Are Religious Beliefs Going to Screw Up First Contact?

Mike Flynn has more fun that somebody should decently have looking at some mystic woo woo disguised as scientificalistic seriousness. Huhlarious.

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  • Eve Fisher

    Two possibilities of first contact: Ray Bradbury, “The Fire Balloons” in his collection “The Illustrated Man”, where man goes to convert the Martians – who were saved and transformed millenia ago. Or “The Man” in the same collection, where the arrival of two spaceships doesn’t get any of the natives’ attention, because Jesus has just arrived…

    • ImTim

      I’ll be making a cross country drive soon, and you just determined the soundtrack. I’m excited.

      • Eve Fisher

        They’re both wonderful stories.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    I saw that article on io9 the other day. It’s a fun website for geekiness, but they folks running it are die hard scientismists. Is that a word? Not scientists. But scientismists.
    .
    If a team of researchers “proves” that all 2nd century Christians thought the world was flat and burned heretics or that the college of cardinals are in fact lizard men, you can be sure it will be covered by io9.

    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

      It’s a Gawker site. The range of their “free thought” is … not large.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    I love speculating about this kind of stuff for fun. But it’s just speculation. It reminds me of the old question about whether or not satyrs could be baptized. Wasn’t it St. Augustine who came up with reply, “Show me a satyr, then we’ll talk.” Or am I mixing up my saints?

    • Jem

      Show me a God, then we’ll talk.

      • Mark S. (not for Shea)

        Any God you can photograph or analyze under a microscope wouldn’t be God.

        • Jem

          Catholicism: for people who think the problem with the God of the Gaps is that He’s just a bit too exist-y.

          • chezami

            Atheism: for people who just can’t get it through their heads that God is not an item among other items in the universe he made any more than Frank Lloyd Wright is a wall in one of his houses.

            • Eve Fisher

              Love it – mind if I use it elsewhere?

            • Jem

              I can get the Catholic theology ‘through my head’, I just think it’s a rather transparent retcon. He’s a non contingent being who … er, caused everything. Who never interferes with creation, except when the Vatican need a miracle to make someone a Saint. It’s not Intelligent Design he’s, er, an architect. He’s not the God of the Gaps, because he’s not in the Gaps, either.

              • chezami

                I can get the Catholic theology ‘through my head’, I just think it’s a rather transparent retcon. He’s a non contingent being who … er, caused everything.

                Why “er”? In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth is pretty straightforward. Why do you suppose Catholics would choke on the idea that He who is Existence is not the cause of the existence of contingent beings?

                Who never interferes with creation, except when the Vatican need a miracle to make someone a Saint.

                Um, no. Where do you get the notion that God, who holds all contingent being in existence “never interferes”? Or the idea that the particular kind of “interference” (a very inapt word actually) called a miracle is only associated with canonizations. It’s that kind of sneering cheap shot that makes clear you really don’t know what you are talking about.

                It’s not Intelligent Design he’s, er, an architect. He’s not the God of the Gaps, because he’s not in the Gaps, either.

                It’s not ID because creation is more elegant than ID grasps. It’s not a big kluge with God needing to do course corrections because the whole thing keeps spinning out of control and getting away from him. He invests in nature the powers to unroll (evolvere).

                • Jem

                  “Where do you get the notion that God, who holds all contingent being in existence “never interferes”?”

                  Um …

                  “It’s not a big kluge with God needing to do course corrections … He invests in nature the powers to unroll”

                  You can have a story where God just lets the universe unroll, or you can have a story where he ‘interferes’. Are miracles examples of ‘nature taking its course’ or are they a disruption to that course?

                  There are two perfectly logical answers to that, but they’re mutually exclusive.

                  “Why do you suppose Catholics would choke on the idea that He who is Existence is not the cause of the existence of contingent beings?”

                  I’m assuming ‘not’ is a Freudian slip?

                  • Jem

                    ‘It’s not ID because creation is more elegant than ID grasps.”

                    ‘The universe is a big house and God is a big Frank Lloyd Wright’ makes God an intelligent designer or it’s a very poor analogy. It’s a textbook Paleyesque piece of creationist doggerel.

                    • chezami

                      You do get that Thomas’ argument for design is not the same as Paley’s, right? Paley sees some bits of nature as Specially Designed. Thomas sees nature itself as obedient to law and intelligible. In short, he sees the same thing the sciences assume. No law and no intelligibility invested in nature, nothing for science to do.

                    • Jem

                      “You do get that Thomas’ argument for design is not the same as Paley’s, right?”

                      So, what’s the house in your analogy?

                      You’re arguing, I think, that the entire universe is the house. Which is (a) logically incoherent – it distinguishes between ‘designed’ and ‘undesigned’ but negates the concept of ‘undesigned’; and (b) is just Paley, but big.

                      Aquinas argument from design is for ‘bricks’, not ‘house’.

