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Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Culture of Censorship: Bill Muehlenberg and the gagging of his critics

It’s always nice to find that you’re not alone, and this certainly seems to be the case when it comes to Bill Muehlenberg’s method of handling his critics - responding with an attack for anyone who disagrees with him; and censoring their comments altogether if their arguments expose the absurdities of his rants, or if he’s too dim-witted to think of a response.

I recently came across the excellent website, an organization of secular Australians who keep tabs on the activities of the religious right in Australia, in order to expose them to the criticism, ridicule and contempt they deserve, and they do this diligently, thoroughly and with a good deal of humour and fair-mindedness. Needless to say, Bill Muehlenberg, thanks to his Culturewatch website and his involvement with various nefarious religious and “family” groups, comes in for scrutiny on a regular basis. He is discussed on their forum, where his arguments are dissected and his manifold hypocrisies laid bare for all to see.

One thing all the contributors agreed on is that it is impossible to reason with Muehlenberg. This is for several reasons:

Bill Muehlenberg smears his ideological opponents, responding to them with ad hominem attacks rather than dealing with their points
• He will post a dissenting view on his website only if he has a ready answer with which to try to dismiss the argument as “foolish” or “dealt with elsewhere”
• If he doesn’t have a ready answer, comments left by dissenters will be “awaiting moderation” for an extended period, before being deleted altogether.

The conclusion they draw, and given my experience, I agree with them entirely, is that Bill Muehlenberg is not interested in discussion, debate or the truth. He is interested solely in what he has to say. Any dissent must be shouted down, or, if he feels he is losing the argument, censored altogether. Bill does not let his hysterical band of acolytes see opposing arguments, or see a secularist get the better of him in discussion. This is profoundly intellectually dishonest, and makes Muehlenberg nothing other than a liar, a hypocrite and a fool. I would be interested to hear him challenge me on that point. Muehlenberg is such a cheap theocrat with nothing but rhetoric to offer that the posters on have an entire thread on his cowardly, shameful censorship tactics.

I hope none of the posters of minds me reposting some of their words verbatim here - I have not named the individual members but their comments can be read online. Please let me know if so, and I will remove the quotations. I quote them directly because many of them, being sound and rational secularists, have witty and intelligent turns of phrase. I think they ably demonstrate the lengths Muehlenberg is prepared to go to in his attempt to maintain complete control of the comments on his website, and to quash all opposing voices, most often by outright censorship.

I am including only some juicy examples. The full thread (and it’s well worth reading) can be seen here:

This sounds familiar:

I’ve been posting for a little while on his site, and a lot of my comments have been deleted, leaving Bill and Sarfati to have the last word on me.

And again...

I’ve been posting to this thread over the past week or so, and getting a post published (or published in full) is like getting blood out of a stone. Here’s a small sample of what hasn’t escaped from Bill’s Ministry of Truth...

Then we get censorship of certain recurring arguments where Bill would rather not be faced with, or have to deal with the truth.

In response to Bill’s comment:

At the moment I feel that you have to make your assertion from a position of faith in the “fact” of evolution, and not on any reasonable evidence or theory. That sounds more philosophical than scientific to me.

he censored:

The theory of evolution is supported by a wealth of evidence, and the placement of scare quotes around “fact” doesn’t make that evidence go away. It’s fantastic that you’re asking questions about the evolution of cognition, language and aspects of physiology (ears, vocal chords etc.) which are related, but the fact that I don’t personally know all of the answers to these questions doesn’t lend any credibility to the creationist position. Scientists have worked hard on these issues and continue to work hard on them today. Creationists, however, offer nothing as they sit on the sidelines and jeer, insisting that researchers will never find the answer without opening the Bible.

He also censored:

I see you’ve neglected to post my earlier comments. Surprise, surprise. It’s most interesting that you berate Steve for not addressing your collection of atheist quotes and then neglect to post the comments which do just that. Why do you do this? Because it’s very important that to your supporters here these quotes appear unanswered. Of course, in future discussions you’ll eagerly copy and paste these quotes into the discussion and, once again, declare triumphantly that you have found the atheists’ smoking gun. This speaks volumes about your commitment to intellectual honesty.

