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September 18, 2007

Lying in the name of God
Posted by Teresa at 11:11 AM * 370 comments

From John Farrell, A Problem of Credibility:

The problem with relying solely on philosophy when it comes to discussing the ‘big picture’ about God and his role in the evolution of life, is that it too often gives cover to scientific stupidity.

I would much rather say ignorance instead of stupidity, believe me. But ignorance is a condition that can be remedied, assuming the ignorant party is interested in learning the truth. That is not the case with many conservatives and the journalists who pander to them. …

Another part of the problem—at least with regard to conservative journalists and how they cover science—is the narrow provincialism, born of the small social circle of people who make up the current conservative intellectual establishment, meaning, in the corridor between New York and Washington, D.C. [I’m a Red Sox fan, so shoot me.]

A friend of mine, who is also a longtime reader of National Review and the other conservative opinion journals, had some interesting comments about this a while back in an email, and I think he’s right on the money: “The problem with NRO is that it’s intellectually incurious. It’s gotten to be dull and airless because it’s not really interested in exploring new ideas and rethinking old ones in light of experience, but instead serving as a political rallying point. There is so much more to conservatism — or to be more precise, what interests, or should interest, conservatives — than what happens in Washington, but that’s all they seem to care about.”

For example, he might have ventured to query some Christians who are scientists and philosophers, ones who are not scared of Darwin. … But talking to anyone who might politely disprove the point is just not part of what Bethell, Gilder, Buchanan, Coulter & Co. are up to.

Also from John Farrell, 11 September 2007:
More depressing evidence of Christian documentary filmmakers who feel no need to be honest about what they are doing when they approach prospective interviewees to be in their films.
The link is to a blog called Higgaion, written by Chris Heard, Associate Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. The entry is called I wish that weren’t me on that DVD:
A couple of years ago, I welcomed a camera crew into my office for some interviews about Old Testament stories. The crew went away and I never heard from them again, until I e-mailed the production company last week to find out what ever became of the footage. A representative of that company promptly e-mailed me back and kindly sent out a screener of the DVD that is scheduled to release in October.

I am not happy with the end result.

More after the jump.

Professor Heard continues:

When I agreed to do the interview, I did not know that the thankfully direct-to-video program would feature “re-enactments” of biblical scenes (and horrible re-enactments at that; only Moses has a proper beard). I did not know that the film would use completely irrelevant footage to distract viewers during longish voiceovers by host Roger Moore (yes, that Roger Moore). And I certainly did not realize that the production would end up trying to promote views that I do not personally endorse. I did suppose that a diversity of opinions might be represented, and represented as such. Silly me.

Here are some of my specific complaints about the program. Yes, I know that you haven’t seen it yet. My hope is that maybe you won’t. But perhaps if I embarrass myself pre-emptively by means of this post, at least my learned colleagues will cut me some slack. Also, as far as I know, I’m not bound by any non-disclosure agreement, so please consider this an “advance review” of the film.

Adam, Eve, and Eden. The first eight minutes or so of the program offer up young-earth creationism, with a heaping helping of commentary from folk associated with the Institute for Creation Research. Longtime readers of Higgaion know that I have no sympathy whatsoever with young-earth creationism (I’d sympathize with a young-earth creationist who got bit by a pit bull or something, but you know what I mean); I consider it exegetically irresponsible and it is (regardless of my consideration one way or the other) not scientific in the least. The producers conveniently left out the parts of my interview where I expressed the view that the biblical Adam and Eve are “everyman” and “everywoman” and that the impossible geography of Eden is a clue to readers not to try to interpret Genesis 2–3 literally. Instead, the film gives air time to ICR folk who completely misuse the real scientific concept of a Y-chromosome most recent common ancestor (Y-mcra) and a mitochondrial DNA most recent common ancestor (mt-mcra), sometimes called “Y-chromosome Adam” and “mtDNA Eve”; the talking heads try to conflate Y-mcra and mt-mcra with a literal Adam and Eve from Genesis 2–3, even though Y-mcra and mt-mcra, according to current evidence, lived almost 90,000 years apart from one another. (To my better-informed friends: yes, I know that this brief explanation is awfully simplistic.) A caption in the film claims that “Using geographical clues given in Genesis, scholars almost all agree that the Garden of Eden is in Iraq.” Wrong. There are some biblical scholars who want to locate the original location of Eden in what is now Iraq, near the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates; of course, none of these scholars would say that the Garden is (now) anywhere to be found. And most biblical scholars are not even interested in the question. If you take the geographical description in Genesis 2 as your clue, you will be hopelessly frustrated, for the clues simply don’t work. No such place exists. If you are willing to stretch some of the geographical references in Genesis 2, and allow certain place names to mean things in Genesis 2 that they don’t mean anywhere else in the Bible, you can assign a geographical context to Eden, not in southeastern Mesopotamia but in the mountains of Asia Minor. I’m pretty sure I talked about this with the interviewers. If I did, they didn’t use any of that material. It wouldn’t fit the agenda.

And so on. It’s a long, detailed description of the flawed scholarship underlying the documentary, and how Chris Heard’s remarks were misrepresented in it. He goes through Noah’s Flood (bad geology); Lot, Sodom, and Gomorrah (bad etymology and geography); Job (text is wildly misread and misrepresented); Abraham (which Ur, which Abraham?); Joseph (no real examination of the historicity of the Joseph narratives); Moses (the Ten Commandments, Magna Carta, and Constitution are not part of a universal inbred human ethical code); Samson; and David (gross misrepresentation of the Tel Dan stela).

Then they get to Jesus:

The teaser for the next segment asks viewers, “What did archaeologists dig up in the 1960s that proves the Bible’s accuracy?” The segment opens with a couple of talking heads telling viewers that “there really aren’t any” contradictions in the Bible and that there is no evidence contradicting any part of the biblical story. Amazing. These people either can’t or don’t actually read the Bible, but only talk about it, or they have become remarkably adept at the mental gymnastics required to pay incredibly selective attention to their sources, both biblical and non-biblical. Yes, I realize that’s probably a rude thing to say, but one can hardly read the gospels carefully without realizing that John’s chronology is explicitly different from that of the Synoptics, for example, and the Tel Dan stela (mentioned above) makes claims that clash with a story early in 2 Kings. Please understand—I’m not anti-Bible (far from it), but I am anti-lying, even on the Bible’s behalf. …

To try to prove the reliability of the traditions about Jesus, the filmmakers turn to—are you sitting down?—the Dead Sea Scrolls, which of course having nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus. Moore makes reference to the Great Isaiah Scroll, but the first on-screen image is 4Q175, or 4QTestimonia, which has nothing to do with the Isaiah scroll. The second scroll is shown upside-down and backwards on the screen, and too close-up (and blurry) for me to identify it. According to Moore’s script, comparison of the Isaiah scroll with the Masoretic Text (he doesn’t use that term) yields “stunning” results; one of the talking heads, a guy named Paul Maier and identified as a Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University at Kalamazoo, tells him that the two manuscripts are “99.9% identical” (meanwhile, a caption on-screen quotes Matthew 5:18, which has nothing to do with textual transmission). I cannot be even 99.9% certain that Maier was talking about the Isaiah manuscripts, though I hope the filmmakers weren’t that careless or mendacious. I am, however, 100% certain that the Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic Text of Isaiah are considerably less than 99.9% identical. … The figures given in the film are simply false. Maier claims that “This idea that the copyists have totally change scripture just doesn’t work,” and depending on how strongly you ramify his word totally, he may be right; but in the case of the Isaiah scroll, it’s quite clear that copyists did in fact change יהוה into אדני for reasons of theological propriety. The comparison of DSS Isaiah and MT Isaiah proves what Maier says it disproves.

Of course, the degree of exact correspondence between DSS Isaiah and MT Isaiah has nothing to do with the reliability of the transmission of the New Testament documents, since completely different communities were doing the transmission. Moreover, scribal accuracy in copying a text has no bearing on whether or not the story is true.

… I’m a bit upset—no, incensed—at being threaded into a production that sets out to prove a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t agree with, much of which is demonstrably wrong.

One of Chris Heard’s commenters observes that:
You may be pleased (or not!) to know that Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula have been similarly victimised by stealth creationist film crews. PZ’s account is here. Does one detect a pattern? Is it Intelligently Designed?
The P.Z. Myers piece in question is I’m gonna be a *MOVIE STAR*, posted in August of this year:
Last April, I received this nice letter from Mark Mathis.
Hello Mr. Myers,

My name is Mark Mathis. I am a Producer for Rampant Films. We are currently in production of the documentary film, “Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion.”

At your convenience I would like to discuss our project with you and to see if we might be able to schedule an interview with you for the film. The interview would take no more than 90 minutes total, including set up and break down of our equipment.

We are interested in asking you a number of questions about the disconnect/controversy that exists in America between Evolution, Creationism and the Intelligent Design movement.

Please let me know what time would be convenient for me to reach you at your office. Also, could you please let me know if you charge a fee for interviews and if so, what that fee would be for 90 minutes of your time.

I look forward to speaking with you soon. …

I looked up Rampant Films. Yes, they are doing a movie called Crossroads, and it has perfectly reasonable blurb:
Crossroads - The Intersection of Science and Religion:

It’s been the central question of humanity throughout the ages: How in the world did we get here? In 1859 Charles Darwin provided the answer in his landmark book, “The Origin of Species.” IN the century and a half since, biologists, geologists, physicists, astronomers and philosophers have contributed a vast amount of research and data in support of Darwin’s idea. And yet, millions of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other people of faith believe in a literal interpretation that humans were crafted by the hand of God. This conflict between science and religion has unleashed passions in school board meetings, courtrooms, and town halls across America and beyond.

So I said, sure, I’d be happy to talk with you, and as long as any travel expenses are covered, I’m willing to do it gratis (academic, you know…we aren’t used to charging big fees to explain things to people). They came out to Morris, set up cameras and gear in my lab, and we did an interview for a few hours. I got paid (woo hoo!). They left. I figured that, as a fairly minor figure in this argument, I might well get cut out altogether—they talked about also interviewing Dawkins and Eugenie Scott and Pennock and various other people—and that was OK.

Now we’ve got this new ID (Intelligent Design) creationist movie, Expelled, coming out, and there’s a press release with this claim:

Unlike some other documentary films, Expelled doesn’t just talk to people representing one side of the story. The film confronts scientists such as Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, influential biologist and atheist blogger PZ Myers, and Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center for Science Education. The creators of Expelled crossed the globe over a two-year period, interviewing scores of scientists, doctors, philosophers and public leaders. The result is a startling revelation that freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry have been expelled from publicly-funded high schools, universities and research institutions.
The idea that freedom of thought and inquiry have been expelled from academia is a mendacious assertion that would, if allowed, undermine the public’s understanding of the entire enterprise of science. The Creationist far right is fond of making that claim, since it projects their own tactics onto academia, and also explains why reputable scholars and institutions never agree with them: they’re not allowed to do so! Honest facts and honest scholarly inquiry have nothing to do with it.

Naturally, they find this reassuring, and get happily indignant over the thought that this blatant bias is being pursued using their tax dollars. It’s the reverse of their usual scenario, wherein propaganda based on their biases is developed and promulgated at other people’s expense.

Back to P.Z.:

What? I didn’t do any interviews for pro-creation films, and I certainly haven’t said that “freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry” aren’t part of the university. There must be some mistake.

But then I noticed in the credits for the movie that a certain familiar name is the associate producer, or ass-prod, as I’ll henceforth consider him.

In Theaters February 2008
Starring Ben Stein
Featuring a CAST OF THOUSANDS Directed by NATHAN FRANKOWSKI Written by KEVIN MILLER, WALT RULOFF & BEN STEIN
Produced by LOGAN CRAFT & WALT RULOFF Associate Producer MARK MATHIS
Denyse O’Leary also ties Mathis of Rampant Films to this movie, and this page from Expelled uses the same graphic that Rampant Films used for Crossroads. The case is closed: Ben Stein’s propaganda film for ID is the one I was interviewed for.

Well. I guess I didn’t end up on the cutting room floor after all, although I’m sure a select set of my words did. Unless, that is, the whole movie is me sitting in my lab, talking. It’s real. I’m going to be featured in a big-time movie with second-tier character actor and game-show host Ben Stein. I bet my whole family is going to go out to the moving-picture theatre to see me on the big screen … and since my family lives near Seattle and the Discovery Institute is so happy about it, they’ll probably have the opportunity.

I do have a few questions, though.

I’m wondering why the Discovery Institute would be so enthused about this movie. It lays its premise on the line: science is flawed because it excludes god and the supernatural. It’s one big promo for religion—which means it’s going to further undercut Intelligent Design creationism’s claims to be a secular idea.

Randy Olson points out that this is clearly a well-funded movie. It’s slick, they’re paying Ben Stein, they had to have shelled out a good chunk of money for the rights for the “Bad to the Bone” theme. Randy’s probably wondering why he couldn’t get that kind of money for Flock of Dodos.

So who is funding the movie? Some people with deep pockets are throwing quite a bit of cash at this thing, and I can assure you that it didn’t end up in my hands. I think I was paid something like $1200. I should have asked for much more!

Isn’t it a little ironic that a fairly expensive production like this is billing itself as representing the ordinary people, and is pretending to be the “rebel”? There’s a bit of the no-expenses-will-be-spared (except in the case of their evilutionist dupes!) glitz about it—it really doesn’t look like the work of some brave independent film-maker living hand-to-mouth while making his artistic vision manifest.

These projects have nothing to do with the ordinary people. More on that in a moment.
Why were they so dishonest about it? If Mathis had said outright that he wants to interview an atheist and outspoken critic of Intelligent Design for a film he was making about how ID is unfairly excluded from academe, I would have said, “bring it on!” We would have had a good, pugnacious argument on tape that directly addresses the claims of his movie, and it would have been a better (at least, more honest and more relevant) sequence.
Why didn’t they tell the truth about what they were doing? That’s easy. P.Z. Myers would have been on his guard, and Mathis wouldn’t have gotten the footage he needed. This project is about agenda, not inquiry.
He would have also been more likely to get that good ol’ wild-haired, bulgy-eyed furious John Brown of the Godless vision than the usual mild-mannered professor that he did tape. And I probably would have been more aggressive with a plainly stated disagreement between us.

I mean, seriously, not telling one of the sides in a debate about what the subject might be and then leading him around randomly to various topics, with the intent of later editing it down to the parts that just make the points you want, is the video version of quote-mining and is fundamentally dishonest.

I don’t mind sharing my views with creationists, and do so all the time. By filming under false pretenses, much like the example of the case of Richard Dawkins’ infamous “pause”, they’ve undercut their own credibility … not that that will matter. I suspect their audience will not question whatever mangling of the video that they carry out, and the subterfuges used to make it will not be brought up.

What I find interesting about this is where the lines are being drawn.

Chris Heard is an Associate Professor of Religion. P.Z. Myers is a famously atheistic biologist with a thing for cephalopods. Both of them were tricked, defrauded, and misrepresented by documentary-makers interested only in making propaganda for Biblical-literalist creationist audiences. You wouldn’t expect such organizations to see P.Z. Myers as an insider; what’s interesting is that they don’t see Chris Heard as an insider, either.

I don’t think these documentarists are drawing the line between theists and atheists. I think the line is drawn between honest thinkers and weighers of evidence (Myers and Heard both qualify) on the one hand, and liars and propagandists on the other.

It’s not possible to produce such programs honestly. Chopping logic and falsifying arguments like that can only be done by someone who knows that he or she is doing it. To put it another way: if you know enough about the Book of Job or the Tel Dan stela to make up really effective lies about them that will fit into your preordained agenda, you know enough about them to know you’re lying.

This process of cooking up faith-promoting lies is not evidence of religious faith. Say you profess the basic Christian package: God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, created all things, and wants us to love and understand Him.* If you truly believe that, how can you fear scientific knowledge? Creation doesn’t lie.** Surely it must follow that to know more about it is to see further into God’s ways.

(There are two married women. Both their husbands are accused of being present at a particularly wanton and disgraceful stag party. Both husbands deny it. One wife accepts this denial at face value, dismisses the story, and goes on with her life. The other wife goes into a frenzy of fact-checking, affidavit-gathering, and timeline construction, in order to demonstrate once and for all that her husband couldn’t possibly have been at that party. Which woman has faith in her husband?)

Science is no threat to religious faith. It only threatens the childish misreadings of Biblical literalism. They should have long since been jettisoned. Instead, we have an industry of disinformation devoted to telling people lies that bolster the apparent tenability of that belief system. This is creepy because, as I pointed out a few paragraphs up, the people manufacturing this disinformation can’t be doing it as an act of faith. They know they’re lying. Their audience doesn’t.

Why should it be so important to insist that God created the animals via mysterious unspecified means, and to deny that the processes that brought them into being left perceptible traces in the geological record and in the form and nature of the animals we have with us today? There’s no virtue in the denial. Understanding something about how animals happened neither makes us gods nor distances us from God. Refusing to understand it—or worse, lying to maintain a false model of how things happened—puts us very far from God and/or truth.

Lying about evolution is not evidence of faith. Lying about anything is not evidence of faith. Lying to one’s co-religionists is not evidence that you care about the state of their souls or your own. So why do it? Possibly because it fosters an unwarranted certainty, an us-and-them mentality that can be exploited for political gains. And possibly, just possibly, because it leads believers into distracting thickets of false exegesis, and away from a faith whose basic tenets have never been terribly complicated: Love god. Love one another. Share what you have, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, comfort the afflicted, be humble, love justice, seek peace, tell the truth, pray often, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, recognize everyone as a child of God just like yourself, and forgive trespasses as you hope to have your own forgiven.

It’s a disturbing religion when you take it straight. Heaven only knows what would happen if more of these people started practicing it.

Comments on Lying in the name of God:
#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 12:46 AM:

Stefan: You're right, and I have.

#3 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 12:53 AM:

My attitude is that they're obviously from that annoying branch of Satanism that gets off on pretending to be Christian for the purposes of undermining the church from within.

Those pesky Satanists. They're everywhere, you know. You just have to know how to recognize them.

#5 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 01:20 AM:

Any sufficiently dishonest ideology is indistinguishable from fundamentalism.

#6 ::: Matthew Daly ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 01:30 AM:

I agree that these people's behavior is beneath contempt (although, fortunately, not beneath ridicule), but I am leery of a determination concerning which religious tenets are ripe to be jettisoned. I believe that people should be afforded the freedom to believe counter-scientific notions if that is their (informed) choice, and along with that is the freedom to share those beliefs with others.

Yeah, I've heard before that there are some freedoms we can't afford to grant because that plays into the Evil Agenda of the Sinister Opposition. I didn't believe it when it was the fundamentalists making this argument, and frankly I won't buy into it now that they are the targets.

#7 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 01:34 AM:

Who said anything about not granting people freedom?

#8 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 02:05 AM:

huh. that is actually not the first time i've heard of expelled, & now i feel weirdly implicated.

i agreed to be on a panel on "spirituality in comics" this past san diego comic-con. the panelists were me (jewish), doug tennapel (catholic), holly golightly (witch), & christine kerrick (evangelical, i believe). the moderator was representing the christian comic arts society, the group that put the panel together.

it was a pretty small deal. there were about 100 people in the audience (i declined my microphone, since it was shabbat, & got mad props), we went for about 50 minutes, & the only question from the audience was, i'm almost certain, a stealth heckler.

anyhow, it was very convivial. holly golightly is the most bubbly, adorable goth cartoonist i've ever met, christine kerrick was humble & unpretentious, i dropped mystical, all-purpose words like kavana, & doug tennapel only made me nervous a couple of times railing against moral relativism & tolerance.

but the people who put it on creeped me out. when they started off the panel talking about the great new "michael moore style" documentary that proved intelligent design, apparently done by a sponsor of the panel, i understood why i felt like running away most of the time. it was worse when they were like "hosted by ben stein. oh yeah! ben stein!" my ick was compounded by my no-good-for-the-jews spidey sense.

but, it was a panel. no one had ever invited me on a panel before, & it was about spirituality, & hey, i got spirituality. i put my discomfort down to a lifetime indoctrination against missionaries.

now i feel like i really shoudn't have. i feel like i was party to that documentary, & all the other dirty political things some outfit somehow related to the comic-con christian group does. like maybe i was a useful idiot, even if not so obviously useful as the people they tricked into appearing in the documentary.

#9 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 02:08 AM:

Matthew Daly @ 6

This isn't about freedom to hold counterfactual opinions, it's about deliberately distorting the truth, misusing and selectively editing quotes to make them mean things the original speaker does not agree with, and otherwise using deceit and fraud to persuade ignorant people of untrue things for the purpose of obtaining power over them, in one sense or another.

Let's take Justice Holmes as a starting position: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic."

#10 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 02:18 AM:

I recently subscribed to CSICOP here.

I am not yet in a position to recommend this body unreservedly, but the articles in their magazine "The Skeptical Inquirer" seem to be well-argued and scholarly. Something must be done to counter the avalanche of creationist propaganda on the web. This might help.

#11 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 02:24 AM:

I'm sorry. Something weird has happened to that link. The site is w w w(dot)scicop (dot) org.

#12 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 02:44 AM:

Apparently, Justice Holmes was expressing a sensible princible to justify a pretty poor decision.

What it all comes down to is that freedom of speech isn't an untrammeled freedom to lie. It doesn't nullify the concept of defamation. All this might be legal (and you can bet there's room in any contract for this: no film-maker is going to give up the right to edit an interview), but it still diminishes the reputation of the victim.

And there have been reports of similar editing being used on science documentaries, where you have a controversy and the talking heads.

It's getting so you can't trust anyone.

#13 ::: Brennen Bearnes ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 02:57 AM:

I've come across Paul Maier before. He's a VP of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (I grew up LCMS) and the son of Walter A. Maier, founder of The Lutheran Hour. I had the impression that he'd done some amount of legitimate scholarship in the past, though maybe I just wasn't paying much
attention at the age of 18...

#14 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 03:00 AM:

The reason why this sort of intellectual dishonesty and fraud is so heinous is that in the world we live in, with its ever-increasing flood of available and often critical information, no one person or group, not even one as perspicacious as the Fluorosphere, can have all the information needed to make intelligent decisions. Dealing with this world requires that we get information from other people, and that we have sources we can trust, or at least have some way to rate for reliability. When information that is critical to an informed understanding of our entire world is deliberately falsified, a major crime is committed against our entire society because it reduces the chances of the survival of our society.

#15 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 03:42 AM:

Dave @ 10 & 11, the link was behaving badly because it was missing the http:// before the www. It's an easy and common mistake/problem in making links.

#16 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 03:53 AM:

Bruce @ 14: "When information that is critical to an informed understanding of our entire world is deliberately falsified, a major crime is committed against our entire society because it reduces the chances of the survival of our society."

Well said.

#17 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 04:17 AM:

a major crime is committed against our entire society because it reduces the chances of the survival of our society

If by "our society" you mean "a pluralist society in which social and political legitimacy is vested in 'We, the people'", isn't this part of their objective?

#18 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 04:49 AM:

And see my LJ post on one TV programme which used similar non-facts (I can't speak for the interviewing and editing techniques employed) in what was in this case an overtly acknowledged attempt to prove the truth of Biblical events while disproving the supernatural explanations therefor, and thus removing God from the equation. (Sorry, no references--I can't even remember the name of the programme. Not so much with the scholarship, me.) It's hard to see how this could serve the purpose of either legitimate science or religion; but as an ill-conceived attack on Bible-literalist Christianity using their own weapons, it works fine. For a given value of "fine."

Summing up: one of the main products of the information age is disinformation. Are we surprised?

#19 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 05:30 AM:

Lying and distorting text and tricking people into interviews that will be bogusly edited are not by any stretch of the imagination the same as, for example, blowing people up or beheading them or stoning them to death for various religious offenses, but the impulses behind those behaviors come from the same place.

Certitude is Heaven, Uncertainty is Hell, which has been pretty much the World's Oldest Religion (not to say Profession) for far too many of us for far too long.

#20 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 05:58 AM:
"the impulses behind those behaviors come from the same place"
Yup. See these links, for instance.
(As I've said for some time.)
#21 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 07:09 AM:

Matthew Daly, I've clarified a bit of the essay at the end. My objection isn't that people naturally come to those beliefs; it's that there's an entire industry of disinformation out there that's devoted to telling people lies about the tenability of literalist fundamentalist belief systems. The ones manufacturing the disinformation know they're lying. Their audience doesn't.

I don't believe I've ever argued that there are freedoms we can't afford to grant.

#22 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 07:14 AM:

It's clear -- yet again -- that Christian fundamentalism is fundamentally advocacy of an immoral order: one in which useful lies must overwhelm inconvenient truths. There's something fundamentally Platonist about that.

#23 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 07:49 AM:

Martin Luther wrote:

"What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church...a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them." in a letter in Max Lenz, ed., Briefwechsel Landgraf Phillips des Grossmuthigen von Hessen mit Bucer, vol. 1.

I can find only those words, having vaguely remembered reading them somewhere. Perhaps those with greater knowledge can say whether Luther was flying a philosophical kite with the intention of knocking it down, or whether he was serious. If the latter, I find it difficult to forgive.

#24 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 07:58 AM:

Fragano: It bugs me. Always has. Faking the evidence is what you do if you don't have faith. Really, they're no better than the peddlers of fake miracles that Erasmus denounced.

#25 ::: FrancisT ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 08:02 AM:

This link to the creationist take on fossil horses may be interesting and relevant.

I find it odd that some of the people who defend creationism and other biblical literalism related BS are also keen to debunk distortions and biases in the media and nail the MSM for staging news, photoshopping photos, failing to analyse fake documents properly (Mind you there are plenty of people like me who criticise both the media AND the creationists).

T H Huxley had a great motto: “Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion.” All good investigators follow this principle instictively, but people who have a blind faith in something don't.

Switching gear slightly. Religion gives people an artificial sense of certainty, rather like the (false and simplistic) linear evolution model in the horse article. The reality is that science advances in a "bushy" model and any science that doesn't accept that is destined to be as wrong as any religion. It is why I get annoyed by people who say they "believe" in Evolution or Climate Change. If you believe in it you have neatly joined the ranks of the religious because you won't question whether the foundation for your belief is based on reality or not.

#26 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 08:23 AM:

FrancisT #25: Trust me, I would be thrilled beyond all possible words if something--anything!--happened that would shake my belief in climate change.

#27 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 08:32 AM:

They're antinomian.
"We're saved, so what we do to advance Goodness is good."
Just like the brethren in Washington who use them for shock troops.

#28 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 08:34 AM:

TNH #24: I can understand why it bugs you. Biblical literalists, however, are invested in the absolute truth of the Bible (as they interpret little strips of it -- you don't see much exegesis of Isaiah 36 xii, for some reason, or, more seriously, of the endorsement of slavery in both Old and New Testaments) because they cannot believe that a moral code can exist on any other basis (and, perhaps, that if they don't so believe they won't get into the rather boring heaven they seem to believe in).

If they had real faith in their god (as opposed to the iconic text), they wouldn't have to worry about facts that challenged a text put together by committees 1900 and 1700 years ago, but might see beyond it. As it is, I'd suspect they were more inclined to bibliolatry than Christianity.

In either case, since I'm an atheist, they frighten the hell out of me.

#29 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 08:36 AM:

Teresa you remind me of a scene from a story, where two men are sitting on a bench talking. One is a thief masquerading as a priest; the other is a true priest.

"Ah, yes, these modern infidels appeal to their reason; but who can look at those millions of worlds and not feel that there may well be wonderful universes above us where reason is utterly unreasonable?"