                    • Mark S. (not for Shea)

                      Jem, if you’re really hoping to find God and not just trying to be the smartest guy in the room, let me give you some advice: No intellectual argument you’re going to find here is going to change your mind. Much smarter people than me have already covered this ground.
                      .
                      So here’s what you should do.
                      .
                      Find someone in need and help them. I’m not talking about writing a check to a charity and mailing it off. That’s good and admirable, but it’s too impersonal.
                      .
                      Find a struggling single mom in your area and fill her pantry and fridge with groceries once a month for a year. Buy all of her kids new school clothes or new winter coats. Or find a family struggling to pay medical bills, and pay them off for them. If you can’t do that financially, then …
                      .
                      Spend your days off volunteering at your local hospital. Teach a sick kid how to play chess in between chemo treatments. Read them stories. Or find the old person in the nursing home without a family, and be that person’s family once a week for a year. Volunteer at your local homeless shelter. And don’t just spoon soup and pass out blankets. Talk to the people. Be a friend to them. Help them in any and every way you can. Help till it hurts.
                      .
                      Do that, and you won’t need someone to show God to you. He’ll tackle you himself.

                    • Jem

                      ‘Do that, and you won’t need someone to show God to you.’

                      If you need that motivation, either the abstract comfort that there’s a benign force in the universe, or the more practical one that you’re being monitored and assessed for your thoughts and deeds as part of an entrance exam for the afterlife, then that’s fine. Whatever works.

                      But don’t presume to know that I’m not a generous person or that I’ve never worked to improve the lot of others. I would like to live in a world where people help each other, so I try to be one of those people.
                      And consider how the $100Bn donated last year in the US to churches might be better spent. The Borgen Project estimates that it would cost $30Bn to end world hunger forever.

                    • Mark S. (not for Shea)

                      Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not presupposing anything about your generosity. I’m not suggesting that God can be earned by good works. Never gonna happen. You said, “Show me God,” and I’m telling you that there is a very slim chance that you will ever truly find God in an intellectual argument, a theorem, or on the internet.
                      .
                      God is a living Person to be encountered and to be humbled by, not a formula to be calculated and proven. To do that, you have to lay aside your pride. Forget about trying to prove you’re the smartest guy in the discussion board. Get out in the world and give yourself away to someone in need who has absolutely no chance of ever paying you back. You asked me to show you God. That’s the way.
                      .
                      If you’re genuinely seeking, that is where you will find God, not in an argument. If you just came around to poke people and try to feel better about yourself by showing how smart you are, you have my pity.

                    • Jem

                      “Forget about trying to prove you’re the smartest guy in the discussion board.”

                      The second person here accusing me of that. That’s really not me. I’m not interested in being the thinnest person at fat camp.

                    • Jem

                      OK. I admit that the specific issue here is I am a little tired of Mike Flynn’s schtick. The Hamlet/God thing? It’s not only recycled from CS Lewis (Surprised by Joy, I think, it’s the bit where Lewis is describing his stint as the world’s most incompetent atheist), but it’s an argument *Lewis* rejects as unsatisfactory.

                      I don’t know what’s worse, that someone could reel that out thinking it was a good card to play in a combox, or whether he actually thinks it’s a good argument.

                      Mark thinks Mike Flynn is intelligent and worth listening to. I … feel the evidence for that is lacking.

                      So, yes, in this instance, my motives are probably not about seeking the truth so much as exposing fraud.

                    • chezami

                      That’s because your contempt has made it impossible to grasp the common sense of Thomism. You are now in the phase where you simple let your contempt shout down common sense with nonsense arguments like “Somebody else used that analogy!” and, of course, the folly of saying that analogies are analogical, therefore false.

                    • Mark S. (not for Shea)

                      Well, I don’t frequent Mr. Flynn’s blog, but I can’t really comment on that. But I do have to salute anyone who gave that silly article on io9 any serious consideration whatsoever. I ran across it a day or two before it was linked here, and I didn’t think it warranted more than an eye roll. I’ve read of Elvis sightings with more credibility.

                    • Jem

                      “No law and no intelligibility invested in nature, nothing for science to do.”

                      No universe where science can exist can be wholly unintelligible, true, but there’s layers of reasons for that before you need to invoke gods. For starters, the concept of an ‘unintelligible universe’ is oxymoronic. We can’t conceptualize it or describe it, otherwise it’s intelligible.

                      To put this another way: could God create an unintelligible universe?

                      Again, this is the God Of The Astonishingly Low Bar That He Nevertheless Fails To Clear. He doesn’t *exist* exist. He doesn’t *design* design, he doesn’t *intervene* intervene, and now we’re meant to be inferring God from the fact that this is a universe where not every entity is entirely unique?

                  • chezami

                    Could you elaborate? The faith says that God invests nature with its own powers. It also says “The Word became flesh”. God can, in short, do as he pleases. Saying “There is such a thing as law of nature” and saying “The Legislator can suspend or alter those laws as he pleases” is not saying He “always” or “never” does either.

