Effect Measure

Since it’s a lazy summer weekend (the first of the summer, astronomically speaking — that is, if you believe the earth goes around the sun), I was lazily contemplating some of the dumbass things said about one of my sciblings, PZ Myers, by another one of my sciblings, Matt Nisbet. The clip Matt embedded is no longer available (taken down at the insistence of the copyright holder; if it’s so bad for the pro-science side, why did they take it down?), but it seems to be the infamous “religion is like knitting” clip. Since that clip is still up on YouTube, here it is again, in case you missed it the first time:

Despite the accusations that the makers of Expelled — Ben Stein’s ludicrous attempt to breathe some life into the corpse of creationism — quote mined an interview with PZ for maximum outrageousness, it’s hard for me to see what’s at all outrageous about comparing religion to knitting. I won’t bother to point out hardly anyone has been killed over knitting philosophies. That’s way too easy and it implies knitting has the better of religion. Instead, I’ll not only agree with PZ (sorry Matt), but say why I think the comparison is particularly apt. Others have [probably] done this already, but that’s why I noted it was a lazy summer weekend. I was too lazy to find out.

So in the spirit of summer laziness, here’s what I like about the knitting analogy: it suggests the conditions under which religion would be relatively harmless, maybe even useful. Knitting is a private, or at least personal avocation. Knitters don’t want everyone else to be a knitter. They are satisfied to knit on their own or with other people who like to knit. A knitting club. It’s social. Knitting is a way for many people to relieve tension, or, when times are tough, to occupy themselves. For these people, knitting is comforting. If you’ve ever seen the products of really good knitters, it can also be creative, so knitting is a source of creative inspiration. Knitting is socially acceptable. It doesn’t set a knitter apart from their non-knitting fellow citizens. Whether you are a knitter or not isn’t a matter of personal worth. It is assumed that knitters are just as good people as non-knitters.

In short, knitting is unobjectionable because it is kept personal, it is not the source of invidious distinctions, it can be fun and lead to pleasant social interactions, it is a comfort for many people, and is a source of creativity and even inspiration. If religion were like knitting, I wouldn’t object to it.

But religion isn’t satisfied to be like knitting. It’s even outraged to be compared to knitting. Religion takes its knitting needles and uses them as weapons, not to knit with in private but to attack others in public. So while religion isn’t really like knitting, I agree with PZ. If it can attain the Revelation of Knittingness, there might be hope for it.

Comments

  1. #2 decrepitoldfool
    June 22, 2008

    But religion isn’t satisfied to be like knitting. It’s even outraged to be compared to knitting.

    Absolutely right. Knitting is regarded as nice but personal, social, and harmless. Christianity makes claims to be disruptive and global and all-encompassing. Anyone who knows evangelicals would tell you they’d not be thrilled by the comparison.

    The real reason? They’re jealous. Religion could only wish to be as useful as knitting. Has anyone ever prayed up a comfy sweater or hat? I don’t think so.

  2. #3 Pierce R. Butler
    June 22, 2008

    Knitting requires skill.

  3. #4 dubiquiabs
    June 22, 2008

    Nisbet for Pope!
    Might solve two problems.

  4. #5 Lea
    June 22, 2008

    Heard on NPR radio a day or two ago that China is becoming concerned over the rapid growth of Christianity in their country.

  5. #6 Crudely Wrott
    June 22, 2008

    People used to frequently say, “Tend to your own knitting” as an admonishment to those who paid more attention to the problems of others than they did to their own.

    Good advice.

    Unless someone insists on making the attendant problems of their personal dogma an influential part of legislation at any level of government. Why is this clear and concise distinction lost on so many who cry so loudly while suffering so little?

    Must be because they “. . . just believe . . .” Synonyms of “just” include, but are not limited to, “only”, “merely” and “simply”. Some degree of intentionality is certainly involved whenever giving credence to the incredible. This seems to fit my definition of “willful ignorance”.

  6. #7 victoria
    June 22, 2008

    You’re right Revere, this dumbass and just plain juvenile and silly.