"No," said the other priest; "reason is always reasonable, even in the last limbo, in the lost borderland of things. I know that people charge the Church with lowering reason, but it is just the other way. Alone on earth, the Church makes reason really supreme. Alone on earth, the Church affirms that God himself is bound by reason."

The other priest raised his austere face to the spangled sky and said:

"Yet who knows if in that infinite universe - ?"

"Only infinite physically," said the little priest, turning sharply in his seat, "not infinite in the sense of escaping from the laws of truth."

Later, when the subterfuge is revealed, the true priest explains how he knew the other was faking.

"But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren’t a priest."

"What?" asked the thief, almost gaping.

"You attacked reason," said Father Brown. "It’s bad theology."

("The Blue Cross", from The Innocence of Father Brown, by GK Chesterton)

#30 ::: Dan ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 08:47 AM:

I always wonder how far mankind could have come, and where we'd be, if it wasn't for that dead weight of religion constantly contradicting the observable and provable reality. The history of censorship of science at the hands of religion is appalling and embarrassing and probably the worst thing imaginable for mankind. And, yet we're expected to sit and mollycoddle these fools for what reason? To further hamper our discoveries and intellectual advancement as a species?

21st Century living should not be based upon the fables of Bronze Age itinerant sheepherders.

#31 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 09:07 AM:

There's only a disconnect if you take religion at face value. If, on the other hand, you see religion as a tool for enforcing or advancing a group's socio-political power, then clearly it is a good and time-honored strategy for religion to have a monopoly on handing out and interpreting the "truth". When outright censorship is not feasible, (dis)-information overload is an available alternative for accomplishing this.

#32 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 09:12 AM:

Abi, that's a great passage. What's sad is so many of the anti-evolution jerks love to quote Chesterton. It would be nice if they read him more deeply....

#33 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 09:13 AM:

It strikes me as unutterably sad to think that after a thousand years spent refining our understanding of truth, we are now forced to develop an ontology of lies. In Harry G. Frankfurt's "On Bullshit," and this post, we're exploring a new realm of falsehood: lies told not by those who believe them, but by those who don't even care.

Maybe the concept isn't as new as I think, but the scale of it must be. They pour more effort (and money) into coming up with persuasive lies than it could possibly take to discover the truth. That, I think, is our ray of light--truth is elegant, and ultimately self-apparent.

#34 ::: FrancisT ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 09:26 AM:

re 26: http://www.climateaudit.org/ may help you. Although it has to be said I believe in Cliamte Change, because it's a chaotic system and therefore by definition always changing, what I am considerably more sceptical about is whether it has a human cause and whether it is going to be a bad thing or not and whether it makes sense to fight it instead of work out ways to imrpove life while living with it.

re 29: Excellent quote

Re 30: James P Hogan's Giants series springs immediately to mind for some reason...

PS Now available in Baen ebooks to my great pleasure since I'd mislaid my 2nd hand paper vol 3 (I think 'twas vol 3).

#35 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 09:27 AM:

Heresiarch, you have to understand the perspective: a lie told for a good end is good. A truth told for an end deemed bad is bad. That's it.

#36 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 09:39 AM:

I'm poorly equipped to chop theological logic. But... "And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted." They're deliberately telling lies. By their own declarations... we know who their Father is.

#37 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 09:52 AM:

chris y

I had a carefully articulated and scholarly answer to your comment, and then fumblefingers here accidentally closed the tab the comment preview was in, losing it all. As that took most of the coffee in the pot, I won't try to recreate it, but just say that, yes, the crime is often intentional and premeditated, and that's why it needs to be addressed as a crime. Also that saying "our society" was probably misleading; I was thinking specifically of the US and the original post, but that's hardly the only venue for this particular drama these days.

#38 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 09:55 AM:

From MAKING BOOK, page 101:
"Truth is not not-fibbing."

Perhaps not completely, but "not-fibbing" is where you start.

The film-makers in this case seem to have not realized that.

#39 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 09:57 AM:

Dan @ 30: "I always wonder how far mankind could have come, and where we'd be, if it wasn't for that dead weight of religion constantly contradicting the observable and provable reality. The history of censorship of science at the hands of religion is appalling and embarrassing and probably the worst thing imaginable for mankind. And, yet we're expected to sit and mollycoddle these fools for what reason? To further hamper our discoveries and intellectual advancement as a species?"

You know Dan, that's a really good point. What has religion ever contributed to humanity's progress? Certainly none of those religious philosophers like Aquinas, Descartes and Spinoza ever did any work of real value. And tell me, what's the point of preserving books and a literary tradition through a centuries-long, continent-wide political collapse anyway? Not to mention that none of those religiously-funded and/or -inspired artist were worth much either: who's ever heard of Michelangelo, Milton, or Rumi? Personally, I think that the Blue Mosque, St. Peter's, Tenryuji, and Angkor Wat are a collection of just about the most boring buildings ever built. Straight-up modernism for me!

And to top it all off, not a single religion has ever improved humanity's understanding of what it means to be human a single jot! Catholicism, Sufism, Zen Buddhism, Shinto, (neo-)paganism, and all the rest have been an unrelenting drag on the momentum of history since the very first human came up with the idea that there just might be more to the world than meets the raw, purely material eye. The sooner we're rid of them, the better.

#40 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:03 AM:

Michael Weholt @ 19


Lying and distorting text and tricking people into interviews that will be bogusly edited are not by any stretch of the imagination the same as, for example, blowing people up or beheading them or stoning them to death for various religious offenses ...

But disinformation often has much longer-term effects over much larger populations. And its purpose and effect is often to enable the blowing up and beheading. Was it not in part the deliberate campaign of lies and distortion about the history and likelihood of sex crimes by blacks against whites in the American South that justified lynching?

#41 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:13 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 35: "Heresiarch, you have to understand the perspective: a lie told for a good end is good. A truth told for an end deemed bad is bad. That's it."

But their methods for determining which ends are good and which are bad are equally arbitrary. Ultimately, their only credo with any substance to it is the one that begins "I want..." and everything else is window-dressing. Truth and falsehood are utterly orthogonal not only to their means by which they accomplish their goals, but also to their goals themselves.

#42 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:14 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 22

There's something fundamentally Platonist about that.

No, the Christian Fundamentalists abhor buggery (they say).

#43 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:24 AM:

A deep irony: so few of the Christian truth-distorters remember the line "What is truth, said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer". As usual, you go to war with the text you can use, not the text that refutes you.

#44 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:28 AM:

Teresa- you've got it.

Religion ain't easy. It should challenge you to be more, understand more of yourself and the world you live in. And if your religion is easy, a matter of just going to church or synagogue or circle and saying the words...then something is wrong. These liars are saying that it should be easy- just accept everything in the bible as litteral truth and it will all be fine. No thinking required.

This has reminded me that I was going to do a rant on this a few weeks ago. *toddles off*

#45 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:34 AM:

Heresiarch #41: Actually the basis of their worship is 'I fear...' The thing most feared, it seems, being freedom (though irrelevance is up there, I suppose).

#46 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:36 AM:

God... is [in] the... ellipses.

#47 ::: Jack Kincaid ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:38 AM:

Sadly, none of this surprises me. This thread has provoked so many thoughts that I am not even sure where to begin. (I am not, for that matter, sure I even should...)

Religious zealots know what politicians know (and what writers know, through learning to ground their fiction) and that, of course, is that the most effective means of selling a lie is to bond and wrap it with truths. For the most desperate: where "truths" cannot be found, they will be fabricated.

Over the years I've grown very tired of watching the inane ping-pong game between Evolution and ID, as if one is the alternative to the other. It is not "one or the other" in that disproving one (in this case, trying to poke holes in Evolution) validates the other. That is ridiculous.

In philosophy, it almost always comes down to the same. In knowing that an intelligent designer must be equally or more complex than what he designs: the existence of this designer, who himself was not designed, cannot be justified by the principle that in order for complex things to exist, they must be designed. The notion negates itself, doomed to death in an objective, rational mind. To say that the complexity of the world, life, and its nature substantiates a creator ... is to talk nonsense and presuppose that it could be any other way. To concede that the designer must also be designed is to open the door to an infinite regression of designers, which is not meaningul if one means to utilize the true power of philosophy to 'quantify' and does not immediately infer that there must be 'one' simply because infinity is an abstraction. (That people presuppose creation to be linear, based on their limited experience, is worth noting too.)

Creationist and ID "philosophies" are clearly attempts, be it through amazing courage or shocking ignorance, to smuggle the concept of God into the rational mind through the most hostile environment possible: one of logic and reason.

It's not my intention to spark any argument between factions on this matter in this thread. They are always ultimately inane, as inane as squandering the gift of life by trying to justify why they possess it. Humans have the beliefs they do for a reason. I don't really have a dog in this fight, but I do prefer things tidy.

My point (presupposing I have one) is that there is no means of reverse engineering a high abstract concept such as God. The philosophical path to certain knowledge which can't be shaken is through building through absolute truths and while the impossibility that a god may be stumbled on along the way should not be presupposed, skewing logic to reach a desired result is bad Philosophy. Philosophy at its greatest efficiency is the province of those devoid of agendas that tie in with preconceived notions. Presupposition castrates...

In the end, this is really neither a question for science nor philosophy, but one of religion which is a matter of *faith*. Not evidence. To fabricate evidence or even to seek it, to willfully endeavor to substantiate religion through science or philosophy, can only denote one thing:

a lack of faith.

Why do they presuppose that He can't see it?

#24: Agreed.

My two hazy cents.

#48 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:42 AM:

Taner Edis: "It seems that the primary religious belief of many is not a belief in the Bible, but a belief in belief in the Bible. This leads pretty quickly to distorted interpretations, twisting of language, and substitution of word games and mythology revisionism for action."

#49 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:42 AM:

I picked up John Dean's latest book last night, and in it he points out that authoritarians, including religious authoritarians, thend to be intellectually uncurious. They really don't want to look more deely into stuff: they might have to change the way they think about something!

#50 ::: Dan ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:44 AM:

#39 ::: Heresiarch :::

You know Dan, that's a really good point. What has religion ever contributed to humanity's progress? Certainly none of those religious philosophers like Aquinas, Descartes and Spinoza ever did any work of real value. And tell me, what's the point of preserving books and a literary tradition through a centuries-long, continent-wide political collapse anyway? Not to mention that none of those religiously-funded and/or -inspired artist were worth much either: who's ever heard of Michelangelo, Milton, or Rumi? Personally, I think that the Blue Mosque, St. Peter's, Tenryuji, and Angkor Wat are a collection of just about the most boring buildings ever built. Straight-up modernism for me!

Perhaps you should reread what I wrote before continuing n ths trllsh lttl blt. Where did I condemn religious-fueled works or contributions?

I don't believe I did. I don't discount the contributions, but I do have a problem with the anchor of having every scientific discovery accommodate humanity's cmclly tdtd religious beliefs. Science should not be changed to suit the Church. It should be the other way around.

Now, you're welcome to continue on about pretty buildings and whatnots, bt hnstly cldn't cr lss t hr t.

#51 ::: Dan ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:49 AM:

Sorry. I mucked-up my HTML. Sorry about the confusion.

#39 ::: Heresiarch :::

You know Dan, that's a really good point. What has religion ever contributed to humanity's progress? Certainly none of those religious philosophers like Aquinas, Descartes and Spinoza ever did any work of real value. And tell me, what's the point of preserving books and a literary tradition through a centuries-long, continent-wide political collapse anyway? Not to mention that none of those religiously-funded and/or -inspired artist were worth much either: who's ever heard of Michelangelo, Milton, or Rumi? Personally, I think that the Blue Mosque, St. Peter's, Tenryuji, and Angkor Wat are a collection of just about the most boring buildings ever built. Straight-up modernism for me!

Perhaps you should reread what I wrote before continuing n ths trllsh lttl blt. Where did I condemn religious-fueled works or contributions?

I don't believe I did. I don't discount the contributions, but I do have a problem with the anchor of having every scientific discovery accommodate humanity's cmclly tdtd religious beliefs. Science should not be changed to suit the Church. It should be the other way around.

Now, you're welcome to continue on about pretty buildings and whatnots, bt hnstly cldn't cr lss t hr t.

#52 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:53 AM:

Heresiarch @

That, I think, is our ray of light--truth is elegant, and ultimately self-apparent.

This is almost certainly true, in the sense you mean it. Unfortunately, there are more than two classes of people: those who lie with lack of concern for the consequences to truth, and those who tell the truth*. There is also a large class, very likely containing the majority of people, who aren't concerned as much with the truth as they are with beliefs that justify and comfort them. These are the natural targets of the disinformation merchants, who have a home-court advantage with this class.

* This is beginning to sound like one of Raymond Smullyan's books on logic. Who's your Vampire, baby?

#53 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:54 AM:

Fragano @ #28: I'm a Christian, and they scare me too.

abi @ #29: "Reason is the Devil's own whore." --Martin Luther (I'm inclined to believe he was serious about the useful lie.) Not to say that Chesterton and Luther had nothing in common. They both wrote good hymns, and they were both antisemites.

Dan @ #30, blind adherence to dogma is by no means limited to religion. See for example the effect on the history of medicine of adherence to Galen's pronouncements.

#54 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 11:12 AM:

Heresiarch @ 39

IMO the question of what humanity would be like without religion is superficially interesting as a stimulation for an intellectual exercise, but ultimately meaningless. Humans evolved, and are so constituted at a very basic level, that religion is inevitable for us. We're pattern-recognizers and pattern-creators way back up the evolutionary tree, and religion is just an attempt to look for larger and more all-encompassing patterns. As well ask what dragons would be like without the hoarding instinct.

#55 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 11:14 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 45: "Actually the basis of their worship is 'I fear...'"

There are those motivated by fear, no doubt, and others by desire for power. It all boils down to the same thing, I think: they are ruled by emotion, not reason. With emotion, the only truth is what you feel, and it is truthful in direct proportion to how strongly you believe it and how well you can convince others to believe it.

It would be nice to live in that world--I see the appeal. Starving people could simply believe themselves fed and educated, and it would be so. Yet reality is not so accomodating.

#56 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 11:17 AM:

#53 Lila: blind adherence to dogma is by no means limited to religion....

Indeed. Just this morning I was listening to a report on NPR about the African National Congress (South Africa) and the ridiculous, deadly, dogmatic belief by the current President and his Health Minister that HIV can be controlled not by proven-effective drugs, but by olive oil and honey and gawd knows what all else. These idiots are killing people, infecting babies, and so on... everytime I'm reminded of this idiocy I get so angry I could spit nine -- or even ten -- inch nails.

#57 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 11:24 AM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #42: Indeed, they say. Then they excuse ('We're all sinners'), but at the same time they claim that no one who does not agree with them can be moral.

#58 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 11:27 AM:

Alternate hypothesis: Many or most of the people involved in making these films are milking the rubes for money, and know it. They no more believe in what they're selling than most of the folks who sell UFO anal-probe-and-ancient-pyramid films believe it. They're just con men. If there were a market for films that proved that the bible was all written by some drunk guy 1000 years ago on a bet, or that the Elders of Zion were secretly running the world, they'd make those, too--perhaps reusing the same footage for different films as needed.

People who *need* to believe something are a great market for con men, which is why investment scams, gambling system scams, and miracle cure scams are good businesses to be in. IMO, getting people to link their religion to stuff that's not only untrue but trivially wrong is an evil on a par with getting schoolkids hooked on heroin. It's a guaranteed market--some people base their whole lives, identities, membership in a community, etc., on their faith. Getting them to base that faith on lies, and then selling them comforting supporting lies to let them convince themselves to keep believing, is truly evil.

#59 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 11:46 AM:

Heresiarch #55: I think fear lies at the base of it -- fear of change, fear of loss of status and power, fear that pretentions will be revealed for what they are -- and that, it seems to me, is rather sad.

#60 ::: Branko Collin ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 11:50 AM:
"Dealing with this world requires that we get information from other people, and that we have sources we can trust"

I would say: and that we learn to trust our sources

"tricking people into interviews"

Which, by the way, is not wrong in and of itself. Sometimes you can only get to the truth if the person between you and that truth is off his guard. See also: Günter Wallraff, Nelly Bly.

#61 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 11:58 AM:

Bruce Cohen @54
Humans evolved, and are so constituted at a very basic level, that religion is inevitable for us. We're pattern-recognizers and pattern-creators way back up the evolutionary tree, and religion is just an attempt to look for larger and more all-encompassing patterns.

That's more of an answer to the same comment Heresiarch was answering in 39: Dan @30. (I always wonder how far mankind could have come, and where we'd be, if it wasn't for that dead weight of religion constantly contradicting the observable and provable reality.)

I'd say that religion and science are born of the same impulse. To posit a path of human evolution that includes science but not religion is like positing a world where cheese is possible, but not butter.

#62 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 12:01 PM:

There are only ten commandments, and one of them is "Thou shalt not bear false witness."

Not being in the club myself, I have to say... is ten that many, that people lose track?

#63 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 12:04 PM:

P.J. Evans, #49: Yes, and that's really frightening, because if true, it means that one of the fundamental precepts that keeps most of us in there pitching -- the belief that we can reach the authoritarians if we just find the right approach -- is WRONG. And at that point, it comes down to a matter of who's better organized, because even an overwhelming majority can be overcome by a minority with strong enough organization.

Adding to the general conversation:
"He who does a good thing in the name of another god does it for me; and he who does an evil thing in my name does it for the darkest demons in hell." - from the Book of Vkandis, in Mercedes Lackey's Mage Storms trilogy

I wish more religions had that as an explicit concept. It still wouldn't prevent people from redefining evil as good if it served their ends, but it would at least remove the "ends justify the means" part.

#64 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 12:07 PM:

I feel a great deal of pity for people who are so desperate for certainty that they will cling to anything that will provide it. I think it's a failure of imagination, really. Some of us look around as say: the Universe if beautiful, look how big, how expansive, how mysterious, how grand, isn't it wonderful,let's go see how it works. They look and see only something they cannot grasp and it terrifies them.

#65 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 12:13 PM:

Dean's points about authoritarians are based largely on this free online book, which I recommend to everyone.

Chapter Four, Authoritarian Followers and Religious Fundamentalism, seems particularly relevant to this thread. Altemeyer defines fundamentalism not by adherence to a specific creed, but by the believer's attitudes toward the infallibility of doctrine, relative importance of belonging to the right religion compared to doing good, strict dichotomy between good and evil, etc.

So in addition to the familiar Christian fundamentalists and Muslim fundamentalists (aka Muslim extremists, a name concocted to conceal their resemblance to Christian fundamentalists) there could also be Jewish fundamentalists, Hindu fundamentalists, etc. Possibly if you reword the questions you could have fundamentalist followers of a (not explicitly religious) philosophy - fundamentalist Marxists, fundamentalist Objectivists, etc. - although I don't know if anyone has actually done research on that.

But the whole book is interesting (and, I believe, important).


The people who actually believe and try to live up to the principles expressed at the end of the original post, I respect even when I disagree with them. But I have nothing but contempt for the Liars for Jesus.

#66 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 12:20 PM:

P.S.: One of the scary things about fundamentalists is that when they *do* convert, they are still usually fundamentalist about their new belief system. Hardly ever do they actually set down their fundamentalism and embrace a more nuanced approach to looking for truth. They'd rather exchange their not-so-infallible received truths for... a new set of infallible received truths. This time for sure!

It never dawns on them that that trick never works.

#67 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 12:43 PM:

re #65 -

I think I've met a fundamentalist vegan or two over the years (a thankfully very small subset of the meat-excluders of my acquaintence).

#68 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 12:52 PM:

Kip @ #46: You are Dave Langford and I claim my [...] and [...].

#69 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 12:53 PM:

Chris @ 65-66

I've been known to describe people as 'evangelical atheists' - those are the ones who are so sure there's no gods that they want everyone else to become atheist also. It's the same kind of mindset. (It makes me want to invoke something like Duane's Vulcan privacies: the things you shouldn't talk about in public or to strangers, including sex and religion.)

#70 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 12:55 PM:

Bruce Cohen, abi, anyone else who's saying that religion is a necessary part of being human: what do you make of people who have absolutely no, and I mean zero, religious impulse, and on a fundamental level cannot grasp what it is that people mean when they talk about faith? Because, trust me, we exist.

#71 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 01:07 PM:

ethan

I'd say it's just the way you are, and (trust me) it's hard to understand from this side too. (Doesn't mean you're either right or wrong in your view.)

(See the aforemention Duane. She uses the phrase 'sense of immanence' for it, which seems to fit.)

#72 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 01:15 PM:

P J... I don't. I only want people outside of ML not to assume I have no sense of right & wrong. How many atheists are portrayed positively in movies and on TV? House is a bleeping unhappy jerk. The less said about Saving Grace... True there is Jodie Foster in Contact and in real life. And there is Eureka's Jack Carter.

#73 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 01:16 PM:

ethan #70:

(Speaking only for myself.)
There might be a common tendency toward religious belief in the same sense that there's a common tendency toward artistic expression or music or storytelling or sexual adventurism or ethnic nepotism or whatever. This doesn't require that everyone have any of these tendencies, or that everyone run with them. And even though I'd say that religion and art and music and stories are a big part of the human experience, I would never think that someone wasn't fully human because they didn't much get into religion, art, music, or stories.

#74 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 01:20 PM:

ethan at 70, I tend to take any and all statements about human nature as probabalistic rather than absolute. Most people I've met have a need to consider the universe as a place which is orderly and progressive and centered on the first person singular and I think that much religious sentiment comes from that place; that is not to say that every human I know is that egoistic, nor that every religious person I know uses religion primarily as a way to preserve their sense of safety and self importance.

But neither do I exclude myself from either category.

The ID and Creationist types are amazing, to me, for their ability to ignore the evidence. The Discovery Institute goes gaga over the Channeled Scablands and utterly ignores the Miocene basalts beneath that recent scratch on the landscape: yes, one afternoon an ice dam broke and you can see the way it sluiced off topsoil and deposited gravel, big wowie: under the channels, exposed by the erosion lies hard basalt in layers, with the top of each layer of hard stone eroded, pulverized, developed into soil with a stable ecosystem atop and then drowned, again, by lava: these things are not the work of an afternoon.

#75 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 01:23 PM:

#70 ethan: Bruce Cohen, abi, anyone else who's saying that religion is a necessary part of being human: what do you make of people who have absolutely no, and I mean zero, religious impulse, and on a fundamental level cannot grasp what it is that people mean when they talk about faith? Because, trust me, we exist.

<parenthetically>*Sigh...* Can I still be called a blogwhore even when I don't have a blog anymore? Well, whatever...</parenthetically>

I, too, was born without a religious bone in my body... a fact I intend to turn into a Proof of the Non-Existence of a Loving God someday... but in the meantime I think I, nevertheless, have a pretty good understanding of the notion of faith.

#76 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 01:27 PM:

ethan @70:
I think albatross @73 pretty much speaks for me.

#77 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 01:33 PM:

Serge,

It seems like the most common movie portrayals are about people for whom religion is just not that important in their lives. And this is usually not said openly, it's just a consequence of how the story unfolds. If you have some enormous personal crisis going on, or a big moral dilemma, your religion or lack thereof is likely to show through in how you deal with it.

It seems like most of the main SF book characters have no religion and no interest in it. Star Trek seems to be rather friendly toward alien religions in a multiculti sort of way, but I don't think the main human characters give much sense of being religious. There is a psychologist and a bartender on the new Enterprise, but I don't ever recall seeing a chaplain. (Though some Father Mulcahy type trying to zap Worf with the pain sticks to help out with a Klingon ritual would be kind of fun to see, especially if played right. "Sorry my son *ZAP*." And trying to help with Troi's religious needs would probably put a strain on his vow of celibacy.)

I don't really watch much TV, so maybe I'm missing some widespread phenomenon. But outside of explicitly religiously-oriented TV shows like 7th Heaven or that show about angels (Touched by an Angel?), I don't notice a lot of explicitly religious characters on TV.

Nor is this all that new. How big a role did religion play in the Brady Bunch, or ER, or in most cop dramas?

#78 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 01:51 PM:

Serge @ 72

How many atheists are portrayed positively in movies and on TV? ... The less said about Saving Grace...

Grace Hanadarko is not an atheist -- she is someone who would like to be an atheist. She would be much more comfortable if she were sure that God really wasn't there.

#79 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 01:56 PM:

Albatross @ 77... your religion or lack thereof is likely to show through in how you deal with it

Which is why I absolutely HATED the show Saving Grace.

It wasn't easy when I saw my father in a coffin. He'd died suddenly, and I had never gotten to say goodbye to him, and looking at his body, there was no comfort that part of him persists. I did see him in my dreams frequently after that, until we said goodbye in one of them, and that was it.

#80 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 01:58 PM:

Thanks for the responses, guys. The original statements make more sense to me now. If I sounded cranky (which I'm pretty sure I did), my deepest apologies. I need my nappytime.

#81 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 01:59 PM:

Claude Muncey @ 78... But there was the child-killing pedophile, who definitely was an atheist.

#82 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 02:01 PM:

Oh, and Serge #72: A(as they say)men.

#83 ::: Johne Cook ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 02:25 PM:

I am intellectually curious. I am also Christian. The talking heads don't speak for me. I have a feeling that the Christ I worship would go apesh1t in many of our temples. But then I would want that on a T-shirt, thus paving the way to a whole 'nother cottage industry, WWJT, Who Would Jesus Thrash. I can see the wristbands already...

#84 ::: cantabridgian poet ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 02:31 PM:

albatross: The Cylons are pretty explicitly religious. Some of the humans are, too, though it's less obvious.

#85 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 03:14 PM:

How many atheists are portrayed positively in movies and on TV? House is a bleeping unhappy jerk.

But Cameron's not, and she's also an atheist. Which doesn't help if you don't like Cameron, I guess. I happen to like her.

#86 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 03:17 PM:

There are two married women. Both their husbands are accused of being present at a particularly wanton and disgraceful stag party. Both husbands deny it. One wife accepts this denial at face value, dismisses the story, and goes on with her life. The other wife goes into a frenzy of fact-checking, affidavit-gathering, and timeline construction, in order to demonstrate once and for all that her husband couldn’t possibly have been at that party. Which woman has faith in her husband?

The follow-up question, of course, is: Which woman is right?

Not the best analogy here. Try this instead:

There are two married women. Both their husbands claim that they saved the life of a stranger on 9/11. One wife accepts this claim at face value, smiles happily that she found such a good man, and goes on with her life. The other wife goes into a frenzy of fact-checking, affidavit-gathering, timeline construction, and invention of ever more outlandish theories, in order to demonstrate once and for all that her husband had to have saved a person's life, and that he should be lauded for it. Which woman has faith in her husband?

#87 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 03:36 PM:

Carrie S... Somehow, I completely missed that about Cameron. Maybe it was in episodes I never got to watch. I myself like her character, and I'm quite happy to hear that, in spite of the way the previous season ended, she'll be back.

#88 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 03:38 PM:

Serge: "House vs God", and a couple other, early episodes I think.

#89 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 03:51 PM:

Carrie S... Thanks for the info.

#90 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 03:58 PM:

Some armchair psychoanalyzing: Perhaps those pious ones who advocate lying for God, and denounce reason have a model of God in their heads which strongly matches that of a petty tyrant, and their attitudes towards God are similar to the hierarchical attitudes that the subjects of a tyrant might feel: Loyalty, and only loyalty, is rewarded; Disloyalty, and only disloyalty is punished.

Which is why there is the utter dedication to deceit: Lying doesn't matter if it's in the service of loyalty. As long as they feel that they are doing something worthy of reward — being loyal — nothing else matters.


