Monday, April 26, 2010

You Have Been Spammed

Attempted intrusions into the “comments” section by abusive visitors have compelled me to introduce, to my regret, moderation of comments.

Eric Idle and Graham Chapman
Image is linked to video clip of scene on YouTube

Mrs. Bun. Have you got anything without Spam in it?

Waitress. Well, Spam, eggs, sausage, and Spam—that’s not got much Spam in it.

Mrs. Bun. I don’t want any Spam!

On the Internet, we are all like Monty Python’s lady customer at the Viking restaurant: we don’t want any spam; but we can’t escape it.

I used to think that “spam,” in Internet parlance, referred only to uninvited bulk advertising sent through e-mail; but the term applies more broadly. One definition reads: “Spam is flooding the Internet with many copies of the same message, in an attempt to force the message on people who would not otherwise choose to receive it.” I think that this captures the essence of the matter. Whether the content is advertising or something else, and whether it comes through e-mail or through a Web site, is not relevant. It is the tedious and insensate repetition made possible by the medium of the Internet that defines spam and makes it so revolting.

A few days ago, I posted a comment on an entry in John Loftus’s blog Debunking Christianity in response to another visitor’s comment on the same entry. As I subsequently learned, the writer of the comment—I have since learned who he is, but I shall refer to him here simply as “Mr. Loony”—has been posting the same text all over the Web since at least 2008. You can read about him, and about the threats he made on the life of one writer, here and here, and you can find the text of his comment by doing a Web search for the phrase “the really sharp end of Occam’s razor.” (This guy thinks that a razor is sharp on the end?) The comment is a blustering denunciation of skeptics and atheists, who, it says, “start begging when they start dying.” I responded:
Supposing—contrary to all evidence—that atheists start believing in God when they are facing death: is that supposed to strengthen the case for belief in God? Surely it is rather evidence that such belief is a product of desperation and fear, as contrasted with sound judgment. If you have to be scared out of your wits to believe in God, surely that is reason to conclude that belief in God is a superstition, not that it is true.
For the record, I do not believe that belief in God is in every instance a product of desperation and fear, or that it is in every instance a superstition. My point was merely that, if there were any truth to the assertion that theistic unbelievers become believers when facing death—an assertion that is often made by unsophisticated theistic apologists as if it somehow gave support to theism (see this video for a comparatively entertaining musical version of this argument)—it would not support theistic belief but rather the dismissal of it.

Mr. Loony’s comment also contained a rather comically ill-informed representation of a face-off between his atheistic and skeptical enemies on the one hand and himself and his allies on the other, in the form of two lists of names conjoined by “vs.” The first list named Michael Shermer, Sam Harris, P. Z. Myers, Richard Dawkins, and James Randi—a very just selection of prominent atheistic skeptics of the present day. But the list of their opponents was a bizarre mix. It comprised Nostradamus, Einstein, and a third name that I did not recognize, but which I later learned to be the real name of Mr. Loony.

Citing Einstein as a believer in God is another argument favored by naïve would-be defenders of faith. Like the argument previously mentioned, it suffers from weakness both in its premise and in the relation of that premise to the conclusion. As far as the relation to the conclusion is concerned, the supposed fact that Einstein believed in God is at best a very feeble piece of evidence—if it deserves to be called evidence at all—of the truth of that belief. As for that premise itself, when a rabbi asked Einstein, “Do you believe in God?”, Einstein’s reply was: “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.” In other words, as far as belief in God is concerned, Einstein was at best a deist, and, like Spinoza, denied the existence of miracles, divine providence, and most of what gives content to most people’s belief in God. In my reply to Mr. Loony I cited this famous quotation and added some words of derision upon his argumentative capacities.

Some time later, the very same text was posted as a comment on the last entry in my blog. I immediately deleted it. Some time after that, it was posted again, along with the childish taunt: “Can’t handle the truth, huh?” No, Mr. Loony, I can handle the truth; I just can’t handle deranged cretins. Mr. Loony was then joined by another crank of much the same stripe, who before that had been posting abusive comments on Loftus’s blog and who apparently was led to my blog from the same source. I initially took the second crackpot to be the same person as the first, operating under a different name; but eventually it became clear that Crackpot Number Two differed from Mr. Loony in two important respects: one, he could express himself in coherent sentences; and two, he was a pretty serious Jew-hater. (One of his comments was signed “Schicklgruber.”)

Obviously, I did not care to have such obnoxious comments appear even momentarily on my blog. I was also concerned that they might be posted during times when I was away from my computer and would not know about them. So I had to introduce moderation of comments. This, of course, provoked the infuriated Crackpot Two to much the same kind of childish taunt as my deletion of Mr. Loony’s comments had provoked him. “Why do you [and John Loftus] have to hide, like rats, behind comment moderation?”, was his virtually self-answering question.

Now I don’t get a lot of comments on my blog, so I can’t afford to be picky. I am usually delighted to see that a reader has taken the trouble to write something in response to one of my posts. But I do not care to see my “comments” sections turned into a platform for lunatics, crackpots, and Jew-haters. So, at least for a little while, I am obliged to subject comments to moderation. I just wish that the likes of Mr. Loony and Crackpot Two would subject themselves to it.

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  1. I wonder if this guy really IS looney!

  2. John, of course I used the word “loony” somewhat frivolously. I accept that in principle there is a distinction between insanity and mere perversity of mind, as there is between genuine mental deficiency and mere systematic obtuseness; but in practice the two conditions in each pair can be virtually indistinguishable. I don’t think that there is sufficient evidence before us to answer the forensic question of Mr. Loony’s sanity—which suits me fine, as I would rather not be presented with any further “evidence” if it means further behavior directed toward me (or you)! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. you're giving this guy the attention he wants. not only has he spammed you and the christian delusion, but he's been hitting jason's the evolution blog for quite some time now. they ignore him over there, and it seems to be most effective.

  4. I don't agree. What Mr. Loony wants is for his words to be published, and I have not granted him that privilege.

  5. I enjoyed your Torah commentary post (the punishment till 4th generation thing).

    Can we get more of those?

  6. Shalmo, thanks for the comment (sorry to be slow in replying; I've been traveling). I can only discuss Torah commentary with a narrow selection of topic, such as questions of internal logic (as in the post that you cite), because I do not have enough Jewish learning for my comments to be otherwise interesting! But I do hope to find some suitable questions to write about in the future.