Note: If you’re not familiar with the Hitler Zombie, here are two posts to introduce you to the creature, with the most recent installment of his terror here, in which Orac narrowly escaped the creature.
And, now, the adventures (if you can call them that) continue….
PRELUDE: SEVERAL MONTHS AGO
It was a dreary, overcast day, as so many days were there, with the clouds seeming to reach down to engulf everything with a wet chill that went straight to the bone.
An eminent professor sat in his study typing. Gray-haired, bright-eyed, and very professorial in appearance and bearing right down to his brown sweater, he paused over his work, perhaps stuck over the exact turn of phrase he wanted to use next. He knew what he wanted to say, but couldn’t quite think of a catch phrase that was potent enough to attract attention while at the same time hammering home his message in a way that would be likely to spread, as he might say, “meme”-like. He sighed, pushed his chair back, leaned back, and closed his eyes to think.
And then he noted a faint odor. He could not quite identify what it was, other than that it was unpleasant, rather like the smell of a cesspool mixed with the smells of a slaughterhouse, all topped off with the odors of rotting meat and vegetable matter.I hope the toilet isn’t backing up, he thought, and continued his reveries over his writing.
The shattering of pottery in a nearby room interrupted his meditations, and he sat bolt upright. “What was that?” he demanded. “Lalla, is that you?”
Through the open door to his office, he now saw slowly shambling into view a skeletal being, with shards of charred and rotting flesh barely hanging on to its bones. Somehow, though, its tattered clothing was recognizable as a military uniform, and, even more amazingly, a brush of black hair remained intact under the holes in the center of its face that must once have been covered by its nose. The stench of putrescence was now overpowering.
The creature paused, looked around, and saw the professor. It paused. “Braaaaiiiinnns!”* it cried, and immediately shambled towards the open doorway.
The professor leaped up and slammed the door with every fiber of his being, throwing the force of his entire body against the door. He frantically grasped for the lock and succeeded in locking it.
The creature pounded with a superhuman strength at the sturdy door, crying over and over again, “Braaaaiiins!”*
The door bowed inward and began to shed splinters as a cat sheds hair under the relentless force of the pounding.
PRELUDE: TEN DAYS AGO, THE SCIENCE BLOGOSPHERE
“I’m tired,” said Abel.
“Tired?” replied Orac. “The concept has no meaning to me.”
“Well it does to me,” retorted Abel. “We’ve been on the run and searching for the monster for three months now, ever since our narrow escape from him at D. James Kennedy’s ministry. Now we’ve landed in this no man’s land. Where are we?”
It was true. Abel had barely escaped with his brain intact. Orac, being a mass of plastic and electronics, did not provide a palatable brain meal for the monster and thus had little to fear other than physical damage to his circuitry (which was well protected), and Abel suspected that as a result Orac was rather too cavalier about the brains of his friends. Now, they had landed in a desolate region that looked like the aftermath of a battlefield, only without the bodies. The stench of ozone wafted through the ether, and dust wafted by. Nothing appeared to be alive other than Abel from horizon to horizon.
“What is this place?” asked Abel more insistently.
“The site of a particularly nasty and pointless internecine blog battle between those who were previously allies,” snapped Orac. His lights blinked more rapidly in agitation. “We are—”
Orac was interrupted by a bolt of light screaming overhead. “Aappppeeeeaaassser!” it screamed before landing just over the horizon and producing a spectacular fireball. Abel grabbed the box that contained Orac and dove into a nearby foxhole. Another two bolts followed, with similar reports. These were was immediately answered by by a similar bolts flying overhead in the opposite direction, with the report of “doooogmaaattic aaaathhheeeiiisstss” before exploding with spectacular fireworks over the opposite horizon.
The battlefield fell silent for a moment, although the odor of overheated rhetoric was still overpowering, causing him to cough. “What the hell was that?” Abel asked.
“As I was saying,” continued Orac, apparently unflustered by the overheated blogospheric rhetorical carnage passing overhead in such abundance, “a bit of a blog war over, of all things, the pseudoscience known as ‘intelligent design’ creationism.”
“What,” asked Abel. “Are the fundamentalists trying to push that IDiocy in another public school?”