  7. #8 victoria
    June 22, 2008

    Sorry should read this IS dumbass

  8. #9 caia
    June 22, 2008

    My only quibble with what he said is that I have little desire to tell anyone how much importance their religion should have for them as individuals, assuming they are under no coercion and have a full range of options open to them.

    If people make a free choice to live every minute of their lives according to a religious understanding, that’s ok with me. I’ve read Buddhist texts that deal with the proper way to cook (mindfully, respectfully, and thankfully, no matter the quality or amount of the ingredients), for example, that probably provide a sense of peace for those who can follow them.

    I just want it to be understood that no one else’s religion need have any importance at all to me or anyone else who would rather not participate in it.

  9. #10 Chris
    June 23, 2008

    Wow – this article shows me how much science is like religion rather than knitting. Consider this small variation:

    “So in the spirit of summer laziness, here’s what I like about the knitting analogy: it suggests the conditions under which science would be relatively harmless, maybe even useful.”

    And this:

    “But science isn’t satisfied to be like knitting. It’s even outraged to be compared to knitting. Science takes its knitting needles and uses them as weapons, not to knit with in private but to attack others in public.”

    I suspect that for many of the writers on this blog, science is their religion. After all, science is a matter of faith – if you believe in double slit diffraction, but you’ve never done the experiment, you’ve taken it on faith. If you believe the accelerating expansion of the universe requires dark matter, you’ve taken the inverse square law of gravitation on faith. And the existence of “Public health scientists” proves science isn’t a private, personal avocation. Given the syphilis experiments on negro men, the medical experiments on German concentration camp inmates, the Japanese biowarfare experiments in China, and the US military release of a “harmless” virus off of San Fransisco in the 1960s that killed a dozen or so old people, science is hardly harmless. One could argue that the editor’s choice of “Revere” could equally be “Mengele.”

    Perhaps I’m too harsh. Science has done a lot of good too, in the world. So has religion. Despite the harm done in its name, charity, hospitals, equality of women and men, etc. are all ideas championed by religion. Even the creation of academia is a spin-off from religion.

  10. #11 revere
    June 23, 2008

    Chris: I don’t buy it. Science subjects its evidence to public scrutiny. It doesn’t require faith, even if we do not ask for personal experience for everything (similarly, the scholarly practice of history doesn’t require having lived and observed things in the time of George Washington, but it does require things historians use as evidence and logical forms of argument from it; this doesn’t make historiography like religion). Your construction makes everything like religion, which, if you would like to talk that way is fine but it is both a private language and also makes any distinctions meaningless and not interesting to talk about. It also makes religion the same as science. Conversation over, right?

  11. #12 Susan Och
    June 23, 2008

    Knitters don’t want to convert others to knitting? Didn’t you know June 14th was World Wide Knit In Public Day?

    Knitters are harmless? What about Madame Defarge?

  12. #13 Chris
    June 23, 2008

    Revere: The conversation is almost over. The post implies that today’s religious practitioner inherits the moral guilt of past generations – Christians are responsible for the Inquisition, for example. If so, then today’s scientist inherits the moral guilt of all who have ever done evil for science. The article’s great flaw is that it generalizes – it states “Religion takes its knitting needles and uses them as weapons, not to knit with in private but to attack others in public.” While some of my faith may do so, it is not required by it. Those who do so fail personally, but it is not a collective failing. I observe that generalizing about science, or freethinking, is equally fallacious. It is intellectually flawed. Conversation over -

  13. #14 revere
    June 23, 2008

    Chris: I hope the post doesn’t imply what you say. I don’t think it does. In fact my view there is that if today’s relgious would be more like today’s knitters, it would be fine with me. There is no original sin. Just today’s deeds. But look at today’s deeds.

  14. #15 NM
    June 23, 2008

    Religion is not like knitting. At least not in the aviation industry.

    Religious people do not get their implements of religion taken away from them even though they are demonstrably dangerous people on planes.

    Knitters do get their implements of knitting taken away from them even though they are not demonstrably dangerous people on planes.

  15. #16 James M Tom
    June 23, 2008

    Talking of faith, I would like to mention two on my heroes today.

    My first HERO is George Carlin.

