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Pity and pitilessness

Maggie Koerth-Baker, ex-fundamentalist, has a fine post up explaining why fundamentalists are against seemingly innocuous things like set theory. It’s because it’s symptomatic of a deeper conflict with the modern world.

Instead, they see modernism as the opposing worldview to their own. They are all about tradition (or, at least, what they have decided is traditional). Modernism is a knee-jerk rejection of tradition in favor of the new. Obviously, they think a very specific sort of Christian God should be the center of everything and all parts of society, public and private. Modernists prefer ideas like secular humanism and think God is something you should be doing in private, on your own time. They believe strongly in the importance of power hierarchies and rules. Modernism smashes all of that and says, “Hey, just do your own thing. Nobody’s ideas are any better or worse than anybody else’s. There’s no right and wrong. Go crazy, man!” [Insert obligatory bongo drumming session]

I am hamming this up a bit, but you get the picture. Modernism, to the publishers of A Beka math books, is sick and wrong. The idea is that if you reject their specific idea of God and their specific idea of The Rules, then you must be living in a crazy, dangerous world. You could kill people, and you would think it was okay, because you’re a modernist and you know there’s really no such thing as right and wrong. Basically, they’ve bumped into a need to separate themselves from the almost inhuman Other on a massive scale, and latched on to modernism as a shorthand for how to do that. It doesn’t matter what you or I actually believe, or even what we actually do. They know what we MUST believe and what we MUST be like because of the tenets of modernism.

I understand this. They’ve been brought up to think the godless world is a deeply dangerous threat to everything they hold precious, and it’s simpler to just shut down any thing that has to do with it. It’s like somebody has been told that some mushrooms are delicious, and others are deadly poisonous, and they’ve been told that they can, if they’re very careful, tell the difference between them…and they choose to never, ever eat mushrooms because they don’t want to go to the bother of learning how, and they also don’t want to put anyone they love at any risk at all. So they’re very, very cautious about new ideas, because their social structure is both important to them and sensitive to external perturbations.

I can even sympathize with this conclusion.

If this sounds crazy … you’re right. It’s pretty crazy. In fact, it’s this kind of thinking, and my realization that it was based fundamentally on lying about everybody who wasn’t a member of your religious tribe, that led me away from religion to begin with. Ironically. But there is a coherent thought process going on here, and I want you to understand that. If all you do is point and laugh at the fundies for calling set theory evil, then you are missing the point. This isn’t about them being stupid. It’s about who they think you are.

Yes, I can appreciate that. I could be toxic to their worldview. I’m (and you all, too) are dangerous in that we could damage their equilibrium and send their children — and maybe even themselves — off into new patterns of thought that would repudiate all that they hold dear right now.

I read Maggie Koerth-Baker’s piece and had no problem putting myself in their shoes: if someone were making a serious challenge to my social and intellectual framework, if I were concerned that some blundering clod could come along and with some thoughtless nudge, knock it all down, I’d be protective and suspicious, too. I would be building fences around my world to keep those evil insensitive assholes out.

And then I read stuff like this summary of what Bobby Jindal’s education plan is going to do to children in Louisiana: the stupidity of arguing that dinosaurs were fire-breathing dragons who lived into the middle ages, the callousness of teaching that the Trail of Tears was an opportunity for Christian proselytization, the evil of putting a happy shine on slavery and the KKK, the equation of gay people with child molesters and rapists, the contempt for the environment, and I think…

Tear it all down.

They’ve built cages for themselves and their children, and have beliefs that harm others. I can see that they’re quivering in fear at the modernists, the liberals, the gays, the atheists, all coming to expose their ‘worldview’ for the rickety tissue of lies and hate that it is, and I say…no mercy. No hesitation. No apologies. Break it apart, and set those people free.

Pointing and laughing is just one step in the process of liberating those Christians trapped in their prison of lies. I can feel pity for them, while I let reality crash into their delusions and send them scurrying. They fear change, but they must change.

Comments

  1. Dick the Damned says

    I agree with PZ. Religion is dangerous, but it’s socially sanctioned to such an extent that the dangers are mostly overlooked. If someone has a problem to solve, they need correct information to help them come to a good answer. And so it is with life, & seeking what Aristotle called eudemonia, or human flourishing. Religion, being obviously made up by culturally primitive men, is bound to provide wrong answers, except in the ‘trivial’ sense that it provides social cohesion to members of its various in-groups. Without the attempts at social engineering made by religion operating in the public sphere, society could discuss & implement democratically sanctioned ethics & mores, for the public good.

