Science Hell

Science Hell August 8, 2017


HT PZ Myers. One could make a version of this for all academics and experts. There is something particularly excruciating about spending years of one’s life dedicated to studying a field and trying to advance our knowledge in it, only to be treated dismissively by someone who is confident that they have a full grasp of the matter because they Googled something about it. While viewpoints like mythicism and young-earth creationism existed well before Google, they are certainly thieving in our era in which expertise counts for little if anything.

I had a discussion in Sunday school this past weekend about afterlife and universalism. The “homework” for next time was a challenge to think about what, if anything, your child could do that would lead you to subject them to torture forever with no end. My guess is that most in the class will say “nothing.”

And hopefully then all they will need to do is apply the principle that a view of God is likely false if God is thought of as more cruel, or less merciful, than we are.

Of course, there is a sense of fairness that we have that we instinctively want to have satisfied. And so, returning to the cartoon, an academic might well feel at some point that it would not be inappropriate for denialists to have to spend a million years researching a topic, followed by an eternity after that spent trying to correct all the wrong opinions on that subject articulated on the internet.

Anyone who thinks that that would not be a form of “eternal conscious torment” either doesn’t know what it is like to be an academic confronted with denialism related to their field, or isn’t using their imagination.

I am sure that next time in my Sunday school class, we will end up talking about universalism. I already pointed out that there are issues with the popular Evangelical view every bit as much as with universalism, if not more so. Sure, the idea that Hitler might be forgiven because everyone gets forgiven is uncomfortable for conservative Evangelicals. But if they think their notion is less problematic, that Hitler could have made a deathbed profession of faith and been saved, while the victims of the Holocaust who did not convert will suffer further still in hell, then they have a particularly twisted view of things – one that casts aside any notion of fairness or justice or mercy altogether in favor of a God who plays favorites.

I have said before that I think the best thing for modern Christians to do is to treat notions of an afterlife with agnosticism. Every attempt to depict one is fraught with problems, and an approach to morality that focuses on rewards and punishments is inferior to one that expects human beings to recognize the inherent value in certain actions regardless of whether they are ever noticed, never mind recompensed.


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  • Dorfl

    Oh dear, yes.

    Arguing with crackpots can at least be interesting. The most frustrating internet argument I’ve had was with a guy who kept challenging me to get X published in a peer-reviewed journal, and would not accept that this was impossible simply because X was well-known and basically trivial.

    IIRC, PZ once complained about similar exchanges he’d had with people who helpfully explained that the distinction between ‘micro-evolution’ and ‘macro-evolution’ was made up by creationists, and could not be convinced that evolutionary biologists in fact regularly use those terms – even if they don’t misuse them the way creationists do.

  • ” While viewpoints like mythicism and young-earth creationism existed well before Google,..”

    Nice try, but that is just more rhetoric. Put two different ideas that you want to trash, in a sense of dividing-the-middle to show that your third way is better, then reference a common canard.

    “While viewpoints like A and B existed before _______”.

    You can do better.

    Indeed, I’d say the one standout thing that Google, mythicism (here I assume you mean Jesus-myth, not Noah-myth or Abraham-myth, or for that matter Zeus-myth) and YEC have in common is that they depend upon the 20th century inventions of fast global communications, to spread their ideas.

    • Rhetoric? What rhetoric do you see at play here? James is just referencing two common examples of positions with bad and outdated scholarship. He doesn’t have to trash them. Virtually the entire academic community has done that for him.

      There are many examples he could have used: flat-earthism, phrenology, alien abduction, ESP, etc.

  • Wow! This is the first Patheos post where I’ve seen the new blog layouts. Are my eyes deceiving me? No adverts?!

    • ChrisDACase95

      Using mobile, this layout caught me by surprise.

    • Ben Murray

      The “recent comments” feature seems to have disappeared. That was my main tool for following the continuing comment threads on topics of interest! Any way of getting it back?

      • I just asked one of the higher-ups at Patheos. Either it will return, or I will let you know what they said…

        • Ben Murray

          Great, thanks!

      • Gary

        Same here. iPhone “recent comments” gone. Without that, I have no reason to comment, other than on brand new posts only.

        Of course, that may be considered a blessing.

      • Thanks for pointing that out! I’ll miss the “recent comments” if they’re gone for good.

  • Al Cruise

    “treat notions of an afterlife with agnosticism.” I agree with this very much. This may be a bit off topic, but from experience and talking with others with experience, there is a consistent universalism to positive deathbed occurrences that happens regardless of faith, no faith , culture, race, gender identification. It really does give one hope.

  • There’s some irony that PZ Myers posted this cartoon, given that he is not shy about opining at some volume on subjects he knows nothing about. He blunders into historical topics all too often and his posts on those subjects are riddled with howlers and outdated Whiggish ideas. His comments about Giordano Bruno back when the Cosmos reboot came out is a classic example of someone without any grasp of the relevant history deciding he is suddenly an expert thanks to a few minutes of clumsy Googling. See “History for Atheists – The Great Myths 3: Giordano Bruno was a Martyr for Science” for details on what Myers got wildly wrong. Scientists should really stick to science.

    • Thanks for this comment. I was struck, however, by P Z’s recent articulation of the fact that young-earth creationism looks abhorrent from the perspective of mainstream biblical scholarship, and not just from the perspective of science. I feel as though P Z at least accepts this point in principle, in a way that Jerry Coyne, for instance, does not. Do you have that same impression?

      • I haven’t read PZ on that point. I do find that New Atheists tend to do what Coyne does – read all Biblical texts the way the most simple-minded fundie would and see Biblical literalist Christianity as the “true” form of the faith, with any other forms as just wishy-washy watered down versions of literalism. I’ve pointed out to them that this makes no sense, given that fundamentalist literalism is a very modern (nineteenth century) development, while two of the biggest branches of Christianity (the Catholic and Orthodox traditions) are also two of the most ancient and have never been literalist, so can’t be “watered down” versions of a modern tradition. This point usually bounces right off them, as many arguments do.