Science, Non-Scientists, and the Mind-Killer

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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282 Responses

  1. Will H. says:

    I really think you’re talking about a fairly disparate group of people and lumping them together as “creationist.”
    Personally, I am a deeply religious person. I do believe in God, and I do believe that the universe was created by God.
    And yet, the scriptures of my faith (and there are an awful lot of them) state specifically that “religion must be in accord with science and reason.”
    And neither science nor reason has determined that the universe was created by something other than God.Report

    • Simon K in reply to Will H. says:

      Generally creationist in this context means young earth creationist. The mainstream position that god created the earth an universe in some less effable way doesn’t really conflict with the direct evidence so it doesn’t come into conflict with science.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Simon K says:

        That’s what I got out of it too.
        But with both creationism and intelligent design, the objections seem to be concerned not with the concept itself, but in some (politicized) ‘definitive version’ of the concept, and in particular with non-objective extrapolations unrelated to the central concept.
        I find it imprudent to judge the utility of swimming by the movements of those who are least proficient. In much the same manner, understanding the flaws in the young earth and discovery institute stuff says nothing about the underlying concepts, other than that they are presented in a form too politicized to be taken seriously.

        But I understand that people are sometimes lumped together in groups as a rhetorical device to make discussion easier.
        But I think it needs to be more clear that we’re talking about a politicization of the concept rather than the concept itself.Report

    • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

      ” I really think you’re talking about a fairly disparate group of people and lumping them together as “creationist. ”

      I really don’t think this is true. Intelligent design was intended as a kind of fire wall against the burning stupid that is young earth creationism. This would allow the construction of a big tent of different kinds of creationism. That fire wall failed as ID was pretty much full of burning stupid by its self. It turns out that there was far more that united these creationists than divided them. Behe and Demski have no problem getting along with each other at the discovery institute and even both arguing for intelligent design. But one believes in an old earth and humans related to apes while the other is a young earther.

      Technically anyone who believes in God is a creationist in some sense. But the word is rarely used that way.

      ” And neither science nor reason has determined that the universe was created by something other than God. ”

      I think this reveals a misunderstanding of how science works.Report

      • tom van dyke in reply to ppnl says:

        For the record, I’m with ppnl’s take on “Intelligent Design” here. It’s a nice try to include God in, against the efforts of some “Scientismists” to exclude Him out, but ID’s unnecessary, unsupportable, and kinda dumb. Any truly intelligent designer would have anticipated the need for the flagellum and the eyeball, and planned accordingly, obviating the need to rush in with a last-minute fix.

        God may or may not exist, but if He does, he’s not a fucking idiot.Report

        • Will H. in reply to tom van dyke says:

          Actually, what you’re referring to is the second incarnation of intelligent design.
          Young earth? Discovery Institute? Charlatans.
          Herbert Spencer? Good stuff.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Will H. says:

            They never stop, do they? It’s always something, trying to shoehorn The Almighty into their little shoebox.

            As a God-believer, I contend the majesty of The Almighty is revealed in all his works. Therefore, science ought to be taken as seriously as a search for truth as any parsing of Holy Writ, indeed more seriously. Would that men of faith were as intellectually honest as their scientific counterparts: scientists dare not stand too firmly on their theories, humbly acquiescing to new evidence as it appears.

            There never was a quarrel between Science and Faith. My son, when he was about eight or so, made an amazing statement to a friend of my wife’s who was much-given to Astrology.

            “Magic tries to change the world. Science tries to understand the world, which is why Science is always going to win.”Report

            • Will H. in reply to BlaiseP says:

              “Among all the healthy symptoms that characterize this age, I know no sounder one than the eagerness which theologians show to assimilate results of science, and to hearken to the conclusions of men of science about universal matters.
              “If it be a fashion, it is certainly a beneficial one upon the whole; and to challenge it would come with a poor grace from one who at the moment he speaks is so conspicuously profiting by its favors.”

              —William JamesReport

          • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

            Did Herbert Spencer ever use the phrase “intelligent design”? As far as I know he was a Lamarckian.Report

      • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

        I think this reveals a misunderstanding of how science works.

        No. I understand how it works just fine.
        That’s why I acknowledge first that it has limitations.
        My background is mechanical engineering. In ME, nothing occurs without design parameters.
        Well, sometimes things do. But that’s sort of why they have me on hand, is to avoid those conditions.

        I would hope that a person as intelligent as yourself would be able to comprehend the function of religion.
        If “Science” is your religion, that’s ok. But you’re not using it as science then, and the alteration of the design parameters needs to be acknowledged.Report

        • Barry in reply to Will H. says:

          Could you please inform us of these ‘design parameters’?Report

          • Will H. in reply to Barry says:

            The parameters for what?
            Everything has specs.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Will H. says:

              Heh. In most cases, it’s an iterative design. The Slow and Stupid are eaten by the Fast and Clever. Once they’ve mastered that skill, they start trying to impress the females, which is where it gets interesting. At some point, we end up with the Lesser Bird of Paradise hanging upside down from a tree branch, spreading his magnificent wings, screeching away.

              Fashion! Turn to the left
              Fashion! Right
              We are the goon squad and we’re coming to town

              • Will H. in reply to BlaiseP says:

                FWIW, I would never select a valve for an application based on how it might attract females.

                Other than that, I’m old enough by now to understand that there are an awful lot of females that I would prefer to actively avoid attracting in any way.
                It might be non-evolutionary, but I’m ok with that.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Will H. says:

                Heh. As you say, you are old enough to understand. Speaking only for myself, substantially older than the mean, I watch the antics of youth with an admixture of hilarity and tenderness. More Bowie:

                It would be nice to have company
                We could have great conversations
                Looking through the windows for demons
                And watching the young advancing all electric

            • Barry in reply to Will H. says:

              Sorry; the way I read your post doesn’t come out with much meaning – I see an engineer claiming to know how science should be done, without saying how it shold be done, or what your basis for knowing is.

              And I would suggest that ‘everything has specs’ would lead to interesting discussions with biologists, to say the least.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Barry says:

                If they’re going to design something or alter it in any way, they had better darned well have some specs in mind before they start.

                I see an engineer claiming to know how science should be done, without saying how it shold be done, or what your basis for knowing is.
                Most people refer to me as a ‘mechanic’ or a ‘tech.’ There’s a lot of different types of engineers.
                I know my little corner really, really well, and most of that has nothing to do with school.
                I did, however, attend two different colleges, and I did exceptionally well in my course work.
                But if I’m going to write a handbook on professional conduct in the course of science or whatever, it’s going to take a bit of cash to get me moving in that direction.
                And of course, I need to know the design parameters.Report

        • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

          ” I would hope that a person as intelligent as yourself would be able to comprehend the function of religion. ”

          Function of religion? I can’t even make sense of the phrase. I could come up with an evolutionary reason for religion as a theory. I could talk about the effect of religion in society that includes things as diverse as the comfort it provides to the fact that people fly large airplanes into larger buildings. But function in the engineering sense?

          Anyway the reason for that comment was that science has nothing to say about things that make no predictions. It is true that science does not disprove God as long as you make him shy enough. But science does not disprove Russel’s teapot either. Rather than give us cover for believe in the teapot it removes any reason to consider the teapot at all.

          You may argue that there are other reason to consider Gods and teapots but science is irrelevant here. In my experience any attempt to justify gods and teapots by other means leads to epistemological madness.Report

          • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

            [S]cience has nothing to say about things that make no predictions.
            Really? So this isn’t applied science we’re talking about here? Because descriptive theories do have value in applied science.

            Function of religion? I can’t even make sense of the phrase.
            If you’re already convinced that you know all the answers, then a frank and sincere evaluation of the truth cannot be permitted.
            This is the meaning of the phrase, “Convictions are a greater enemy to Truth than Lies.”

            Now, since you love predictive powers so much, and you love evolution just as much, if not more, then tell me this– in a purely scientific manner, of course–
            Exactly what changes will take place in human beings over the next 200 generations?
            I’m looking forward to you clearing that up for me.Report

            • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

              ” Because descriptive theories do have value in applied science. ”

              Descriptive theories must be able to describe things that have not yet been seen and in that sense they are predictive. For example GR describes gravity as a deformation of space. If that is a valid way to describe gravity then a star close to the limb of the sun must have its position shifted by an easily calculated amount. That’s how they first tested GR.

              ” Function of religion? I can’t even make sense of the phrase. ”

              Will H:
              ” If you’re already convinced that you know all the answers, then a frank and sincere evaluation of the truth cannot be permitted. ”

              You don’t understand. I literally cannot parse any meaning into your words. I do not know what point you are trying to make. And now I’m being accused of being convinced that I already know the truth. The truth about what?

              ” Exactly what changes will take place in human beings over the next 200 generations? ”

              I have no idea. But then I can’t predict the weather even next year. And what do you mean “love evolution”? I love it the same way I might love a crossword puzzle or math puzzle. I suspect you are projecting.Report

    • Great comment Will – though your last sentence confuses me just a bit. I basically believe as you do, which is that I feel god played a role in creating the universe. Still, shat I also know is that the scientific process cannot explain the super-natural and so even a discussion of the possibility in my children’s biology class is inappropriate.

      Are you suggesting the same?Report

      • Will H. in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        Thanks, Mike.
        I don’t believe that science or reason could ever prove or disprove god. They’re not the right tools.
        As far as talking about it in a science class goes…
        There are an awful lot of different types of ‘science’ classes that grade school kids go to; health, biology, physical sciences, etc.
        Surely, in the majority of them it would be improper to mention anything of it.
        In others, however, I believe it would be appropriate to discuss the topic of intelligent design (incarnation 1) broadly, but not to spend a lot of time on it; in much the same way that I feel it would be entirely proper to teach exactly what Einstein’s position was and why in the Einstein/Bohr debates.
        I know you have a background in anthropology, so I hope you can appreciate this:
        But science is not just a list of conclusions. That’s not the part that’s science. Science is the process and conditions by which those conclusions are allowed to occur.
        And so, I so no issue with teaching the process and conditions under which those conclusions occurred; as well as the people, the time, the place, etc. It makes sense to me to do so.
        And mind you, this is rather limited in scope, because what I’m referring to here isn’t to bring God into the matter, but to bring the history of that line of thought into the overall view.
        I’m not so sure what they’re teaching kids these days.
        But I see no harm in teaching those early pioneers, any more than I see Rufus destroying the body of Ayn Rand’s work by writing about Plato in modern times.
        That said, I have reason, good enough for me to be concerned about, that would indicate to me that not all teachers can be trusted to exercise their better judgment in certain situations.
        And granted, the whole issue is something of a fruitcake magnet.
        But no, I don’t have a problem with it if it could be done properly and in an appropriate manner.
        But then, I feel the same way about square dancing.Report

        • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

          But again, has any scientist outside the discovery institute ever used the phrase “intelligent design?

          The problem with intelligent design is that it is fundamentally teleological. That removes it from the science class.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to ppnl says:

            It’s not “intelligent” design. It’s a recapitulation of Pangloss.

            Master Pangloss taught the metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology. He could prove to admiration that there is no effect without a cause; and, that in this best of all possible worlds, the Baron’s castle was the most magnificent of all castles, and My Lady the best of all possible baronesses.

            “It is demonstrable,” said he, “that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, accordingly we wear stockings. Stones were made to be hewn and to construct castles, therefore My Lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Swine were intended to be eaten, therefore we eat pork all the year round: and they, who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves correctly; they should say that everything is best.” Report

            • Heidegger in reply to BlaiseP says:

              HA! Blaise, to have such thoughts, streams, torrents pour forth from your brain, like “golden honey”, is just remarkable. And very funny, I might add.

              You have inspired me–I must learn German! I took it in high school, but that’s been just a while ago–have always loved the language–I find it deeply moving and expressive. I don’t think Bach could be Bach in any other language and conversely Hitler could not be Hitler in any other language. There seems to be a very deep connection language and one’s culture. Could you imagine Hitler trying to pull this stunt about superior Aryan Irish blood in Ireland?? He’d be laughed and tossed right off the stage. And then there’s Bach and his magnificently, immaculately sculpted fugues, partitas, suites, inventions. The bottomless depth and beauty his music never gets old or tired–it rests on hallowed ground, forever. The Art of the Fugue probably took every last one of Bach’s 30 billion neurons to compose–a miraculous manifestation of those elusive Four Forces that gave birth to this Universe. I’m of the persuasion that the experience of God is universal with the only difference being the identification of this phenomenon. Yes, I know, irrational, but heartfelt. Whether a single atom or a galaxy a trillion times larger than our own there will always exist the reverberation of that unfathomable, untouchable, First Cause. Soli Deo Gloria!

              “Musick, which makes one man merry, another mad, strikes in me a deep fit of devotion, and a profound contemplation of the First Composer. There is something in it of Divinity more than the ear discovers: it is an Hieroglyphical and shadowed lesson of the whole World, and creatures of God; such a melody to the ear, as the whole World, well understood, would afford the understanding. In brief, it is a sensible fit of that harmony which intellectually sounds in the ears of God.”

              On a lighter note,


              My favorite Hitler parody—


              • Heidegger in reply to Heidegger says:

                Und dies…Nietzche

                O Mensch! Gib Acht!
                Was spricht die tiefe Mitternacht?
                “Ich schlief, ich schlief—,
                aus tiefem Traum bin ich erwacht:—
                Die Welt ist tief,
                und tiefer als der Tag gedacht.
                Tief ist ihr Weh—,
                Lust—tiefer noch als Herzeleid.
                Weh spricht: Vergeh!
                Doch all’ Lust will Ewigkeit—,
                —will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!”Report

          • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

            Would you be more pleased were we simply to refer to it as “Intuitive Dissimilation” and made it all about God?

            The problem with intelligent design is that it is fundamentally teleological. That removes it from the science class.
            Actually, that was precisely what Spencer was talking about, an “Inscrutable Power.”
            “An entire history of anything must include its appearance out of the imperceptible and its disappearance into the imperceptible.”Report

            • Will H. in reply to Will H. says:

              And the BIG GLARING error in all of this is that both observation and hypothesis are a part of the scientific method— and yet you wish to excise those portions because they do not conform to your view of Science– not the tool of science– not the body of knowledge– but the religion of positivism.

              That is to say, you are just so damned scientific, you are completely incompatible with science– you can’t even embrace observation or hypothesis.

              So, what is this other type of science which lies outside of the scientific method that you feel should be taught instead?
              Because, for some reason, I fail to see how, were we to eradicate some 90% of all science, that science could be made more whole, or compelling, or broadly agreeable in some manner. And yet this is the very thing that you propose.
              I think you’re a nincompoop, regardless of how much you may or may not know about science– and this based on observation, hypothesis, and experimentation.
              Science, left in your hands, would be dead within weeks.
              That’s not the proper place for science.Report

              • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

                Sorry dude I can’t get what you are criticizing.

                I have no idea why you think I want to excise observation and hypothesis from science. It is even more confusing that in the same sentence you accuse me of holding to “religion of positivism” since observation and hypothesis, which you accuse me of rejecting, are the cornerstones of positivism. Hell, it’s the very definition of positivism.

                And it is a total mystery what this has to do with intelligent design.

                ” [i] So, what is this other type of science which lies outside of the scientific method that you feel should be taught instead?[/i] ”

                Who are you even talking to?!? And if I ever did argue for such a thing how would that be positivism?

                I think we have a failure to communicate.Report

              • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

                I think we had a failure to communicate a long time ago, but you continued to insist on being a dick.Report

              • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

                Dude are you ok? You seem to be firing off angry messages one after the other. You have called me a dick and a nincompoop (Thats ok I don’t mind.) and accused me of attacking you. I think you are projecting attitudes and emotions on me that I do not have.

                Telling you that I don’t understand is not an attack. I do not understand what you mean by the “purpose” of religion. It is not a phrase I would use even if I believed in God. Instead of explaining you took offense.

                And yes I am the one that tried to explain to you that converting the co2 from a coal plant back into carbon and oxygen would require more energy than you got from burning the coal. I really really don’t think you want to bring that up here. It isn’t going to help your credibility. Ask around to see if anyone else on this blog would agree with you. I know I know you don’t care what others think. But if you find yourself alone maybe you should at least slow down with the insults.Report

              • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

                Stupid always works good with cowardly, and I think you’ve got both of them down.

                I’ve not insulted you yet.
                I simply spoke the apparent.
                I stand by my statements.Report

              • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

                And I would like to point this out:
                This is the road of the coward. I’ve seen it before, and I’m sure I’ll see it again.
                This is how that game works:
                Attack, attack, attack!
                All the while, your opponent is capable of comprehending everything you say.
                Then, all of a sudden, when things get a little close, you stand up and say, “But I can’t understand what you’re talking about!”
                I’ve seen it happen a hundred times.

                Ok. So you don’t understand what I was talking about.
                Well, it was a reply directly to you.
                Did you understand what you were talking about?
                Because I’m beginning to wonder if you read at somewhat lower than a third-grade reading level.
                Or maybe you just chose the path of the coward.
                That’s ok.

                But I’m not prepared to accept any crap out of you.
                If you’re half as damned scientific as you believe you are, then by God you sit there and read until you comprehend.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Will H. says:

                And aren’t you the dick who was telling me that modern emissions systems will not work because you consistently failed to take into account the fact that ash is removed from the system in two different places and continually arrived at a false mathematical conclusion, asininely resisting what clues I had laid down for you?
                Aren’t you the guy that resisted good information and insisted that I present some manner of chemical formula, even though I repeatedly stated that such a thing was outside of my field, and then backtracked a bit and stuck with the fuzzy math when confronted?

