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May 28, 2009

Darn those deconstructionists and their crazy rock and roll
Posted by Patrick at 07:39 AM * 302 comments

Scott McLemee’s takedown of Leon Kass, court philosopher to the George W. Bush administration, is a thing of beauty in several ways, but this particular bit excels:

The account of Kass’s speech in Inside Higher Ed—and the text of it, also available online—confirmed something that I would have been willing to wager my paycheck on, had there been a compulsive gambler around to take the bet. For I felt certain that Kass would claim, at some point, that the humanities are in bad shape because nobody reads the “great works” because everybody is too busy with the “deconstruction.”

It often seems like the culture wars are, in themselves, a particularly brainless form of mass culture. Some video game, perhaps, in which players keep shooting at the same zombies over and over, because they never change and just keep coming—which is really good practice in case you ever have to shoot at zombies in real life, but otherwise is not particularly good exercise.

The reality is that you encounter actual deconstructionists nowadays only slightly more often than zombies. People who keep going on about them sound (to vary references a bit) like Grandpa Simpson ranting about the Beatles. Reading The New Criterion, you’d think that Derrida was still giving sold-out concerts at Che Stadium. Sadly, no.

But then it never makes any difference to point out that the center of gravity for argumentation has shifted quite a lot over the past 25 years. What matters is not actually knowing anything about the humanities in particular—just that you dislike them in general.

The logic runs something like: “What I hate about the humanities is deconstructionism, because I have decided that everything I dislike should be called ‘deconstructionism.’” Q.E.D.!

You hear the same stuff constantly in discussions inside the science fiction world, almost as frequently as you hear that “mainstream” novels are all about “adultery in Westchester County.” Some people really need to update their game.
Comments on Darn those deconstructionists and their crazy rock and roll:
#1 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 09:03 AM:

Bah! Kids these days don't ken their latin and greek as they should! No wonder the world's gone to heresy and fire!

#2 ::: Disgruntled in Westchester ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 09:08 AM:

Hrumpf! We can move over to Putnam County if it would make you feel better.

#3 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 09:10 AM:

Ah, yes, the academic humanities variant of "Atwood et al. don't write science fiction, because they're actually good, as opposed to E.E. Smith."

Too bad Michael Bérubé decided to take the rest of the week off from blogging; otherwise, he'd be all over this like a cultural studies professor on deconstructionism. Or he'd merely note that it's Leon again, making a Kass of himself as usual*.

*Okay, I'd probably be the one to make that note, because Professor Bérubé is wittier than that**.

**Usually.

#4 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 09:21 AM:

“mainstream” novels are all about “adultery in Westchester County.”

...where the Xavier School for Youngsters can also be found. One of those darn mutant kids blew up the train station's roof just by looking at it.

#5 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 09:24 AM:

I'm not entirely clear what the 'same stuff' is we hear constantly in the SF world. Dissing deconstructionism? Dissing mainstream novels? Or something else?

This year, I'm in the very funny position of working with Science Studies sociologists, who were the zombies in the Science Wars, intoning that science was just a cultural practice with no more truth-value than astrology while smashing laboratory glassware, practising relativism and eating brains. So far I have found them strangely human and reasonable, fascinated by science, and a delight to have as colleagues.

Mind you, I haven't been in the office at night.

#6 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 09:30 AM:

Um, well, the word "deconstruction" itself doesn't appear in Kass's lecture at all; the closest he comes is a passing reference to "a cynical tendency to disparage the great ideas and to deconstruct the great works that we have inherited from ages past," a passage that may or may not have any reference to Derrida, who goes unmentioned. It wouldn't surprise me that Kass would view McLemee's response as an example of what he deplores.

#7 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 09:36 AM:

who were the zombies in the Science Wars, intoning that science was just a cultural practice with no more truth-value than astrology while smashing laboratory glassware, practising relativism and eating brains. So far I have found them strangely human and reasonable, fascinated by science, and a delight to have as colleagues.

What exactly is surprising about nice sane people having strange and arguably disagreeable beliefs?

#8 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 10:00 AM:

The thing about obsolete tools for critical argument is that nobody ever bothers to box them up and put them away after acquiring a shiny new set. Instead, they're left lying around out in public where untrained amateurs can pick them up and use them for god-knows-what.

#9 ::: Betsy-the-muffin ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 10:07 AM:

Well, to be fair, the Science Studies sorts did start with a grain of useful point--all work is done in a cultural context, and that cultural context occasionally impairs the progress of science towards truth. (Try reading 19th century anthropology nowadays!) Unfortunately, while trying to broaden their niche into a field, they generalized their central idea into uselessness.

#10 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 10:08 AM:

C. Wingate @ 6:

It wouldn't surprise me that Kass would view McLemee's response as an example of what he deplores.

It wouldn't surprise me either, but that would then be an example of what McLemee is pointing out.

(Whereupon the universe collapses under the recursive feedback.)

And seriously, McLemee is perfectly familiar with Kass' shtick, so the classic "But he doesn't actually use that exact word" method of refutation is not the strongest. The context of "The last thing young people need is cynicism and a belief that the truth about these matters is whatever you want it to be" and "obsessed with theory, they’re not teaching the books the way the students want to read them" are pretty clear to those who have to repeatedly fend off the David Horowitzes of the world.

Actually, if it were me, I would have reduced the talk to "Scolding about morality and timeless truths, directed at liberal arts professors who in aggregate almost certainly believe torture is immoral, from the Bush Administration's resident ethicist" and dismissed the content entirely. So kudos to McLemee for hitting some other points as well.

#11 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 10:20 AM:

@2: Hey! You stay outta Putnam County! Razzafrazzing Westchesterites think they can just bring their Westchesterous behavior into my unspoiled Putnam...and get offa my lawn, too.

#12 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 10:55 AM:

I don't have much to add except: 1) Bah! Anyone who is an F.O.B. (Friend of Bush -- father or son) is someone I wouldn't trust to tell me he/she was a White Foot, or Black Foot Indian; and 2) I have always wished I could have taken more English Lit. classes since, even 20 years ago, it was pretty clear to me that I would never have been able to make a living if I chose any type of Lit. degree as my major (in other words, I'd like to have the luxury to go back and take classes just for the fun of it!).

One of the courses I did get to take was entitled, Mythology in Literature, and did quite a bit of deconstruction to place the texts in their proper historical contexts. I was required to read Milton's Paradise Lost this way -- and I wouldn't recommend the book to anyone outside the context of such a course -- but it turned out to become one of my famous pieces of "literature."

So Bah! to Leon Kass!

#13 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 11:09 AM:

I must say, anyone who can write "still giving sold-out concerts at Che Stadium" has my vote. Is that as funny to people who've never heard of Shea Stadium (pronounced exactly the same way)?

#14 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 11:30 AM:

Xopher @13, maybe my hind brain registered the pun, but I'm pretty sure I missed it and still thought it was funny.

#15 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 11:44 AM:

Oh, how I wish I could learn to write and edit within a period of less an hour!

Please read, "but it turned out to become one of my famous pieces of "literature."" as:

but it turned out to become one of my favorite famous pieces of "literature."

#16 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 11:51 AM:

Yep. I particularly enjoy people who explain to me that psychology is bunk because Freudianism is unfalsifiable. They go into great sarcastic detail about the absurdity of thinking you can divine someone's true motives and behaviors based on symbolism and presumed glimpses of the unconscious.

And I can barely get a word in edgewise to explain to them that I've never even met a Freudian analyst.

#17 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 12:00 PM:

Ginger #11: All they'll do is jump over Putnam into Dutchess, where they'll play hide-and-seek in Hyde Park.

#18 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 12:12 PM:

Beats playing hide-and-park in Hyde Seek.

Or Jekyll-and-Hyde in any location.

#19 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 12:16 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 17:

All they'll do is jump over Putnam into Dutchess

Dirty! (Especially if it's the Earl of Westchester doing the jumping, because he's already married.)

Rivka @ 16:

Yep. I particularly enjoy people who explain to me that psychology is bunk because Freudianism is unfalsifiable.

Be careful with conflating Kass with the naive party-poppers from a physical science background who thow out statements like this. Kass is more of the "Danged cultural relativists, why won't you acknowledge that the literature and ideas I embrace are Objective Truth?" See also Canon, Western, Cult of the.

#20 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 12:33 PM:

Xopher @ 18... Or Jekyll-and-Hyde in any location

Or Heckle and Jeckle.
Curse those two black birds!

#21 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 12:34 PM:

But, but, Zombie Derida still stalks the halls of academe, eating the brains of authors and students alike who fail their saving throws. And behind him comes Zombie Levi-Strauss, scooping up their souls and tossing them into the Ibsenian dross-pot.

#22 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 12:46 PM:

Fragano @ 17: Yeah, but I don't care about Dutchess County. Sure it has wide-open vistas and some dying strip malls, and a really decent mexican food place with fresh guacamole made to order, but that's all.

#23 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 01:47 PM:

Rapael # 7: What exactly is surprising about nice sane people having strange and arguably disagreeable beliefs?

Well, nothing of course, but I'm beginning to suspect that their 'beliefs' are rather less strange and disagreeable than the people on the other side of the Science Wars made out. Which, again, would not be surprising. But I have a lot still to find out about Science Studies, so I could be wrong. More research is necessary.

#24 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 01:53 PM:

Rivka: Okay, so let me tell you why psychology is all bunk because Behaviorism is....hey, put down that frying pan[1]!

[1] Of course, putting it down would be negative re-enforcement.

#25 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 01:55 PM:

Bruce #21:

Late at night, Zombie Derrida and Zombie Feynman fight over who gets the brains of the next undergrad to wander alone into the steam tunnels.

#26 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 02:02 PM:

Reminds me of "Well, if you're a Witch, turn me into a toad!"

To which the response is "You don't appear to have gotten over the last time."

#27 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 02:06 PM:

All you really need to know about Leon Kass is that he thinks ice cream cones are immoral, and a sign of the degeneracy of western civilization:

http://www.classicalvalues.com/archives/2003_07.html#000019

#28 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 02:12 PM:

Ken:

ISTM that a basic problem here is that:

a. Any field of study that progresses very far will accumulate its own models and language and conventions and shiboleths.

b. Some of those will likely sound bizarre or silly to outsiders, even though they're true or at least useful[1].

c. Others of those will likely really be bizarre and/or silly.

d. It is almost impossible for outsiders to tell the difference between (b) and (c). You don't have to be within the academic movement to be able to see the difference, necessarily, but you have to know a great deal about the subject matter.

The above, mixed together with Sturgeon's Law and the Peter Principle as it applies to academia, makes for a vast amount of apparent BS from on high, some large but hard-to-distinguish fraction of which really is BS.

The best gauge I can see for this involves either experiment or observation that allows some kind of meaningful falsification, or some kind of practical application that at least forces some kind of interaction between the theory and the real-world. (Note that this is much weaker, though--physicians working with elaborate and completely wrong theories of illness and health practiced medicine for many years, probably doing as much harm as good. To work, you need not only practice but competition among different schools of thought/practitioners, or (better) some kind of objective testing of results.)

The worst case involves people arguing between their models only, with no reference to any outside data. Almost as bad is when there are more degrees of freedom in the model than in the available observation--think about economics, climate modeling, or evolutionary psychology for examples of this situation.

[1] Have you ever seen the old Objectivist critique of quantum physics? Or an intelligent, well-read creationist's critique of the theory of evolution?

#29 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 02:13 PM:

mds #19: The Cult of the Western Canon is entirely the result of the power of the Western Cannon.

#30 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 02:18 PM:

Fragano #29:

Would this phenomenon be known as The Cannon Law, then?

#31 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 02:30 PM:

Ken McLeod @ 23... "Science Wars" sounds like the title of a show for the Discovery Channel.

#32 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 02:52 PM:

albatross #30: Only in the Empyrean Empire.

#33 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 03:10 PM:

rea, #27: That was... interesting. While it would be fallacious to cite the ice-cream argument as a refutation to the current topic, the two of them taken together do demonstrate a certain pattern of ancestor-worship (aka "living in the past") and an unhealthy rigidity of thought.

#34 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 03:28 PM:

I'm not sure whether the Cult of the Western Canon is the result of the tendency of (mostly male) literary critics to turn everything into a dick-measuring contest an emergent property of the patriarchal nature of western institutions of higher learning, or the natural consequence of there only being room in a two-semester survey course for so many books.

(It's always a bit unsettling to find a new edition of a familiar anthology textbook, and see which authors have been thrown out of the lifeboat in order to take aboard someone new.)

#35 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 03:31 PM:

albatross @ 28:

Almost as bad is when there are more degrees of freedom in the model than in the available observation--think about economics, climate modeling, or evolutionary psychology for examples of this situation.

Ahem. "One of these things is not like the others..."

Ken MacLeod @ 23:

But I have a lot still to find out about Science Studies, so I could be wrong. More research is necessary.

Will the Science Studies folk get to critique your research methodology?

(Whereupon the universe collapses under the recursive feedback.)

#36 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 04:59 PM:

re 27: It seemed to me from the start that all I was supposed to need to know about Kass were the letters G, W, and B. But Dubya has never struck me as being someone to who drank from any well of knowledge, good or bad, even if he had his head shoved in it for four years.

Kass's lecture sounds pretty much like what I would expect anyone to sound like who taught at St. John's College for a long time. Kass and the ice cream cone sounds like second-half 20th century academia, or for that matter any number of people trying to assign meaning to everything that passes by. The annoying thing is that he isn't entirely wrong, for it's pathetically easy to pull out some negative social implications from the changes in the way Americans ate as the century passed. But an ice cream cone isn't the locus of those changes: indeed, if I were feeling cranky enough I could go on about the significance of the invention of the ice cream cone and the hot dog occurring at fairgrounds.

#37 ::: Dragoness Eclectic ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 06:59 PM:

The thing about obsolete tools for critical argument is that nobody ever bothers to box them up and put them away after acquiring a shiny new set. Instead, they're left lying around out in public where untrained amateurs can pick them up and use them for god-knows-what.

This is exactly why I don't argue Christian apologetics with internet Atheists. I don't have the energy to explain the entire archaeological, historical and cultural context of the Ancient Near East, plus the history of textual criticism, plus scriptural exegesis to everyone who stumbled on "101 Contradictions in the Bible" and thinks it's the greatest new thing in religious criticism.

#38 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 08:03 PM:

albatross, 28: Judicious Googling for an explanation of the Objectivist critique of quantum physics that didn't have Rand cooties led me to this site, which is very entertaining.

I think his exercise with the gold sheets in the Capitalism section actually explains the Underpants Gnomes.

#39 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 08:20 PM:

So tell me again what this has to do with the color of endangered sea cows??

#40 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 08:40 PM:

Don't get me started on "Bonfire of the Manatees"....

#41 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 08:53 PM:

Xopher @13, it's funnier still since Shea Stadium doesn't exist anymore, reinforcing the image of an obsolete cultural reference.

#42 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 10:14 PM:

Hey! Don't knock Dutchess! That's where I'm from, and though I was frustrated to be far away from it all, it's less empty than that.

#43 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 11:23 PM:

Apropos #27, it seems to me that the key insight about Kass is that the ideology behind his public effusions is the lesser-spotted Jewish Orthodox Fundamentalism: the somewhat unhealthy subset of Jewish belief that obsesses about ritual hygeine and social roles to the point of obsessive-compulsive neurosis. It differs in significant areas from the more common Protestant fundamentalist genderfail; for example, it replaces the obsession with Jeezus, salvation, and sex as sin with other shibboleths such as women's modesty, ritual cleansing, and not wearing mixed fibres. But once you account for the variant eschatology it's the same kind of reactionary authoritarian tosh: things were better in the olden days when uppity wimmin and kids knew their place.

Kass has major issues with the social progressivism of the 19th and 20th centuries, never mind the 21st; apparently the modern status of western women, no longer kept barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, is degrading to their inherent dignity which arises solely through motherhood. (Why? If you have to ask that question, you shouldn't be worrying your pretty little head; Dr Kass knows what's best for you and prescribes a restorative dose of biological determinism to banish the gender-questioning blues.) He's pathologically opposed to transhumanism, research into life extension, and the internet (especially as a medium for social relationships -- he seems to have a bee in his bonnet about VR and sex).

It's no wonder this guy went down a storm with the troglodyte right ...

#44 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 11:44 PM:

#43: And don't forget Leon Kass's famous aversion to ice cream cones. No, that's not a joke -- or, rather, it *is* a joke, but it's one that Kass made on himself while being entirely serious...

#45 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2009, 11:45 PM:

...oops, missed #27 where it was already mentioned. My bad.

#46 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 12:03 AM:

Serge, #4: “mainstream” novels are all about “adultery in Westchester County.”...where the Xavier School for Youngsters can also be found. One of those darn mutant kids blew up the train station's roof just by looking at it.

I literally paused with my chopsticks halfway to my mouth, as I finally realized what driving through Greenwich, between the Merritt Parkway and 'downtown,' reminds me of.

#47 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 12:10 AM:

debcha @ 46... And, at the very east end of Queen Street is the water filtration plant that really is a cover for the evil organization seen in Pretender AND the evil Organization seen in Mutant X.

Come and visit Toronto, where there are secret organization per square meter than anywhere else in the world.

Cue in Ann Murray's singing.

#48 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 12:41 AM:

Earl Cooley @ 40

No fair! You made me snort spaghetti sauce.

