Evolving Thoughts

Sunday sermon: on cultural isolation

Okay, so the Eighth Day Inventism calendar as rolled around to coincide our Holy day with one of yours. We Inventists are open minded people and often try to reach out to you heathen irreligious puppy grinding moral monsters. Because that’s what you are, you know, if you don’t exactly believe and do what we Inventists do.

So to try to save you from your moral malaise of happy lives and families, meaningless rituals that you perform on turkeys several times a year, and other abominations that you make more or less simultaneous with the summer solstice (did I mention that Inventists use God’s calendar, which is based on the holy giant pineapple at Nambour, Queensland? It’s in the Holy Manual), I will privilege you with this sermon.

You apostates seem to think that the truth lies in whatever crap you all happen to believe. Merely because you were raised in an infidel faith, or came to it because somebody offered you a community that paid them ten percent of your income, doesn’t make your particular heresy true.

For instance, take this spittle-flecked rant by Grant Swank, whose sole qualification is that he has been married for 43 years and has two divinity degrees.The world is crazy, he says. Why? Because evolution is a crock with big holes in it. He knows this, you see, because he can’t understand evolution, and so he thinks that because he has to hold silly things on faith, other people must hold on faith things he thinks are silly. He has two divinity degrees, you see. So he doesn’t need to know anything about evolution to know that it has big holes in it. It does, because he says so.

[Contrast this with the pure rationality of Eighth Day Inventism, which has no leaps of faith in it. For a mere $25,000 I can show you how it follows logically from true premises we can all observe. Email me with your bank account details.]

Swank thinks that logical postulates determine how the world must behave, and so he invents a few that he says he was taught in school (bullshit, I say. Anyone who says that schools teach you cannot get the greater from the smaller is either a student of Greek philosophy or lying). He thinks that merely because the entire world of biologists who actually study biology think evolution is true, that this is just because they got together in a “clique”. I must have missed that meeting of the International Communist Illuminati Committee, and they never sent me the minutes, neither.

“It takes”, says the pastor, “as much faith to believe in evolution as it does in angels and demons and an invisible God. It takes as much faith to believe in Darwin’s spin as it does to believe that Jesus fed thousands with a kid’s lunch.” Well thank you for at least noting that your own faith is an unsupported leap. But somehow I doubt that observations of real organisms in populations and their genetic, ecological and developmental dynamics is on a par with angels and demons and an invisible God. But never let it be said that the pastor thinks observations trump dogma. As Groucho Chico said, “Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes?” Unfortunately, In America and the fundamentalisms it has exported to the rest of the world, the answer is not obvious.

Why? In what possible way could empirical experience not trump the personal claims of know-nothing individuals like Swank? The answer to that question goes a long way to explaining religions (other than the Inventist Church, which is empirically adequate. Send $50 by mail and I will send you the Truth by return mail. Bear with the Mongolian Mail Service – it’s cheap by not that reliable. If you haven’t received your Copy of the Holy Manual by July 2009, drop me a note.).

Back in the 70s, a philosopher of science, Stephen Toulmin published one volume of what was to be a series on Human Understanding. In it, he treated the evolution of culture as an identical process to that of biological evolution. Well, sort of identical – obviously there is no intellectual “sex”, and there are other disanalogies. But the interesting thing was that the analogue of “species” in Toulmin’s book is “traditions”.

The thing about traditions is that in most instances there is no need for a tradition to be sensible. In fact, being unsensible is a way to ensure that the tradition remains “reproductively isolated” from other traditions. Nobody outside the rabbinic tradition would spend a lifetime studying the Mishnah, and those who do find no need to study other traditions. So holding crazy beliefs ensures that those inside the tradition tend to not talk much to those outside it. Of course, religions range from the open and secular to the insular and cultish, examples of the latter being the Exclusive Brethren, or the Amish. As a friend said once, the reason some people believe silly shit is that it stops them getting information from those who don’t.

Which segues nicely back to our lunatic at RenewAmerica. He isn’t going to have his mind changed by information or education. He’s too invested in his faith tradition to want to do that. But he has to make science out to be a religion if he wants to promote his own faith, because on empirical grounds, he simply cannot compete. As Darwin once noted, in his Autobiography,

Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality. I suppose it was the novelty of the argument that amused them. But I had gradually come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament; from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow as a sign, etc., etc., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian.

Of course this sort of thinking has to be attacked by the religious, because if you start to apply critical thinking to your tradition this way, what is left?

Well now, that is an interesting question in itself. Many religious traditions do in fact try to engage with the empirical world, while at the same time trying to retain some core set of beliefs. It remains to be seen how successful that will be, as they evolve to adapt to their cultural environment. Assuming that the other kind doesn’t result in the extinguishing of science itself, either current religion will evaporate in favour of novel religions, or, as Swank and the entire Religious Right in America seems to want, it will reject science as unhelpful and slowly fade into a kind of village fundamentalism like the Talibanate. Either way, things will be interesting.

