Change and Failure to Change

Change and Failure to Change February 12, 2024


Near Waitangi, NZ
The idyllic Bay of Islands, at Waitangi, New Zealand
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

My friend Professor Louis Midgley has had a life-long love affair with New Zealand and, being here once again, it’s very easy to remember and to understand why.

We arrived today at the Bay of Islands, on the northeastern coast of the North Island.  Most specifically, our ship dropped anchor just off Waitangi, where the pivotal treaty was signed in 1840.  Our private mini-bus tour took us to, among other things, a kauri forest, a kauri woodworking shop, the Kawiti Caves, a chocolate factory, the Haruru Falls, and, of all things, the Hundertwasser Toilets in Kawakawa that were designed by Friedrich Stowasser (1928-2000), who is better known by his pseudonym Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser.  We drove past extinct volcanic cones, the ruins of Maori hilltop forts (or pas), groves of kiwi and oranges and the like, and through a beautiful landscape of rolling green hills.  And the Bay of Islands itself is one of the prettiest places on Planet Earth.

Besides, I’m in a really good mood, and not merely because BYU beat Kansas State and Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers.  And that’s all I’m going to say.

View of the ocean from the top of a small island in the Bay of Islands, Northland, North Island, New Zealand. The photo is taken from Motukiekie Island, looking nor-east-ish. Piercy Island (Motukokako) with its Hole in the Rock, and Cape Brett, and are way out there in the right far distance. The island mid center is Waewaetorea, which is partly obscuring Okahu Island lying to its left. The Okahu Passage is on the left and the Waewaetoria Passage is to the right but mainly obscured. The little island nearer camera at center, really a bunch of rocks, is a favorite crayfish diving spot. The peninsula reaching into the photo from the middle of the right hand side is part of Urupukapuka Island.
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

This is what I posted here in February 2012, fully a dozen years ago, when I first launched this blog:

For years now, people have asked me whether I had a blog.  I’ve always answered No, but have felt that, really, I ought to.

So, finally, I’m taking the plunge.  I probably won’t be posting long entries here — I have plenty of outlets as it is, and am already behind on more writing commitments and goals than I can count — but I think it will be useful to post news, announce public presentations (people often ask where or whether I’ll be speaking over the next weeks and months), call attention to new articles and books, shamelessly advertise tours I’ll be leading, and the like.  I may even comment on politics — I’m really, really into political questions, and have been since I was an early teenager — though that may prove to be a bridge too far:  I’m controversial with plenty of people without picking any more fights.  (Which is, by the way, why I won’t be allowing comments here.  I have no interest in spending several hours a day sparring with anonymous internet critics, and I can guarantee that they would show up here in droves to take a shot at me.  But they have venues enough in which they can lament my wickedness and stupidity; I feel no obligation to supply them with yet another.)

Notice how many things have changed since then:

  • I do now post long entries (always at least a thousand words in length, which wasn’t an arbitrary choice).  And no short ones.
  • I no longer post on politics.  In fact, several years ago I suddenly ceased altogether to have public political opinions.
  • I do certainly permit comments now, and have for several years.  That was at the request of the then-leadership of Patheos.

But some things haven’t changed:

  • I’m still behind on my writing goals.
  • There are still folks out there — the very same ones that there were twelve years ago — whose lives appear to revolve around lamenting my wickedness and stupidity.

Some of those same folks, however, are astonishingly adept at missing the point — though whether they do it deliberately or by reason of utter incapacity remains unclear to me.  I offer an example:

Yesterday, I published a blog entry entitled “They Thought They Knew What They Were Dismissing.”

In what I think he imagines to be an actual response to that blog entry, a rigidly dogmatic atheist who often posts comments here wrote that

Of course the fact that there is no such thing as ‘extrasensory perception’ is the only thing that keeps it from being a legitimate science.

Since the point of my blog entry had been to suggest that the evidence for extrasensory perception may well be better than is commonly thought (and better than I myself had long supposed), and since the rigidly dogmatic atheist had merely recited his default position without engaging what I had said — he seems to have devoted his life to mastering the art of circular reasoning and to perfecting his skills at begging the question; he never actually cites evidence or offers an argument — I replied as follows:

Poor [rigidly dogmatic atheist’s] expert deployment of evidence and argument continues to astonish the world!

This is how science has always progressed. The fact that there is a luminiferous ether, the fact that our flat earth is the center of the universe, the fact that weights of different magnitude fall at different speeds, the fact that ulcers are caused by stress and that mice spontaneously generate, the fact that atoms are indivisible . . . all of these and many other obvious truths have stood the test of time.

But this is how some of the folks over at the Peterson Obsession Board managed to misinterpret my reply:

Science has sometimes been wrong. So anything (“and Daniel really means anything“) is possible. The only limitation is human credulity.

It reminds me of a dictum that I’ve seen identified as one of the corollaries of Murphy’s Law:

It’s impossible to make anything truly foolproof, because fools are so ingenious.

Competent critics, if not always immediately welcome, are useful.  They help to guard one against error and they also help to sharpen arguments and better define positions.  But incompetent critics and disingenuous critics are without value.  They’re merely noise and distraction.

Posted from the Bay of Islands, New Zealand



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