#49 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 01:05 AM:

I'm actually from Toronto, Serge - I've biked past the Harris water filtration plant many times. It's pretty funny seeing Toronto in movies; other than David Cronenberg movies (and the upcoming Scott Pilgrim, I gather), it hardly ever is as itself. From from City Hall being in ST:TOS to the lights of discount retailer Honest Ed's standing in for Atlantic City in The Long Kiss Goodnight (which made me and a fellow Torontonian in a Seattle theatre laugh very hard, which I'm sure confused the people around us). I had a serious WTF? moment when I realized that the lecture hall in Good Will Hunting was not familiar from my time at MIT; rather, it was where many of my classes at the University of Toronto were held.

I was also the only the person in the theatre where I saw Wolverine who laughed at the following exchange:"Lbhe pbhagel arrqf lbh!" "V'z Pnanqvna."

#50 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 01:16 AM:

Yikes - that post is a little shaky on the syntax. I did read what I wrote before posting, honest. Although apparently not with, y'know, my brain.

#51 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 01:17 AM:

debcha @ 49... What's the name of that big old-style hotel across the street from Toronto'a train station? Anyway, I got quite a kick from having it show up in the middle of a very futuristic city in short-lived anthology show Welcome to Paradox. The weirdest use of Toronto had to be as San Francisco in TV series War of the Worlds - I lived around the Bay Area for 11 years and I don't remember ever seeing any snow around.

#52 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 01:35 AM:

Not sure where I found this. But it's better than objectivisim.

#53 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 01:48 AM:

Serge, that would be the Royal York Hotel (now the Fairmont Royal York). It's about as unfuturistic as you could get, really.


#54 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 05:59 AM:

The Cult of the Western Canon is entirely the result of the power of the Western Cannon.

An aphorism! (fireworks, small fanfare)

"You know, that's very good. I wish I'd said that."
"Oh, you will, ajay, you will."

#55 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 08:39 AM:

Charlie #43:

I'm curious, as I've never read anything by Kass: Would he really agree with your characterization of his views of women and their roles? That sounds incredibly strawmanish, but for all I know, it's really what he believes. OTOH, it's amazingly common to "rephrase" the ideas of your political opponents in a way that just happens to make them sound like raving lunatics.

#56 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 08:49 AM:

mds #35:

So, if someone decides to try to work out the appropriate level of CO2 emissions controls using existing climate models (to estimate effects on temperature, storms, rainfall, etc.) and econometric models (to estimate costs of tightening CO2 emissions across the economy), would you expect any kind of sensible result on either side? My take is that the economists can tell us that restricting CO2 emissions will probably hurt the economy, and the climatologists can tell us that not restricting CO2 emissions will probably continue changing the climate (and changing the pH of the oceans, and God knows what else), but that any numbers either field tries to offer to quantify these effects will be little better than SWAGs.

(Of course, this is all fully explained by the mental modules needed to get by in the Evolutionary Adaptive Environment.)

#57 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 09:40 AM:

debcha @ 53... I know. That's why I thought it was hilarious to see it plopped inside a shiny city of the future.

Welcome to Paradox was a decent anthology show, by the way. It featured stories by the likes of John Varley and Ron Goulart, among others. Alas, the plug was pulled on the series all too soon - probably by Goulart's crazy robotic Volkswagen of the future.

#58 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 10:09 AM:

albatross @56:

Hrm. Pardon my little inadvertent Rorschach test. I didn't specify which of those things was not like the others. As a life scientist, I was actually inclined to single out evo psych as not rising even to the level of having models with too many free parameters. Though come to think of it, much of modern economics seems to either have too few free parameters, or completely wrong ones. And, well, I guess I do have a more favorable bias toward climate science, since it involves more evidence-based peer review by sexy physical scientists. My point is, I have no idea where I'm going with this. And this could too easily enter the realm of trailing a line behind my boat with bait that's actually on fire attached to it.

#59 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 10:27 AM:

mds @ 58: Speaking as a state certified boating safety instructor, I should advise you that trolling speed is defined as the minimum speed at which your craft can make headway against the current events.

#60 ::: Keith K ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 11:57 AM:

xeger @1:
Bah! Kids these days don't ken their latin and greek as they should!

I recently heard, of all people, a math professor lamenting this very thing, in all seriousness. It was disorienting.

#61 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 12:43 PM:

albatross #55: you don't need to look terribly far to find Leon Kass denouncing those uppity feminists.

Here is a (partial) list of the recent changes that hamper courtship and marriage: the sexual revolution, made possible especially by effective female contraception; the ideology of feminism and the changing educational and occupational status of women; the destigmatization of bastardy, divorce, infidelity, and abortion; the general erosion of shame and awe regarding sexual matters, exemplified most vividly in the ubiquitous and voyeuristic presentation of sexual activity in movies and on television; widespread morally neutral sex education in schools; the explosive increase in the numbers of young people whose parents have been divorced ...

And he goes on to add, in the next paragraph of this rather priceless essay ("The End of Courtship"):

The change most immediately devastating for wooing is probably the sexual revolution. For why would a man court a woman for marriage when she may be sexually enjoyed, and regularly, without it?

But wait, there's more!

Once female modesty became a first casualty of the sexual revolution, even women eager for marriage lost their greatest power to hold and to discipline their prospective mates. For it is a woman's refusal of sexual importunings, coupled with hints or promises of later gratification, that is generally a necessary condition of transforming a man's lust into love.

These, and further priceless Kass-isms, can be found right here.

#62 ::: Jack Siolo ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 12:53 PM:

albatross, 56,

but that any numbers either field tries to offer to quantify these effects will be little better than SWAGs.

At the risk of reaching my minimum speed, I think you could give the climate scientists credit for the direction* and the relative magnitude of changes, even if they aren't likely to get the exact quantity right to within anything better than the ten's place.**

(You could probably give the economists some credit for predictions like: given a 1 meter rise in sea level, the following condos on the VA/MD/DEL coast will be underwater and therefore have a future value of 0 no later than 2095, and therefore if you could find a way to short sell their future value, while packaging up the risk for selling at the wrong time in a credit derivative, which you could then insure...)

*vector? sign?
**At the risk of chumming the waters, I'll suggest that lots of economic theory is unfalsifiable, and therefore not that useful, but climate science is merely difficult to falsify, and therefore hard.

That is, it is difficult to falsify due to being made up of many interlocking observations from many related fields. I.e.: the insulating properties of CO2 are well understood in chemistry, but to get historical levels you need to talk to botanists, geologists, and archaeologists, and to predict the effects of too much carbonation in the ocean you need to talk to both microbiologists and oceanographers.

#63 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 12:53 PM:

Wow, what a fucking loser. That's amazing.

#64 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 12:55 PM:

I was referring to Charlie's comment at 61, and meant Kass, not Jack!

#65 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 01:46 PM:

Charlie #61:


Goodness! Dare one say "Conclusions are not supported by observation"?

#66 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 02:15 PM:

Apropos 63 and 65: When I first encounted Kass's writings a couple of years ago (via Metafilter) I was apalled. But after a bit I just had to reach for the popcorn and go hunting more of his work out of sheer vicarious voyeurism. This is the unreconstructed face of male conservative chauvanism, stripped of the familiar landmarks of Christian rhetoric that so frequently mask it and lead us to mistake it for a specifically religious brand of insanity. This is why we need feminism. More to the point, this guy has been shaping medical ethics standards for the whole of the Bush administration: a deeply frightened, misogynistic, thanatophilliac technophobe who lacks the insight to realize that his values are not universal.

Yes, I realize I'm frothing a bit at this point. But this guy is probably one of the main reasons why pregnant kids in most of the US states can't get morning-after contraceptives, and why thousands of people with diseases which quite possibly would now be treatable with embryonic stem cell derived therapies (if Bush hadn't banned them -- with Kass's enthusiastic support) are dying in unspeakable agony.

Leon Kass is an object lesson.

#67 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 03:07 PM:

Charlie Stross @66, and why thousands of people with diseases which quite possibly would now be treatable with embryonic stem cell derived therapies (if Bush hadn't banned them -- with Kass's enthusiastic support) are dying in unspeakable agony.

Leon Kass is an object lesson.

If only this were as simple for me as it is for you in your anglophone country. I'm German; you might have heard about the almost unanimous hostility our political class has towards embryonic stem cell research and therapies, and their assumption that it's kind of self-evident that everyone should think like this and follow their standards as a matter of course. Conservative chauvinism is an important part of that attitude and one of the components necessary to give it such a broad base; but conservative chauvinists alone aren't strong enough here that they could create such a general consent on their own. The rest is mainly created by vague back to nature sentinents and a distrust of science and medicine that partly echoes cheesy 1950s horror movies ("There are Things Man was not Meant to Meddle with"), and some of the support for that consensus comes from academics who more or less claim that embryonic stem cells are about patriarchalic male scientists reducing women to the status of egg production facilities.

Not that any of this makes Kass, his enablers, and their attitudes any less repulsive, of course.

#68 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 04:23 PM:

Charlie Stross #66: Surely "object lesson" should read "cvrpr bs fuvg".

#69 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 04:43 PM:

Weirdly, the phrase "adultery in Westchester" occurs in only two places in the Google-indexed web: this thread, and another blog post from a year ago also lamenting that science fiction fans think that mainstream novels are all about adultery in Westchester.

(In fact, mainstream novels are not about adultery in Westchester County. Mainstream novels are about adultery in Berks County. Get it right, SF fans!)

The closest I've been able to find to the attitude expressed among SF fans is the quote attributed to Joe Haldeman: "Bad books on writing and thoughtless English professors solemnly tell beginners to 'Write What You Know', which explains why so many mediocre novels are about English professors contemplating adultery."

BTW, searching on the phrase "adultery in Westchester" gets you some truly astounding Google Ads and sponsored links.

#70 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 06:11 PM:

I've read a Gene Wolfe interview where he used "adultery in suburbia" dismissively, but I can't find it. I did find these, with my mediocre google-fu:

some of the most exciting writing being produced now is in what's considered "genre" fields, and I'd have to agree: there are only so many beautifully honed depictions of adultery and loss in suburban America that I can take. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2007/07/27/DI2007072701729.html)
I think of literary fiction as the genre of adultery. (http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2008/07/types-of-fictio.html)
Sir Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that science fiction is the only form of literary endeavor to address and include technology and science in its content and as its subject matter. This, he figured, made it more realistic than mainstream stuff, with its narrow focus, in sf’nal view, on “suburban adultery and alcoholism”. (http://efanzines.com/Reluctant/ReluctantFamulus-069.pdf)
“Falconer” by John Cheever (1977) shows us what an establishment WASP novelist can accomplish when he is not actually writing about adultery in suburbia. (http://www.spectacle.org/0409/colchicine.html)
I contend that there’s much more “weird” and “abnormal” things in mainstream fiction than people recognize. The glorification and justification of adultery, for example. Breaking apart a marriage trumps goblins for weirdness every time. (http://www.lordofallfools.com/blog/?p=87)
no one really wanted Robert Heinlein to start writing off-planet John Updike tales of xenophobic adultery (or whatever). (http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/intmb.htm)
There's also a big distinction between the 20th-century's favored Adultery-in-Suburbia brand of LitFic and somebody like Dickens (here on Making Light a month ago)
the financial pull of the potential bestseller demands that a writer beset her characters with such familiar, mainstream problems as adultery rather than engage with the unfamiliar, distasteful, dark side of multiculturalism (http://bostonreview.net/BR28.6/chakrabarti.html)

They're not all from fans, and they vary in their dismissiveness, but I think these examples show that it's a pretty common synecdoche.

#71 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 06:13 PM:

The comment went to moderation because of its linkiness, but I just posted eight examples, including one from last month's J.G. Ballard thread.

#72 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 06:15 PM:

Dragoness Eclectic @37 - This is exactly why I don't argue Christian apologetics with internet Atheists. I don't have the energy to explain the entire archaeological, historical and cultural context of the Ancient Near East, plus the history of textual criticism, plus scriptural exegesis to everyone who stumbled on "101 Contradictions in the Bible" and thinks it's the greatest new thing in religious criticism.

Wow. That's... perfect.

I should like to memorize that against the next time I'm in a conversation with an internet atheist who's begun condescendingly "explaining" Biblical contradictions and "proving" that Christianity is an untenable position for any right thinking person in this day and age.

#73 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 06:22 PM:

#37 and #71: speaking as an internet atheist, debating the validity of a religious belief system on the basis of perceived internal inconsistencies in its current corpus of holy scripture is a case of missing the woods for the trees ... when you're actually trying to count fish.

#74 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 07:26 PM:

What fish? I don't see any fish.

#75 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 08:02 PM:

Is there a word for being an a-dogmatist? Or is that something that Smullyan would find self-contradictory?

#76 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 09:11 PM:

Bruce@48: was it any good? As good, say, as toasted banana peels?

#77 ::: Lyle Hopwood ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 09:47 PM:

I first heard the Che Stadium joke in All You Need is Cash (1978), the heartworming story of that Liverpool beat combo, The Rutles, affectionately known as the Pre-fab Four. Hard upon the heels of the joke came a second zinger, befitting the Python/SNL writers of the show.

"On their second visit to the States in early 1965 they played the world's first outdoor rock and roll concert at Che Stadium, named after the Cuban Guerilla leader, Che Stadium."

It's still funny.

#78 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 09:49 PM:

Charles Stross @73 with another epically quotable one. (Fish. Heh heh.)

I hope I didn't put my foot in it in your direction; I didn't mean to imply that all atheists on the internet are that clueless and irritating. Just some of them. Who are loud. I just caught up on a thread at Slacktivist which included at least three atheist regulars (generally respectful people, but in this instance...) lecturing the various Christian regulars on the Problem of Evil as though they'd just discovered it, and thought they were owed either A) a nice tidy Solution with a bow on top, or B) the "sight" of a multitude of Christians, newly enlightened by this epiphany, becoming ex-Christians. #37 so perfectly and pithily encapsulated what was wrong with their attitude that I sort of exploded in relief at reading it. I hope my frustration at others didn't make my tar-brush wider than it should have been, and I apologize for it having been so.

#79 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2009, 11:13 PM:

Charlie, #61: All of which my mother used to sum up with the colorful phrase, "Why should he buy the cow when he can get the milk for free?"

In the interest of NOT going into a tl;dr rant on the topic, I'll just say that I lost count of the number of inaccurate assumptions in that statement some 35 years ago.

#80 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 12:25 AM:

Lee @79, my mother actually dragged that line out on me when I was describing my post-divorce dating life, and my comeback was, "No, this way *I* get the bull without having to put up with the bullshit!"

#81 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 01:51 AM:

Nicole & Charlie (72, 73) Well, I'm certainly an agnostic-shading-towards-atheism (being pushed there by the religious dogmatists), and have been on the internet since 1990/91.

When one sees assorted vile-to-unpleasant practices being justified by beliefs based on, or appeals to the "current corpus of holy scripture" of a faith or variety thereof, and addressing the actual factual practical problems the practices (including omissions) cause is responded to by appeals to those beliefs and scriptures, what kind of arguments can one use? (There's a whole different set where one tries to address the basis for beliefs, types of morality, etc.)

I generally avoid a lot of either arguments — besides supporting what I agree with with my money, vote, petition signatures, etc. — because it makes me too angry, sad, distracted and despairing. Hence my having to only touch Pharygula lightly these days, since so much of it's taken up with profane, angry, snide argument back and forth.

Dragoness (#37) but:
a) isn't much of the difficulty with people who feel that the whole context of the "archaeological, historical and cultural context of the Ancient Near East, plus the history of textual criticism, plus scriptural exegesis" should be ignored in favour of what they believe the bare (translated) words mean? See also Slacktivist's (Fred Clark) taking apart of the Left Behind books, from the viewpoint of another Christian, assorted mullahs, rabbis, etc;
b) also addressed in 'The Courtier's Reply' (Rich (#3 in the comments) explains: "It doesn't matter that the theory of epicycles is wonderfully intricate and was built over generations by the most skillful astronomers if it's just wrong." Ian (#69 there) and Bryson (#51 there) explain part of my patience with some people of some sorts of faith.)

Darn. See, I've just used an hour or so of time I have all sorts of useful and important things to pack into to explain this. Sigh.

*waves down to Terry, who appears to have eaten Prompt. "Nice Terry, good boy."*

#82 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 02:50 AM:

Rikibeth @ 80: And you don't have to worry about being horny if you get the bull.

CHip @ 76: I never tried to snort banana peel; sounds painful. I did once try to smoke it; it was considerably less harsh than tobacco or marijuana (hence the name "Mellow Yellow").

There was some oregano in the spaghetti sauce, so I could pretend to get high.

#83 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 03:20 AM:

So, according to Kass, love is merely what men settle for when they can't get immediate access to sex? And the only reason to marry is to get access to a vagina?

I'm not sure who he considers to be less human: women or men.

#84 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 09:01 AM:

Dragoness Eclectic # 37: I don't have the energy to explain the entire archaeological, historical and cultural context of the Ancient Near East, plus the history of textual criticism, plus scriptural exegesis to everyone who stumbled on "101 Contradictions in the Bible" and thinks it's the greatest new thing in religious criticism.

It's the fundamentalists/inerrantists who need all that explained to them, not the atheists. I got pried out of inerrantism by Foote and Ball's The Bible Handbook, a book that was certainly not the last word in religious criticism even when it was written in 1888, let alone when it was reprinted in 1948. But for many, many people such books are, so to speak, a revelation.

Of course, it can be irritating for a non-fundamentalist Christian to be mistaken for a fundamentalist, but this is the internet and such things happen all the time.

#85 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 11:27 AM:

Jenny, #83: Exactly. And all women are whores, but the only legitimate form of payment for them to accept in exchange for sex is a marriage ceremony, which in turn is something only extorted from a man because it guarantees him at least one source for unlimited sex. It's a very bleak and joyless view of married life, and leads me to wonder whether Kass would have been happier under the Athenian model.