                    • Jem

                      “God can, in short, do as he pleases.”
                      Well, no. In your story, He’s constrained into only doing the possible, and He’s constrained by His nature. There are a variety of things that he can’t do that we find very easy. Lose an argument, think an actress is that one from Bridesmaids when actually she isn’t, fall off a chair, sleep and so on. He can’t worship, He can’t disbelieve in God or convert to Buddhism.

                      Here, he’s constrained by ‘nature’. A miracle operates on nature, it’s part of the chain of cause and effect. Does a miracle represent what always was going to happen, or does it represent God splicing in a new sequence of events? Catholicism wants it both ways – miracles are amazing and special and noteworthy … and nature just unfolds as God planned and miracles were always part of that.

                    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

                      Are the laws of nature like the logical necessities you outlined in your first paragraph? I don’t see why they have to be.

                    • Jem

                      “Are the laws of nature like the logical necessities you outlined in your first paragraph?”

                      There are at least some places where the laws are logical necessities. If God were to say 2 didn’t equal 2, He’d just be saying something false. If He said 2+2=5, it would just mean he’s bad at math. If he made a hydrogen atom with all the properties of a uranium atom, he’d actually have made a uranium atom, not a hydrogen atom. The exact limits of those constraints … well, personally, I think if you start going down that route, you end up ruling out God very quickly. If God’s bound by the conservation of energy, say, or the speed of light. But, obviously, other people differ on that.

                      The issue here is that theologians using the first cause argument define the universe as, when you boil it down, a set of events, strictly following rules of cause and effect. So there are these great chains of things happening because something’s made them happen.

                      The logic goes ‘well, what made the first thing happen?’, and the first cause argument isn’t that God *is* the first thing that happened, it’s that he’s the only thing that’s not part of this web of cause and effect.

                      The universe is a row of toppling dominoes, but God’s not the first domino, he’s the finger that flicks the first domino.

                      So, in this much better analogy that the Shakespeare one, it would be foolish of me to pick out one of the dominoes and go ‘where’s God in this domino, then?’.

                      My question about miracles is simply whether when some extraordinary miracle happens, is that God building some extraordinary flourish into the chain of dominoes before he flicks the first one; or is it God (to put it glibly) running over and adding a little something extra? Either answer is problematic, because God needs to be hearing prayers *and* omniscient *and* granting people free will.

                      And the reason I ask is that, metaphorically, if we can see places where the chain of dominoes has been played around with, we perhaps can’t ‘see God in the dominoes’, but we can see things that can only be explained *by* God.

                      To use another analogy, we can prove there are bears in the area by seeing their footprints, we don’t need to trap a bear. The whole point of miracles is meant to be that they are a class of thing that certain human beings can discern are divine action. That there is no other explanation. They are places, and sorry for the long route round, where we can ‘look at the dominoes’ and see evidence for God.

                    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

                      There are at least some places where the laws are logical necessities. If God were to say 2 didn’t equal 2, He’d just be saying something false.

                      Mathematical laws are not physical laws. Physical laws are given mathematical expression, but that doesn’t mean that an addition or violation of the physical law implies a logical contradiction. It might; it might not.

                      So far as I understand, the point about the dominoes is, “Do they explain themselves”? As in: can the chain of dominoes itself account for its existence? We’re not asking about a particular event or even about all the events in sequence. We’re asking whether the whole chain as a whole accounts for its own existence. If it doesn’t, then what could?

                      The best example I ever heard of this was someone who described an email forward with a joke in it. Where did you get the joke? Your uncle forwarded it to you. Where’d he get it? His friend Charlie from Tampa forwarded it to him. Where’d Charlie get it? Etc, etc, etc. Even if you posited an infinite sequence of joke forwarders stretching back forever, the question would still remain: Who wrote the joke?

                      Miracles: The church doesn’t try to establish the existence of God with miracles, and you notice that none of St Thomas’s arguments are grounded in them. Miracles are not evidence for God’s existence. Miracles are a particular communication from the God you already believe exists.

                      I can’t take a stand on the issue of whether a miracle is God messing with nature in the moment or whether a miracle is “a particular flourish” that God built into nature from the beginning and which becomes significant not for its extra-natural causation but rather because of its occurrence at exactly the moment when you needed a particular communication from God. I can’t take a stand because I don’t know. I’m tempted to say it doesn’t matter, but I’d love to listen in to a couple of Catholic philosophers arguing the question out.

                      But notice that the real point of the miracle is not its causation (I’m pretty sure) but rather its significance. We don’t discern in miracles the divine action simply; we discern the divine action as it relates to us. Catholics discern the divine action simply in every drop of water that plunges over Niagara Falls.

                    • Jem

                      “Catholics discern the divine action simply in every drop of water that plunges over Niagara Falls.”

                      Much to chew on there, and thanks. And, yes, Catholicism has it that everything is evidence of the divine. But there’s clearly a way of discerning the awesome majesty of Niagara Falls from, say, an event where the waterfall parted to let Moses flee the Egyptians. (A mixed metaphor, but it did take him forty years to get from Egypt to Israel, so perhaps his route was indirect).