                And all of a sudden, you don’t understand.
                Well, isn’t that a pity?Report

              • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

                We have stupid, coward, nincompoop and dick. These are not insults but simple observations. (ooooooooookay!)

                We have a catalyst that turns carbon dioxide back into carbon and oxygen without using more energy than you get from burning the carbon. (!)

                We have a claim that I’m a religious positivist who wants to excise observation and hypothesis from science. (???)

                And when I complain that I don’t understand that is an attack.

                All on a blog post titled ” Science, nonscientists and the mind killer”

                I like it.Report

            • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

              Did you mean “intuitive dissim[b]u[/b]lation”?

              Well “intuitive dissimulation” would be more accurate but also makes it clear why it isn’t science.

              Look, we humans have a habit of injecting meaning and purpose into everything. Primitive islanders invent an angry volcano God to explain eruptions. Christians have “the will of God” to explain anything good or bad that happens. Both are expressions of our desire for teleological explanations. But those types of explanations don’t really explain anything. An “inscrutable power” does not work as an explanation because it is inscrutable. It is just a stand in for a volcano God.

              Herbert Spencer was a Lamarckian. Lamarck is given all the attention he deserves in high school science.Report

              • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

                Are you saying that Lamark was not an evolutionist?Report

              • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

                In a philosophical sense maybe. But he failed to explain why and the philosophical content was a mess.Report

              • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

                He was an evolutionist.
                The mechanism was at issue, the same as with Darwin.
                It always has been.Report

              • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

                You should read Gould’s analysis of Lamarck. (You should read Gould’s analysis of all the early attempts at evolutionary theory.) It turns out that Lamarck was a victim of political dirty tricks after he died. Gould pronounces Lamarck’s theory a worthy attempt for its time. It Really did attempt to remove teleology from science. The problem is that it failed.

                Anyway Herbert Spencer seems to be a step backwards from Lamarck as far as I can tell. I have not looked deeply.Report

              • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

                So, big bang theory should not be taught?Report

              • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

                Again you leave me clueless about why you think I hold these ridiculous positions.

                The observation that all the galaxies were moving apart was empirical and no theory at the time accounted for it. At about the same time Einstein comes out with his general relativity theory. The problem he had was his equations seemed to suggest that the universe should just blow up. He tried to fix that by injecting an ugly cosmological constant into his theory. He had not heard the observations of the motion of galaxies and when he did he called the cosmological constant the worst mistake he ever made.

                Well if the universe originated in a big bang then there must have been a point in time where the temp dropped below what is needed to form a plasma. At that point the universe becomes clear to electromagnetic radiation. The left over light should have a specific frequency distribution and be very red shifted. A few attempts were made to see it but it was first seen by people working at Bell Labs found it by accident.

                So we have three Nobel prizes here associated with the big bang. Hubble, Einstein and Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. The first and last are for observations and the other is for theoretical work.

                And this is not observation and hypothesis?Report

              • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

                Replicate it.Report

              • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

                Well that is a little beyond the scope of what is currently possible. Still, the LHC recreates the big bang in miniature back to a tiny fraction of a second after it happened.

                Few things about the world can be absolutely replicated. That is why we have predictions about observations. The return of Haley’s comet was a powerful demonstration of Newtons gravity despite the fact we can’t “replicate” the solar system. The shifting of the star position was a powerful demonstration of general relativity despite the fact that we can’t “replicate” gravity.

                You seem to have a limited view of what replicable means. No insult intended but it seems the same kind of limited view of replicability that creationists use.

                It is all about demonstrating predictive power. It makes no difference if you are predicting the result of an experiment in a lab or predicting what you will observe in the real world. By that standard the big bang succeeds.Report

              • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

                So we have three Nobel prizes here associated with the big bang. Hubble, Einstein and Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. The first and last are for observations and the other is for theoretical work.
                The Logical Fallacy of the Appeal to Authority

                Now, replicate it.

                I’m waiting.Report

              • Bo in reply to Will H. says:

                ‘You’ll need to blow up the universe to prove me wrong’ is an argument I generally avoid making when scientists might be listening. They can be competitive.Report

              • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

                This is an appeal to authority?!?

                No dude the point is that the big bang theory was driven by observation and hypothesis in a clear and productive way that resulted in three Nobel prizes. It bridges the center piece achievements of the 20th century in the fields of astronomy and theoretical physics.

                I never once made the argument that the big bang is true because smart people said so.Report

              • Heidegger in reply to Will H. says:

                Will H, if time is infinite in both directions, past and future, why can’t the universe continue to be repeated forever and ever? And, God forbid, we’ve done precisely the exact same thing, forever and ever. That is, assuming, which we must do, since we are NOT dealing with zero probability–it’s already here, we’re here, this moment exists, it’s not an abstract creation or conception. Damn, eternity is a hard concept.Report

              • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

                1. the act of making or becoming unlike.

                Nope. Meant exactly what I said.Report

              • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

                Yes, I know. It was a joke. But I did have to look it up because your meaning isn’t clear…Report

        • Will H. in reply to Will H. says:

          Later, it occurred to me that I probably could have avoided a lot of the controversy simply by stating that the process of discovery lies within a greater context, and that I find it preferable were many of the science classes taught something like history classes.
          Aristotle was given to recounting everyone he could think of before giving his own opinion. Ask Aristotle if he wants a cheeseburger, and he’ll tell you about the last twenty cheeseburgers he had.
          I can say that Part I of On the Soul never swayed me in my spiritual beliefs.
          I don’t see why study of the periodic table of the elements shouldn’t start with, “In the earliest days of this inquiry into the division of things, it was thought that only four elements existed: fire, earth, water, and air.”
          I’m not so sure that I can accept that less complete information might somehow yield a greater understanding.Report

          • Will H. in reply to Will H. says:

            And still yet later, it occurred to me that, through advocating the teaching of the Four Elements in something called “science class,” I have left myself wide open to attack from incendiaries regarding the most primitive state of matter.
            Granted, the Assholian fatigues me in a manner which the Aristotlean never did.
            But there it is.
            Conversion of schoolchildren to paganism (and a very pagany form of paganism at that) and adherence to superstition; the transcendence of the profanity of godliness; delighting in forms unintelligible and void.Report

        • Will, if I understand you correctly you’re taking a position I hear a lot which is that it’s okay to touch on ID in the context of certain science classes as a way of basically explaining why it’s NOT a scientific theory – is this correct?

          I understand the compulsion to discuss historical context in the course of scientific instruction – and I think it has merit. For example, I think it’s important to understand how our understanding of the human body has changed and how medical breakthroughs such as antibiotics have come about. Despite the value of that instruction, the unique challenge that ID poses is that it is pure theology. On a micro level it may not be harmful for a teacher to spend 5 minutes pointing out specifically why ID cannot be discussed in a science classroom or given any validity, but to even do that they have to A) give lip service to a theological theory that has no basis in science and B) single out a specific theological concept that has no more validity than other theologies masquerading as science but just happens to be connected with the most popular faith in the United States.

          On a more macro level, there are so many potential pitfalls in going down that road. To give an anecdotal example, my oldest is in high school and took biology last year. Their teacher started the section on evolution but before getting started she wanted to determine if she should briefly touch on ID, She passed a sheet around the room which asked for each student’s faith. In her email reply to my inquiries she said that she was just trying to determine if she needed to have the discussion. Obviously she stepped over a big line and I think she realized it. I told her then that altering her teaching plans based on the results of a religion survey was a clear violation of the public school mandate and I was shocked to see it happen. THAT is the problem with ID being allowed even the smallest of toeholds. People that advocate ‘teaching the controversy’ are opening the door to a lot of abuses.Report

          • Will H. in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

            Mike, I thought about this a bit, and I sought diligently to remove my personal feelings from it. I know you’re a lot more informed on the education system than I am. But this is where I stand, although I am aware that much of this concerns itself with what should be rather than how things are.
            I believe it has to do with the end result.
            And I can tell from looking at it that there is no effective method of determining that beforehand over a broad group over the long run.
            And let’s be clear: there was incarnation 1 that was not theological at all, and incarnation 2 that was inherently theological.
            Your examples on the micro & macro level both involve incarnation 2. Here’s why:
            Incarnation 1 was scientific in origin, derived from the work of Comte, Lamarck, and others. There was no theological basis, as they were willing to concede to some physical law rather than deity.
            Now, Spencer, calling himself an “agnostic” (Huxley’s term, actually), believed that religion would eventually lead people to worship the laws of physics– which, being Spencer, of course he understood to be evolution. This concept that people should worship evolution is not an orthodox theology, but an oddity. It’s really one weird museum piece.
            Taking surveys of faith is really way out of line. That shows that the teacher really has no clue as to how to discuss the matter properly.
            Whether ID is taught as science or not science, the truth needs to be told about it anyway.
            It is not science specifically for the reason that it is non-relational and without adequate phenomena to support it.
            It could well later become scientific were phenomena uncovered that might support it. This involves itself in two parts; the one being design, and the other purpose.
            Design is fairly easy to prove. Purpose is something that evolution has been wrestling with since its conception.
            I don’t see it happening. The trend is toward specialization, and such a thing would require a synthesis across various fields. But I also understand that fundamental shifts occur regularly, and shape things in ways before unimaginable.
            That said, I know I’ve advocated skepticism and prudence, but I’ve worked with too many really bright people and seen too many amazing things. I believe we can do the impossible. I know we can. I believe in a better world than we have today. I believe that we can and will correct our errors– and then go on to make new ones.
            Back to the point, I believe that early ID theory was absorbed into gene and chromosome theory by the early 1920’s.
            So, more to the point, I would say that any discussion of ID that involves itself with the time period from 1820 – 1920 would be acceptable; anything post-1940 is way out of line.
            You don’t need to take a poll on faith to recognize which one is which.Report

            • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

              But again did anyone between 1820 and 1920 ever actually use the term “intelligent design”?

              I think it is important to understand just how deeply entrenched teleological thinking was. Even Newton’s gravity was thought of as teleological in a sense. Think of it as God casting a magic spell on matter in order to construct the solar system. This often was not explicit but rather a subconscious psychological drive.

              Lamarck’s theory is the same. He had a force for progress as a natural law much like newton’s gravity. Again you can think of this as a magic spell cast on matter to force progress. He didn’t consciously think of it that way but could not break out of the teleological mold. And it is important to understand that this magic principle of progress was not just about biology. It was a fundamental aspect of the universe so it also explained geology for example.

              Lamarck did have a natural selection component to his evolution but the interesting thing is that this component actually acted counter to the progressive component. It seems that the ability to see it as cause and effect made it less important than and destructive to his magic principle of progress. I think Steven Weinberg captured the fear with:

              “The more the universe seems understandable the more it seems pointless.”

              This fear of pointlessness underlies Lamarckianism and is the source of modern angst over theories like evolution and the big bang. We humans have a need for meaning and purpose. But trying to inject it into science is no different from an island people injecting a volcano God into their volcano.

              Darwin broke out of the teleological mold and as a result his progress is neither innate or inevitable. Evolution is a limited statement about biology and not a “world view”. It does depend on naturalism but only procedurally. You need not adopt philosophical naturalism but just recognize that procedurally science depends on it.Report

              • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

                I’m glad you brought up gravity, because that illustrates the point well.
                Of course, there is the Newtonian concept of mass.
                Then there is the particulate theory, which supposes that a particle, the graviton, exists.
                Which one is science?
                Should all discussion of the graviton be excised from the classroom?
                What is the benefit of that?

                Now, a few years back, I investigated the matter for myself. I am under the impression that the term ‘intelligent design’ was in use in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, although I’m not sure if it was used formally or not.
                I don’t remember where. And I don’t feel inclined to go look for it. I’ve already pulled the First Principles off the shelf, and I don’t feel like cracking any more books.
                It’s an issue of semantics at any rate. I understand that some people have some really bad hang-ups with ordinary words at times. But let’s be clear– that’s not science.
                As to this magic spell you talk about, you’ve got it wrong. They weren’t looking for God or proof of His existence; they were looking for some property of physics.
                And it would be incredibly unscientific to claim that no law of physics applies in such a matter for the sole reason that it is not already common knowledge.
                If you wish to restrict science only to those things which are common knowledge, fine. Let’s cut off all funding to each and every manner of scientific research.
                If we can agree that there are things which science has yet to discover, then there really is no disagreement.
                Because I’m not the one over here saying that science shows this-or-that about ID. I’m saying that science shows us that we really don’t know– but we might come to know, and those questions remain unanswered.
                One of the most important functions of science is speculation. Without that one element, science could never progress.
                Teaching science for the purpose of eliminating critical thought seems to be incredibly flawed.Report

              • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

                As far as I know “intelligent design” flows directly from William Paley’s “marks of design” and his “artificer”.

                No I wouldn’t excise gravity from the classroom. I wouldn’t even excise intelligent design if there were a viable theory. But there isn’t one. All there is is a deep burning need for one in some people.

                I think you misunderstand my point. I’m only making a point about how the people at the time thought. “Natural Law’s” were prescriptions from God. Today we think of science as purely descriptive rather than prescriptive. It is a different mindset that affects how theories are formulated.

                As to this magic spell you talk about, you’ve got it wrong. They weren’t looking for God or proof of His existence; they were looking for some property of physics.

                No they were not looking for God because God was simply assumed. That’s the problem. Teleological thinking was so ingrained that it was instinctive.

                And it would be incredibly unscientific to claim that no law of physics applies in such a matter for the sole reason that it is not already common knowledge.`

                Yes it would. But that is not what I’m doing. Lamarck observed that organisms got complex over time. Therefore there must be a complexifying principle. But he didn’t explain anything he just named it. Because of the teleological mind set it felt to him as if he had explained something.

                There is a complexifying principle and he had the explanation for it in his grasp. Ironically it was the natural selection process that he thought was acting in opposition to his complexifying principle. His instinctive need for teleology caused him to miss it. Its sad really. Best Maxwell Smart voice: “Missed it by THAT much!”

                If we can agree that there are things which science has yet to discover, then there really is no disagreement.
                Because I’m not the one over here saying that science shows this-or-that about ID.

                I agree that there are things that science has not yet discovered. But teleological thinking breaks science.

                Lamarck made an honorable attempt even if it is a bit funny by modern standards. But it should be seen as a lesson on just how teleology breaks science.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to ppnl says:

                PPNL, for clarity’s sake, I did an excerpt from atheist/libertarian Murray Rothbard on “natural law” awhile back.


                His further argument, albeit rejecting theism, is that it’s man’s teleology to be free. In fact, this here USA is based on that proposition.

                Meself, I love complications, monkey wrenches in the wheels, and jokers in the deck.

                A taste:

                “If belief in a systematic order of natural laws open to discovery by man’s reason is per se anti-religious, then anti-religious also were St. Thomas and the later Scholastics, as well as the devout Protestant jurist Hugo Grotius. The statement that there is an order of natural law, in short, leaves open the problem of whether or not God has created that order; and the assertion of the viability of man’s reason to discover the natural order leaves open the question of whether or not that reason was given to man by God. The assertion of an order of natural laws discoverable by reason is, by itself, neither pro- nor anti-religious.

                Because this position is startling to most people today let us investigate this Thomistic position a little further…”Report

              • ppnl in reply to tom van dyke says:

                The assertion of an order of natural laws discoverable by reason is, by itself, neither pro- nor anti-religious.

                Because this position is startling to most people …

                That position isn’t startling at all. That is the whole point of no teleology from science. Teleology in science is useless even if there is a God and wrong if there isn’t. Well it is actually quit likely to be wrong even if there is a God.Report

              • OK, ppnl, I took you as speaking of “natural law,” which extends to how man should live. Different usage.

                However, the metaphysics of “natural laws” via Aristotle and Aquinas and Western thought is that the universe and its properties make rational and consistent sense. Otherwise, there would be no point to “science” if a capricious God, god or gods continually made up the laws of nature according to whim.

                This realization—recognition of reality—made science and the Western World as we know it possible. It’s very deep and forensic philosophy/theology, but it’s why the Western World created the modern world and why the other “worlds” didn’t.

                So, I both undershot and overshot your mark. Sorry.Report

              • ppnl in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Well yes I was confused by the linked material. Sometimes it seemed to be talking about Human nature and other times it seemed like it was talking about physical law. I eventually decided that it wasn’t drawing a distinction.

                If it was combining the two usages it was doing it wrong. This is the sense in which Lamarck used natural law. The teleology kills it.

                If it is man’s nature to be free then that is a fact for which we must find a mechanism. I think you could make some moves in that direction with evolutionary psychology but I think the proposition is so ill defined to make it formally meaningless. It isn’t meaningless to me because I am me and I get to decide my purpose. Your mileage may vary.Report

              • PPNL, that you “get to decide your own purpose” is of course modernism, existentialism, and a number of other -isms that do not comport with what Aquinas and Rothbard call “natural law.”

                We have reached a disjunct, but not to worry, it’s the nexus of the problem. We might cal it “progress.”

                As for Lamarck, no, acquired characteristics aren’t inherited, like losing an eye or a tail.