But just in case you want to have a religion that is completely unchallenged by science, send a stamped self-addressed envelope together with a $100 (US) check made out to “Cash” to me, and I will send you a fifty-six part series on Eighth Day Inventism, the only faith that is guaranteed to be 100% compatible with reality. Enjoy your pagan festivals and sacrificial birds.

Ayup.

Comments

  1. #1 HP
    December 22, 2007

    This seems as good a place to ask a question I’ve been wanting to ask of a philosopher: What’s the difference between believing something and wanting to believe something?

    That is, when I listen to the belief claims of people like Pastor Swank, what I hear is, “This is what I want to believe, and it’s also what I want you to think I believe.” And I suppose we could define belief to be precisely this. But it seems to me that there is a whole ‘nother kind of belief, often unspoken and unquestioned, that we can only really see when it goes wrong.

    This seems to me to be a philosophical line of inquiry, but not one I’ve run across when grazing on philosophy. If I want to learn more, what are some keywords and names to look up?

  2. #2 John Pieret
    December 22, 2007

    Either way, things will be interesting.

    As in, “May you live in interesting times!” followed by spitting?

    Is the eight day added to the weekend or are there six week days? The answer has a lot to do with whether I’ll join or not.

  3. #3 John S. Wilkins
    December 22, 2007

    The Eighth Day is not added to the weekend, you heathens removed it. For is it not said in the Manual: On Sunday thou art only just getting relaxed” [Bricolage 2:345]

  4. #4 John S. Wilkins
    December 22, 2007

    HP, there’s a slew of stuff on belief in philosophy. Typically it means that one has a “doxastic attitude” towards a particular topic, which is fancy speak for “opinion”.

    But if anywhere, I would point you at Wittgenstein’s On Certainty (▄ber Gewi▀heit), which has my favorite line in all philosophy: “When two principles really do meet which cannot be reconciled, then each man calls the other a fool and a heretic”.

  5. #5 Ian H Spedding FCD
    December 23, 2007

    Why are you wasting your time looking for penny-ante jobs in academia? Come to the States and set up a Church of Eighth Day Inventism. That’s where the big money is. Hell, you’re a lot smarter than Smith or Hubbard and you write better. How can you lose?

  6. #6 Bob O'H
    December 23, 2007

    Ayup.

    What? Is Eighth Day Inventism a heretical offshoot of Ecky-Thumpism?

    Tha’s in trouble now…

  7. #7 Thony C.
    December 23, 2007

    When I was in school, we were taught that one of the fundamental postulates is that one cannot get the greater from the smaller. Yet that is what evolution is all about – greater from the smaller.

    I think this is one of the most beautiful examples of foot in mouth disease that I have read all year.

    Mr Swank when I went to school we learnt that 2+2=4, we also learnt that two is smaller than four and four is greater than two. So it seems that you can the greater from the smaller!

  8. #8 etbnc
    December 23, 2007

    HP, another key word to use as a starting point in searching for clues would be, “psychology”.

    Cheers, er, um, ayup

  9. #9 Chris' Wills
    December 23, 2007

    “Eight days a week”

    There was a popular beat combo from Liverpool in the 60s/70s who sang about it, where they adherents?

  10. #10 Brian English
    December 23, 2007

    Is eight day inventism in full communion with the secret tortellini sect who worship the noodly one? If not, I shall declare a fettucini on your unbelieving butt.
    Have a great festival of SOL INVICTVS all.

  11. #11 John S. Wilkins
    December 23, 2007

    There was a popular beat combo from Liverpool in the 60s/70s who sang about it, where they adherents?

    Adherents? They were prophets! All hail The Blessed John, PBUH.

  12. #12 TomS
    December 23, 2007

    “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

    Is a line from Chico Marx (not Groucho), in Duck Soup.

  13. #13 Russell Seitz
    December 23, 2007

    “no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian.”

    How very thoughtful and Christian of Darwin to volunteer a dust jacket blurb for Dinesh D’Sousza’s latest book !

  14. #14 Gerard Harbison
    December 23, 2007

    @HP
    check out Dennett’s ‘Breaking the Spell’, where he notes most religions are about ‘belief in belief’ rather than just belief’, per se.

  15. #15 wrpd
    December 23, 2007

    I am the leader of the Seven-Day Adventurists. My followers refer to me as “Your Hinee.”

  16. #16 John S. Wilkins
    December 23, 2007

    Eighth Day Inventism has no leaders. All are equally close to the teachings as contained in a handy set of reference that I can provide for only $49.95 month plus postage and handling.

  17. #17 Scott Hatfield, OM
    December 23, 2007

    Just out of curiousity, was Horace Judson the original Eighth Day Inventist?

  18. #18 Lifewish
    December 23, 2007

    On Sunday thou art only just getting relaxed

    Amen brother! My cheque is in the post.

