Smart people saying smart things

Uwe E. Reinhardt: “America’s Mid-20th-Century Infrastructure”

Instead of setting about to bring our infrastructure up to 21st-century standards – which might, alas, involve more of the much detested public-sector investment — we angrily and yet meekly suffer for days or weeks without light, heat and transportation, verbally shaking our fists at the power companies but leaving it at that.

We are, at most, prepared to stock our households with flashlights and candles and, if we have the money, buy portable generators that can produce a modest amount of electricity, albeit at great expense. How can this be an efficient way of bringing electric power to households?

Alex Knapp: “Why Marco Rubio Needs to Know That the Earth Is Billions of Years Old”

The bottom line is that this economy, at its root, is built on  a web of scientific knowledge from physics to chemistry to biology. It’s impossible to just cherry pick out parts we don’t like. If the Earth is 9,000 years old, then virtually the entire construct of modern science is simply wrong. Not only that, most of the technology that we rely on most likely wouldn’t work – as they’re dependent on science that operates on the same physical laws that demonstrate the age of the universe.

Rachel Held Evans: “The danger of calling behavior ‘biblical'”

The fact of the matter is, we all pick and choose. We’re all selective in our interpretation and application of the biblical text. The better question to ask one another is why we pick and choose the way that we do, why we emphasize some passages and not others. This, I believe, will elevate the conversation so that we’re using the Bible, not as a blunt weapon, but as a starting point for dialogue.

Richard Beck: “An Economy of Submission”

An economy of submission is the mutual, reciprocal, flowing exchange of submission. More, it’s an economy of gifts freely given and received. This is the notion of mutual submission, servant-heartedness, and koinonia. The vision here isn’t one group trying to get another group to submit. That’s an exercise of power. Rather, the vision is of participating in loving community with each responsive to the needs of the other.

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  • The first time I visited the US (about Christmas 1973) I had to travel from the centre of Philadelphia late at night out to one of the suburbs. And the thng that surprised me more than anything else in all the marvelous things I saw in the US was the fact that the passenger carriage was so old that it had rusted through in places and you could poke your finger out into the cold midnight air or look through the holes in the floor to the track rolling past beneath your feet. It was an eye-opener for someone coming from a country where the nationalised British Rail would never dream of sending something like that out on the tracks: their rolling stock might be tatty and old in places but it was always sound in structure.

    In contrast the NY underground on my visit last year just looked tatty and disorganised: the rolling stock often looked new and well designed. I think they may have forgotten that non-natives sometimes come to the city. Certainly I was not much wiser about how the trains ran after ten days there than I was at the start. Any infomation I got I picked up by osmosis, not by the appallingly bad signage.

  • Carstonio

    Does Knapp assume that Rubio believes in creationism? Far more likely, and worse, that Rubio is pandering to his party’s extremists. 

  • Alex Knapp

    I was replying to Rubio’s claim that it doesn’t matter to the economy how old the Earth is.

  • Paul Durant

    The earth and/or universe doesn’t have to be billions of years old if it was created already in progress. Like when you pick “Accelerated Start” in a Civ game and you start out with like three cities and the basic techs already researched. Maybe God didn’t want to sit around clicking “End turn” a bunch of times while cosmic radiation coalesced into matter and formed nebulae and stars and planets and Leonard Nimoy quoted some classical philosopher at him every twenty turns.

    As it turns out, the Earth isn’t even 6000 years old. It’s negative one month old. The Mayan calendar is just the script for the accelerated startup routine, and it ends when the universe actually starts being a thing. December 21 is going to roll around and you’re going to be “Oh, yeah, this thing I am in is definitely a universe now, I don’t know why I thought it was before.”

  • EllieMurasaki

    There isn’t actually any way to distinguish last-Thursday-ism from a universe that is as old as it appears.

  • Carstonio

    And you’re right to refute that claim, which you did well. I just doubt Rubio really believes in what he’s saying. His incoherent statement suggests a disingenuous attempt to appeal to the GOP’s fundamentalist wing without alienating anyone else. By framing the issue as a mystery and a parental choice, he makes himself look tolerant and open-minded while implicitly endorsing the fundamentalist argument that the issue is religion versus science. There are too many journalists out there who accept that argument, not knowing or not caring that creationism is a minority view in .Christianity.

  • Andrew
  • Makabit

    I was having an online discussion with someone in, I think, England, a while back, who was quite startled to learn we still use overhead electric wires in the States.

  • LoneWolf343

     People didn’t seem to notice that Rubio was backhandedly suggesting that they should ask a scientist if they want to know the age of the Earth.

  • I’m a bit baffled by the infrastructure article’s claim that most
    European powerlines are underground. I’m pretty sure given the much
    greater expense and numerous technical limitations of undergrounding
    that’s not true on any great scale (not yet, anyway).

    Wikipedia appears to back me up:

    Also underground cables while less vulnerable to severe weather are more vulnerable to earthquake damage. Witness the fact (mentioned in the above wiki article) that after the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch parts of the city were cut off for weeks due to underground cable damage but only a few overhead cables were damaged. And once an underground cable goes kaput it’s  a bigger deal to fix than overhead ones.

    Also if the US has a mid-twentieth century infrastructure so does the UK, I think.


  •  I assure you we do have powerlines. I can see a ginormous pylon from my lounge window (when it’s daylight anyway).

  •  I kind of like the idea of the Earth being -1 month old. It’s suitably bizzarre for my twisted little brain. X-P

  • Overhead power lines here in BC as well, although not as many as I remember from when I was younger. I think over the years they’ve been moved underground.

  • Alex Knapp

    I suspect he doesn’t, but I can only go by what he said. Creationism is definitely a minority view among Christians, and I do get annoyed that more people don’t know that.