“They are always doing that,” replied Orac. “No, this is more disturbing to me because it is between those who should be allies in the fight against this pseudoscience, and it has gotten more vicious than I can recall ever having seen before. Worse, it is striking far closer to home than I’ve ever seen.”
Orac paused. A group of hunched bloggers were trodding through the no man’s land, heads down, clothes tattered. They stared blankly ahead. One of them, however, did not appear demoralized at all. He walked almost jauntily among the others, carrying a flag that looked like this:
“What does that flag mean?” asked Abel. But before Orac could answer, a whistle was heard overhead, and Abel buried his face in the dirt at the bottom of the foxhole.
“Appppeeeeaaaassseeerrr!” it screamed as the shell landed a mere 100 yards from the group and exploded with earthshaking power, raining dirt and rubble into the foxhole. After the dust settled, Abel cautiously poked his head over the lip of the foxhole. For long moments, nothing but swirling dust was visible. But then he could make out the shape of the man with the flag slowly rising. He brushed himself of, gave the middle-fingered salute in the direction from which the shell had originated, and continued onward in the direction he had been heading. The others slowly rose as well, and scattered in all directions. One, however, stayed put. He appeared to be writing, as if documenting the entire battle for his blog.
“I think now’s as good a time as any to get while the gettin’s good,” said Abel.
“Agreed,” replied Orac. “Activate teleport!”
Abel and Orac disappeared in a flash of light, a mere second before another shell obliterated the very foxhole in which they had been seeking refuge.
LOCATION: SCIENCEBLOGS HOME OFFICE. TIME: EARLY IN THE A.M.
Orac was back in his usual spot on a table in the corner of the home office of ScienceBlogs in New York. Relieved, Abel had retreated back to North Carolina, wanting to get as far away as possible from the ideological battle raging around him. Orac, however, wanted to identify the source of this blog conflagration. He had therefore taken control of the Liberator and left Avon with no chance but to wait as Orac teleported down to the planet to interface with the ScienceBlogs mainframe and from that interfaced with every computer in the world simultaneously, an ability designed into him by his creator Ensor. As a classic bit of Avon’s bitter humor, he had sent the cowardly Vila down to the planet with Orac, knowing how much Vila’s constant questioning would irritate Orac, who viewed Vila with even more contempt than even the rest of the crew of the Liberator.
“How long are we going to be staying here?” whined Vila, his back against a wall, blaster raised, and eyes darting to and fro.
“Until I have the information that I require,” snapped Orac. Make yourself useful and look at this quote that I have located by biochemist Larry Moran regarding the “Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists”:
These are scientists who are willing to compromise science in order to form an alliance with some religious groups who oppose Christian fundamentalism. Do you believe in miracles? That’s okay, it’s part of science. Do you believe that God guides evolution in order to produce beings who worship him? That’s fine too; it’s all part of the Neville Chamberlain version of intelligent design. Souls, moral law, life after death, a fine-tuned universe, angels, the efficacy of prayer, transubstantiation … all these things are part of the new age science according to the appeasement school. There’s no conflict with real science. We mustn’t question these things for fear of alienating our potential allies in the fight against the IDiots. Welcome to the big tent.
Me and PZ are on the side of science and rationalism.
“So what?” asked Vila. “Other than his appalling grammar in that last sentence, I don’t see the problem.”
“Do you not see?” snapped Orac. “This is one of the posts that got this latest firefight going into high gear, and I suspect it as a direct result of an attack by the monster.”
“The Hitler Zombie? I’m don’t see it, Orac. There’s no mention of Hitler or the Nazis there.”
“Review your history,” continued Orac. “This is nothing more than a form of argumentum ad Hitlerium or ad Naziium.
“I still don’t see it.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to see it,” retorted Orac. “Nonetheless, I shall try to explain in such a manner that one with your limited intellect can undestand. Think. Who was Neville Chamberlain and what was he known for?”
“I never did pay much attention in history. (Too busy stealing things, I guess.) I think he was the British Prime Minister before World War II. Wasn’t he the one who appeased Hitler by giving him part of another nation?”