    I believe that during the last 50 years or so, no one understood God, life and every thing, as did George Carlin, one the very best of us.

    He was honest enough to say that our constitution was created by a group of slave owners, who told us with a straight face, that all men were created equal.

    Of course, now we have Neo-Blacks who pretend to share the racial pain of millions who were actually enslaved, that is, taken from their homes in Africa and made in to creatures no better than live stock.

    For more than 200 years, the blacks in the USA suffered in a way that is hard to describe to those, who are not part of our race.

    Yes, my dear Victoria, for your information, my great, great, grandfather was one of of those slaves taken from their homes in Africa and brought over to the USA as some thing less than a human being.

    I have often fantasized that my great great grand father was the original Kunta Kinte:)

    Never the less, Victoria, I can understand your confusion from reading my posts!

    But then, just cause I am black, does not mean that I can stand by and let my race be taken in by a phony medicine man like OBAMA, promising to cure all that troubles us, when he has no IDEA of what it is like to be one of us, by constantly repeating a single word.

    A single word, that seems to have made all the blacks in the USA fall under the fast talking spell.

    But then, that is life and if America could survive Nixon and Carter, then our great nation will also survive the 4 years of the phony medicine man.

    As I said, today I would like to mention two of my HEROS.
    One of them as you may have guessed from the above, was George Carlin.

    (I know, he was not black Victoria. There ARE a few good white folks out there you know and some of us do get to like them Victoria)

    Today at the end of his life, I include a quote from George Carlin about life and death at the end of this post.

    The other HERO of mine is Nelson Mandela.

    We are celebrating his 90the birthday in London, where I am at this time.

    I would like to briefly tell you that I was one of the many who fought for him, when he was in prison by protesting all over the place, back when it was not safe to do so.

    Today however, as a black man, I say SHAME ON YOU MANDELA, for your silence on Zimbabwe and what Mugabe has done to that once great country.

    Shame on you MANDELA, for taking the position of the Godfather of the African freedom movement and then not saying a SINGLE word about what is going on in that wretched country.

    I say shame on you MANDELA, with a heavy heart, as I was one of those who put their entire careers on line, by getting photographed by the British authorities in Trafalgar Square as potential troublemakers, when you were in prison.

    May be you would have the decency of mentioning that tortured country and the misery caused for that country by the non-white (but equally bad as any colonial leaches) person during your speech at your birthday celebrations.

    If not, then SHAME ON YOU MANDELA, for then I did make a big mistake by supporting you when I did.

    Now about my other HERO, here is some thing about LIFE and DEATH from George Carlin:

    The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! Whats that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when youre too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you are young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating ´┐Żand you finish off as an orgasm.

    George Carlin

  16. #17 Magpie
    June 24, 2008

    Every time I encounter Nisbet’s stuff, every single time, I’m struck by what a bloody awful communicator he is. He seems like a nice feller, and smart too. But he can’t “frame” to save his life. Every time his fingers waggle on the keyboard what he says is either ignored by, or offensive to, the people he’s trying to reach. Honestly, could you make a post more likely to annoy the “vocal” atheists if you tried?

    I mean, FFS – his three points of dreaded new-atheist “unscientific” dogma:

    A) Learning about science makes you an atheist, it “kills off” religious faith.

    B) If we boost science literacy in society, it will lead to erosion of religion, as religion fades away, we will get more and more science, and less and less religion.

    C) Religion is a fairy tale, similar to hobgoblins, a fantasy, and even evil.

    …ARE backed up by science.

    A)There is a correlation between education level and lack of religious belief. This is easily measured, and has been, multiple times.

    B) Point B is just a train wreck. The first half is just a restatement of point A. Most of it boils down to, uh, “as we get more science and less religion, then we’ll have more science and less religion!” Oh the COMMUNICATION! The tiny nugget of point is the only bit possibly unsupported by science: that less religion will mean more science – though I think you could argue that at least some of the “god did it” crowd would be inspired to test if they could be convinced it was worthwhile. And in any case, I’m not sure PZ and Dawkins have ever said anything of the kind.

    C) Religion IS (from a scientific point of view) a fairy tale – it’s just as untestable as a “sufficiently innoculated” hobgoblin.