#86 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 12:52 PM:

Jenny Islander @ 83:

The wonderful thing about philosophies that state that women must be placed under so many restrictions for the purposes of modesty, access to sex, and so on is that, once you step back and look at it for a while, it turns out that it means that men have no self control and are untrustworthy. I'm pretty sure that's not what those men really want to say.

#87 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 01:10 PM:

What's that short story where men suddenly perceive women to be hideous and smell bad — but only in countries where women are restricted to hiding themselves modestly?

#88 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 01:16 PM:

janetl: There was a subplot about that in Sherri Tepper's The Fresco. The benevolent aliens made men perceive women as attractive in direct proportion to how much freedom the women had--the rationale they gave (which they were well aware was bull), was that if women were ugly, you didn't have to keep them locked away because the men wouldn't want to assault them.

#89 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 01:22 PM:

Carrie S @ 88: Of course, Fresco! Thanks.

#90 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 01:36 PM:

My favorite part of that book was the group of old white Senators who got abducted and impregnated. They couldn't have the alien babies removed, of course, because that would kill the babies, and it would lead to some minor fatigue and so forth, but surely they were OK with that? Because of their stands on abortion and all?

I laughed.

#91 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 01:45 PM:

Nicole, apropos #77 -- sorry, I wasn't meaning to pick a fight. But Ken called it right: the biblical inconsistency shtick is really an intra-Christian argument (between the believers in biblical inerrancy and everybody else). Self-proclaimed atheists who try to use that argument either (a) need to examine their own belief structure a bit more closely, or (b) are trolling.

Jenny, apropos #83: yes, exactly. (I think it's reasonable to say that every belief structure that dehumanizes one category of human is, by extension, dehumanizing to all.)

#92 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 02:56 PM:

There's another aspect to the patriarchal dogma that doesn't belittle men implicitly as impulse-driven slaves of their gonads: the argument that virginity (in the female) in marriage, and the legal and religious sanctions against adultery make it easier for a man to ensure that the children his wife bears are in fact his own offspring, guaranteeing his evolutionary success.

Of course, this makes men obligate slave owners, which I'm not sure is any better than making them hormonal monsters.

#93 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 07:56 PM:

rea @ 27: All you really need to know about Leon Kass is that he thinks ice cream cones are immoral, and a sign of the degeneracy of western civilization

As I was walking home from a shopping trip in the neighborhood this afternoon, licking chocolate gelato, Leon Kass' disapproval came to mind. And the gelato seemed such that much yummier.

#94 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 08:09 PM:

I know this is on the wrong thread, but if a new software platform for ML let one go back and edit one's comments, that would be a beautiful thing.

(See #93 - "such that much"??)

#95 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 08:39 PM:

While it would indeed be nice to be able to correct one's minor typos and grammatical errors, I think there would be a significant problem with revisionism. ("I never said that!") One of the features of disemvowelling is that although it reduces the immediate offensiveness of an offensive comment, it's still possible to be reasonably sure that yes, in fact, so-and-so DID say that.

#96 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2009, 08:44 PM:

Joel @ 95: Drat, you're right. So I just have to learn to rEadd care fully befor i post?

#97 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 01:23 AM:

If one can't deconstruct a work down to the level of the work's particular ratio of dinosaurs to sodomy, then one is not a true deconstructionist.

(Hey look, I'm in a rut!)

Re: "adultery in Westchester County"-- oddly enough, I was just discussing that with an author today and his characters in Westchester that were in a love triangle. She loves two men-- one a strong upright leader type who's a bit of a stiff, and the other a gruff loner who's the best he is at what he does...

...on the other hand, Chris has a resolution to the triangle that's pretty severe coming up in a month or so.

#98 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 01:48 AM:

Glenn, did your #97 get piped through time from 1980?

#99 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 02:51 AM:

@Keith S., #86: It has been argued that this is actually a loophole. Men have no self-control; therefore, when a man commits adultery with a woman, rapes a woman, seduces a teenaged girl under his authority or care, or even molests his own daughters, it's always the female's fault. Women merely reap the consequences of failing at their responsibility in this area. This sometimes leads to the assertion that men don't have an independently functioning sex drive, really, it's those nasty nasty women (and girls) who are always riling them up. And then what else can they do but strive for orgasm? They have no self-control, poor things.

I once read a book with a fish on the spine that outlined the proper way to correct the problem of child sexual abuse, which was assumed to be always fathers abusing daughters. First, remove her privileges, because obviously she has been given the privileges of a wife or mistress or this wouldn't be going on, right? Therefore she must be taught to control herself and assume her proper role. Luckily, this was a donated book in a church library that I had been asked to winnow out and it did not appear to have been opened since it was jammed onto the overstuffed shelves. It has long since gone to the incinerator.

#100 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 03:11 AM:

Jenny Islander @ 99:

Ordinarily I blanch at the thought of book-burning, but *shudder*. That book sounds creepy.

There has to be some amount of complete obliviousness to that mindset, though. Either men have no self-control and therefore should not be in positions of authority at all (let alone out in polite society), or men do have self-control and that argument is a big, steaming pile of yak droppings.

I thought that most of the time the idea that men had no self-control was buried under a layer of stuff about modesty and appropriateness and whatnot. To see it so baldly stated by that book— I need to go take a shower now.

#101 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 05:32 AM:

Charlie # 91:the biblical inconsistency shtick is really an intra-Christian argument (between the believers in biblical inerrancy and everybody else).

Yup.

Self-proclaimed atheists who try to use that argument either (a) need to examine their own belief structure a bit more closely, or (b) are trolling.

This needs one small qualification: atheists who try to use that argument against Christianity in general are [what you said].

Same goes for YEC.

But the fact is that people who were raised YEC or inerrantist may well give the whole religion thing a miss if they become persuaded that these positions are wrong, and that their esteemed parents and pastors have all along been either ignorant or lying like rugs.

Some readers of my The Night Sessions have decried as implausible the rapid deconversion of one character when a certain minor biblical problem is brought inescapably to his attention; at least one reader has told me he or she had a very similar experience.

#102 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 09:20 AM:

janetl@93: there's got to be a pastiche of "Plums" in there.

#103 ::: Duncan ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 09:23 AM:

#37: The thing about obsolete tools for critical argument is that nobody ever bothers to box them up and put them away after acquiring a shiny new set. Instead, they're left lying around out in public where untrained amateurs can pick them up and use them for god-knows-what.

That's interesting, but I read enough academic criticism to have noticed that before tools for critical argument become obsolete, they've been picked up by a new generation of academics -- not amateurs, though possibly untrained -- who don't know what the tools are or how to use them. Perhaps because their mentors/advisors didn't how to use them either? Even in academic publications, "deconstruct" has come to mean basically, "analyze." (They keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it does.) Hell, a good many of them even misuse "begs the question." There's also the widespread quotation of a certain famous passage about the invention of Teh Homosexual from the first volume of Foucault's History of Sexuality that has become the John 3:16 of Queer Theory, by people who don't realize that Foucault was making an aphorism, not writing Scripture.

"This is exactly why I don't argue Christian apologetics with internet Atheists. I don't have the energy to explain the entire archaeological, historical and cultural context of the Ancient Near East, plus the history of textual criticism, plus scriptural exegesis to everyone who stumbled on '101 Contradictions in the Bible' and thinks it's the greatest new thing in religious criticism."

Maybe so, but lay Christians are not any better. The "contradictions in the Bible" are not totally irrelevant, being a large part of the basis for modern Biblical criticism. It's not as if the professionals agree about the import of all those disciplines you mention. And those disciplines have been used in the service of quite vulgar apologetics by professionals. On the other hand, does it really matter for Christian faith if, for example, Jesus spoke Greek or not? (I recently read a thoroughly fascinating book on that subject, someone's Ph.D. dissertation revised for publication.) Granted, many of my fellow atheists are pretty ignorant and misinformed, but reading a considerable amount of biblical scholarship hasn't shaken my atheism one iota.

#104 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 09:29 AM:

A friend of mine who sometimes teaches theology at a Catholic university rages on occasion about the way Heinlein (I gotta name that variant on Godwin) argues against the Bible in just the way that's been described here. Her complaint is valid enough for a theology class, but it strikes me that Heinlein is arguing, not with her, but with Christianity as she is taught and practiced mostly.

In other words, what Ken said in #101.

#105 ::: Jack Siolo ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 09:30 AM:

But the fact is that people who were raised YEC or inerrantist ...

I'm sorry, but when I see YEC = Young Earth Creationist, I immediately think of OEC. Like so:

Us is riht micel ðæt we rodera weard,
wereda wuldorcining, wordum herigen,
modum lufien!

(from Murray's Old English Poetry Project.)

#106 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 10:19 AM:

Kass's view of marriage explains why wives must be traded in for newer models every decade or so.

#107 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 11:29 AM:

Duncan @103: Granted, many of my fellow atheists are pretty ignorant and misinformed, but reading a considerable amount of biblical scholarship hasn't shaken my atheism one iota.

One does not have to study astrology not to believe in it. But confrontational atheists* who 'quote Scripture' need at least to know what it is they are talking about.


* In the sense of arguing about faith, even if that argument is conducted in a civil tone.

#108 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 11:37 AM:

Lila @ 106:

Or why men should marry wives in job lots: the man can retire the older ones to home management, child care, and harem guard positions when he tires of them sexually. This is the serial version of "Trading a 40 year old wife for two 20s".

What I find fascinating is that this sort of nonsense is often justified by appeals to animal behavior like chimpanzee sexual politics or herbivore herd organization. They almost always completely misread or misunderstand the examples they're using*. The ironic part is that the people who use these arguments are often the same people who insist that humans are categorically different from (and superior to) all other animals, most especially in cognition and behavior.

* If an alpha male chimp goes too far, the alpha female and some of her beta female supporters have been known to beat the crap out of him. As for herds, I don't think they want to use the elephant as an example because the alpha female is herd leader.

#109 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 01:24 PM:

KeithS, #100: On further inquiry, you would find that the "men have no self-control" argument is strictly limited to sexual situations, so your counter-argument wouldn't be admitted to apply. This is, of course, utter bullshit; I've been saying (mostly jokingly) for years that OF COURSE men shouldn't be allowed to be in charge of anything, because they are always at the mercy of their hormones.*

There was an interesting item on All Things Considered some years back, from a woman who needed male-hormone therapy for some medical condition or other, and the prescription was accidentally filled for a much higher dosage level than intended; she actually had, for a while, the testosterone levels of an average man. She said (paraphrased) that she was suddenly horny 24/7 and couldn't NOT think about sex for more than a few minutes at a time, and how the HELL did men ever get anything done at all?

Ken, #101: Yep. I've seen that sort of thing happen IRL on various online communities, although usually it takes anywhere from a few months to a year or so. Once an inerrantist has a failure of whatever mental technique allows them to believe several mutually-contradictory things simultaneously, the backlash tends to be severe and complete.

* This was in response to claims that women shouldn't be allowed to be in charge of anything because of the hormonal changes associated with menstruation.

#110 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 02:24 PM:

Lee 109: ...how the HELL did men ever get anything done at all?

We learn starting in adolescence, and have practice subjugating flux-thinking to logic by the time we become adults.

Some of us, anyway.

Q. What's the difference between women and men?
A. Women are only premenstrual a few days a month.

#111 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 02:33 PM:

Bruce Cohen (StM) @ 108:

I've noticed that the appeal to nature tends to be used only when it seems to support what the person wants to believe already, and handwaved away when it doesn't. Penguins are sometimes trotted (waddled?) out as good examples of 'family values' and monogamy, but the canoodling on the side isn't mentioned (and we won't even talk about the gay ones).

Lee @ 109:

Having no self-control when it comes to, for example, having your parentage insulted in exquisite detail is understandable, if not exactly wise. Having no self-control around 50% of the population means that you should be locked away, not that 50% of the population. So I think that my counter-argument should apply, but those sorts of people aren't going to admit it.

#112 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 02:59 PM:

Bruce Cohen: Not only is the alpha female the herd leader, the young bulls are dirven away, only to be allowed into a herd when the alpha female decides she needs a new bull around.

#113 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 03:01 PM:

Mez @81, also addressed in 'The Courtier's Reply'

Problem is, the main prominent leaders of the "New Atheists" usually don't restrict themselves to shouting "The Emperor has no clothes". They tend to mock supposed specific details of the claims about the Emperors clothes and talk about how this or that detail of the claims about the clothes has a bad impact of the world. They, to some extent, practically claim to be self-taught experts on the belief in the clothes. And in that context, the Courtier's reply is perfectly appropriate. You don't need to know the details of the theory of epicycles to say that it is wrong. But you damn well better know something about it if you want to talk about it's historical and cultural significance. You don't have to be an expert in leprechaunology to disbelieve in leprechauns. But you should know something about it if you want to write your folkloristics thesis about the belief in leprechauns, even if the title of that thesis is "The destructive effects of the Leprechaun Superstition".


Ken MacLeod @101, yes, people who were raised to believe that 1) the Bible is a book of inerrant Truth and 2) you can either believe that or become an atheist, for some reason seem to be a lot more likely to give up belief 1 than belief 2.

Lee @109, On further inquiry, you would find that the "men have no self-control" argument is strictly limited to sexual situations, so your counter-argument wouldn't be admitted to apply. This is, of course, utter bullshit; I've been saying (mostly jokingly) for years that OF COURSE men shouldn't be allowed to be in charge of anything, because they are always at the mercy of their hormones.*

The depressing thing here is that Kass' allies sometimes seem to claim that men should run everything because of our supposed lack of self-control; keep in mind how often they get very angry when a politician makes a different decision than the one that, in that situation, would be made by a man who can't control his hormones. ("What, you didn't blow up the planet after that guy called our country a nation of poopyheads? How dare you, you emasculated sissy! Raaaarrrgh!")

#114 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 03:24 PM:

As I recall Heinlein, in the Notebooks of Lazarus Long says, "Men are more emotional than women; it muddles their thinking."

#115 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 04:34 PM:

Despite being unable to avoid getting a strong WTF?!? reaction from everything Kass writes, I find it useful to subject myself to his reality-warping screeds periodically, just to remind myself that the extreme misogynistic conservative outlook isn't specific to any one monotheistic faith.

Kass helps to remind me that religious people are not ipso facto crazy; rather, the crazies invoke religion to justify their prejudices.

Which I actually find comforting. (Because if 85% of the naked apes you share the planet with are infected with one of a range of meme complexes that turn them bad-crazy, where are you going to run?)

#116 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 04:46 PM:

Raphael # 113: yes, people who were raised to believe that 1) the Bible is a book of inerrant Truth and 2) you can either believe that or become an atheist, for some reason seem to be a lot more likely to give up belief 1 than belief 2.

That's me all right. I'd rather go to hell for being an Atheist than for being a Catholic, a Liberal, or some other variant of non-fundamentalist Christian, because that way at least I get Sunday mornings in bed.

To put it more seriously, people who have broken painfully from one variant of woo are unlikely to find another variant attactive.

#117 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 05:03 PM:

Ken MacLeod @ 116:

I'd dispute that, actually. I suppose it depends on how painful the break really is, but people can and do jump from one set of beliefs to another, whether it's religions, make-money-fast schemes, diets, or something else.

I've met people who felt the need to believe in something, but what that something was varied over time after they became disenchanted with the old something.

#118 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 05:06 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 115... if 85% of the naked apes you share the planet with are infected with one of a range of meme complexes that turn them bad-crazy, where are you going to run?

Here?

#119 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 05:13 PM:

To put it more seriously, people who have broken painfully from one variant of woo are unlikely to find another variant attactive.

I dunno- any non-anecdotal evidence about the relative likelyhood of people converting to atheism compared to people converting to other religions or denominations than the one they grew up with? Besides, the people I was thinking of often seem to have trouble understanding that other kinds of religious belief exist at all.

#120 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 08:54 PM:

KeithS, #111: Golda Meir agreed with you. At one point when it was suggested that an early curfew for women be instituted because of a series of sexual assaults, her response was that it was men committing the assaults, and therefore men, rather than women, who should be subject to the curfew. No curfew was in fact imposed, which shouldn't surprise anyone.

Raphael, #119: IME, a lot of people who undergo that experience become "gafiated Christians" rather than actually declaring themselves unbelievers. They still self-identify as Christian, but they stop going to church and stop identifying themselves with any particular sect. They know that the version of Christianity they grew up with is wrong, and it makes them skittish about associating with any other kind, but they don't necessarily take the next step in the sequence.

#121 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 09:32 PM:

Charlie Stross #115: Because if 85% of the naked apes you share the planet with are infected with one of a range of meme complexes that turn them bad-crazy, where are you going to run?

The Colorado Rockies.

#122 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 10:00 PM:

Dang, Earl@121, I'd forgotten that review. You figure that book really has a happy ending?

#123 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 11:13 PM:

John, #122: As I recall, I didn't think so. The book is a sort of sidewise sequel to Kaleidoscope Century, and I thought the first book was better overall, though the ending was weak. I'm pretty sure I culled Candle after reading it.

Barnes is a spotty writer IMO. When he's on, he's really on, but when he's off I find him nearly unreadable.

#124 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2009, 11:46 PM:

I liked Candle well enough, but I kind of wish that Bruce Sterling or Pat Cadigan had written it instead; I'd be willing to read K.W. Jeter's Candle too. heh.

As for the ending, happyish, I suppose. I wouldn't want to live there, though.

