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    Archive for May, 2008

    Fundamentalist Physicists and Religious Atheists

    Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

    Okay, I’ve had enough.

    I’m all for a good argument. And good is the operative word in that sentence. And by “good” I mean a conversation where the two parties are not merely harping on their particular point of view, but where each party has the skill to highlight the underlying beliefs as well as the errors in reasoning of the other party, and where each party has the willingness, ability and, again, skill, to recognize when a hole has been poked in the fabric of their own position.

    I remember an argument with a potential business partner over a pricing strategy… suddenly, he went from defending his position and lept into self-righteous indignation. “Who do you think you are to accuse me? Do you know what I’ve done with other companies?”

    “Well,” I replied, “regardless of what you’ve done, I know that self-righteous indignation is usually the last resort of someone who is guilty.”

    There was a long pause, then he laughed, “Nobody has ever accused me of being self-righteously indignant before.”

    “Was I right?”

    “I hate to admit it, but, yes. I haven’t actually done the research on this and am not sure what would work,” he replied.

    I left the call, optimistic that this newfound honesty would be the foundation of a great business relationship.

    To cut to the chase: another incident revealed that I was dealing with a pathological liar.

    But back to good and bad arguments.

    Lately, there have been quite a few arguments between religious and non-religious parties.

    The two favorites are: atheism vs. theism (or, sometimes, deism) and evolution vs. creationism (or it’s identical twin, intelligent design… BTW, there’s no grammatically correct way to insert the proper number of quotes to highlight the absurdity of those two words used together: “intelligent design,” “intelligent” design, intelligent “design,” “”intelligent” design,” “intelligent “design,”” or “”intelligent” “design””, none of them quite work… anyway…).

    And there’s one particular style of bad argument that I’ve just had enough of, that makes me as nutty as people saying “very unique” (it’s either unique — one of a kind — or not. It can’t be VERY one-of-a-kind), or making a declarative statement sound like a question by raising the tone of voice at the end (so, “It’s two o’clock” sounds like “It’s two o’clock?” Well, IS IT OR ISN’T IT? Are you ASKING ME or TELLING ME?!), or confusing a thought with a feeling (“I’m feeling like you’re not in touch with your feelings” … translation: Based on a theory I have about awareness of what I’ll call “feelings” and based on a self-diagnosed ability to know what another person is and should be feeling and how they would then react to those feelings, I have come to the conclusion — that is, I THINK — that you’re not “in touch with your feelings” which, by the way, I think will cause me imagined problems in the future and, rather than attend to my own discomfort over this presumed state of affairs, I’ll state my case in such a way that you understand, without me having to explicitly tell you, that I believe — that is, I THINK — there is something wrong with you and that you should change and that, if you did, my life would be better”).

    The bad argument technique in question — did you remember that’s what we were talking about after that “feelings” tirade? — is misappropriating a word from the language of one position and using it, inaccurately, inappropriately, and mistakenly, to criticize the other position.

    For example: Atheists are religious about their atheism. Or, physicists are fundamentalists when it comes to their beliefs. Evolutionists are dogmatic about Darwinism.

    Okay, once and for all. NO THEY ARE NOT.

    The people who accuse, say, atheists for being “religious,” are just re-translating “religious” to mean “passionate” or “committed” or “steadfast in opinion.” But “RELIGIOUS” is an adjective that can only apply to actual beliefs in supernatural theories of the creation and functioning of the universe.

    Same thing with “fundamentalist.” Rather than the standard meaning — “one who believes in the infallibility of the Bible” — it’s twisted in a way that would make Roget spin in his grave to mean “holding strongly to an idea.”

    “Dogmatic” is morphed from “pertaining to dogma” to “arrogantly opinionated.”

    Now, you may have noticed that the only people who call atheists religious are those who believe in their own religion. Those who call physicists fundamentalists also hold steadfastly to their own spiritual notions. Those who say Darwinists are dogmatic are, you guessed it, strong believers in a description of how things work which comes from religious texts.

    While it may sound like an intelligent criticism to call a physicist a fundamentalist, it’s just a collegiate level version of the childhood taunt, “I know you are, but what am I?” Or, “I’m rubber and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!”

    It’s not a real criticism, it’s not a real argument, it’s just a “thought stopper.” It’s a tactic used to end an argument rather than risk having your own position examined (and, possibly, found lacking in merit).

    It may not be lost on you that these faux-attacks are only dished out when the horrible atheists, physicists, scientists, Darwinists or any other -ists are arguing an opposing point.

    That is, you never hear a creationist screaming about “That mathematician is fundamentalist about his belief that 2+2 = 4 and refuses to consider that 2+2 might equal aardvark!” or “That physicist is so religious in his belief in gravity, he actually lets his cup of tea rest on the table rather than strap it down, just in case!” or “Those round-earth people are so dogmatic about the spherical nature of our planet, that they’ve destroyed all the dodecahedron molds that more open-minded globe makers have proposed!”