Some armchair theologizing: William of Occam promoted the idea of parsimony in philosophy; people might forget that he was both a theologian and a natural philosopher. It was thus his contention that God could not be known through reason, only through revelation.

Of course, I would argue that given the general fallibility of humanity, why should any revelation ever be given any credence? Without evidence, no revelation can be distinguished from delusion, and thus ought to be treated as such.

It may be that he thought of such arguments himself, but he lived in a time that doubting revelation could get you in very hot water...

#91 ::: CommunityRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 04:04 PM:

Personally, I never understood the obsession many U.S. Christians have with needing to jam reality into the box of Biblical literalism. All this 'dinosaurs on the Ark' stuff, and other outright denial of geologic and fossil evidence, really smacks of deliberate obtuseness.

In the end, what does it mean to have faith? And if your entire religious paradigm rests on your belief that a multi-translated, oft-edited text is the literal and absolute word of God, what does that say? That you have more faith in Him? Or that you place all your face in an object written and created by men?

I grew up in a pretty religious home, fell away as a teen, and came back to my faith when, experientially, I had some things happen that caused me (for me) to doubt my teen-era materialist paradigm. At no time was this internal evolution ever chained to my believing that my religious text(s) were total and absolute truth, down to the last letter, without the slightest chance of a mistake or allowance for certain Bible passages as mere metaphor.

Rather, much of it was based on feeling.

Also, I didn't feel compelled to promptly trot out and start whacking other folk over the nose with my feelings, however strong they might have been. I shared them with those whom I thought would understand, including the woman who eventually became my wife, but I didn't make it my mission to convert the known universe.

Too many people, believers and atheists alike, feel threatened when they run into folk who are from the Other Side of the equation. The atheist wants religion quashed and rubbed out of public manifestation, the Christian wants his faith to dominate all arenas of public and private life, etc.

I long for a day when we can leave each other the Hell alone. And yes, I think it can be said that Christians are the #1 culprits, no denying it. The militant atheists merely mirror the worst in militant Christian behavior.

#92 ::: CommunityRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 04:07 PM:

Oop. I wrote "face" when I meant "faith".

Typo.

#93 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 04:10 PM:

Teresa says in her essay:

"Science is no threat to religious faith. It only threatens the childish misreadings of Biblical literalism."

The threat's a bit broader than that, and while I'd agree with the argument that ultimately science and Christian faith can coexist, I think it's important to understand the various ways in which the idea of evolution can threaten some people's Christian faith, because it helps in understanding some of the reasons people reject either science or Christianity.

There's the reason of interpretation, alluded to above. The multi-billion-year history of life on Earth obvious contradicts a literal reading of the early Genesis chapters. (And simply taking the "most literal plausible reading", which I've seen a number of people do, for example in the "day-age" reading of Genesis, isn't ultimately supportable either scientifically or theologically.) Thus, doubt may arise over whether *any* reading of the Bible that's distinctively Christian can be supported. (The truths given at the end of the essay are indeed ones that are essential to Christianity, but they're not *distinctive*; non-Christian theists can easily subscribe to them as well without embracing Christianity as such.) I think there are supportable, distinctively Christian readings of the Bible, but they aren't as obvious.

A second kind of threat is that evolution goes a long way to undercutting what's historically been a significant reason for believing in God in the first place: "There's no way we could be here unless God existed." By providing alternate explanations for the origin of life and humanity, science forces believers to find other justifications for faith (which exist, but might be harder for some to rely on).

A third kind of threat arises from philosophical questions raised by evolution and science. To take one example, traditional monotheistic religions have to deal in some way with both an all-benevolent, all-powerful God *and* the existence of suffering. One explanation sometimes given is that suffering and death is purely the result of human sin. But if so, what do you do about the fact that evolution necessarily involves a lot of death, and presumably suffering, well before humans appear on the scene? Questions like these can make one uncomfortable in one's faith, even if one eventually finds an answer for them.

All of these three kinds of issues can be disturbing for the believer. I agree with Teresa's conclusion that Christian religion ultimately *is* disturbing-- in a number of ways-- and if it isn't, something's probably wrong with the way it's being understood. But it's important to recognize that the sense of discomfort that many Christians have with evolution in many cases goes well beyond the question of literalism.

#94 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 04:12 PM:

Community Radio Vet, it gets worse: when the militant of one side encounter the moderate or mild of the other, they induce militant behavior. My father was a perfectly reasonable atheist until his students started using God as an excuse for not doing their biology homework. I didn't examine my default non-churchgoing Protestant lack of disbelief until I was told I was going to hell-- or perhaps I did, and as a result of the initial examination was harshly treated by the youthgroup set, and therefore rejected the whole of it.

#95 ::: CommunityRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 04:21 PM:

Diatryma @ #94,

Too true. Nobody likes being attacked, and when you get attacked enough, you tend to develop a defensive response, and suddenly you find yourself amping up that response until you're "armed" to the same level as your "opponent" in the "war" of ideas.

An unfortunate and recognizeable cycle in our modern life; at least in the U.S., where secularism and Christian religiousness are very much locked in a battle for domination and control of our public and private lives.

Somehow, I think Jesus would not approve. But that's just me.

#96 ::: Glen Davidson ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 04:36 PM:

Good blog, this one. However, discussing the differences between the dead sea scrolls and the earlier known texts (Masoretic, esp.) vis-a-vis the Isaiah scroll does not capture the more considerable differences in the Biblical texts (compared to some other OT books, the Isaiah scroll is fairly close to the Masoretic text). The truth of the matter is that sometimes the dead sea scrolls leave out substantial portions that the Masoretic text includes, and vice-versa.

I don't want to pretend that the dead sea scrolls are radically different, but it should not come as a shock that, for instance, Jeremiah is substantially shorter in the Dead Sea texts, apparently because it hadn't ceased to evolve. Here's a link to some of the more prominent differences:

http://www.bibleandscience.com/bible/sources/deadseascrolls.htm

I do not think that Kevin Miller, writer for "Expelled", gives us much confidence in that movie. I had an exchange with him (I'm fairly sure it's him, not an imposter) on the "Expelled" blog. I pointed out how he essentially argues that ID is science because it begins with the premise that God is fundamental to nature here:

http://expelledthemovie.com/blog/2007/08/21/bens-blog#comment-1113

He responded with some erroneous statements that I'd taken him out of context, and denies my faithful rendering of his "argument" about ID as "science" here:

http://expelledthemovie.com/blog/2007/08/21/bens-blog#comment-1299

I documented his many errors in a series of posts (one long one cut up) here:

http://expelledthemovie.com/blog/2007/08/21/bens-blog#comment-1327

He hasn't responded, yet anyway. Frankly, he seems less than intellectually honest, and far from understanding the issues involved, either the science or the philosophy (medieval philosophy the equal of today's philosophy of science? I hardly think so). If Stein's blog, and Miller's comments, mean anything the film is going to be both ignorant and nearly devoid of intellectual honesty.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

#97 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 04:37 PM:

I've been thinking about something similar lately. Every part of the political spectrum has an area where they're just nuts when it comes to science. I'd say liberals tend to be nuts about transgenic plants, conservatives tend to be nuts about evolution and human-caused global warming, libertarians tend to be nuts about the effects of systemic bias on historically oppressed groups.

But anecdotally, when I argue with liberals about transgenic plants, they're like "sheep die in this paper, caterpillars die in this paper..." We have arguments about experimental design. When I argue with conservatives or those who claim not to be conservatives (they just happen to advocate conservative positions and denigrate all others), they're like, "the studies haven't been done. Oh wait they have hundreds of times over? Whatever."

Conservatives will not meet you on the field of battle. All their arguments amount to heirarchical dickwaving: find/claim authority, ignore/gloss over facts. Or, you know, lie flat out.

#98 ::: CommunityRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 05:03 PM:

Madeline @ #97,

Not to start a tiff, but living in Seattle I have run into boatloads of self-identifying "liberals" who a) fall back to authority, or b) gloss over facts, or c) flat-out lie.

The funny part is when they point at "conservatives" and lambast conservatives for doing what they themselves do; but just aren't aware of it.

I use scare quotes because "conservative" and "liberal" have utterly lost their true definitions in our modern U.S. society.

Anyway, I think the key is immersion. When a person is immersed in a certain group (liberal, conservative, whatever) and never has to explain or think about their positions to anyone who disagrees, a sort of group-think sets in. Here in Seattle, I have seen that a lot; people who walk around professing to believe in a certain set of ideals, or claiming to adhere to a certain paradigm; not because they personally have explored and adopted said paradigm, but rather because it's simply the paradigm they picked up through social osmosis, without examining it in any critical fashion.

Same thing happens in "conservative" havens, like my birth state of Utah. You spend your whole life living around a certain mindset, it's easy to just adopt the mindset and not worry about it, then ignore or overlook challenging or alternative ideas when they appear, falling back to the position of, "Well all my friends and family think such and such, so this other idea that disagrees with all these good people, it must just be whacked!"

I guess my point is, deliberate ignorance, and all the poor mental habits that contribute to it, is not the provence of "conservatives" alone.

#99 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 05:21 PM:

John @ 93
A second kind of threat is that evolution goes a long way to undercutting what's historically been a significant reason for believing in God in the first place: "There's no way we could be here unless God existed." By providing alternate explanations for the origin of life and humanity, science forces believers to find other justifications for faith (which exist, but might be harder for some to rely on).

I don't find this a problem. As I said to a fundie acquaintance, I don't know why God used these tools to create this Universe, but I'm sure She'll be kind enough to enlighten me when I meet Him.

To me, God is a Why and science is a How.

Muddled theology, but there it is. It allows me to enjoy the best of both.

#100 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 05:49 PM:

Chris Heard makes an excellent point about soi-disant Biblical literalists, one of those points that is obvious as soon as someone very clever has explained it to you.

If you're going to take the Bible literally, word for word, then you have to take seriously the not two, but three creation myths in Genesis. You have to accept that the literal description of the Garden of Eden does not map to any real place on Earth, and understand the implications of that. You must appreciate that Biblical law permits slavery, and you must understand that John's chronology is different to that of the synoptics. And so on.

It's an argument of biblical literalism against fundamentalism. I doubt it will convert a single fundie, who generally lack the intellectual capacity to deal with such subtlety, but it's fascinating to atheists like me who are interested in biblical literature.

#101 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 05:57 PM:

I don't think this topic deserves the title "Lying in the name of God". To me the distortion of facts and opinions, which Farrel, Heard et al. complain of, isn't fundamentally about religion or God, it's about politics, which almost by its nature involves the distortion of facts and of other people's statements to fit a predetermined agenda. Some nutheads use religion in a political way, just as some nutheads use Marxism in a political way, but that doesn't say anything about religion or Marxism, only about nutheads.

Anyway, Christianity isn't really about any of this stuff; what Christianity is really about, Teresa correctly points out in the last two paragraphs of her introduction to this topic.

Nobody with any sense thinks that every word of the Bible is literally true, because that obviously ain't so. Nor does anybody with any sense think the Bible is the divinely-inspired word of God, because it's obviously written by humans with many different stories to tell about God, and about other humans. And thinking that some particular English translation is the divinely-inspired, literally-true word of God is getting back into nuthead territory. As I understand it, early Protestants tried to take the line of literal truth as a way of defining what Christianity really is, versus what the [Roman] church had made it over the centuries. It didn't work, which is why there are so many varieties of Protestantism.

[Muslims have it much tougher: the Qu'ran (in the original Arabic) is the word of God, dictated by the angel to Muhammad. That means that the Qu'ran is unchallengeable except in interpretation, which makes it difficult to reconcile Islam with some modern ideas.]

#102 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 05:58 PM:

One of the good things about Biblical literalists is that anytime a group has an internal disagreement about interpretation, the group is likely to split. You end up with a lot of small groups that don't agree on averything and that can't merge unless they agree on everything.

#103 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 06:26 PM:

#101:

Nobody with any sense thinks that every word of the Bible is literally true, because that obviously ain't so.

There's a quite substantial number of people that, according to this statement, don't have any sense.

I'm not saying you're *wrong* about that, mind you. But those people (senseless or not) exist and can create some pretty big problems for the rest of us.

#93:

The truths given at the end of the essay are indeed ones that are essential to Christianity, but they're not *distinctive*; non-Christian theists can easily subscribe to them as well without embracing Christianity as such.

Non-theists can and do subscribe to 90% of them as well. I would argue those are the important 90% - the ones about being a good person. Who cares whether or not you "love god" or "pray often" if you've got the rest of the list down? If a god cares more about those two items than about the others, well, it isn't any kind of god I'd consider worthy of worship (even if it did exist).

#104 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 06:30 PM:

Jack Carter's an atheist? I'm a few weeks behind on Eureka.

#105 ::: Leslie in CA ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 06:33 PM:

Mez 20, Seth Gordon 48 -

Here is what I think happens in the minds of Christian fundamentalists. They take Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen," and (mis)interpret it as equating faith with absolute certainty. Ignoring James ("you show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works"), they believe that the evidence of their faith is that certainty, and that the more certain they are, the truer a Christian they are. They also hold the corresponding belief that a lack of certainty constitutes a lack of faith, and is therefore a sin.

What they fail to see is that they have made a god of their certainty ("a belief in a belief," as you say, Seth); it, not god, is what they depend on, what gives them a sense of security, that without which they would feel devastated; in short, it is what they worship. Which explains why they feel so threatened when anyone questions their certainty or suggests that there is even any room for uncertainty.

I suspect this also explains why so many evangelical/fundamentalist congregations spend so much time reinforcing their own beliefs, and so little time attending to the things Teresa mentions at the end of her post.

#106 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 06:33 PM:

john,

[Muslims have it much tougher: the Qu'ran (in the original Arabic) is the word of God, dictated by the angel to Muhammad. That means that the Qu'ran is unchallengeable except in interpretation, which makes it difficult to reconcile Islam with some modern ideas.]

the five books in the original hebrew are supposed to be the literal word of god for jews. the text is acknowledged, in orthodoxy, to be incomplete (as in, doesn't tell the whole story, calling for midrash) & somewhat metaphorical. this is how it is taught in religious day schools (although mine was not the most religious).

there are those who both adhere to strict orthodoxy & are comfortable with the biblical scholar theories of multiple author/editors, but i believe those aer a minority. heck, there are those who adhere to strict orthodoxy & are self-proclaimed athiests. in the judaism i grew up in, it's nobody's business what you believe, including god's.

#107 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 06:36 PM:

CRV @ 98:

Your point is made somewhat more rigorously by the great Liberal political philosopher John Stuart Mill, in chapter 2 of On Liberty. Rehearsing his argument may be a valid criticism of certain self-proclaimed liberals, but it is obviously a poor argument against liberalism.

#108 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 06:36 PM:

#13 --

I too grew up LCMS, and very strange things have happened to it since those days. Very strange indeed. My first indication was when my parents divorced, and my mother was made to stand up in front of the congregation publicly and be judged by the all male elders of that congregation in order to be allowed to join another LCMS congregation that was closer to the home where she now lived. She had to publicly confess her terrible sin of adultery -- she got divorced and re-married -- please? where is the adultery? -- the new, young, crazy minister of that congregation in which I was brought up, came to visit ME and ordered me (an adult, who had thankfully given up the church anyway as soon as she got the hell outta there) to come and testify AGAINST MY MOTHER for being a whore.

And my devout mother did it!

She didn't have to!

But she did.

She was told by that crazy pastor that this was the only way she could get a transfer as a member of good standing to another congregation.

No matter that a couple of years later he had to be put away in an institution.

And that was the death knell of that particular congregation too.

That all happened was some decades ago when I was still just 17.

Somehow I don't think Martin Luther, wild man that he was, would have acted that way.

Love, C.

#109 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 06:43 PM:

miriam #106 : thanks, I didn't know that about Judaism. I confess that in my post up there (#101) I was thinking of the Bible as Christians know it - the whole thing, including what we call the Old and New Testaments - rather than from the points of view of the other People of the Book.

#110 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 06:44 PM:

#58 -- You can hardly get more U.S.A than Sinclair Lewis, and he gave us, in this area, Elmer Gantry.

Love, C.

#111 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 06:47 PM:

Someone on a social-networking site I belong to posted a poll: "Which do you believe, Creationism or Evolutionism?"

I didn't respond to the poll, but I commented "Only creationists believe there's any such thing as 'evolutionism'."

#112 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 06:51 PM:

I am more concerned with those who tell me that I cannot be moral because I do not believe in either the literal truth or the redemptive message of the Bible. For some reason they get upset when I point out that a work that treats women as property, endorses slavery, commands subjugation to unjust governments, and declares that girl children make their mothers more ritually unclean than boy children (just to take a few examples), is less than a sterling source of morality.

#113 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 06:55 PM:

Mostly here in the U.S., settled by so many deeply religious groups as it was, and still continues to be -- we have always had a difficult time distinguishing between the spirit and religion.

The road to the Spirit Lands will be difficult for most of us. It is personal. It is individual. I have on occasion arrived in the fringes of the Spirit Lands. On a few occasions it's been through the ecstasy of music and dance, as directed by a very skilled and honest and experienced and called practicioner. But mostly it's come through suffering. This is not the USian way, or the way for most people. But the Spirit Lands do exist. And we long for them.

So there is Religion instead. Which is easy. And it really is about economics, power and the state.

Love, C.

#114 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 06:56 PM:

CRV 98: You're countering an argument I did not make. I argued that when I present a liberal with a scientific study that runs counter to his argument he will pick at the study, and when I present a conservative with a scientific study that runs counter to his argument he will ignore the study.

I'd expand my argument to suggest that this is a tendency of the world in general: it's not liberals claiming that global warming is some sort of political myth.

#115 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 07:26 PM:

Here's a question: If Heard and Myers believe that their "portrayals" in these films, i.e., their interviews being edited in such a way as to make it appear that they accept an intellectual position that they do not actually accept, do they have a case against the filmmakers for defamation of character?

(Personally, fundamentalists of ANY stripe scare the everlovin' &h!t out of me, simply because they're apparently more interested in being right --at any cost, even intellectual dishonesty--than in anything else.)

#116 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 08:46 PM:

PJ Evans @ #102, the tendency to schism is so strong it struck even the Yale Divinity School students who started to translate the Bible into Klingon.

They ended up producing two different, competing translations.

(As I understand it, the issue over which they split was how to render references to animals from Earth, e.g. "lamb of God". One group just used the Klingon transliteration of the word "lamb", the other used the name of a Klingon animal.)

Fragano @ #112, and don't forget--God hates shrimp!

#117 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 09:20 PM:

Johne, #83: The version of that sentiment I like best is, "If Jesus came back today and saw some of the things that are being done in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."

Iain, #100: The reason that this argument doesn't do much good is that the people who describe themselves as "Biblical literalists" have ALWAYS claimed the right to pick and choose which parts of the Bible are the literal, must-be-adhered-to truth. The commonest example one hears about is that they insist on legislating Exodus 18:22 (the bit about "man shall not lie with man as with woman") but completely ignore most of the many other prohibitions in that section (the Mosaic laws), such as "men must not shave their beards" and "blended fabrics are anathema". So this kind of thing is an old-hat argument to them, and the response is the one they always use: "But that's DIFFERENT."

#118 ::: Leslie in CA ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 09:35 PM:

Lee 117, yes - the argument is that some parts of scripture describe the cultural mores of the time, but since the Mosaic law was fulfilled/done away with by Christ's death, resurrection, etc., then those things no longer apply (as God instructs Peter in Acts, for instance).

Other things, though, are fundamental, eternal principles that apply no matter what. And, as you said, they get to decide which is which. It's just the merest coincidence that their discernment of which is which, in any given generation, happens to coincide precisely with their own cultural prejudices.

#119 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:33 PM:

As a practicing Catholic, I don't know why, but I've just never had any issues with evolutionary theory. Even when I used to be an evangelical Protestant, I just never bought the literalist argument.

I like the phrasing that my Old Testament prof used to take with literalists (he approached the Genesis stories as tales with specific messages, not a literal account of what actually happened At The Beginning of When Things Began To Be)--"You're focusing on the basket, not the bread."

And then I studied Biblical Hebrew for a year. That shot any notions of a literal Creation out of my brain.

#120 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:37 PM:

Madeline F #114:

I've certainly encountered a lot of people from the liberal/left side of the spectrum who were very unreasoning in their responses to certain questions of science. The safety and desirability of nuclear power, evolutionary psychology arguments about the origin of sex roles, the race/IQ correlation, differences in aptitudes between women and men, all are areas where I've seen a fair number of liberals react to factual questions and attempts to answer them with about the same rationality that the Fallwells and Robertsons use when dealing with evolution.

I think CRV has it right. Some ideas are outside your group's "window" of acceptable views, and a lot of people, when challenged with such an idea, respond with hostility or an inability to even imagine that anyone could believe such a thing.

#121 ::: Jim Satterfield ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 10:47 PM:

What I've heard about how these people make their films reminds me of some things I've read about the Channel4 excuse for a documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle". At least one scientist said that they misrepresented him and it seems pretty intellectually dishonest in other ways as well. I think it reflects a similar mindset.

#122 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 11:28 PM:

ethan @ 70

what do you make of people who have absolutely no, and I mean zero, religious impulse, and on a fundamental level cannot grasp what it is that people mean when they talk about faith?

First off, you're talking about two different things. Religion is not synonymous with faith, though they are often related. The most salient characteristic of religion is a willingness, usually an eagerness, to look for things larger than you are, things which can help provide both belonging and meaning in your life. The precise need is not the same for all people, but I think there's a common thread of wanting to find a framework within which one's life has connections to other lives and other forces.

I think that you, ethan, have at least some of this need, and I think that, in part, Making Light is part of your response to it. There's no reason that higher powers have to be either supernatural or so overarching as to encompass the whole universe. Groups of people can provide what's needed.

As for faith, I don't think it's as fundamental a part of human nature as the need to belong to something larger than oneself.

#123 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 11:32 PM:

Emma @ 64

The people I have most respect say to the universe every day, "Astonish me".

#124 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 12:27 AM:

As I understand it, early Protestants tried to take the line of literal truth as a way of defining what Christianity really is, versus what the [Roman] church had made it over the centuries. It didn't work, which is why there are so many varieties of Protestantism.

Um, no. Literalism is a 19th century invention. The Reformation was about a waxy yellow build-up of dogma and canon law that got so elaborate it conflicted with scripture.

Constance @108

You're right about ol' Br. Marty. He was way ahead of his time when it came to sex and marriage and gender roles. God bless your mama.

#125 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 01:15 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 112

The concept that I have to defer to some person, group, or god outside myself for the definition of my morality and motivation for adhering to it really bothers me. I am not an atheist, but like atheists I do not require a god or any other outside entity to keep me from doing wrong. In fact, I'm insulted by the notion that I would need to be forced, cajoled, or bribed into doing things that I know I should do.

Constance Ash @ 113 makes the very important point that religion and spirituality are not directly related. One's personal relation to the universe is not (well, shouldn't be) dependent on others or on the dogma of a group. As I frequently say, "Organization is to religion as meetings are to art".

#126 ::: bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 01:58 AM:

I'm annoyed by the common assertion, made perhaps for the sake of fairness, that left and right are equally irrational. It really isn't true. Altemeyer calls the authoritarian tendency "right wing" for a reason.

#120, Albatross, for example:

The safety and desirability of nuclear power, evolutionary psychology arguments about the origin of sex roles, the race/IQ correlation, differences in aptitudes between women and men, all are areas where I've seen a fair number of liberals react to factual questions and attempts to answer them with about the same rationality that the Fallwells and Robertsons use when dealing with evolution

EvPsych and the distribution of aptitudes between the sexes or the races are hardly settled science. My impression is that they're considered speculative, not capable of being answered by our current body of knowledge (and burdened with truly odious pedigrees).

The safety of nuclear power will remain an open question as long as it's in use, as will the safety of motor vehicles and medical procedures. Agriculture involving genetically modified plants is a can of worms, ecologically and economically speaking.

Note, please, that the hippie-dippy types opposing nuclear power or genetically modified crops aren't generally denying the principles of their operation or claiming they're the work of demons, but rather arguing that their risks may well outweigh the benefits, which people of good will may dispute.

#127 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 02:06 AM:

Dan @ 51: "Now, you're welcome to continue on about pretty buildings and whatnots, bt hnstly cldn't cr lss t hr t."

Oh, you have struck me to the very quick! 'Struth, architecture lies at the very heart of my argument, and to see it dismissed in such a cavalier fashion burdens me awfully.

Sarcasm aside, Dan, you seem quite happy to hold religion to account for acts of religiously-inspired censorship, but you refuse to give it credit for equally inspired acts of creation and discovery. If you want to define religion solely as all the bad things that it has been responsible for, and none of the good, then you'll have a very solid argument. There's no shortage of actrocities against progress committed in the name of religion. If, on the other hand, you give it equal credit for the times when it has sheltered and aided (even when so narrowly defined as 'scientific') progress, things aren't nearly so clear-cut. Being blind to the good that has come of religion is just as stupid as being blind to its ills.

#128 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 03:56 AM:

Emma @ 99: I don't consider your approach muddled theology; indeed, that's more or less how I treat the subject.

The point I was trying to make was a bit subtler: namely, that the "how" that science is uncovering about origins doesn't in itself *require* God or other supernatural causes behind it.

Back before the theory of evolution developed, in contrast, it was arguably a lot harder to conceive or believe in a "how" that didn't require God or the supernatural to explain the origin of life and humanity. So it was easier to believe in God by default because one couldn't "honestly conceive of a universe in which He doesn't exist" (to lift a quote from a recent Boing Boing commentator, albeit one used in a different sense.)

If that's what one's faith rests on, though, finding out that one has "no need of that hypothesis" (to quote Laplace) where one thought it was necessary could well threaten it. Much of what gets argued by creationists and "Intelligent Design" proponents is an attempt to make God necessary again to a theory of the origin of life. As the title of this thread indicates, though, that's often done in ways that aren't simply ignorant but deceptive.

#129 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 04:56 AM:

Emma, #99:


I don't find this a problem. As I said to a fundie acquaintance, I don't know why God used these tools to create this Universe, but I'm sure She'll be kind enough to enlighten me when I meet Him.

To me, God is a Why and science is a How.

The problem with that approach is that the more the how is explained, the less room there is for a why, and any god you would like to have has to be either in conflict with the science or more and more abstract. You could say that before the Big Bang, there was a god who set it in motion and that's it, but that is hardly satisfying.

#130 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 04:58 AM:

John Mark Ockerbloom: Slight gloss: evolution does not explain the "origin of life". It says nothing about how life originally arose. Rather, it explains the origin of species. Evolution holds that descent with small variations over time, coupled with natural selection, is sufficient to account for the variety of life on Earth. Being sufficient, evolution does not need the supernatural to explain this variety.

The term for the hypothesis that life arose by natural means from earlier, simpler, non-living matter is abiogenesis.

#131 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 05:10 AM:

The problem with that approach is that the more the how is explained, the less room there is for a why....

Speak for yourself. I mean, if your concept of God is that puny, I can see why you have no interest, but remember it is your concept.

The idea that continued scientific progress somehow chips away at God is ridiculous to me.

#132 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 05:54 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 59: "I think fear lies at the base of it -- fear of change, fear of loss of status and power, fear that pretentions will be revealed for what they are -- and that, it seems to me, is rather sad."