                But as it turns out, he wasn’t exactly all wet. Surprised this great conclave of scientist/philosophers hasn’t mentioned it yet:


              • ppnl in reply to tom van dyke says:

                PPNL, that you “get to decide your own purpose” is of course modernism, existentialism…

                Well yes that is my point. Existentialism is just teleology from the inside. I experience my will.I am surrounded by artifacts that do have meaning and purpose because I gave them that meaning and purpose.

                We humans experience meaning and purpose much like we experience sound or music. We reify it as a thing and project it out into the world. Our volcanoes become haunted by Gods and the thunder is an angry deity.

                Mathematical Platonism happens when we reify math as an object that exists out there somewhere. It has meaning and purpose without us. This happens because anyone that gets deep in math will experience it as a thing and we project it.

                When we reify morality we get natural law by your meaning. This can happen because we experience morality. And we project it. It becomes a thing out there.

                Lamarck experienced the progressive drive as a thing and he projected it out in the world as a LAW. It obviously just was and needed no explanation beyond the observation that it was. It must have seemed like simple empiricism to him.

                But teleology is necessarily subjective. When we project it out into the world we are just projecting part of ourselves. Our Gods are a reflection of ourselves and when our Gods become angry and vindictive requiring ever greater demonstrations of faith that tells us something very ugly about ourselves.

                And don’t pay to much attention to that Lamarckian evolution thing. There is a long laundry list of minor effects that have a Lamarck like profile. Some of them are deeply interesting but none of them change evolutionary theory much.Report

              • PPNL, does all that translate to relativism?Report

              • ppnl in reply to ppnl says:

                PPNL, does all that translate to relativism?

                No. But the fear of radical relativism is common in the religious. This leads to Christians wondering why atheists don’t go around raping and murdering at random. And we respond that if the only reason Christians don’t go around killing is because an Omnipotent deity is listening to their every thought then they are really sick puppies.

                Look at it this way. Does the fact that Lamarck should have justified his progressive force with a mechanism mean that physical law is relative? No. In a sense it makes it even less relative.

                Same with moral law. You must justify it with reason logic and thinking about the consequences. There are very good reasons why we humans react negatively to children suffering. We are a specific kind of biological creature.

                But the thing is that there really is an irreducible teleological content to moral principles. The universe at large is not all about us. Attempting to project onto it is pointless. But we as a biological species, Our culture, the way we choose to live our lives really is all about us. We have the right and the duty to impose meaning and purpose on ourselves. We just don’t need a God that is actually only a distorted reflection of ourselves to do it.

                And the thing is this is true even if there is a God.Report

    • peg dash fab in reply to Will H. says:

      “neither science nor reason has determined that the universe was created by something other than God” … well, indeed … but neither has science or reason determined that the universe was created by god(s).

      since science and reason are not the tools to explore the nature of gods, and gods are reticent to contribute to science and reason (and often get the details wrong), why don’t we leave god out of the whole science and reason game? (and v.v., of course; it would be the only polite thing to do.)Report

      • Will H. in reply to peg dash fab says:

        That was precisely what Spencer had to say about the matter.
        I refer you to this comment.
        It’s just that I looked at the same thing and came to a different conclusion. But I understand that is a matter of personal taste; there is no right or wrong in that. And I am all for leaving my personal tastes out of the matter.
        But while I don’t want to poison the well for others, I don’t want the well poisoned for me.Report

        • Will H. in reply to Will H. says:

          I just want to clarify this for posterity’s sake.

          Spencer’s view was that both science and religion point at the same disconnect in Actuality and Appearance.
          But science was the more limited of the two:
          Intellect being framed simply by and for converse with phenomena, involves us in nonsense when we try to use it for anything beyond phenomena.
          He viewed intellect as entirely relational, and so science could only be valid within the field of phenomena, ie Appearance.
          But Spencer was such a devout evolutionist, he saw evolution in everything. He saw a fundamental law upon which all others are established.
          Evolution is an integration of matter and a concomitant dissipation of motion; during which the matter passes from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a definite, coherent heterogeneity; and during which the retained motion undergoes a parallel transformation.
          And so, he viewed religion as undergoing this evolution, and believed that religion would eventually lose all of its anthropomorphic features, and perhaps even come to the worship of some law of physics, which he felt would be to the positive.
          But he himself was an agnostic, although he decidedly affirmed the utility and purpose of religion.Report

  2. Pat Cahalan says:

    > Politics is an important domain to which we should
    > individually apply our rationality – but it’s a terrible
    > domain in which to learn rationality, or discuss
    > rationality, unless all the discussants are already
    > rational.

    I think this is excellent. I’m not even sure it goes far enough. Politics can even make rational people discuss rationality irrationally.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

      If I’ve done so, please explain. The perverseness of politics is such that I wouldn’t necessarily know, if this is what you were hinting at.Report

      • Not in the slightest. Just an observation of the political blogosphere, inspired by some (small) parts of the previous thread. In defense of the overall League, we seemed to stick to rationality fairly well. I haven’t found that in very many places on the web, Jason, so you can credit yourself to some degree for that 🙂Report

      • To further pontificate, since I’ve been wordy lately: even when I want to reject a piece by you or one of the other main bloggers here, it’s never been because I thought the League member was making an irrational argument. Maybe I don’t agree with your base principles, maybe I find one of your conclusions dubious in light of the evidence, but I can’t think of a time when I said, “Okay, that dude is just off his damn nut.” Some of the commentariat, yes, but a far smaller percentage than you find in most blogs.Report

  3. Matt Frost says:

    Is there a single human practice that hasn’t yet been described as “executing adaptations for an ancestral environment?”

    Vulgar evo-psych is to materialists as intelligent design is to Christians: a pseudo-scientific veneer to obscure one’s decidedly unscientific claims.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Matt Frost says:

      I’ve got my doubts along those lines, sure. But even if evo psych is a defective explanation, it does illuminate how irrational politics can be. The sheer fact that it could be explained this way, and easily, reflects badly on the whole enterprise.Report

      • Anything could be explained in evo psych terms, at least in the way Yudkowsky ‘s doing it (which, by the way, casts doubt on its utility as a legitimate scientific tool).

        But I agree — if one uses evo psych as a mythopoetical template with which to contemplate competition and brutality, one ought to be chastened and alarmed by how easily the mythopoetical shoe fits the foot of politics.Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Matt Frost says:


          Sometimes with a defective explanation, the result is ennobling. Where genuine social contracts are relatively rare, the defective explanation that invokes a social contract can be used to hold a government to good behavior. While it’s bunk as history, it’s great as a parable.

          But other defective explanations just suggest that we are way, way off where we ought to be. If the evo psych here is wrong, then this is one of them.Report

      • But by the same token, someone is busy at this very moment working on an evo psych explanation for how politics, for all its ugliness, tempers our violent natures, harnesses our altruistic instincts, encourages us to be more rational, etc. It’s the epistemic framework that’s never wrong!Report

  4. Geoff Arnold says:

    You write:

    Where my rational side agrees that evolution is correct, I’m taking relativity on the authority of others. You don’t really want to hear what my rational side says about relativity. It’s too embarrassing.

    And I understand what you mean. As I wrote recently

    I’ve always known that I didn’t understand QM, because my common-sense interpretation of the words that physicists used to describe QM violated … well, common-sense. So I thought to myself, “Which is more likely? (a) My understanding is correct, and it’s OK that it seems absurd, because it’s supposed to seem absurd. Or (b) my understanding is wrong, and the real explanation is quite different. (And still possibly absurd from a common-sense point of view.)” Obviously(?!) (b) seems much more likely, so I put QM aside and tried to make sense of scientific discourse without looking too closely at it.

    People are quite good at faking stuff like that – almost as good as they are at holding mutually contradictory beliefs without their heads exploding.

    Recently I read The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. In general, I quite liked it, although I thought it a bit repetitious, and less well organized than it could have been. However in one chapter the authors take a crack at explaining the basics of QM, and it was a revelation to me. Specifically, I realized how my common-sense interpretation of the language of QM had led me to the particularly absurd conclusion which I’d correctly rejected. And I understood how the authors’ explanations of the ideas of QM made sense – though not common-sense.

    And the bottom line is this:

    It’s simply this: common-sense, intuition, instinct, call it what you will, is a function of our evolved human brains. It was selected for, along with other skills that were adaptive for our survival. It applies to the world we experience, and interact with, at our scale: medium size objects, medium sized environment, medium periods of time. It works pretty well for rocks, and foodstuffs, and small groups of people and other animals, and actions like running, catching and throwing. But outside that range, there’s no reason to expect it to be reliable – and it isn’t.

    Now, having said all of this, evolution really is different. Read Darwin. We can see how plastic life-forms are, and we can see how we have successfully – and quickly – shaped them. If you understand and accept the big numbers involved in the age of the earth, and of life on earth, natural selection should seem quite plausible. Of course there’s that common-sense thing again: big numbers – time, space, and molecules – are not intuitive. But the computer that you’re reading this on was built from technologies that depend on these big numbers (and, in fact, on physical properties that depend on the quantum-relativistic physics that you’re suspicious of).Report

  5. Robert Cheeks says:

    Science or at least certain sciences have become political. Driven by the need of statists, or leftist, or others to counter the olde, outdated, Judeo-Christian orthodoxy by showing how man requires the state to sustain his existence. For me, there is something demonic in this, while historically we can point back to Neitzsche-sp and the death of God, it is none-the-less the product of the Enlightement Project.
    There is nothing wrong with true science but there is everyting wrong with political science. Evolution, in some form or another, may indeed by Gods cosmic design. But, there’s something wrong with a worldview that eviserates the tension of man’s existence and brings disorder and chaos.Report

    • dexter in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      My childhood left me with a giant distaste for all things religous, so I quit reading the bible at the first opportunity. Because of that I am not up on things biblical, so I am asking you, in what I hope is not taken in a hostile manner, doesn’t it say somewhere in there that all debts should be forgiven ever so many years? Another question I have is how much order was there on the African steppes two million years ago?Report

    • ppnl in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      Who gets to decide what is TRUE(TM) science and what is political?

      In what sense does evolution bring disorder and chaos? Evolution is about order. And it is no more a “world view” than heliocentrism. That didn’t work out well for the magic fruit and talking snake people did it?Report

    • Chris in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      Can you point to a time when science, either in its modern form or in its more general form as it was practiced before Bacon or Kepler or Galileo, say, was not political?

      The fact is, politics will always infect science, and science will always be used for political ends, because science is a human social institution, and politics uses any ammunition it can get. Neither directions of influence is an indictment of science, however.

      The more I read you, Bob, the more you look like a good ol’ pragmatist, adopting the positions you adopt to avoid the implications you perceive in alternative views, and which you find unacceptable for practical purposes. You have more in common with those who adhere to a vulgar scientism than you think.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Chris says:

        I see that too. A bit hunkered down in the bunker.
        And that same dynamic to shove him deeper inside that bunker every time he pokes his head out. Sad.
        Granted, some of that has to do with Bob’s commenting style; but the misuse of the term “science” from those who look with an uncritical eye feeds that fire.
        I believe in behavioralism, and pretty much accept whatever Glasser has to say about it. I reject the medicalists. I know that brain chemistry can be manipulated; but I also understand that it functions the way it does for specific reasons. I doubt the wisdom of addressing the symptom without addressing the cause, and I expect unforeseen consequences.
        So, I feel comfortable rejecting certain things which are scientific in nature. By the results of the work, I can see the vast difference in the efficacy of each approach. Personally, I am inclined to cling to those things which make us stronger and reject those things that make us weaker. And if anything, the medicalists enshrine the helplessness of the human condition. Can’t get by without something to alter my chemistry. No, thank you.

        [T]here’s something wrong with a worldview that eviserates the tension of man’s existence and brings disorder and chaos.
        Those that fail to find some pattern of movement often claim that there is none.
        It’s pretty much the same dynamic as the guy that goes out into the woods over the weekend, comes back empty-handed, and says that there wasn’t any deer out there.
        Because you don’t see them doesn’t mean that they’re not there.

        But then, some people would sit and wait for you to crap it out, and the whole time through the preparation and digestive process claim that the deer does not exist.
        Science produces a lot of rubbish on occasion.Report

    • Barry in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      Big assertions with absolutely nothing to back them up. In fact it’s pretty much straight Freudian projection.Report

    • Heidegger in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      Bob, my friend–how are ye? I was just thinking how interesting it would be if we were magically able to have a video camera that could video tape our relatives, 3,200,000 ago— I wonder where all these “magical” moments would occur. Imagine that such a moment could even exist–the advent of consciousness. A most blessed event to be sure.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    I was raised a young earth creationist. The kids who wore jeans on the beach and handed you a Jack Chick tract? That was me.

    Around high school, I started reading, and reading, and reading and arguing and arguing and arguing. I found myself constantly surprised at the condescension shoveled on me by the various science teachers (and, of course, took this derison as a sign that something was up on their end). (Aside: I remember one school dance where I was arguing with the Earth Science teacher about these things and he pointed a finger at me and said that people like me weren’t interested in hearing evidence but kept our eyes and ears covered. I pointed out that I was standing outside arguing with teachers who were yelling at me rather than being an adolescent at a school dance. “I’m avoiding this?”, I asked. He screwed up his face at me.)

    Well, around 4 years later it finally sunk in that I had been lied to. More than that, I had spent the last year or so lying to myself. I sobbed.

    And then… everything was a lot better. I was shocked. I had always thought stuff like “without God, life would be meaningless” and the various things you hear Christians say with voices full of pity about atheists. I was flabbergasted. Life was pretty awesome. I was wrong about that too.

    I became Superatheist for a while and did a good job of being an asshole to many of my friends and relatives. When I realized that I was doing a good (okay, great) job of being an asshole to many of my friends and relatives, it dawned on me that I was wrong about that. Again.

    I spent most of my formative years realizing that I was wrong… and in running from being wrong last time, I ran straight into being wrong again.

    This is one of the reasons that Popper makes a lot of sense to me. I find new ways to think about things and new ways to act and, nope, that’s wrong too.

    The creation/evolution debate, for the vast majority of people, is little more than tribal affiliations with no real bearing on anything else they do. I work with a number of programmers and database guys who dream in code. A handful of them are Young Earth Creationists. I think that they are wrong, magnificently, spectacularly wrong. But they write tight stuff that meets spec. I don’t know that it would do much good to argue with them on this… and, yeah, it’s not like they’re pharmacists or doctors. They write code. They’re good at it. Their belief in a young earth has no bearing on anything.

    It’s none of my business.

    I find that by being kind to them and letting them know where I stand after they confide in me where they stand (I argue against the jerkier atheists in the lab), I’m probably doing more to plant seeds than I would by pointing a finger in their faces and telling them that their eyes and ears are covered.

    Besides, they write tight stuff. I’m just an administrator.Report

    • Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

      > This is one of the reasons that Popper makes a lot of
      > sense to me. I find new ways to think about things
      > and new ways to act and, nope, that’s wrong too.

      Yeah, I can get on board with that. And to be fair, Popper wrote a lot about being wrong that is sort of misrepresented or ignored by a lot of fans of Popper. He’s a lot like Kuhn that way, an observation that would enrage most Popperians and Kuhnians. My teeth aching is less about the guy and more about the acolytes, I guess.

      You can oscillate between one pole of wrong and another while still getting asymptotically closer to the truth. Without ever getting there, admittedly.Report

    • tom van dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

      Jaybird, your story hit me just like Ben Franklin’s, who never became a “Christian.” From the autobio:

      For the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to be much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.

      Many quote-grabbers stop there. Franklin continues:

      My arguments perverted some others, particularly Collins and Ralph; but each of these having wronged me greatly without the least compunction, and recollecting Keith’s conduct towards me (who was another freethinker), and my own towards Vernon and Miss Read, which at times gave me great trouble, I began to suspect that this doctrine, though it might be true, was not very useful.

      Assholes all.

      And so, I have known many, to whom “Christian” does not strictly apply, who are Christian in every sense of the word. They love God, and their neighbor as themselves, Jesus’ Two Great Commandments. Franklin had no time or patience for the complexities of doctrine and dogma, but even in his heavily Christian [and doctrinal] milieu, he was considered A-OK.

      I especially like his reply at age 85 to Ezra Stiles, on whether Jesus is God:

      “…I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity: tho’ it is a Question I do not dogmatise upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble.”

      Franklin died a month later, and found out the Truth, with no Trouble atall.

      [I love the Founding era. I’ve not yet heard a question asked in the 21st century that wasn’t asked in the 18th.]Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

      What point exactly do you argue to the jerky atheists?Report

      • Mr. Drew, if “What point exactly do you argue to the jerky atheists” was directed at me, the 18th centurians are a rich resource. Surprising to most products of our modern academy—they don’t tell you this stuff—would be that by his own account, Thomas Paine hisself traveled to revolutionary France to save them from atheism.

        From his heretical Age of Reason itself, c. 1793:

        It has been my intention, for several years past, to publish my thoughts upon religion. . . . The circumstance that has now taken place in France of the total abolition of the whole national order of priesthood, and of everything appertaining to compulsive systems of religion, and compulsive articles of faith, has not only precipitated my intention, but rendered a work of this kind exceedingly necessary, lest in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of government and false theology, we lose sight of morality, of humanity and of the theology that is true.

        The whole and true story is fucking fascinating, mate. Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris equally disgusted at France, President Washington letting Paine stew in a French prison, Madison trying to get him out. No Glenn Beck here, just a fellow who’s read the original texts for himself. I leave my own trail of bread crumbs. They’re bigass croutons and buns and rolls and big pinched loaves. Our modern age would rather eat cake.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Depends on the jerky atheist.

