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Car Salesmen - and Intelligent Design

by David Armstrong

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Dear Dr. Pigliucci,

May I begin by stating how much I admire your efforts to promote rational thinking amongst the general populace. Especially in the United States where the pernicious infiltration of irrationality seems to be far more endemic than it is in my country. You are to be congratulated, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to continue your fine work.

I must however challenge your comparison of intelligent design proponants such as Duane Gish, Henry Morris, and Kent Hovind with car salesman. Please allow me to point out that you are not the first person who I have seen raise this comparison.

I happen to have worked as a car salesman in Australia for 10 years or so, and I am disturbed by your comments (tongue in cheek though they may have been) that there is any similarity between the two. Before embarking on a career in the motor trade I worked as a technical officer in what was then the 'School of Zoology' at the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia. During that time I was involved in assisting academic staff and students with their research and teaching. A position which I found stimulating and immensly enjoyable.

It was due to the financial constraints offered by that position (universities cannot afford to pay high wages, except it seems for sports coaches in some U.S. universities) that I reluctantly opted to leave those hallowed halls and embark on a career that offered a higher earning potential for me and my family.

Please allow me to point out what I see as several flaws in your analogy between these peddlers of superstition, or 'afterlife insurance salesmen' as I like to call them, and a person working in a legitimate field of commerce such as the motor trade. I propose to you that car salesmen in Australia represent the complete antithesis of these dealers in celestial securities refered to as 'creation scientists' or 'intelligent design' proponants. In support of this proposal I will outline some relevant observations below. For the sake of brevity I will list these as bullet points. Please be aware that I speak only for the Australian situation. Some of these points may not be applicable in other countries.

With reference to car salesmen as opposed to 'creation science' evangelists,

In car sales:

  1. The consumer actually has an opportunity to see, smell, hear and touch the object in question prior to making any commitment to become emotionally or financially involved with it.

  2. The law requires that the salesperson make no false claims about the product. If it comes to light that false statements were made in order to induce a customer to purchase the product, the customer is entitled to a full refund of the purchase price of the goods, and the seller may be prosecuted under the law. How many refunds are the 'afterlife insurance salesmen' potentially liable for? After all, nobody can return from the grave to claim a refund if the claims of these 'creation evangelists' turn out to be false. They therefore can and do make their extravagent claims with complete impunity.

  3. The law requires that the product can be demonstrated to be fit for the purpose for which it is being purchased.

  4. The law requires that a warranty be provided with the product. If the product ceases to function properly, it is encumbent upon the supplier to honour this warranty and there are penalties for those suppliers who do not.

  5. In Australia, a car salesman must hold a government licence in order to legally work as a car saleseman, and therefore must have undertaken a government prescribed course of study pertaining to legal, ethical and other aspects of the motor industry, and to have successfully sat and passed a government prescribed examination pertaining to this course of study.

  6. There are penalties under law for those who falsify their credentials in order to obtain employment as a car salesman, or for those who knowingly employ staff that do not fit the government prescribed criteria. These penalties can amount to fines of several thousands of dollars, and/or banishment from the industry.

  7. Those people with a record of fraud or other criminal offences who wish apply for a licence to work as a car salesman or motor dealer, must clearly state in their application what their situation is. Their application may be rejected, at the discretion of the government regulatory body.

  8. Purchasers of a particular model of automobile are not discriminated against in broader society for preferring that particular model.

  9. Car salesmen do not attempt to influence the government into enacting legislation which compels schools or other government funded institutions to favour the promotion of any one particular brand of motor car or car dealership, over another.

  10. Car salesmen are not proposing that we turn back the clock in attributing the automotive power of modern motorcars to some sort of 'automotive spirit' or 'magical propulsion system'. Nor are they asking society to reject out of hand the findings of geologists, physicists, chemists, engineers, or any other people working in the scientific disciplines that contributed to making the production of motor cars possible, in order to bolster up an ancient superstition.

  11. Car salesmen are not being subsidised by government tax exemptions on the fruits of their commerce. Contrast this with the tax exemptions claimed by the right wing religious organisations behind moves to get creation "science" introduced into taxpayer funded institutions.

I could go on, but I hope these few examples might suffice to give credence to my proposal that car salesmen are NOT comparable to the type of misguided, ignorant fundamentalists who are attempting to inflict their narrow sectarian views on society at large.

Please feel free to include this letter in your feedback column or elsewhere on your website if you wish, and once again congratulations, and keep up the good work!!

Respectfully yours, David Armstrong.

September 2004