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, then. I do not deny that fear is a powerful force among those who would deny inconvenient evidence, but I find that the will to dominate is an equally powerful motivation for many. If you put that under the heading of fear as well, I can see your point, though to me they seem distinct.

ethan @ 70: "Bruce Cohen, abi, anyone else who's saying that religion is a necessary part of being human: what do you make of people who have absolutely no, and I mean zero, religious impulse, and on a fundamental level cannot grasp what it is that people mean when they talk about faith? Because, trust me, we exist."
This reminds me of something I once heard about the psychology of sex: apparently, there isn't a single universal sexual denominator. There's not one single thing that is guaranteed to be considered sexy by everyone.* The more I've thought about that fact, the more I've come to realize that that it is probably just as true about many so-called universal human experiences. It's possible that there isn't anything that one can point to and say, "That is universally and unarguably true for every person."**

On the other hand. I grew up an unflinching atheist, always ready with a bagful of scoffs for any expression of spirituality unfortunate enough to cross my path. Somehow, though, along the way I developed a healthy respect for spirituality and faith, without losing any of my atheism. Without making this post way too long,† I'll just say that it's possible to have faith in a lot of things besides god, and that there's a big difference between religion and faith. Often, those who have the most of one have the least of the other.

*The inverse of this being that there's nothing that you can guarantee isn't sexy to someone. Thus: Quantum Fetish Mechanics.
**This would explain why efforts to determine what exactly makes humans human has had so little success.‡
†Feel free to snicker at this point.
‡Which would also suggest that perhaps we ought to stop trying to define humanity and *DELETED UNDER THE DCMA AT THE REQUEST OF THE SFWA*

#133 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 06:01 AM:

Bruce @ 125: Between "Organization is to religion as meetings are to art" and "Any sufficiently unreliable technology is indistinguishable from superstition," you've just been really quotable recently.

#134 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 06:06 AM:

#131 hamletta: Speak for yourself.

I think that's pretty much assumed in here, isn't it? That we're all speaking for ourselves?

I mean, if your concept of God is that puny, I can see why you have no interest, but remember it is your concept.

Hmm. Probably it's because I'm a male and so panic whenever the word "puny" is mentioned, but -- just speaking for myself, of course -- this seems a bit aggressive to me. This is a very tetchy subject so we might do well to tread a bit lightly. Martin's point seemed reasonable to me, whether I agree with it or not is not relevant, but it didn't seem particularly aggressive.

The idea that continued scientific progress somehow chips away at God is ridiculous to me.

This is what I would like to hear more about. In what way(s) does it seem ridiculous to you?

#135 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 06:56 AM:

Lila 116:

God changed his mind about shrimp.

Incidentally, that passage (Acts 10) also addresses Lee's point at 63 about "He who does a good thing in the name of another god does it for me". Cornelius the centurion wasn't a Jew or a Christian. As a professional Roman soldier at that date he was likely a Mithraist, but he could have been a good old fashioned pagan. Whatever, his piety was acceptable to the God of the New Testament.

Also, Bruce Cohen, somewhere upthread, apologies for not acknowledging your response to me yesterday - I was dragged away from the computer and the conversation had moved on by the time I got back.

#136 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 07:58 AM:

Lila #116: I am reminded of the story of the translation of the New Testament into an indigenous language in South America that replaced 'donkey' with a long-eared animal more familiar to the people targeted for conversion, and thus had Jesus enter Jerusalem ridding on a rabbit.

I like shrimp. And lobster.

#137 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 08:04 AM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #125: I find that the principle of treating others as ends, not means works very well (as does not asking about the horses). Morality is about how we treat our fellow human beings, and the rest of the world, and while children might need to be told how to behave, as adults we should be able to work out principles that allow us to play well with others.

#138 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 08:11 AM:

Heresiarch #132: I see your point, but power (and the maintenance thereof) doesn't explain a lot of the hysterical opposition to the teaching of evolution or geology.* Fear that an entire world-view is under threat, does.

* The idiot in Lawrenceville, up the road from me, who tried to get the Harry Potter books banned from the school libraries is another example -- fear of things that challenge her worldview, rather than threats to her power seem to be at the root.

#139 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 09:00 AM:

I tried posting something before and the whole thing bleeped at my end and disappeared, so if this is a duplicate, please delete!

Bruce@ 123: Exactly!!!

Martin @ 129: Why in the world would that be hardly satisfying? Think of the "whys" in that "how". Why would God just set an Universe in motion and let it go? Is there something He requires of us? Or is She simply doing it for the fun of it and inviting us to join the fun? Are all His universes the same? Etc.,etc., etc. Questions upon questions, all reaching closer to Her, and all generating more questions. FUN!

And it does remind me that Freemasons (my father and his friends at least) referred to God as "the great Architect."

And on that note: Are we Limehouse or Belgravia?

#140 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 09:07 AM:

Heresiarch @ 132... there's nothing that you can guarantee isn't sexy to someone. Thus: Quantum Fetish Mechanics.

Watch that wave collapse.
Woohoo!!!

#141 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 09:25 AM:

chris y @ #135: While I appreciate the effort, "all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air" does not appear to me to include shrimp, who live in the water. I suppose you could make a case for them as creeping things. What the NT needs is a good midrash....

And of course, the blended fabrics thing still stands.(/snark)

#142 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 09:31 AM:

BadJim #126:

Hmmm. I think the main point here is that conservatives don't have any kind of monopoly on wanting to throw away science when they don't like it's conclusions. The big conservative anti-science position involves evolution, and it's capital-C crazy, especially in its literal-truth-of-Genesis wing. (This requires you to discard pretty much every science that touches on reality at all; astronomy, geology, archeology, biology, physics, they all contradict Genesis. Reality is frustratingly consistent.)

As far as the specific issues go, some (a lot of the evolutionary psych stuff) *are* pretty speculative, and I always cringe at how quickly some people will whip out a just-so story from some imagined ancestral environment to explain whatever data they have. On the other hand, I think the broad data on IQ is at least as solid as the climate modeling that forms the basis of concerns about global warming. IMO, people push back against that data because they don't like its implications, and *that* pushback comes almost exclusively from the left.

A pretty fundamental issue here is that most political issues aren't decided rationally, but emotionally, or by group-membership issues. This is presumably why I can ask how you feel about gun control to find out whether you believe in evolution, with reasonable accuracy. ("Think of it as evolution in action.") Some questions of fact are intricately intertwined with questions of policy, and this often leads to turning those questions of fact into political or moral questions. And this is just dead wrong--questions of fact can't be answered by moral reasoning or political compromise, but only by experiment and observation and reasoning from those. But most people can't take part in that process, or even understand much of it.

#143 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 09:34 AM:

Heresiarch @ 133

Thank you. I've been procaticing poetry lately; it's probably ironic that the skills that make for good poetry can also be applied to creating bumper stickers and other aphorisms.

#144 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 09:41 AM:

Dave Luckett @ 130: Thanks for the clarification of my somewhat sloppy phrasing. Evolution strictly speaking concerns itself with the origins of the diverse forms of life from common ancestry, not the origin of life itself. (But most arguments I've seen for God from nature seem to rely a lot more about the wonders of all the different kinds of plants and animals than the wonders of viruses, prokaryotes, and other primitive or quasi- living entities.)

My non-biologist impression of the abiogenesis issue is that, while there is no current consensus on a particular natural mechanism that gave rise to life (as generally agreed upon) from non-life (as generally agreed upon), that the existence of a particular natural mechanism is plausible and may eventually be confirmed and generally accepted. If and when that happens, that will pose a similarly strong challenge for folks who are thinking "Ah, but you need God to explain *this* part of natural history." (This class of challenges is generally known to both theists and non-theists as the "god of the gaps" problem, I believe.)

#145 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 09:42 AM:

Lila 141: I'd sort of assumed that "creeping things" were shrimp, since there's not a bid tradition of eating worms and insects in those parts, but I could be wrong.

I'm right behind the ban on blended fabrics though - those things will not hold their shape.

#146 ::: David Hodson ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 09:56 AM:

Martin @ 129:

To me, God is a Why and science is a How.

(What, Science doesn't get a capital?)
This phrase has always bugged me. "Why" seems to have two main meanings - "what circumstances lead to this", and "for what reason did someone do this". The former is just How again. The latter assumes the existence of a purposeful being, which doesn't help to justify religion unless you're already a theist.

#147 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 10:07 AM:

Bruce Cohen #122: Do you mean that the impulse to sociality (I have no idea if I'm talking about this in sensible terms, by the way) and the impulse to...er...religiosity are the same impulse? If you are, I find that interesting, but I'm not sure how I feel about it. Certainly people talk about the two in wildly different ways.

Serge #140: It's quantum fetish mechanics, not quantum mechanic fetish.

#148 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 10:11 AM:

A lucid examination of the multiple meanings of "Why" in science can be found in Arthur Lander's A Calculus of Purpose:

Why is the sky blue? Any scientist will answer this question with a statement of mechanism: Atmospheric gas scatters some wavelengths of light more than others. To answer with a statement of purpose—e.g., to say the sky is blue in order to make people happy—would not cross the scientific mind. Yet in biology we often pose “why” questions in which it is purpose, not mechanism, that interests us. The question “Why does the eye have a lens?” most often calls for the answer that the lens is there to focus light rays, and only rarely for the answer that the lens is there because lens cells are induced by the retina from overlying ectoderm.

#149 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 10:14 AM:

Michael Weholt @ 134

Just from a mathematical point of view (which has to be an analogy I guess, but we're reduced to waving our hands on this subject no matter how hard we try to be precise) any finite reduction of the scope or power of an infinite being (assuming we're talking about a God of First Causes here) has to fail to have any effect.

I'm not advocating this position, by the way. My own position on the existence of God is that She knows much more about it than I ever can, and anything I say on the subject has to come from near total ignorance and confusion. Of course the same is true for anything said by any other human being.

#150 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 10:24 AM:

ethan @ 147

This is probably a highly heterodox point of view, from just about every other vantage point on the question, but yes, I think religion and human community are the results of the same deep root cause: the need for us to be a part of something other than ourselves. The differences between the two are the results of the influences of other parts of our evolution: the need to discover patterns on religion, and the need for comfort from parents and troop-mates on community.

Come to think of it, I think Sir Arthur Clarke has said some things along this line. There's a scene at the end of The Fountains of Paradise, where a visiting alien remarks that only warm-blooded mammal-analogs who raise their young in family-like groups ever develop religion.

#151 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 10:46 AM:

#149 Bruce Cohen: Just from a mathematical point of view ... any finite reduction of the scope or power of an infinite being (assuming we're talking about a God of First Causes here) has to fail to have any effect.

Sorry, I have no (or, very little) idea what that means. Either my math or my theology is too feeble, I guess.

#152 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 11:03 AM:

I'll also jump on the bandwagon of people who like Bruce's recent comments! Couldn't find the original for the nice twist that Heresiarch cites in #133 ("Any sufficiently unreliable technology is indistinguishable from superstition"), but it certainly shows that many versions of that "sufficiently" aphorism can apply to the workings of human minds.

Tweak it to "sufficiently unreliable (unadvanced) scientific theory" as superstition, and it becomes a paraphrase of this from John Mark Ockerbloom (#128): Back before the theory of evolution developed, in contrast, it was arguably a lot harder to conceive or believe in a "how" that didn't require God or the supernatural to explain the origin of life and humanity.

As for Heresiarch (#132) on "fear" vs. "the will to dominate" in religion, I see this as two personality types: bullying believers and meek believers (Dominants and submissives?)

#153 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 11:13 AM:

Michael Weholt @ 151

Even the lowest order of infinity*, ℵ0, the number of integers, can never be reduced to finiteness by subtracting a finite quantity from it, or dividing it by a finite number

* There are an infinite number of incommensurate infinities, in a tower of larger and larger ones. Google for Georg Cantor if you want to know more.

#154 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 11:18 AM:

ethan @ 147... It's quantum fetish mechanics, not quantum mechanic fetish

Details, details... Either way, it sounds like something we'd hear about in Eureka's sex shop.

#155 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 11:28 AM:

albatross @ 142: On the other hand, I think the broad data on IQ is at least as solid as the climate modeling that forms the basis of concerns about global warming. IMO, people push back against that data because they don't like its implications, and *that* pushback comes almost exclusively from the left.

You don't say what the implications are, but if they involve IQ as a measure of innate intelligence, then they're obvious nonsense, unless you're willing to believe that Africans are, on average, so mentally retarded as to have trouble dressing themselves, and that the innate, genetically based intelligence of Americans rose by an astonishing amount over the last century through some sort of evolutionary miracle.

#156 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 11:47 AM:

Most of us want to belong with something. We may find that need fulfilled in belonging to a land, or with a group with similar beliefs, those beliefs being based purely on a physical world, or one that has something beyond Nature, or a combination of all those things. There's room enough for all of them. I think.

#157 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 11:49 AM:

The bounded precept for *some* religionists my start with "I fear.." Mine starts with "I love and am loved..."

I teach Sunday school.

And something I say several times a year to each class is "The Bible contains truth. That does not mean it is accurate."

#158 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 12:28 PM:

ethan, what Bruce Cohen said at 150, and also: I suspect that the religious impulse arises at the intersection of sociality and the deep-seated need to play dress-up and speak in poetry. There's a reason so many theatrical traditions have roots in religion. This is, of course, distinct from "faith," the having of which is not vital in order to get something out of communal ritual.

On the subject of faith, though, I have to feel like the idea of "the god of the gaps" - at least as it's used as an argument against faith by non-theists - begs the question more than a little. It's really not that every person who has some variety of theistic inclination is always looking for things in creation that only God(s) could have done, hoping for a tiny ineffable miracle at the moment non-life becomes life; it's that, for some people at least, "God" is a convenient and of-necessity-inadequate shorthand for talking about the sense of awe and wonder and numinous joy of being in a universe that works that way in the first place. (I know this makes a lot of people exasperated, who then ask why one would "need" to talk about the universe in this way; to me, this feels like nothing so much as someone who's gone straightedge wanting you to feel like a weak-willed failure because you have a glass of wine with dinner, and who makes no distinction between that and being a junkie living in a box.)

#159 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 12:34 PM:

Martin, #129: On of my favorite buttons says, "God created physics, God created evolution, and the remainder is left as an exercise for the student."

And, really, why should God not use labor-saving shortcuts? We certainly do, and the argument is that we are made in his image!

Fragano, #137: Because the term "morality" has been so very thoroughly hijacked by the fundies, I prefer to use "ethics" in that kind of discussion. But I can see reasons for continuing to use "morality" under certain circumstances, or in an effort to reclaim the word.

Bruce, #143: Don't be surprised if I occasionally contact you to see if a concept we'd like to turn into a sticker can be polished up a bit. :-)

ethan, #147: I think the concept involved here is "community". Some people get it from religion, some get it from a hobby group such as fandom or contradancing, some get it from identifying with a sports team, college, or country, and others get it by participating in online communities. But it all involves wanting to belong.

There was a famous survey done back around the early 70s (which I wouldn't begin to know how to look for online) in which people were asked why they went to church... and the answer "for spiritual enlightenment and direction" didn't even make the top 10. The top 3 answers IIRC (and I don't recall in which order) were: because it's what people are supposed to do; for networking purposes; and to be seen attending church.

Michael, #151: It's a variation on the mathematics of the infinite. There is no finite mathematical operation you can perform on an infinite number which will in any way make it less than infinite.

Example: the integers are an infinite set. subtracting one (or 10, or 1,000,000) from that set doesn't make it "less infinite"; dividing it by two doesn't make it "less infinite" because the set of even integers is also infinite. Does that help?

Craig, #157: Hear, hear! I have been drawing a strong distinction for years now between love-based and fear-based (or hate-based) Christianity. It's the latter, not the former, which wants to take away my civil rights and turn me back into a chattel animal.

#160 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 12:52 PM:

Ethan, @147: I'm not sure that the Will to Sociality (I've no idea what to call it either) is quite what I'm understanding here--nor the Will to Community (Bruce Cohen, @150, if I'm following your point) or even the Desire to Belong (Serge, @ 156). Or that isn't/those concepts aren't exactly what I'm groping towards. What I'm getting out of this discussion--and I've never thought about it in quite this context before, so bear with me--is that human beings possess a powerful urge to try to make sense of the universe. Or to insist that the universe must make sense somehow, even if we can't immediately see it? To organize the whole mess, perhaps, at least in terms of our personal minds and world-views. That urge can lead to the construction of a religion, or a political system, or--all sorts of things.

It's an interesting concept, anyway.

#161 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 01:00 PM:

#120 albatross: Fair enough point: it does seem unlikely that there are two types of people in the world, and the reasonable people are liberals. ;) How about this: the cultural mores of the liberal set include "science is cool!", so arguing from science is more likely to make an impact on a liberal.

I had forgotten "desirability of nuclear power", good catch. "EvDev sexist racist bullshit just-so stories" are something I've run into only from libertarians so far: they're part and parcel of libertarian blindness to the effects of systemic bias on historically oppressed groups. It's interesting that they dress it up with the trappings of science: I'd place EvDev as the Intelligent Design of libertarians.

#145 chris y: Heresy! A 45:55 cotton:linen blend is the best fabric in existence and holds its shape quite nicely! ;)

#162 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 01:12 PM:

chris y @ #145, well, John the Baptist ate locusts and wild honey....

re IQ, the controversy is largely about what a score on an IQ test signifies, and whether or not it correlates with a unitary quality called "general intelligence". That's a hard issue to resolve via research.

re love-based vs. fear-based religion, a tangentially appropriate quotation:

"I've had the privilege of knowing a few saints who devoted their lives to imitating and demonstrating the love of God. These people also became models of God's holiness. I've also known many pious folk who devoted their lives to imitating and demonstrating the holiness of God. None of those people ever seemed to become a model of God's love." --Fred Clark, The Slacktivist, "God Hates Divorce", July 19, 2007

#163 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 01:17 PM:

As there is no consensus on what the word "intelligence" actually means, in rigorous terms, there can be no consensus on how it is to be measured, or on what the various attempts to quantify it actually mean.

#164 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 01:36 PM:

#159 Lee: Does that help?

Perfectly clear. Thank you.

I thought -- intuitively I suppose -- that's what he meant. Sadly, I don't always tengo the lingo.

#165 ::: kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 01:52 PM:

Ethan @147,

One thought I've had is that some forms of religion deeply satisfy ancient parts of our brains, just on a pragmatic level, nothing to do with our sense of the numinous or joy or connectedness with all the world.

My not-entirely-sarcastic pop science:
First, humans come from a 90 million year old line of social mammals. (Oldest primates at 88 mya iirc. The next-closest to primates in the Big Tree are bats, also quite social mammals.)

Second, within those 90 million years, we as great apes have 20+ million years of mirror neurons, the (seems to be) uniquely ours neurons+ability to build virtual versions of other people in our wetware. (Ours= great apes.)

We want to build homunculus, we need to build them: it's a survival skill in our 20 million year old social circles*.

Part of that need for mirroring is that knowing the group dynamics- especially heirarchies and power structures- promotes reproductive success. Mostly that implies we want to be the alpha or alpha-groupies. However, it also means rebelliousness or staying on the edge is also useful. If the alpha is leading everyone else towards the droughtlands, then not following is helpful.

And then for at least the past 500,000 years we humans absolutely have needed to have social continuity as part of living in groups. This is ever since we evolved to have babies too large for a woman to give birth alone.

Therefore, [handwaving], we will trend towards deep comfort if we know who the alphas are in our group. In addition and separately, being close to the alpha scratches very ancient itches in our brain. Those ancient circuits believe in alphas.

If you then assume a Perfect Alpha- always the leader, always knowing what everyone in the group is doing, and if we with our mirror neurons can be made to contemplate this alpha, well, that'll be very satisfying behavior. Comforting. Addictive. If we can be close to the Alpha, even better. If we can predict the Alpha- wow, 20 million years of mirror neurons are happy.

But if you don't have the "love to be in a big crowd knowing exactly where you fit" tendency, then the Big Alpha isn't going to do much for you.

And that's my not-entirely-for-fun theory.

fyi, Bonobos (Homo paniscus) have a creation mythology, with a very large grandmother chimp that lives in the deep jungle.

-----------
* elsewhere I've theorized that mirror neurons are part of what makes books work. A good book hooks into our deep biology, nevermind that books themselves are only 5000 years old.

#166 ::: Glen Davidson ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 02:24 PM:

#158 Layman-Kennedy:

On the subject of faith, though, I have to feel like the idea of "the god of the gaps" - at least as it's used as an argument against faith by non-theists - begs the question more than a little. It's really not that every person who has some variety of theistic inclination is always looking for things in creation that only God(s) could have done, hoping for a tiny ineffable miracle at the moment non-life becomes life; it's that, for some people at least, "God" is a convenient and of-necessity-inadequate shorthand for talking about the sense of awe and wonder and numinous joy of being in a universe that works that way in the first place. (I know this makes a lot of people exasperated, who then ask why one would "need" to talk about the universe in this way; to me, this feels like nothing so much as someone who's gone straightedge wanting you to feel like a weak-willed failure because you have a glass of wine with dinner, and who makes no distinction between that and being a junkie living in a box.)

I have two reactions to the above. One is that I too get exasperated with people who don't get that spiritual "connection" as a reason for religion. The other is that I get exasperated with religious folk who think that if you aren't religious in any way that you are thereby not spiritual.

Indeed, some thinkers like Nietzsche wanted to tear down the churches because of the deadening of what we (he did not) might call "spirituality" by the churches. But then, Nietzsche's madman is the only one in a crowd of atheists who recognizes the serious problem posed by the "death of God".

To put it tritely, you can get high off of religion. But you don't need religion to avoid total immersion in the reductionism and abstraction that some naive atheists think is the only alternative to the transparent meaninglessness of religion (meaningless by itself, at least).

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

#167 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 02:39 PM:

fyi, Bonobos (Homo paniscus) have a creation mythology, with a very large grandmother chimp that lives in the deep jungle.

Seriously?! Like, the signing bonobos told the researchers that?

Combine this with the chimps that are starting to live in caves and use spears, and it's damn well official: chimps are...I'd use a scientific word but I can never remember whether "sentient" or "sapient" is the word I want. I say, give 'em fire and stand back.

#168 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 02:45 PM:

And now, ladies and gents...
A musical break appropriate for this thread's subject...
"Morning Has Broken"

#169 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 02:48 PM:
tradition of eating worms and insects

Worms are out. Locusts, however, are kosher. And that means the insect, not locust-bean, or carob (which is kosher because it's a fruit).

#170 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 02:53 PM:
fyi, Bonobos (Homo paniscus) have a creation mythology, with a very large grandmother chimp that lives in the deep jungle.

Seriously?! Like, the signing bonobos told the researchers that?

No. Really, absolutely not.

This is a good capsule summary of where current bonobo research is at:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/07/30/070730fa_fact_parker?printable=true

#171 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 02:57 PM:

Carrie @167
It isn't published research- I believe they need to corroborate it, in case the one bonobo overheard people talking- but it is from a source that I trust to not tell stories as if they're real.

I suppose for now it should be treated as 'interesting if true, but wait for corroboration' until you hear it from the same types of sources I did.

#172 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 03:02 PM:
"EvDev sexist racist bullshit just-so stories"

I am not sure what "EvDev" means here, but I would like to stress that a similar abbreviation, evo-devo, is short for "understanding evolution via embryonic development", and makes no sexist or racist claims whatsoever.

#173 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 03:13 PM:
Carrie @167 It isn't published research- I believe they need to corroborate it, in case the one bonobo overheard people talking- but it is from a source that I trust to not tell stories as if they're real.

I call shenanigans.

I've been tracking reports on animal intelligence for a few years now; I am quite fascinated by the topic (see link above). But going from "A bonobo, in certain circumstances, will make simple sentences in sign language using nouns and verbs" to "Bonobos have their own creation myth" is ... I'm sorry, bullshit is the only word that comes to mind.

#174 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 03:38 PM:

Is this language necessary, Owlmirror?

#175 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 03:52 PM:

I could speak, er, write, in tongues, but I don't think that would translate as well.

#176 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 04:06 PM:

Tim: I think the APA statement on _The Bell Curve_ (you can Google for it, and it's linked from the Wikipedia article on _The Bell Curve_was supposed to be a reasonable summary of the known results from IQ studies. People in the field definitely know about the Flynn effect, the problem with cross-cultural comparisons of IQ scores, etc.

#177 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 04:07 PM:

Owlmirror... (Doing my best Curly Joe impersonation) "Wise guy, eh?"

#178 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 04:28 PM:

Madeline F 161:

Yeah, I think the default is that the left tends to be more pro-science and the right tends to be more pro-technology. Though I think there we get down to how the left and right put their coalitions together--the part of the right that's enthusiastic about nuclear power probably has very little overlap with the part that's convinced that the theory of evolution is a grand conspiracy of atheistic scientists.

I think when you start labeling an attempt at an explanation or a scientific finding or hypothesis in moral or political terms (racist, sexist, homophobic), you're turning a question of fact into a question of morals, which is a pretty guaranteed lose. Goofy just-so stories can be made up to support almost any position, and they ought to be attacked because they're goofy just so stories, not because of the moral status of their claims.

I hereby demonstrate that we are evolved to be kind and generous and nice to strangers: See, in the EEA, we were all in little tribes that needed shared genetic material to avoid inbreeding and trade to allow a large enough population to get decent levels of specialization. Trade with outsiders, especially of different races and cultures, was a great opportunity for our ancestors to do these things. Tribes that were friendly with people different from them got better trade and ideas and genes, and within a tribe, genes that led you to be more friendly with funny-looking strangers improved your fitness. Therefore, it is natural for us to make peace with those around us and embrace diversity. Our culture simply teaches hatred because it's evil and twisted, and in a state of nature, we'd all naturally love one another.

See, this is a morally really nice result. But it's complete BS, a happy just-so story. If you judge the hypothesis based on the moral consequences of the claimed result, you will buy into a huge, steaming load of BS. Do that often, and you'll have a whole big structure of false but reassuring beliefs leading you astray and preventing any consideration of what conditions really prevailed for our ancestors.

#179 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 04:44 PM:

I get exasperated with people who use the word "spiritual" as if they know what it means to people who don't believe in spirits.

It means nothing to me.

Vienna.

#180 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 04:44 PM:

Madeline F 161:

I like this phrase very much:
"libertarian blindness to the effects of systemic bias on historically oppressed groups"

I think libertarians (I'm at least a fellow traveler myself) tend to have a lot of good models for individual-to-individual interactions (basically neoclassical economics). In situations that can be understood best as an individual making a rational decision based on his own interests, whether interacting with other individuals or with a larger organization, libertarians get good answers; often, they get better answers than the mainstream view (IMO, anyway).

But when individual decisions are overwhelmed by some kind of group interactions, libertarians have lousy models for those. For example, libertarians tend to have a hard time understanding racial discrimination and nationalism, because neither one fits their models well. This leads to one of the more interesting rifts on the right, between the libertarian side that likes more-or-less open borders, and the social conservative side that hates that idea.

#181 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 05:18 PM:

#172 Owlmirror: EvDev stands for evolutionary development, the latest series of "theories" purporting to show that white men are on top of the world and get all the best stuff because of genetics. Evolutionary psychology is another term for the same set of crap. Actually, having poked around on the internet some, it looks like evolutionary psychology or sociobiology are the appropriate terms: evolutionary development mainly refers to "development of different species" instead of "development of different cultures". Dangit, my bad, sorry for being all confusing.

#178 albatross: Naw, that's a common misconception. "Racist" and "sexist" and so forth are descriptive, not moral, terms. So many pointless arguments run, "that's racist"/"I'm not a bad person!!!" The two things aren't necessarily related. That guy may not actually be a bad person, but in that instance he's being a racist person.

Of course, a lot of people think "racist" is a bad thing to be, and good for them. Still, it's a lot like "marxist." Some people think it's a good thing to be.

As for your happy story, how is it falsifiable?