        There’s one who argues typical superatheist arguments… Christians are all stupid, they’re all sheep, they’re all superstitious and all of those words that begin with ‘s’. I tend to argue points in favor of a weak agnosticism against this guy and, since he’s as likely to use moral language as not, ask about the moral foundations of his position (and specifically what makes them distinct/superior to the moral foundations of the ‘sheep’).

        The other was pretty obviously damaged by the church and argues the “they’re all hypocrites” angle and is prone to argue politics and policy rather than theology. When he slips into “they’re all” language, I just point to one or two of the mutual friends we have and remind that “so and so isn’t a hypocrite” and he calms down and says something like “well, I didn’t mean him” or the like. When we argue policy, however, he’s much more prone to accuse people who don’t agree with his preferred policies wish death/destruction/ruin rather than disagree that his policies will get the ends that he think they will. When I have to pull him back, it’s of the form “you really think that so and so wants people to die?” and he usually calms down.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

          I’d like to think that neither of these tendencies is necessarily typical of any sort of atheist, super- or otherwise; that that is itself a typical calumny against that broad class or people when put in those terms (i.e. “typical”), but to do that would I guess be a factual claim that I don’t have any more evidence for than you do about what “superatheists” (which is I suppose a term you can define however you like) typically do argue. I guess I’d just ask, which do you think is more likely: that, in fact, superatheists typically argue this way, or that of the subgroup of superatheists who tend to be vocal about their views, you take greater notice of the ones who argue in these terms of derision, and project that experience onto a larger group as though it were “typical”? (Again, not knowing what actually

          I would say that when I hear someone say “They’re all” this or “They’re all” that in a discussion of holders of some disliked point of view, what I tend to sense is not that the person actually thinks every member of that group is this or that, but rather that the person would actually just prefer not to be talking or thinking about such people at all, or in any case not with a person inclined to challenge their views of them, perhaps because their past experiences with such people have just been nearly unbearably infuriating. “Oh, don’t talk to me about so-and-sos; they’re all just blankety-blank!” That’s not good argumentation, of course, but it’s also just disinclination to really engage the argument at all. If this is the case, I don’t think it would be fair to judge these as the kind of arguments that these folks would construct if they were really seeking to positively engage in a debate. Obviously, I’m not privy, so it certainly might not be like that, but I wonder if perhaps it was.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

            sorry – that was to be: Not knowing what actually makes someone a superatheist, it is impossible to judge whether it might just definitionally be the case that superatheists make these unfortunate kinds of “arguments.”Report

    • Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

      That was fascinating dude!Report

  7. tom van dyke says:

    Sorry, Jaybird, TVD don’t do scriptural interpretation, esp the Book of Revelation of St John the Divine. Above my paygrade, although I did play in a Rasta band called “Seven Thunders,” from Rev 10. Never quite knew what they were on about, although as you know, the Ethiopians [and Rastas] believe that after Queen of Sheba visited Solomon and his wisdom and all, she came home with a bun in the oven. When their son Menelek returned to Solomon’s court to claim his birthright, he was shunned. So he stole off with the Ark of the Covenant and brought it back to Ethiopia, where it remains today in one of those cathedral/churches carved out of the cliffs.

    But you already knew all that. Geez, I was just trying to say something nice about you and Ben Franklin. How quickly and happily we “intellectuals” stroll into the tall weeds. Franklin had more common sense than that, indeed it was his gift and virtue as a person and indeed a scientist, no “mind-killer” he. I mean, geez, Jaybird. You took all the fun out of this, not to mention the beauty of the thing.Report

  8. DougJ says:

    strongly suspect that most non-scientists who say otherwise about relativity are either talking out their asses or else have turned relativity into a sort of well-boundaried micro-religion.

    This is bullshit. Plenty of non-scientists have heard of Michelson–Morley. The speed of light is constant, even when you move towards the light source.

    It’s just not that complicated, unless you’re an idiot.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to DougJ says:

      I understand “the speed of light is constant” in the same way that I understand any other brute fact, except that this particular brute fact produces outcomes that often sit badly with the rest of the brute facts I’ve got in my head. It’s difficult to get my mind around.

      This is not really such an embarrassing admission, is it? Sure, the speed of light is constant, and other things vary, including time. That’s wonderful, and I understand, up to a point, what it means as an assertion. To say that I find it intuitive, or that I find it obvious or even compelling, would be false.

      In part, that’s because I don’t feel I understand the science behind it very well. I don’t see why not understanding four-dimensional geometry makes me a dunce.Report

      • DougJ in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        If you don’t understand science, why are you critiquing it in this manner? Why are you projecting your own ignorance onto others? Not everyone is a dunce just because you are.Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to DougJ says:

          I’m not critiquing it. I am specifically refraining from critiquing it.

          Read what I wrote above — where did I fault Einstein? Did I? I wrote “You really don’t want to hear” my thoughts on relativity. And then I declined to provide them!

          In fact, I’m pointing out that I’m not critiquing it. I’ve never written about post-classical physics before, and I’ll probably never do so again.

          I’m only invoking it as an example to show that people might find some things about the different branches of science very counterintuitive. I hadn’t thought this would be a difficult point.Report

          • Will H. in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            I think DougJ’s statement here was overly broad.
            “If you don’t understand science…”
            False equivalence.

            Were there some particular word that Jason consistently misspelled, it would be improper to conclude that he didn’t know how to read.Report

        • North in reply to DougJ says:

          Dude, don’t you think that calling someone a dunce is somewhat over the top? Has such behavior ever yielded any benefit to you in your discussions anywhere at any time? I’m honestly curious to know.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Ok, the important part of “the speed of light is constant” is that a light which is stationary looks exactly the same as a light that is coming right at you.
        There is no difference.
        That’s why deer get run over by cars.
        If ever you’re in an intersection and you look up and see lights that you’re not sure are moving or not, or if you’re in any other situation where your personal safety involves a determination of movement from a light source (or a lighted source), always default to get the hell out of the way.
        That’s the practical guide.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Will H. says:

          Ok, the important part of “the speed of light is constant” is that a light which is stationary looks exactly the same as a light that is coming right at you.

          Other than, you know, the apparent size of the bulb getting bigger.Report

          • Will H. in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            It may or it may not.
            Even if it does, what is the greatest size the bulb can become right before impact?
            A lot safer bet to get the hell out of the way rather than trying to guess the size of a light bulb with your life hanging on the outcome.Report

        • Bo in reply to Will H. says:

          The problem with this whole line of reasoning is that everything you see, headlights, baseballs, cars, meteorites, zebras, Godzilla, what you’re actually seeing is the light from them (either reflected or produced). That’s how seeing works. And in most cases, it’s actually quite simple to see if something is moving toward you or not.

          It turns out that because we have two eyes, we can use the stereoscopic effect between them to estimate the distance and motion of an object. The closer something is, the greater the difference in angle between the two eyes. Similarly if something’s moving towards you, the difference in angle is increasing, while if it’s stationary, it’s not. One problem deer have is that their eyes are actually pointed apart. This gives them a greater field of vision, which is helpful in seeing predators, but poor stereoscopic vision, which is helpful in avoiding oncoming headlights.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to DougJ says:

      This is one of those things that makes me scratch my head and wonder about your circle.

      I hang with all kinds of folks and, yes, I am regularly blessed to hang with folks who read for pleasure, discuss Walter Kaufmann, history, and policy.

      I also hang with folks that I know I ought keep it to such things as recent movies, poker, and relationships.

      Intelligence manifests itself in a lot of different ways.

      The attitude that says “It’s just not that complicated, unless you’re an idiot.” betrays a distinct lack of EQ. It’s not something to be proud of.Report

  9. DougJ says:

    There’s not much four dimensional geometry in special relativity. Read Einstein’s book for lay people on it, there’s no calculus, let alone differential geometry in it.

    You’re conflating special relativity with general relativity here. Special relativity is quite simple. And when people say “relativity”, that is what they usually mean.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to DougJ says:

      Sorry for the confusion. It does seem though that you understood what I meant.

      I try not to weigh in on this subject precisely because I’m not well versed in it. Although this is still in stark contrast with creationists, their ignorance about evolution, and their mouthing off about it, I suppose I will have to be content with remaining an idiot.Report

    • ppnl in reply to DougJ says:

      I’m not sure it is accurate to say there isn’t much four dimensional geometry in special relativity. After all motion is seen as a rotation around the space time axis. But you are correct that GR is a whole ‘nother level of twisted.


      You need to learn to value the counter intuitive. Then relativity becomes fun exactly because you don’t understand it. Embarrassment over not understanding something is a mind killer all its own.Report

      • DougJ in reply to ppnl says:

        Einstein’s book for lay people can be profitably read by high-school students, seriously.

        In fact, if there is one science book I recommend to people, it is that one. Seriously, if you have the time, read it, it is brilliant. And I *hate* popular books on science normally and probably agree with Jason that in most cases, the audience acceptance of their contents is not that different from acceptance of religion.Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to DougJ says:

          My husband, who has a degree in physics, thinks highly of Feynman. I got through Six Easy Pieces, but I stumbled at Six Not-So-Easy Pieces. I believe we have the Einstein book on our shelves.Report

        • E.C. Gach in reply to DougJ says:

          My understanding was that anyone claiming to know General Relativity was BS-ing unless they understood the underlying mathematics.Report

        • Pat Cahalan in reply to DougJ says:

          Doug, I don’t want to universally malign high school students, but you realize that there is a non-insignificant group of people who either don’t remember or never learned most of the things that they were taught in high school, right?

          How many people do you know flunked Geometry?

          I ask that specific question because although I was a very lazy and procrastinating student all the way through my undergraduate degree, I’m a decently smart dude. I married a PhD. From Caltech and everything! And she claims (erroneously) that I’m smarter than she is. Our friends are staggeringly tilted towards really bright people with lots of alphabet soup. They almost all went to college. Even the ones that didn’t graduate did more because they liked to have too much fun, not because they weren’t smart. We live in a weird neighborhood, demographically, but most of the people who are active in the neighborhood work at JPL, or at Caltech, or have at least one advanced degree. I’m surrounded by smart people.

          But I tutored high school math in high school, and the people I was helping? Half of them seriously struggled to get Geometry, the other half got Geometry but struggled to get Algebra. I worked in a slaughterhouse during college, and those guys that worked there? Most of them never heard of Calculus. I worked in a bakery in college, as well, and the guy that ran the business was a very smart businessman and didn’t know a thing about anything other than baking cakes and bread and balancing his ledger.

          Smart people have a tendency to surround themselves with smart people. They forget that they’re on the far side of the bell curve of IQ. They also seem to forget that the opposite of them is not “stupid people”.

          The world is full of not-smart people. In fact, most people are “not-smart”. They’re not going to “get” Relativity. They’re never going to understand limits, not really, because infinity is so counter-intuitive that if you went out and interviewed a random sample of 1,000 people in this country, I’d be astonished if you could find 1 who could explain it in detail truly greater than, “infinity goes on forever”. Most high school graduates read at what level? Do you really think this is all due to the educational system, and that if we just taught correctly everyone would be Feynman?

          I think what the League has been trying to point out on the last few threads is that guess what? Most people (even smart ones) don’t understand this stuff. Many of the ones that do understand it only do so very cosmetically. Calling these people irrational or unreasonable or stupid or lazy (never mind dismissing their politics) is just fucking rude, not to mention inaccurate.

          It’s also not going to gain you any points when you’re talking to someone who has busted their ass off for 40 years, worked two jobs, started his own business, raised three kids in a bad neighborhood and is now struggling to make ends meet because of the economy.. and he is told that he’s an idiot and his opinions and experiences don’t matter because he doesn’t “believe in evolution”. It helps even less when he’s told that by someone who reminds him of the snotty ass kid who was trying to grope his daughter during their tutoring sessions 10 years ago who’s only experience with a “real job” is mowing a few neighborhood lawns as a kid for comic book money.

          Guess which way he’s going to vote in the next election? And tell me, if you *know* that most voting age people in this country are *more* like that guy than they are like you and me, and you still approach public discourse in a way guaranteed to alienate and drive that guy away from your positions and your party… who is the one that’s irrational, here?

          I try and reserve “stupid” for actions, not people.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            Privilege exists in a lot of places. It’s difficult to always keep in mind how privileged we are.

            Bitchin’ post.Report

          • DougJ in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            Dear Bieber, not the “you’re not going to convince anybody with blah blah blah.’

            That, in the end, is what I despise most about glibertarians, their constant fall back on that refrain. Coming from the most politically inept people in the history of the world, why would I listen to such silly civility trolling.

            Man up and take your abuse when you’re wrong, and stop sniveling.Report

            • Pat Cahalan in reply to DougJ says:

              If you think I’m not a fighter against the woo, you haven’t read my blog or my comments on Phil Plait’s antivax posts or probably most of my posts here. I *do* call out stupidity when I see it.

              For the record, I don’t know what a “glibertarian” is supposed to be, except some sort of handy pejorative. I’m not a libertarian (in fact I argue pretty forcefully against most of the other commentariat who are) on this blog, which you’d know if you read it often. If you were forced to put me in a pigeonhole, I’d probably wind up aligning with you in a large swatch of public policy decisions, even though I don’t call myself a liberal either.

              So telling me that my tribe is politically inept and shouldn’t be telling your tribe how to operate fits your narrative frame very well, but it’s just completely out of connect with reality.

              But if you don’t want to listen to a critique, don’t bother. You go on with your bad self.Report

              • Heidegger in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                Pat, if you need an example of calling out stupidity, I’m your guy! Mr. DougJ could read any number of our exchanges, and see for himself. Perhaps Mr. DougJ, wants Mixed Martial Arts in your comments–to your great credit, you are a gentleman, manifestly so.Report

              • Pat Cahalan in reply to Heidegger says:

                I’ll give you this, Heidegger, even when you’re at your most infuriating, you’re funny as hell.Report

              • DougJ in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                Fair enough. I’ve been reading McMegan lately since she went on her anti-science jihad and he always whips out the “it doesn’t matter if I’m wrong, because you’re mean”, so I might be trigger happy.Report

              • Pat Cahalan in reply to DougJ says:

                Yeah, I get where that can come from.

                In particular, you can get spend days pounding your head against a brick wall, and when you go get a cup of coffee someone else pops up cheerily in front of you expecting reasoned discourse but damn your forehead is sore and Christ he’s just parroting the last load of garbage the last guy said and that guy wasn’t going to listen to reason EVAH and you’re not going to either so really drop dead you moron!

                This is usually when I take a break from the blogosphere, which is an advantage I have, not being a regular blogger.

                Still, the new guy isn’t the last guy. He might just need new info. He might be a legitimate inquisitor.

                It doesn’t help much that the illegitimate inquisitors find deep treasure troves of woo on the Internet to feed them. What can you do.Report

          • Robert Cheeks in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            Pat, this is one of the smartest ‘comments’ ever written at the League. Congratulations not only because you seem to be among the sharper knives in the drawer but also because you have a mature grasp on our specie.
            Well written and much appreciated.Report

            • Don’t get me wrong, Bob, I’m still willing to sit down with someone and explain why they’re wrong about evolution or global warming until I’m blue in the face. As long as they’re listening and being honest in their counters and objections (even if those honest counters and objections are based on bad data they’ve been fed by someone else) I’ll keep on hammering away with reasoned discourse.

              I do get testy when people claim to be engaged in reasonable discourse when they’re just full of crap. I’ve written pretty scathing bits about people who claim authority that they don’t have any reasonable right to claim.

              That I’ll call out as stupidity, ’cause it is; if you’re going to fail to recognize your own limitations, then you are acting stupid – at least as it concerns this particular topic. Not that this is a value judgment on anything else you might believe.

              But I’ve never been a believer in the “I have no patience for fools” approach. It all too often makes fools of everyone. People are interesting, man, even the ones who have misconceptions. They’re even most interesting when they get rid of their misconceptions. If you’re there when that happens, it’s awesome, just ask anybody who ever taught anybody anything.

              Why refuse the opportunity to be involved in that? I don’t get it.Report

          • I’m struck by the amazing irony that Bob, with whom I disagree on just about everything, likes this comment. Jaybird, with whom I agree a lot in principle but only about a third of the time in practice, likes this comment. And DougJ, with whom I may actually agree most often in principle *and* practice (I don’t read BalloonJuice, so I can’t say for sure), obviously thinks I’m an idiot.Report

            • Robert Cheeks in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

              Pat, I have a small list of League ‘science’ dudes I go to for specific info because I’m not a science guy. I did do LaPlace Transforms back in the day when we used ‘slide rules’ (anyone remember them?). So, if it’s ok with you and since you’re into this stuff and run with people who know stuff, I’m going to ask you about stuff from time to time….if it’s ok.
              My old college roommate works at the Argonne Nat’l Labs, been there over thirty years.Report

              • I hated transforms. It seemed to me to be the least interesting possible area of mathematics, “take this thing and fold, spindle, and mutilate it until it looks like one of these finite things that we can easily solve.” I felt like a calculator.

                Anytime you want to ask me anything, Bob, fire ‘way. Warning: I know very little about a whole lot of science, so most of my advice will be along the lines of, “Go read *this* guy or *that* gal”. But it can still be useful advice 🙂Report

          • I think what the League has been trying to point out on the last few threads is that guess what? Most people (even smart ones) don’t understand this stuff. Many of the ones that do understand it only do so very cosmetically. Calling these people irrational or unreasonable or stupid or lazy (never mind dismissing their politics) is just fucking rude, not to mention inaccurate.