#125 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 01:04 AM:

Carrie S. @90: My favorite part of that book was the group of old white Senators who got abducted and impregnated. They couldn't have the alien babies removed, of course, because that would kill the babies, and it would lead to some minor fatigue and so forth, but surely they were OK with that? Because of their stands on abortion and all?

That was the point at which the book hit the wall, for me. I'd had hints before - the lumber worker getting gruesomely killed on page 2 after his "just gotta do my job" internal monologue drifted into "besides, who cares, stupid trees!" territory, that was rather a clue - but it was the OMG MPREG NO BORTIONZ FOR U LOL stuff that made me lose any hope that the book would actually turn out to be anything more than a whack-a-mole gallery. And, yes, I share Tepper's urge to whack most of those moles (anti-choice Senators! greedy logging companies! Grr! But... the ACLU, too? WTF?*) but, however satisfying they are to whack, cartoon moles don't substitute very well for actual believable characters.

*Seriously, if anyone wants to take a stab at explaining to me why the ACLU were one of The Fresco's villain-archetypes...?

#126 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 01:29 AM:

Nicole, #125: I haven't read the book, but my WAG is that it was because of Skokie. Tepper seems to have enough of a left-wing-radical political agenda in her writing that this could have made the ACLU look like bad guys to her.

#127 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 01:30 AM:

Ken MacLeod, #116: I'd rather go to hell for being an Atheist than for being a Catholic, a Liberal, or some other variant of non-fundamentalist Christian, because that way at least I get Sunday mornings in bed.

MacLeod's Wager! I like that 'Sunday mornings in bed' are worth the risk of eternal damnation - not exactly the same weightings Pascal used...

#128 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 01:58 AM:

Ken MacLeod @ #116, I call oxymoronity. If you're an Atheist, you shouldn't by definition believe in hell.

#129 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 02:12 AM:

Debcha # 127: No, no - what I meant was that from the fundamentamentalist POV, being the Wrong Kind of Christian is as sure a road to perdition as outright unbelief.

Linkmeister # 128: Tongue in cheek.

Folks in general - my last comment could have been more tactfully phrased.

#130 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 02:34 AM:

Lee @ 123

I agree with you about Barnes' stories, but I'm willing to read any of his books at least once, on the off chance. But I have different reasons for disliking some of them; IMHO "Kaleidoscope Century" is in many ways a very good SF novel, but I find the narrating character such a loathsome POS that I could only read it once.

#131 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 03:12 AM:

Bruce, #130: That's a very apt description, and explains why Kaleidoscope Century is my personal canonical illustration of how to do an anti-hero RIGHT. I had to read it twice before I could figure out how I felt about it, precisely because the protagonist is so unpleasant. But IMO he is not presented as a sympathetic character and we are never asked to identify with him, and that helps a lot.

#132 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 07:54 AM:

But in Kaleidoscope Century, it's all done for LUUUUUUV! Doesn't that make it all right?

Naw, with Barnes, I start with the premise that a first-person narrator is unreliable as hell, and probably covering up his involvement in the terrible things he deplores in the narrative. That, or slowly working toward the realization that the good guys for whom he works or with whom he cooperates are really bad guys, possibly working against even worse guys, but still.

Given that premise (which I've come to believe may be flawed, considering later developments in the Thousand Cultures story), Kaleidoscope Century is a straightforward relief.

My version of Pascal's Wager was that I was betting a certain finite life against a likely zero return, which logically but not emotionally seems to me Pascal's bet backwards.

#133 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 08:36 AM:

Re: #125: I can understand that reaction. :) The whole book was just so liberal-wish-fulfillment that by about a quarter of the way through I was laughing at every new development.

Some of Tepper's books are so over-the-top I just can't take them seriously. The Fresco was one, and The Family Tree was another, especially once the Big Reveal happened.

#134 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 09:46 AM:

I realized that Tepper's books weren't for me once I noticed that far too many of them (for my taste, anyhow) were what I think of as All Men Are Pigs novels . . . the sort of books where just about every male character you meet is going to be a sexist jerk, or at best a clueless collaborator in oppression. I know that there has to be an audience out there for such stories, otherwise they wouldn't keep on getting written and published and purchased (and sometimes even given major awards), but that audience isn't me.

#135 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 10:22 AM:

Tepper's work contains a lot of eye-roll material, but I recall liking The Visitor for its use of language — the style of description — which I can't quite find the right label for. (It's been a while since I read it.)

(It does contain, however, at least a scene of extreme sexual violence (which is not central to the plot), and a group of stereotyped Closed-Minded Scientists/Materialists.)

#136 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 10:32 AM:

mds #58: Aggh! Pwned.

IMO, all three have important stuff to say, but are (for different reasons) subject to having vast parts of their models of the world not practically able to be checked against the real world.

Charlie #61:

Damn, sounds like a real charming guy.

#137 ::: Nick ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 10:52 AM:

Ken @116:

I'd guess that the pain of the break depends to some extent on one's social milieu. I was a young YEC who experienced the standard shock to the system when I studied biology at university. But, at the same time I was also encountering Christians who were politically liberal pacifists (including at least one of my biology professors). As a result, my rejection of YEC and right-wing fundamentalism (Southern Baptist variety) did not become full blown atheism.

I suppose it helps that my current church rents space and meets on Sunday evenings. I can sleep in (toddlers permitting) on Sunday mornings and still go to church.

#138 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 12:05 PM:

I realized that Tepper's books weren't for me once I noticed that far too many of them (for my taste, anyhow) were what I think of as All Men Are Pigs novels

That's one of the reasons I liked The Gate to Women's Country, which was the first of her books that I read. There are men who are neither sexist jerks nor clueless collaborators.

Of course, once you know the Secret in that book, there are hints all through the thing--starting with the pomegranate door latch in the very first scene.

#139 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 12:52 PM:

I've never read Tepper's books. Sounds like I should only read them as penance for sins I'm unlikely to commit.

#140 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 01:01 PM:

Xopher: The Family Tree is quite amusing, actually, and contains precisely one sexist jerk; the other male characters are either quite nice or are jerks in other ways (and there are a few female characters who aren't the greatest either).

#141 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 01:14 PM:

No, no, it's not the All Men Are Pigs thing. It's the literary fascism, which is a kind of distributed Mary Sueism. Groups the author dislikes become cardboard villains. Groups the author likes become incapable of wrongdoing or even making the wrong choices.

It's not that she sounds offensive, at least from the descriptions in this thread. It's that she sounds bad.

#142 ::: Spiny Norman ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 02:08 PM:

So. I wonder how Kass is doin' with the ol' "wisdom of repugnance" today. There is, after all so much to work with.

Like this
...and this.

#143 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 02:16 PM:

Kaleidoscope Century is one of the few books I've wished I could unread after having read it.

#144 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 02:29 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 143: So you could have the pleasure of reading it for the first time all over again?

#145 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 02:44 PM:

Debra @134:
just about every male character you meet is going to be a sexist jerk, or at best a clueless collaborator in oppression.

Oh, amen. The ones where men are evil but women are, at most, misguided. Bleh. Le Guin went through a period of that, but thank goodness she got out of it again.

#146 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 03:42 PM:

Ken @ #129, I thought it was, but I like the word "oxymoronity" and will take any opportunity to use it.

#147 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 03:56 PM:

Shouldn't that be 'oxymoronicity'—the quality or state of being oxymoronic? And it's an even more sesquipedalian word, a plus in my book.

#148 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 04:44 PM:

Avram @ 98: Clearly you haven't heard-- Marvel and Claremont are forking continuity. Chris is writing X-Men Forever from the point where he left the X-Men back in 1991. No Civil War, no Secret Invasion, no extra Summers brother, none of that. See the start of my interview with Claremont here.

So yes, it's current.

#149 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 05:30 PM:

Ken MacLeod, #129: No, no - what I meant was that from the fundamentamentalist POV, being the Wrong Kind of Christian is as sure a road to perdition as outright unbelief.

You did actually get that across - might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. I was just amused by its contrast to Pascal's wager.

Of course, from the fundamentalist POV, it's very difficult to explain why us godless heathens aren't raping and pillaging our way across the land instead of sleeping in on Sunday mornings, since we're going to hell no matter what.

#150 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 05:53 PM:

debcha @ 149:

Isn't it obvious? We secretly know that their way of thinking is the One True Way, so we would feel guilty about doing all that. Sleeping in is an easier way to express our spite, while indulging in the sin of sloth at the same time.

Or something.

#151 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 08:36 PM:

Quakers (at least the ones I know) refer to sleeping in on the mornings Meeting takes place (usually a Sunday) as, 'worshipping the pillow."

#152 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 09:00 PM:

terry,

i've heard "the church of st. mattress." the jewish equivalent is "congregation sha'arei sheyna."*

*"the gates of slumber." lots of synagogues are the gates of something or other.

#153 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 09:26 PM:

Jim @ 69: I think you will find that they are actually all about adultery in Hampsted.

Dragoness @37: This. I sympathise quite a lot with people who say, especially at times like this, "where are all the moderate Christians who ought to be speaking up?", but the answer, all too often, is "staying a great distance from religious disputations on the internet, especially disputations which contain the phrase 'Sky Pixie' or the equivalent."

Myself, when pressed greatly by the Evangelising Atheist Crowd, I usually fall back on Thomas Browne:

I have no genius to disputes in religion: and have often thought it wisdom to decline them, especially upon a disadvantage, or when the cause of truth might suffer in the weakness of my patronage.

Unless I am pushed altogether too far, in which case I am sometimes mightily tempted to fall back on CS Lewis: The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.

But this would be a failure of charity, to say the least.

#154 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 09:28 PM:

xopher@114: recent Tepper, yes. OTOH, The Gate To Women's Country, as noted, is more interestingly balanced. She's also done two interesting short series of mysteries (as "A. J. Orde" and "B. J. Oliphant"); the main character in the latter is largely derived from her.

#155 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 09:59 PM:

Marna, #153: Actually, it's not so much the "in times like this" that bugs me; I can definitely understand the impulse to stay far, far away from a lot of discussions when an atrocity has just happened. What bugs me is, where are the moderate Christians the rest of the time, when emotions are not running so high and trolls aren't necessarily out in force?

And I'm not even talking about ordinary people like the posters here. Where are the moderate Christian LEADERS? Why don't we have pastors and church officials saying, "Bill O'Reilly and Randall Terry don't speak for us, and it's not necessary to agree with them to be Christian"? If they got more of that kind of blowback on a regular basis, they wouldn't be so easily able to grab the bit in their teeth and bolt with it when something like this happens.

Also, you'd think that if moderate Christian leaders were to start speaking out against the whackjobs, it would get major news coverage. After all, it would be controversial, and controversy sells eyeballs. But on the few occasions when someone actually has stood up and said something... the only place I tend to hear anything about it is in the blogosphere.

#156 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 10:26 PM:

Lee #155: Where are the moderate Christian LEADERS?

They're Dominionists cynically posing as "moderates".

#157 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 11:37 PM:

Lee: you'd think that if moderate Christian leaders were to start speaking out against the whackjobs, it would get major news coverage.

You'd think that, and you'd be wrong.

You'd think that if intel professionals and experts started speaking out against torture they'd get coverage.

Only we haven't. Richard Cohen was able to say Dick Cheney must be right, because no one who knows how the game is played has spoken out against him. Never mind his own paper publishing the week before, just such a piece (but that was one man, with a book to push, so...).

I couldn't get any papers to take my response. A response which listed the almost two dozen such professionals I know to have spoken out.

Petraeus just spoke out... sank like a stone.

That's not conflict. Those people aren't relevant to the X said/Y said of the format of modern, "objectivity".

The conflict isn't intra-christian, you see, it's secular/sacred, and the religious who aren't anti-secular don't sell papers.

Sorry, I'm feeling a bit bitter. I've come to believe the press is pretty much broken, and that's the major reason why.

#158 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2009, 11:52 PM:

I liked The Awakeners. Interesting study of an entire planetary culture struggling with cognitive dissonance. The plot turns several times on people not seeing things they look at every day, or only seeing what they want to see, or sometimes both. I didn't get a "men are evil" vibe from it.

#159 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 12:38 AM:

Lee @ 155: I recommend Ekklesia:

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/

As Terry notes, hardly anyone is listening, but they are out there talking.


#160 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 01:35 AM:

The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.

Well, that one cuts both ways. Especially given the skewed media coverage Mr. Karney refers to, where for example we're currently listening to supposed Christians spout variations on, "We decry the act of violence against this monstrous sinner who got what was coming to him." It certainly makes me suspect they never graduated from the coloring book version of their religious text.

#161 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 02:20 AM:

mds @ 160: Yes, of course it does. Though I have a wider range of argumentation available for those cases.

#162 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 03:01 AM:

There is also the problem that when moderate Christians do speak up, those who believe that there are no moderate Christians simply do not notice them.

There was an example in a thread right here (alas, my google-fu is failing me, so I can't link). *Lots* of people speaking up, some of whom explicitly identified themselves as "I'm a Christian, and I believe that these people are smearing the name of my god." And a long way down the thread, someone doing the "moderate Christians should speak out against these people, but they never do, so they obviously secretly approve of the whackos" routine. Followed by "but they never *said* they were Christians" when it was pointed out that there were examples of moderate Christians speaking out in that very thread.

And I'm quite sure that the person concerned had genuinely not noticed those posts, because the posts did not match their pre-existing belief system.

#163 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 06:50 AM:

What I find fascinating is the way in which fundies define those of their fellow Christians who don't share their beliefs as non-Christians. If you read the comment thread on the Tiller assassination over on Free Republic, you'll discover one or two comments on the lines of "He attended a church? What did they worship there? Satan?" I kid you not.

#164 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 07:20 AM:

Marna @ 153: Thank you for not falling back on C. S. Lewis. That smug little remark of his is the sort of self-satisfied sneer that tends to tick people off.

#165 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 09:40 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 163: OSC, in his "Secular Humanist Revival Meeting", had a comment along the lines of "The Christian fundamentalists say that my people, the Mormons, are a cult. They concede, reluctantly, that Catholics are Christians... but only by a technicality."

I really should give that recording another listen. I wish OSC would listen to it too.

#166 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 10:34 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 163:

Some of the fundie churches have an element of secret knowledge that only they've figured out to them. They've decided that they, in reading the Bible in a completely plain and straightforward way, have stumbled across some secret to the way things really are that all the other churches miss or suppress. Therefore, members of the other churches aren't really Christian.

This seems to be another method of promoting in-group loyalty. Even if you think that some of the beliefs are a little on the strange side, you're the only ones with the secret, so you're the only ones who are saved. Everyone else isn't Christian. Someone else can probably tell you the specific name for this heresy.

This gets shortened to the ironic term "Real, True Christian" or RTC over on Slactivist's blog.

#167 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 01:21 PM:

Joel Polowin #165/KeithS #166: Of course, it's much easier to say "I'm better than you because I understand this book which is open to all and you smarty-pants don't" than to actually do anything worthwhile.

#168 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 01:22 PM:

John @ 164: This is why I generally avoid it, unless actually deliberately and persistently cornered by someone who seems genuinely unable to parse the phrase "I have no interest in converting you to anything and I'd prefer to discuss a topic of actual mutual interest now, please."

This situation being blessedly rare, but not, alas, nonexistent.

#169 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 01:44 PM:

Terry Karney and Miriam Beetle at @151 and 152

I have a dear friend who refers to herself as a "Seventh Day Recreationist,"which looks plausibly theological but means that she spends Sundays hiking or going to the beach.

#170 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 02:03 PM:

Sarah, 'Seventh Day Recreationist' is awesome - kudos to your friend!

(I'm a practising Seventh Day Recreationist, but I'm not as observant as I'd like to be)

#171 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 02:41 PM:

I read "Seventh Day Recreationist" and find myself thinking about people who recreate Sundays from different eras. For instance, a Regency Seventh Day Recreationist would avoid Sunday-traveling.

#172 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 04:06 PM:

Lee #155, Terry #157:

Yeah, the standard picture of the world sold by the media allows only one group marked "religious people."

I don't think this is even propaganda, though it certainly makes propaganda easier to write. I think it's an emergent property of the kind of media we have, and the kind of incredibly narrow and f--ked up shared worldview it builds.

As an example of this, check out this 2006 Pew center survey, which I've quoted before. (Surely more data is all over the place, as needed.) The "party line" is that Christians are monolithic on issues like brtn and gay marriage. And yet, 35% of self-identified Protestants support keeping abortion legal (broadly--that includes folks who would like it somewhat harder to get, but not restricted only to super hard cases like rape or dire risk to the mother), and 44% of Catholics support that. (The numbers for the whole country are 51/46, in this poll.)

How about gay marriage, which everyone knows is a religious people vs gays[0] issue? According to the same survey, 24% of Protestants support gay marriage, as do 38% of Catholics. (The total for the country in this poll is 35% support. Though it's worth noting that the more often you report going to church, the more opposed you're likely to be.)

Similarly, how about support for gay civil unions? In that poll, the whole country was 54/42 in favor of civil unions. (At a guess, the sticking point for a lot of people is either the religious meaning of marriage or its implications for adoption.) Protestants were 43% in favor of civil unions, Catholics 63%. And that's just exactly the picture of the world you got from TV news coverage, right?

Monolithic, we are. Borglike in our following of exactly what the MSM has decided religious people believe and care about. That's why there are no churches involved in gay marriages or gay rights or fighting for them, why all Christians supported going to war with Iraq (I mean, other than a few wild-eyed radicals), no churches who ordain openly gay ministers, etc. Because really, religious people (particularly Christians) all think and believe in the same way.

The media coverage of Christians, like the media coverage of almost every identifiable group of people[1], is a massive exercise in finding attractive (for the media's purposes) "spokesmen" and applying the "no true Scotsman" argument to exclude any alternative viewpoints.