  19. #19 Ginger Yellow
    December 23, 2007
  20. #20 Zeno
    December 23, 2007

    I humbly beseech you in the spirit of the coincident holy seasons to focus on those precious things you share in common rather than on those that divide you! If you think about it, you’ll realize that Pastor Swank is just as willing as you are to take $25,000 love offerings from sincere seekers. (“Seekers”? Yes, I think that’s how it’s spelled. At least, it sounds something like that. Sorry. English is not my first language.)

  21. #21 John S. Wilkins
    December 23, 2007

    Alas, what we fail to share is the destination for the cheques.

  22. #22 Sophist, FCD
    December 23, 2007

    When I was in school, we were taught that one of the fundamental postulates is that one cannot get the greater from the smaller. Yet that is what evolution is all about — greater from the smaller. Now that’s a crock.

    You think oaks come from acorns? Are you insane? Acorns are less than an inch across, and oaks can be 100 feet tall, and as everyone knows you cannot get the greater from the smaller. The very idea is preposterous nonsense to which only a buffoon would give credence!

    They all get in their clique and stroke one another with this Alice from Wonderland fancy that we all came from a speck.

    No. Just…no.

  23. #23 jeff
    December 23, 2007

    Believe it or not, I was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist. Ellen G. White is turning in her grave. But when you think about it, God never really did say what he did on the Eighth day, did he?

  24. #24 tsig
    December 23, 2007

    John and the rest were prophets. John succummed to the wiles of the Evil One in the guise of a Woman an lost his Shield of Truth so he was struck down by a cabal of buisessmen who could not stand the thought of eight days a week.

    Flawed though he was he told us the Truth.

    Bow your heads and join in song.

  25. #25 John S. Wilkins
    December 24, 2007

    From The Travails of John in the Holy Manual:

    I’m sick and tired of hearing things
    From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics
    All I want is the truth
    Just gimme some truth
    I’ve had enough of reading things
    By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
    All I want is the truth
    Just gimme some truth

    No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
    Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
    With just a pocketful of hope
    Money for dope
    Money for rope

    No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
    Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
    With just a pocketful of soap
    Money for dope
    Money for rope

    I’m sick to death of seeing things
    From tight-lipped, condescending, mama’s little chauvinists
    All I want is the truth
    Just gimme some truth now

    I’ve had enough of watching scenes
    Of schizophrenic, ego-centric, paranoiac, prima-donnas
    All I want is the truth now
    Just gimme some truth

    No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
    Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
    With just a pocketful of soap
    Its money for dope
    Money for rope

    Ah, I’m sick and tired of hearing things
    From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites
    All I want is the truth now
    Just gimme some truth now

    I’ve had enough of reading things
    By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
    All I want is the truth now
    Just gimme some truth now

    All I want is the truth now
    Just gimme some truth now
    All I want is the truth
    Just gimme some truth
    All I want is the truth
    Just gimme some truth

  26. #26 Ian H Spedding FCD
    December 24, 2007

    Hallelujah, brother!!

  27. #27 Ian H Spedding FCD
    December 24, 2007

    jeff wrote:

    Believe it or not, I was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist. Ellen G. White is turning in her grave. But when you think about it, God never really did say what he did on the Eighth day, did he?

    Nope, He just created That Monday Morning Feeling which has been a curse and affliction on Mankind ever since.

  28. #28 tsig
    December 24, 2007

    Truly I can break into some gutbusting gift giving now.

  29. #29 Niobe
    December 24, 2007

    If you market this correctly, this could be a great hit in hollywood. Imagine all those LA women calculating their age in 8 day weeks!

  30. #30 Chris' Wills
    December 24, 2007

    Nope, He just created That Monday Morning Feeling which has been a curse and affliction on Mankind ever since.
    Posted by: Ian H Spedding FCD

    Ian, the eighth day was stolen from us.
    It was the the day for staying late in bed and then strolling slowly down to the pub (which is what God blessit did). Sunday for recovering from Friday & Saturday and Octarina for relaxing fully :o)

  31. #31 Donnie B.
    December 24, 2007

    >>(“Seekers”? Yes, I think that’s how it’s spelled. At least, it sounds something like that. Sorry. English is not my first language.)

    I believe the spelling you’re looking for is “suckers”. ;-)

  32. #32 Ian H Spedding FCD
    December 24, 2007

    Chris’ Wills wrote:

    Ian, the eighth day was stolen from us.
    It was the the day for staying late in bed and then strolling slowly down to the pub (which is what God blessit did). Sunday for recovering from Friday & Saturday and Octarina for relaxing fully :o)

    Damned Puritan work-ethic! We should re-dedicate Monday as Celestial Siesta Day.

    Merry Xmas one and all!

  33. #33 Susan Silberstein
    December 26, 2007

    His Swankiness is sure he did not come from “an ameba”. Based on his puerile slime drippings, I have to say that his brain surely contains no more than just a few measly cells.

  34. #34 Margaret
    January 2, 2008

    They all get in their clique and stroke one another with this Alice from Wonderland fancy that we all came from a speck.

    Actually, I think I came from two specks: one egg and one sperm. They’re the ones with the fancy about virgin birth, not me.

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