“Correct. In 1938, Neville Chamberlain made a deal with Adolf Hitler that gave Hitler part of a nation called Czechoslovakia called the Sudetenland. Chamberlain’s hope was that this would appease Hitler and prevent a general European war. Indeed, he came back to Britain to great acclaim, stating that he had secured ‘peace with honor’ and ‘peace for our time.’ It didn’t work, of course. A year and a half later, Hitler invaded Poland, triggering World War II. Ever since then, Chamberlain’s name has become synonymous with moral cowardice and appeasement. It can be argued that the scorn heaped on Chamberlain’s name is not completely fair, because at the time his people overwhelmingly opposed war, and the memory of the mass carnage of World War I contributed to a desire in Chamberlain and the British public at large to avoid another big war almost at all costs. Even the U.S. approved of Chamberlain’s deal. Also, at this point, it was not yet clear that Hitler could not be bargained with. Be that as it may, Chamberlain’s name is now often used as an epithet against those who are perceived as not adequately standing up to evil.”
“So what does this have to do with the Hitler Zombie?” asked Vila.
“Isn’t it obvious? Whom are these “Neville Chamberlain” evolutionists ‘appeasing,’ in Moran’s view? Theistic evolutionists and creationists, of course! Religionists! Therefore, whether he realizes he’s doing it or not, Moran is implicitly likening ‘intelligent design’ creationists and theistic evolutionists to Hitler and explicitly likening the ‘Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists’ who don’t criticize whom he thinks they should criticize the way he thinks they should be criticized as moral cowards who are afraid to stand up to a Hitler-like menace. Indeed, argumentum ad Naziium a very important secondary aspect of the Neville Chamberlain gambit. Why do you think the neocons who wanted to invade Iraq used to like to play the Neville Chamberlain gambit so much against opponents of the war with regards to Saddam Hussein? In Moran’s hands, it is a ridiculously overblown Hitler analogy, but cleverly concealed just under the surface, so that it is not nearly as obvious as the crude Hitler analogies used by, for example, Michael Ruse or D. James Kennedy, but just obvious enough that people link the common enemy being “appeased” with Hitler at least subconsciously.”
“Neocons?” asked Vila. “What are they?”
“Oh, never mind,” snapped Orac, exasperated. “Suffice it to say again that the use of the Neville Chamberlain gambit is an implicit form of likening a common enemy to the Nazis, and that is why I suspect that Moran may have had his brain eaten by the monster.”
“But I’ve heard that term before,” said Vila. “Moran didn’t come up with it.”
Orac paused. Sometimes Vila actually surprised him. He would have to remember that Vila was not always as stupid as he usually appeared. “Quite correct. Moran did not originate the term. Another appears to have done so. Consider this quote”:
In response to such threats, an evolution defense lobby has sprung up, most notably represented by the National Center For Science Education (NCSE), led by Eugenie Scott, indefatigable activist on behalf of science, who has recently produced her own book, Evolution vs. Creationism. One of NCSE’s main political objectives is to court and mobilize ‘sensible’ religious opinion: mainstream churchmen and women who have no problem with evolution and may regard it as irrelevant to (or even in some strange way supportive of) their faith. It is to this mainstream of clergy, theologians, and non-fundamentalist believers, embarrassed as they are by creationism because it brings religion into disrepute, that the evolution defense lobby tries to appeal. And one way to do this is to bend over backwards in their direction by espousing NOMA [Stephen Jay Gould’s idea that religion and science occupy non overlapping magisteria (NOMA)]–agree that science is completely non-threatening, because it is disconnected from religion’s claims.
Another prominent luminary of what we might call the Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists is the philosopher Michael Ruse.
“But didn’t you already say that Ruse’s brain had been eaten?” asked Vila.
“Do not interrupt me when I am trying to educate you,” snapped Orac. “Yes, Ruse’s brain has been eaten. You’ll see that yet again the rest of the quote”:
From a purely tactical viewpoint, I can see the superficial appeal of Ruse’s comparison with the fight against Hitler: “Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt did not like Stalin and communism. But in fighting Hitler they realized that they had to work with the Soviet Union. Evolutionists of all kinds must likewise work together to fight creationism.”
“There’s more,” continued Orac:
I do have one thing in common with the creationists. Like me, but unlike the “Chamberlain school,” they will have no truck with NOMA and its separate magisteria.