  2. says

    I had a friend in high school who was very fundie, and through a couple of years of mocking I almost had him deconverted. But then I moved and after he floated all aimless for a few years he ran off to seminary. Sigh.Me and my other friends were very sad at that point, losing someone to laziness and fear.

  3. says

    PZ, I’m trying to understand something: how do you break someone out of an epiphanic prison? As you say, such things include a refusal to consider any contradictory evidence.

    My first instinct when I’m confronted with someone who says something that blatantly contradicts reality is to try and teach them otherwise. But if they refuse to acknowledge the world, my normal approach is useless.

    How can you persuade someone who will reject all evidence? Or is your hope that very few people will act like Kurt Wise and deny the entire world in front of them?

  4. says

    Oddly, there are many threats to the One Truth and the Omnipotent God, and the basic enabling threat is to question that those exist as they were told and as they tell others it is.

    It isn’t even about what they think you are, it’s about the evil of doubting the truth, you just being another of many temptations to do so. Yet they’re sure that you haven’t properly doubted what you believe (or you’d be like them, of course), and that you should do so.

    It’s that double standard that really marks them at this time, for in the past Xians were pretty sure that they could go ahead and question and their God would come out on top. Now they’re closed off, and they fault others for being closed off whether or not they actually are.

    Glen Davidson

  5. says

    #3: Apparently, we keep doing what we’ve been doing. Why else are they so hateful and afraid of us?

    If you’ve got a sound, strong intellectual framework, you don’t fear new ideas, you just laugh at them. They have a weak framework, and they know it — see Ken Ham, for instance, who has several books in which he’s telling people that unless they tightly shelter their kids from dangerous ideas, they’re “already gone”.

  6. Pteryxx says

    Never forget that frightened people are dangerous. If they see me as the scary Other that’s going to hurt their children and wreck their lives, I sympathize, but I’m not going to let them destroy me and other innocents because of that fear.

    My first instinct when I’m confronted with someone who says something that blatantly contradicts reality is to try and teach them otherwise. But if they refuse to acknowledge the world, my normal approach is useless.

    How can you persuade someone who will reject all evidence?

    I TA’d a student once who came up to me and asked “How can you actually believe all this evolution stuff? You seem like such a nice person.” We had a good talk about morality not coming from the Bible, about caring and companionship in animals, and that saying about ‘whosoever does good in the world, you do it in My name’. The fear synergizes with rejection of evidence. I’m not convinced that politeness gives any particular advantage in this, but the person clinging to their beliefs has to be willing to address the first crack that shows, whether that crack arises from headbutting with opponents, or from the slow erosion of general exposure.

  7. says

    They’ve been brought up to think the godless world is a deeply dangerous threat to everything they hold precious, and it’s simpler to just shut down any thing that has to do with it.

    It’s not that small a threat for an Eric Hovind and his ilk, for, if you doubt God you thereby doubt your ability to know anything at all. Which sort of brings up the question of how children, who know nothing of God until taught, can ever learn about anything, let alone God, but they don’t think that far (or I suppose they can just invoke God as enabling the learning of God, ad hoc at best).

    So you have to believe in God or you’re just lost altogether, including intellectually. That they’re generally ignorant and some of the others are not means nothing, because it’s a logical enough circle that they’ve gotten into, and without any sort of experience of a better way of knowing, they stay within that circle.

    Glen Davidson

  8. michaelpowers says

    I can empathize with xians to a point. Then I remember that history has shown time and again that it is they, not us, who would happily burn their neighbors at the stake out of nothing more than superstition and fear. Most of the worst bloodletting in human history has been tied, in one way or another, to the argument over whose imaginary friend is better.

  9. F says

    If only they would stop trying to cage everyone else, they would probably be left to their other hobbies.

  10. says

    I get everything Koerth-Baker is saying, but I’m still puzzled: does anyone know why specifically they’re opposed to set theory? It seemed pretty innocuous to me the last time I dealt with it.

  11. Dick the Damned says

    Our weapon is mockery.

    When the mildly faithful see others taking no heed over their supposed ‘soul’ & a resultant journey into perdition, by mocking religion, it weakens the hold that religion has over them.