[0] There being, by MSM definition, no overlap between these two groups.

[1] See Al Sharpton.

#173 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 04:43 PM:

Earl Cooley III @156, are you saying that Bishop Robinson is a Dominionist cynically posing as a moderate?

#174 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 04:55 PM:

Raphael@173: Episcopalians don't count unless they're schismatic. (A denomination which has always been in favor of the via media and dubious about religious enthusiasm is not going to be a prime candidate for front-page copy in any case.)

#175 ::: Matthew Austern ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 11:48 PM:

Nobody has mentioned Grass yet? That's my favorite Tepper, for what it's worth.

#176 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2009, 07:24 PM:

albatross@172 (&prev): The press may be one side of the problem, but the fact that the reactionaries make lots of ]noise[ doesn't hurt the visibility of their cause. (It \should/ hurt them, but somehow nobody reminds the press of Christ's instruction not to make a show of praying.) It's analogous to the way the political right has spent decades building the "intellectual" underpinnings to its faith (aka having a sounding-right politically-correct answer to everything, endorsed by think tanks nationwide), so that nonsense that would have had people shouting "Naked emperor!" 40-50 years ago (supply-side economics, anyone?) is now considered plausible.

Doyle@174: Episcopalians are also a small denomination; FWIW, Wikipedia says 2 million.

#178 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2009, 08:50 PM:

Ogden Nash was a Seventh Day Recreationist!

I didn't go to church today,
I trust the Lord to understand.
The surf was swirling blue and white,
The children swirling on the sand.
He knows, He knows how brief my stay,
How brief this spell of summer weather,
He knows when I am said and done
We'll have plenty of time together.

#179 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2009, 09:17 PM:

For that matter, who's to say
That God's in church, not sea and light?

#180 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2009, 08:30 AM:

Chip #176:

Yep. In fact, the right has been pretty effective at selling this POV to the MSM, in which political and social conservatism is linked to Christianity, and no true ScotsmanChristian votes Democrat, or opposes the war, or favors regulation of business or much in the way of social welfare policies.

#181 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2009, 09:56 AM:

I'd rather go to hell for being an Atheist than for being a Catholic, a Liberal, or some other variant of non-fundamentalist Christian, because that way at least I get Sunday mornings in bed.

Echoing (unintentionally I'm sure) Pterry: "The wage of sin was death, but so was the reward of virtue, and at least the sinners got to stay out late on Saturday night."

#182 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2009, 09:31 PM:

Matthew: I would have! only I tarried in returning to the thread. Grass is my favorite Tepper novel, the one I love wholeheartedly and without reservations.

...Unlike its sequels, which have really neat main characters and worlds and then breathtakingly stupid premises and conclusions (in my opinion). I keep coming back to her for her worlds and the main characters that I care about, and I keep throwing books against the wall for the strawmen and the Angry Woman's Vengeance Fantasies and the gleeful culling of the human species by divine/alien intervention in far too many of her books.

And then I pick them up again because, dude, talking crystal monoliths and hobbits that play the harp and shadow suits and godly fungi of all sorts and stuff!

The Family Tree, great example - far too smug in its environmentalist theme, far too willing to have onovrf orvat rngra ol gerrf abg orvat n ovt qrny naq gb sbetvir gur greebevfgf sbe univat fcernq cynthr, but the first reveal, gur bar nobhg gur vqragvgl bs gur gebhcr ba cvytevzntr, was well done - I reread that one repeatedly just to spot the clues.

I always suspected the ACLU hate-on had to do with her having bought into the myth of tort reform and therefore the idea that people who sue people are dumb; I hadn't thought of Skokie. It would take a reread of The Fresco for me to try that explanation on for size, and I'm just not willing to reread it. Gah, that forced-mpreg "solution" - nonconsensual use of a person's body is just ugly, ugly business, and I can't bring myself to laugh at it even in a "sauce for the gander" spirit.

Sorry. Bring up Tepper and I go on for paragraphs. Vehement ambivalence makes me run at the mouth.

#183 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2009, 09:37 PM:

Has anybody else ever read the mysteries that Tepper wrote as BJ Oliphant in the first half of the 1990s? I loved them. I wish the series had not stopped.

#184 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2009, 09:56 PM:

Serge (183): I read them, on your recommendation, I believe. They were quite good. I also liked her A. J. Orde mysteries.

#185 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2009, 11:12 PM:

Lordy, these intarTube thingies can be right well useful, deedy-do! John & David @178, 179 flashed up Ye Olde Memories of childhood Sunday cartoon Western: Semi-reformed gunslinger finds God in Nature while town attends church.

Only ID is character name Rick O'Shea. (Not that Rick O'Shea.) Search IDs creator Stan Lynde. Corrects to Rick O'Shay. Better results, including toonopedia entry (mm, useful site – bookmark): Gunslinger is Hipshot Percussion. Took less time than typing this out.

Might even find image I remember with info now.

#186 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2009, 11:23 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 184... I wonder if she stopped because she wanted to, or if the publisher decided that the sales weren't good enough. I'm still bummed. Every time an Oliphant novel appeared in bookstores, it was like being given a box of treats. Rough treats, mind you, because Tepper's main character was, to put it nicely, cranky and not likely to suffer fools gladly.

#187 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2009, 11:26 PM:

Yup. Author's own website, Old Montana, has books & prints. Christmas & Easter aren't my memory-images, same idea.

#188 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2009, 01:54 AM:

Marna Nightingale @ 153 et seq:

Amen.

My guess as to the reason more "moderate" Christians don't speak up/aren't heard more often is that, when they do, more extreme Christians crucify them and "evangelical" atheists castigate them for the sins of other "Christians."

It's hard to live in a world that only sees the black and white that appear on the news.

#189 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2009, 02:36 AM:

Raphael #173: are you saying that Bishop Robinson is a Dominionist cynically posing as a moderate?

No, I would characterize him as a progressive.

#190 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2009, 03:07 AM:

LLA @188:
when they do, more extreme Christians crucify them and "evangelical" atheists castigate them for the sins of other "Christians."

Sing it! Drives me bats, too.

#191 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2009, 03:20 AM:

Abi @ 190:

Is it okay if I just shout it? I've had so many fellow parishioners ask me to sing more quietly, since I can't seem to carry a tune.

#192 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2009, 03:39 AM:

LLA @119:

Maybe you could rap it?

#193 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2009, 04:05 AM:

Abi @ 192:

ain't got rhymes
for this here song
when both sides say
just go along

hey!

(I guess "hey" isn't down wid de scene.)

#194 ::: Ken ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2009, 08:26 AM:

Given that Pascal was thinking in an environment where the choices were christian or atheist would a modern multi-cultural version of his wager involve spread betting or some sort of accumulator?

#195 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2009, 08:27 AM:

So let me see if I've got this straight:

Shari Tepper founded modern military science fiction by providing a handy template which only needed to have the genders reversed and the obvious changes made thereafter.

Do I have this right? Or am I missing something?

#196 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2009, 11:41 AM:

I'm acutely aware that there are progressive Christians. I frequently correct Pagans and atheists when they use 'Christian' as if it meant 'Christian Dominionist psychopathic serial killer'.

Sometimes I use it that way myself, I admit, but only when a self-identified Christian refers to "Moslem Terrorists." I then call Eric Rudolph a "Christian Terrorist" and point out that it's as valid a characterization, since his twisted version of Christianity is as much like sane people's version as Al Qaeda's version of Islam is like sane people's.

Part of how I know there are progressive Christians it that I go to church with them (yes, I'm a Pagan, but I'm a pledging member of the congregation because I share deep values with them). A few years ago, they commissioned a well-known hymn-poet and a well-known hymn-composer to write a hymn based on interviews with the pastor about the values he's trying to teach, as a surprise gift for his 25th anniversary in that position. You can hear the result here (WARNING: SOUND).

I have the text at home, but I'm at work now (and I can't listen to this page at work, so I'm guessing the sound quality isn't completely horrendous; apologies if I'm wrong). Verse 1 from memory, though:

Too often, God, Your name is used
To sanction hate and fear,
And love and justice are refused
To people You hold dear.
Oh, never let us use Your name
To harm, or hurt, or kill,
Or consecrate a vicious aim
As Your almighty will.
It even talks about how people outside the church (and to an Episcopalian that means non-Christians, not just non-Episcopalians) can be doing good too, and how Christians can learn from them.

All that is as progressive as it gets, and Christian in the very best sense of the word.

#197 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2009, 11:42 AM:

Overheard in the Evil Universe...

"Will a visit to the agnoizer booth make an atheist doubt the non-existence of God, or will it make a believer doubt His Existence?"
"I don't know."
"Been inside one already?"

#198 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2009, 11:48 AM:

LLA #193:

The next line to that is, ineluctably, "Burma Shave".

#199 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2009, 05:35 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 198:

So I guess, not only can I not sing, but I shouldn't rap either.

Figures. It seems like right after rhythm and melody were erased in the Culture Wars, harmony was the next victim.

#200 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2009, 05:45 PM:

Ever seen William Shatner do Shakespeare's Julius Cesar as a rapper in Free Enterprise?

#201 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2009, 10:15 PM:

Is deconstructing the same thing as misconstruing?

#202 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 09:48 AM:

Erik Nelson @ 201: Um...no. It's just another idea providing insight when used in moderation which reduces to absurdity without.

#203 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 09:56 AM:

Completely random comment:

"Burma Shave Revival" would be a decent name for a barbershop quartet.

#204 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 11:30 AM:

Lida Rose
I'm home again Rose
To get the sun back
In the sky

Burma Shave

#205 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 12:11 PM:

John, #202: Interesting. I've always thought of "deconstruction" as the art of laying bare the unexpressed assumptions behind a piece of writing, often with an eye to proving that the logic of the piece is flawed. Is this just a layman's way of expressing what that entry said, or am I talking about something else altogether?

#206 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 12:45 PM:

Lee @ 205: Honestly, I understand deconstructionism less well than I understand special relativity (though possibly more well than I understand general relativity). What I do know is that I've seen people I respected reach good and interesting results using it as a a way of thought. For that reason, I get a little defensive of it when it's popcultured.

I think it has a deeper reach than what you're saying, into the guts of meaning itself. But I could be wrong and, sadly, no one I knew who would know is easily available to ask.

#207 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 01:29 PM:

I think of deconstruction as vivisecting an idea with logic instead of scalpels, where the stance of dispassionate criticism is ultimately disingenuous.

#208 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 07:16 PM:

John A Arkansawyer @202: It's just another idea providing insight when used in moderation which reduces to absurdity without.

So, Puff the Magic Dragon isn't about smoking dope?

#209 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 12:23 PM:

Rob Rusick @ 208:

So, Puff the Magic Dragon isn't about smoking dope?

No, it's about filling large areas with high-cyclic-rate automatic weapons fire from above.

#210 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 02:01 PM:

Rob Rusick @ 208:

So, Puff the Magic Dragon isn't about smoking dope?

Depends who's singing it. Is that semiotic enough for you?

(If it's Karen Keawehawai'i, then yes, yes it is.)

#211 ::: Dragoness Eclectic ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 07:12 PM:

@81

a) isn't much of the difficulty with people who feel that the whole context of the "archaeological, historical and cultural context of the Ancient Near East, plus the history of textual criticism, plus scriptural exegesis" should be ignored in favour of what they believe the bare (translated) words mean? See also Slacktivist's (Fred Clark) taking apart of the Left Behind books, from the viewpoint of another Christian, assorted mullahs, rabbis, etc;

I feel bad that I didn't come back to answer this before, but now that the view-all-by function is fixed, I can use it to find the old threads I commented in and check for replies. Yay for progress!

I am a regular reader of Slactivist, and found it enlightening regarding the evangelistic subculture. I've brushed the fringes of it, and it bothered me, but I didn't know what was wrong with it, beyond "that's not the way I was taught as a kid" (i.e., I was brought up Catholic). My current church is Lutheran, and they encouraged Bible study that took in the context of the Ancient Near East cultures, history, etc. The more I learn about the ANE, the more many parts of the Old Testament become clearer. (Why did Moses' staff turn into a snake? Why did the Pharoah's magicians turn their staves into snakes? Probably because a staff carved into the shape of a living snake was an important magical tool for ancient Egyptian sorcerors invoking Heka, like a modern neo-pagan's athame.)

Whether you are believer, non-Christian believer, agnostic or atheist, the more you know about the ANE, the more comprehensible the Old Testament is. I think people who read "only the bare words" miss (more than) half of what's there.

#212 ::: Dragoness Eclectic ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 07:17 PM:

@84

Of course, it can be irritating for a non-fundamentalist Christian to be mistaken for a fundamentalist, but this is the internet and such things happen all the time.

Tell me about it. I find it particularly annoying when other people tell me what my beliefs are and what's wrong with them without even asking if those are, in fact, my beliefs--because they've assumed that all Christians are Young-Earth Creationists, Bible literalist, evangelicals.

Apparently there are no Catholics or Lutherans on teh intertubes.

#213 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 07:44 PM:

Dragoness Eclectic @ 211:

"I think people who read "only the bare words" miss (more than) half of what's there."

I couldn't agree more. I would say your comment is true of any complex piece of art, but it is particularly important to read any piece of "sacred" text at the literal, metaphorical, historical, poetic, and any other levels you can learn to see. If you stick to a single level of interpretation, you'll probably fail to understand the power the text holds over its adherents/admirers (which is one reason most atheists aren't qualified to discuss the Bible, IMHO).


#214 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 08:50 PM:

LLA: I would say your comment is true of any complex piece of art, but it is particularly important to read any piece of "sacred" text at the literal, metaphorical, historical, poetic, and any other levels you can learn to see.

I'm not qualified to discuss the Bible for the same reason why I'm not qualified to discuss Ulysses - I haven't read it in its entirety, much less considered it at all the levels you describe. That I haven't done so is secondary to my being an atheist (I don't think I've read any sacred text in its entirety, much less to this depth). So I am interpreting your comment that 'most atheists aren't qualified to discuss the Bible' as reflecting the fact that atheists are unlikely to have considered the text deeply enough to engage in a thoughtful and critical discussion, and not because they are atheists per se.

Because, based on your description, I would think that many professed Christians are similarly unqualified to discuss the Bible.


#215 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 09:04 PM:

John@206: What I do know is that I've seen people I respected reach good and interesting results using [deconstruction] as a a way of thought. For that reason, I get a little defensive of it when it's popcultured.

I would have had more confidence in deconstruction as practiced outside of the discipline of literary criticism (and to a certain extent, within the discipline as well) if I had ever seen it used to uncover and expose something that actually redounded to the credit of the subject under analysis, rather than the reverse.

(I don't know. Maybe somebody, somewhere, has used it to prove that an author or historical figure was actually a secret good guy. But if they did, I missed the memo.)

#216 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 09:41 PM:

Debra Doyle #215: Amen, and you just put your finger on one of the things that's kept bugging me about deconstruction in practice.

#217 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 09:42 PM:

LLA @ 213:

It rather depends on how one discusses it, doesn't it? It doesn't take much more than a skimming of the Bible to determine that it is most emphatically not a science textbook. It doesn't take much more than that to see that it isn't wall-to-wall inspiration and morality. As a book, it contains myths, morals, fine literature, law, great poetry, dead boring geneologies, political agendas, propoganda, and more.

I've read most of the Jewish Bible (I skipped over the begats and a few other things), and some of the Christian Bible. Some of the most important imagery of our culture originates from there, and having at least a passing familiarity with the King James version of the Bible is important from a literary standpoint. There are a lot of atheists who have read the Bible. There are a lot who haven't. There are a lot of Christians who have read the Bible. There are a lot who haven't. (There are also a lot who think they have, but only read the bits their congregation likes and thinks that the Rapture and all that is actually in there, too.)

However, I'm not sure that having read or not having read the Bible is necessary for certain kinds of discussion. An atheist, or, for that matter, a Buddhist, Shintoist, Taoist or Hindu, is never going to see the Christian Bible in the same way that a Christian sees it. A Christian doesn't see the Jewish Bible the way a Jew sees it. A Jew doesn't see the Christian Bible the way a Christian sees it. Any discussion of the text that depends on a particular religious interpretation is not going to go over well with people who don't share those assumptions.

I certainly agree that reading the Bible only literally (supposedly, but it's not a literal reading) is a constrained and impoverished view of the text.

To recap and expand more telegraphically, because I've meandered all over the place and don't have the time to make this shorter:

If people want to argue minutae, they need to be steeped in the Bible and all the surrounding commentaries of their particular religious denomination.

If you want to discuss the stories or the poetry, you have to have read it. It helps to have a bit of an understanding of Hebrew poetry instead of English poetry.

If you want to argue morality, you're not going to convince anyone just by pointing to the Bible; you need to bring some good arguments to the table.

If some Christian wants to argue things that go against the observable universe as we know it, you don't need to have read the Bible at all to argue against it.

If someone wants to argue that the Bible is an accurate history text, you don't need to have read the Bible to argue against that; plenty of scholars have already sorted out that it isn't.

There are different qualifications needed for talking about any holy text depending on what level you want to read it. Many do not exclude atheists from commenting.

#218 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 10:38 PM:

debcha @ 214:

I actually meant that parenthetical to apply only to the subset of atheists delineated by the prior clause in the sentence (to be hyper-literal :-)).