                  • Ye Olde Statistician

                    Does Shakespeare “interfere” with the course of Hamlet?

                    • Jem

                      Before we do this, do you, personally, believe this to be a good analogy? Confirm you’re happy to discuss this on the basis that ‘God’ is to ‘Universe’ as ‘Shakespeare’ is to ‘Hamlet’ and so we can usefully compare them when discussing evidence of the existence of God.

                      I’m happy to discuss this, but I want a pledge now that you’ll donate $5 to Planned Parenthood if you use the phrase, or a variant, of ‘it was only an analogy’ or ‘clearly the analogy doesn’t apply to that aspect’.

                      If it helps, we’ll cap your total donations at $100, as by then I think I’ll have demonstrated that yours is not a sustainable argument.

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      Analogies were dropped from the SAT because women consistently scored lower than men. Hence, they no longer taught analogic in schools. Hence, the impoverished Late Modern way of thinking.

                    • Jem

                      Your post was a little short as concession speeches go, but thank you for it anyway.

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      Well, heck, we can’t hold a conversation hostage to your inability to grasp a point.

                    • Jem

                      Your Hamlet point is a cut and paste from CS Lewis, but you clearly didn’t get as far as the end of the paragraph, because he himself went on to reject it as dissatisfying. It’s a banality, the sort of thing that might sound vaguely profound if you saw it on Tumblr with a starry background, but which collapses after a moment’s thought.

                      You waited for the follow up for the misogyny this time, in which you somehow managed to blame (a) women and (b) a decision made in 2005 for ‘impoverished Late Modern thinking’. That you would make such an argument as part of a plea for better argument suggests a fatal irony deficiency.

                      There are limits to analogies, but they can be useful and illuminating. The problem with ‘God is to universe as Shakespeare is to Hamlet’ is not analogies, women, the dumbing down of the SATs or Late Modern thinking, it’s that it’s a really, really shitty analogy.

                    • chezami

                      Not especially. It communicates the idea that creatures in a created universe can have freedom to think and act that is grounded in, not “interfered with” by the freedom of their Creator. A perfectly adequate analogy. Your real objection is that it is an analogy used by Mike Flynn, to whom you have an increasingly irrational reaction.

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      Late Modern thinking has been becoming steadily more impoverished since the 1890s in one aspect or another of modernism. I don’t understand where “misogyny” or “blaming women” come from unless it is the tactic of Misdirection as a way of diverting a discussion onto some other grounds.

                      It is useful to recall that the original post was about impoverished thinking in late modern social studies and the sad abuse of statistical methods. Yet your first comment was some sort of recycled “Show me God!” comment from left field; so I guess it was misdirection from the start. The existence of God had nothing to do with it.

                    • Jem

                      “I don’t understand where “misogyny” or “blaming women” come from”

                      You said, while discussing something with a woman,

                      ‘Analogies were dropped from the SAT because women consistently scored lower than men. Hence, they no longer taught analogic in schools. Hence, the impoverished Late Modern way of thinking.’

                      You were saying, and don’t try to deny it, that women aren’t so good at the thinky thinky and should leave ‘logic’ to men.

                    • chezami

                      Dear heaven! He made a factual observation *in the presence of a woman*? How misogynist can you *get*?

                    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

                      Not that I would ever want to support an argument that comes from a woman, but I totally read Mike Flynn exactly the same as Jem did.

                    • chezami

                      Why? He made a factual statement.

                    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

                      He made a factual statement.

                      It was the context. Jem’s identity as a woman is a “thing”, here, and Flynn’s reference to the College Board’s reasoning was not strictly necessary to his point. He could have just said, “Analogies were dropped from the SAT, hence they no longer, etc, etc.”

                      Jem: Before we do this, do you, personally, believe this to be a good analogy? Confirm you’re happy to discuss this on the basis that ‘God’ is to ‘Universe’ as ‘Shakespeare’ is to ‘Hamlet’

                      YOS (very next post): Analogies were dropped from the SAT because women consistently scored lower than men.

                      I think Jem’s challenge is legit (although the Planned Parenthood bet is stupid since Flynn probably believes it would be wrong to give them anything and won’t take the wager; she should have offered some charity equally acceptable to both). She’s offered to demonstrate the falsity of the analogy as an analogy, not as an exact description of reality. I, for one, would be interested in hearing a refutation of that analogy. (I just want to know the truth. Jem’s not going to make an atheist out of me on the strength of one refuted literary analogy.)

                    • chezami

                      No. Her identity as an analogy-impaired reader is the thing here. However, what she lack in ability to grasp analogies she makes up for in sniffing out sexism where none exists.

                    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

                      Fine. This is not a big deal nor by far the most interesting thread on this post. But if I have to take one side or the other in this extremely minor issue, I will stand with Jem that Flynn’s comments sounded – at least on the surface – sexist.