    As the religious base shrinks, the fundies get ever more marginalized. This has happened in Europe.

    Keep on mocking.

  12. says

    OK, should have gone back to the full article first. Though it’s still puzzling. E.g., why should the idea that one infinite set can be larger than another be an affront to God? If Koerth-Baker is right in the latter part of her essay, Fundamentalists (or some of them) may disapprove of set theory for no better reason than that it’s modern. If so, that’s one of the most bizarre examples of letting a label do your thinking for you that I’ve ever seen.

  13. joed says

    the believers have much emotion and thought invested in their insanity.
    We all have some of this and some folks are able to reflect(after the knee jerk reaction)that perhaps we do need to look at our thoughts/ideas/beliefs again. But the believers can’t do it without their world collapsing.
    the more adamant I am about my idea/belief–the less sure I am of its correctness.
    I think?

  14. Midnight Rambler says

    aaronbaker: Check out the article. It has to do with multiple infinite sets, and especially things like the set of infinite real numbers being larger than the set of infinite whole numbers. Because “there is only one infinite, and that’s God.”

  15. says

    Which reminds me that I saw a fundamentalist on the 700 Club years ago who described the soul-destroying encounters with modern culture that he endured in college, and mentioned Dostoyevsky as an example–not realizing apparently that Dostoyevsky was a Christian.

  16. David Marjanović says

    Mr. Ham! Tear down that wall!

    How can you persuade someone who will reject all evidence? Or is your hope that very few people will act like Kurt Wise and deny the entire world in front of them?

    It’s clear that very few people do that. Wise seems to be the only one.

    (I’m sure Marcus Ross is lying – he pretends to be a creationist so he can keep his job and his parents don’t disown him and/or die in apoplexia. I’ve read his paper in the Journal of Goddamned Vertebrate Paleon-fuckin’-tology.)

    You mean like this?

    You have completely misunderstood the point of pharyngulating polls. The point is to demonstrate that Internet polls do not sample the population at random and are therefore extremely prone to spurious results, both by design and by accident. Remember that, before polls were pharyngulated, they were freeped.

    Keep on mocking.

    It worked on the KKK.

  17. imthegenieicandoanything says

    I get the hyperboly in using “must,” but it still really rubs me the wrong way – like, in being a wrong thing to say even in that way for those reasons.

    I’ll be unusually presumptuous for a moment.

    What I am quite sure you mean, PZ, is that these people must be presented with reality as it can now best be described, and not be allowed to pretend, outside of their own minds, or outside the buildings of brainwashing mutual insanity reinforcement they call “churches,” that the lies and idiocy they were raised to believe had some connection with reality as it can now best be described are simply that: lies and idiocy. Without the least value to themselves or others.

    We live in, and people like me certainly intend to keep it so and make it more so, a generally free nation. One of the limits of abusing that freedom is what these people do; cage themselves and their children, and starve themselves of that which feeds human life: curiosity about the universe we inhabit.

    They can have their cages and shake the bars all they want, but the doors have to be clearly marked, and ALWAYS remain open.

  18. says

    Thanks for posting this, PZ. I’ve wondered why the fundies have a problem with set theory. I’ve also wondered how they can reject something so self-evidently obvious as set theory, but that’s another issue.

    I’m very much a point and laugh type. What can I say? For better or worse that’s who I am. Overall though, I’m going to defend mockery as a component of the atheist’s arsenal because I see this as a process of changing social norms, and mockery is an important part of that. Mockery is a very effective way of policing social norms. Constantly give someone the message that they’re making a fool of themselves, and they will at least think about whether that could be true.

  19. David Marjanović says

    why should the idea that one infinite set can be larger than another be an affront to God?

    Because then it’s no longer guaranteed that nothing can be larger/greater than the infinite God?

    –not realizing apparently that Dostoyevsky was a Christian.

    I can see how “everybody is responsible for everything, to everyone” would be utterly alien to the average American fundamentalist.

  20. says

    @PZ @6 and Pteryxx @7:

    I hope you’re right, and that education is enough.

    My fear comes from having met people who know and use graduate-level physics and chemistry and still deny global warming; and the same for biochemistry while denying evolutionary biology. None were quite as extreme as Wise, but all had all of the evidence and logic in front of them, and consciously rejected it.