            One slight correction to this, at least speaking for myself only. I actually care not a whit about namecalling or civility – in fact, one or two of the more effective retorts to something I’ve written have been decidedly uncivil. I care instead about accuracy and, to a lesser extent, consistency. So I care about when people start to believe their own bullshit, and I care about broad stereotypes.

            Broadly, I am interested in why discourse shuts down, but it’s not usually because someone said something mean. Usually it’s because the parties to the discussion aren’t even trying to listen to each other.Report

            • Fair enough. I’m a firm believer that there’s nothing wrong with occasional invective for emphasis.

              I do note a strong correlation between “not listening to each other” and civility, though. Not that one must be civil when others are throwing poo, but it seems like it’s generally the right way to *start* the conversation.

              Each audience being a separate animal, of course.Report

              • Just to be clear, I was a big fan of the comment. And I agree with you about the correlation between “not listening to each other” and civility. I just don’t trust myself to be the civility police.

                Beyond that, my view is that invective used to reinforce a substantive point is pretty effective if done well (and there are some who do it very well; I am not one), and if the substantive point remains clear. Responding to an argument like that by complaining about the invective or style of the argument instead of the substantive point effectively concedes the argument. On the other hand, invective that is devoid of a substantive point also effectively concedes the argument.Report

          • Will H. in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            Well done.
            Specialization of knowledge is required for the progression of technology, even specialization within a field.Report

  10. David Cheatham says:

    Parts of relativity are easier to grasp that others.

    For example, almost everyone can imagine gravity and mass as a rubber sheet with stuff rolling around on it. We can imagine a ball rolling around a dent caused by another ball, we can see how something would curve, we can see that someone next a ball to has a very step ‘slope’ to climb, etc. That’s analogy is actually more intuitive than what we have in our head by default, where we have to keep remapping ‘down’ to figure out how things ‘fall’.

    Other stuff, not so easy to understand. Think of the speed of light as 0 or as mass/0, and everything makes a lot more sense. Light has no actual mass (Although it does, strangely, have ‘virtual mass’.), so light is 0/0, which is infinite, and light cannot actually go any other speed, but everything else has mass and can’t be divided by zero, so cannot go the speed of light. (Yes, yes, the actual value of 0/0 is up for debate, but ‘infinite’ is a possible value, as is ‘all values’)

    Note that this math is crazy, scientifically, but it gives a good analogy of the weirdness. Relativity is mentally easier to understand if you operate from the speed of light as the _baseline_, instead of trying to operate from 0 as the baseline.Report

  11. Steve S. says:


    I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. One does not approach specialized areas of science in the same way as one approaches a religious faith. If you are doing that you’re doing something profoundly wrong.Report

  12. DensityDuck says:

    It’s been my experience that any attempt to use analogy to explain a physics principle will result in trouble. It’s important, when making an analogy, to explain where it’s limited and how far you can generalize it.Report

  13. eyelessgame says:

    so… what is the point here? That we should feel compassion for those who don’t understand things? I do – and more than compassion, I feel an urge to educate them, for it makes the world better.

    But compassion for the people who don’t understand it doesn’t enter into it, when those same people issue death threats to teachers who teach it — when teachers are afraid to teach it, not because many parents don’t understand it, but because parents believe learning it will make their children evil.

    You don’t understand relativity. That’s okay, you can live your life without it. It’s not as though a lack of understanding of relativity will lead you to behaviors that cause bacteria to evolve antibiotic resistance. You probably shouldn’t work in, say, space development or astronomy or particle physics, but there are lots of areas where even fundamental understanding of relativity isn’t at all necessary.

    Now, if you were to start a movement to demand equal time for Aristotelian physics, just because you don’t understand relativity, well, we might respond by pointing out things like GPS only working because relativity works, and magnetism being a relativistic effect of electricity, and things like that.

    But you see, you aren’t claiming that Einsteinists are evil atheists out to undermine Christianity. You aren’t building great huge parks in Kentucky dedicated to Aristotelian physics. You aren’t trying to have schools teach that relativity is wrong, or ignore it altogether.

    That’s where the problem is.Report

    • > But compassion for the people who don’t understand
      > it doesn’t enter into it, when those same people issue
      > death threats to teachers who teach it

      That’s true. When there is a 1:1 correspondence between those two sets of people.

      There isn’t. In California, death threats against educators are currently hugely slated towards people who do animal research, not people who teach evolution.

      Guess who is making those threats? I will hazard an educated guess that they are *not* right-wingers.

      If you’re going to rail against this sort of behavior, that’s fine; I don’t have a problem with it. But do keep in mind that what you’re fighting is violence against education. Not the GOP. That’s a bad proxy, and it’s going to lead you away from your goal.Report

      • David Cheatham in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        Threats against animal researches isn’t even slightly related to threats against _teachers_. Those are two entirely different things.

        Animal researchers are not being threatened because of what they ‘teach’, because they do not teach anything. They are being threatened because of what they do.Report

        • ppnl in reply to David Cheatham says:


          I’m not sure that I would be equipped to appreciate the difference if I were being threatened. Either way someone is putting their beliefs above another persons life. Is “teaching” not a verb?

          So is a threat against an abortion doctor also not related to a threat against a teacher teaching evolution?Report

          • David Cheatham in reply to ppnl says:

            If you want to lump ‘all people threatened because of what the threatener believes’ into one group, almost all generalized threats fall under that. (I.e, threats not made for personal reasons.)

            I was just pointing out that ‘researchers’ are not ‘teachers’, nor are they ‘educators’, and hence cannot possibly be the the targets of the majority of ‘threats against educators’.Report

            • ppnl in reply to David Cheatham says:

              Well I agree that lumping teachers with researchers as he did is a little grating. But saying the two are not related at all is also grating. The subject isn’t about teachers. It is about antiscience people driven by ideology to commit violence.

              I have no problem having compassion for people who believe in strange and silly things. It is their life and none of my business. The picture is different when they have massive political clout and threaten violence.

              Pat Cahalan has a good point that both the left and right are guilty of antiscience and threats of violence. Yes “republican” is a bad proxy for antiscience. But it is a better proxy than it should be. Worse, the republican party is catering to it. Some of them seem to be willing to lie about being a creationist in order to get elected for example.Report

              • David Cheatham in reply to ppnl says:

                And if he’d said ‘anti-science’ ideology I’d have no problem. Instead, for some reason, he said ‘anti-education’.

                Which is actually important, because the left has just anti-science people, whereas the right, in addition to having anti-science people, often has anti-education people too.

                Actually, the left doesn’t really have anti-science people. It has people who think that X is more important than stuff that normal people think it is not, which is sorta what I was trying to explain with ‘object to what they do’. People objecting to animal research are not objecting to ‘knowing how to cure cancer’, they have just (irrationally) decided that not killing pigs is more important than curing cancer.

                Same with the environmentalists, and to quote Craig Ferguson ‘I wait your letters’, anti-nuclear people, who think that not having easily manageable nuclear waste is more important than not spewing cancer-causing coal dust everywhere. Or the (mostly imaginary) hippies who think we should go back to pre-industrial times.

                The fanatic left often veers into anti-science because of the results, real or imagined, of that science. Animals are more important than people! Trees are more important than people! No nuclear waste is more important than people! Radioactive testing might unleash Godzilla! The left and the right both can have this belief, in fact.

                However, the right is often anti-science as an aspect of anti-education. A fair number of fanatics on the right seem to think that education _itself_ is bad, and this has actually managed to bubble up to the leaders ranting about ‘elitism’ (When the right says ‘elite’, they mean ‘educated’. When the left says it, they mean ‘rich’.) and ‘liberal college professors’ and ‘ivy towers’.

                The thing about evolution is exactly that. Teaching evolution has no actual physical harmful effects. There’s no mistaken priorities over harm, because there is no harm. Or, rather, the harm is literally _knowledge_. It is saying ‘People should not know this thing.’, which is quite a different direction than where the anti-science left is coming from.Report

              • ppnl in reply to David Cheatham says:

                Well creationists aren’t against education. They just have a different idea of what the truth is. They would argue that theirs is the true science divested of political motives.

                And it is true that the left tends more to ludditism rather than denialism. But still you have postmodernism and antivaxers tend to be leftish. I think the difference is cosmetic and unimportant in the current debate anyway. Same shit different flies.Report

              • > Actually, the left doesn’t really have anti-
                > science people.

                Do you think Jenny McCarthy votes Republican?Report

              • ppnl in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                Well yes you have a point with the antivaxers and they are more immediately dangerous to more people. But still the left does seem to concentrate more on the luddite impulse than denialism.

                Yet if the point is that people find it hard to reach rational decisions because of their excess political baggage then I see no real point in drawing a distinction between teachers/researchers or denialists/luddites. It is the same phenomenon that Jason’s blog comment addressed.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to ppnl says:

                One would think the Luddites have a very good chance of surviving the coming scientistic chaos.Report

              • David Cheatham in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                Jenny McCarthy is a _Hollywood_Scientologist_. It’s a category that 20 people total in the entire universe are in, so it’s not really that representative of anything.

                And anti-vax isn’t anti-science in the sense I was using ‘science’. Anti-vax is anti-_fact_. They actually accept science, which is why the anti-vaxers on the left have to keep changing their rational when science proves them incorrect. (The ones on the right, OTOH, just assert ‘religion’ or ‘freedom’ to have their kids die.)

                I actually think what ppnl said is exactly right. The left, when it turns irrational, goes anti-technology, luddite. Anti-nuclear, anti-vaccine, anti-medicine, anti-automobile, etc. Usually with vast conspiracy theories to explain why everyone has it wrong.

                The right, when it turns irrational, goes into into _denialism_. They just say ‘You cannot tell me actual facts’.

                To put it another way, if the left was doing climate change denying, they would be running around asserting that all the electric cars wouldn’t work, and that the people producing them are evil con-men, and that the real problem is making the plastic for the car bodies, and stuff like that…it probably wouldn’t even occur to the left to deny the _actual fact_ that the climate was changing.

                The ‘stupid left’ doesn’t argue with things that are obviously demonstrably true…they just invent nonsensical conclusions from those things. Whereas the ‘stupid right’ does argue with a lot of the actual facts, because it’s those ‘Godless scientists’ and ‘ivy tower elites’ who came up with those facts.Report

              • > The ‘stupid left’ doesn’t argue with
                > things that are obviously demonstrably
                > true…they just invent nonsensical
                > conclusions from those things.

                This is an interesting comparison of the two, and I don’t think it’s entirely inapt, although I’m leery of making class statements about either groups as I don’t know that we have enough information to make them. However I’m not sure it really tells us anything about the relative reasoning capabilities of the “stupid-SIDE”; their disconnects with reality are just at different layers of abstraction.Report

              • David Cheatham in reply to David Cheatham says:

                (For some reason I can’t reply to your comment, so I am replying to mine.)

                I completely apologize if you thought I was, in any manner, attempting to say the stupid-left was smarter than the stupid-right.

                If anything, the stupid-left is stupider, because they actually, at some level, accept science, and understand it, and then come up with crazy superstitions like ‘vaccines are bad’ and run around trying to justify them. This is _epicly_ stupid.

                Whereas the stupid-right is just ignorant and doesn’t really understand what science is beyond ‘a bunch of eggheads saying things’. The stupid-right lives in a world where truth is handed down from high, and they reject competing truth, which is an entire understandable world-view.

                This is why the stupid-right tend to treat science _as_ a ‘set of beliefs’, utterly baffling people who know that science is, at most, a single belief, a belief that is not really in dispute by anyone. (The belief that ‘You can predict things by observing things and make theories to explain them.’) ‘Science’, by itself, doesn’t imply evolution or even a belief in gravity.

                The stupid-left, OTOH, live in a world where, in theory, facts can be determined by objective evidence, and yet they refuse to apply their own rules to actually figure out the truth WRT whatever idiotic thing they believe.

                Which is why the stupid-right doesn’t want those competing truths taught to children, or at least their truth also taught, whereas the stupid-left delusionally thinks their ‘truths’ have been proven by their own super-duper science (as opposed to actual science, which has been duped, probably by big corporations) so don’t mind.

                ‘Different levels of abstraction’ is a great way to talk about that, and I’m stealing that phrase from you.Report

              • > A fair number of fanatics on the right
                > seem to think that education _itself_ is bad

                I think this is an odd statement. The fanatics on the right who are mucking about in school boards are trying to take them over, not get rid of them.Report

              • Heidegger in reply to ppnl says:

                ppnl writes:

                “I have no problem having compassion for people who believe in strange and silly things. It is their life and none of my business.”

                That’s just an outrageous, elitist, condescending statement. You’re just going to, with a wave of a hand, dismiss a 2000 year religion as nothing but a bunch of fools who like to believe in silly things. As I’ve said before, you atheists don’t just deny the existence of God, you pathetically have to characterize any one who does as an imbecile. Who the hell are you to denigrate and belittle Christians and Christianity? Do a few philosophy classes make you a final arbiter on truth? On God? And your flippent mockery of Christianity really gets under my skin. 65% of scientists DO believe in God or a Creator. 82% of the general population also believes in God. I would expect a convoy of Fox News vans to be at your doorstep at any moment with a Breaking News bulletin that a man can now prove that God does not exist. Now if you cannot prove that God does not exist, why are you so adamently sure that He doesn’t? Based on what? It’s based on nothing. There is not one single piece of scientific evidence that can prove God does not exist.
                And there never will be.Report

              • ppnl in reply to Heidegger says:

                That’s just an outrageous, elitist, condescending statement.

                Well yes. Yes in a sense it is. But lets build some context here. Lets take a message that Robert Cheeks posted to me:

                Sadly, you illustrate my point. You have no knowledge of the mystery, no experience because your soul is dying like so many souls these days, and you can not see. My prayer is that God will be with you, and you will be able to see.

                He reduces me to a sad creature to be pitied and prayed for. Condescending? Sure. In some ways aggressive? Absolutely. But it is also an honest expression of his philosophical commitments. Yet from the other side these kinds of things can seem like a tribal growl. A warning. I made kind of a joke about it. I hope he got it.

                Was I condescending? Sure I can see how it would look that way from your perspective. It is also the most honest expression of my philosophical commitments. So tell me to step the F*** back and get over it.

                Look, the world is full of strange and weird things. UFO cults. Magic healing crystal people. Creationists. Clowns. All these people love their children, feel pain, have dreams and most importantly have dogs. I want nothing but the best for all of these. (Except for the clowns. They can rot in hell) But that does not give them a free pass on the idiocy. I have ever right and sometimes even a moral responsibility to point and laugh.

                You’re just going to, with a wave of a hand, dismiss a 2000 year religion as nothing but a bunch of fools who like to believe in silly things.

                Well yes and no. Yes there was massive ignorance in just about every field 2000 years ago. That does not make them fools. The problems they were working on were hard. I am often amazed at how well they did.

                Fools? That title I reserve to the living theologians. 🙂

                As I’ve said before, you atheists don’t just deny the existence of God, you pathetically have to characterize any one who does as an imbecile.

                Often this is the case. I’m sorry but a belief that the earth is 6000 years old is intellectually and morally equal to believing that the earth is flat. I know stating that will hurt some feelings. I cannot change that. It is not my intent to hurt. As long as they are not trying to force other peoples children to pay homage to their God I have no hard thoughts toward them at all. But I can, will and must speak the truth as close as I know it. I don’t expect you to agree with me. I don’t expect you to never get angry. I do expect you to try and see that yes this is my philosophical commitment and no there is no malice in it.

                Now if you cannot prove that God does not exist, why are you so adamently sure that He doesn’t?

                I’m not. I may be best described as a Russel style agnostic. But don’t take comfort in that. I’m also not sure that Russel’s tea pot does not exist. The deeper problem is that neither question is even warranted.

                There is not one single piece of scientific evidence that can prove God does not exist.
                And there never will be.

                That is probably true. But you see with my philosophical commitments I see this as a devastating argument against the existence of God. You probably don’t see that.

                Try to read the above with charity. At no point am I trying to express anger or frustration or hatred or malice.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Heidegger says:

                As we God-believers do not wish to be lumped in with every stupid person, let us not rush to conclusions about the Atheist, my good friend. Those of us who do believe in God share more with the Atheist than might seem obvious.

                The Atheist who condemns those charlatans who claim to speak in the Name of The Almighty as if they were a spiritual conduit is on the right path. God will not fit into anyone’s tidy little box, nor are his ways our ways. We wage war on each other in the Name of God: how anyone can believe this to be God’s intent for our lives is quite beyond me. Such a God ought to be condemned for the Straw Bully he is, the creation of some maniac’s mind, surely not the God revealed to any soul who seeks him in spirit and in truth.

                The Atheist is the best friend a man of faith with ever have, his truest exponent, the only sound judge of a society which must tolerate every belief structure. He is the canary in the coal mine of democracy and freedom of conscience. But at its logical endpoint, the Atheist is a Believer, too. He has reached a conclusion: God does not exist.

                Of course God does not exist according to our understanding, else he would not be worthy of worship, the source of all truth. It little matters that God “exists” according to our mortal framework. Spinoza’s Clockmaker has been reduced to a cliche and is a pitiful God indeed: Spinoza himself understood the asymptote of the function as amor dei intellectualis. He who loves Truth loves God.