Bill’s tactics are ably summed up:

My apologies for the bombardment of posts, but I thought it gives a pretty clear demonstration of Bill’s… unwillingness to truly engage in a discussion. Every time Bill accuses me of hubris, close-mindedness and complains about my ‘philosophical pre-commitments’ my irony meter explodes.

What’s most troubling however, is Bill’s censorship of posts directed at other contributors. He just can’t allow a free discussion. He must have full control. When Bill and his team mates are in trouble he blows the whistle and declares victory.

But remember, Bill is “only interested in the truth”

I love that! Funny, and so, so true.

Other arguments Bill Muehlenberg would rather censor than offer a challenge to:

Take his attempt to use Karl Popper in an appeal to authority in his attacks on evolution for example. I politely pointed out that the quote he provided lacked context and that Popper soon revised his views and retracted the very statement Bill quoted in the first place. Did Bill retract his statements? No. Instead, he neglected to post my comment and in the meantime managed to call atheists “intellectually dishonest”.

Another example was his enthusiastic trumpeting of the Richard Sternberg affair as a case of discrimination against evolution critics. I politely pointed out the facts of the case which revealed the persecution claims to be utter bunk (in a short and to-the-point comment) and it never saw the light of day.

And he frequently accuses atheists of “ignoring the facts” to “push an agenda”!
The posters on come to the following conclusions about attempting to challenge Muehlenberg’s loony arguments on culturewatch:

I doubt if anyone seriously tries to convince Bill of anything, given his completely inflexible fundamentalist mindset. Nor do I think that he convinces anyone of the error of their ways. Most of the time he preaches to the choir - Sarfati, McDonald, Mulvaney etc. - you can actually name the full choir quite easily.

So I don’t know whether it’s worth trying to post on his site or not. But almost certainly it’s not worth a lot of effort.

Even if there are some contributors there who are interested in a free and open debate, Bill has proven again and again that he is not one of them. Brian asked me earlier if there was a more constructive use of one’s time compared to posting at CultureWatch and in light of these latest blatant acts of censorship and intellectual cowardice by Muehlenberg I think the answer to Brian’s question is a definitive ‘Yes’. I might offer some reflections on his woolly thinking here, but trying to actually engage with him and his nonsense at his site has proven fruitless. I still think debating fundamentalists is useful, but clearly it must be done in a forum where the discussion is played out on a level playing field. Bill’s Ministry of Truth is no such venue.
Taking on Bill Muehlenberg is a frustrating exercise. If you bring up reasoned arguments that differ from his opinions, he does one of two things. He either ignores the main points and attacks you for being an atheist and refusing to acknowledge the existence of God, or he just deletes your entire posting.

No matter how clear, concise and polite your comment may be, a failure to accept Bill’s sky-daddy will result in a paroxysm of arrogant handwaving dismissal drenched in hubris.

Until Bill is prepared to step outside of his dissent-free bubble and engage with his ideological opponents on a level playing field, he is best ignored.

Bill has no interest in discussing anything with anybody other than those who agree with him, nor in exposing his sycophantic readers to anything resembling scientific facts. He has no answers to legitimate criticism of the intelligent design hoax so his only response is to hide.

For Bill it’s not so much about winning an argument as it is appearing to win an argument. He has a small crew of loyal fans and he doesn’t want to appear foolish in front of them, hence his censorship tactics.
I appreciate the efforts of the above-quoted rationalists to at least attempt to challenge Muehlenberg’s vile views. If only he could be ignored. Unfortunately, people do read Culturewatch and are impressed by his apparent ability to out-argue atheists and rationalists. On one occasion when, after a shameful rant at me from Bill, I replied, politely pointing out where he was mistaken, my comment was left hanging in moderating hell, whilst his acolytes wrote in to say that I had been scared off, and that the atheist had run away from the argument. I’m sure this is exactly what Bill wanted - a cheap and deceitful “victory” to impress his credulous followers, and the knowledge that to deny someone the right to reply is only going to make them deeply frustrated.


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For shame, Bill Muehlenberg. For shame.

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