    I don’t have a sense of what fraction of young-Earth creationists, or global-warming denialists, or of Moon-landing hoaxers (those last really annoy me) will reject a given level of evidence. But my fear is that simply educating people about the world and pointing out contradictions and lies may not be enough.

  21. says

    Midnight Rambler:

    Fundamentalists realize–don’t they?–that the set of real numbers is infinite in some sense of the word infinite–and that this was the case long before Cantor showed up? They should realize that since the God they believe in has decreed an infinite number of numbers, he isn’t the only infinite out there. If some of them really don’t get this (and I guess they don’t), their ignorance is even more pitiful than I thought it was.

  22. raven says

    1. The main enemy of fundie religion is….reality.
    Reality doesn’t care what their fairy tale book says.

    2. The second scariest enemy is…themselves.
    They really have nothing to offer normal people. Rejecting “modernism” by which they mean science and technology would give them a Dark Age lifestyle and lifespan to match.

    Who wants to freeze in the dark and die young?

  23. says

    It dawned on me within about 30 seconds of writing my rhetorical question (Fundamentalists realize–don’t they?–) that No, some of them really don’t realize it.

  24. raven says

    Carl Sagan said it a long time ago.

    The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.

    Fundies live in the demon haunted darkness.

    If you don’t believe in and fear the demons and satan, guess what happens? Nothing. They are as real as the monsters under your bed.

  25. Pteryxx says

    But my fear is that simply educating people about the world and pointing out contradictions and lies may not be enough.

    Probably it isn’t; but it’s the best tool we have, the most essential. Past that is just keeping awareness up at all about this stuff and what it means. Lots of people come out of their schools and families and local communities ignorant and full of bias, and then hit the real world and find out for the first time that other views exist. (I was one such; if Carl Sagan hadn’t gotten below the fundie radar, I well might’ve given up young and alone.) When they do change, it’s usually slowly and silently, years after whatever interaction first got them to to wonder what the truth was.

    “Some of the people we work with will already have redeemed their lives. Others, no matter what we do, will be back in here again. And for some, our efforts will make all the difference. We will never know which group is which, but that should not serve as a deterrent to our efforts.”

    -Robert Ellis Gordon, to fellow prison teachers

  26. says

    “Unlike the “modern math” theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute.

    I’m pretty sure that this isn’t true. A lot of philosophy rests on the idea that math is not a human creation. We create systems to do math, but logic is self-existent.

  27. says

    Pointing and laughing is just one step in the process of liberating those Christians trapped in their prison of lies. I can feel pity for them, while I let reality crash into their delusions and send them scurrying.

    And yet so many of them have constructed cages that would seem to be reality-proofed, to the point where they don’t even notice their own oxymorons (Satanic atheists? Really? Pat Robertson might as well blame everything bad on jumbo shrimp).

    I suspect the pointing and laughing is more likely to benefit those standing outside the cage thinking about entering, or maybe those who have stepped inside but have not yet closed the door behind them.
    In any case, there’s not much else you can do with people who fail to acknowledge glaring contradictions in their beliefs, and those who maybe acknowledge their oxymorons but turn them into paradoxes, which are of course terribly profound.

  28. raven says

    But my fear is that simply educating people about the world and pointing out contradictions and lies may not be enough.

    You will never reach everyone. For one thing, half the population has an IQ less than 100, the median. In other words they are just not very bright.

    But you don’t have to. Those are mostly just baggage being dragged along by our society and holding it back. All societies have baggage, ours just happens to be the fundie xians.

    450 years after Galileo, 20% of the US population are Geocentrists and can’t diagram the solar system, a task I learned in the first grade.

    We can live with 20% dead weight. Right now it is a lot higher than that.

  29. sirbedevere says

    PZ sez:

    Apparently, we keep doing what we’ve been doing. Why else are they so hateful and afraid of us?

    It is working, albeit slowly. Keep on doing what we’re doing. In the past year or so I’ve seen several people post on Facebook “I’m not embarrassed to say I’m a Christian! Copy this to your status if you agree!” (Or words to that effect) What’s encouraging to me is not how few people have re-posted the message but that anyone felt the need to post it in the first place. It wasn’t very long ago that it wouldn’t have occurred to them that anyone might be embarrassed to admit to being Christian.

  30. huntstoddard says

    ^^ I agree here. At least in parts of the country, Christianity is becoming kind of like smoking. People still do it, but only at least twenty feet from any entrance.

