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Monday, 2 July 2007

When Rationalists Implode

In 2002 I (Matt) publicly debated Dr Bill Cooke from the New Zealand Association of Rationalist Humanists (NZARH). I enjoyed the debate immensely and am confident that I won it. No one whom I know who has watched the debate disagrees with me on this. I was surprised at the time how weakly the arguments he attempted to provide were.

A few years latter Paul Litterick become Spokesperson for NZARH. This I thought was a step down. Cooke was at least a scholar and attempted debate. Litterick appeared to spend his time slagging Christian groups of and launching often dubious and dishonest character assassinations. NZARH after all were supposed to be Rationalists. However, more recently I have read some of Litterick’s criticism of Dr Bill Cookes scholarship I find myself in agreement with much of it.

Litterick and Cooke do not see eye to eye. A few weeks ago Litterick spelt out why here. Dr Cooke it seems has deceived people about his scholarly credentials. Cooke claimed to have a professorship in Philosophy when he did not. In fact Cooke’s Ph.D is not even in Philosophy. NZARH apparently propagated this falsehood and continue to do so even though Paul has repeatedly pointed out its inaccuracy to them. For this and various other reasons NZARH have subsequently expelled Litterick and issued him with a trespass order. Dr Cooke is currently the Editor of NZARH’s magazine the Open Society.

What’s interesting about this is that a few years ago NZARH were all through the News attacking the Maxim institute. NZARH claimed that one of their researchers had passed off other scholars writings as his own ( see their website here). NZARH’s spokesperson appeared on numerous Radio and TV stations condemning this. Maxim’s reputation was damaged by this incident. Now an obvious question can be asked if Maxim lacks credibility because one of its researchers has faked his work. Then it follows that NZARH, by their own logic lack credibility. However, if faking ones credentials is not a serious matter. Why did they attack Maxim for an analogous action?

To add irony to this whole thing Paul has broached the topic of starting a new Secularist society. On his blog he discusses the prospect of doing this with Gaynz researcher Craig Young. (Someone Paul often cites). Craig Young has repeatedly claimed to have a PhD see for example here and here and . The problem is that there is apparently no record of Young’s PhD at Massey library and Massey is where Craig studied as a doctoral student. When an associate of mine enquired at Massey about this he was informed that Craig in fact had never submitted his thesis and hence no degree was ever conferred.

What we have then is an organization, condemning Maxim for faking scholarship which itself fakes the scholarly credentials of its own Editor. This deception (amongst other things) provokes a former member to team up with another academic fake to set up a secularist organization of his own. Welcome to New Zealand Rationalism. I would have thought that it was reasonable to expect a Rationalist society to not contradict itself. Let’s hope this joke of a movement is exposed for what is as soon as possible.


  1. As I understand the position Paul Litterick took it upon himself to prove plagiarism by a senior member of Maxim as it was not a matter of great concern to members of NZARH. It appears his task was not difficult to prove and, I understood, the Maxim representative (PhD and all)honourably resigned in disgrace. It was of no great pith or moment to NZARH. Perhaps Paul perceived some benefit.

    I cannot usefully comment upon your preoccupation with PhD`s.

  2. Bruce Logan does not hold a Phd. My alleged pre-occupation is all in your mind.

    The hypocritical double standard is what pisses me off. Logan was wrong to not cite his sources properly, he got a media beat-up for it and rightly so however where is the beat up when Cook passes himself off falsely or when Craig Young passes himself off as holding qualifications he does not?

  3. David,do you speak for the NZARH membersip? If so, maybe you can tell us what they think of Cooke's deception.

  4. David

    If your trying to suggest Paul acted alone, why was the article published on NZARH’s website?

  5. The Rationalists have a memory hole. This is hilarious - all that talk of reason and ethics but their VP is a fake. They know he is lying but they do nothing about it.

  6. I find it fascinating to read your lack of punctuation. Do you really have a degree? How did you pass with that bad grammar?

    I dinnae ken about nae PhDs, although Maxim's plagiarism was slightly illegal.

    One can be intellectually a rationalist yet not always act rationally.

    Since you don't understand, I'll enlighten you: rationalist is a synonym for materialist, atheist, and any other word denoting a lack of belief in religion, and a preference to rely on the scientific method. While this method itself is highly-rational, not many people dare to claim that they are rational and sensible in every aspect of their lives.

    Even if one were like that, I would not be sure that they would enjoy such a perfect and precise life.

  7. Anon

    I agree with you that the merit of a person’s position does not depend on whether they have a Ph.D. I also agree that a person can be a rationalist and not rational all the time. No where do I deny any of this in my post.

    All I contend is that the same is true with Christians. The merits of Bruce Logan’s conclusions does not depend on whether Logan or someone else wrote the arguments he presents for them, and a person can be a Christian without acting in accord with Christianity all the time.

    The point I was making is that NZARH seems to affirm this truism when it suits them and deny it when it doesn’t. That is the problem. And it shows a deeper problem with the methods they use. They are not offering a rational critique of Logan or various Christian writers they are finding something negative about Logan’s character, making that public, and hoping that this will lead people to making fallacious jumps towards rejecting Logan’s opinions. That is an irrational method and one unbecoming an organisation that prides itself in following reason.

    If any student of mine were to submit an essay arguing in this manner they would fail. I suspect that any philosophy department worth there weight would fail a person who argued this way.

    I could say a lot about your proposed definition: You suggest rationalism is synonymous with materialism, atheism and "any other word denoting a lack of belief in religion" the problem is that a person can be an atheist and not reject religion (certain forms of Buddhism) and be an atheist and reject materialism (certain forms of Platonism) so rationalism cannot coherently be a synonym of all these terms.

    I note also that Dr Cooke NZARH’s spokesperson has a paper online here where he mentionstheists who are rationalists. This is difficult if rationalism is a synonym for atheist. Perhaps you should enlighten NZARH about what rationalism is first.



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