#182 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 05:25 PM:

Heresiarch, #39:

It's possible that you shouldn't enlist Spinoza on the side of religion--I just read Betraying Spinoza by Rebecca Goldstein, and Spinoza may have been the world's first known securlarist.

Sandy B., #62

I agree that the commandment against bearing false witness doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves. I suspect that's because most people would rather think about sex and violence. Accuracy is low-key stuff by comparison.

ID and the like means that science has won--literalists are trying to make the Bible meet a standard of material truth.

#183 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 05:27 PM:

albatross @ 176: Tim: I think the APA statement on _The Bell Curve_ (you can Google for it, and it's linked from the Wikipedia article on _The Bell Curve_) was supposed to be a reasonable summary of the known results from IQ studies.

I'll read this when I get a chance. In the meantime, I read the Wikipedia summary, and it contains exactly nothing offensive to liberal sensibilities (this liberal's, anyway). So I'm still in the dark as to what the "implications" are to which you've found that liberals have a knee-jerk negative reaction.

#184 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 05:50 PM:

#138 -- Burros / asses / mules / horses quickly thrived in Mexico and South America, so why would they want to change the ass to a cottontail? And why not a llama or alpaca?

This puzzles me exceedingly, even though, as you know, dear F., I really should be puzzling on other matters right now!

Or -- is the answer to this puzzle to be found in this true story of a young evangelical Lutheran Church Missouri Synod member from Nebraska, who couldn't wait to get her purty little ass to a deeply Roman Catholic area of Mexico, famous for its baroque cathedrals and statuary of the saints, the Virgin and the Christ, "And bring them the name of Jesus Christ for the first time." She also appeared to think that Mexico was located somewhere to the east of Omaha.

Oyá I am so embarrassed to say she is an in-law .... That is what has happened to religion, and what religion has done, in and to, this nation in the last 40 years.

I was taught far better than that in my church's bible studies back when I was an adolescent. Geography, spelling, history, all that was part of our Bible study.

Love, C.

#185 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 05:54 PM:

@170

I am entirely unsure how to respond to the charge of 'shenanigans' and 'bullshit.' Responding as if I'd read inquiry instead of profanity rewards the profanity.

--------------------
About that NewYorker article: Frans de Waals wrote back about that bonobo article. In short

1. The Parker article covers nothing about Bonobo language studies (other than mentioning that they exist). It is purportedly about field research.

2. Frans de Waals suggests that Parker's piece is inaccurate and contradictory, that "Parker presented his trip as a fact-finding mission that had unearthed revolutionary new insights" when no such thing happened. Frans de Waals corroborates his suggestions.

It was a popular article, though: "Given that the bonobo’s reputation has been a thorn in the side of homophobes as well as Hobbesians, the right-wing media jumped with delight. The bonobo “myth” could finally be put to rest. Parker’s piece was gleefully picked up by The Wall Street Journal and Dinesh D’Souza."

#186 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 06:02 PM:

Owlmirror, #172: Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny? *Spock eyebrow*

#187 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 06:03 PM:

#165 -- Katherine from Sunnyvale -- that is a most interesting post.

Not least is it interesting for the contraries to it that reading your post immediately provoked in my own very contrary nature / mind-set (or the pessimist coz 'you're a farmer, you're from Nordakota," as my most beloved teases me so often) -- our equal need for the Romantic Ideal of the Loner -- the Bryonic hero in Europe, and here, in the U.S. -- the strong, silent solitary, ranging from Natty Bumpo to Shane to Viggo Mortensen's characters as Strider, as the principal in The History of Violence,, and now, reprised again, in Eastern Promises: the alpha who operates alone, and has no followers, at least not any that he recruits, himself, on his own behalf.

Kinda Ayn Randish that.

But that also brings up the observation so very far above concerning the urge to hide from fear and the urge to dominate. The two tend to be a team. The successful leaders, for good, or for bad (Hitler, demagogues, neoCONS, etc.), are Olympic class in putting the two in harness, working together, to pull his / her own chariot.

Love, C.

#188 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 06:14 PM:

#179 -- What then about people who have indeed learned there is a spiritual dimension to life, through dealings with death, with suffering, with ecstasy?

All of these have brought me to an awareness of this dimension.

This isn't part of any 'organized religion' at all. Or caused by it. It is entirely personal.

As well as what I can only humbly testify to learning by living very closely for a time with people in a prolonged period during which there was never ever enough food for anybody, not even people like me who could pay for it.

I learned then that the sacred in terms of that culture, which welcomed me so generously and openly, that this musical and danced path did open you to the Spirits, and that this gave you the strength to endure and to survive the hunger and the repression and suffering and the hypertensive stress that is living in this situation -- and provide you joy as well. Joy in remaining alive.

Love, C.

#189 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 06:40 PM:

I think that's pretty much assumed in here, isn't it? That we're all speaking for ourselves?

Yeah, but something about Mr. Wisse's phrasing kind of came off like a statement of fact, rather than opinion. But now that I look at it again, I was probably assuming too much.

This is what I would like to hear more about. In what way(s) does it seem ridiculous to you?

Short answer 'cause I gotta run: Because scientific discovery exposes more of God's handiwork.

#190 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 06:57 PM:

Constance Ash #184: Burros/asnos don't thrive much in Amazonia, which is where this particular target group was located.

#191 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 07:01 PM:

Constance Ash #184: Your in-laws case reminds me of the annoyance of a friend of mine, who teaches history at another institution in the New York of the South, at a student who contrasted Catholics and Christians. Down here, in the land of Baptists (both Southern and National) that happens a lot.

#192 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 07:01 PM:

To misquote (I believe) The Weather Underground : lying for god is like fucking for virginity.

I'll refrain from any easy trinity/Mary jokes.

Seriously, though, I'm a pure miscreant (not atheist, not agnostic, miscreant). One of the nicest compliment ever made to me came from a proselyte who, tears in the eyes, could only find in himself to tell me "You're Evil" ("Vous êtes méchant, Monsieur"). It took me years and people probably not unrelated to this place to acknowledge that religion wasn't the pure waste of time and human intelligence I had come to envision it.

Still, I have a hard time to cope with the fact that people believe in an entity defined as "god = omniscient + omnipotent (let's leave Leibniz out, please ?) + omnibenevolent", yet can't accept those simple truths: by that definition, you cannot do anything for god; you cannot do anything against god; whatever you think of anyone, whatever anyone may do, god loves that one as much as it loves you; god isn't for; god isn't against; god is beyond.

Which leaves us in our present cases with two groups of people involved in the making of this propaganda: those people that are religious but do not believe in god - they're just at what Tierno Bokar called the solid plane of faith: they respect the letter of the law at best, and do not really understand or care for its meaning, what matters to them is not the faith but the community, strength and discipline it provides; what matters to them is to be given directions and stability - and those who're not religious at all (that group again divided in two, I guess: those who have no calms about making money at the expense of "idiots", and those who think keeping others in that petty conception of religion makes them more manageable, given you then always know their general direction).
Most certainly, of course, the later are using all that propaganda to make the former a dependable tool.

Grumble... now that I've repeated most of what have already been better said, with added vomited useless personal informations, I have no more time left to address others' comments.
Damn you passing Time !

#193 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 07:20 PM:

#190 -- Thank you for the clarification that it was Amazonia! Not hospitable for equines and their relatives, certainly, or for llamas or alpacas.

This prairie daughter still has not been able to accept that rabbits can live in rainforests, thus in Amazonia.

Sometimes our culture will win out, no matter what facts our intelligence knows.

Love, C.

#194 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 07:21 PM:

hamletta @ 89: Because scientific discovery exposes more of God's handiwork.

See/hear Cat Faber's song "The Word of God". Lyrics, sheet music. There's also an MP3 of Kathy Mar singing it at Prometheus Music's Virtual Filksing. Ed Stauff did a really nice four-part choral arrangement and included it in his songbook, The Scarèd Harp.

#195 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 08:22 PM:

@#181:

#172 Owlmirror: EvDev stands for evolutionary development, the latest series of "theories" purporting to show that white men are on top of the world and get all the best stuff because of genetics. Evolutionary psychology is another term for the same set of crap. Actually, having poked around on the internet some, it looks like evolutionary psychology or sociobiology are the appropriate terms: evolutionary development mainly refers to "development of different species" instead of "development of different cultures". Dangit, my bad, sorry for being all confusing.

Um, well, I'm glad you backtracked, because PZ Myers — the one who at least part of the original post is about — is a biologist specializing in evolution and development, and is also proudly, ferociously, vociferously, as politically liberal as they get.

I think you might also be misrepresenting evolutionary psychology, but I am less familiar with that field and the politics of any particular individuals within it.


@#186:

Owlmirror, #172: Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny? *Spock eyebrow*

(\\//_) *Vulcan salute* Gesundheit!

More seriously, no, not really.

Um. PZ tackles this fairly regularly when correcting creationist misunderstanding

This might help explain things more thoroughly:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/11/well_well_wells_jonathan_wells.php

#196 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 08:53 PM:

Lying about evolution is not evidence of faith. Lying about anything is not evidence of faith. Lying to one’s co-religionists is not evidence that you care about the state of their souls or your own. So why do it?

Because fundamentalism is a flavor of authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism is threatened by independently verifiable truth. If a proposition is objectively true, or objectively false, regardless of whatever the preacher or Party or Führer may say, then that means there's a higher authority than the preacher or Party or Führer... and that's Very, Very Bad. As Orwell famously put it, freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four; authoritarianism wants two plus two to be "whatever we say it is," and for everyone else to buy it.

Creationism is a tool for destroying the faculty of critical thought. That's why they teach it in their churches, that's why they want to teach it in public schools. It's entirely about power.

#197 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 10:09 PM:

Constance Ash #184 -
"..Or -- is the answer to this puzzle to be found in this true story of a young evangelical Lutheran Church Missouri Synod member from Nebraska, who couldn't wait to get her purty little ass to a deeply Roman Catholic area of Mexico, famous for its baroque cathedrals and statuary of the saints, the Virgin and the Christ, "And bring them the name of Jesus Christ for the first time..."

Last week there a couple of ladies of what I presume were evangelical persuasions rang my door bell.

I answered the summons and spoke to them on the porch. They asked if I "was aware of Jesus Christ's plan for the world?"

I answered that I am an Episcopalian.

Whereupon one of them asked "Then you don't read the Bible?"

I said "thank you for your time, and now why don't you go back to school."

#198 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 10:20 PM:

Madeline F #181:

I've read a fair bit of evolutionary psychology, and I haven't noticed an attempt to come up with some notion of the superiority of white males or anything close to that. Is it possible you're mixing them with some other group of people? I know there are white supremacists who make evolutionary arguments of various kinds.

If you think of racist and sexist and homophobic as neutral terms rather than moral judgements, then is the universe sexist for making men taller than women? Or racist for leaving whites with many times the skin cancer risk of blacks? I have a hard time seeing those terms without a moral condemnation, which makes it kind of hard to see how to separate the moral implications of someone's data or hypothesis about, say, the origin of homosexuality, from the question of whether or not they're right.

#199 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 10:38 PM:

For a long time after I was first introduced to the concept of Christian Interdenominational Strife, I was convinced that

1) Some Christians worshipped the God who said "Love one another as I have loved you,"

2) and other Christians worshipped the God who created the world in 7 24-hour days and said to Noah "Build me an Arky-Arky,"

and though I never could figure out why anyone would choose the latter God over the former, I was fairly certain that the anti-science Creationist/ID types had indeed done so.

More recently I've come to adjust that diagnosis into something a little more nuanced. To wit: Most Christians do indeed worship God #1 (above), but some of them also believe that God fits the description of God #2, and are afraid that should they admit that the historical event in #2 has been scientifically proven to be bunk then they will have no rational reason left to believe in God #1.

That's a Biblical literalist, whose greatest fear can be summed up thusly: "If any verse of the Bible is not literally true, than how can we trust any part of the Bible? If there was not a world-wide 40-day flood, then how can we believe that there was a Savior who brought forgiveness and preached love?"

It's a very fragile faith. I feel sorry for them. Surely the worth of forgiveness and love are independent of the literal truth of the Book of Genesis? Surely a faith in life after death and God's love cannot be weakened by knowledge of genetic ties to the great apes? I don't grok the fear. But I know it exists, and I think those in its grip do suffer, so they have my sympathies.

At least until they start trying to damage others' education with it, the bastids.

#200 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 11:03 PM:

Mary Frances @ 160

Yes, I was talking about that when I said (not in so many words, would that I had) that our need to find and create patterns was a primary cause of spirituality and religion. We look at a world that is larger than we are and not amenable to our control and we try to understand it. The only way we know how to do that is to look for patterns.

I suspect that early on, people tried to apply all sorts of the patterns they saw in their own lives and extrapolate from them. So gods are an extension of the patterns of chiefs and kings and warriors, for instance. IIRC much of the Baghavad Gita is the result of tales told around the campfire of the wars between peoples when the kingdoms of Northern India decided to use their new military technology to conquer the Southerners. And similarly, many other myths and religious stories are tales grown out of trying to explain the world based on what we see around us.

#201 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 11:08 PM:

Craig R. @ 197: They asked if I "was aware of Jesus Christ's plan for the world?"

Now you've got me thinking about the Evil Overlord list.

Maybe there should be a "Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became A Saviour" list. Doing something about all the people who'd been misusing my name, and abusing my principles while claiming to be working to promote them, would be high on the list.

#202 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 11:53 PM:

a student who contrasted Catholics and Christians.

I don't think this attitude is confined to certain regions of the country. I live in California, and teach catechism to adults who wish to join the Catholic church. I have gotten used to folks coming from certain Protestant denominations who have been taught that Catholics are not "really" Christians, that we aren't allowed to read the Bible, that we believe everything the Pope says is infallible, and that we worship Mary.

Urgh.

#203 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 12:44 AM:

#198 albatross: Kevin MacDonald, the guy on the SPLC's list of "academic racists" with the most solid academic position (as a psychology professor at CSU Long Beach) calls what he does "evolutionary psychology" on his website.

If you think of racist and sexist and homophobic as neutral terms rather than moral judgements, then is the universe sexist for making men taller than women?

1. Come on, I said "descriptive", not "neutral." If you call something "mauve", that has both objective meaning, and also awakens whatever feelings the population as a whole has developed towards the color mauve.

2. Come on, you know that not every word can be used by every subject. The question of whether you think of the universe as an agent, and thus whether terms implying agency apply to it is insteresting, but not really to the point. Of this subthread, at least.

"The question of whether or not they're right" is exactly why you have to point out bigoted science. Remember how in the 60s male scientists were proving right and left that women were terrible at spatial sense and parking and so forth? And then in the 80s female scientists showed, "uh, not so much"? You have to control for sexism when you're doing studies on gender, and by definition you can't control for something you ignore or deny.

Accepting that bigotry and moral worth aren't 1:1 is the difference between "I fucked up" and "I'm a fuckup."

#204 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 01:58 AM:

Y'know, like I was petting my dog, and 'dog' is 'god' spelled backwards, so it was like I was petting god, only in reverse, like omg! Or gmo!

#205 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 02:12 AM:

Fragano @ 138: "I see your point, but power (and the maintenance thereof) doesn't explain a lot of the hysterical opposition to the teaching of evolution or geology.* Fear that an entire world-view is under threat, does."

Nor does fear entirely explain the complete denial of the existence of global warming, or the decision to invade Iraq. Power and the maintenance of power does.

I don't think that either alone is a sufficient explanation. Both are necessary. As Faren and Constance Ash have noted, the power-hungry and the fearful tend to be paired together. If you need someone to tell you what to do, you need someone who has complete certainty of their own authority. If you need to dominate others, you need someone(s) who will believe everything you say unconditionally. What they share in common is the need to believe that the authority of the master is not only unquestioned, but unquestionable--that his word is the Word of God, literally or metaphorically. If there is some other, better way of determining truth, it undercuts them both equally. Thus, they are both enemies of truth.

So they pretend that their leaders can author reality with their will alone, and stagger towards obliteration. That, I suppose, is our other ray of light: not-truth invariably destroys itself in its willful blindness. Understanding the truth is an enormous evolutionary advantage.

#206 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 05:45 AM:

Nicole, I sonetimes wonder how the fundamentalist, literal truth, Bible readers cope with the parables. Do they believe that Jesus was telling the tale of a real Prodigal Son?

Because if they don't believe that, if they accept the existence of teaching stories, there's a crack in that facade of literal truth.

#207 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 07:54 AM:

Lizzy L #202: What, I wonder, do such people make of Catholic translations of the Bible?

#208 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 08:01 AM:

Heresiarch #205: I see your point. I just want to draw a distinction between those who fear that their world-view and their emotional commitments will be undermined and those who want to impose a world-view in order to secure their power or increase it.

As J.S. Mill put it: "The real advantage which truth has, consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favourable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it."

#209 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 09:24 AM:

Fragano @ #207: I suspect that many of them have no idea such a thing exists.

#210 ::: Don't ask, don't tell ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 09:41 AM:

Noted without comment:

http://www.baylor.edu/lariat/news.php?action=story&story=47032

#211 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 10:26 AM:

Madeline F #203:

I haven't read anything by MacDonald. Maybe I'll take a look. There's a broad sort of "school" of evolutionary psychology which doesn't look the least bit racist to me; probably the best popularization is Steven Pinker's _How the Mind Works_. I'm not exactly endorsing their work (I'm skeptical of their basic approach), but they don't go around in white sheets, and it's lousy to accuse the whole field in this way.

If the universe can't be racist, is that how we should describe a scientist who correctly observes the difference in skin cancer susceptibility between blacks and whites? Isn't that what we'd like that scientist to do? Would we prefer that she lie about her findings?

I believe the only real obligation of a scientist (or journalist, historian, etc.) is to tell the truth as best she can, being clear about both her conclusions and any contradictory evidence or alternative explanations she knows. That means that she reports stuff whose implications she doesn't like, stuff whose implications contradict her political preferences, etc. The alternative is blinding ourselves, as a society, to stuff we don't want to see.

#212 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 10:32 AM:

Bruce Cohen (#200): We look at a world that is larger than we are and not amenable to our control and we try to understand it. The only way we know how to do that is to look for patterns.

Looking for patterns can be an act of imagination (from finding and mythologizing stellar constellations to making words into poetry), attempts at scientific understanding (some ultimately fanciful, some significant milestones), or a useful tool for becoming top dog. It gets most dangerous when it ties into the control/fear syndrome -- especially when the group leader says, "OK, stop looking; *we've* got hold of the Truth," and everything else is heresy, Evil, treason etc.

I love it when scientists talk about how little we know even now, how much we still must try to learn. Does any religion look at things that way? (Zen, maybe, but that's just an uneducated guess!)

#213 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 10:48 AM:

#202, 207

I was nearly on the floor reading the Jerusalem Bible's explanation of Song of Solomon. They were so desperately trying to avoid dealing with what it so clearly is: sexually loaded wedding poetry. And of course you can't have that in a religious book ....

(I've heard those lines about Catholics also, Lizzy. But at least I knew it was cr*p when I heard it. Which was, come to think of it, from one of those literalist fundamentalist Protestants.)

#214 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 10:53 AM:

Faren Miller @ 212 (Ecstatically Fahrenheit)

Religions, being social organizations, in general probably end up run by control freaks, and so have their quests for understanding, knowledge, and wisdom suppressed. The more hierarchical the religious organization, the more complete the suppression, would be my guess. You ever try to organize someone who enjoys knocking people into dungheaps?

Although Eva just pointed out that they might be convinced to toss them into the pile in formation.

#215 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 11:05 AM:

Serge @ #174:
Is this language necessary, Owlmirror?

Are prissy comments about it necessary? This isn't a church meeting.

#216 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 11:15 AM:

Lizzy #202:

Given they thought all that, why ever were they even going to a catechism class?

#217 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 11:21 AM:

P.J. Evans: The page headers in the Authorised Version, about the marriage of Christ and the Church, are equally amusing.

#218 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 11:36 AM:

Fragano @ 217

The unauthorized version might be even better.

#219 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 11:42 AM:

Lila #209: I suspect you're right.

#220 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 11:46 AM:

Niall McAuley: "I get exasperated with people who use the word "spiritual" as if they know what it means to people who don't believe in spirits.

It means nothing to me."

Hmm! So what do I mean when I talk about spirituality, then? Good question!*

Spirit, for me, is the thing which you perceive but which isn't, strictly speaking, actually there. It's looking at a collection of dots on a piece of paper and seeing a human face. It's looking at a set of numbers and seeing the algorithm that created them. It's speaking with and touching a warm-skinned thing and meeting a person. It's hearing a series of sounds and enjoying a melody. It's looking at a bunch of plants and animals all interacting and seeing an ecology. It's hearing a word and imagining a world. It is the thing that you can never point at, because it is not a thing but what lies behind the thing, what informs it and gives it meaning. At its most banal, it is a part and parcel of everything you do. Everytime you stop at a stoplight, you are responding to the spirit of the thing, rather than the thing itself. At its most rarified, it is epiphany sparking epiphany, watching every disparate thing fit together into a glorious whole, the perfect immensity and complexity of which utterly dwarfs your ability to comprehend.

If you read this and think I'm off my rocker, then fair enough. It is, by its very nature, pretty hard to pin down with words.** If you read this and think, "I know what spirituality is, and that isn't it," again, fair enough. I can't claim to speak for anyone but myself on this. Bruce's urge for pattern-recognition sounds like another facet of the same thing, but maybe not. But that is what I think of when I think of spirituality, and why I think it a more-or-less universal part of the human experience. FWIW, YMMV, etc.

*What's that you say? Something about a statement, not a question? Sorry, can't hear you! Bad connection! Bye!
**Also, it's possible I am insane.

#221 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 12:26 PM:

Bruce @ 214: "Religions, being social organizations, in general probably end up run by control freaks, and so have their quests for understanding, knowledge, and wisdom suppressed."

I think that organized religions are the ultimate case study for Teresa's Fruit Punch Czar Theory, first expounded in relation to Wikipedia back here.

#222 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 12:27 PM:

Heresiarch, it sounds like what you're getting at is a recognition and awareness of all the ways in which our experience of the world is more than the sum of its parts, whether or not you ascribe literal supernatural meaning to those phenomena. Which seems like a very sensible way of looking at it, and not crazy in the least.

I have some sympathy to the way the word "spiritual" might provoke an allergic reaction, in light of the way it's often used; I'm not completely sure I'm comfortable with it myself, since it's got a lot of baggage of ultra-sincere fluffiness attached to it, but I don't know I have a better alternative.

#223 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 01:06 PM:

#211 albatross: I believe the only real obligation of a scientist (or journalist, historian, etc.) is to tell the truth as best she can, being clear about both her conclusions and any contradictory evidence or alternative explanations she knows.

Well of course we agree about clarity of presentation. Further, I can't imagine you believe that all of us peer reviewers shouldn't point out contradictory evidence, alternative explanations, or just plain foolish experimental design as well. ^__^

So, I hope you think about calling bigoted science for what it is. "Effects of systemic bias on historically oppressed groups" don't just spring out of nothingness like flies out of rotting meat... They're found in science in addition to economics and society and all those other areas.

#224 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 01:54 PM:

#208

As J.S. Mill put it: "The real advantage which truth has, consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favourable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it."

Alas, this is equally the dynamic for the evil and the pernicious.

Overt racism backed by legal and social threat -- nooses on the trees of a Carolina campus and a nooses on the branches of the white tree at the h.s. in Jenna, for instance.

Roe v Wade predicted widely by liberals to be overturned by this SCOTUS, for another.

Corporatism teamed with the state to create oppressive, militant oppression as in Mussolini's Italy.

The endless struggle between the dark and the light, which may well be why Fantasy fiction keeps rolling along?

Love, C

#225 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 02:03 PM:

Nicole, I sonetimes wonder how the fundamentalist, literal truth, Bible readers cope with the parables. Do they believe that Jesus was telling the tale of a real Prodigal Son?

Because if they don't believe that, if they accept the existence of teaching stories, there's a crack in that facade of literal truth.

Maybe not so much. I think the literalist anxiety comes from a belief that the entire Bible was Written By God, either by His Fiery Hand or by His Divine Inspiration. Thus, any third-person narrative bit must be considered Literally True. Otherwise, God is a liar. That's where the "any crack breaks the dam" probably comes from.

By this philosophy, God would be a liar if Jesus didn't actually, historically, as reported in the Gospels, sit down and tell teaching stories. The Gospels say he did and so he must have. But the fact that they're teaching stories can be acceptable to this framework. God can certainly have written, or caused to be written, "and he spake to them in parables, without which he spake not at all."

#226 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 02:10 PM:

One of our persistent problems too, is how we, who might class ourselves as liberal and / or progressive tend to additionally equate 'liberal' with 'intelligent.'

There is no cause and effect here, either on the left or the right, the liberal and the repressive, the atheist / or alternative / or pagan and the fundamentalist.

There are very smart and very stupid on each end of the dichotomy.

Love, C.

#227 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 02:21 PM:

The more hierarchical the religious organization, the more complete the suppression, would be my guess.

Actually, no.

A hierarchy serves as a peer review panel. A lectionary forces you to preach all the gospel, not just a few pet passages.

There's more room for mischief in a congregational polity than an episcopal one. The relationship between a pastor and his flock is so ripe for exploitation that it needs limits.

#228 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 02:28 PM:

There's smart and stupid all over the political spectrum, but there is nonetheless a correlation between education and liberalism. The real fallacy of liberals isn't that we assume a connection between liberalism and intelligence, it's that we believe that, if only we can explain all the facts, everyone will come to agree with us.

#229 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 03:00 PM:

Y'know, like I was petting my dog, and 'dog' is 'god' spelled backwards, so it was like I was petting god, only in reverse, like omg! Or gmo!

Wait. God is a genetically modified organism?

#230 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 05:42 PM:

Nicole #229

Wait. God is a genetically modified organism?

Yep, not too many people know this. He was a test-tube deity.

#231 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 06:50 PM:

Steve C. @ 204: Y'know, like I was petting my dog, and 'dog' is 'god' spelled backwards, so it was like I was petting god, only in reverse, like omg! Or gmo!

When I read Gaiman and Pratchett's Good Omens, I thought that their naming the hellhound "Dog" was a subtle joke along those lines -- what better name for a hellhound? But both authors have told me that they didn't have anything like that in mind.

#232 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 06:56 PM:

Satan is a liar, and the father of lies.

We know who these folks truly worship.

#233 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 07:40 PM:

joann at 216: I said they had been taught it. I didn't say they believed it.

#234 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 09:43 PM:

Madeline #223:

I'm not quite sure I get your point here. If your experiment or hypothesis is flawed, it should be rejected. It should never be rejected on the basis of its implications being uncomfortable politically or morally--that way lies creationism and ignoring global warming and all kinds of other systematic craziness.

If you're pointing out a flaw in a study based on, say, bigotry in the participants, that's a worthwhile comment in a review. If you're saying "reject this paper because its conclusion is sexist/racist/whatever," that's all wrong, and it leads nowhere good.

#235 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 09:51 PM:

Constance #224:

Yes! Although it's easy to take too literally, I really like Dawkins' idea of "memes," basically self-propogating ideas or beliefs. Some beliefs are really good at sustaining themselves, others at spreading quickly, still others commonly arise and spread out for awhile before dying out, and probably some huge fraction of commonly-held beliefs are shaped more by random forces (think neutral evolution).

Along with that, I think some kinds of beliefs, both good and evil, are well-suited to human nature, the way the mind is shaped. A lot of conspiracy theories seem like good examples.