  31. joed says

    Skeptic’s Play: A priori truths and math
    Certain philosophers try to reject the idea that math absolutely must be true, claiming that it’s only true by nature of our universe or something, but I think …
    skepticsplay.blogspot.com/2007/10/priori-truths-and-math.
    If I remember rightly, Immanuel Cant came up with this idea about apriori knowledge or stuff we know just by being born? But I think he said the concepts that allow for math learning are apriori.

  32. katie says

    I like to term this nostalgain’t – they’re longing for a past that never even existed, and denying the fact that they themselves, and especially their religion, is eminently modern. Post-modern, even, given that it rejects the tenets of rationality and objective standards of proof modernism is imbued with.

  33. says

    They are dangerous, it is true. I like to think that if I got out, anyone else could, but the truth is that it almost killed me to grow up in a fundamentalist family, figure out that the person I was was completely inadmissible in my parents’ universe, and then find a way to establish a life for myself outside of everything I was taught.

    The shame I was raised with and the outright terror of being left behind in the Rapture laid down some deep grooves in my brain, and I am still trying to reroute them in a way that is not toxic to me. I really don’t want that to happen to any more kids, and it horrifies me to see the Quiverfull movement bringing baby after baby into this violently narrow and rigid ideology. There are going to be a lot of casualties.

    Another thing that really frightens me is that I am disabled, have no money in the bank at all, and no big inheritances coming my way that I am aware of. I just turned 50 this year, and so “retirement” (what’s that?) is starting to look more real to me. If the Tea Party and the evangelicals get what they want, my future does not look bright at all. It scares me that I might end up in a state-run facility that is poorly funded and pays lousy and employs people who like to abuse people like me. Especially as a queer transsexual mental patient who openly agitates for radical political change, I fear that I might become a target just as I am getting older and less able to improvise a living out of my somewhat unstable circumstances.

    I have this dystopian vision where San Francisco is under siege from US forces as the last place in the US where a person can be themselves. I am in some city-funded, queer-run seniors’ home behind the front lines, which I can track as they move around the city from listening to the gunshots day and night.

    I realize that is a bit provincial of me–I know other cities will probably fight for their vulnerable populations–but this area really is a bubble. The urban west coast of the US feels like the only place in the country that will stick its neck out for those for whom Christian Individualism failed as a paradigm for living. And it sure as hell did for me.

    And you know what? I have come to not care a great deal about the internal coherence and the passionate belief that animates conservative Christianity, because they have declared war on people like me. I do wish that more “regular” Americans–whether atheist or even liberal theists of various types–were aware of just how dangerous fundamentalism is here in the US. I think we owe it to ourselves and each other not to let up on them just because what they believe makes some sort of internal narrative sense.

  34. says

    @raven @31:

    Stop with the IQ nonsense. It doesn’t take an IQ of 100 (whatever that may mean) to appreciate the basic methods and results of science, or to understand roughly how other people think and live. Based on the talks I’ve given to elementary school students, almost all of the population can understand science and empiricism. That many people don’t is the problem.

    What I don’t know is what fraction of the population will refuse, either deliberately or because they have been deceived, to acknowledge different parts of reality, be that the reality that the vaccine schedule is carefully designed to minimize disease, or that we have fouled up the climate by hundreds of years of burning things, or that twelve astronauts bounced around the Moon.

  35. says

    Set theory is actually the proper tool to attempt to make sense of the omni-properties…and the sense it makes is that they don’t. Make sense, that is.

    An eternally all-powerful being cannot commit suicide. An all-knowing oracle cannot know ignorance.

    The very concepts are incoherent — Jesus is a married bachelor living north of the North Pole.

    That there should be no ultimate power, no all-seeing eye should be no more of a surprise than that there is no largest prime number…and no set of all sets.

    And now you know why set theory scares the shit out of the funny mentalists.

    Too bad databases are nothing but set theory running on a computer….

    b&

  36. chrishall says

    Interestingly Venn Diagrams were invented by John Venn, great grandson of Henry Venn vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Clapham South London. Henry Venn was a member of the Clapham Sect an evangelical Christian organisation that included William Wilberforce and the group was instrumental in outlawing slavery.

    I’m not sure where I’m going here but it seems that set theory is totally entwined with abolition of slavery is therefore a good thing, or not. I’m sure it will depend on what the fundy’s were thinking that day.