The Chamberlain tactic of snuggling up to ‘sensible’ religion, in order to present a united front against (‘intelligent design’) creationists, is fine if your central concern is the battle for evolution. That is a valid central concern, and I salute those who press it, such as Eugenie Scott in Evolution versus Creationism. But if you are concerned with the stupendous scientific question of whether the universe was created by a supernatural intelligence or not, the lines are drawn completely differently. On this larger issue, fundamentalists are united with ‘moderate’ religion on one side, and I find myself on the other.
“Ah, very clever,” said Vila, with a smile. “I can see what you mean now. The ‘Neville Chamberlain’ gambit does liken creationists to Hitler and the Nazis. But who said all that?”
“I never had much use for God or gods,” said Vila. “Always trying to keep an honest thief from making a buck–unless, of course, that thief is a minister fleecing his flock, which even I wouldn’t do. I could make a lot of money at it, but I still like to do my thieving the old-fashioned honest way: with a lockpick.”
“Coming from you, that’s surprisingly sensible,” said Orac.
“Thanks–hey, wait a minute!” Vila paused, deciding it wasn’t worth trying to come up with a retort. Orac could be cranky, and there wasn’t much point in sparring with him when he was like this. Instead, Vila asked, “Who wrote the book?”
“A famous evolutionary biologist named Richard Dawkins wrote the book, and is now touring the world promoting it.”
“But how could this Dawkins character and Moran have fallen victims? On the surface, both seem like they should be far too smart for that, and their analogy isn’t nearly as over-the-top as the ones produced by previous attacks of the monster.”
Orac’s multicolored lights blinked for several seconds. “You are incorrect. The analogy is nearly as over-the-top in its own way. ID creationists may be a threat to good science education; a small minority of them may even be theocrats; but they most certainly do not represent an evil or a threat anywhere near the order of Hitler. Also, clearly, the bite of the monster works different ways with different people. Ruse, for example, likens creationists to Hitler as a means of justifying alliances with more moderate religious people. This tactic allows him to try to claim the mantle of Roosevelt and Churchill, implicitly likens creationists to Hitler, and also likens theistic evolutionists to Stalin, if you take the analogy to its conclusion. A rather ironic twist, really, given that Stalin was an atheist.”
“I really hope we don’t have to deal with the Stalin Zombie as well,” interjected Vila. “He’s every bit as nasty a piece of work as the Hitler Zombie.”
“True,” continued Orac. “but note also how Dawkins also uses the same overblown analogy to liken people like Ruse to Neville Chamberlain appeasing Hitler and himself to Winston Churchill stalwartly refusing to yield. One aspect of this whole affair that is particularly disturbing about this is that Dawkins usually shows many admirable characteristics. He is blunt; he does not suffer fools; he values reason; and he is not afraid to argue his point. It is indeed disturbing to see him use this analogy. Even though it is a small part of his book, he repeats the analogy frequently in his public appearances and interviews. He clearly likes it and wants it to spread.”
“Yes, I can see why you’d like him. But Dawkins also seems utterly clueless as to why people would find his “Neville Chamberlain” analogy so offensive. Rather like you, in some ways.”
Orac ignored Vila and continued on. “I can propose three likely hypotheses to explain Dawkins. One possibility is that Dawkins’ superior intellect was enough to fight off the monster before it could eat enough of his brain to reduce him to drooling Dobson-style polemics. Another possibility is that the monster found Dawkins’ brain unpalatable because of its intellect, and therefore aborted the attack before finishing it off. The final possibility that I can imagine is that the monster completed his attack, but even with little brain left Dawkins still remains intelligent enough to couch the overblown Hitler analogies inspired by the monster in terms that make them less obvious.”
“But what about Moran?”
“Moran is clearly thrives on confrontation even more than Dawkins but seems to have much poorer judgment, given the way he delights in heaping contempt on those whom he views as too soft by labeling them “Neville Chamberlains.” Indeed, arguably he is the one who primarily accelerated this latest flare-up with a breathtakingly ill-considered remark about ‘flunking the IDiots that he now lamely claims was a joke.”
Orac paused, his lights blinking, patterns ever changing. It was almost as though he were thinking, if such a thing were possible by a computer. Then he went on, “Of course, as much as I’ve defended Dawkins before against similarly spurious uses of the Hitler analogy, now that I think of it, I have caught him before making arguments based on a dubious understanding of history.”
