Apparently, the National Post has, for the last couple days, been dealing with the fallout of a piece on atheism, that fallout including letters to the editor as sophomoric and idiotic as this one:
Re: Science, Atheism & God, Letter To The Editor, July 26; The God That Whined, Barbara Kay, July 25.
When Pierre-Simon de Laplace published his famous work Celestial Mechanics, the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte asked him if God appears anywhere in his treatise. Laplace responded, "I have no need of that hypothesis."
Upon hearing this, the eminent contemporary mathematician Adrien-Marie Legendre remarked: "Such a pity. A beautiful hypothesis. It explains so many things."
Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
Eli Honig, Toronto.
Now I'm sure that that counts as devastatingly witty repartee amongst Mr. Honig's circle of friends, but it is, as I hope you can appreciate, content-free swill of the highest order.
God ... a "beautiful hypothesis" that "explains so many things." Why, yes ... yes, it does. In fact, it can be used to explain pretty much everything, can't it? Puzzled? Intellectually stumped? No problem, God did it. How did Noah get all those animals on the Ark? God did it. Why do bad things happen to good people? Hey, God's responsible.
Yes, "God did it and he works in mysterious ways" does explain everything, doesn't it? Which means, of course, that it explains absolutely nothing. To say that God did it is as vacuous and uninformative as saying that the Great Green Arkleseizure or the Flying Spaghetti Monster did it. In short, it explains nothing whatsoever, which is what makes Mr. Honig's literary smirk so thoroughly unjustified. But that's not why we're here.
I've become more and more curious about how some letters make it to the letters page. Obviously, some editor must have read that piece and decided, for whatever reason, that it deserved publication. Maybe because it was allegedly amusing or because the editor thought it had actual intellectual value. But are there, in fact, any intellectual standards for published letters whatsoever? Sure, it's nice to let everyone have their say, but is there some boundary beyond which something is just too freaking boneheaded to see the light of day?
For example, whenever the topic of biological evolution comes around, there is invariably someone who gets to say in print, "Evolution is impossible because it contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics." No, it doesn't, but that never stops some editor from giving said moron their 15 minutes of fame by reprinting it. But why?
Does the editor not even realize that that claim is utter horseshit? Can editors really be that ignorant? Or is it that they just don't care? Is it not their problem whether a letter is total nonsense? Or does that just not fail within their mandate?
Seriously, for those of you involved with modern journalism, what's the deal here? Is there a limit to the dumbassitude that will be accepted for the letters page? Or is there just no such thing as too stupid?
ONGOING DEVELOPMENTS: In the comments section, "m@" writes:
To the credit of our local paper, The Record, Jeffrey Shallit's letters almost always appear in response when they print some cro-magnon's anti-evolutionary views. I don't know if it's a matter of giving equal time, or something, but at least they print Shallit's very persuasive prose in response.
To that extent, it's a good thing, but it doesn't address the issue of why newspapers continue printing the same illogical rubbish time and again. Say said Cro-Magnon writes in, claiming the aforementioned Second Law violation, after which I write in, demonstrating beyond any reasonable doubt that that position is hogwash.
I may feel satisfied until the issue comes up again, at which point the newspaper will print the same idiotic claim sent in by a different reader. And on and on and tediously on.
It's one thing for everyone to be entitled to their own opinion. But it's quite another for that opinion, after it's been savagely debunked, to keep showing up in the letters section on a regular basis. Put another way, I don't want the paper to graciously print Jeffrey's stinging rebuttal. I want it to stop publishing the same stupid shit again and again when, by all accounts, they know it's crap.