  37. stoferb says

    One would think that set theory vindicates theism from a theistic perspective. Not only are there different infinities, but an infinite number of different infinities. Therefore god is infinity times infinity which is incomprehensible and just as they like god to be. Problem solved.

    That’s what I would do if I were a theist. I guess it’s why I’m not a theist.

  38. Amphiox says

    “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

    “Can God create a rock so heavy he cannot lift it?”

    “I am the way and the truth and the life”

    “‘Whatever divides the hoof, and is cloven-footed, chewing the cud, among the animals, that you shall eat.”

    “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?”

    Don’t these fundies realize that the entire bible, and half of all theology, all of it, is all set theory?

    Poor, poor fools.

  39. Manu of Deche says

    Basically I agree with PeeZee’s position. You have to expose them to reality. Whether it is the constant dripping or the jack-hammer that eventually wears the stone doesn’t matter.
    Yet I (would) make one exception: If you are dealing with people that are close to you (family, friends), and you positively know that they need some sort of supernatural belief in justice, protection, or the afterlife, because they would otherwise probably crack under the weight of reality, I’m not entitled to take this away from them. That doesn’t mean that you can’t occasionally drop a few lines here ot there. But if you were heel-bent on taking their faith away, you would not be acting ethically (IMO).
    If your judgment was wrong, and they are willing to face the truth, they will let you know. But hurting someone just because you know better is not helpful, it is sadistic.
    (All this obviously only applies to people that show no harmful behaviour towards others or themselves due to their beliefs)

  40. says

    imthegenieicandoanything:

    One of the limits of abusing that freedom is what these people do; cage themselves and their children,

    Then the have too much freedom. Anyone has the right to lock themselves into whatever cage they feel like doing, but no one has the right to do that to a child, be the cage mental or physical. Every child is entitled to a fact-based education, and to not have their brains twisted with poisonous lies.

  41. amethyststarling says

    Well crap I guess I will really be considered godless – I am attending school for mechanical engineering and glanced at my curriculum. Calculus 1, Calculus 2, Calculus 3, Linear Algebra and Differential Equations. So much godlessness there.

  42. ibelieveindog, the silent beagle says

    But if you were heel-bent [sic] on taking their faith away, you would not be acting ethically (IMO).

    Is it possible to take someone’s faith away? I think the responsibility lies with the person who has faith (or lacks it), therefore no one else has moral culpability.

    Just my opinion, but I could no more talk someone out of faith than they could talk me into it. I can present my views, but the convincing comes from within. Is it unethical to present one’s views? Not in my world.

    But I laugh and point. Sometimes.

    And I’m becoming more anti-theist every day, every time I read crap like that fundie shit, one infinity stuff.

  43. M Groesbeck says

    amethyststarling @ 45 –

    Just wait until you get to the punchline of Diff Eqs. Yes, it has a punchline — at least for those of us who take it en route to a field that makes use of applications of math rather than math-for-math’s-sake.

    Spoiler: the punchline involves computers and (ROT13) ubj bsgra lbh’yy npghnyyl unir gb hfr gur fgengrtvrf sbe znahnyyl naq rknpgyl fbyivat qvssreragvny rdhngvbaf, v.r. arire (sbe gur ynggre), orpnhfr ahzrevpny fbyivat/rfgvzngvba jvyy or zber guna tbbq rabhtu (sbe gur sbezre).

  44. Amphiox says

    “I’m sure Marcus Ross is lying…”

    What makes you think so?

    Because David “read his paper in the Journal of Goddamned Vertebrate Paleon-fuckin’-tology,” and concluded based on that example of Ross’ own freely written words, presumably.

    You know, the VERY NEXT SENTENCE HE WROTE.

    The texpip failing to read or deliberately ignoring someone’s full post to attempt to make a snark. How typical.

    Intellectual dishonesty all the way down.

  45. says

    I would just like to point out that it actually can be pretty hard for the average person to differentiate between some poisonous mushrooms even after reading about them, and it really is the safest thing, unless you study biology and mushrooms, to not eat random crap you find growing in the wilderness, even if you think you know for sure what it is. Unless you’re like, lost for an extended period of time and in desperate need of food. Same goes for wild berries.
    I’ve had plenty of friends get sick off of wild mushrooms. Thankfully, they weren’t the fatal kind.
    Sorry, I know it’s off topic.