                The universe obeys rules: it is man who refuses to obey his own rules. That statement is where the road begins, the milestone from which all others proceed.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                the best friend a man of faith will ever have…

                Fatfinger Syndrome strikes again, that and the rude interruption of Actual Work.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                The truest enemy of religion is the charlatan who insists that the only two alternatives are complete submission to his belief system (e.g absolute biblical literalism) and atheism. Given that choice, anyone with any sense would opt for the latter.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Atheism has its own problem children, no less dogmatic and every bit as vicious. When it comes to Troubling Conclusions, Communism’s history of murderous excess in the name of its atheist principles cannot be denied.

                You may wish to dissect away Communism from its Atheist dogma but I wouldn’t advise it. Such efforts resemble nothing so much as Religion’s attempts to deny the historical truths of its own destructive activities.Report

        • > Threats against animal researches isn’t even slightly
          > related to threats against _teachers

          It’s not?

          Let me make this clear: there are people on the campus where I work who do animal research. They also teach classes. And unlike most of the other research groups on campus, they don’t post their photographs on their research page and the security measures in their buildings are much different from the security measures in mine.Report

  14. While I appreciate the discussions of Einstein and relativity, the subject IS evolution, no? Am I the only one with an anthro degree around here? If so, I feel mighty special.

    To the haters, evolution is a solid theory but one that admittedly has a lot of holes in it. I consider it a work in progress. What i also know as a person of faith is that I don’t see evolution in conflict with God but rather further evidence of his awesomeness (said in my best Barney Stinson voice).Report

    • But it’s all relative, isn’t it? I mean, on a scale of 1-100 for explanatory power:

      evolution…… 95 (knocking off 5 points for your “holes”)
      next best alternative (?ID)….. 0.000000000000000000000001 (and that’s generous)Report

    • Robert Cheeks in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

      Good one, Mike, I’m with you though I don’t have an anthro degree!
      The truth is always in the myth, and that’s very difficult for people consumed by technos to understand.Report

      • ppnl in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

        The truth is always in the myth? Yeah, that’s kind of hard to take seriously. I also don’t know what he means by holes in evolution but whatever.Report

        • Robert Cheeks in reply to ppnl says:

          Sadly, you illustrate my point. You have no knowledge of the mystery, no experience because your soul is dying like so many souls these days, and you can not see. My prayer is that God will be with you, and you will be able to see.Report

          • ppnl in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

            But which myth is the truth in? There are a bunch of them out there and many of them seem willing to murder the opposition.

            And thanks for the prayer. Truly I mean that. But understand that I accept it the same way I accept a prayer from a Hindu or a Wiccan. While I understand the intended kindness I also see it as an expression of tribal allegiance. Such expressions of tribal allegiance serve as a warning and reminder and so can have a hostile component to outsiders. This is probably invisible to you but it is there.

            So step the F*** back. 🙂Report

            • tom van dyke in reply to ppnl says:

              PPNL, my old pal: If you’d like to kick it up a notch from banging on the fundies, this paper on Dietrich Boenhoeffer may be of interest.


              I’m not selling the theology [not even sure I quite understand it], just happened to be reading it today and it seemed relevant to your discussion.

              Also thought it might be edifying for those here gathered to take a gander at an actual theologian and not a TV huckster. Not that faith can’t be approached that way: Bonhoeffer could hang with the Heideggerian heavies or hoot and holler in a Harlem Baptist church.

              By its own lights, “Father, … to you I offer praise; for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest children…”

              Which I guess is sort of where the very learned and clever Bonhoeffer ended up. Still, plenty there for the learned and clever, and it beats just bashing the fundies. That just wears me out, they’re such easy pickins.Report

              • ppnl in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Well I generally have no desire to bang on fundies anymore than I desire to bang on radical lesbian vegetarians. In an idea world they would live their life and I would live mine. If we do not live in such a world that is not a situation I had any part in creating.

                Thanks for the text but it isn’t a subject that I know very well, have much interest in or much time for. But I did read it. The thing is at times it seemed to have a postmodernist feel to it. I mean the jargon was different and while I picture a postmodernist producing his stuff with a superior smile on his face these guys are deadly earnest. But the subject is often the same spiel about the power of texts or myths or truth or whatever. But like I said it isn’t a subject that interests me much.

                I think the tv hucksters have destroyed whatever value Christianity had. In particular prosperity theology has devastated any moral or intellectual claim the church had. Instead of criticizing “liberals” they should see the wolves like Peter Popoff who are devastating their flock. Faith healers have done more damage to the church than any radical liberal Muslim communist ever could. After all who is the harlot? But then you have probably not been exposed to my mother’s theology. In her world the Harlot is the church which trades it’s popularity with the people to give power to the beast.

                Bonhoeffer at least seems to have avoided this error. Good for him.Report

              • Chris in reply to ppnl says:

                Bonhoeffer was a fascinating man, and hardly a jargon-slinging charlatan (I assume that’s what you mean by “postmodern”). His stand against Nazism was truly heroic as well. But one is certainly showing where he or she stand by choosing to use Bonhoeffer as an example of a true theologian.Report

              • ppnl in reply to Chris says:

                Well I specifically did not call him a charlatan and in fact called him deadly earnest. As for how much sense he made…

                Also I should say that my postmodernist criticism was to all the ideas presented not just Bonhoeffer’s.

                There was some things I liked. For example I doubt he have much to do with biblical literalists. But the contortions he has to go through to worship the bible and deny its truth are incredible. The very nature of that twisted complexity may explain why biblical literalism has such appeal. Conceptually simple even if you have to turn off your brain.

                But I have an even simpler idea. What if the bible contains a lot of myths that were politically and psychologically important at the time they were written? If you want to know the mind set of the people at the time then the bible is important. But today? Your mileage may vary. And remember a myth need be neither true nor moral in order to be psychologically and politically powerful. The bible is often neither.

                I dream of a time in the distant future when people can have wars over the truth of the lord of the rings. Gandolf is Lord and anyone who disagrees is a spawn of Morgoth.

                Myths. We swim in them like a fish swims in water. That don’t make them true or even moral.Report

              • Chris in reply to ppnl says:

                Yeah, I was just confirming that he wasn’t a charlatan.

                Not that I think postmodernism and charlatanism are synonymous, mind you. I just recognize when people are using the term postmodernism that way.

                Also, Bonhoeffer’s theological work, as opposed to his work on living as a Christian, tends to be co-opted by all sorts of Christians, because it’s incomplete and unsystematic. It can be interpreted in a lot of ways. That’s why it says a lot about a, person who holds Bonhoeffer’s work as an example of serious theology — it means they either haven’t read a lot of theology or they have an agenda.Report

              • Heidegger in reply to ppnl says:

                ppnl–you’re creating a major problem by lumping “creationism” with theism. The twain do not meet, ever. Nature and music are my gods. It is there, in those precious moments, that I experience and feel the ecstasy of the Godhood. The perfect fusion that transcend connects every atom in the Universe. It’s utterly incomprehensible but unquestionably the Ground of Being.

                If I’m not mistaken, I think you recently provided a link to You Tube to show off your snake handling/charming skills at a Pentecostal church—it was actually a tent. You displayed great virtuosity and skill with your oboe, when you serenaded that aggressive Cobra to sleep. (he may still be asleep!) And how did you you manage to lead the entire congregation into speaking in tongues? Quite impressive, ppnl!

                What’s really hard to come to grips with, is your obsession with Sasquatch/Bigfoot. I’d love to see your your Sasquatch photo albums sometime if you ever have the time. It’s time the rest of the world stops making a mockery of this noble beast, Bigfoot. He could very well prove to be the elusive missing link science has been so longing to see. I would be more than happy to join you on one of your Bigfoot expeditions. I’ve heard some scientists even think that if Bigfoot were to shaven from to toe, he would look like a completely, perfectly, normal human being, albeit, one who stands about fifteen feet tall and weighing 500lbs with a language that would probably shatter windows and eardrums.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Chris says:

                Oh well, I tried. The responses are not fit to untie Bonhoeffer’s sandals. Your anger trumps whatever open-mindedness you claim.

                I told you I wasn’t selling his theology; I find it interesting is all and I was reading him today. Go back to the kiddie table and stick with besting the TV evangelists; they are more your speed. You run a little faster, but not all that much.Report

              • ppnl in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Anger dude? Like Will H. you are projecting. If you see any disagreement as an attack you will always see anger. It isn’t there.

                Where specifically did you detect anger?

                Anyway I have no doubt that I’m not up to much of a theological discussion by your standards. I also can’t offer much in the way of a discussion of Hinduism. That’s because I don’t think it is very important or relevant. Sorry that’s just the anger free fact of the matter. Maybe that is the harder fact to face, the fact that I don’t think the subject is worth much thought let alone anger. I’m sorry. It isn’t intended as an insult.

                Anyway I didn’t mean to dis Bonhoeffer. His stand against the Nazis makes up for several lifetimes of not making any sense. I don’t know what I would do in his place and hope never to find out.Report

              • PPNL, I was suggesting that banging on Barth and Bonhoeffer would put a more elegant touch on anti-theism than merely sticking with fish in a barrel. It would give it a patina of seriousness, even if faux.

                To reject theology and theologizing while somewhat proudly admitting zero knowledge of or interest in it seems militantly pointless.Report

              • Will H. in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Actually, it is anger.
                You want to “bang on some fundies.” You want to play the Marilyn Manson to antagonize the Church Lady.
                That’s anger.
                It’s also counter-productive.
                About the 2nd or 3rd MM that the Church Lady sees, it’s all old hat after that. The shock value is gone, and the remnant is more pathetic than anything else.
                But not all people of faith are “fundies.” Some good Democrats go to church. Not every conservative passes out tracts in the parking lot.
                I think I would like to start a rumor that one of the Koch brothers has serious doubts about the certitude of the Divine.
                I would just like to see how much that shakes things up.

                The best definition I’ve heard for religion is: the art of living.
                That’s what it’s for.
                It gives rules of conduct.
                Science doesn’t really have a lot to say about how one should conduct oneself.

                But if it did, I’m not so sure that it would tell people to go out and be a stupid, cowardly, dickish nincompoop.Report

              • Will H. in reply to tom van dyke says:

                I just want to point out something about the last sentence in that last comment.
                When I had said those things earlier, I was pretty hot under the collar. I felt that there was more of an attempt to needle me rather than to engage, and I refused reply until after I had already become angry.
                When I say those things here, I’m really mocking my own intemperance.
                I’ll let it stand at that.Report

          • Heidegger in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

            Greetings, Comrade Bob! May I say, another Vatican I heretic. I can’t go to a mass unless it’s in Latin and the altar is turned to face the Christ, NOT the people! Who and why did anyone come up with such idiotic scheme? The Latin, stained-glass windows, Gregorian Chant, incense, esotericism, Transubstantiation, now THAT is what it’s all about!Report

            • Robert Cheeks in reply to Heidegger says:

              Hello H-man, glad to see you back among the tribalists. BTW, how do you stand on the ‘co-Redemptrixt thingy? That just blows this old Mick away!

              PPNL, hang in there dude!Report

      • Will H. in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

        And granted, you will find many supporters of science who have no clue what it is or how it should be used.
        Mike is an anthropologist, and I’ve seen photographs of him at an archaeological dig. So, he has to understand the limitations of evolution theory. And I know he’s seen how credentialed professionals can also be in agreement in a thing which is decidedly wrong.
        The mechanism of evolution has always been at issue. It’s not natural selection. It’s not completely random, because it occurs repeatedly.
        But that’s why evolution theory has very little predictive power.

        Now, myth is symbol, the same as any other symbol; letters, numbers, geometric shapes– anything.
        Some are conversant in such symbols, while others are not.
        But I find the unwillingness to understand is more of an impediment to knowledge than the incapacity to comprehend.
        But symbols aren’t for everybody. It takes a different part of the brain to assimilate.Report

        • Will, I certainly see evolutionary theory (ET) as solid science and I think in some cases natural selection has been proven conclusively with certain species. Unfortunately, because there are so many potential variables the conclusions are diverse and often subject to criticism. The primary problem with evolutinary theory as I see it is that it is such a large umbrella. Certain species evolve spontaneously. Others evolve based on environmental factors and often we have no way of understanding what those factors were. Really what we’re talking about with ET is two questions: What and Why. The What is much easier. We see mutations in species and can often connect biological changes to one another. The Why is much more speculative and I think subject to much more scrutiny (and rightly so).

          It’s really no different than the way archaeoligist examine sites and draw conclusions. Take Stonehenge. Archaeologists now have a pretty solid understanding of the What meaning they know when it was built, in what stages, how it looked originally, etc. The Why is still largely a mystery.

          The Why is also where ID comes in. If biological anthropologists can’t explain the Why then ID folks simply substitute ‘God’.Report

          • Will H. in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

            Sure, it’s really no different, but the analysis is weighted and it comes in stages.
            Did you ever come across an artifact that you wish you knew more about?
            Ever come across a site that told a complete autobiography?
            What about a group of similar items about which you could speculate in a directed manner, but couldn’t really confirm a thing about?
            That’s all science.
            When science puts something together, there usually is a lot of pieces left over that didn’t really fit in anywhere.
            Unlike whenever you & I do that, it doesn’t mean that it’s broken; it means that it’s working. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.
            It gives you little pieces of knowledge, and a lot more questions.
            If you forget about all of those questions left over at the end, you’ve done yourself a disservice. Those questions are fuel in the tank. Science needs that.Report

  15. Jaybird says:

    Part of the problem is that we don’t have the hindsight we need yet.

    But we *CAN* go back and look at what has happened in the past.

    Let’s go back to 1910. 100 years, right?

    A question for Progressives:

    Are White People genetically smarter than the Irish, Negroes, or Indians?
    Should babies with abnormally large Thymus Glands have them irradiated in order to help prevent SIDS?

    What would a good, educated, bleeding edge Progressive have answered to these questions? What would established science have said?

    What is the difference between the assurance you have with your answers today and the assurance that good, educated, bleeding edge Progressives had when they would have answered those questions in 1910?Report

  16. ppnl says:

    Jason, I have a question… am I being a dick?

    In several blog posts you have suggested some kind of kinder and gentler approach to science denialists. But it isn’t exactly clear what you have in mind.

    Well up above a discussion with Will H. went south with him calling me a dick, stupid, cowardly and a nincompoop. So to explain exactly what you mean could you tell me where I went wrong? I did call young earth creationism “burning stupid” but he does not appear to be a young earth creationist. I did also insult ID but he does not appear to be an ID advocate. I really have no idea what baggage he is carrying. Maybe it is just some kind of group loyalty. OTOH he does seem to desire some kind of teleological role for science which pushes him to Lamarck. Or maybe I have the excess baggage. If so can you point it out to me? I promise not to call you a stupid dick.

    Anyway if your point is that it is probably a bad idea to poke sticks at people who aren’t going to get it anyway then I mostly agree. But what about people who have actual political power? And how about the ones that actively lie about what they believe and thus enable the tribalists? Do they count as evil?Report

    • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

      If I need to be called into the huddle, I would rather do that without the microphones on. Maybe I do, maybe I don’t.
      Regardless of the current disagreement, I think this demonstrates the utility of the League– that this is a place which draws a commentariat from both the Left and the Right.

      I disagree with young earth creationism. I don’t find it to be burning stupid, and I’m sure that the people who believe such a thing do so for reasons which are entirely rational. I have every confidence that the majority of them are good and decent people. It’s simply that I have other data that I would like to consider, and I do believe that I am right in this.
      Now, I am, in fact, an ID advocate; well, depending on what you’re talking about. Let’s say that I take Einstein’s side in the Einstein/Bohr debates; because we haven’t discovered a pattern doesn’t mean that there isn’t one there to discover.
      I read an awful lot of Sufi literature, if that means anything to you.
      In all of the concerns addressed above, you seem to have some other person in mind other than myself. Now, I understand how that can happen. I have to be on guard against myself when speaking to Tea Party people for the same reason.
      But I don’t think I fit very neatly into any group. That line of thinking is completely off.
      Teleological role in science? At best, the teleological role of science is severely limited; more like a gateway indicator.
      Nevertheless, Lamarck was indeed an evolutionist, and big bang theory deals only with the dispersion of matter, and not its origin; ie something existed before the big bang.
      And so ends the easy side.
      I’m following the layout of Todd Rundgren’s The Hermit of Mink Hollow with this comment.Report

    • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

      Now for the difficult side.
      I have arranged a little slide show so that you can teach me a bit about AQCS.
      Here is a photo of myself, some 2 1/2 years ago. I stand at 6 even, just so you know.
      Here is a photograph from a bit before then. That is a co-worker in the picture.
      Please explain the operation and function of this equipment.
      All I had was the prints to go by.
      Here is another photograph. This is from the same site as the first one.
      In one of those buildings shown, there is a tank of hydrochloric acid that I serviced. There were three other tanks in that area.
      Now the part for the Master Chemist:
      Name the contents of those other three tanks.
      And explain to me what that hydrochloric acid was doing there in the first place.
      All I had was the prints to go by.
      Now, not included here (bonus tracks, mind you) are photographs I have from two different chemical plants. One is Bayer and the other is Procter & Gamble.
      Because I know that you love chemistry so much, maybe you can explain these various pieces of equipment to me.
      All I had was the prints to go by.Report

      • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

        I disagree with young earth creationism. I don’t find it to be burning stupid, and I’m sure that the people who believe such a thing do so for reasons which are entirely rational.