I'm not convinced that you're not qualified to discuss the Bible. We'd have to discuss your understanding of a lot of things, including the reasons you're an atheist and the reasons I'm not before I'd be comfortable saying whether or not we could have a reasonable discussion. This is particularly difficult to do over the Internet because, without access to another person's vocal tone and affect, it's easy to stray into areas that preclude a meeting of the minds. I'm speaking for myself, of course, but I don't think it's an extreme observation to say that I think Religion vs. Atheism can easily become an emotional issue on both sides of the fence.

If we were able to be face-to-face, we might well be able to have a very interesting discussion.


KeithS @ 217:

"It rather depends on how one discusses it, doesn't it?"

Exactly. Such discussions are highly contextual; they involve common ground on both the material being discussed and the approaches being used to analyze that material by all the parties to the discussion (which is my theory as to why different "schools" of analysis exist -- but that's a whole 'nother discussion).

The reason I mentioned a distinction between being adherents and admirers of a text, though, is that I suspect you've read the New Testament with a different set of precepts than you've brought to the table when you read Shinto scripture. I know I have an entirely different context for Rabbinical and Islamic texts simply because there are certain common historic and textual similarities and differences that inform my understanding/appreciation.

I would also argue that there's an important difference between arguing, discussing, commenting, and appreciating a text. Someone who has a very limited exposure to the Bible (such as many of the Christians you name) may still have an exquisite sensibility of the beauty of texts they have read. Someone else (such as an armchair atheist) might have really interesting comments to make about the texts they have read and their opposition to those texts.

Which leads me right back to quoting you.

And I don't think you've "meandered all over the place" -- because I think it's too big a subject to begin to approach in a single post.

(Although I actually like the begats -- but it took me years to develop a reason to think they're there for a reason).

#219 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 11:25 PM:

177 the Yeats poem:
National Lampoon had a "summer reading list" piece where each (fake) book title was a line from that poem, complete with little blurbs about the imaginary books.

#220 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 11:55 PM:

LLA, #218: I actually meant that parenthetical to apply only to the subset of atheists delineated by the prior clause in the sentence (to be hyper-literal :-)).

Well, I have to first confess that I've actually discussed the Bible many times, per KeithS's excellent comment above.

I'm not exactly sure whether you are referring to "If you stick to a single level of interpretation..." or the "fail to understand the power the text holds over its adherents/admirers" part. But in either case, I don't think the issue is that the person is an atheist, and has a lot more to do with whether they are capable of and interested in engaging deeply with the text and its context (that is, on multiple levels and as a sacred text, not just as a work of fiction). While atheists may have lower inclination to do so, the same would likely be true even of devout believers, if they are non-Christian. To reverse it: how many Christians have read, much less with enough context to really understand, the Mahabharata (or, hell, even the Ramayana?) Not to sound elitist, but I think the proportion of people who are interested and able to discuss the Bible at the deep, context-sensitive level you suggest is small (and I don't count myself as part of that group, any more than I can discuss Ulysses) but I'm not sure that the lines fall along atheist/non-atheist. And I suspect that the boundary doesn't perfectly coincide with Christian/non-Christian either, frankly.

But based on your response to my comment and to KeithS, it's clear that you didn't mean 'most atheists' in the sense of 'you people.' I'm sure we could have, as you suggest, a very interesting discussion of the Bible, whether online or off-.

#221 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 12:10 AM:

LLA @ 218:

I should correct a couple misconceptions I seem to have left you with.

I have not really read much scripture outside of Jewish and Christian texts. I should probably remedy this some day.

Also, I actually read the New Testament with a different set of precepts than you do, since you have stated that you're a Christian, and I'm an atheist, formerly a UK Liberal/US Reform Jew. (That story takes a little while to tell.)

I think you're right that there are differences between arguing, discussing, commenting on and appreciating a text, although they're often intertwined in various ways. I think one of the points that I was trying to shake loose, though, that didn't quite get there is that on some level they're all irrelevant if the discussion is something that is only related to the Bible because one of the participants says it is.

On the other hand, they are important when the religious members of the discussion are grown-ups whose religion has had, say, two to four thousand years to sort out that the Bible and a 'literal' interpretation of it is not the be all and end all of religious belief. You could probably agitate one of the modern 'literalists' by pointing out that the two creation stories in Genesis are different, or that one version of the ten commandments says "remember the Sabbath day" and the other says "observe" when they're supposed to cover the same set of events. Pretty much everyone else has already worked out an answer to those to their satisfaction.

The problem tainting the discussion is that it's often the 'literalists', who do not read the Bible literally even though they think they do, who are the loud ones trying to force their viewpoint on everyone else. The techniques that work on them (or, at least, make them maximally fun to play with) are blunt instruments, because they don't seem to understand subtlety.

Now, we could argue the reality of the more nuanced structures built up over the last few thousand years by more reasonable believers, but that's not a discussion I typically want to be involved in.

(I do understand why the begats are there. They're still not the most thrilling parts of the Bible.)

#222 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 12:13 AM:

A bit of a derail, but it had always struck me as odd that there was such a Christian resistance to evolution*, when Genesis sketched an outline that science now believes (void, light and dark, waters, land, plants, animals, man). One writer I'd read (forgotten who) thought it was significant that the Judeo/Christian/Islamic god was an engineer constructing the world, as opposed to say Egyptian mythologies where the universe was torn from the body of a god.


* I understand that many Christians (of the non-literal stripe) embraced the idea of evolution as an "of course, this is how God created living things".

And of course, resistance to evolution is not uniquely Christian; this site (Making Light) has been visited by Islamic anti-evolutionists.

#223 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 12:31 AM:

Erik Nelson @219: I remember that! Actually, I think it had been in best sellers section of their fake newspaper, the Dacron, Ohio Republican-Democrat (first printed in 1978, reprinted in 2004).

The original was printed as a newspaper. The local newspaper gave it an appreciative review; frequently vulgar, but done with a good ear — the reviewer said there were some nervous laughs in their office about how going for the local angle was mocked (Headline: Two Dacron women feared missing in volcanic disaster — Subhead: Japan Destroyed).

#224 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 12:34 AM:

Rob Rusick @ 222:

Unfortunately, the order in Genesis is not quite the same as what we see from the fossil record, not to mention light comes before any particular sources of light. If I remember correctly, the creation story in the Bible is based on earlier Babylonian symbolism, but is written almost in response to it. You're right, the important thing is that God does it, it's not the squabbling of gods. Moreover, it's that God says it, and it happens. He doesn't even have to build it out of stuff.

That said, Young-Earth Creationism and so-called Biblical literalism are very modern phenomena in their current incarnations. Resistance to evolution is less young, I think, and I think largely boils down to not wanting to think of oneself as an animal.

#225 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 12:38 AM:

*grumble* I used the masculine pronoun when referring to God. I'm supposed to do better than that.

#226 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 03:15 AM:

debcha @ 220:

You're exactly right. I definitely didn't mean "you people," any more than I meant "us people." I've had wonderful, passionate discussions about the Bible with atheists and horrible acrimonious jibes from "fellow" Christians.

I see trust as the essence of the essentials for a good discussion, hence the "fail to understand the power the text holds over its adherents/admirers" part." I need to be able to trust that we will stick to common ground rules, will play fair, and will be serious and sincere. You need to be able to do the same. That's the place where I see so many Internet "discussions" fall by the wayside. The problem is that the resulting slanging matches are public and semi-permanent (inasmuch as anything on the Internet is either).


KeithS @ 221:

I'd like to hear your story someday. I'm always fascinated by the reasons people make the life choices they make.

I take your statement about "grownups" to be a bit of a reference to this trust issue I mentioned to Debcha, but I think everyone can have trust issues in any deep discussion of anything they care about (whether or not to cut the crusts off of white bread can be a hanging offense in some circles).

Trust is a bigger problem, in my experience of Bible discussions than "grownups" versus "literalists" because many "literalists" can have a decent discussion of different literal interpretations, provided they trust that you aren't insulting their intelligence or the faith they learned at their mother's knee. I don't know a lot of "grownups" who behave like "grownups" if they don't trust you, though. I'm certainly not one; I've had too many slanging matches with members of my family who were raised with exactly my same religious training but who "converted" to atheism. When we were pretending to discuss religion, too many other things got in the way (of course, I was right and they were wrong -- I can say that because they're family and they have to love me ;-)).

I can thus agree wholeheartedly with you about, "The problem tainting the discussion is... the loud ones trying to force their viewpoint on everyone else."

Yes, I know this is a bit of a misread of what you wrote, but I see "trying to force their viewpoint on everyone else" as going quite a few steps past a discussion, beyond argument, and on to a path that I don't quite consider Christian (but I'm allowed to say what you didn't say because I am one -- there, I've said it -- that's the rule [well, no, not really -- I don't think I get a say in these matters either, but to discuss that point, I'd have to go back to discussing the text of the Bible and we'd have to agree that that text is controlling]).

But I don't think it's fun to play with anyone's belief structures at all.


Rob Rusick @ 222:

I think many of the issues swirling around evolution are really a proxy fight. I don't have any problems fitting science and evolution into my understanding of Genesis, but that's because I'm not invested in having "understood" Genesis (past tense) but am rather invested in "learning to understand" Genesis (future tense). I do, however, appreciate that people on both sides of the debate aren't as comfortable admitting that they "haven't got all the answers." I also appreciate the fears of people who are living lives that make their faith tenuous enough that they're not willing to give up a firm grip on what little seems tangible to their imaginations. If having a cartoon of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden play through their mind helps some people sleep at night, I'm not the one to disturb their slumbers.


KeithS @ 224:

"You're right, the important thing is that God does it, it's not the squabbling of gods. Moreover, it's that God says it, and it happens. He doesn't even have to build it out of stuff."

This is the important point for me, but I can only speak for myself.


KeithS @ 225:

'S'okay. I consider men (and women) to be a subset of "mankind."

Genesis 5:1b - 2: "In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; [m]ale and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created."

The important convention amongst most adherents is that you capitalized your reference:-P.

#227 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 07:03 AM:

Rob Rusik @ 222: "A bit of a derail, but it had always struck me as odd that there was such a Christian resistance to evolution*,"

I think resistance to evolution comes from the same place that resistance to heliocentric astronomy came from: they remove Man from his special place at the center of the universe.

#228 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 09:06 AM:

heresiarch #227:

I suspect there's some of this, but more importantly:

a. Evolution is simply not very important for most peoples' understanding of the universe.

b. Expressing disbelief in evolution has become a marker of group membership, just as in other communities, belief/disbelief in human-caused global warming, or different factual assessments of the usefulness of torture in getting intelligence, or the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalists in remote ungoverned parts of the world are markers for group membership.

Most people simply aren't equipped to make their own independent assessment of this stuff. Of those who are, most won't spend the time to become acquainted with the underlying science enough to do so. And a great many of those who study it at all study it with their group membership already deciding their position, and seek "education" whose main job is re-enforcing their existing ideas.

An interesting sideline of this is that some of these beliefs have little day-to-day cost. Your disbelief in evolution probably has little impact on your ability to sell cars or rewire houses or teach children to read--so for many people, this kind of belief is a very low-cost marker of group membership. By contrast, for some people, it's quite high cost. My fundamentalist uncle was a high school science teacher for many years, and has an MS in biology. He understands a lot about the theory of evolution, but explicitly doesn't believe it--I'm not quite sure how he dodges some of the obvious problems (the DNA evidence in particular), but he somehow manages it. For him, though, this is a high-cost marker of group membership, like a peacock's long useless tail, dragging him down as a way of showing how dedicated he is.

#229 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 10:41 AM:

LLA @ 226:

Going over my story now would be even further thread derailment, but the opportunity might come up at some other time.

I probably shouldn't have used the term "grown-ups". I used it to refer to people whose religion has had a few thousand years to accrete nuance, commentary and so on, and can engage in more-or-less rational discussion. By extension, it was a cheap shot at people who I think have an impoverished and stultified belief in modern literalism. The problem is that not everyone who is stuck believing in literalism or young-earth creationism, or the coming rapture really had a choice or the education to make that choice, and that's just sad.

As for the matter of evolution, I think that you, heresiarch, and albatross all touch on the main reasons.

I shouldn't have used the masculine pronoun when referring to God, because the God I don't believe in has both masculine and feminine aspects, but isn't either. God is not a person to be pinned down like that. Call it a leftover of my religious upbringing. Also, while, historically, "mankind" has been used to refer to all humans, I don't happen to believe that women are a subset of men.

#230 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 02:45 PM:

KeithS @ 229:

"Going over my story now would be even further thread derailment."

See, I think this is a much more valid criticism of deconstruction and any other form of textual analysis than anything Kass managed in the speech Patrick linked to at the beginning of this thread.

Bear with me.

To perform any form of textual analysis I know about, you first have to select a text, crack a few eggs, and, before you know it, "You" have become the subject of the sentence and you're saying, quite correctly, "but I'm not the subject, the text is the subject."

The problem is that I don't personally know anyone who conducts textual analysis from an omniscient viewpoint (which leads to the truly off-topic but shiney questions: How would any conceived-of omniscience conduct textual analysis? Would such an omniscience ever want or need to do so?), which leads to a necessary discussion of the understanding and preconceptions of the people performing the analysis. Since this necessary discussion usually leads to truly irrelevant digressions, textual analysis is inherently flawed in that it fails to achieve much real analysis of the text.

But that's just my flawed, limited viewpoint.

#231 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 03:49 PM:

KeithS 224: Moreover, it's that God says it, and it happens. He doesn't even have to build it out of stuff.

Actually that's one of the big points of contrast, to my mind, between the Elohim story and the Yahweh story. The Elohim just say "let there be" and there is. They create by pure will; for them, wishing makes it so. Yahweh actually has to build things.

#232 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 02:06 AM:

albatross @ 228: "a. Evolution is simply not very important for most peoples' understanding of the universe."

By the same token, not understanding it isn't terribly relevant to most people.* If you're investing a whole lot of energy on disbelieving in evolution, then there are inevitably ulterior motives.

"Expressing disbelief in evolution has become a marker of group membership,"

While I agree that it's important to recognize the ways that group beliefs are arbitrary and situational in nature, and that people tend to adopt the beliefs of the group they associate with, it's not the whole of the story. There's a reason why evolution became such a prominent group marker for Christian fundamentalists, and why hair color did not. When comes to understanding why a particular group has the particular shibboleths it does, it's the non-arbitrary parts that matter, not the broad similarities.

"Most people simply aren't equipped to make their own independent assessment of this stuff."

I think that's the wrong way of thinking about it. There are people with no scientific credentials who are pro-evolution, and people like your uncle who persist in denying evolution even when they should know better. The determining factor isn't level of knowledge, it's how their hierarchy of values is arranged.

Let's try a social metaphor: if my best friend Alice gets into a fight with my co-worker Bob, I'm probably going to side with Alice, just because I like her more. Fights between contradictory beliefs are settled by basically the same mechanism: we side with the belief that's more important to us.** The beliefs that give us our sense of place and purpose, as many religious beliefs do, tend to rank pretty high in importance. Given the choice between the belief that they were created in God's image, that they are fallen but have been redeemed by the sacrifice of God's only son on the one hand, and the belief that they are on a spinning ball of rock orbiting a mass of flaming gas on the other, most people go with the one that gives their lives meaning.

*Defining evolution here strictly as "the process by which humans and all other life on earth originated." Using a more general definition, like "the capacity of semi-randomizing iterative systems to problem-solve," evolution is one of the most important concepts in the universe.

**But what about evidence and logic?, you ask. Unfortunately, that's putting the cart before the horse: giving pre-eminence to evidence and logic over emotional concerns is itself a belief, which may or may not be valued by any given individual. That empiricism only matters to empiricists.

#233 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 10:35 AM:

Xopher @ 231:

That is one of the differences between the stories. In the first story, God (Elohim) creates by will. In the second, God (YHVH) creates Adam and the animals from earth, which, I think, is playing on a different set of creation stories. I think that the first people who came up with those stories and their communities were probably very familiar with other creation stories, and used their stories to show how their god was different from all the other gods, in that God isn't having a fight with other gods and nothing about creation was accidental.

heresiarch @ 232: If you're investing a whole lot of energy on disbelieving in evolution, then there are inevitably ulterior motives.

While I would agree with you, I don't think that a lot of people are expending all that much energy on disbelieving in evolution. Obviously some are, such as the Discovery Institute and Ken Ham's Flintstones Creation Museum, but they're leaders not followers. I think that the ulterior motive here is nothing more than to promote a group identity by playing to people's ignorance and pride.

My guess would be that there was a feedback loop involved to get to this point; something like laypeople disbelieving evolution because they didn't understand it and they didn't want to believe they were descended from 'monkeys', which then becomes a good way to promote group membership, which is then taught to the next generation. It helps that it goes hand-in-hand with a supposedly literalist reading of the Bible and is a good way to whip up a feeling of persecution by all those effete, deluded, secular-humanist, university-educated people in power.

There are educated people who think that evolution is false. In that case, I think it is a matter of priorities and that such people have so much invested in one particular worldview that, for whatever reason, they can't let it go. But I don't think that's the general case.

#234 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 11:16 AM:

The anti-evolutionists I have personally encountered seem to be much less invested in the statements,

"Evolution is simply not very important for most peoples' understanding of the universe."
"Expressing disbelief in evolution has become a marker of group membership,"
"Most people simply aren't equipped to make their own independent assessment of this stuff."

and seem to me to be more adherents of:

"The world was created, and is continually maintained, by the Purpose and Intention of Godhead. If this were not so, all would be purposeless, and there'd be no point to anything at all ever, including morality and continued existence."

It's evolution's randomness and directionlessness that gives them the screaming meemies, sufficient to cause their brains to put on peril-tinted sunglasses and refuse to look OVER THERE, nobody looks OVER THERE, it's just too HORRIBLE! Etc.