  • One of the things that I have always held, is that any sufficiently robust rationalization of a Young Earth belief system ends up being functionally indistinguishable from reality.  

    The so-called “Last Thursdayism” (already mentioned by others here) just means that if the universe is a perfect simulation of being older than it really is, then why bother to make the distinction about its age?  If study shows us that the Earth is far older, and this study is backed up by every other piece of data we have, then we ought to treat it as such, no matter what we may personally believe about the date of its creation.  

    I realize that in some ways, this can be a bit of an Orwellian “doublethink”, holding two contradictory ideas and believing both of them, but I think that such duality is actually an asset for having transcendental faith a stubbornly material world.  

  • There’s a relevant difference here between a Young Earth belief system that holds as a first-order belief that there is no possible observational test that can distinguish a created universe from one that evolved naturally, and a Young Earth belief system that lacks such a first-order belief but is nevertheless observed to always reject every observational test that has thus far been proposed.

  • Carstonio

    Last Thursdayism is the equivalent of the brain in a jar – both are fascinating intellectual constructs but are useless as hypotheses, because they don’t offer better explanations for evidence. The former also doesn’t satisfy Occam’s razor.

  • Paul Durant

    One of the things that I have always held, is that any sufficiently robust rationalization of a Young Earth belief system ends up being functionally indistinguishable from reality.   

    That seems like it should be true anyway? Any belief system that purports to model reality is going to end up “indistinguishable from reality” the more thought is put into it. What’s the alternative, that more effort trying to rationalize YEC results in you disputing more laws of physics?

    Also the point was not so much to bring up Last Thursdayism which most people here likely know about, but to put the image in your heads of God sitting at His Machina ex Deus, cheek resting in His palm, clicking “End turn” over and over as He watches proto-planets zooming across the map screen.

  • arcseconds

    I don’t think there’s much profit in speculating whether Rubio believes in young earth creationism or not.  He’s a politician, he’s got as far as the Senate, and it seems he’s becoming the Republican poster-boy and it sounds like possibly a future presidential candidate or summat, so I guess he’s at least halfway good at this politiking thing.

    The thing about success in politics is, you either happen to already believe in what is politically convenient to you to believe in, or you learn to keep quiet about what you believe in and pretend to the politically convenient beliefs, or you are blessed with a psychology that allows you to believe in whatever is convenient to believe in at the time.   If you can’t manage any of those, you’re likely to be weeded out.

    If he’s got any presidential ambitions, or even just wants the best possible chance of securing his senate seat again, he can’t really come out strongly in favour of evolution.  He might be able to get away with expressing a personal belief in it, but hedging on the issue is safer.   If he says “of course it’s 9 billion years old”, then he just alienates a significant voting base for him, one that it looks like the Republicans badly need.  But he can’t really say “it’s 9 thousand years old” either, because while that might endear him to the religious right, it might not go down too well with many lukewarm Republicans and undecideds.

    So what he said was exactly what you’d expect a consummate politician to say if they’re a Republican candidate. 

    Actually, I sorta-kinda admire the way he’s bracketing it as essentially a non-issue: that’s probably the most you could expect from a Republican candidate in today’s environment.

    I was also impressed in that kind of slightly queesy way I’m impressed by politicians with his non-answer to the gay question.  He utters a truism and a platitude,  while simultaneously dog-whistling to the  socially conservative and sounding ultra-reasonable at the same time, and not committing himself to anything at all.

  • arcseconds

     hmm, forgot to underscore my main point.

    There’s little point in speculating about what politicians secretly believe, because in most cases it makes little difference whether they believe it or not.  Rubio’s not going to turn out to be an ardent crypto-Darwinian ready to save the USA from superstition, and he’s not going to ardently install creationism, either, no matter what he believes, because either activity will detract from the Republican party’s proper business.

  • Carstonio

    You’re right about speculating on Rubio’s own beliefs. My point was that most of the media treats creationism as a difference of opinion. It doesn’t question the “evolution = atheism” framing used by creationists even while refuting their arguments. Even the commentators slamming Rubio simply trot out the scientific basis for evolution almost by rote, instead of probing the context behind the dispute. The media doesn’t seem to understand that creationism is fundamentally a political and social issue and not a scientific one. Like school prayer and abortion, it’s a proxy for the fear of losing social privilege based in personal characteristics. 

    And I disagree that he’s bracketing this as essentially a non-issue. I think he’s simply trying to give that impression while also placating the religious right. A stronger statement about the issue’s irrelevance would alienate both rightists and moderates to different degrees.

  • Tricksterson

    Problem is that he would probably count an intelligent design proponent to be as legitimate a source as an evolution  proponent.

  • Alex Knapp

    You do run into a Numbers 23 problem. “God is not a man, that he should lie…”

  • Carstonio

    That would be a problem only if one assumes that the Genesis account is historically accurate.  Members of other religions who believe in theistic creation might reject Last Thursdayism, but not because of a belief that it conflicts with the Old Testament.

  • Herman Cummings

    If pastors, priests. rabbis, and “so called” Christians would stop their false (old Earth) and foolish (young Earth) teachings, and start promoting the truth of Genesis (Observations of Moses), then there would hardly be any room for the ridiculous teaching of evolution.
    What advantage is there to higher education, if what is being taught is false information?  Evolution is a false conclusion of the 600 million year fossil record.  The “Observations of Moses” is the only true rendition of Genesis chapter one, and is the correct opposing view to the evolution theory.
    Herman Cummings

  • syfr

    Which version in Genesis?  The one where the animals are made before the people, or the one where Adam was made, then the animals, then Eve?