                    • Jem

                      Thank you, Jon.

                      My problem with the analogy is that it’s not a useful one. I get the basic equivalence being made, which we can rephrase very simply as something like ‘God’s the author of the universe, not a character in it’.

                      But it really doesn’t go any deeper than that, and the Christian God isn’t much like an author. Sort of the whole point of plays is that the characters don’t have free will (which Mark mentioned in this context). If we dig even slightly into this, it turns out a better analogy is something like God’s playing The Sims (and the idea the universe is a simulation has been explicitly rejected by the Church), or that God made a fish tank and we’re basically sea monkeys. Now, yes, this is all rather Shakespearean – playthings of the gods are we, all the world’s a stage and so on, but Catholicism does not cast the universe as Heaven’s most popular reality show.

                      What can we learn about God if we think of ourselves as Hamlet and God as Shakespeare? Well … that God’s not much like Shakespeare. And that’s my problem with it as an analogy.

                      Here’s CS Lewis’s version. He’s in a phase that he called ‘atheism’ but which is more like a period where he’s trying to come to an intellectual understanding of God:

                      ‘So I was driven back into something like Berkeleyanism; but Berkeleyanism with a few top dressings of my own. I distinguished this philosophical “God” very sharply (or so I said) from “the God of popular religion.” There was, I explained, no possibility of being in a personal relation with Him. For I thought He projected us as a dramatist
                      projects his characters, and I could no more “meet” Him, than Hamlet could meet Shakespeare. I didn’t call Him “God” either; I called Him “Spirit.” One fights for one’s remaining comforts. Then I read Chesterton’s Everlasting Man and for the first time saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense.’

                      Lewis’ point is … expressed by Lewis, so I’m going to do no better. His point is that it was a bad analogy.

                    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

                      Where in that passage does Lewis say (or imply) that this is a bad analogy? As far as I can see, the only implied fault of the analogy is that it isn’t as good as Chesterton’s arguments at establishing the Christian view of history and the church, but I don’t think anyone here would dispute that. That’s not the point of the analogy.

                      To say that the analogy “doesn’t go deeper” is not a critique of the analogy. It’s not meant to go deeper. In order to demonstrate the falsity of the analogy you have to show that, when you think about it, its analogical point is itself self-contradictory. I don’t think you’ve done that yet.

                    • Jem

                      In Lewis’ case, the analogy fails because it rules out a personal god. Hamlet can’t ever encounter Shakespeare in a way Lewis felt he could encounter God.

                    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

                      the analogy fails because it rules out a personal god. Hamlet can’t ever encounter Shakespeare in a way Lewis felt he could encounter God.

                      It’s a different thing to say that an analogy “rules out” a personal god and “doesn’t provide a way” of encountering that god, so I don’t think your reason establishes your claim. You still have to show why its account of God is self-contradictory.

                      Also, does it “rule out” a personal God? How so? Why can’t the author write himself into the story, so-to-speak?

                    • Jem

                      Sorry, no, you’re right. ‘Doesn’t provide a way’ is a much better way of expressing that.

                    • chezami

                      And if the point here were to make any case for a personal God, and not merely for the existence of God as ground of being and source of, not competitor to, human freedom, you’d have a real point. But your literal-mindedness and analogy impairment make that difficult.

                    • Jem

                      “He made a factual observation *in the presence of a woman*?”

                      First of all, no he didn’t, it’s not a factual observation. Analogies were dropped because performance in that part of the test was determined to have no bearing on broader academic achievement, and were actually just testing school’s abilities to cram for that part of the exam, and were felt to be too culturally specific:

                      http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2003/jul/28/sat_will_boot/

                      https://today.yougov.com/news/2014/03/21/americans-struggle-sat-vocabulary-dont-believe-it-/

                      They weren’t, in any case, logic puzzles, they were vocabulary tests. I’ve not found an article that singles out women as doing particularly badly in them, it’s possible they did.

                      Again, as is his wont, even if it was changed because women did badly, Mike gets it completely ass backward. The change wasn’t made to dumb down the test so the more of the scatterbrained could pass it, it was changed because smart kids were doing badly in it.

                      Second, his remark was clearly intended as an ad hominem attack. We’re discussing analogies, he notes they had to change a test because women found analogies too much for their ickle brains.

                      OK … you think Mike Flynn’s smart, I think he’s really kind of the opposite. No evidence seems to make you see the obvious. But then studies show that Catholics are really good at ignoring even the most obvious evidence and prone to venerating dubious individuals. That’s not a jab, that’s just ‘a factual observation’. Sorry, unlike Mike I can’t cut and paste a line graph at this point to illustrate that.

                      From now on, I won’t respond to him Please, though, rather than take what he says on trust, try to read round it. As the polygenesis debate exposed, he is, in the idiom of the SAT, a charlatan, a buffoon, a simpleton, a numbskull. Mike Flynn is to wisdom as John Magee is to child safety.