#236 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 10:04 PM:

Heresiarch@221: I think you're being too kind to the religious. A Fruit Punch Czar thinks control is Necessary; the worst of religionists smell strongly of Styphon's House (i.e., being in it solely for the power).

albatross@211: there are some chuckleheads who would object to the differentiation you suggest, simply because it differentiates. There are also a lot of people aware of the vile effects of bogus differentiations in the past, who accordingly step very carefully when trying to spot differences now. The problem is made worse because many of the differences rely on personal analysis at some point, and that in turn can depend on communications between people who carry the weight of their ancestors' (to put it neutrally) miscommunications.
Carrying on to your later comment: perhaps the weight of history is such that \any/ conclusion that supports past prejudices should be forced to rise to an extra level of rigor.

hamletta@227: considering the mischief currently going on around the Episcopal church, I'd say that both systems allow plenty of abuse. Perhaps a hierarchy, while preventing new abuse, makes it easy to continue the sum of all past abuses? (I'll grant that a \more/ hierarchical church could smack the African prelates into the middle of last week for poaching -- but it could also pretend it doesn't have the authority to do so. I can't guess whether Rowan Williams is merely a coward, or feels that he doesn't have the power to draw lines, or is in fact a homophobe indulging the more vicious homophobes.)

#237 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 10:34 PM:

Heresiarch @ 220

Not insane. At least not diagnosable from this comment. I think what you say makes a lot of sense, and is definitely related to what I was talking about in terms of pattern recognition. The key, to my mind, is that it's a relation between a human mind and the world around it.

Dan @ 222

It's a perfectly good word, is spiritual. It just needs to be rescued from the fuzzy-brained New Agers who've twisted it all of shape. Then some steel wool, maybe a little touchup paint, and some refribbing, and it'll be just like new.

#238 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2007, 12:28 AM:

Dan Layman-Kennedy @ 222: "Heresiarch, it sounds like what you're getting at is a recognition and awareness of all the ways in which our experience of the world is more than the sum of its parts, whether or not you ascribe literal supernatural meaning to those phenomena. Which seems like a very sensible way of looking at it, and not crazy in the least."

Yes, that sounds about right. And I don't really think I'm crazy. Which is why I worry.

"I have some sympathy to the way the word "spiritual" might provoke an allergic reaction, in light of the way it's often used; I'm not completely sure I'm comfortable with it myself, since it's got a lot of baggage of ultra-sincere fluffiness attached to it, but I don't know I have a better alternative."

I have sympathy for that position too, but I make it a general rule not to let other people steal useful words. Besides, having an unorthodox definition of spirituality makes me backwards-compatible with a lot of religious texts--I can get something useful out of them, though perhaps not strictly what their authors had in mind.

#239 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2007, 12:55 AM:

CHip @ 236: "I think you're being too kind to the religious. A Fruit Punch Czar thinks control is Necessary; the worst of religionists smell strongly of Styphon's House (i.e., being in it solely for the power)."

What in the Fruit Punch Czar analogy makes you think that Yorick isn't in it just for the power? My read is that that is exactly what he is after. Some priests are Felixes, and others are Yoricks. As time goes on, the percentage of Yoricks tends to rise. If the percentage of Yoricks rises too high, the system will collapse (no one likes following Yoricks, which is why they are forced to highjack pre-existing power structures.)

#240 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2007, 11:18 AM:

CHip #236 : I can't guess whether Rowan Williams is merely a coward, or feels that he doesn't have the power to draw lines, or is in fact a homophobe indulging the more vicious homophobes.)

None of the three - certainly not the first or the third. An archbishop traditionally is in the role of a shepherd - that's why he carries a symbolic shepherd's crook. Like a shepherd, he has the job of moving forward a flock of creatures that he doesn't fully have control of. The Anglican / Episcopal community were always more independent-minded than a flock of sheep, though; currently they're behaving more like the proverbial* herd of cats, which poor Rowan is trying to prevent from dividing, amoeba-like, into multiple groups. Although I admire him for trying, I think he's unlikely to succeed (personally I'd be prepared, about this point or maybe earlier, to tell the anti-homosexual** element, and the anti-woman element too, that the church would be better without them).

* not 'proverbial' - there isn't a proverb, as such - what's the word I want?

** To do them justice, they're not all homophobes. A lot of them don't mind gays or lesbians being in the church, but just don't want them as bishops.

#241 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2007, 11:35 AM:

Constance Ash #226: I've been quoting J.S. Mill a bit in this thread, and another one has popped into my head 'Stupid people are generally Conservative'.

#242 ::: Iorwerth Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2007, 02:25 PM:

John Stanning #240: Agreed [1]. Rowan's wound up in the invidious position of being a good, decent man with an utterly impossible job. (Largely due to a power-play by some of the more conservative evangelicals in the Church of England, who managed to get some of the more conservative African Churches involved.)

In his place, I'd probably be throwing things at Akinola by now...

[1] Nobody who's aware of his writings as a theologian on homosexuality and Christianity could consider him a homophobe. It's just that at present, enacting the needed changes in the Church of England while ensuring that there's still a Church of England remaining after the alterations is a lot trickier than it looks from the outside.

#243 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2007, 04:04 PM:

McDonald did well, reminding us that Satan is the father of lies.

That's how we were able to recognize the ilk of the the current crop of EviLe-Doers so quickly.

The truth was not in them.

The truth will set you free -- which, of course, is why the ilk of EviLe-Doers never tell the truth and hide the truth from us and everyone else as well.

#244 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2007, 09:10 PM:

Bruse Cohen et al: "spirituality" is a tag which people tend to associate with "ecstatic experience". The sense of "connectedness" you describe is characteristic of ecstatic experience; so is the euphoria that makes such experiences "addictive".

Direct access to ecstasy for laypeople is characteristic of what I call "Promethean-phase" religions. (Religious groups tend to cycle over time between the Promethean phase and the heirarchical "Jovian" phase, sometimes via schisms.)

#245 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2007, 11:25 AM:

Moderator note:

Owlmirror's particular use of the term "bullshit" in #173 was miles inside the line. So was Kathryn-from-Sunnydale's mild expression of being offended, in #185. Yes, these people (both of whom I like) were disagreeing. It wasn't a big deal. Sometimes good conversation contains strong language.

The test is: Would it discourage sensible people from participating in the conversation? Having lots of people shouting content-free obscenity at one another: definitely. Using the term "bullshit" in the fairly careful way Owlmirror did in #173: not so much. Suggesting that we all need to be hypervigilant about our casual language hereabouts: that actually concerns me a little more. Especially when the folks suggesting it are people I like and value.

Recommendation: Slack all round. Harsh language can damage conversation. So can too much vigilance in policing it.

#246 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2007, 01:08 PM:

David Harmon @244

I certainly don't deny that usage of "spirituality", but I contend the word has additional and more inclusive meanings that are less about internal mental and emotional states and more about the subject of discourse. For instance, I often use the word when I'm talking about my thinking on the subject of my relation to the larger universe, which may in fact be motivated by the ecstatic experience, but is not a part of it.

#247 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2007, 02:52 PM:

Limiting "spirituality" as "ecstasy" is not only inaccurate, but incorrect. It's far too small a definition or description for the dimension of the non-material.


#248 ::: Essex ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2007, 07:39 PM:

"I would much rather say ignorance instead of stupidity, believe me. But ignorance is a condition that can be remedied, assuming the ignorant party is interested in learning the truth. (...)"
No, it can't! In my view, being "interested in learning the truth", or the assumption thereof, is not the definition of ignorance. Ignorance is the deliberate ignoring, or refutation, of an obvious truth, usually for reasons of convenience, laziness, or power, or (name one). Hence, no cure short of a shot in the head. Stupidity is easier because it's often constitutional and comparatively well-reacting to guidance and argument, and not malevolent and intentional by necessity.

#249 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2007, 08:46 PM:

In most people's usage, ignorance is simply not knowing something. That can be because the person hasn't had access to information; hasn't had time; was misinformed; or simply didn't know the topic existed. (For example, in 1500 A.D. the entire human species was ignorant of the moons of Jupiter.)

I have seen the term "willful ignorance" used to refer to people who refuse to learn about something: either refusing to correct errors in what they've been told, or refusing to study a topic that the speaker feels they ought to study.

It's easy to say that someone who won't learn which medications not to mix with alcohol is willfully ignorant; many people would apply the term to people who refuse to listen to religious proselytizing; some might call my lack of information on the rules of cricket willful ignorance, but they are far fewer.

Again, "stupidity" usually means the inability to learn. Your usage is the reverse of the common one, which I suspect will lead you into fairly frequent confusion or argument.

#250 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2007, 09:35 PM:

The mishigas in the Episcopal Church is not a function of its polity. There are outside forces fomenting strife in order to cause a schism.

#251 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 08:49 AM:

Vicki #249:

I think there's an idea here without a clear term to point to it; ideologies that require or encourage a kind of willful ignorance. Those can be cured, but only by breaking with the ideology.

Frex, a lot of economic determinists (Marxists and neoclassical economists) seem to have the idea that they don't need to know much about the world to understand it, because their economic models give them the fundamental insights. I think the screwups in Iraq have largely been caused by very smart people whose ideology led them to think that they had grasped the essentials of the situation there, despite scary stuff like not knowing the difference between Shia and Sunni. I think there's also a widespread idea in management that you should be able to manage things whose details you don't understand all that well. (But that's way outside my field or interests, so I may just be misunderstanding.)

The hard thing is, you *have* to have simplifying models--they're what make a fiercely complex world usable. But your model can really screw you, by convincing you that you know the important stuff, even when you're frightfully ignorant of the details. And people with very powerful or convincing models often get screwed in just this way, as they try to apply their powerful model from one situation into a different one. Even worse, some models' strength is that they make for good rhetoric, and when tested against the real world, they fail horribly. But group decisionmaking is largely done through rhetoric--both national politics and internal politics of most groups. You can have disastrous ideas that win all the arguments, sound great, and reliably gain power--I'd say that the rhetoric about the middle east being ripe for democracy, democracy leading to peace, etc., is a good example of that.

#252 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:23 AM:

Albaatross@211: The problem with your example of scientific racism is that "race" is a social construct and not an objective fact.

The scientist in your example could equally well publish a result showing that people with certain objectively measured characteristics (genetic markers; biochemical characteristics; absorptive and reflective spectra of epidermis, controlled for diseases and distortions of same) and (I should think) avoid charges of racism.

It would be possible to correlate any or all of those factors with membership in the socially constructed classes which are required for racism, certainly, but I doubt that most people would be able to determine which group was specified by what values. Your perhaps-racist scientist might think and express herself in terms of the social construct of "race," but this speaks to the fact that she is human and part of a society which uses the "race" construct, not to the nature of science or the nature of the universe.

Keep in mind, too, that a result of this nature speaks to a tendency of groups, not a characteristic of individuals. It is certainly racist to assign persons of color to certain jobs in preference to members of the "caucasian" group on the grounds that the former won't get skin cancer while the latter will, even though "on average" a large enough group might show the expected trend in outcomes.

#253 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:29 AM:

The missing paragraph at the end of my comment:

On the other hand, if one had a scientifically objective test which could distinguish those more prone to develop cancer if left in direct sunlight for too long from those with less of that tendency, one could indeed say that one had established a way of classifying people into groups and use that as a basis for job assignments without being a racist.

And, sorry for the name misspelling: I must have mistook you for an Ardvaark.

#254 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 02:14 PM:

John Stanning @ 240 - re: catherd
Metaphorical?
Although the usual construction is a simile ('X is like herding cats'), so similitive?

#255 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 04:04 PM:

I have been sufficiently bothered by the whole "bonobo creation myth" issue that I have gone and done a bit and research, and I hope that the following will clarify the rebuttal of shenanigans/bull… that is to say, stercus tauri (for those who have issues with language).

I think that it's reasonable to note a parallel between the original post and this: Bad science based on an agenda using fraud to confuse the public and threaten the value of good science based on evidence.

One of the things I note about de Waal's rebuttal to the New Yorker piece is that he doesn't deny at least some of the claims. In particular, there's the line: 'This is why I warned in Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape not to romanticize the species: “All animals are competitive by nature and cooperative only under specific circumstances.”'

Looking at some of the latest published research on language among bonobos, I see that de Waal himself is co-author, where the primary researcher is Amy Pollick, of a paper about ape gestures and language (doi:10.1073/pnas.0702624104). It all looks very primal; meanings are collapsed down to: Affiliative, Agonistic, Food, Groom, Play, Sex, Locomotion.

The biggest name in bonobo communication is Sue Savage-Rumbaugh. She is the one who has been working with bonobos for some decades now, and she is extremely enthusiastic and positive about her results. She is the one who introduced Kanzi to the world, and is the most vigorous proponent of the whole idea of the possibility of apes communicating. Here's a monograph from 2005 where she is the primary author, and that's what I'm going to use as the source for the rest of my comments.

http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwlrc/savage-rumb-srcd-mono.pdf

Reading it, we can see lots of interesting anecdotes. The text certainly implies that bonobos can indeed learn complex tasks from observation and trial and error (such as knapping flint), communicate simple ideas to each other and to humans, and generally model the world in a way that certainly appears to be fairly sophisticated.

Yet... there's also stuff that clashes with that interpretation of sophistication. Kanzi is so spooked by a gorilla costume that there's an explicit fear that he might attack a human wearing the costume — even if he sees the person putting the costume on in the first place. Only some bonobos have the concept of "yesterday" and "tomorrow"; there's nothing to suggest that they have a more complex concept of time, like awareness of the seasons, and the aging of themselves and others.

And I also see more than a little methodological sloppiness. A bonobo will use one or two words, and the researchers interpret a far more definite (and sometimes more complex) idea than that expression necessarily warrants. I may have not searched long enough, but there's nothing to indicate that the researchers have given the bonobos the sort of simple language tests that can be given to children to track changes in language use over time, or retention of new words. Why not? Isn't language use and acquisition in bonobos exactly what they are trying to study? Are they always certain that they are accounting for their own biases?

Returning to the question of bonobos and a creation myth: What would we expect to see in the existing studies if bonobos indeed had such a thing? Well, among other things: An awareness of the distant past; The concept of their own histories and origins; The concept of abstractions; The ability to generalize the past from their knowledge of the present. And perhaps most importantly, the concept of stories; of complex narratives that they tell to each other.

Yet reading the monograph, there's nothing like the above. The most optimistic interpretation of their abilities is that bonobos can learn concepts and tasks, and communicate simple, basic concepts to each other. Well and good. But that does appear to be all that there is (and note that the amount and degree of learning and communication is challenged by those who note the sloppiness on the part of the researchers).

Based on all of the above (and some further research into a few other papers on bonobo communication), the claim that bonobos have a creation myth is so extraordinary that it is strongly discordant with existing research. It's as extraordinary as a claim that a bonobo could solve a Rubik's Cube, or solve algebraic equations: Not literally impossible, but so out of the ordinary based on the existing evidence that any reasonable observer would find the claim to be almost certainly false.


I don't know who Kathryn's source of information was, but I insist that somewhere along the line, a miscommunication or misinterpretation occurred. Either the source, was speaking speculatively or facetiously or mendaciously, or the source was delusional, or the source misinterpreted someone else's claim.

Unless, of course, some more evidence than the bare claim is out there?

#256 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 11:13 AM:

Hamletta - "...The mishigas in the Episcopal Church is not a function of its polity. There are outside forces fomenting strife in order to cause a schism..."

This is similar to the way that most of the "initiatives" for the so-called "defense of marriage" acts that have been pushed at the state levels -- most of the organizations involved actually have very small local footprints, but lots and lots of money and oranizers who come from outside the states involved.

They don't care about what the local areas might be actually concerned with, but rather want to push their own agendas, but not in full acknowledgment, preferring to cloak their effort as "local grassroots" organizations (a tactic that TNH has aptly named "astroturfing."

#257 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 12:14 PM:

Craig R. #256: a tactic that TNH has aptly named "astroturfing."

Umm, I thought Senator Lloyd Bentson (or perhaps, his speechwriter) coined the term.

#258 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 04:27 PM:

I don't believe Teresa ever claimed to have invented the term.

#259 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 04:46 PM:

Owlmirror... My apologies. Never did I have the arrogance to suggest which language can be used in ML. It is true that I was not happy at certain words being addressed at someone with whom I correspond. That was the extent of it. The expression of my sentiment was very clumsy. Again, my apologies.

#260 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 04:57 PM:

Bob #252:

I'm not too clear on what the point would be of a scientist obscuring her findings to avoid saying the word "race."

I mean, suppose a scientist has strong evidence that some form of cancer happens five times more often in blacks than in whites. Are you saying she shouldn't try to make this information accessible to oncologists or general practice doctors, or nurses, or even random people? What good would be served by this? It seems like the main result would be that fewer people would be diagnosed correctly with this kind of cancer.

This isn't entirely hypothetical. Blacks and whites wind up having somewhat different rates of some diseases, sometimes respond differently to different medicines, etc. This is true even though "black" is a hodgepodge of cultural and genetic categories, and you can be labeled as black despite having more white than black ancestors. It's just the way the data works out.

I really hate your use of the term "scientific racism." If we use the label "racist" for people who note and honestly describe, say, differences in disease prevalence among blacks and whites, what do we call someone like David Duke?

One of two things seems to result from this. Either we get honest scientists smeared as racists (in which case, being more-or-less rational actors, a lot of young scientists will steer clear of research where they're going to risk that kind of smear), or we get the term "racist" associated, not with lynch law and racist cops busting the heads of peaceful protesters, but with people telling the truth and doing solid science. I just don't see how this can end well.

#261 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 06:00 PM:

OK, Patrick's Moderator comment made me go back and look, and in the process I found this comment from Niall at 179, which I'd somehow missed before:

I get exasperated with people who use the word "spiritual" as if they know what it means to people who don't believe in spirits.

It means nothing to me.

Niall, I think you may be confusing spirituality with spiritism. As a (sort-of) animist, I believe that there is a spirit in each thing that exists (by way of full disclosure), yet my spirituality has nothing to do with what I believe as such. I've worked for decades with a coven-partner who doesn't believe any of that stuff, and yet we're extremely comfortable spiritual working partners.

Unfortunately, I don't think I can give a definition of spirituality that will let you know what I mean (in the sense that the word will then do the same things in your head as it does in mine). Spirituality is intrinsic, like a talent for playing the piano (but much, much more common). Yet if you never take piano lessons, that talent might remain unrealized for a lifetime. I see that as a tragic loss, both to you and to the world, but if you never become aware of that talent, does it make you suffer? Do you ever care? Perhaps not.

But perhaps it does. I can well imagine someone who never was able to make music with any of the tools available in his culture, and constantly feeling that something was missing in his life, or perhaps even feeling it as a lack in him, finally seeing a piano for the first time...and with one touch knowing, knowing that he can play this magnificent instrument if he only learns how.

Because spirituality too requires technique. You are born with music in your heart, or not (but with spirituality virtually everyone is, IME), but you still have to learn the instrument. Sometimes you have to practice scales over and over. Sometimes your hands get so tired you just can't play another note.

Now I'm going to extend my analogy a little. Just because you can play the piano doesn't mean you can play the clarinet (unless you're Patrick, who can play anything). If you can't, it doesn't mean you have to give up being a musician. In this sense, different religions are like different instruments. If you were raised in a religious tradition that left you cold, or even actively oppressed you, it does not follow that religion in general is not for you. Maybe it's a piano and your talent is for the clarinet.

The idea that religion IS a "belief in something" in the sense that I believe that the Sun rises in the east or that e=mc² (the latter without really understanding all the implications) is a particularly Christian notion. I've been told by Orthodox Jews, for example, that their religion is a system of laws, and that factoidal belief in the stories of the Torah is not really central.

In my own (ever-evolving) religion, the central question is not "Is it true?" (or True, which is a bit different). It is "Does it work?" And in this sense 'work' means 'move me spiritually', 'change my consciousness in ways I find desirable, either short-term or long-term', or 'send good messages to my preconscious self'.

Perhaps you really have no such need. Your exasperation at people who use the term 'spirituality' as if it had a solid, agreed-upon meaning leads me to think otherwise, though. It wouldn't bother you if you didn't wish to know what they meant. (But perhaps I'm wrong, and it's just the normal irritation people feel when someone starts speaking a language they don't know in front of them.)

The bottom line: you can learn all about religion(s) and really know all there is to know about them. But if you don't practice, you don't get to Carnegie Hall! And if you don't practice spiritual techniques, you will never experience your own spirituality; absent that, no one can tell you what it is.

#262 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 07:01 PM:

re #250: The Anglican mess is extremely about polity, because polity is what is enabling the crisis. Jim Naughton's little expose is simply another maneuver in the fight to ensure that the "reappraisers" (the liberals, if you like that word) stay in control of the church machinery and gradually push the "reasserter" (or conservative, if you like) positions out. The only novelty of organizations such as the AAC is that the conservative opposition picked up on American political organizing tactics, much as the liberals already had. Naughton, as an official agent for his side, is therefore mostly complaining that the conservatives actually have some resources to fight back with.

Worldwide, things are complicated by three factors:

1) The communion's structure is very loose. Nobody can stop the North Americans from doing as they please; on the other hand, they can't stop the rest of the communion from throwing them out.

2) The 3rd world Anglican churches are growing explosively, while the Anglo-American churches are stagnant or losing members. Even considering the gross imbalance in numbers (there are far fewer African bishops per capita than there are American or English) the conservatives have enough bishops at Lambeth to prevail, as long as they can stay organized.

3) The Church of England has never signed on to the American politicization of the church. Rowan Williams isn't exceptional there; he is quite the norm.

It seems to me that one of the reasons the liberals don't want a split is because they would see a substantial decline in their influence and resources. The theory that the Episcopal Church, absent outside influences, would be as liberal as the liberals is belied by the steady decline in membership and attendance since 2003.

#263 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 07:31 PM:

Serge, I don't think you have anything to apologize for.

Indeed, your wording was sufficiently mild and ambiguous that I wondered if you had a multiple-entendre in there, in the sense that "is this language necessary [in order to have a myth]?" or "is this language necessary [in order for communication to exist]?". Obviously, sometimes I see more than is actually there.

And my use of that particular offending term may have been prompted by Madeline's use of it, and by being reminded by Heresiarch of Frankfurt's work on the topic.

#264 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 07:38 PM:

Xopher at 261 says: "The idea that religion IS a "belief in something" in the sense that I believe that the Sun rises in the east or that e=mc² (the latter without really understanding all the implications) is a particularly Christian notion."

"Since our knowledge of God is limited, our language about him is equally so. We can name God only by taking creatures as our starting point, and in accordance with our limited human ways of knowing and thinking... We must therefore continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, imagebound, or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God...with our human representations....Concerning God, we cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not..."
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

#265 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 08:18 PM:

Owlmirror @ 263... Thanks. Still, my comment was very clumsily written.

#266 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 10:00 PM:

Lizzy 264: That's interesting, but I don't actually see the connection. I don't think they'd contest that "God exists" is an essential factoidal belief for their religion. Do you? How about "Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah." Or even "Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died, and rose again."

Those are the kind of beliefs I'm talking about. I have some beliefs of that kind, but they're not essential to my religion.

#267 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 10:10 PM:

Wingate # 262 --

These outside organizations *are* pushing to take over the Communion. And for their own ends. And those ends are not for continued health of any of the independent branches of the Anglican Communion.

These outside groups want any independent thought in the religious sphere eliminated.

The outside agencies *are* collaborating with the "third-world* members of the Communion, but are forcing them to the point of demanding greater conformance in the Communion than has ever been the case.

And these members of the Communion are being duped if they think that they can keep control of the whirlwind that they are sowing.

The true agenda of these outside groups is shown in the deceptions they are willing to promote and tolerate, such as the lies that were bruited about by the opponents of the N.H. Bishop during his confirmation.

Another issue that points up the regressive agenda is the accelerated push to drive the split forward in the wake of the election of a woman to be the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the U.S, and her temerity to not knuckle under and immediately accede to all their "reforms."

Remember, these are the kinds of people who (from the financial security of millions of dollars in the bank) try to push forward scriptural arguments *against* minimum wage laws.

#268 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 10:40 PM:

Albatross #260:

The short answer to your question is one I think you'll agree with: race is a model which gets in the way of one's view of reality. It's a social construct, a classification based on a literally skin-deep evaluation of the individual, and is not in the least scientific.

Disease prevalence differences and variations in drug response between "black race" and "white race" are issues of correlation, not causation. There could be a genetic similarity between the "black race" members of a sample which gives rise to a particular biological response to a disease agent or an environmental factor or a medication, but unless the genetic elements involved also give rise to skin dark enough to lead to a person being classified as "black race," racial classification and disease tendency are just correlated, not causally related.

Take the well-known example of recent years in which studies showed that a combination of drugs produced arguably better results in lowering blood pressure among people classified as "black race" than among people classified as "white race." Do we know if the "black race" people in these tests were drawn randomly from among the entire population of our planet who would fall into the "black race" category?

If all "black race" members of the trial were drawn from the African American part of the population, the greater response to the medication among "black race" people might be due to those people having a relatively small subset of ancestors in common within the last two or three centuries. If that's the case (and without some measurement of genetic factors as well as guesstimation of "race") medication response, like skin colour, might be a shared family trait. The same medication used on "black race" samples from Africa or from South America might not show the same statistical contrast with the response among "white race" people from the US.

Medicine is famously not entirely a matter of science. The job of doctors is to find ways to improve people's health and to keep them alive, and in the absence of anything better I'm in favour of their using the social construct of "race" to whatever extent it helps keep people alive. At the same time, however, there is a danger that by incorrectly taking correlation for causality. Some dark skinned patients will be treated as if a supposed characteristic of the "black race" applied to them and some light skinned people with actual similarities to the "black race" samples but without the skin colour correlation will be treated as if those similarities didn't exist.

Further thoughts on why this kind of model can be dangerous deferred (in the general case of cognitive and logical errors) to Dr Jerome Groopman's book How Doctors Think.

I think that we have to call any differentiation in thought or treatment based on the social construct of "race" is racist. For Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragons, white supremacists, and their ilk I think we can keep racist as an adjective and call them "vicious racist bigots."

I agree with you that racism cannot end well.

#269 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 12:38 AM:

Xopher at 266: Um, yes. I see. Christian belief requires, for instance, that some statements -- Jesus of Nazareth did exist, was crucified, and rose again -- be accepted as historical fact. Other statements -- Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God -- are a different kind of fact. But that's getting way involved and I'm not up to it today... Rain check?

#270 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 12:41 AM:

Lizzy 269: Absolutely. My point being that my religion does not require ANY historical facts to be true—and this is a good thing, since Gardner was pretty much a charlatan and made up a lot of crap!

#271 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 02:12 AM:

Xopher, which Gardner do you mean? Dozois, Marvin, Justin?

#272 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 02:38 AM:

earl,

which Gardner do you mean? Dozois, Marvin, Justin?

guy?

#273 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 02:48 AM:

Nicole, #199: That's a Biblical literalist, whose greatest fear can be summed up thusly: "If any verse of the Bible is not literally true, than how can we trust any part of the Bible? If there was not a world-wide 40-day flood, then how can we believe that there was a Savior who brought forgiveness and preached love?"

And yet, as I've already pointed out upthread, ALL Biblical literalists claim the right to pick and choose which verses are to be taken as literal truth and which can be ignored. Being one of those whose freedom of religion (at the very least) they want to take away, I have far less sympathy for them than you do, and will happily pry away at that crack in the armor with the crowbar of Biblical contradictions and "Well, then, why don't you also...?"

Hate-based Christianity is EVIL, and any practitioner thereof that I can push into a "crisis of faith" is one who's less likely to be part of the mob howling for my blood. My discussions with love-based Christians are... completely different.