    And this is too bad, because the argument that 2+2=aardvark is actually WAY more interesting.

    Well, I’ll be reintarnated!

    Thursday, May 15th, 2008

    Oprah seems to be making her way down the New Age aisle of the bookstore lately.

    From The Secret to Ekhart Tolle and now to past lives (I do NOT want to see the show she does on colon cleansing!).

    Have you ever heard someone talk about their past lives? Or heard someone tell another what they did when they were here before?

    Have you noticed that however un-cool, un-accomplished, un-impressive or just un-  we may be now, in the past we were all important, amazing and admirable.

    We might be losers now, but when we were helping birth homo sapiens, we were good enough, smart enough and, gosh darn it, people liked us.

    Go to a past-life workshop and you’ll meet Cleopatra! Go to another workshop the next week and you’ll meet, why could it be? another Cleopatra?! Another workshop, well, I’ll be… ANOTHER Queen of Egypt!
    Why doesn’t anyone ever discover that in ancient Rome they were Vic the vomit bucket carrier, or in the Ming dynasty they were Chang, a soldier in the army who was known for being the fourteenth guy from the left… or was that fifteenth? I don’t know, but somewhere under twentieth.

    Okay, sure, sometimes someone “recalls” a less-than-stellar lifetime. But even those were somehow important. “I died giving childbirth and saw the ephemeral nature of life… and that’s why I now have 37 cats in my one bedroom apartment.”

    Those who had, oh, less than respectable careers always find a way to make them uber-special. Prostitute in ancient times? If this was you (and if this was you then, there are many who want to know you now), well you weren’t just giving handies underneath the steps of the Acropolis for 20 dinars… oh, no, you were doing SACRED SEXUALITY, or were the mistress to the Sultan of Somewhere-ville, or were Gaia and gave birth to the universe itself!

    I can’t recall one past life story (and, living here in Boulder, people answer “What do you do?” with past-life stories) that sounded like, “Oh, I was an accountant in a small town. Nothing much happened. Died in my sleep.”

    I’m just not sure why I would believe that under the unusual and often mind-bending conditions that are required for “remembering” past lives, I should assume I’m getting the facts straight. I know how crappy my memory is about things that did (or didn’t) happen to me in this life, let alone when I was a crystal cleaner in Atlantis. Hell, I rarely remember what I had for breakfast by the time I’m eating dinner. Oh, and I have a VIVID memory about having pneumonia when I was 10… which is only complicated by the fact that I DIDN’T HAVE IT!

    I’ve also noticed that past-life readings tend to “reveal” causes from the past for events we are aware of now. Got a pain in your leg. Well, guess what? You were stabbed in the leg in the Peloponnesian War! Migranes? Killed with a shovel to the head by Gengis Khan.

    But we don’t tend to hear stories that reveal something previously unknown to us in real-time. I haven’t seen any testimonials for past-live workshops where someone remembered where they hid all that Mayan gold, or buried the body, or etched “Michaelangelo was here” under David’s scrotum… and then found the gold, the body, and, well, where Michaelangelo had unknowingly been.

    Now, look, I’m open to the possibility that we were here before and we will be here again. Could be. Granted, I’m not going to hide the Hot Wheels cars I’ve saved since I was 7 with the expectation I’ll pick them up again in 1000 years and become a millionaire on the reincarnation of eBay.

    And I also won’t deny that some people find great solace in “discovering” that, say, they have “commitment issues” now because they were the daughter of the 4th concubine of the Prince of History-stan in the 12th century. I’ve seen it happen that a thought that sure FEELS like a memory triggers a great release, a stunning insight or even the eradication of some pain or illness.

    But sugar pills are also very effective against pain and depression.

    There’s a phenomenon I call “The Resonant Lie.” It’s something that FEELS right, that SEEMS true, that may even bring a big “AHA!” with it… but isn’t true. You can have a life-changing insight about your “Inner Child”… but there’s no such thing. It’s a concept. A sometimes-useful concept, but just a concept. (Admittedly, when my inner child wants chocolate, I spoil him rotten.)

    My favorite Resonant Lie story is of a woman I knew whose father died and at the funeral said, “I’m at peace with the fact that Dad died, but I’m sad that I won’t be making new memories with him. I remember when I was a little girl and he taught me how to wash a car… I just wish we could make more sweet memories like that one.” The memory was very useful for her in many ways. Afterwards, her uncle approached her and said, “That was a very touching thing you said about your dad teaching you to wash the car… but *I* was the one who taught you how to wash the car.” SNAP!

    I’m sure there’s more to be said, both about reincarnation (BTW, the title of this post refers to the definition of REINTARNATION: Being reborn as a redneck), and the Resonant Lie… but I’ll have to save that for another time because, in a past life, when I was Henry VIII’s court jester, I was punished for getting to the end of a story, and now I tend to leave things hanging and incomple…





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