“Not everyone would agree with you on that last bit,” said Vila, smiling because he loved to see Orac get a comeuppance, and betting that Orac would be surprised that he knew of that little fisking.
“My basic point was correct,” snapped Orac, his lights blinking red, “but I will concede that I may have overplayed my hand with respect to discussing Bomber Harris, who was a true ideologue. Certainly the Americans would have embraced the technology, even if Harris did not. In any case, it was one more bit of evidence that Dawkins has become somewhat sloppy, which may be yet another indication that he was indeed attacked. There is no doubt at all that Moran was attacked, most likely after Dawkins, and he clearly retains less of his once-formidable faculties than Dawkins does. In any case, I believe our work here is done. Curse this primitive planet. If its technology were not so rudimentary, I could have interfaced with its networks from the Liberator, without taking this risk of encountering the monster again before we are ready. In the meantime, I must try to repair the damage among advocates of sound science education that has been done. The monster has done grievous harm to those who do not wish to see science corrupted by religious nonscientific beliefs.”
“‘Repair the damage’? How are you going to manage that? By pissing off both sides in your usual inimitable fashion? By taking sides?”
“Why not? It works for PZ,” Orac responded.
“Next, you’ll be saying PZ‘s had his brain chomped.”
Orac ignored Vila’s provocation. It was clear that Vila was just trying to get a rise out of him, which, because Orac was a computer (albeit a cranky one whose personality was based on his famously prickly creator and who had no patience for fools), was usually difficult. “As usual, I have already considered this possibility,” replied Orac. “It is possible that this has happened, but insufficient evidence exists to conclude one way or the other. I have done a complete search of the Pharyngula archives, and I am unable to find an instance of him using argumentum ad Naziium in the form of the Neville Chamberlain gambit, or any other gambit for that matter.”
“Well, that’s a relief. It’d be bad if ol’ PZ had had his brain chomped.”
“It is not entirely a ‘relief,'” said Orac. “Although I do not believe that PZ’s brain has yet been eaten, he did mention Dawkins’ use of Neville Chamberlain once and was not in the least bit critical of the term. Indeed, he seemed at least not to object to it (and possibly he even approved of it), and in the past has himself railed against ‘appeasers‘ in much the same way that Dawkins and Moran have, even as he has ratcheted up the rhetoric. He simply has not chosen to use the ‘Neville Chamberlain gambit.’ This suggests to me that he has probably not been attacked yet, but that his overheated rhetoric may attract the monster to him. We must act now, while he has cooled down a bit.”
“So you mean he might be in danger? Let’s get out of here.”
“Calm yourself. PZ is nowhere around here. He is 1,000 miles away. Still, my calculations indicate that he is at risk. We must return to the Liberator–”
“Now you’re talking!”
“–and then teleport to Minnesota to make sure that PZ retains his brain,” continued Orac.
“Do we have to?” asked Vila, reaching for his teleport bracelet. “I’m not a big fan of the cold. Love my comfort, I do.” He paused, wrinkled his nose, and looked up. “What’s that awful smell?” There was indeed a horrible smell, very similar to the one smelt by the professor, although Vila had no way of knowing that.
“Teleport now if you value what little brain you have!” hissed Orac. “The creature is here!”
Vila turned, to see something shambling toward him. It was shrouded in shadow, but its shape could be made out, a vaguely human shape hunched over, with tatters hanging from its limbs, but with its right arm straight and raised forward, as if in salute. The light caught its side, and Vila could see that it was wearing a red armband with a white circle and some sort of black symbol resembling a bent cross in the circle. The stench was overwhelming, and Vila felt his stomach contents rising in the back of his throat, bitter and full of acid. He fumbled for the controls on the communicator on his teleport bracelet, “Avon, get us out of here!,” he croaked. “I mean it! We need teleport now!” he cried frantically into the bracelet, touching Orac’s clear skin to make contact so that they would both be teleported to the Liberator.
Sensing his prey about to escape, the creature let out a cry that sounded as though it came from an old newsreel echoing filtered through the crypt, “Brraaaaaaiiiins!”* The creature lunged–and managed to grasp Vila’s arm with its skeletal hand.
And, in a flash of light, all three, Orac, Vila, and the zombie disappeared.
(TO BE CONTINUED…)
*All translated from the German, of course!