This is why they find it completely consistent to believe in artificial selection, but not in natural (as formulated by evolutionary biologists): there must be a selector, in their view, or else it all goes to pot.

#235 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 11:21 AM:

Evolution? David McCullum found out about Evolution right here.

#236 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 11:33 AM:

Elliott Mason @ 234:

You're right, there's that aspect too, which is probably more important for why people stick with the belief. I haven't had to deal with people like that for a few years now, which is why I wasn't thinking about it. (Which is no excuse, but never mind that for now.)

However, I don't think that's why people initially latch onto anti-evolution; it's a justification for sticking with it. There are plenty of belief structures out there, including many mainstream Christian denominations, that don't rely on God as micro-manager extraordinaire.

The other reason why it's perfectly consistent to believe in artificial selection but not natural selection is because they're still cows/sheep/dogs/cats/pigeons/whatever.

#237 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 01:28 PM:

heresiarch, #232: Given the choice between the belief that they were created in God's image, that they are fallen but have been redeemed by the sacrifice of God's only son on the one hand, and the belief that they are on a spinning ball of rock orbiting a mass of flaming gas on the other, most people go with the one that gives their lives meaning.

I think you left out a bit there: I would have said, "the belief that they arose by random chance on a spinning ball of rock...". IME, if you can get a Creationist to talk about their underlying reasons for believing as they do -- the personal stuff that makes the Biblical literalism resonate with them -- it always comes down to some version of, "But in evolutionary theory, we aren't SPECIAL*!" And that ties into a lot of their other beliefs as well. The idea that we might be just another piece of the universe is anathema.

Elliott, #234: Yes, that's another facet of it. Hence the "watchmaker" analogy.

* I will refrain from making the obvious play on words here.

#238 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 01:58 PM:

Yes, the idea that we're not special is anathema to them. That's kind of why they're the enemy; they think humans should take, take, take without regard to other creatures, or even the ecosystem as a whole. If God did everything, God will FIX everything as needed to keep humans in their special, top-of-the-food-chain, made-in-his-image privileged position.

And when everyone dies, and they ask God why He* didn't fix it, He'll say "What do you mean? I sent a truck and a boat and a helicopter Charles Darwin, Al Gore, and all those scientists to warn you...but you have free will, and you used it to make Earth uninhabitable for your species. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to prepare a Savior for the cockroaches now that they're the dominant species on the planet."

The more enlightened Christian POV, of course, is that God gave humans stewardship over the Earth, and that humans are responsible for caring for the Creation. While this still makes humans more "special" than the laws of mathematics and physics will allow, it's such a good attitude that I for one hesitate to argue with it.
___
*Per their view.

#239 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 02:03 PM:

Lee @ 237:

I don't think that you and heresiarch are saying something as different as you think you are. Specialness and 'purpose' (I never did quite figure out what that meant) or meaning are two sides to the same coin.

We want to be the heroes in our own story. To come to the realization that maybe we aren't here for any particular reason, that maybe we make our own meaning for ourselves, can be absolutely terrifying. I can't say it's always a comforting thought for me. Some people identify evolution with taking away specialness, meaning, or both.

#240 ::: Jonathan Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 02:43 PM:

In January, 2005, I was present at a memorial service for Jacques Derrida, following his death several months before. There were twenty people in the audience.

For me, deconstruction was a wonderful intellectual adventure -- Plato's Pharmacy opened my eyes to a whole new way of reading. But it quickly became ossified, turning into yet another academic movement with spectacular claims and the desire to outdo all those preceding. And then the movement, in turn, passed, leaving the field to the New Historicists and then to the theoreticians of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. It's twenty years later, and the movement is gone; only the texts are left behind, if anyone cares to read them.

"Deconstruction" is no longer a bogeyman; it is, in fact, a dead horse, flayed until it has become unrecognizable.

#242 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 03:00 PM:

re 238: I don't know what mathematics has to do with it, but the laws of physics certainly do place humans in the position of stewardship over the earth, for better or worse, because they are the only creatures here who can think and plan about the earth in such a way.

#243 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 03:23 PM:

KeithS, #239: I wasn't disagreeing with heresiarch at all. I was making explicit something which I thought had been glossed over or left implicit in the original comment.

#244 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 03:39 PM:

I would point out, dear people, that you are arguing here against entirely absent opponents. I have rarely seen such an exercise come to a realistic portrait of any group, nor a charitable or open mindset, suitable for actual encounters in the future.

Rather, just as albatross has pointed out about some Creationist beliefs, these reiterations of mutually agreed belief serve partly to enforce a sense of "us" against an absent "them". It makes me uncomfortable to watch.

People come to their beliefs from many places, and stick with them for many reasons*. Not all of the beliefs that go with, for instance, Biblical literalism, are comforting or comfortable. Assuming that they take the positions they do because they are easy or unchallenging is making men of straw, and will not serve you well in getting any real Creationists whom you meet to listen to you.

-----
* Indeed, who among us does anything for just one reason?

#245 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 07:31 PM:

This might be a good time to mention that this discussion isn't, for me at least, about what an Other Sort of Thing Entirely fundamentalists are, and how we can never know (nor want to know!) what motivates them. It's rather the opposite: while they do many things that strike me as insane or stupid, there's nothing unnatural or inhuman about wanting to know how the world works and how you fit into everything. I'm trying, at least, to write from a place of empathy. At the same time I do think they are completely wrong on a number of important subjects, so I can't claim perfect objectivity. I try, though.

I have to go now. I'll respond to all of the interesting comments later.

#246 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 07:49 PM:

abi @ 244:

I would point out, dear people, that you are arguing here against entirely absent opponents. I have rarely seen such an exercise come to a realistic portrait of any group, nor a charitable or open mindset, suitable for actual encounters in the future.

Sing it, sister!

Assuming that they take the positions they do because they are easy or unchallenging is making men of straw, and will not serve you well in getting any real Creationists whom you meet to listen to you.

Oh. I thought you were talking about deconstructionists.

#247 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 08:14 PM:

abi@244: ook, ook!

#248 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 08:14 PM:

heresiarch @ 245:

I can only speak for myself, but the concern I've had about this discussion since my last post in this thread has been that all of the difficulties that create obstacles to textual analysis have been patently obvious in later posts.

Reading what people have written here (and I include my own posts) has been much more illuminating about what the posters believe than it has been about what "fundamentalists" or "anti-evolutionists" or any other amorphous group of opponents' belief systems (and Abi has it nailed IMHO, if you can't ascribe a single motive to a single individual, how on Earth do you propose to do so for a poorly-defined agglomeration of nebulously defined opponents?).

#249 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 09:16 PM:

abi @ 244:

I hope that I have not come across as saying that anyone takes positions that they do just because they're easy or unchallenging, although I suppose some of my comments could be read that way. I want to understand why people pick the beliefs that they do; it's something I've been trying to explore for a while now. I don't think that the majority of people who believe in creationism are evil or stupid people. I want to understand better, not wall myself off from them.

I don't wish to argue against absent opponents, however, on reflection, it appears that this subthread does seem to be heading off a bit in that sort of direction. I think it's gone about as far as it's going to constructively go, and I'm happy to leave it at that.

#250 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 09:26 PM:

KeithS @ 249:

"I don't think that the majority of people who believe in creationism are evil or stupid people. I want to understand better, not wall myself off from them."

I can't speak for anyone but myself (and I'm not a member of the group you say you want to understand), but I would suggest that the best way to do that is to start asking Creationists, one by one, how they come to hold that view. Once you are satisfied you have a clear appreciation of the individual answers of a majority of Creationists, it would be fascinating to hear your report.

#251 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 09:41 PM:

A representative sample would be difficult, LLA. And by the time he had one he'd probably be ready to bite out his own occipital bone.

#252 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 09:45 PM:

Xopher @ 251:

"A representative sample would be difficult, LLA."

I'm glad you noticed that point.

#253 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 09:52 PM:

LLA, #250: Just to clarify, my comments were based on my personal experience of talking to and/or reading the blogs of Creationists. This may not have been obvious if you don't have an apa/Usenet background, but that is what the acronym IME means: "in my experience". And while I don't claim to have encountered the majority, I have encountered a fair number in a surprising variety of locations, and found their statements of personal belief to show a strong consistency. YMMV.

#254 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 10:00 PM:

LLA, so you were just being snotty, then? I think that was a little uncalled-for.

#255 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 10:02 PM:

Lee @ 253:

IME, the places where my mileage may vary from yours is that I may ask different questions, which may elicit different answers from those you have gotten. Further, I am likely to interpret those answers using different filters than you do, simply because we are unique individuals with different likely constructs about how people self-report the reasons for their viewpoints.

I may not have addressed my questions to the same sample you have, though (since, you're right, I don't have a Usenet background), which may further skew our analyses.

#256 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 10:05 PM:

Xopher @ 254:

"LLA, so you were just being snotty, then?"

I'm sorry if that was your interpretation. I thought I was just being rigorous.

#257 ::: Xphr ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 10:11 PM:

t's n thng t wnt t ndrstnd ppl wth crck-brnd ds. t's nthr t sggst tht h mmrs hmslf mng thm fr n xtndd prd. Tlkng t lt f Crtnsts wld b mntll dblttng t nn wth n knd f rtnl mnd, s y wll knw (bng "rgrs" yrslf). n rprsnttv smpl wld rqr ngh xpsr t lv n rsnbl prsn n pddd cll.

'm nt tllng y nthng y dn't knw. Tht sr cm ff s prtt sntt t m.

#258 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 10:39 PM:

LLA @ 250:

I want to understand how people in general come to and hold the beliefs that they do.

The creationists that I've talked with, read, and listened to seem to have a few common answers.

One answer is that the Bible says so. Another is that evolution is random, and so without a creator we'd never be here. A similar reason is that if it were evolution, there wouldn't be any particular meaning to life. When asked about science contradicting their beliefs, the answer I most often received was something along the lines of secular scientists not wanting to admit to God's truth, or being blinded by the Devil.

These don't strike me as complete answers, although they may well be, which is why I tend to get sucked into discussions like this. These are all distilled answers from much longer exposure, not just answers to blunt questions.

This is all in my experience, of course.

Xopher, I did deserve a response like that. It's one thing to make noises about trying to understand people when those people aren't in the room, it's another to actually make the effort sincerely. My present understanding is incomplete (although I'll cheerfully admit that my knowledge of myself is incomplete and probably always will be so), but informed by experience with people I've worked with in the past and some members of my family, as well as listening to Christian radio and reading some creationist books. I am, however, unlikely to undertake a large-scale study at this time.

#259 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 11:40 PM:

hrmn...

Taking abi's caution to account (and thinking it well placed): I've had a lot of experience with a certain class of findamentalist, and a similar class of creationists (they have an interesting, if not consistent shared space in the venn diagram).

LLA: It's easier to ascribe a shared set of common traits than it is to pigeonhole one person into them.

That said, the comment to Keith was borderline. It was a late-breaking piece of snark, and seemed to assume that none of the people here have had any close/intimate acquaintance with creationists.

#260 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 11:43 PM:

KeithS @ 258:

"I want to understand how people in general come to and hold the beliefs that they do."

This is a truly worthy goal. It is also one that is fraught with difficulty and peril.

Philosophers have approached this problem over the millennia, as have religious figures, lawyers, writers of all stripes (including novelists, historians, biographers, academicians, and many more). Each has used different sets of tools and come to different conclusions. Different camps critique each other quite vigorously and point out different flaws in the models, methods, and conclusions that are reached.

I have found little agreement between them, but have found the discussions illuminating.

#261 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 11:44 PM:

KeithS @ 258:

"I want to understand how people in general come to and hold the beliefs that they do."

This is a truly worthy goal. It is also one that is fraught with difficulty and peril.

Philosophers have approached this problem over the millennia, as have religious figures, lawyers, psychologists, writers of all stripes (including novelists, historians, biographers, academicians, and many more), etc. Each has used different sets of tools and come to different conclusions. Different camps critique each other quite vigorously and point out different flaws in the models, methods, and conclusions that are reached.

I have found little agreement between them, but have found the discussions illuminating.

#262 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2009, 11:47 PM:

Egads!

The dread double post.

#263 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 01:14 AM:

KeithS @ 233: "While I would agree with you, I don't think that a lot of people are expending all that much energy on disbelieving in evolution. Obviously some are, such as the Discovery Institute and Ken Ham's Flintstones Creation Museum, but they're leaders not followers."

The professional evolution denialists are just the tip of the iceberg--without the support of the evangelical community, they would wither and die. It takes a lot of effort and money to create a professional class of any stripe; it doesn't happen on accident. To pretend like they're the entirety of anti-evolutionism is like claiming that Buddhism isn't all that important in Thailand because only a small fraction of the population are actual monks. The amount of collective energy spent denying evolution is incredible.

Elliot Mason @ 234: "It's evolution's randomness and directionlessness that gives them the screaming meemies, sufficient to cause their brains to put on peril-tinted sunglasses and refuse to look OVER THERE, nobody looks OVER THERE, it's just too HORRIBLE! Etc."

Yes--evolution is, to them, a direct assault on the idea of a purposeful existence. They're not wrong, either: minus deity, an ultimate purpose to life is a tricky, possibly answerless question. If you can't accept that--and I'm not convinced that anyone really can--then evolution is pretty damn scary.

Lee @ 237: "I think you left out a bit there: I would have said, "the belief that they arose by random chance on a spinning ball of rock..."."

I was referring to the initial resistance to Copernican astronomy, but yes.

Xopher @ 238: "That's kind of why they're the enemy; they think humans should take, take, take without regard to other creatures, or even the ecosystem as a whole."

This is the next layer above the existential terror--or rather, another aspect of it. If you aren't the center of the universe, if you aren't the end product of creation, then what else can be questioned? Is feminine submission and masculine authority really divinely ordained? Is sodomy really a sin? Or is it just a book? The possibilities are endless, and potentially terrifying.

#264 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 01:48 AM:

heresiarch @ 263... Is sodomy really a sin?

For dinosaurs too?

#265 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 02:44 AM:

heresiarch, #263: minus deity, an ultimate purpose to life is a tricky, possibly answerless question

To which my response is, why does life have to have an ultimate purpose? Or if you* think it needs one, what's preventing you from making your own decision about what it should be? I am of the opinion that my purpose in life is to help make other people's lives better (by some definition that we can both agree on); sometimes I do this by fighting for social justice, sometimes by creating beauty, sometimes by doing other things as they seem appropriate. But it didn't take Orders From On High for me to make this decision; all it took was my own sense of ethics. (Which, of course, many Christianists believe that I can't have either because "there is no morality without Christianity religion", which is so much hogwash.)

* General "you", not you specifically.

#266 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 03:24 AM:

abi @ 244: "Not all of the beliefs that go with, for instance, Biblical literalism, are comforting or comfortable. Assuming that they take the positions they do because they are easy or unchallenging is making men of straw, and will not serve you well in getting any real Creationists whom you meet to listen to you."

Everyone believes what they believe because they choose to. Everyone, not excluding myself. (Quite the contrary. I think everyone else does so because I do.) In a way that is choosing what is most comforting, but everyone is equally guilty. Asking why someone chooses to believe this and not that isn't accusing them of cowardice, no more than asking why humans have opposable thumbs is an accusation of laziness. It is an attempt to understand the why that lies behind the thing.

I do not assume Creationism is an easier philosophy than my own. Indeed, it seems far more difficult to me than my own. (Yes, that sounds like an insult: I believe them to be wrong. I have no comforts to offer them.) My goal is not to make a strawman of it but to understand the needs it satisfies for its adherents and which it leaves empty, just as I understand what needs my philosophy satisfies in me and which it does not.

Perhaps I am entirely mistaken about Creationism and sound like ten kinds of fool. Silence would not teach me otherwise; perhaps speaking will.

LLA @ 248: "Abi has it nailed IMHO, if you can't ascribe a single motive to a single individual, how on Earth do you propose to do so for a poorly-defined agglomeration of nebulously defined opponents?"

Statistically. The reasons we've been discussing might be totally off for any individual and yet still be valid over the entire group.

#267 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 04:16 AM:

Lee @ 265: "To which my response is, why does life have to have an ultimate purpose?"

Because not having a purpose is scary, is why. Personally, I think it's "getting handed the car keys for the first time" scary, but still: it's life without a net.

"Or if you* think it needs one, what's preventing you from making your own decision about what it should be?"

"Purpose I made up just now" isn't always interchangeable with "ultimate purpose." External directives have a very different psychological flavor than directives that come from within.

#268 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 04:32 AM:

heresiarch @ #263 says: minus deity, an ultimate purpose to life is a tricky, possibly answerless question. If you can't accept that--and I'm not convinced that anyone really can--then evolution is pretty damn scary.

All of these questions of existential angst seem to compare an unconsiderered feeling of security on the religious side to the terror and confusion which comes from losing that feeling. Neither the security nor the terror are based on anything outside the religion in question.

Atheists who are not suffering from withdrawal from religion don't worry that the Universe is "meaningless" or "purposeless", since there is nothing to compare it to. It's like complaining that the Universe is too high up.

#269 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 04:56 AM:

heresiarch @ 266... Everyone believes what they believe because they choose to.

I don't believe that.

#270 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 05:51 AM:

Xopher @257
I can see no way whatsoever that you have contributed to the quality of the discourse there. Quite the reverse.

I'd expected better of you, particularly after I tried, in a gentle way, to make the conversation a bit more open to people who were at least acquainted with the group being so broadly discussed.

(I leave LLA and KeithS to make their own peace.)

heresiarch @266:
Asking why someone chooses to believe this and not that isn't accusing them of cowardice, no more than asking why humans have opposable thumbs is an accusation of laziness. It is an attempt to understand the why that lies behind the thing.