Hamletta, #227: Are you talking about those thrice-damned "mega-churches" -- the ones which are purely cults of personality and owe no allegiance to any established sectarian hierarchy? Those things scare the crap out of me, because doctrine is whatever the guy in the pulpit says it is, and ghod alone knows what he's going to come out with next. The only thing you can say for sure is that it's going to be whatever will make his congregation feel smug and comfortable, because that's what keeps the money rolling in.

Fragano, #241: More completely, "It is not true that all conservatives are stupid, but it is true that stupid people are generally conservative."

Essex, #248: There are two varieties of ignorance, the involuntary and the willful. It's the former which can be cured. When I encounter an unfamiliar word and go to look up the definition, I am involuntarily ignorant and seeking enlightenment. When Bush, hearing his generals say that we were not prepared to go to war with Iraq, did the equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and singing, "La-la-la, I can't hear you!", that was willful ignorance, which is indeed incurable.

Stupidity is a third thing, consisting of equal parts the inability to comprehend what you are being taught and the attitude that it doesn't matter anyhow, cf. the number of people who insist that spelling and grammar have become unimportant and so can't be bothered to learn them. (As always, exception is made for those with conditions, such as dyslexia, which affect their capabilities in this area.)

albatross, #260: First, define "black" and "white". What percentage of African heritage makes a person black? Does it make a difference if some of the rest of their genetic component is Asian? Does "white" include Hispanics? What about Pacific Islanders, or Arabs, or Turks?

This is what we mean by "race is a social construct." Absent that initial definition, you cannot accurately say whether something preferentially affects "blacks" or "whites" without including the social/cultural assumptions of racism.

...and I see that Bob Webber said all this much better, at #268.

#274 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 03:12 AM:

@#271:

which Gardner?

Gerald, founder(?) of Wicca, I presume.

#275 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 07:56 AM:

All the ministers of the liberal churches have learned in college the conclusions of over a century of scholarly Biblical criticism. These conclusions are that the Bible is as bogus as the Book of Mormon. That's not how the scholars put it, of course, but that's what it amounts to. Look at any mainstream textbook on the subject, or Asimov's Guide to the Bible.

Do these ministers tell their congregations that the Bible is a wiki compiled during the Exile out of some slightly older documents and some freshly forged material, plus some later back-dated apocrypha? No. They thus act as enablers for the fundamentalists.

#276 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 08:23 AM:

Race as a social construct: a group of Australian Aboriginal musicians was touring the United States some years ago. I think, on the New York stop, they played someplace like Carnegie Hall or the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

They also scheduled a non-performing side trip to Harlem, because they wanted to spend some time around people who looked like them, where they wouldn't stand out immediately as different. Black Americans are no more closely related to black Australians than white Americans are (and, in fact, black and white Americans are generally more closely related to each other than either is to those Australians). The similarity is purely one of skin color, but people see skin color and don't see, oh, variations in blood type frequencies or sickle-cell trait. That's a chunk of what we mean by "race is a social construct" and that it's tricky to use it medically.

I don't know how different Ashkenazi Jews are from other white-skinned populations, genetically or medically. What I do know is that we are a well-studied population, for reasons that started out as accidental (a lot of Ashkenazim in the U.S. live near teaching hospitals, so our doctors are more likely to recruit us for medical studies) and are now partly that it makes sense to continue studying a group that the doctors already have a lot of data about. That medical/ethnic note doesn't change that if I were in Dublin, complete strangers would class me as either Catholic or Protestant, based entirely on my appearance--and if I opened my mouth, would add "American" to that, but "Ashkenazi" wouldn't be in their set of labels.

#277 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:39 AM:

Xopher, which Gardner do you mean? Dozois, Marvin, Justin?

He means Gerald, founder of Wicca. A man who claimed he got the whole thing from a coven in whatever bit he lived in, and tossed in being skyclad (practicing nude) because there weren't a lot of other opportunities for middle-aged men in the 1930s to prance around in the woods with nekkid ladies.

I say this as a Wiccan, I might add. :)

#278 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:40 AM:

re 267: Sorry, too paranoid. IRD's input in this is, I would grant you, on the questionable side, but I do not believe that they are capable of gaining much power over the Africans.

And the rhetoric of "repression" is very much a problem here. Probably the strongest driving force in the EC battles is that the liberals have conspicuously broken the old "everyone does as they please" basic Anglican compromise. It happened with ordination of women, and everyone expects it to happen with homosexuality and any other liberal cause that comes along. There is definitely a split in the "conservative" side around the reaction to this, but it is plainly forming in response to this threat. In the USA the stronger force is those who want to pin things down in the other direction; in England, the stronger force wants to go back to/stay with the old way. The Africans? Well, it's hard to say; but it's also hard to imagine that the neo-con-like Americans are going to have more success trying to colonize the African churches with their views than the American liberals had before them. Money has proven a powerful tool for action, and completely impotent for control.

And the thing is that in the USA this seems largely about making sure that the conservatives are kept under control if not quashed completely. I think that's the real issue here: the liberal church institutions don't want disaffected moderates to have an alternative to the national church. That's where KJS comes into the picture: it's not that she's a woman, but that she's unabashedly the spokesperson for the liberal side of the conflict. If Geralyn Wolf had been elected instead, there wouldn't be half the fuss; unfortunately she's too old.

#279 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 11:00 AM:

#275: That's really quite too strong. Only off-the-end radicals would claim that the bible was written as the BOM was written, and in spite of Bart Ehrman and the Jesus Seminar, the more radical positions have lost ground. Most everybody agrees that Genesis is a composite and that the synoptic gospels have a stronger relationship than just relating the same events. Beyond that, there is a great deal of dispute. The scholars still argue over whether there was a Q (and whether it was the Gospel of Thomas or was merely a source for the latter) and when the various synoptics were written. There's even a Matthean priority group still out there, though they are out of the mainstream.

Coluphidism is a huge problem in the field. There are simply too many people who simply ignore that they have detractors and represent themselves as the state (or vanguard) of the field, when they aren't. Any layman should assume that anything he is told is complete speculation unless he can be shown evidence that he can evaluate himself.

#280 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 11:08 AM:

C. Wingate (#278): I guess I'm in the mood for weird "What if?"s this week, since your question about Geralyn Wolf made me think about Gene Wolfe as a chosen prelate in that other branch of Christianity. What would *he* do? (Just read the galley of his forthcoming Tor pirate book, related by a priest, and I'm still not sure -- but it would be an interesting experiment.)

#281 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 12:58 PM:

Earl 271: Owlmirror and Carrie S. are correct. I meant Gerald Gardner, who founded Wicca (though many claim they belong to traditions that owe nothing to him). He invented this old woman named Dorothy (he named her after a conservative Anglican he disliked), and claimed she passed ancient secrets down to him.

If you read them, it's obvious to anyone who's read REAL archaic English that they're fake, and also if you know anything about Crowley or ceremonial magic the influences are clear. In addition, he sometimes "discovered" "ancient texts" very conveniently. For example, when Doreen Valiente was getting too uppity, he "found" a text which said that when the priestess got too old she should pass the wand to a younger, prettier woman.

Old Gerald liked to be tied up and have young women whip his pasty English buttocks. He developed a religion where that's not only allowed but required. (Only "Hard-Gards" - hardcore Gardnerians - still do this as far as I know, but I'm not any kind of Gardnerian and everything I know about it is from public sources. There may be Secret Secrets.)

I have a theory that all religions are founded by either nutbars or charlatans (occasionally both). Gardner was a charlatan, but that doesn't mean he didn't come up with some things that are pretty good. You just have to have some discernment, pick what works for you (and hey, if binding and scourging works for you I will not be the one to say you nay), and ignore the rest.

If it's part of your religion to believe that your founder was transmitting the Word of God, you have no such option. You have to make do with interpretation. You won't hear a Christian saying "I like the Gospel of Matthew, but Luke is a pile of crap as far as I'm concerned." I have heard a Wiccan say "Gerald Gardner was a great architect but a lousy interior designer." (She meant that his structure for setting up a circle is good, but his ideas for what should go on IN the circle were boneheaded.)

#282 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 04:43 PM:

C.Wingate # 279: No, of course I'm not claiming that the Bible was *just made up by a guy talking into a hat* (like the BOM), or taking any radical position about the texts *at all*. I'm saying that the entirely mainstream scholarship, as reflected in textbooks and Asimov's popularization, is that most of it was written by lots of unknown people, edited by other unknown people, and as often as not attributed to authors who couldn't possibly have written it and may not have existed in the first place.

#283 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 05:10 PM:
#273 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 02:48 AM:
Nicole, #199: That's a Biblical literalist, whose greatest fear can be summed up thusly: "If any verse of the Bible is not literally true, than how can we trust any part of the Bible? If there was not a world-wide 40-day flood, then how can we believe that there was a Savior who brought forgiveness and preached love?"

And yet, as I've already pointed out upthread, ALL Biblical literalists claim the right to pick and choose which verses are to be taken as literal truth and which can be ignored. Being one of those whose freedom of religion (at the very least) they want to take away, I have far less sympathy for them than you do, and will happily pry away at that crack in the armor with the crowbar of Biblical contradictions and "Well, then, why don't you also...?"

Hate-based Christianity is EVIL, and any practitioner thereof that I can push into a "crisis of faith" is one who's less likely to be part of the mob howling for my blood. My discussions with love-based Christians are... completely different.

1) It's my experience that the ability to compartmentalize irrationally (which is to say, the ability to pick-and-choose Bible verses even while self-describing as a Biblical literalist) does not seem to interfere with a self-described Biblical literalists' irrational fear that the entire tower will crumble if Genesis 1 isn't literally true.

2) My sympathy is for those who suffer from irrational fears (it casts a hell of a shadow over one's peace of mind) and it extends only as far as the suffering extends. It doesn't blind me or disarm me when it comes to the hate spawned of that irrational fear. I, too, am one of those whose rights these people oppose (woman, Wiccan, bisexual, poly).

People are complex. Fear makes them do evil. Fear makes them suffer. I reserve the right to pity them for the suffering even as I oppose their evil.

#284 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 05:21 PM:

Fear makes them do evil. Fear makes them suffer.

Please consider all relevant Yoda quotes sufficiently thought of. Or not; have fun.

#285 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 05:45 PM:

re 282: agreed somewhat, though it's a point easily exaggerated. And the issues w.r.t. the NT are almost but not entirely unlike those of the Hebrew text and the deuterocanonicals. The thing to remember, though, is that the spectrum of people who accept the general outlines of what you say includes such opposing views as N. T. Wright and Jack Spong.

#286 ::: Stephen Sample ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 08:24 PM:

Xopher @281: Well, I self-identify as Christian, and I do maintain that certain books in the New Testament are pretty much full of it (or to be more polite about it, that once you discount the political biases and infighting between sects, you're left with a book that's about a quarter the size). There's some good stuff in there, but some of it needs a lot of sifting.

But I'm sure some people would claim that I'm not a Christian on that basis.

After your comments about Gardner, I've got English Country Gardens going through my head. Aargh!

#287 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:16 PM:

C. Wingate @ 278: I must have missed the episode in which the Episcopal church tried to force the Anglicans in Kenya to ordain women, or to select gay bishops. Or does it somehow "break a compromise" of "everyone does what they please" when what they please is to ordain anyone who feels the call to ministry, not only people with penises who aren't attracted to other people with penises?

In the meantime, as far as I can tell, you, or they, or anyone have the absolute right to say "I don't recognize your ordination, I won't have you perform my wedding, or baptize my children." What they want is the right to say "I don't recognize your ordination, and therefore you may not perform anyone's wedding, even if the people getting married do recognize your ordination and want you to do it."

[I should note that I am not any sort of Christian. Also that my father once, in his capacity as a civil court judge, signed the marriage license for a wedding that had actually been performed by the groom's father. The groom's father was an adult Jew, and thus qualified to preside by the rules they all accepted, though probably not by those of the Anglican Church in Kenya.]

#288 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 11:14 PM:

Wingate@278: I find it interesting that you call homophobes "disaffected moderates". And it's not clear that reactionaries are trying to "control" African churches rather than supplying Woodstock-class amplifier stacks to the most reactionary ecclesiasticals.

#289 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 12:13 AM:

You know, CHip, not everyone has a bee in his bonnet about this, either way. A lot of us just wish the whole thing would go away.

Vicki, you also seems to have missed the part where I didn't say that the EC was pressuring the Kenyans to ordain women-- though as it happens, I have heard tales of individual dioceses and parishes essentially blackmailing African groups. That such pressure exists within the American church is indisputable. This really isn't about the Africans anyway; it's about making sure that the American conservatives don't gain either legitimacy or organization as a schism from the main church.

As far as recognizing or not recognizing anyone's ordination is concerned, you are approaching this with a paradigm that just doesn't fly in a hierarchical church. I'm just a layman, so when I say I won't take communion from so and so or ordinations done by such and such, all it determines is what I do. When clerics take that approach, it affects others; and when bishops take that approach, it causes schisms.

There is no one agreed upon theology of marriage in Anglicanism, but one widely held view is that the ministers in a marriage are the parties themselves. A priest is needed only to bless the marriage, and indeed there is a separate rite for blessing civil marriages. I have no idea what the laws are in Kenya, though I know that at various previous Lambeths the Africans have been far more interested in dealing with polygamy. And one could just as well say that homosexual couples can go elsewhere to have their relationships validated if they are turned away at the church door. The whole notion of "church" creates organizational bonds which void the notion that everyone can be asked to act as an independent agent.

#290 ::: Jon Hendry ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 12:34 AM:

#83: " But then I would want that on a T-shirt, thus paving the way to a whole 'nother cottage industry, WWJT, Who Would Jesus Thrash. I can see the wristbands already..."

How about a bumper sticker: "My Jesus Would Trash Your Megachurch"

#291 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 03:04 AM:

Nicole, #283: Okay, I see what you're saying. You still give them much more sympathy than I do, but that's admirable, that you are able to do that.

#292 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 08:51 AM:

Bob Weber #268:

You said 'The short answer to your question is one I think you'll agree with: race is a model which gets in the way of one's view of reality. It's a social construct, a classification based on a literally skin-deep evaluation of the individual, and is not in the least scientific.'

This would be easier to accept, if we weren't discussing a genuine set of scientific results which used race. It's pretty clear that race is a rather messy, fuzzy made-up category which correlates pretty well with a bunch of stuff we care about. It's no more "unscientific" to use race in drug studies than it is to use social class or marital status, both of which also are made-up messy social categories which correlate with interesting stuff we care about.

It seems to me that you're starting with the desire to have race be a meaningless category, for philosophical reasons. But you just can't go that direction; when your premises contradict the experimental data, it's not the data that has to be tossed.

Steven Pinker makes this point really well. A lot of people have constructed an argument against racism (and sexism and homophobia and...) that's based on a bunch of assumptions about reality, like race being a meaningless socially-constructed category, human nature being almost entirely overwhelmed by culture, gender differences being based on upbringing, etc. And this leads them to *need* to discount or disbelieve certain kinds of evidence, because it challenges their moral beliefs. This is the same process gone through by creationists at times, as in the common argument that if evolution is true, there can be no basis for morality, because then we're all just animals.

The real case against racism is moral, not empirical. You ought to treat people of other races decently regardless of skin color, even if blacks have more problems with heart disease, or Ashkenazi Jews are subject to nastier genetic diseases.

Building the case against racism on claims about what empirical data is allowed to appear is a terrible idea, because it can leave you unable to acknowledge reality, or worse, it can undermine your argument against racism. If the only reason we ought not to go back to treating nonwhites like crap is that there are no detectable differences among racial groups, then what does empirical evidence of differences in disease prevalence or drug response imply?

Getting back to the start of this subthread, this is an area where the left tends to be rather willing to vilify scientists and discard data. Watching some of the debate surrounding Bildil was really fascinating for this reason. I think the underlying mental mechanisms are the same as those used by the right for discarding fossil evidence, or evidence of global temperature change.

#293 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:09 AM:

Lee #273:

I can't quite untangle your comment. Are you saying that the studies where they found a drug that worked better on (self-identified, I think) blacks than whites is somehow including the social/cultural assumptions of racism? Would it be better if they didn't develop drugs that worked well for blacks? I mean, it would be less "racist" by some of the definitions floating around, but since it would also lead to more blacks dying young, I'm not too clear on how this is supposed to be a good thing.

#294 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 11:58 AM:

albatross, 292 & 293: I'm not any kind of a scientist, let alone a medical one, but as I was reading over your posts and the ones you are replying to, it occurred to me: maybe the issue you are all struggling with has to do with the need to make a distinction between the concept of "race" as a social construct and the concept of "race" as an element (one element) of genetic heritage? The two overlap in everyday life, but are, I think, quite distinct in underlying purpose. The latter is useful and necessary to scientists studying genetic-based disorders and treatments; the former can get in the way (even for scientists) of studying those disorders and developing and distributing those treatments.

This whole discussion made me think of something like Tay-Sachs disease, which is most commonly found in a population of Eastern European Jews . . . but is also prevalent in a certain group of French Canadians. A doctor faced with a Tay-Sachs infant who doesn't even think to diagnose Tay-Sachs disease because "that's a Jewish disease, and this baby isn't of Jewish ancestry" might well be acting on some internalized social-construct-racism. That's a pretty extreme case, I know, but see what I mean?

Or maybe that isn't what you're discussing at all. As I said, I'm not a scientist. But I thought the distinction might be worth throwing into the mix.

#295 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 12:13 PM:

#275 ::: Ken MacLeod
"...Do these ministers tell their congregations that the Bible is a wiki compiled during the Exile out of some slightly older documents and some freshly forged material, plus some later back-dated apocrypha? No. They thus act as enablers for the fundamentalists...."

Hmmm, except that I learned about the group editing process that is the books of the Bible from the teachers I had in Parochial grammar schools and Catholic high school (both in Boston)

*Some* ministers aim to deceive their congregations. Not all.

I've since jumped ship from the RC to the EC, but it was really more along the lines of trying to stay with the concept of a church's continued emphasis on service to the world rather than to a conservative and repressive hierarchy. And apparently I'm not alone -- anecdotal evidence shows a fair number of RC brethren are moving over to the EC.

#289 - Wingate:
"...A lot of us just wish the whole thing would go away..."

Excuse me?

Yes, I'd like homophobia and institutionalized sexism to go away, myself.

But I don't think that the homophobia and sexism will go away if we just wish it away. That kind of hand-waving is what lets too many injustices become entrenched.

These are real issues, and the Church needs to address them as real issues, not ignore them.

Or else we will be continuing to tell parts of our congregation that, based on a genetic circumstance, they are not as worthy of sacramental consideration as the rest.

#296 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 01:57 PM:

albatross, you're not arguing honestly. You're arguing that everyone else is saying "we shouldn't consider race in science because that's icky". You're avoiding responding to the actual argument, "science, like every other aspect of culture, is full of bigotry; and that bigotry leads to crap science." Remember when I pointed out that Evolutionary Psychology is a bunch of unfalsifiable just-so stories, and you were like "but I could tell a great life-affirming just-so story!" and I was like, "Yeah, and that's still unfalsifiable?"

You're dodging discussion of actual examples of bigotry in science, like the "women can't park" thing, to muddy the waters with some sort of "but if science proves that black people tend to be darker, is that racist" tautology. What possible reason is there for that?

Seems to me that you still can't get around the idea that bigotry isn't just burning crosses and lynnching people: a bunch of small bigoted things add up to big bigoted things. To avoid that discussion, you're running as fast as you can into tautologyland and still claiming to be talking about morality.

This would be a pretty par-for-the-course discussion of bigotry, except that now you're trying to claim that it's "the left" who are running from the facts.

#297 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 02:23 PM:

Stephen 286: I chose my example carefully. I've never met a Christian who would embrace one Gospel and repudiate one of the others, even though taken as literal history they contradict one another. (Which is not to say that Christians don't take them as not literal history; most of the Christians I know don't take the Bible literally.)

That doesn't mean they don't exist. But I would maintain that anyone in that category would also be outside my category of "it's part of your religion to believe that your founder was transmitting the Word of God." I may be tarring with too broad a brush in including all Christians in that category; if that's what you mean, I accept the correction.

#298 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 02:30 PM:

albatross @ #292: I think the point is that social race doesn't correlate all that well with genetics, and the non-correlations are numerous, broadly, distributed, and not well-marked.

Completely hypothetical example: allele A originates in some small part of Africa. In the US, because that area was pretty thoroughly picked-over by slavers in the 1800s, 60% of people who self-identify as black have A, but because humans boink like crazed weasels, so do 30% of people who self-identify as white. If you give a bunch of people a drug that synergizes well with allele A, sure it will provide benefits to twice as many "black" people as "white" people, but claiming that it works better on this set of people because they're black is not all that useful.

(Okay, my words are now stumbling helpless and lost across the fluorosphere. Bring out the claws and teeth!)

#299 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 10:28 PM:

albatross, #293: I'm saying that unless you have specific, genetically-based definitions for "black" and "white", those terms have no meaning and cannot be used accurately to correlate things like medical study results. As someone else pointed out upthread, American blacks and whites share more of a genetic heritage with each other than either does with a black-skinned person from Australia or Ghana.

Trip said it very succinctly in #298:
social race doesn't correlate all that well with genetics, and the non-correlations are numerous, broadly-distributed, and not well-marked.

#300 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 11:39 PM:

And just to make the whole situation more simple & easy to discuss and deal with, there's also a relationship between someone's perceived 'social race' and how they are treated within and outside their social or cultural race, living and working conditions, health treatment etc, etc, etc, which would have an interaction with any 'physical (or genetic) race' characteristics.

Then there's the effects of 'class' — here I mean mostly money/employment. I continue to argue that a lot (not all) of the problems many Aboriginal Australians have to deal with are shared by non-Aboriginal Australians in a similar level of poverty (there's a different question as to why there is a greater proportion of them in poverty). Doing things that would help all people in that situation would be preferable, and more helpful to everyone, and society, to me.

Then there's another overlapping set of problems shared by most people who live in remote areas (still a minority of Aboriginals, but a larger proportion of them than non-Aboriginals who live in remote areas). It's like labelling particular things "women's problems", and only looking at the "women" part, instead of trying to work out ways to help the "problem", whoever has it.

#301 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 03:40 AM:

Craig R. # 295: Yes, I take your point about what is taught in parochial schools, etc. But in church it's still 'sacred scripture' and 'This is the word of the Lord'. Look, I don't exactly blame the non-fundamentalist churches for doing this. But it does annoy me sometimes. The discovery that whoever wrote the laws of Moses, it wasn't Moses and it wasn't God, should make some difference, surely?

#302 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 04:42 AM:

Ken #301: No, no facts at all will make any difference to liberal ways of reading the Bible. When pinned into a corner, theologians will say that All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, even when it's not actually, you know, true.

As to why liberals won't correct fundamentalists on the facts, well, no enemies to the left and all that.

#303 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 08:44 AM:

#302 Niall:

The nun who taught my RCIA class had a wonderful comment along these lines. If I can approximately remember it: The Bible is filled with true stories, and some of them even happened.

#304 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 09:33 AM:

C Wingate at 278: from my perspective as a liberal Anglican, it is the conservatives who are determined to ignore the basic Anglican compromise, and impose their view of the church on all of us.

In the matter of ordination of women, the liberals bent over backwards to accommodate the conservatives, with parishes allowed to refuse women ministers, etc, etc, while the conservatives did their best to prevent *anyone* being able to have access to women priests should that be their desire. The repeatedly stated view of the conservatives was that there should be no women priests, and that if anyone was allowed to have women priests, the church would be split and it would be All Your Fault That We Have To Leave, while it was perfectly acceptable for them to tell people who could not face a church without women priests that they should be the ones to leave. I saw this happening up close and personal in not one but two parts of the communion, as a result of moving countries. And quite apart from my views on the injustice of excluding women from ministry, rejecting half the potential candidates is a damned silly thing to be doing when parishes are lying vacant for months because there aren't enough priests to go round.

I see exactly the same behaviour happening again over various aspects of how we deal with the existence of homosexuality. And as the particular parish I spent my teenage years in had a heavy emphasis on the Two Great Commandments, I am saddened and angered by the conservative desire to cherry-pick convenient bits of Leviticus in an attempt to exclude my brothers and sisters in Christ from all parts of our communion, and by their willingness to ignore the basic Anglican compromise in pursuit of that goal.

The basic Anglican compromise is in essence *why* I am an Anglican as an adult choice, and why I will still be an Anglican even if my faith moves to atheism. It matters very much to me, which is why I think it right and proper that conservative parishes were given the right to opt out of the ordination of women and should be given the same with respect to the ordination of gays, even if I disagree with their views. I wish that the conservatives behind this latest uproar would show the same respect to me.

#305 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 10:47 AM:

Julia - # 304 --

The basic difference now between the ordination of women and the simple acceptance of gays into the sacraments of the Church is that in this struggle, the backers are being hidden, and because of the hidden financial resources they can make a much louder noise than their true numbers would make possible, thus lending the impression that their opinion is shared by many more in the Communion than are otherwise.

And, contrary to what Wingate may think, I think that the 3rd-world members of the communion who are acting in concert with the bigots are in for a rude awakening when they find that their own decision making is being compromised because they are depending on funds from outside sources that really don't give a damn about Anglicans, and that regard them, (us) as the Next Thing To Papists, and therefor Not Really Christian.

(and did I really just right those monsters of sentences?)

#306 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 11:17 AM:

Julia # 304 --

//warning!! Episcopal Church Neep follows !! //
As a side note, I see that the EC council of Bishops just finished their meeting in New Orleans. They have issued a new statement about the Lambeth Report, and while being conciliatory, and agreeing to (at least for now) exercise "restraint" in the matter of authorizing rites for same-sex unions, they did not consider the matter a closed issue.

They also called upon the various provinces to follow the admonition already given to listen to the input and opinions of the LGBT members of the congregations (of course, that would require that some fo the provinces agree that the LGBT members of their congregations even exist, never mind agree that they have anything relevent to say.)

The Bishops also essentially told the Nigerian and Ugandan primates to "stuff it," in that they did *not* agree to roll over and play dead so that some "pastoral scheme" could be established in order to teach us uppity colonials Right From Wrong. They also told the overseas primates to stop sending in their missions and uninvited bishops, Thank You Very Much, We Have Our Own Bishops, Now Go Home.

#307 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 02:36 PM:

#304: Back in 1976, the liberals had no choice but to make some accomodations; having won by a single vote, they simply couldn't do otherwise. And there was no Dennis Canon to hold over the head of those threatening to leave. Since then, some of those accomodations have been officially rolled back; and for every story about how the conservatives are trying to keep anyone from hacing women priests, I can find several more about how the rector search at a conservative parish was interfered with. The obvious solution of formalizing some sort of parallel hierarchy has never been accepted. You may feel that conservative parishes ought to have some sort of opt out accomodation, but the issue that is driving the current problem is that the liberal hierarchy does not agree with you.

The reason why there aren't enough priests around has nothing to do with this. It is a function of increasing age at ordination, and little else. And as far as that is concerned, the big liberal dioceses are the center of that problem, because their emphasis on process and maturity has turned the priesthood into a second career for lawyers (or lawyers' spouses), because they are the only ones with the time and money to jump through all the hoops along the way.

#305: If by "outside sources" you mean Howard Ahramson, might I point out that he is an Anglican? And might I point out that EC dioceses and parishes have been disappointed to find out that holding the purse strings on African projects didn't give them influence; it would not surprise me to find that those nefarious American backers of the current insurrection discovered that their influence was similarly limited.

