So-called “skeptics” and their billboard bungles

Backyard Skeptics’ “Treaty of Tripoli” Billboard Advocates Separation of Church and State.

Having screwed the pooch on a billboard with an atheist-friendly misquote from Thomas Jefferson has not stopped Fountain Valley-based Backyard Skeptics from going to the inkwell again.

This time, above a Costa Mesa mattress store, it’s a 48×14-foot “Treaty of Tripoli” billboard that boldly states, “The United States in in not any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

For years, atheists have pointed to the Treaty of Tripoli being proof that America was not founded as a Christian nation, while others have used it to strengthen the argument for a separation of church and state. But for about just as long it has been disputed by religious scholars who say Article 11 was a poor Arabic-to-English translation and/or that it appears solely in the English version of the treaty.

Tip: Jim Lippard

I’m not clear about the Treaty of Tripoli quote.  Frankly, I don’t know so I won’t put forth an opinion on it. But, this group is apparently not too careful with their evidence. They royally screwed up on their first billboard attempt.

Atheists’ billboard quote isn’t Jefferson’s

Oh, good going. If you are going to hit people in the face with your opinion, one ought to be better informed.

Also, these are not “skeptics”, these are Atheists who appear to the public as outwardly against religion and motivated by something in addition to/other than reason and evidence. Example:

Gleason’s group got attention last month for tearing out pages of the Bible at Huntington Beach pier.

Not cool. I call myself a skeptic and these activities have nothing to do with skepticism. Those who practice scientific skepticism strive to be truthful and careful about claims. That certainly didn’t happen here.

  3 comments for “So-called “skeptics” and their billboard bungles

  1. Mark
    December 13, 2011 at 10:39 PM

    Ideally atheism (at least to me) is about evidence or lack of evidence and should never be about putting forth false statements as truth.

  2. dc
    December 14, 2011 at 4:43 PM

    You are painting with too broad a brush. The first billboard, though technically inaccurate, pretty accurately conveyed Jefferson’s well-known views on Christianity. To suggest that a newspaper article attacking the technical inaccuracy in the first billboard negates the credibility of the second billboard, which is perfectly correct, seems to be an instance of one of those logical fallacies invoked by non-skeptics.

    It is pretty easy to confirm that the quote appears in the English text of the treaty, which is what John Adams submitted to the Senate, and what the Senate unanimously confirmed. It would be a bit harder to confirm that it does not appear in the Arabic version, but if it does not, it could not be a poor Arabic-to-English translation. The statement is more in line with Franklin/Jefferson/Adams/Madison views. But what did the statement mean? This incantation may have been needed to get the deal done. Whether it was consistent or inconsistent with the founders views ten years earlier would not alter the actual views held by the founders ten years earlier. Nonetheless, it is pretty clear that is was consistent with the most persuasive and influential founders. That would take a treatise to demonstrate, and instead of reading the treatise, most people will believe whatever confirms their current view.

    The modern revisionist view that the presence of a few pious minor players amongst the founders somehow establishes that the entire American experiment was meant to establish a Christian nation can’t be reconciled with the overarching concern amongst all the founders to avoid establishment of a theocracy, or any form of government which promoted “factionalism.”

    As far as tearing out pages of the bible, how could this be any more offensive than Jefferson’s rewrite? How could it be any more offensive that Thomas Paine’s vitriole? How could it be any more offensive than evangelical insistence on ignoring much of the bible? Whether you tear out the pages that, for example, tell you to kill your back-talking kids, or just ignore that godly command, you are still pretty much dissing the almighty and risking eternal damnation.

    Are they not skeptics? Are skeptics subject to the same schisms as the evangelicals?

    Finally, you quoted the Orange County Register at length for the proposition that Backyard Skeptics screwed the pooch on a Jefferson quote about religion. Have you lost your skeptical marbles? The Orange County Register is not authoritative, or even honest, on issues like this.

  3. idoubtit
    December 14, 2011 at 6:58 PM

    Not the skepticism I subscribe to, which is method involving evidence to address claims. I do not advocate anti-religious sentiment here. My beef is their being sloppy in the name of “skeptic”. I understand some will disagree. So be it.

    We link to stories that are in the news with the hope that people will see that the media (however dubious) is reporting it. So, the sources will not always be reliable. The goal of this site is to have people think more critically about the news they read. If there are inaccuracies, we allow for commentators, like yourself, to point those out. Thanks for contributing.

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