    Silly fellow.

    …and is it me, or is the photo caption at the bottom just a little pathetic? (It’s: Dawkins and Myers: It’s Time to Let Others Be the Spokespeople for Science – his bold). “If only those handsome devils were out of the picture, people would listen to me! Listen to me! LOOK AT ME! I’M A COMMUNICATOR!”

    I really don’t want to be mean – I wasn’t lying when I said that he seems like a nice guy, and he’s probably smarter than me – but he just needs to stop chasing this white whale of his. Just… drop it. Go do something else. If they really are doing damage to “the cause”, recognise that you can’t stop them, and just go and work harder at the stuff you do well.

  17. #18 revere
    June 24, 2008

    James: Two people worthy to be heroes but you seem to have a serious case of hero worship. When they don’t meet your strict standards you pull the idol down. You want purity? That’s what religion gives you. The real world is messier.

    I’ve also taken my lumps. I’ve been beaten by police and jailed protesting things that Obama rolls over on. He is weak on some issues very important to me. But for me — since I don’t live in London but the US — the choice is between Obama and McCain and that isn’t a choice. McCain really is business as usual, including the old rhetoric. The rhetoric of Obama will be an important change in climate where I live.

    Magpie: I agree with you. Matt’s lack of framing ability isn’t that unusual. George Lakoff, whom I know, is also a lousy framer. He’s very smart about the theory, but he is an abysmal failure in the practice. Those who can, do? Those who can’t, teach?

  18. #19 paiwan
    June 25, 2008

    Chris says: “Even the creation of academia is a spin-off from religion.”
    ———————————————————

    No doubt, religion has been the foundation of civilized society so far; her nature has been the pioneer to lead ahead. Democracy, science, etc are the products of religion, especially from Judeo-Christian legacy.

    Can scientism replace the position of religion to lead the civilized society ahead?

    The knitting metaphor is one of the great examples to witness the dis-qualification of science to fulfill this role; instead, it has distorted the integrity of religion. Scientism is as worse as fundamentalism; fundamentalism tries to establish quasi-science, and scientism tries to establish quasi-religion. Both of them are the most harmful movements to 21st century.

    It is obvious to me this thread is one of the worst ones, because of its theme apparently is scientism.

    Revere, you should promote science, not scientism. A big mistake.

  19. #20 revere
    June 25, 2008

    palwan: Do you have any foundation (other than you want it to be so) that “No doubt, religion has been the foundation of civilized society so far”? Why pick religion? How about art? music? rationality? evil? kindness? The underlying assumption is that there is something that all religions have in common (its integrtiy?) and that it is the basis of all “civilized society”. Highly doubtful, possibly meaningless and definitely not thought out or at least not spelled out, if indeed it is possible to spell it out without appealing to some mystical inner knowledge which cannot be shared (which I doubt).

  20. #21 Chris
    June 25, 2008

    James, don’t be so hard on Nelson Mandela. He is 90 years old. Perhaps he has become senile, or is simply tired. None of that can take away from what he did – he recognized the evil of his day, in his corner of the world, and he fought against it at great personal cost. He overcame it, to a large degree, though we have yet to see what the final outcome will be.

  21. #22 James M Tom
    June 25, 2008

    I am afraid that is not correct Chris.

    It is not that Mandela has become “senile”.

    He is sharp as ever. His deafening silence was a shield for the political leaders of South Africa.

    A shameful silence, in the face of the officially sanctioned acts of torture, rape, murder and countrywide mass starvation of millions of people in Zimbabwe over the years.

    To put it simply, Mandela gave up on his principals, for political convenience.

    Shortly after taking tea with the Queen, at the Buckingham Palace in London today, Nelson Mandela finally spoke up against Mugabe.

    I suppose it is a case of better late than never.

    However, millions of innocent human beings died while Mandela was considering the possibility of denouncing Mugabe.

    So, in my view and that of many others, who had worked hard for the cause of removing the curse of apartheid from South Africa and to free Mandela, the “Father of African Freedom” as Mandela is now known, must take responsibility for all that suffering caused by his silence on this matter.