But you're not asking them. You're asking the question here, in a conversation that no Creationist would ever enter expecting a spirit of open inquiry (or, indeed, probably enter at all).

Silence would not teach me otherwise; perhaps speaking will.

I would say that listening would be the best option, but as I say, I don't think you'll hear much here.

overall:
I've been hanging out on conservative blogs of late. This entire subthread sounds exactly like what the commenters there say about "liberals".

We can do better than this.

#271 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 06:28 AM:

Serge @264: Don't be silly. You must know that the dinosaur fossils were put here to test our faith in the fact that the Earth is only 6004 years old, and never actually lived, and therefore could not possibly have committed sodomy. Only a science fiction writer will tell you otherwise.

#272 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 08:02 AM:

abi @ 244:

Not all of the beliefs that go with, for instance, Biblical literalism, are comforting or comfortable.

I sometimes feel compassion for those who love me and believe I am going to hell. No matter how silly the whole thing is to me, starting with all supernatural belief as a whole and working down through the details, they are obviously worried about me and it causes them pain. I don't always feel that compassion, because sometimes their concern expresses itself in unpleasant ways.

That belief must be a burden to someone to whom it's not all about them and their goodness.

One of the reasons I admire Tim O'Reilly is this sort of writing:

I had written [my father] a few weeks before, telling him that even though I had left the church, I had absorbed so much of him, his belief, his moral values, his desire to be good, and to do good. I didn't want him to think he had failed. His short, so poignant reply, written on a slate and soon erased, but burned forever in my memory: "God forgive me, a sinner." His apology for the long years we had not spent together: "I only wanted you to be with us in paradise." The desire for togetherness in a world to come had become a wedge between us.
#273 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 08:23 AM:

Jules @ 271... By the way, I wonder what sodomy was called before Sodom was put on the map.

#274 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 09:33 AM:

abi: Fair enough.

I'm also interested in how people come by their beliefs. And while I know a few folks who don't believe the basic picture of evolution, they're a small sample, so maybe I'm building strawmen and torching them to make myself feel smarter. But the main thing that strikes me about belief/disbelief in evolution is:

a. When you know a fair bit about living things, the evidence is overwhelmingly strong, and learning more makes it stronger.

b. When you don't know much, the theory looks bafflingly goofy. The human eye came about from a random unthinking process? And the vertebrate adaptive immune system? And anthills and bat echolocation and everything?

It's really unintuitive that it could work, until you get stuff like apparently closely related species of the same animal differing along a gradient in size or color or something as you move down a coastline, or closely related species of the same animal differing a lot when found near one another in very different environments, or vestigal organs, or the way animals develop before birth that goes through intermediate steps that look like their ancestors, or conserved genetic mechanisms across all living things or large swaths of living stuff, or....

I suspect this colors how it works for people to believe in or doubt evolution. For someone who has little interest in biology, doubting evolution has no observable consequnces--you can be a fine electrician or elementary school teacher[1] or policeman. So expressing an opinion has no consequences in the physical world, but can have huge consequences in the social world. That makes it a really good way to signal group membership. A great many political and religious beliefs have this property--they can be held in some common form without imposing large costs on your day to day life in terms of making you dumber or less effective in doing your job, but expressing them has huge social consequences.

I think the whole process of disbelief is quite different in someone who's more knowledgeable, but I don't claim to understand this process too well. (I know very little about modern creationists, though I gather they've adopted many of the assumptions of evolution into their models, with some additional notion that some bits of complexity are too elaborate to have arisen without a thinking being tinkering with them[2].)

[1] I've been explaining evolution to my older (7 year old) son, who seems to get the high order bits pretty soundly. A couple years ago, he started spontaneously asking, whenever he would see some new kind of plant or animal, what its defense (from being eaten) was. But I've seen no reason to suspect the rest of his class of having ever heard of such things, and there's probably not a compelling reason for them to in the second grade.

[2] Demonstrating somehow that some biological mechanisms couldn't really have arisen by evolution as we understand it could be really valuable, and in fact, my layman's take is that this has happened many times--see balancing selection, kin selection, arms races, group or multilevel selection, evolutionary game theory, etc. But sticking God or the gods or intelligent meddling space aliens into the gaps of your theory could be used to explain absolutely anything that might be observed, which makes it hard to use to predict anything.

#275 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 09:39 AM:

Serge #273:

I don't know much about biblical geography, but my guess is BFE.

#276 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 10:00 AM:

albatross @ 276... BFE? The first time I heard about it, it was from a southern California guy describing the drive north thru the Central Valley's I-5. (I wish I could find a link to the Saturday Night Live skit about a meeting of Sodom's Chamber of Commerce and people complaining about what their fine city is being associated with.)

#277 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 10:02 AM:

A related digression about how people come by their beliefs:

There are some smart, eloquent people who will always learn and argue for the party line. I'm thinking of someone like William Krystol here, or Jonah Goldberg. They're bright folks, but they bring their intelligence and background knowledge and verbal skillfulness to the job of finding an argument for the political and social and even scientific positions of their political team. Those positions are arrived at by internal jostling among interest groups, by coalition building and the need to keep peace in the party, even by the needs of the moment by politicians at the top of the party, which then propogate down and become party doctrine.

The result of this is that those people are not all that interesting to read. They're going to show you, at best, some stunning verbal cleverness in backfilling an argument whose conclusion they were handed from someone else. If you want arguments to borrow to win your own arguments or to quiet your own doubts, they'll provide them, but if you want to understand the world better, they're not too helpful[1].

By contrast, there are others who seem to come by many of their positions by their own reasoning and experiencs. I often disagree with these folks, even find them infuriating or creepy. But they're interesting to read, because they're doing something more than just parroting back the party line. Three important markers for this are:

a. They will sometimes differ from the party line in important areas. This isn't an occasional cosmetic difference used to proclaim your independence, this is a well-reasoned argument the other direction in some fundamental areas.

b. Their arguments won't be quite so smooth, somehow. I can't exactly explain this, except to say that arguments built around trying to understand the world seem to me to have a different flavor--they accept the existence of contradictions or problematic points with their position, they are selected more for being right and less for being smooth and pithy arguments.

c. There's typically something like a coherent worldview behind these positions and arguments, by which they make some internal sense. Even when the arguments seem wrong, you can often see where they came from, for good or ill.

This is why I'll read articles by people I strongly disagree with, but only by some such people. I don't think William Krystol has much to teach me, as I can already make up pretty good arguments. But Jerry Pournelle is liable to make me think, even when I think he's all wrong.

ISTM that there's something rather unhealthy about having an ecosystem of ideas in which a lot of the main participants are basically arguing close variants of the party line. Lots of independent voices and ideas looking at the world from different angles, that looks valuable. Lots of different skillful writers crafting convincing arguments for whatever position they're paid to support this week, that looks all screwed up.

My sense is that the rise of think tanks has shoved the balance over toward more party-line-arguers, because think tanks don't (as far as I know) have tenure, and so someone hired by the Cato Institute or the American Enterprise Institute who finds himself changing his views radically on some core libertarian or conservative issue will also likely find himself out of a job. I think the recent Bush administration was largely about reaping this unhealthy harvest.

[1] Obviously, there are people who do this on the left as well, and more finely, there are people who do this from each sub-group in American politics--folks who will backfill to explain the American Catholic Church's position, or the position of the oil industry, or the position of the EPA, or the position of NARAL, or....

#278 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 11:15 AM:

albatross: Whereas I am more willing to read William Kristol because I've not yet seen, directly, his dishonesties. I know they are there; because I can see where he goes from them, but the basic level; the specific beliefs he has which allow him to try to persuade people with them, those are hidden.

I know what Jerry believes. I've heard him declaim what he thinks ought to be done, and why (he wanted the Dems to win, so they could be stuck with Bush's follies; esp. the economy, and be put out of any position of influence, much less power, "for at least forty years". This was after saying the US needed to control space, and wondering why, after Bush said words to that effect, the Air Force was so full of people who didn't understand their duty. This was because China and Russia still had sattellites in orbit)

So I discount Jerry, because I don't think the basis points for his arguments can lead to anything good, and I know what he wants to see come to pass. I read Kristol (when I read Kristol) because I need to know (esp. as he has a bully pulpit) what it is he is actually trying to make come to pass, despite thinking his basis points are probably no better than Jerry's.

#279 ::: Jennifer Barber ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 11:41 AM:

Because not having a purpose is scary, is why.

To some people, it apparently is. Possibly even to most. But that's no more a universal than anything else.

I've genuinely never understood why people think life should have a purpose. I've never felt any sort of lack in not having one for my own. I am not upset, or scared, or in any way diminished by my lifelong conviction that life just is, with no inherent meaning or purpose.

#280 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 11:47 AM:

albatross @ 277:

I don't think about Creationists much except when I meet them or read a discussion like this one. That's why I haven't posted in this subthread: I really have nothing to say that wouldn't be some variant of "I don't believe this and here's why; I think that everyone who does believe is wrong, and most of the ones I've met have no interest in discussing the subject openly; their opinions don't appear to be changeable by rational argument". My interest in the subject of evolution, which is great, is in the study and discussion of the theory and the experiments and observations that support it.

But you've raised the edge of another discussion entirely: that Creationism is cynically used, just as belief in the immorality of homosexuality is used, as a political wedge issue. In this context it is not a belief but a tool in the hands of those who wish to attain or maintain power.

Of course it's true that other things that I do believe in are used similarly. For instance, I believe that it is important for the human race to develop some significant presence in space* in the near future; I have been deeply offended by the use of this belief, which is common among people my age who were young when Project Apollo was a going concern, to push a militaristic, American triumphalist agenda.

But the point of evolutionary theory for me is that it is one more way in which I can learn about the universe, how I relate to it, and exactly what I am. Most people I've met don't care much about these questions; even the ones who need to have absolute answers for their own peace of mind don't think about the issues except when their lives are interrupted by unusual events or disasters. Even many intellectuals feel that these sorts of questions amount to intellectual masturbation.** Consider the opinion of most physicists about the meaning of quantum theory: "I don't care how you interpret it; it's a consistent theory that's supported by experiment, and the mathematics works, that's all I care about."

So Creationism to me is political issue, not a philosophical one, or an issue of public debate. To me it's much like the overwhelming majority of Americans who believe in astrology: I think they're very misguided, and that their mistaken belief creates an atmosphere of irrationality that makes societal decisions that involve science very difficult, but I realize that the belief is not subject to rational argument, so I don't bother to try.

* Though what we would do with it is controlled very much by the physics of space travel, the long distances involved, even within the solar system, and the inhospitable places we can get to. See Charlie Stross' review of this issue. Much as my romantic streak would like there to be a Northwest Smith kind of solar system, that's not the way it is.

** My response to that is, "what's wrong with masturbation?" But that's another discussion.

#281 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 11:51 AM:

Terry Karney posted #278 while I was writing my last post, and seems to be talking about the same things I was (correct me if I'm wrong, please).

#282 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 11:57 AM:

John, #272: That excerpt reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago. We were talking about the LOTR movies, and my unhappiness with Elrond's high-handed treatment of Arwen in the movies as opposed to the books. I said that I could understand his being unhappy about her choice, as it meant that he was facing eternal life in the West without his daughter. And she said, "That's exactly why I'm not out to my parents about being pagan."

My first reaction was to think, "Yes, but for Elrond that was REAL." My second was, "But they think it's real too." I had to do some serious thinking about that, but ultimately it didn't change my opinion. In order for eternal life to have any meaning at all, people have to be able to choose to relinquish it -- and it is the responsibility of those who love them to respect that decision.

#283 ::: Stevey-Boy ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 12:14 PM:

Lee @ 282: Thank you. I think your last sentence is quite possibly the best explanation I've ever heard as to why any religion (or absence of religion) should be a personal choice and not open to other peoples judgments.

Reading now in preview, my response does not do you justice, but I hope you understand my meaning.

#284 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 12:28 PM:

Whoops. Sorry.

I'll be over here now.

#285 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 12:43 PM:

That wasn't enough of an apology, now that I think about it.

I'm sorry for lowering the level of discourse. I really thought LLA was being snide in proposing that KeithS interview a statistically valid sample of Creationists, and took hir explanation ("I thought I was being rigorous") as smugly inflammatory. Then I lost my temper.

Lost it so far that even on rereading my comment (as I always do before posting) it seemed like quite a reasonable thing to say. abi is a better judge of that than I am, and a more reasonable person overall, and going back and looking at what remains of my comment fills me with shame and remorse.

My apologies to all.

#286 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 01:30 PM:

Lee @ 282: It seems to me that there's a difference between "I don't want to live forever without you" and "I don't want you to not live forever".

The Elves know what the fate of their spirits is, and that the spirits of Men are fated for something different, which they don't know. But they know that *something* is fated. Whereas (as I understand it), for many Christian fundamentalists, for someone to not be Christian dooms him/her to either extinction or an eternity of torment, not merely eternal separation.

#287 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 02:00 PM:

I agree wholeheartedly with Bruce Cohen (StM) @ 280. It galls me when I realize how many people insist on their (sometimes new-found) beliefs over the rationality they were taught, especially when I see that they feel bolstered by the rantings of these politicians. ("If all these learned writers believe it, it must be okay!")

I wonder how many people would claim a belief in such things as creationism if they weren't exposed as much to the political writers, including those who claim not to be political, and the vehemence of independent preachers whose primary interest is also personal power.

And I just deleted a paragraph pointing out the same thing Joel Polowin pointed out while I was typing.

#288 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 03:05 PM:

Joel, #286: Yes, there's a difference between the two -- but it's not a difference that makes any difference, if you take my meaning. The choice still has to be up to the individual, or free will is only a meaningless phrase.

Besides... what if they're wrong? What if the real test, the true intent of God's will, is whether they can think it thru and come to the conclusion that freedom of choice is the important thing?

#290 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 03:22 PM:

Xopher @285:
To be fair, I think that LLA came across a bit sharp.

But even with my intervention at 244, and the subsequent clarifications by several commenters, this thread still read as a pretty edgy place for anyone so thoroughly in the minority. Coming back at all was risky. It would have been appropriate to cut LLA some slack.

In other words, yes, your instincts were probably correct. The problem lay in your reaction.

But that is past now, and in the past it will remain. I explain it purely for reference and learning, not to beat up on you. You know I love you, right?

#291 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 03:31 PM:

Terry @289:

I like!

#292 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 03:48 PM:

Re: beliefs. I'm firmly convinced that the emotional foundation comes first, and the people pick and choose what fits on that foundation.

In fact, anything that fits into a category of "core values", "deeply held beliefs" or "matters of principle" has to have that emotional foundation, and that's one reason why religious belief is so hard to shake.

I read somewhere that neurotransmitters serve to anchor those beliefs -- we develop more receptors to hook onto those brain chemicals. Something that shakes a deeply held belief probably has an analogous effect to withdrawal from an addictive drug.

#293 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 04:02 PM:

Terry Karney @ 289... Did you know that the French word for 'shower' is 'douche'?

#294 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 04:14 PM:

abi - yes, I do. And I know the problem was that I lost my temper.

#295 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 04:15 PM:

Last night, Turner Classic Movies showed a 1930s short film about Adam and Eve. Right off the bat you know this isn't going to be a traditional telling of the story because Adam is this balding pot-bellied guy wearing, besides his leafy accoutrement, shoes and spats. After they do the apple-eating, A & E are seen walking down a road, past a marker indicating that they have reached 10,000BC, with cavemen to prove it. They decide it's better to move on, and they meet the god Mercury doing mail pickup. They reach Nero's Rome, where there is a talent show featuring what looks like the Soggy-Bottom Boys in peplum. It gets just as weird when A & E reach King Arthur's Court. After they reach Modern Times, Adam suddenly wakes up. Yes, it was all a dream. Phew!

#296 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 04:48 PM:

Serge @273

It was called buggery. Because, you know, there have always been bugs.

#297 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 05:09 PM:

pericat @ 296... Of course. This reminds me of Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition episode. Near the end, Cardinal Jimenez and his henchmen are rushing across town to the next place where they're not expected and, as they hop oto a bus, they don't think they'll make it because they can see the ending credits starting to roll. They get there, but, just as the Cardinal opens his mouth, the show fades to black and he can be heard exclaiming "Bugger!"

#298 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 05:35 PM:

Serge: Mais oui! French, in a saddly withered and debased form, is one of the languages I speak.

For the sake of amusment, I will add that Russian borrowed the word, so it's a french cognate (russian has lots of french, and german, cognates. The present roud of borrowing is, of course, from english).

#299 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 05:53 PM:

Terry, #289: Thank you -- that made my day! It was definitely a 4-squawk story. :-)

#300 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 08:23 PM:

Terry Karney #278:

I have a much harder time than you reading William Kristol because his dishonesties are inherited. He is, simply put, carrying out the family tradition. He's not doing as good a job as his his father. Irving Kristol, the old-Trot-turned-NeoCon was a serious thinker. Bill Kristol, not so much. One could argue with Irving (indeed, one of the most interesting arguments for affirmative action was developed by Michael Walzer in an argument with Irving Kristol -- and out of it, it seems to me, came some of Walzer's most important ideas). How, on the other hand, is it possible to argue with an empty bag of wind like Bill?

#301 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2009, 09:02 PM:

Fragano: It's not so much argue with him, as figure out what wind he's filling that bag with, so I can deal with those who accept his arguments.

#302 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2009, 04:53 PM:

Terry Karney #301: I take your point. The, ahem, wind does seem to be mainly intestinal gas in the younger Kristol's case.

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