  46. Manu of Deche says

    @ibelieveindog #47

    Is it possible to take someone’s faith away? I think the responsibility lies with the person who has faith (or lacks it), therefore no one else has moral culpability.

    I would agree with you if the person in question chose their religion on their own. If you adopt any livestyle freely, you are morally accountable for it and its effects on others. If someone chose to believe in homeopathy, astrology, or any other bullcrap, I’ll be the first to point and laugh (within reasonable boundaries).
    But people rarely (at least where I live) choose to follow a specific set of religious beliefs. It is instilled into them during childhood. By the time they can be considered accountable for their beliefs, the opportunity of conscious decision has already been taken away from them. Thus, their ‘culpability’ is way less than that of a person who could choose something freely (again, only if their beliefs are not otherwise harmful to people).

    To give you a specific example: A friend of mine is a survivor of sexual abuse in her childhood. She has suffered a lot of psychological scarring, and religion is one way for her to deal with it. In my opinion, attacking those beliefs is something I am neither entitled nor expected to do. YMMV

    Just my opinion, but I could no more talk someone out of faith than they could talk me into it. I can present my views, but the convincing comes from within.

    Again I disagree. Someone could talk me into faith, if they could present adequate evidence. And if convictions come solely from within, no ammount of advertising, political campaigning, or discussion among peers could ever change your position. Maybe it is true for you, but from what I see, I am certainly not immune to outside influence, nor are most people I’ve dealt with in my adult life.

  47. carbonbasedlifeform says

    #18 aaronbaker

    Which reminds me that I saw a fundamentalist on the 700 Club years ago who described the soul-destroying encounters with modern culture that he endured in college, and mentioned Dostoyevsky as an example–not realizing apparently that Dostoyevsky was a Christian.

    I would direct such a person to the Parable of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov.

  48. hypatiasdaughter says

    #11 michaelpowers
    Yes, xtians like to talk of persecution. But most persecution, except perhaps at xtianity’s earliest beginnings, has been at the hands of other xtians,, not atheists and non-xtians.

    I think “point & laugh” at god beliefs might backfire. They expect persecution from the godless satan-worshipers and it merely reinforces their faith.
    But I think “pointing & laughing” at their corollary beliefs and the idjits who promote them makes them uncertain and embarrassed about their ignorance. They might start thinking that maybe, just maybe, what they have been told by their dear leaders is a lie???
    Ken Ham talks about fire breathing dinosaurs? The Earth is only 6,000 years old! Tell them “You cannot really believe such nonsense!”. Laugh at it. Laugh at Ham.

    “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” 42
    “Can God create a rock so heavy he cannot lift it?” Not if it is over 42 kilos.

  49. abb3w says

    I’ll note, my personal favorite text on Set Theory is Jech’s, but it makes for a steep introduction. Anyone have suggestions on other titles? “Basic Set Theory” (ISBN 0821827316) looks slightly less painful….

    @15, aaronbaker:

    I get everything Koerth-Baker is saying, but I’m still puzzled: does anyone know why specifically they’re opposed to set theory? It seemed pretty innocuous to me the last time I dealt with it.

    My impression is that it’s because set theory is
    1) Modern
    2) Uncomfortably non-intuitive to someone raised on standard arithmetic
    3) VERY hard to argue against

    Additionally, at the meta-level, the modern form was developed to deal with some annoying paradoxes with theological counterparts — inconsistency of the set of all sets due to the set of all sets that do not contain themselves, versus the inconsistent nature of omnipotence and the question of whether God can create a rock he can’t lift (or alternately, create a catalog of all catalogs that don’t list themselves). It implies the ideas are ill-founded, internally inconsistent, and “false” from the outset.

    There’s also some pretty advanced implications which they have trouble comprehending — Turing’s computability, Gödel’s incompleteness, information theory and Kolmogorov complexity.

    It also allows easy spotting of key holes in some of the standard theological apologetic arguments, such as Pascal’s Wager (which is careless with multiplication of infinities by potential infinitesimals) and Anselm’s Ontological Argument (which neglects that the ordering relationship may not be a poset rather than a total ordering).

    @21, Stella:

    I’m very much a point and laugh type.

    I prefer trying to teach the basics of set theory (going from ZF to basic Von Neumann integers), to facilitate the size of the audience who gets the joke. I can’t really recommend that approach, though; it appears to require large ordinal patience.