    REVERE, when the expectations are very high from some one who we believe to be greater than normal human beings, then the let down resulting from finding out that this Great man gave in to normal run of the mill political spin, can be a terrible experience.

    For example a close friend of mine from LA, who is a BIG supporter of the Obama, the Democratic candidate, was devastated to hear that Obama broke his word re the public funding.

    According to my friend, the Obama pledge for the public funding of the election (made by raising his hand in front of millions of Americans) was the first big CHANGE that she had believed that Obama would bring in.

    She is an honest person and had really believed in the honesty and the integrity of her hero and could not believe that Obama would go back on his word, just because of money.

    I suppose she really thought that Obama was above all that.

    To put it simply, Obama gave up on his declared principal, for political convenience.

    She is now totally devastated by the breaking of this important promise by her hero and according to her mother, in “a real bad shape”.

    You see Revere, the falling of a hero in the eyes of a follower can be a painful experience.

    Unless of course, the followers are able to deceive themselves in to justifying any thing that their hero does, by coming up with explanations that are not even really believed by those who come up with them.

    Know any one like that revere? :)

  22. #23 James M Tom
    June 25, 2008

    I am afraid that is not correct Chris.

    It is not that Mandela has become “senile”.

    He is sharp as ever. His deafening silence was a shield for the political leaders of South Africa.

    A shameful silence, in the face of the officially sanctioned acts of torture, rape, murder and countrywide mass starvation of millions of people in Zimbabwe over the years.

    To put it simply, Mandela gave up on his principals, for political convenience.

    Shortly after taking tea with the Queen, at the Buckingham Palace in London today, Nelson Mandela finally spoke up against Mugabe.

    I suppose it is a case of better late than never.

    However, millions of innocent human beings died while Mandela was considering the possibility of denouncing Mugabe.

    So, in my view and that of many others, who had worked hard for the cause of removing the curse of apartheid from South Africa and to free Mandela, the “Father of African Freedom” as Mandela is now known, must take responsibility for all that suffering caused by his silence on this matter.

    REVERE, when the expectations are very high from some one who we believe to be greater than normal human beings, then the let down resulting from finding out that this Great man gave in to normal run of the mill political spin, can be a terrible experience.

    For example a close friend of mine from LA, who is a BIG supporter of the Obama, the Democratic candidate, was devastated to hear that Obama broke his word re the public funding.

    According to my friend, the Obama pledge for the public funding of the election (made by raising his hand in front of millions of Americans) was the first big CHANGE that she had believed that Obama would bring in.

    She is an honest person and had really believed in the honesty and the integrity of her hero and could not believe that Obama would go back on his word, just because of money.

    I suppose she really thought that Obama was above all that.

    To put it simply, Obama gave up on his declared principal, for political convenience.

    She is now totally devastated by the breaking of this important promise by her hero and according to her mother, in “a real bad shape”.

    You see Revere, the falling of a hero in the eyes of a follower can be a painful experience.

    Unless of course, the followers are able to deceive themselves in to justifying any thing that their hero does, by coming up with explanations that are not even really believed by those who come up with them.

    Know any one like that revere? :)

  23. #25 Barry Pearson
    June 30, 2008

    I have a web page “Religions are hobbies”.
    http://www.barrypearson.co.uk/articles/gods/hobby.htm

    “This page proposes roles and rules for religions in society to allow us all to coexist without conflict. Hobbies can coexist. Religious practices are hobbies.”

    It qualifies the statement:

    “Believing that stamps exist isn’t a hobby. Hobbies involve activities, such as “stamp collecting”.

    “Believing that a god exists isn’t a hobby. Religious practices are hobbies. They are not yet in lists of hobbies, but no list of hobbies claims to be complete.”

  24. #26 Julian
    June 30, 2008

    How exactly would Obama have given back the half-a-billion dollars if he decided to take the public financing instead? I’ve heard plenty of people beat him, rightly, over the morality issue, but I’ve yet to hear a practical critique.