                      .

                    • chezami

                      Coward.

                    • Jem

                      No. It’s just the simple rule that if you find yourself debating an idiot online, then so’s the other guy. I’m very happy to discuss this with anyone else. I do not have this ‘urge to win’ I’m accused of, I am here to learn, not to roll my eyes.

                    • chezami

                      Jem: If you think Flynn is an idiot, you’re an idiot. And yes, nearly every word that comes out of your mouth is calculated to land a punch on theism or the Church. The fact that you wrenched this discussion of a light-hearted piece into yet another obsessive act of mortal combat against God is proof of that. Mention almost any topic, and Jem will be sure to figure out some way to insert a sneer at God and believers.

                    • Jem

                      His article on polygenesis was *comically* bad, just howler after howler. If you don’t have eyes to see it, then I’m not going to be the one to persuade you. I’m happy to let him live in his own little world where Shapiro’s ‘the scientific consensus’, where Neanderthals can have ritual burial, language, instruments and sophisticated toolmaking but not ‘intellection’, where an apeman gave birth to a human, and where humans got souls but there’s no way to tell. I am, of course, steelmanning his argument, which is even more gibberingly moronic than I make it sound. He fled the scene the moment an actual biologist showed up, of course.

                      Once you realize that when he says something about ‘Late Modern Thinking’ what he’s actually saying is ‘no one these days would buy this’, his spiel kind of falls apart.

                    • chezami

                      I saw your exchange, and the reality is that you simply have no idea what he was talking about, because your contempt for philosophy has rendered you deaf. You don’t know what you don’t know.

                    • Jem

                      No?

                      As a cornerstone of his argument Mike cited James A Shapiro as representative of current thought on evolutionary theory. Enlighten me. Tell me what I don’t know: who’s James A Shapiro, and are his theories representative of current thought in evolutionary biology?

                      Does, as Mike asserted, ”21st century genetics tells us that genetic changes can be “massive, sudden, and particular,”‘?

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      Shapiro’s ‘the scientific consensus’

                      No, but he has a new, genetics-oriented take on things. Remember what Max Planck said: a new theory in science triumphs when all those invested in the old theory have died. The irony is that Shapiro’s theory completely obliterates many of the creationist arguments against evolution.

                      where Neanderthals can have ritual burial, language, instruments and sophisticated toolmaking but not
                      ‘intellection’,

                      We don’t know they had language. The sole “instrument” may not even be an instrument, but a casually eroded bone fragment with tooth-marks worn into holes. “Sophisticated” toolmaking requires only imagination, not intellection — and the Neanderthal toolkit never changed appreciable in the course of the species’ existence. The burials are the only interesting item, but we don’t know if that was simply a sanitary measure.

                      where an apeman gave birth to a human,

                      What I wrote was that something that was not quite a man gave birth to something that was no longer quite an ape. IOW, crossing over a tipping point in a continuous process, an inflection point on a mathematical curve. But also taking cognizance of the fact that there is a difference between having a capacity (which may develop over time) and not having that capacity at all. No one has yet explained how a creature can have “half” the ability to abstract concepts from percepts. All that was proposed was having the ability to abstract simple concepts in obvious situations. But that is still not no-ability.

                      Biologists tend to look at things biologically, so the only criterion for “human” is whether all the biological equipment is in place. They equate “human” with H. sap. sap.

                      where humans got souls but there’s no way to tell.

                      Of course there’s a way to tell: Ask if the human is alive? If so, he has a soul. The same goes for parakeets and petunias, which have sensitive and nutritive souls, resp.

                      when he says something about ‘Late Modern Thinking’ what he’s actually saying

                      He’s actually saying something about the Late Modern Ages, as distinct from the High Modern Ages, the Early Modern Ages, or the Renaissance. There are certain modes of thinking that are common today that were not in the mental furniture of the Modern Ages. The “Waning of the Modern Ages” is certainly not an observation original to me.

                      In many ways, “post-Modern” thinking (meant temporally, not the lit-crit school) represents a return to Medieval modes, a rather intriguing development.

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      a) I have never read any of C.S.Lewis’s works, so there was no cutting and pasting.
                      b) I had what you might call “inside information” from people who worked on the College Boards when we were discussing how to statistically evaluate examinations (in the context of the “instrument calibration” requirement of ISO-9001.)
                      c) That a group scores lower on the average than another group on a particular topic does not make them “scatterbrained.” That is your judgment, not the Boards’ nor my own.
                      d) That one group scores differently than another group says nothing whatever regarding any individual included in those groups.
                      e) In particular, it does not imply that the difference between the group is causally related to the word used to label the groups. E.g., in a study that found higher cancer rates among women who worked at CRTs all day vs. women who did not, the reason was immediately ascribed to “working in front of CRTs” and all sorts of cathode-radiation theories were considered. However, so-called the “pink collar” group also smoked more, ate a fattier diet, exercised less, etc. than the “white collar” group (who tended to be doctors and lawyers and such). So to which factor could the difference be ascribed?
                      f) I do tend to overspecify, especially when I am citing an actual example, and will often include details.