        If someone believes in a flat earth do they believe in it for a rational reason? How wrong do you have to be in order to not be rational?

        Lamarck attempted to remove teleology from his theory. The problem is he did it by decree rather than develop a mechanism. He simply inserted a ineffable law of nature in the empty space left by removing “God did it”. In that sense it explained nothing. Well we do have to cut him some slack because science was a new thing.

        Darwin got it right because he found a way around the teleological problem. Even if natural selection were proved false Darwin still achieved a great deal because he did more than find an answer shaped enigma to insert in a question shaped hole. His theory can be tested and examined even if we end up discarding it. Lamarck’s theory would remain an enigma and useless even if it were true.

        Sorry I can’t see much of the pictures you posted. Firfox renders them as small postage stamps. I don’t know why you think I would know your equipment anyway.

        Anyway I’m guessing that AQCS stands for Air Quality Control System. This system no doubt remove particulates, Nox, Sox and maybe some Co. Some experimental systems can remove Co2 but it removes it as a carbonate. The carbonate is then turned back into Co2 under pressure and either sold for its industrial usage or sent to a carbon capture and storage site. This would eat about a third of the energy produced by the plant. They may be able to improve on that but you still have the problem of disposing of a mass of c02 three times as large as the mass of coal you burned.

        What it cannot do is convert the co2 back into carbon and oxygen. This would require more energy than the plant produces.

        There are some plans to use the co2 to grow algae to make bio-fuels. Also there is a process that can convert co2 and water into methane. But these require large amounts of energy and the co2 still ends up in the atmosphere eventually. And given that the world uses about 7 trillion tons of coal a year you will have to process 21 trillion tons of co2.

        Technically doable but horribly expensive and probably no where near practical on such a large scale. Still, smaller scale Syngas systems probably could be done.Report

      • Heidegger in reply to Will H. says:

        Come on now my friend, Will H–that’s too easy! Well, okay, not that easy. To confirm my proper identification of the three tanks, could you please me samples from those three tanks so I can smell them? As far as the tank of hydrochloric acid, any idiot would know why that’s there—you use that to make Milk of Magnesia and Pepto Bismal. You’ll have to try much harder to stump this alchemist. I studied alchemy at the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine under the tutelage of none other than the great Dr. Artephius. Forget the easy stuff like turning lead into gold–I mastered the ancient art of extracting oil from granite. My neighbors are not impressed with my collection of granite and oil and are doing everything in their power to have me, “put away.” Oh well, to be expected I guess.

        An interesting thing happened just recently. A few months ago, I mentioned a recurring nightmare I’ve had since childhood. The nightmare was that on a crystal clear night, I would look heavenward and not see a single star. A totally barren sky. And wouldn’t you know, just last week a new study showed that yes, indeed, this is the future–our nightly look into the past will be dark, forever, no stars, nothing beyond any of our visible light horizons, just dark energy. We’re seeing stars that took billions of light years for their light to reach us. Eventually, time will catch up with us and our look into past will reveal a very unpleasant future. Andromeda has her sights on us, too, and she’s just dying to swallow up the entire Milky Way. Hey, why worry about that? We have much bigger fish to fry like in 200,000 years, we XY male creatures will be extinct. And it’s not because the feminists got carried away–it’s all about mitochondrial DNA.Report

      • Heidegger in reply to Will H. says:

        Interesting picture and pose, Will H

        Is it my imagination or are those spike wounds in your hands?

        Hey, no way you’re an agnostic. The ruse is up!Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to ppnl says:

      In several blog posts you have suggested some kind of kinder and gentler approach to science denialists. But it isn’t exactly clear what you have in mind.

      Well up above a discussion with Will H. went south with him calling me a dick, stupid, cowardly and a nincompoop. So to explain exactly what you mean could you tell me where I went wrong? I did call young earth creationism “burning stupid” but he does not appear to be a young earth creationist. I did also insult ID but he does not appear to be an ID advocate. I really have no idea what baggage he is carrying. Maybe it is just some kind of group loyalty. OTOH he does seem to desire some kind of teleological role for science which pushes him to Lamarck. Or maybe I have the excess baggage. If so can you point it out to me? I promise not to call you a stupid dick.

      I’d prefer to let Will H. speak for himself, as he already has.

      The more I think about it, the more I’m unsure just exactly what I do have in mind in this thread and the other one, regarding how to think about creationists. I can say with some certainty what I reject, though, and it’s the sort of knife-sharpening and popcorn-buttering that was going on in the Balloon Juice threads that prompted this series.

      One other thing seems clear to me — creationists have a huge, gigantic cultural tailwind, at least in the United States, and it’s very easy to simply coast in it. The path of greater resistance is to learn about the science and understand it. The path of less resistance is to say what your family/your church/the majority still thinks — God did it all, and there has been no significant evolution.

      People who are doing this may be lazy, and they are certainly wrong, but I have a hard time calling them evil.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Having known a lot of creationists in my day, some of them quite well, I’ve always looked at them as being of two types, one of which might reasonably be considered evil. The first type is your average, ordinary, everyday creationist. He or she lives in a world in which creationism is, in many ways, the only possible belief. Not only do these people face a great deal of social pressure to believe as they do, but also to only accept certain authorities’ views and pronouncements as true. The only way out is generally a radical break with family, friends, and their social community in general, along with accepting authorities whose views they’ve been taught are from the devil, essentially. These people aren’t evil. They’ re sometimes quite intelligent, too. They’re just extremely sheltered, and they’ve been duped.

        The second type of creationist writes books, goes on Christian TV shows, speaks at churches, etc. These, along with the religious leaders who promote them, are the authorities whom it is OK for the first type to listen to. They are usually smart enough and educated enough to know the truth, that is to know that they’re full of shit in their “scientific” and theological critiques of evolution and modern cosmology, biology, geoscience, etc., but they choose to spread that shit anyway because it brings them money, respect, and a certain amount of fame. These people, and to some extent the religious authorities who promote them, can definitely be consisted evil. They spread ignorance and prejudice for personal gain. If that’s not evil…Report

        • ppnl in reply to Chris says:

          I’m not sure how to classify who is evil and who isn’t. For example how would you judge this guy:

          This is an old thread that starts off on the subject of Mark Sanford. The subject of creationism comes up when Gideon said:

          If you can win election in SC without pretending to be a creationist please tell me how. I plan at least tentatively on running for state House this coming election cycle and I will have to grin bear it and lie through my teeth about creationism if I am to win in NC and it matters less here.

          Evil or not? The thing is he understands that creationism is wrong but honestly believes that lying is a lesser evil than letting a liberal win or even a republican that is an honest creationist:

          I’ll lose if I tell the constituents the truth about my belief in evolution so it is lie and have someone in office who has closeted beliefs or tell the truth and have a cretard in office. You tell me which is better. Personally I am going to try to avoid the discussion but if I can’t (I’ll believe it in the moment).

          My first contribution:

          I’m with RWP. Dishonesty trumps stupidity. We have been pandering to the stupid for so long that they have become a real force in the party. Do you like where it got us?

          The thing is republicans have a real problem with self criticism. This allows the level of intellectual dishonesty and cognitive dissonance to increase seemingly without bounds. The funny thing is how low an opinion some of them had for the very people whose vote they depended on. That prompted this from me:

          Look at this thread. In order to beat the “liberals” who you are afraid will line you up against a wall and shoot you you lie about being a creationist to get the vote of stupid people who are not educable.

          You must lie to get the votes of people you have nothing but contempt for because you fear the smart people on the other side. These people you have so much contempt for is called the party base.

          Religion becomes simply a means of controlling the masses. If there is no God that is knowledge the masses must never be allowed to have. Like in the movie “The 300” you seem to have nothing but contempt for religion yet it is seen as necessary for public order. You are publicly pious while privately cheating on wives, sending dirty messages to underage boys or soliciting blow jobs in public restrooms.

          At what point does this whole thing collapse under the weight of its own lies and deceit? At what point does cynicism reach toxic levels?

          I begin to see the wingnuts as the victims. In a few decades you will have to pretend to believe in a flat earth to get elected. That’s the world you are creating.

          Lying about creationism is a far greater infidelity than anything Sanford did and in the long run creates far more of a public danger than Sanford’s disappearance.

          I will not be a part of that.

          Anyway you should read the whole thread. I found it deeply disturbing.Report

          • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

            Evil or not?
            You know, I remember a big blow-up a few years ago on a Lefty website when I suggested that maybe the Democrats needed something more other than simply being anti-war in order to govern effectively.
            So, all those soldiers that were in in Iraq are where?

            You really need to examine that threshold of evil you’ve got there.Report

            • ppnl in reply to Will H. says:

              I am republican dude even if it is getting harder and harder to maintain. That is a good criticism of the democrats. And yes Obama has rubber-stamped all things democrats criticized Bush for.

              And funny thing is I think Olbermann being ousted from MSN was probably the best thing that could have happened to him. He had some good stuff in the past but without bush he has no reason to exist. He is every bit as partisan as anyone on the right. Bush was just such an easy target that it made him look good.

              And the “evil” is simply a measure of moral responsibility as framed by Chris. As an atheist I don’t even believe in evil. There are just actions and their consequences. The consequence of republicans catering to the religious right is the destruction of any republican claim on intellectual or moral authority. I hope that that is rebuilding now but I fear not. Bush very nearly destroyed the party and it may take longer.

              Also you should know that I screwed a tag close above that distorted the message. Go read the thread.Report

          • Chris in reply to ppnl says:

            Since I was talking about creationists and the people who mislead them, I think you can probably infer my opinion on the matter.Report

            • tom van dyke in reply to Chris says:

              I see creationism and the ancillary issues as a freedom of religious conscience issue, liberty of conscience being one of the cornerstones of the American experiment [and success]. Brutalizing these people’s religious consciences does not serve the public interest.

              By “ancillary” issues, I mean that which speaks to the individual’s—and society’s—worldview and ethos. One commenter [flatly, to my mind] decreed that “science” does not recognize teleology—a purpose and end—to the physical world. This is what’s at root here, I think. By decreeing that science should be taught, but only science, we end up with a worldview that explicitly excludes teleoplgy, meaning, purpose. Hence by claiming a “neutrality,” we are not neutral atall.

              In the olden days, knowing the “how” of the universe would seem tragically ignorant without ever asking the “why.”

              I say this as someone who has no problem with evolutionary theory, and indeed finds all the creationist and “Intelligent Design” arguments unconvincing if not absurd. There is only an idea, a principle, to defend here as I’m unaware of anyone on the teleology side who has a defensible argument. [These internet battles so often descend to the second tier, discussing the people and personalities involved, not the ideas.]

              So where to start, what to do? I dunno. It has been stated here that one can live a perfectly good and useful life, be a useful and productive citizen, without accepting evolutionary theory. I agree with that, and so my concerns go more to the “liberty of conscience” issue over force-feeding scientific truth. [No “scare quotes” on “truth” there, because in this case I accept evolutionary theory as scientific truth.]

              It’s not politically incorrect, indeed it’s still a bit fashionable, to bash the fundies. I try to imagine what cautions, courtesies, and sensitivities we would exercise if it were Muslims or Native Americans involved here instead.

              Neither can I simply point fingers only at the secular-minded; one Christian scholar wrote a book that rocked their world, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind—basically that there isn’t much of one. Instead of going to the mattresses for literal creationism or expending huge amounts of effort and capital on the rather specious mechanism of “Intelligent Design,” the evangelical mind could have come up with an acceptable opening for teleology that falls short of demanding the Bible be treated as a science book. [It’s not even that great a history book.]Report

              • ppnl in reply to tom van dyke says:

                I see creationism and the ancillary issues as a freedom of religious conscience issue, liberty of conscience being one of the cornerstones of the American experiment [and success].

                Yes I agree with this and I would defend the rights of creationists to believe anything they want no matter how silly. But that isn’t the point. I also have the right to call their silly ideas silly. It may be dickish, angry, stupid or not to do so. But lets get past the idea that it has anything to do with denying liberty.

                Brutalizing these people’s religious consciences does not serve the public interest.

                They willingly allowed themselves to become a pawn in a political struggle. Hell, they actively pursue that role. Lets do them the honor of allowing them to taking responsibility for the results of their own choices.

                One commenter [flatly, to my mind] decreed that “science” does not recognize teleology—a purpose and end—to the physical world. This is what’s at root here, I think. By decreeing that science should be taught, but only science, we end up with a worldview that explicitly excludes teleoplgy, meaning, purpose. Hence by claiming a “neutrality,” we are not neutral atall.

                Well that isn’t particular to me nor particularly recent.

                You don’t look to science for purpose or a world view any more than you look to math for morality. It isn’t that there cannot be purpose or morality necessarily. It is just that these are dissimilar subjects from math and science.

                And not teaching morality in math class is not a false neutrality is it? Then why is not teaching teleology in science class?

                It’s not politically incorrect, indeed it’s still a bit fashionable, to bash the fundies. I try to imagine what cautions, courtesies, and sensitivities we would exercise if it were Muslims or Native Americans involved here instead.

                I draw Mohammad. Everyone has a constitutional right to believe whatever they want. Nobody has a constitutional right to respect. It is all well and good to talk about courtesies, and sensitivities but try living as an atheist for awhile. This Christian persecution complex really gets old.

                In the olden days, knowing the “how” of the universe would seem tragically ignorant without ever asking the “why.”

                Yes and there were a lot of conflicting “why” answers. And they had armies backing up their claims. The phrase “tragically ignorant” does resonate.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to ppnl says:

                No, since it’s the core issue, I can’t get “past” it being a question of religious liberty, since the state is acting upon their kids. Neither are they necessarily “pawns” [this again reduces the argument to the second tier of course, of people not principles] for opposing an education that in total writes out all but the physical, the empirical.

                Even “philosophy” class tends to do this, if there is one, which there seldom is.

                WillH.’s comments on Spencer are quite illuminating. That the parents detect an agenda of

                And so, he viewed religion as undergoing this evolution, and believed that religion would eventually lose all of its anthropomorphic features, and perhaps even come to the worship of some law of physics, which he felt would be to the positive.

                is not mere hallucination.Report

              • ppnl in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Well yes exposure to the epistemology of science probably does have a corrosive effect on faith and religion. I can’t help that and no it isn’t a violation of the establishment clause. If it was then we would also have to stop teaching math because of that non-biblical value for pi…

                The problem is that at one time the church was the center on intellectual authority. Science has largely replaced the church here. How did that happen? Was there some kind of deep conspiracy? Not really. Science just delivered the the goods that the church never could. From antibiotics to the iphone it has delivered life, liberty and happiness. It has changed our view of ourselves and the world we live in in ways that leaves the church gasping for breath. Science just F***ing works. Yes I know. I’m going to hell. But the new ipad is so cool…Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to ppnl says:

                Sorry, ppnl, I must leave off here for Cheeks or Voegelin, as your or my beliefs have nothing to do with my argument.

                I like science. “Scientism” not so much.Report

              • ppnl in reply to ppnl says:

                Recognizing the value of scientific epistemology is not scientism. Contrasting the epistemology of science and the epistemology of religion is not scientism. Being disturbed by the failings of religious epistemology and noticing the power and utility of the epistemology of science isn’t scientism.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to ppnl says:

                This is a very smart conversation. Allow me a point or two:
                I want to congratulate Tom, who appears to be working assiduously to move, not so much toward a Christian ontology per se (‘pneumatocentric anthropology-where I actually feel warm and comfy) but rather seeks a true philosophical dialectic predicated on a noetic appreciation/undersatanding of the nature of man.
                Our fellow interlocutors, PPNL, Chris, et al, while being very intelligent secularists allow themselves, and seemingly insist upon derailing in their inquiries and in the expression of their conclusions by constructing a false concantation of the phenomenal and material natures of reality by contrasting religious and scientific dogmas thus polemically extirpating, or at least attempting to, the ability to engage consciousness in its primal obligation to act as the site of the theophanic event. Essentially the derailment is an expression of (technological) ‘phenomenalism’ and Chris, PPNL, Will H are much too intelligent to participate in what is the “breakdown of a common philosophical language…and the public nature of reason itself.”
                For a corrective, I’d recommend reading Voegelin’s “Consciousness, Divine Presence, and the Mystic Philosopher.”Report

              • Chris in reply to ppnl says:

                Bob, I’m quite sure you don’t know what my position on science and myth are. At most I’ve expressed here the fairly self-evidence position that when the empirical claims of religion (e.g., that the earth is 6,000 years old, that all humans descend from two individuals who were created de novo, independent of all other species, etc.) contradict well established empirical fact, we have good reason for siding with the well established empirical fact. In fact, in some cases, to do otherwise is to our very real detriment, as in the case of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

                My own views on the nature of man are not limited to the findings of empirical science. I am not a fan of the notion that science is the sole arbiter of truth. Quite the contrary. I’m of the belief that science is limited to (as one German might say) reasons, and the nature of beings is not exhausted by their reasons. As Voegelin often engaged that German in his work, I’m sure you can follow where that all is going.Report

              • ppnl in reply to ppnl says:

                I’d recommend reading Voegelin’s “Consciousness, Divine Presence, and the Mystic Philosopher.”

                Yeah! Don’t immanentize the eschaton! I’m unlikely to ever read Voegelin but I’m down with this.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to ppnl says:

                I’ve read Voegelin at length, with considerable pleasure. Allow me to troll an ancient carol: for those who’ve heard this before, roll your eyes if you wish, it will not be long and I will not sing every verse.