    Similarly, accepting public financing is a double-edged sword. Unless you have a legal and enforced guarantee that your opponent will be equally limited in spending, then you’re essentially not only hamstringing your campaign y setting a spending limit, you’re announcing that you’re doing so, making it very easy for a wily opponent to spend just enough more than you to keep you chasing them until, in the last month or two, you’re wiped and he/she’s still got a reams of greenbacks to flood the airwaves in those last crucial weeks and steamroller you among undecideds. That is stupid, and given that Obama just ran the smartest damn campaign of the last 20 years, perfecting trends that no one else in politics besides Ron Paul was even picking up on, running with the message and the approach that Dean SHOULD have run with back in 2008, outspending his shoe-in opponent in places of strategic necessity, goading her into spending matches in places of limited importance so she’d have less to spend when she needed it, actually speaking to his audience as if they were intelligent adults(which is the real reason people like him so much, not the ‘hope’ junk that those brain-dead, Kennedy-worshipping celebrities have latched on to) instead of just repeating the same condescending talking points of the last three decades, and being damn smart about how he controlled his image (that rally thing in Oregon was genius; getting everyone there for the band and then drowning out any mention of them in the media to create the illusion of huge crowds), I seriously doubt that he’d do something as tactically foolish as shoot himself in the foot right before the real fight starts.

    If you want to be pissed at Obama, be pissed at him for acquiescing to Clinton’s demand that he help her get back all that money of her’s she blew on her campaign with these recent fund-raising events, or his lack of any stated policy on how to deal with Russia’s growing belligerence in Eastern Europe, or his passing off on that despicable retroactive telecom immunity bill. This “phony black man” shtick is just getting ridiculous, particularly considering the amount of racist sentiment the Obama campaign has encountered in the East and West. It didn’t make any sense in January, and it makes even less now.

  25. #27 mandrellian
    June 30, 2008

    My late grandmother Emily was a warm, caring woman and a devout knitter her whole life. She was charitable and loving never hurt a soul or said a bad word about anyone (unless it was richly deserved). Knitting is a hobby of peace and love and unites its followers under a common banner of understanding and friendship.

  26. #28 eyesoars
    July 1, 2008

    Interesting…

    A suggestion that Christians and other religious cultists should practice their religion in private? You mean exactly like Jesus said?

    Heresy.

    /es

  27. #29 Jack McCullough
    July 1, 2008

    I think PZ is overlooking a crucial difference: you can get something useful out of knitting.

  28. #30 arensb
    July 1, 2008

    This is how I understood PZ’s comment as well, and I won’t pick knits. Thanks for these purls of wisdom.

  29. #31 revere
    July 1, 2008

    arensb: Yeah, the “pearl two” joke (as in pearls of wisdom) was a bit obscure but I’m glad you got it.

  30. #32 paiwan
    July 2, 2008

    “This is how I understood PZ’s comment as well, and I won’t pick knits. Thanks for these purls of wisdom.”

    Purls and pearls sound alike; nevertheless they may differ ten thousand miles. Here needs enlightenment,Revere.

    For religious people, to compare knitting to faith maybe is as offensive as comparing to marriage for some people. But it depends.

    Religion basically serves as a personal world view. I don’t like people’ world view is seeing life as a joke- lack of holiness in seeing other people’s life experiences. I don’t think that many wonderful couples in their 50th wedding anniversary are happy to receive the congrat. like hearing your marvelous knitting 50 years. Perhaps PZ will enjoy now I dont know, but will regret later when he has deeper life experiences.

    A public health stance to follow knitting is purls.

    Revere, you asked: “Do you have any foundation (other than you want it to be so) that “No doubt, religion has been the foundation of civilized society so far”? Why pick religion?”

    What I’ve meant is that Judeo-Christian specifically has founded the development of democracy and science. Without the tradition of biblical faith, our modern society would not be able to achieve what we have achieved today. True or false of the above statement is debatable. It is a question of fact. Another question is right or wrong of “Does civilized society have to well-develop democracy and science?” The latter one is a question of value judgment.

    As to comment on PZ’s tendency of scientism, can refer to the comments on Dawkin’s atheism from http://www.alistermcgrath.com/

    I just wonder why American science blog is following the promotion of scientism.