#308 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 04:35 PM:

Lee #299:

So, how do you explain research results in which they did use self-reported race, and got reproducable results which correlated with something interesting? I feel like I'm really missing something here, because we have:

a. Various research results which use the category of race and get reproducable and interesting results, like finding that some drugs work better for blacks than whites, or finding that blacks are more susceptible to some diseases than whites.

b. Your statement that 'unless you have specific, genetically-based definitions for "black" and "white", those terms have no meaning and cannot be used accurately to correlate things like medical study results'

Here's how it looks to me: If race is a meaningless concept, or one that has no interesting relationship to some variable of interest, then you won't reliably find correlations between race and that variable. You may get occasional "false positives," but they won't repeat.

On the other hand, if you get correlations that repeat, then there's some kind of an interesting relationship. It doesn't matter whether you think there should be, or whether you can work out how they work. Seeing that correlation doesn't tell you *why* it works that way; it could be related to genetics, diet, region of the country, stress level, all kinds of stuff. But the correlation tells you that there is a relationship.

Now, medicine isn't my field, but along with Bildil being approved, sources like the Merck Manual describe some conditions that are more common in blacks or in whites or in Asians. You can find stuff online like American Heart Association or This page from Medline Plus.

#309 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 04:41 PM:

My links don't work.

Bildil: http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2005/505_BiDil.html

Medline Plus:
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/africanamericanhealth.html

American Heart Association
http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4786

#310 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 05:00 PM:

Trip #298:

I have only a beak, so I shall pick at them.

I don't think we disagree here. Race is a really messy category, but it correlates with stuff we care about, such as genetics and culture and life history. The fact that there are counterexamples, even large classes of them, doesn't contradict that.

If some drug works twice as well for blacks as whites, it sure seems like that's useful information for your doctor. Also for people doing medical research, who probably want to verify that they're not getting radically different outcomes for black patients than white patients, say.

#311 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 05:14 PM:

Maybe it would be helpful at this point to distinguish between "race", the wobbly social concept, and ethnicity. Because sometimes having more than one word to work with helps clear things up.

#312 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 05:16 PM:

WINGATE # 307:
".. If by "outside sources" you mean Howard Ahramson, might I point out that he is an Anglican?.."

No, by "outside sources" I'm talking about the likes of Coors, Bradley and Scafie.

or are you just trying to play "Devil's advocate" here?"

#313 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 06:46 PM:

Possibly Germane: The other day I heard on the radio that Nike is now making a style of shoe specifically for Native Americans. Apparently the Native American foot (Inca to Algonquian, Inuit to Cherokee) is significantly different than the typical European-American foot, to the point where Native Americans typically have to "size up," which causes all sorts of foot, leg, and back trouble.

They actually studied feet of many Native Americans from all over the continent, and compared them to the population at large. The guy who led the effort is a Native American himself, and he says he can't describe what a relief it is to finally have shoes that actually fit. But then he would, wouldn't he? I heard him say that, and let me tell you, I bought it. So either he was sincere, or he got past my finely-honed bullshit detector.

In the piece I heard on the radio, the Nike guy said they expect their main market will be tribal health centers, who will purchase the shoes and give them to tribe members for free.

I have pretty wide feet myself. I wonder if they'd fit me? (I wonder if it would be politically incorrect for me, Anglo-Euro-White guy that I am, to buy a pair, even if they fit me better?)

#314 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 06:49 PM:

Oh, and Nike "said all profits from the sale of the shoe will be reinvested in health programs for tribal lands, where problems with obesity, diabetes and related conditions are near epidemic levels in some tribes."

I hate them much less than I did before hearing this. It's a PR thing, but hey, companies are intrinsically without conscience, so if they make a good PR move, that's as good as it gets, eh?

#315 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 07:53 PM:

albatross @ #310: And then (continuing the example), you go to Brazil and find that the drug doesn't work on black people there, because they aren't actually from the same gene pool even though socially they're just as black. Whereas if you had found something biological that correlated with the drug's effectiveness, you'd be able to give it to the people who it actually helps, regardless of what race they or anyone else thinks they are.

Hm, does this make it clearer? In the US, you would probably get almost as strong a correlation between household income and effectiveness of the example drug. No matter what the neocons think, though, poor people are not biologically different from rich people.

#316 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 08:33 PM:

Xopher @ 313, 314

The relationship between Nike and some of the Native American tribes goes back some time. When I started work at Nike in 2002 the NA business group already existed and had for several years. It was, and I believe still is, primarily staffed by Native Americans (and I believe that most of those have reasonably close ties to their tribes, so it's not like just using people because they have some ancestry).

Now, I'm massively cynical about Nike. I worked there for almost 4 years, and saw very little that wasn't either totally Dilbertian or pure marketing manipulation; but as far as I could tell the Native American business was the most sincere thing there. Not saying very much, of course.

#317 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 12:39 AM:

Xopher,the TV news bit I watched about the NA Nike shoes said their feet are wider in the front than Euro-American feet. So it's not just wider, but specifically in one part.

#318 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 12:49 AM:

Yeah, it's a wider "toe box." My feet flare toward the front. I don't know if that's the same shape, in fact I doubt that it is, but it would be interesting to try on a pair.

#319 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 01:58 AM:

albatross, #308: Remember, correlation != causation. Until you've ruled out other reasons for the drug to appear to be more effective on socially-black people than on socially-white ones, you're whistling in the dark. And as Trip points out, the #1 most likely unrelated third factor (in the US) is economic class.

What it boils down to is that race, in its common American usage, is not a medical condition, and should not be used as if it were.

#320 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 11:38 AM:

#315 Trip, #319 Lee:

I'm not arguing that, having found a correlation between race and some medical outcome, you should stop looking for the underlying cause. I'm arguing that there's nothing unscientific about using race as a category in your research. I assume that some of the differences in outcomes will end up being genetic, and some social, but that's a guess till someone finds more evidence. (Maybe they've found it and I just don't know of it.)

For example, if you're running a drug study in the US and you include both black and white participants, I think you really want to ask participants their race and check to make sure that you're not getting large differences in response to your drug between races. When someone says "race isn't a meaningful concept, so can't be used in scientific research," it seems to say that you *shouldn't* do this.

Trip, I think people have checked, and found that in a lot of areas, social class or income doesn't explain as much of the difference in outcomes as race, but again, this isn't my field. It would be interesting to see whether Bildil worked as well for Brazilian or Carribean blacks as American blacks. This would give some hints about the likely breakdown of genes and culture in the drug effects. This would also be interesting for prevalence of disease; a lot of diseases are heavily influenced by lifestyle, so you could imagine a huge impact of culture in terms of stuff like diet or willingness to go to a doctor before you're deathly ill.

#321 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 12:09 PM:

Madeline F #296:

I have a feeling we're talking past each other, because your response and my posts don't seem to have much in common. Let's see if we can clear up the misunderstandings:

a. I agree that scientists are capable of bigotry and that reviewers of studies ought to look for the researchers' blind spots in things like failing to take into account other possible explanations for observed phenomena. More generally, pointing out flaws is what reviewers and other scientists ought to be doing.

b. I also assert that reviewers should never reject a study because they don't like the political, moral, or social implications of it, and that scientists should never shade their study results in order to control the political, moral or social implications of it.

c. I think there's nothing wrong, racist, evil, or unscientific about using race in scientific studies.

d. I recognize that the social category of race is messy and imprecise, but also that it correlates with stuff that's likely to be relevant in a lot of contexts, like genes and culture.

e. I have seen several people here and in the wider world (see the discussions and editorials surrounding the approval of Bildil) asserting that race is a meaningless social construct that cannot be sensibly used in medicine or other science.

f. I've seen several people in the wider world label scientists "racist" or "sexist" for the results that they report. I think this is a bad thing to do.

g. I think your characterization of evolutionary psychology as all bullshit just-so stories intended to show that white males are destined to be on top is deeply unfair, and reflects the fact that you haven't read much of it.

There, that's as clearly as I know how to state the things I've been trying to argue in this thread. From your previous comments, I think you agree with (a) and that you disagree with (g), and perhaps also with (f).

#322 ::: The Oracle ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 09:09 PM:

Where Christian evangelicals are concerned in America, we are dealing with a vast conservative conspiracy with the decades-old goal of subverting our democracy and setting up a theocracy. The Christian evangelicals will do anything, including lying, to accomplish this.

Per Miriam Beetle's post 8, I just learned that Christian evangelicals have infiltrated the comic book community. This is just another sign that the Christian evangelicals are trying to turn our popular culture against all the rest of us. Just look at what they've been doing to rock and roll.

Battle Cry Christian cult rock concerts. Recording studios that pump out Christian cult rock music. Clear Channel Communications buying up radio stations and "converting" them into Christian cult rock promotional venues. Clear Channel even going so far as to cherry-pick classic rock and roll songs, looking for lyrics that support their Christian cult rock agenda, while refusing to play non-religious songs from the same rock and roll bands. And stealth Christian cult rock engineers and deejays being placed througout the rock and roll recording industry and at radio stations across our freedom-loving nation. (Kind of like what Alberto Gonzales and Monica Goodling were caught doing at our Justice Department).

One has to connect all the dots to see how much in danger our democracy really is from these religious fanatics. Their goal is to subtly brainwash as many U.S. citizens as possible, without divulging their true Christian cult intent, until it's too late to reverse the harm they are doing to the very fabric of our democratic society.

Osama bin Laden and his ruthless al Qaeda followers would be so proud of what our own Christian evangelical cultists are doing to our nation. Wake up America!!!

#323 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 11:21 PM:

Wow, The Oracle, your post reads like a drive-by trolling...or would, if I disagreed with any of your content. The language in which that content is expressed is best reserved, I feel, for hastily-mimeographed pamphlets one hands out on the street (or would, were one a wild-eyed activist with a mimeograph machine).

In particular, "Wake up America," delightfully ambiguous as it is (is America an apostrophic vocative, in which case you dropped a comma, or the direct object of an imperative directed at us?), is also a notoriously ineffective exhortation.

#324 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 05:58 AM:

albatross, have you considered the possibility that the response you get from what you describe as the liberal/left end of the spectrum might be affected not a little by your own rhetorical approach?

You jumped in by assigning to a large and poorly-defined group "the same rationality that the Fallwells and Robertsons use when dealing with evolution," mindless groupthink reaction, and unreason in areas where there's been a fair amount of, to say the least, science which the scientific community is deeply divided on the value of, and which is succeptible to being used to support an existing system of inequity while not acknowledging its effects.

You have not, JMO, adequately explained what the "obvious" implications of the studies you find telling are, or even what studies they are (are we talking about the research presented in the Bell Curve here? Another study? What do you feel it proved?)

By the end, though, you're saying that your agenda is that data should not be suppressed out of political correctness.

Well, yeah, that's true.

On the other hand, "obvious" conclusions drawn from that data should have to be rigorously defended, because "obviousness" is not by any stretch of the imagination an objective quality or one necessarily arrived at by disinterested intellectual rigor.

#325 ::: The Cynic Sage ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 03:09 PM:

Great article.

Oh, did you hear about Creation Science Evangelism ministries fraudulently flagging youtube videos critical of them as copyright material?

They got some balls on them, those snakes.

#326 ::: eyelessgame ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 03:43 PM:

In the earlier discussion about fear vs power, may I posit that one of the reasons for people to drive to acquire power over others is the fear of what's otherwise going to happen if "those people" are allowed to do what they want?

I.e. seeking power and reacting from fear are not mutually exclusive. Wanting the power to enforce heterosexuality is not even remotely divorced from the fear of what God will do to cultures who tolerate gays (or, alternatively, the fear of how you yourself might react when propositioned by a gay person). The desire to exert power over the Middle East certainly wasn't divorced from the fear of what Middle Easterners were doing.

I think it's hard even to come up with any movement toward authoritarianism that didn't have lizard-brained fear at its root.

#327 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 10:52 PM:

Julia, #324: By the end, though, you're saying that your agenda is that data should not be suppressed out of political correctness.

And conversely, it is not "political correctness" to point out huge potential flaws in the application and/or interpretation of data when racial categorizations are being invoked. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

Which is where we keep running up against vagueness in the argument. To which studies is albatross referring, that supposedly found significant differences in the effects of Drug X on (self-identified) black & white people... or is that just a hypothetical situation?

#328 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 04:26 AM:

Myself I'm more interested in the namechecked "race/IQ correlation," which we've heard very little about since.

Which, I have to say, puts up a number of red flags for me. Casual unsupported claims that some popular form of political incorrectness is "obvious" tend to make me hope there's nothing more serious than posturing going on.

#329 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 03:03 PM:

albatross @ #320:

That's my point, that "black" isn't a group biologically. A black man from Brazil or Jamaica will get lynched just as fast in the Bible Belt, but that doesn't tell you anything about his genetics. Sure you can find a correlation, but you can always find correlations that aren't causal.

#330 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 08:45 PM:

Lee #327: I linked to the discussion of Bildil, which is a drug which was approved by the FDA on the basis of being effective for blacks in clinical trials. My understanding is that it was originally not approved, because the effect wasn't statistically significant on all patients. But there was a big improvement for black patients, so they ran big studies focusing on blacks, and got the interesting result. This isn't hypothetical.

Neither is the racial link with disease prevalence; the links I provided went to the American Heart Association and Medline, which are about as mainstream links as you can find.

[Note: It's not clear how much, if any, of this is genetic, versus cultural or regional or whatever. I think I was clear about that, but maybe not.]

My whole point in providing the links was to make it clear that this wasn't just some hypothetical. But look, even if we were talking hypotheticals, the whole point of this thread is that you can't discount the possibility of evidence based on your prior beliefs, nor based on how much you hope it's not true. This is just as wrong when done with respect to race and medicine, how much of sex roles are based on biology, or the safety of nuclear power as when it's done for evolution or global warming or the dangers of cigarette smoking. It's just wrong, the way 2+2=5 is wrong; it can't lead anywhere good.

As an aside, I haven't used the term "political correctness" in this discussion, nor is that really what we're talking about. The specific discussion was whether evading or denying inconvenient science was only a phenomenon of the right. I pointed out some areas where it's also widespread on the left. [Note: Widespread on the left != all people on the left do it.]

#331 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 09:37 AM:

#328 julia:

I mentioned several different topics on which I've seen people, mostly on the left, going to great lengths to deny available evidence. The race/IQ correlation is one of those; it's not in dispute at all, though the reason for the difference is an open research question, and I think the broad question of what IQ means is still a subject of a lot of debate.

If you want to see a consensus statement on IQ by people in the field, I think the APA statement in response to the Bell Curve is a pretty good summary.

Links:

Executive summary of APA statement

Full APA statement in PDF

(Disclaimer: This isn't my field. I find it positively painful to try to read papers in psychometrics; this stuff would put a patent attorney to sleep.)

I gather there were also some disagreements with the APA statement, which were published later by the same journal as published the APA statement. I found those links off the Wikipedia entry on _The Bell Curve_. If you're interested, I recommend Googling for them.

This discussion is becoming an energy sink. When I was younger and dumber, I enjoyed this sort of "me against the world" argument sometimes, probably because I thought it made me look smart. But it's really just a waste of time.

At this point, I doubt that anyone is going to be convinced that isn't, and I think we're mostly cycling back and forth with definitions, along with occasional insults or hints of them. I've been expecting this discussion to burst into flames for the last couple messages, and probably should have just bailed out back then. I'm done for now.

#332 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 11:11 AM:

I feel like screaming and this seems the most reasonable place to do it.

About a half an hour ago I mentioned, in passing, to someone I work with that I occasionally have trouble sleeping. And just now he came into my office and used that as a pretext to try to fucking convert me. And I when I (politely!) told him that I don't believe in his worldview and that I would appreciate it if he didn't talk to me about it again, he got self-righteously angry and said, "Well, God only comes to those who want him, but it's the only way you'll get better!"

He also accused me of sneaking out of bed when I was little to watch TV (which, OH MY GOD why would he act like that matters, and incidentally I don't remember ever doing it), and compared my occasional insomnia to compulsive lying.

#333 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 02:27 PM:

Ethan,

what a [CENSORED]! People like that tempt me to convert away from Christianity!

#334 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 02:40 PM:

ethan... Actually, that's kind of funny. In a ghastly sort of way.

#335 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 02:56 PM:

ethan @ #322: on behalf of the asstard who claims to believe in the same God I do, I apologize.

Please accept my best wishes for a speedy resolution to your insomnia (frustrating enough in itself without its attracting wingnuts!).

#336 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 03:06 PM:

re 331: It's striking how often the words "we don't know" appear in the APA summary. And it also seems kind of dumb to get in a fuss about it. At best, all they are getting a correlation, which is (as everyone keeps harping) vulnerable to all sorts of circular influences. Without an operational understanding of how the genetics inflence matters, it doesn't amount to much. And besides, the old rule of human variation applies: with few exceptions, the differences within any group of people far outweigh the differences between one group and the next. So my reaction to being told that white people have better smartness genetics than blacks is "Who cares?" I know plenty of dumb whites, after all. It's almost inconceivable that genetics doesn't play some role, but knowing that doesn't help any. It's certainly nothing to base public policy on, one way or the other.

#337 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 03:12 PM:

Nancy, Serge, Lila...thanks. I'm calmer now, although a minute ago I saw him struggling with a broken copy machine and had to practically kick myself to stop from saying, "Oh, why don't you ask God to fix it?"

It would have been just as unacceptably ridiculous as what he said to me, but man was the temptation powerful.

#338 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 03:39 PM:

ethan, I'm sorry about your insomnia, and I'm sorry you had to deal with this fucktard. If he ever calls in sick, tell his boss that you know he can't really be sick. After all, God will keep him well, right? So if he calls in sick, he MUST be malingering!

As for the photocopier, you're a better person than I am. I'd've said "Pray to Ganesha, and maybe you'll get past this obstacle!" Better that you didn't, of course, but I don't think I could have resisted.

And occasional insomnia == compulsive lying? Whiskey tango foxtrot?

#339 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 04:09 PM:

A couple of weeks ago I got a nice warm blanket and it's helped me sleep better. Maybe you should start worshipping blankets, ethan. Then again, Mrs. Mjfgates swears by the Great and Holy Memory Foam Bed Topper... egads, it's a whole pantheon!...

#340 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 04:56 PM:

ethan @ 337... a minute ago I saw him struggling with a broken copy machine

That reminds me of the Far Side joke about the home-appliance faith healer.

"Foul demon that clogs this vacuum cleaner, I banish thee! Begone!"

#341 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 08:17 PM:

ethan #332:

The rejoinder I'd give would be that god who gives you insomnia (or any other unpleasantness) to persuade you s/he is good for you isn't worthy of worship. You're doing far better than I would.

#342 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 08:35 PM:

Ethan, the guy's a jackass, and his moral philosophy/religious convictions/spiritual practice is irrelevant to that. He'd be a jackass no matter what faith or lack of it he professed. Sorry you had to run into him.

#343 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 09:44 PM:

ethan: If you catch him at it again, report him to HR. On the street that sort of fucktardity is merely annoying; on the job it's just as unacceptable as (e.g.) sexual harassment.

#344 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 12:26 AM:

Ethan # 337
"..It would have been just as unacceptably ridiculous as what he said to me, but man was the temptation powerful.."

You are a better critter than I -- I would have yielded to temptation....

#345 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 12:49 AM:

Friends, online and IRL, are good things. In addition to all y'all/youse guys alternately cracking me up and making me say "I know!" to my computer screen, I also got to rant about it to a very patient friend of mine for an hour or so over dinner. She believes in a very toned-down version of the RC God, and I don't believe in, well, anything, and, as here, it was fun to compare the nuances of our reactions.

CHip: I'm temping at the moment, and I'm considering calling the agency to find out what their thoughts on my options are if this continues (although I have no reason to believe it will, I also have no reason to believe it won't). I feel like the fact that I'm working in a state office, and the guy's a state worker, might have some impact as well.

Xopher: Whiskey tango foxtrot indeed. The argument, as far as I could follow, was that his fabricated history for me involved my being a rebellious child who would sneak out of bed to watch TV (please, I didn't have cable; what kid wants to watch late-night network TV in the late 80s/early 90s?), and that turned into a vicious cycle of staying up late that's now turned into a disorder--or something--that can only be cured by buying my Ambien at The Good Lord's Pharmacy, just like how everyone tells a lie or two every now and then, but if you don't accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Polygraph you'll turn into a compulsive liar. I assume it's kind of like how everyone has sex with the occasional member of his or her own gender, but only if you reject Jesus will you turn into a homosexual.

Leaving aside any nonsensicalities in that particular line of logic, and leaving aside any question of morality, there's also this: lying is active. Not being able to sleep is passive. They are not comparable. As my friend said tonight at dinner, "Man, that dude really has to work on his brainwashing techniques."

I'm just glad this kind of thing is a vanishingly rare event in my life.

[Re-reading this in preview, it's a) very long and b) full of convoluted sentences that I can't at the moment think how to fix. My apologies.]

#346 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 02:03 AM:

ethan, #332, people in my mother's church told her that if she had enough faith in god, she wouldn't have cancer. You just have to assume these folks are a little nuts.

#347 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 02:18 AM:

ethan,

What that horse's ass said had nothing whatever to do with gods, God, or religion; it was all about his own meanness and spite. He's clearly the kind of person who can only believe that his own life is good if he can convince himself that someone else's sucks. He will punish himself quite effectively if left to his own devices.

On the other hand, there's no reason to punish yourself by listening to him, so if he does persist, you should definitely file a complaint; at a minimum it will shut him up. Though I do hope you never hear another word from him.

#348 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 02:41 AM:

"The race/IQ correlation is one of those; it's not in dispute at all, though the reason for the difference is an open research question, and I think the broad question of what IQ means is still a subject of a lot of debate." From my viewpoint, there's so many problems with the mathematics underlying most psychometry, that I don't think the correlation means much of anything. (A great many of the calcs are trade secret as well.) Last time I looked, the best monograph on this subject was The Rising Curve, edited by Ulrich Neisser, published by the APA.

#349 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 02:46 AM:

"I'm arguing that there's nothing unscientific about using race as a category in your research."

Except that, so far as I know, genetically, "race" doesn't exist outside of Africa; the differences between the "races" are largely superficial matters of phenotype rather than the true differences of subspecies.

#350 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 10:23 AM:

Marilee #346: Vaguely similarly, the friend I had dinner with yesterday told me about a diagnosed schizophrenic relative who fell in with a fundamentalist church who convinced him that he didn't need his medicine, that God would heal him. So far, God has not deigned to do so.

Every time I'm faced anew with what this type is capable of, whether trivial like my encounter or far more serious like Marilee's mother and my friend's relative, I'm astounded.

#351 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 12:50 PM:

ethan 350: I saw something on (I think) Court TV a while back about a paranoid schizophrenic teenager whose Scientologist parents refused to put him on medication (after all only "Psychlos" want to medicate people).

He eventually murdered them in their beds.

Call me a bad person, but I think it serves them the hell right. The only downside from my distinctly unsaintly point of view is that the kid's own life is now irretrievably ruined. (Frankly I think that if the only victims of such a person are the people who kept him from getting the treatment a "reasonable person" would have given him, that should be grounds for a finding of Justifiable Homicide.)

But then I happen to be very emotionally close with a paranoid schizophrenic who is absolutely wonderful as long as he's on his medication, but gets very scary when he isn't, mostly because he has terrifying hallucinations. I've never felt physically threatened by him, but if he went years without meds, he could get very bad indeed. When I see how my friend suffers after only a few days, I can only shudder to imagine the torment those Scientologists put their son through in the name of religion.

#352 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 01:10 PM:

Ethan at 350: I wonder if these fundamentalists ever considered that God's healing might take the form of doctors and pharmacists with therapeutic drugs?

Nah.

#353 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 01:54 PM:

Lizzy L @ 352... This reminds me of the scene in Inherit the Wind where Spencer Tracy says that God made all animals either swifter or more beautiful than humans, but that to us God gave something unique - the power to think, a faculty that some people don't care to overuse.

#354 ::: Betsey Langan ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 01:56 PM:

Lizzy L @352: I wonder if these fundamentalists ever considered that God's healing might take the form of doctors and pharmacists with therapeutic drugs?

Cross-reference: the joke about the drowning man who complained to God when he got to Heaven that he died despite his faith and prayers. God: "I sent you a truck, a rowboat, and a helicopter. What else did you want?"

Also, ObFilk: From The Word of God by Cat Faber: "The profoundest act of worship is to try to understand"

#355 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 02:48 PM:

Betsey at 354, the last version of that joke I heard had a trapper marooned on an ice floe and an Eskimo in it. I'm sure there's a version from ancient Zoar about the man lost in the desert and the camel driver.

#356 ::: Bukmacher ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 02:30 PM:

Informacje zawarte na stronie [URL redacted] pozwolą Ci dowiedzieć się jak sprawnie zawierać zakłady bukmacherskie on-line, które stają się coraz popularniejsze wśród użytkowników internetu a także pozwolą wybrać kilka serwisów bukmacherskich, takich jak betgun, betway, betathome, expekt, które ze względu na wysokie kursy zdarzeń, profesjonalizm i szeroko pojętą uczciwość stanowią awangardę wśród firm oferujących zakłady bukmacherskie

#357 ::: Nancy C. Mittens scratches her head, and wonders what language ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 02:38 PM:

It seems possible
That is it Hungarian
I can't really tell.

#358 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 02:57 PM:

I believe it's Polish.

#359 ::: John Houghton confirms that it is Polish spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 03:03 PM:

That's Polish spam, not Polish ham!

Spam from a Polish sports bookmaking site. Wrong kind of bookmaking. Sigh. Sorry abi.

#360 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 03:04 PM:

Using an on-line Polish-English translation site (http://www.poltran.com/pl.php4), that reads:

They will be allowed to inform informations included (reached; made) as proficiently include (reach; make) on part plants (bets) it [URL redacted] bukmacherskie on-line, which (who) become among users of internet popular more as well as several services will allow to choose bukmacherskich, like betgun, betway, betathome, expekt, which (who) from the point of view of high rates of events, professionalism and present comprehended honesty among firms widely avant-garde offering plant (bet) bukmacherskie

I suspect it's spam for an on-line betting (bookmaking) parlor.

#361 ::: abi is heartbroken, just heartbroken ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 03:06 PM:

Abi is despondent
Over John's finding:
No new correspondent
About bookbinding.

#362 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 04:38 PM:

I'm no great fighter,
but I think the right hook
is our hostess is the writer
of Making Book.

#363 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 05:07 PM:

Fragano: yes, I suspect so. Her page about it is the 13th link in a google search for "book making".

#364 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 05:08 PM:

(Sorry, not in a poetic form.
It takes me hours to make something scan.
And rhyming's right out.)

#365 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 05:16 PM:

Jules,

It's strained, but you could try:

Yes, Google, as I've seen,
When searches undertaking
Ranks ML at thirteen
For searches on "book making"?

#366 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 05:25 PM:

Jules #363:

Since the days of Serdar Argic
it's been known to the wise
that spammers are lethargic
about where they post their lies.

#367 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 06:36 PM:

Thanks so much to abi, Fragano, and also the so many others who — poetically or prosaically — contribute here.

Altho' it does take time away from stuff I need to be doing, youse all give me hope in difficult places, and balm for hurts.

#368 ::: A Key ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2007, 01:10 PM:

If God wants us to know our origins and give up the rich fabric of our myths, He will send us the appropriate message. Until then, enjoy the exploration of the myths, enjoy the exploration of your physical world, and try to be nice to your fellowman. You can catch up on the origins in your next phase.

#369 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2007, 08:36 AM:

She has sent us "the appropriate message"; She's given us the the ability to understand the physical world.

Which doesn't mean we have to give up the myths, either--we can have both. It's great.

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

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