                      So far, I notice no comments at all on the statistical and mystical aspects of the scientific paper that was the subject of the linked post.

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      The College Boards have a department that reviews the error rates to each question and looks for questions that are too easy (too many get it right) or too hard (too many get it wrong). They also look for cases where the error rates differ significantly between selected groups in order to discount questions that are culturally biased. They determined that the error rate on analogy questions was significantly higher for women than for men and decided to drop that section. I had no input into this decision. You would have to take it up with them. But notice their reasons for doing so was to equalize the test scores between groups.

                      I think you may be reifying “group average” into an essential characteristic of individual members of the group. Look up the term “overlap” for further enlightenment.

                      I’m not sure why the truth-value of a statement should depend on who is in the neighborhood when it is uttered. When the schools stopped teaching analogical thinking, everyone’s skills in this area began to decay.

                    • chezami

                      Declaring victory as a way of silencing people is low and cheap.

                    • Jem

                      I’m not ‘silencing’ anyone, Mark. He made an analogy, I asked a question, he chose to swerve. I am very happy to discuss the limits of the analogy he chose. We might, for example, ask what and where the audience is in his scheme; we could discuss whether Shakespeare, who died 398 years ago, still interferes with Hamlet; we could discuss Hamlet’s awareness that he’s in a play and what he infers about his creator; whether God was under the same sort of commercial imperatives or operating within a tradition; we could ask if drawing an analogy with fiction is wise; we could note that the empirical evidence is that God came from a book, not that he wrote one, so once again his model gets things almost exactly the wrong way round.

                      Instead he chose to say women aren’t good at thinking.

                    • chezami

                      “We might, for example, ask what and where the audience is in his scheme”

                      *Shaking my head*. Could you possibly be more tin-eared? Do you likewise complain that the parable of the sower does not specify soil acidity and is therefore invalid? Sheesh.

                    • Jem

                      “*Shaking my head*. Could you possibly be more tin-eared?”

                      ‘Does Shakespeare “interfere” with the course of Hamlet?’ is a deepity, that’s all. It’s meant to convey the wisdom of some ‘does a tree falling in forest … ‘ koan, but it doesn’t actually work.

                      “creatures in a created universe can have freedom to think and act that is grounded in, not “interfered with” by the freedom of their Creator.”

                      You’re taking ‘play’ to mean the events of the play, making a category error of treating all the characters as real people with free will, and cutting out all the behind the scenes stuff .. *but* then making another category error by wanting to bring in one piece of behind the scenes information, which is that it has an author.

                      You’re skipping the middle bit. – the process of writing the script, the fact that the actors aren’t their characters, that plays have audiences. You’re saying ‘it has an author’ but think it’s ‘tin eared’ to ask any technical questions.

                    • chezami

                      No. It’s an analogy. A concept you obviously have trouble with and which you deal with by dismissing with contempt.

                    • Jem

                      It’s a *poor* analogy. CS Lewis, the person that came up with it, thought it was a poor analogy. Do you, Mark, think it’s a good analogy? If so, just unpack it for me a little. How does it, without further explanation, say anything useful about God? All it’s saying is ‘it’s like the universe has an author’. Fine. I know that, that is actually just the standard theistic position, just stated more weakly.

                    • wlinden

                      No, he said it was not a perfect analogy. Guess what? No analogies are perfect. If they were, they would be not analogies, but identities.

                      And you fix on this to justify your obsession with it (or your pretending to have an obsession with it, because you have made up your mind to hate Michael Flynn.)

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      We might, for example, ask what and where the audience is in his scheme;
                      we could discuss whether Shakespeare, who died 398 years ago, still
                      interferes with Hamlet; etc.

                      Why? Electrical engineers used to use water tables as analogical experiments for electrical circuits. The current is like the current; the drop or head of the water is like the voltage; obstructions in the stream are like resistances; and so on. But no electrical engineer ever tried to plug a toaster into a water table — because they understood the context or scope of the analogy. An analogy is not an equivalence, and one cannot expect every aspect of one term of the analogy to be replicated in the other term. One might then go on to confuse the output of a mathematical model with the real world it is supposed to model or — the opposite error — to overlook the value of the model because it is not all-inclusive.

                      Instead he chose to say women aren’t good at thinking.

                      Except I did not say that. You did. (And it’s interesting that you did immediately assume that the data meant that.) Lots of people these days reason poorly in analogy. (For that matter, they reason poorly, full stop.) This is a consequence, I believe, of no longer teaching analogic.

                    • Jem

                      “Except I did not say that.”

                      What you said is right there. We can go back and check if you said ‘lots of people’ or ‘women’.

