Monday, April 28, 2008

Breaking news

I just ate something out of the vending machine which carried the following warning:

Allergy Information: This product is manufactured in a facility that processes milk, peanuts, and other nuts.

I always thought milk came from the underside of cows. Silly me.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Worth reading

Short and to the point:

New Scientist's 24 myths about evolution

Don't bother reading the one on the bible not being inerrant, it's the biggest load of intellectual crap I've seen in a while (and they wonder why evangelical christians don't bother to consider the rest of what they have to say). I'm sure it raised my blood pressure. You owe it to yourself to ignore that one, as the rest are pretty much spot-on and certainly worth reading.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I didn't think it was possible...

...But it is. I've finally been offended by "art."

For senior, abortion a medium for art, political discourse

UPDATE: I'm having trouble believing this is actually true. Herbal teas? She was pregnant 9 times in 9 months? I don't buy it.

On the off chance that it's actually true:

Seriously, if she did this to puppies we'd lock her up. WTF?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Modern poetry gets a bad rap, or, Christians who do not like this should check their pulse

Descending Theology: The Resurrection

by Mary Karr

From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in—black ice and squid ink—
till the hung flesh was empty.
Lonely in that void even for pain,
he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse’s core, the stone fist
of his heart began to bang
on the stiff chest’s door, and breath spilled
back into that battered shape. Now

it’s your limbs he comes to fill, as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Why do people do the things they do?

The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.
--Nietzsche

What does it take to change a long-held viewpoint? A number of years ago I would have gladly called myself a creationist. Today, I would call myself a theistic evolutionist, were I unable to avoid a label. What made the difference? Why did I change my mind?

I do not have space or time to recount, nor can I remember, all the innumerable little details that cropped up in favor of what was then the other side. "If one does the homework, it comes out in our favor," was the universal reassurance. Well, I'm curious, so I did the homework anyway. Creationism (which, in case you've not heard, is the belief that god created the earth [some would say universe but I was not able to believe that for very long] and all its inhabitants in 6 24-hour periods about 7,000-10,000 years ago) moved from the "certainty" column in my mind to the "unlikely but possible" column. What was the final straw?

My favorite argument for a young Earth (a requirement for this view) was the fact that moon is slowly receding from the Earth. At something like an inch a century (I don't remember the numbers exactly), if you rewind time the moon runs into the earth a long time before the 4 billion years that the Earth is supposed to have existed for. The only problem with this argument is that the math is wrong: the closer the moon is, the slower it recedes, meaning that it could easily have been orbiting the earth for 4 billion years.

So, big deal, you may think. The creationists got their math wrong, but so what? Just because the common scientific time-line is possible doesn't make it fact. The problem is this: I heard this line of reasoning in the '90's (as a teenager). It was 2000 something when I found the answer to it. But guess when the refutation to this argument was available? Go on, guess.

1970's. Yes, that's right. Creationists were repeating an argument in the 1990's that had been refuted 20 years prior. That's what got me. It was clear to me that the Creationists I had been trusting cared more about winning the argument than about finding the truth out. It would not have hurt them in the slightest to stop repeating the argument, to put out a correction; as I noted above, having a thing be possible doesn't make it so. 20 years is plenty of time for them to do so. When I discovered this, all the bits and pieces of information that made up my opinion on the subject changed in importance, and the result was that it became impossible to continue to honestly hold the Creationists' beliefs. The world is so much easier to explain now-- but that is a topic for another post.

I do not think, as the Nietzsche quote at the top might imply, that they are secret evolutionists deliberately harming the creationist movement by arguing for it with bad arguments (though the effect may be much the same). I think they genuinely believe what they claim to. I also think that the environments which the creationist beliefs come from make it very difficult for creationists to honestly look at the facts. Creationists have a lot invested in the truth or falsity of the Creation story; most of them feel that, were it false, the entire Christian religion would collapse. And, indeed, their faith is structured such that this would be true for many of them; therefore, for them, admitting the truth of the age of the earth or of the cosmos is only a hair away from denying Christianity. Why that is so is a topic for another day. As for me, somehow I have remained a Christian.

This is my appeal for intellectual honesty, from both sides.

Friday, April 4, 2008

now that no one reads this I can say whatever I want

"His Dark Materials" is a series of three books by Philip Pullman. The first, "The Golden Compass," has been made into a movie, which I have not seen and do not intend to see soon as it seems to have gotten rather poor reviews.

Pullman apparently (i.e. he has explicitly said that he) wrote the series trying to be a kind of "anti-" C.S. Lewis, using fiction to make an appeal for atheism. In this, he failed rather badly, on a number of levels.

Firstly: there were a number of anti-religion and anti-church monologues from a few different characters. These all seemed forced into the story in the way that an 8-year-old might draw horns on the Mona Lisa. The religious institution in the main world from his books is clearly designed to resemble Christianity; I would like to report that it was entirely different, but Christians through the centuries have provided plenty of ammunition for caricatures of that sort, and it was a good enough skewer of christians-who-don't-get-the-point as to be believable.

Here I must pause a moment to note that the second two books are essential reading if you want to actually understand what he's trying to say; the first book doesn't really do much more than introduce a few terms.

Secondly. His characters, while ostensibly rebelling against "authority" and "morality" display the sort of morality Christians of all sorts (including those who don't "get the point") aspire to. This is sort of like "sticking it to the man" by paying your taxes on time.

Thirdly. He has a non-human, non-local, all-pervasive, all-knowing intelligence directing the activities of all his characters. Irony-wise, that really takes the cake... He also references many bible stories as basically factual (though with some detail mis-understood, of course).

Fourthly, and most seriously. Normally, when you support something, you try to make it sound like a good thing. But the sense one gets after finishing the third book (I'm trying not to give anything away here) is that of permanent isolation, separation, loneliness, despair. One of the most depressing endings I've read in a long time. When one puts down "The Last Battle," or "That Hideous Strength" (the final books in C.S. Lewis' Narnia and Space Trilogy series), one thinks, "I wish the world were like that." When one turns the last page on MacDonald's Lilith, one wants to sleep in the big hall, too. When I finished "The Amber Spyglass," I spent the rest of the week chanting, "The world is not like that. The world is not like that," to myself.

On a positive note, I liked most of the characters, and thought they behaved reasonably. His personification of the human spirit was interesting. I also thought it very interesting that he seemed to take a clear position in a debate that I thought was only Christian intellectual m***********: are humans composed of two parts (body and spirit), or three (body, soul, spirit)? His books clearly take the latter view. On a side note, talking bears with armor? What the hell was he smoking? And, if you only read one of these books, read the middle one. I liked it the best.

Enough about the content. Writing wise, he was clear enough, but Lewis' style is inimitable and Pullman certainly doesn't "imit" it.

Reading these books is a valuable exercise in cultural literacy. The athiests may be able match us in the "book of dumb proof" (e.g. Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens) category but are a ways away from us in the battle for the imagination, if this series is any indication.