                Shaped by Plato and Socrates, with the mind over there and the body over there, (and that troublesome soul, lurking in the weeds, grinning like an egg-eating dog) we’ve been trying to get back to some common sense principles without any Back to Get To, if you will. Common sense, literally, what do we have in common, upon which we can all base our actions, a theory of mind beyond the vagaries of neoplatonic abstraction or teetering around on Kantian stilts. Voegelin tries to warn us about belief untethered, of trying to consider Love without the Beloved. Down that road lies the madness of alienation, a slow death by starvation in the land of spiritual plenty.

                Maybe that’s the problem right there. When did Spiritual take on all these religious overtones? It didn’t have to, and could easily doff that ridiculous outfit, maybe take a bath as well: it’s been a while since a man could talk about his soul without the subject of Heaven and Hell coming up. It’s a lovely world out there, there’s the love in your own heart defying every explanation. The mysteries of the universe wheel over your head, seethe in the interstices of nucleic acids, multiply in the laughter of children at play.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to ppnl says:

                Chris, thanks for that, but as you know I have difficulty with stuff. However, it does seem that, while you may not yet be on my side of the Lord’s river, you’re glancing that way…or is it me?
                PPNL, you’re a smart fellow, don’t limit yourself.
                BlaiseP, each time I read you I’m more impressed. You seem to be moving beyond philosophy to poetics/imagination as the metaphor of the cosmos. Me, I’m wearing Duns’s pointy hat and searching among the promordial darkness for evidence of God’s creative abilities.
                So, all yous guys keep up the conversation and I am much enjoying it though I’m hoisting Molotov cocktails from the barricades with panache.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to ppnl says:

                You seem to be moving beyond philosophy to poetics/imagination as the metaphor of the cosmos. Me, I’m wearing Duns’s pointy hat and searching among the promordial darkness for evidence of God’s creative abilities.

                Have you ever watched a child at play? At first they are little physicists, putting everything in their mouths, solemnly dropping things like Galileo, investigating their world. Play is good hard science. They grow up a little, they move on to human beings and animals, learning to communicate, learning to interact with their fellow beings. All good science began as someone imagining something: Da Vinci once said:

                Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.

                As for Duns Scotus, in the immortal words of Python: “Skip a bit, Brother Maynard.” Duns Scotus and the Scholastics were not exactly men of science. In trying to shoehorn the foot of facts into the glass slipper of doctrine, they did great damage to both. Though the Scholastics began well enough, examining the present, they never questioned the past and could not look forward.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to ppnl says:

                This movement of poetics/imagination, at least the one that I think I perceive is not a noetical phenomenon, rather theophanic.
                Chris, I anticpate that at some point your opinions will be fully given.Report

              • ppnl in reply to ppnl says:


                The mysteries of the universe wheel over your head, seethe in the interstices of nucleic acids, multiply in the laughter of children at play.

                Well if that is Voegelin then I may have to find some time for him.

                The problem I have with Christianity is that I see it as a grasping, wanting, needy child. I don’t need an imaginary sky daddy to know the beauty and mystery of the universe and I don’t need an imaginary friend to hold my hand in the dark. Apologists for the excesses of religion are like over indulgent parents who give their children sweets just to shut them up. If there is a magic sky daddy out there then I would rather face him as something other than a squalling child.Report

              • Chris in reply to ppnl says:

                Bob, this isn’t really the place, but if you want to gave a real conversation, you can find me.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to ppnl says:

                Oh, I think this is exactly the time and place for such a colloquy, Chris: Cheeks’ Voegelin vs. your Sam Harris or whomever. Drop the grenades, come out of yr trenches, and go hand-to-hand and eye-to-eye.

                Unless Bob’s putting his vestments on, of course, in which case it’s quite a private matter, and sorry for intruding.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to ppnl says:

                Chris, as you may have noticed to go along with my inability to interpret bro Voegelin, I”m something of a computer dunce (Duns) and couldn’t find you in the etherea if I knew how.
                So, say what you will, or’s all good!Report

              • Chris in reply to ppnl says:

                Tom, if you think he’s my Sam Harris, then your biases are showing.

                Bob, follow the link on my name.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                (roars of laughter) To envision God as our father is to grow in his image. You were created in an act of love and your father loved you all the days of his life. Love defined you then and defines you now: it is the very best thing about you.

                I do not know you well enough to know how your relationship with your own father grew and prospered, but I’d argue you didn’t stay in the needy, grasping, helpless stage for long. Everyone always talks about their children’s first words: the first one beside Mama and Dada is always “NO”.

                en auto gar zomen kai kinoumetha kai esmen hos kai tines ton kath houmas poieton eirekasin tou gar kai genos esmen.

                For in him we are living, are moving-about and have our existence. As several of your poets have said ‘we are his children’.

                There are two quotes in there, Epimenides and Aratus. Paul quotes Aratus directly, from his amazing poem Phaenomena

                From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed; full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men; full is the sea and the havens thereof; always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring; and he in his kindness unto men giveth favourable signs and wakeneth the people to work, reminding them of livelihood. He tells what time the soil is best for the labour of the ox and for the mattock, and what time the seasons are favourable both for the planting of trees and for casting all manner of seeds. For himself it was who set the signs in heaven, and marked out the constellations, and for the year devised what stars chiefly should give to men right signs of the seasons, to the end that all things might grow unfailingly. Wherefore him do men ever worship first and last. Hail, O Father, mighty marvel, mighty blessing unto men. Hail to thee and to the Elder Race! Hail, ye Muses, right kindly, every one! But for me, too, in answer to my prayer direct all my lay, even as is meet, to tell the stars..

                As for Christianity, it’s rather like Alcoholics Anonymous: if you don’t have a Sin Problem, stay well away from my faith. Every Christian you’ll ever meet is similarly afflicted with this Sin Problem. Think you can do it on your own without the forgiveness of sins? You don’t need Jesus.Report

              • ppnl in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Ok lets assume God exists. Ok lets use the father as a metaphor. I think it is a good one.

                First I am not defined by my father. I have several names for fathers that try to recreate themselves in their children and none of them is nice. A central part of growing up is the rejection of some of the values of the parents. That should not and did not change the love and mutual respect.

                My father gave me help and advice when I needed it and would have done just about anything for me. But what he most wanted for me was to take responsibility for what I and who I am.

                In some sects it seems the only reason for humans is to praise God. Muslims pray five times a day chanting thanks for blessings and extolling his greatness. What would you make of a father that required or even allowed this kind of behavior?

                Many sects are profoundly hostile to others for various reasons. I apparently can be killed if I draw Mohammad. I can be killed if I’m gay. If I’m black I would have been excluded from many churches. I’m not sure if anyone has been killed for being an atheist lately but it can be dangerous. What do we say about a father that tolerates this?

                And then there is the anti-intellectual thing with creationism.

                Now there is no reason that religion at large should be held responsible for the the practices of its worst members. The fact that there are bad fathers is not an indictment of fatherhood. But the extent to which religion at large tolerates and acts as apologists for this it kind of thing it takes on the moral responsibility for it. If Christianity is a grasping wanting needy child it is because that behavior is being reinforced by those apologists.

                This is why I tell Christians that even if there is a God I would rather face him as an atheist.

                Think you can do it on your own without the forgiveness of sins? You don’t need Jesus.

                I think the idea of redemption is powerful one and a useful one. But Christians have abused it beyond recognitions. The old Catholics turned it into a protection scam. You could even get forgiveness for sins not yet committed.

                In other sects faith alone guarantees forgiveness and a free trip to the magic kingdom. Unfortunately many people fail to see that they have transgressed. But as long as they believe they are ok right? What could possibly go wrong with that? The result is some of the most profoundly unselfaware people being sure they are going to heaven and being told that they are by their chosen moral leaders.

                Forgiveness is only a metaphor. You cannot undo the harm that you do. You cannot uncry tears. You cannot unbreak hearts or unhurt feelings. You tell a child that it’s all going to be ok but an adult knows that sometimes it isn’t. In that sense there is no forgiveness. You don’t get a do over. There is no magic man to clean up after you. Consequences don’t go poof.

                Reducing redemption to a child demanding an abusive, bipolar AWOL parent kiss it and make it better really diminishes the power of the metaphor.

                An adult accepts the facts, takes responsibility for the acts and reexamines the motives. That’s all the redemption there can be. And sometimes it isn’t all going to be ok no matter what you do.Report

              • Chris in reply to tom van dyke says:

                I’ve said this before, when Tom has brought out the “Brutalizing these people’s religious consciences” nonsense, but pointing out that people are wrong, by any measure of rightness and wrongness, and that they are being manipulated by people who know better, doesn’t amount to brutalizing anything.

                In addition, nothing in criticizing young Earth creationism implies that science, and only science, should be taught. How many straw men can you fit into one comment?

                By the way, people may be able to get by without evolutionary theory, but they damned well better heed its consequences, and do things like take their full courses of antibiotics, otherwise they risk not living very long, and what’s more, their negligence could affect me. If they heed the consequences of evolution, and guard against its negative ones, I don’t really care whether they believe it’s evolution that causes drug resistant bacteria and viruses.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Chris says:

                I have no disagreement on the science here; I do not think scorched-earth is the best way to deal with the issue. It’s about the American principle of religious pluralism, one which has served us well, and once was well understood.

                “Straw man?” There you go again, Mr. Chris.Report

              • And when exactly was this “well understood” to which you refer?

                I think Woodrow Wilson put it quite well (in 1922):

                Of course, like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised.

                Patronizing, perhaps. But isn’t it more patronizing to give ignorance a pass because it is dressed up in religious trappings?Report

              • I’m afraid religious pluralism requires a bit of “patronizing,” as you call it, Mr. Arnold, by its very nature. Especially when the alternative is a rationalistic boot in the face.

                Jefferson won the support of the Baptists, although it was clear he was anything but one of them [or recognizable Christian atall]. But it was he, and not the pushy Presbyterians or elitist Episcopalians, who represented their best hope for religious liberty.

                And if one reads Jefferson’s private letters— so hostile to orthodox doctrine—his accommodation of religious pluralism as a public man quite fits your descriptive “patronizing.”

                So what’s wrong with that? Beats a boot in the face.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Geoff Arnold says:

                I never know how to cope with Religiosity in the public square: it’s one of those aspects of American society I wish wasn’t so prominent. A full-bore procession of a plaster saint through the streets is somehow less-disturbing than these attempts to establish the primacy of Literal Genesis in the biology classroom. Take it up in Literature or Sociology instead.

                It’s a hallmark of bad thinking, this flinching in the face of the evidence. Animal husbandry breeds for desired traits: even the most hardened case has to admit evolution works, not merely as a theory but as a fact of life. The fact of life.

                Ignorance doesn’t deserve a pass, but it does deserve some measure of compassion. Whether you’re a God-believer or not, the truths of science and faith require more than simple acceptance. Truth isn’t amenable to nice tidy conclusions: we fumble around like the Blind Men and the Elephant, composing experiments, reaching tentative conclusions, discarding much-loved theories in the process.

                America’s freedom of conscience has given us both the most-religious and most-scientific nation on earth. English packs too much freight into some words: belief is one such word. We see within it lief, preference, stipulation, allowance. This isn’t German glauben, the belief that is valuable, pleasing, beloved. It’s not credo, to trust. A slippery little pig is belief, our own little pat conclusions, preferred to all the others. At a certain point, belief becomes sloppy thinking for both Science and Faith: we must proceed cautiously from what we know to be true into the realm of conjecture, in this experiment called Life. Doubt, it seems, is our best guide forward.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Geoff Arnold says:

                As an atheist, I find it difficult to distinguish between public displays of religiosity and public displays of speech.

                Animal husbandry breeds for desired traits: even the most hardened case has to admit evolution works, not merely as a theory but as a fact of life. The fact of life.

                Oh, absolutely… the problem comes when one tries to apply public policy based on this particular fact of life.

                Have I quoted from Buck v. Bell recently? Well, let’s do it again, why not?

                We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.

                I’m pretty sure that my opposition to OWH Jr would be categorized by those at that time as some vague (religious?) sentimentality.

                As time goes on, I find myself more and more at ease with that category despite my atheism.Report

              • ppnl in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Well America is more religious than most other industrialized nations. You may want to consider the possibility that your cure would have the opposite from the expected effect on religion.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to ppnl says:

                I don’t want “creation science” taught as much as accommodated. [I like “accommodated,” which is why I’ve italicized it twice.]

                I don’t have it all worked out, because I don’t know if it would appease the fundies OR the secularists whose hostility is so palpable.

                But I do know that no attempt is being made at working it out. It’s push vs. shove, and there’s more going on here than just evolutionary theory, which we’ve stipulated is not necessary for good citizenship.Report

              • ppnl in reply to ppnl says:

                Well the Indians have a creation story that involves the grand canyon being carve out by the beak of a giant eagle. Should we accommodate that?

                Actually we could and arguably should accommodate it. But first not in science class and second it is religious people who would most object.

                Well I said arguably but I actually think it would be a bad idea. It would not however be a violation of the establishment clause.Report

              • Will H. in reply to ppnl says:

                @tom van dyke:
                People need to be more honest about the limits of science. And really, that might help others to exercise more discretion in the limits of faith.
                Sometimes I have to write out assessments for insurance companies. Absolutely nothing goes on there that isn’t absolutely verifiable. I mention as little as possible about the equipment in question. I wrote down as many readings as I can think of. At all costs, I avoid saying, “This is what it is” in favor of, “This is what it looks like.” I can talk about what it looks like all day long, and I’m still covered. The minute I say what anything is, that’s my career on the line.

                Some people have cause to learn prudence.
                Our society benefits from that.
                But nothing functions outside of its design parameters; not even science itself.
                When things start doing that, it means that it needs to be calibrated.

                Science is ok, and the scientists are ok.
                It’s the general public that deifies them in misunderstanding.

                Teachers, on the other hand, are basically a bunch of fruitcakes.
                Chief among their ranks are the worthless and the degenerate.
                I know that sounds like harsh words.
                But believe me, that English teacher that had those kids down at the Catholic school reading the Toni Morrison was both worthless and degenerate (and evolving, as Spencer would have it, judging from the motion).
                And that’s why teachers cannot be allowed to make their own decisions regarding classroom instruction.

                For me, where skepticism ends is a drop-off point. That’s my red flag to let me know that I’m walking on shaky ground.
                Science is best viewed with a skeptical eye. To do otherwise would be negligent.
                Just last month, I caught myself refusing to come to a firm conclusion on an issue involving certain synthetic oils. I know these oils well. About 12 years ago, I knew then fantastically well, but now I wonder if I’m out of the loop. I don’t know who’s been working on what, or what might be available now. I come across new things regularly.
                And now, it’s become regular enough to the point where I have serious reservations making statements on subjects that I know rather well.

                Where prudence ends, certainty begins.
                And I’m not walking that path.Report

              • KenB in reply to ppnl says:

                At all costs, I avoid saying, “This is what it is” in favor of, “This is what it looks like.”

                There’s a story told about Oliver Wendell Holmes where he and a friend are on a train travelling through pastureland. The friend looks out the window and, by way of making a bit of conversation, says “Those sheep have been recently shorn.” Holmes replies “It appears so — at least on the side facing us.”Report

              • Chris in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom, since no one here has suggested only teaching science (to the exclusion of all else), or has been brutalizing anything, I consider those to be straw men. Perhaps you were referring to people not participating, though. In which case, good to know.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Chris says:

                I believe that’s the issue in a nutshell right there, differing opinions of what is appropriate.
                The one side wants only science, to the exclusion of all else; which sounds good, but it makes me wonder what manner of competing theories that they would want to prohibit discussion on.
                The other side wants some hybridized synthesis taught, although they leave the errors of both intact.
                And it looks to me like both sides are suffering from the same condition.
                Yogananda tells of a mythical swan that was able to drink a mixture of milk and water, drinking only the milk and leaving clean water behind.
                We need to be more like that swan.Report

            • ppnl in reply to Chris says:

              Yes but if we take Gideon at his word that he isn’t doing it simply out of a greed for political power and honestly thinks it is the best of a bad set of choices then why is he more evil than the creationists?Report

  17. Will H. says:

    How wrong do you have to be in order to not be rational?
    It has to do more with quality rather than quantity.
    I find it imprudent to judge broad groups of things when there is no necessity. There are too many variables for me to judge one instance without specifics. I feel disinclined to expand that, and certainly not to the degree required.

    Lamarck attempted to remove teleology from his theory.
    True, but he was never able to do so. Spencer did it by laying a bit of Kant on him.
    Now, Darwin never did find a way around any teleological problem– he avoided it altogether.
    Meanwhile, Spencer embraced it:
    Ultimate scientific ideas are all representations of realities that cannot be comprehended.
    and this sounds like straight Kant:
    On watching our thoughts we see how impossible it is to get rid of the consciousness of an Actuality lying behind Appearances, and how from this impossibility results our indestructible belief in that Actuality.
    Now, I was trying to remember about the Spencer/Huxley debates. Huxley = atheist, “Darwin’s Bulldog;” Spencer = agnostic, Lamarckian.
    What is odd about this is that I never was really all that impressed with Spencer, and now all of a sudden I find myself more and more in agreement with him.
    And I don’t want to do that.
    I have no wish to be Spencer’s bulldog.
    Terribly sorry, but as it stands, I am more concerned with my agreement with Spencer than I am with my disagreement with you.Report