                      “An analogy is not an equivalence”

                      No, but it is a comparison, and a good analogy can be used to illustrate the point being made. The relationship between Shakespeare and Hamlet is complex, the nature of a playwright’s ‘interference’ with his work is a nuanced matter. There are many things going on in that relationship. Clearly not *all* things apply, and clearly some other things will apply, so *how* is ‘God’ like ‘Shakespeare’ or is ‘real person’ like ‘Hamlet’, in what respects is the relationship analogous? Is it a useful analogy?

                      If the analogy is specifically about Hamlet, not just some trite simile about God being some general playwright, then Hamlet is a play *about* free will and destiny, about playing a role, about the afterlife and theology. So is the analogy specifically with troubled Hamlet and his internal struggles? Is your God as dickish as the one Hamlet infers? But, again, I find myself steelmanning what you said

                      It could be a good analogy, but the person you cut and pasted it from thought, ultimately, it wasn’t satisfying because it portrayed God as too remote.

                      You can’t supply any of these answers yourself because your engagement with this topic, as all others, is a spot of quote mining to support a position you already hold. Hence, you use Shapiro to stand for ’21st genetics’ and a hackneyed line from CS Lewis as a gnomic intervention here. You point at a cloud and say it looks like a whale and know the odds are no one will disagree.

                      This greeting card slogan and folksy faux-etymology shit might fly with the Poloniuses of this world, but it’s obvious there’s nothing there. ‘God is like Shakespeare’ / ‘Interesting, let’s talk about that’ / ‘women don’t understand analogies, they had to change the test they were so bad at them, and now only I’m smart enough to understand my argument, and I feel the need to say that rather than answer the question’. That is not the answer anyone with an answer would give.

                      I’m not willing to engage with you. This is not ‘cowardice’. Who calls me coward? I am not willing to engage with you because you do a good impersonation of a clever person, but not *so* good an impersonation that it’s worth playing along with. Life isn’t a play. You’ve no arms or legs, good day, good Sir Knight.

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      Except I did not say that [women aren’t good at thinking].

                      What you said is right there. We can go back and check if you said ‘lots of people’ or ‘women’.

                      So let’s check:
                      Analogies were dropped from the SAT because women consistently scored lower than men. Hence, they no longer taught analogic in schools. Hence, the impoverished Late Modern way of thinking.

                      Where does it say that women aren’t good at thinking? It says that women scored lower than men in a certain SAT category, but that is not “thinking” in general, and it may represent cultural biases or expectations in the school system. Furthermore, the lack of competent statistical training in the schools means that many people, including yourself, believe that a difference in group means has something to do with the essential characteristics of those groups. But in exercises I used to run in stat demos using a box full of colored beads, I might find that (e.g.) that “people sitting closer to the door” would pull samples with more red beads than “people sitting closer to the front.” Do you honestly suppose that if someone had moved from the front of the room to the back, they would have gotten more red beads? The difference between two groups need not have anything to do with the label used to mark the two groups.

                      The perhaps admirable intention to eliminate questions that were “biased” against women — or men — led to what I think was a heuristic error. It should have led to greater focus on teaching analogies, not to abandonment of analogic.

          • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

            Catholicism: for people who think the problem with the God of the Gaps is that He’s just a bit too exist-y.

            Ironically, you are exactly right.

            • Jem

              There’s no irony. The Catholic Church had some problems with their God, they relocated him to a different ontology before the authorities could catch up with him, and now claim they’ve no idea where he is, he could literally be anywhere or nowhere.

              • chezami

                Right. St. Thomas rushed in to do a patch job.

                • chezami

                  All analogies limp. The point is that God is not “a being” within creation. He is Being.

              • chezami

                More precisely, everywhere and nowhere. He is Transcendent and Immanent. But this is hardly a new development in Catholic teaching.

                • Colin Gormley

                  I’d suggest not bothering with Jem. The more I read his responses the more I gather that he isn’t intellectually honest. He ignores relevant points and changes the subject when he is getting pounded. He is desperate to be the smart guy in the room at the expense of an actual discussion.

                  • Jem

                    “He ignores relevant points and changes the subject when he is getting pounded.”

                    So I wondered what made you so sore.

                    As far as I can see, we’ve only ever been on the same thread once, and that was the one where Mike Flynn was just embarrassing himself by citing James Shapiro and describing a version of evolution that would be slightly too fanciful for an X-Men comic. I admit I think Mike’s a lightweight.

                    In the course of that, you came up with this great piece of thinking:

                    “The point of the physical examples that Aquinas uses illustrate the principles that exist in nature. The principles are NOT dependent on the specific example being correct.”

                    Yeah. I’m not really feeling all that desperate to prove I can outsmart you. Sorry.

                    • Colin Gormley

                      That whiff of desperation. That pathetic need to respond to every and any provocation. Oh yes. We have a massive yet fragile ego here.

              • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

                Actually, we know exactly where he is. He’s in the tabernacle.

        • wlinden

          Combox trolling: For people who think the problem with Christianity is that it exists.

          “I can’t go to bed! Someone is Christian on the Internet!”


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