT, 6/16/10):  Per the comments, Ms. Benson has advised that one of the posts has been released from moderation.  Apparently I haven’t been banned but remain on double secret probation.  Moreover, another post remains missing; I hope it will appear shortly.


I probably shouldn’t be surprised.

I have apparently been banned at Butterflies & Wheels in that my posts there are no longer being accepted.  The banning took place without notice or reasons given to me or to those participating with me there (see here and here).  Based upon the threads alone, one would conclude that I had abandoned the argument.  Anyone may read the threads  and decide if I deserved it.  In my experience, those who screech the loudest and longest about free expression (see here, for example) are often the quickest to try to squelch those with whom they disagree.  It’s a shame, too, because I thought the discussion was fruitful and getting somewhere.  Apologies to those who were engaging me thoughtfully.  I didn’t desert the discussion.