    @41, stoferb:

    One would think that set theory vindicates theism from a theistic perspective. Not only are there different infinities, but an infinite number of different infinities. Therefore god is infinity times infinity which is incomprehensible and just as they like god to be. Problem solved.

    Actually, set theory indicates one has to be careful about adding or multiplying by infinities. The product of two infinities of the same cardinality is an infinity of the same cardinality, but the product of two infinite ordinals is a larger infinite ordinal.

    It’s quite comprehensible, provided you pay close attention, and follow the steps from the beginning. (This takes a while, particularly for some of the more advanced concepts of infinity. Wikipedia’s list of Large Cardinal Properties is kind of intimidating….)

    The differences in infinities also makes for some subtle theological headaches at the problem of induction; certain kinds of infinite deity preclude telling a hawk from a handsaw.

  50. ibelieveindog, the silent beagle says

    Manu of Deche @ 51

    Someone could talk me into faith, if they could present adequate evidence.

    Adequate evidence requires no faith.

    I’m sorry about your friend. I’m glad she has something to help her hold on to her sanity. I would never advocate attacking her main source of self-support, and I’d probably give a huge smack-down to anyone who would.

    If, however, her faith were to disappear, it would be the result of an internal process; no other person would be responsible for that.

    I never believed in any gods; I never had to deconvert, so maybe I’m not getting it. I’m open to reading more if I’m getting this wrong.

  51. truthspeaker says

    Manu of Deche
    12 August 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Yet I (would) make one exception: If you are dealing with people that are close to you (family, friends), and you positively know that they need some sort of supernatural belief in justice, protection, or the afterlife, because they would otherwise probably crack under the weight of reality

    I’m not sure you could every positively know that.

  52. says

    Is this just a new attempt to plug another hole in the dike where the modernity is leaking through (seems like an odd one) or is just a crazy tangent these folks have engaged? After evolution and climate change I think there are a lot of other more logical candidates they could deny. Is it just another “it’s just a theory” attack which they figured their followers wouldn’t know the topic?

    Whether it is the constant dripping or the jack-hammer that eventually wears the stone doesn’t matter.

    Is this all it is? Reason is winning and so a bizarre attack because they’re now getting desperate and maybe actually have cause for paranoia (wouldn’t that be nice!)

  53. Manu of Deche says

    @ ibelieveindog #55

    Adequate evidence requires no faith.

    True. My wording was poor, but I guess you know what I meant.

    I’m sorry about your friend. I’m glad she has something to help her hold on to her sanity. I would never advocate attacking her main source of self-support, and I’d probably give a huge smack-down to anyone who would.

    If, however, her faith were to disappear, it would be the result of an internal process; no other person would be responsible for that.

    Let’s just reverse that: If a child (or an adult, doesn’t matter) starts to believe in religious nonsense, it comes solely from within? No other person(s) is responsible even in the slightest?

    I will agree with you that most decisions on that scale are finalized internally, but a lot of arguments for that specific conclusion can and do actually come from the outside. Besides, I think we can agree that some people are way more gullible than others. If your assumption held true, there would be no gullible people.

    I never believed in any gods; I never had to deconvert, so maybe I’m not getting it. I’m open to reading more if I’m getting this wrong.

    I don’t think you’re ‘getting this wrong’. It’s more of a talking at cross purposes situation.

    @truthspeaker #56
    True, I can never ever know that to a certainty of 100% (absolutely, positively). But I can be sure beyond reasonable doubt. And, and that’s most important to me, I’d rather err on the side of caution in such a case. I’d rather let someone (close to me) believe in supernatural nonsense and tolerate it, than attack their beliefs and collapse their worldview simply because I felt superior.
    My friend is in psychological counseling. If professionals deem the risk admissable, they should act accordingly (and repair/alleviate possible damage). If I did it and said friend would have a breakdown, I simply would have harmed another human being with no discernible benefit to either of us.

  54. txpiper says

    Manu of Deche,

    I thought about contending with you on a point or two, faith in particular. But you’re a thoughtful, contemplative person…pleasant reading.

  55. says

    This brings to mind a time in high school when I had a friend listen to a rather innocuous, g-rated song on my headphones. She listened for five seconds, then shrieked “is this secular music!?” And ripped the headphones off. Ah, homeschoolers…we were an odd bunch…none of us dealt well with incursions into our gawd-bubble.