Pharyngula

You really must take a look at this video clip from an HBO special on American Christianity and specifically creationism.

I just got finished watching Alexandra Pelosi’s Friends of God documentary on HBO and was taken aback at what has become an increasing trend among American christianists. This particular part on evangelicals and evolution (and what they teach their children about the science of evolution) was very disturbing. The "secular progressive" War on Christmas has nothing on the evangelical War on Science.

It’s distressing stuff — especially the scenes with the poor kids being brainwashed by that despicable liar, Ken Ham — but seriously, it’s going on everywhere and has been for years. I just gave you a list of creaitionist activities going on here in the progressive, liberal state of Minnesota, and I can tell you that those people will sound exactly like the kooks in the video clip; don’t think creationism is only the domain of backwoods hicks in the South.

Have you looked in your backyard lately? I guarantee you that there is a church near you where Ken Ham and Kent Hovind and Duane Gish are quoted reverently.

The saddest part: there’s a kid in the video who says he wants to grow up to be a biochemist and work for the institute of creation science and win a Nobel. Nope. Never going to happen. He needs to take a long hard look at the status of the gomers who are telling him the Behemoth of the Bible is a dinosaur—they’re lying to him.

Comments

  1. #1 melior
    January 29, 2007

    With regard to creationism in our midst, did y’all see this this excerpt from a Bob Jones University-published 11th grade “Christian biology” textbook?

    Just, wow.

    (Sorry, it’s a snapshot from a Flash animation so the text isn’t cut-n-pastable.)

    Good on the UC system for drawing the line somewhere, I guess. But I agree with LG&M that it’s amazing they are allowed to certify any courses at all.

  2. #2 FishyFred
    January 29, 2007

    The saddest part: there’s a kid in the video who says he wants to grow up to be a biochemist and work for the institute of creation science and win a Nobel.

    If he goes to the right bible college, he might get to the ICR.

    I sometimes wonder what kids like him go through when they get to college (assuming it’s a real institute of higher learning) to study biology. How many maintain their faith in the face of the evidence? How many realize that they’ve been had? Does anyone on this blog know people who came into college like that?

  3. #3 FishyFred
    January 29, 2007

    I forgot one of the tolerable categories of creationist bio students: How many do the work to fully understand the theory of evolution and THEN set out to debunk it?

  4. #4 DaveG
    January 29, 2007

    I would love to smash Ken Ham and that other guy over the head with a heavy metal pole and give them severe brain damage. Unfortunately there’s no way to reason with them or reeducate them, we might as well take their preexisting brain damage up a level or two.

  5. #5 Tony P
    January 29, 2007

    I too caught this little gem on HBO. Check out my blog posting about it:

    http://truthspew.blogspot.com/2007/01/danger-of-channel-surfing.html

  6. #6 Mrs. Peach
    January 29, 2007

    Try ordering something from usplastic.com. (out of Lima, Ohio). Along with your order, you’ll receive, free of charge, a booklet with christianized talk of atomic science! They even have a big “Christ is the Answer” sign and a white cross on the property that you can see from the highway.

    The founder (“Dr.” R. Stanley Tam) prayed to god to shower him with money, so he put up the monument in appreciation when god turned him into a rich bastard. He also put 100% of the company’s ownership into a foundation that’s building churches in third world countries. At least that’s what the literature says. Sounds like a fishy tax scheme to me.

    Yes, it’s everywhere. Really creepy.

  7. #7 Paul
    January 29, 2007

    The woman who says that “the bible is just easier to explain to your children” is indicative of a lot of problems.

    Instead of force feeding your children fairytales as truth why not teach them to think for themselves?

    Its identical to teaching children that the Easter Bunny is real and when they are adults trying to prove it “scientifically”

  8. #8 George
    January 29, 2007

    People like Ken Ham are complete scum. He exploits people’s ignorance and preys on children for his own gain. He’s despicable. He ought to be in jail.

  9. #9 Shoveldawg
    January 29, 2007

    This represents a massive failure of education, in that they don’t even understand the difference between “believe” and ” provisionally accept based on the evidence”. That Ken Ham is the biggest, brassiest bullshitter I have ever seen. I know none of this is news, but that was so disgusting I had to vent,and my wife is sick of listening to me on this subject. Jesus Fictional Christ in an Imaginary Sidecar! OK I feel marginally better…

  10. The good news is that perhaps that kid will grow up and pursue a real education in the hopes of being able to “prove” creationism. I’ve seen several instances where that’s happened and the kids have realized just how wrong creationism really is.

  11. #11 Scott Hatfield
    January 29, 2007

    I don’t feel better. I feel . . .

    Sadness, that well-meaning parents choose an explanation purely on the basis of the fact that it’s easier to understand. Anger, that Ken Ham and those like him prefer to push their slop on those least able to defend themselves; like a lot of other religious practices, this amounts to child abuse. Determination, that something like this will never happen in my neighborhood without being challenged.

  12. #12 Zeno
    January 30, 2007

    Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle made some observations about Alexandra Pelosi’s documentary last week. He noted the anti-evolution obsession of the wingnut Christians. Some excerpts and links here.

  13. #13 Shigella
    January 30, 2007

    FishyFred:

    One of my good Catholic friends took an evolution course with me. She was very reluctant to take it as she believed in creation, but by the end, she had been convinced by the preponderance of evidence, and took it in stride like a mature adult. Once she realized evolution was not out to destroy her faith or offend her, she found it quite interesting.

    Funny story from said class:

    The first day of class, the professor was explaining the difference between ID and real science, and she put up a slide showing a scale of ignorant worldviews from Flat Earthers up to Old Earth Creationists. The whole class was giggling at the idea of people who still believed in a flat earth, but the giggling eventually ceased as the prof went up the scale, until a rather heavy silence greeted her as she got to ID. I guess it was cool to laugh at other stupid beliefs until it hit a little close to home…

  14. #14 Ira Fews
    January 30, 2007

    Watching clips like this, I have a difficult time even conceptualizing the interviewees as human beings. They, fish-eyed and decorticate, seem more like proto-hominids unaccountably given the ability to form random burts iof words.

    It’s really unsettling to watch people like the first woman interviewed smile their way thorough the whole process; it just doesn’t make sense to me that people spewing such idiocy aren’t ranting and raving at the tops of their lungs. I mean, calling the idea that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago “preconceived” yet treating the Bible as something vetted? I wanted to smash the glasses of the woman who complained that the public-school system was “biased.” What a drain on humanity these barking bungholes are.

    Thanks to mostly irreversible childhood conditioning, these folks really don’t have any brains at all left in their damned heads, and the people who believe that the poopoo they expel should be met with kid gloves and faux tolerance are wrong. I’ve always been polite to the walking turds who occasionally wash up on my porch trying to sell me Jesus, but I think from now on I’m going to have to whip out my weenie and piss on their newly shined shoes, then shower them with projectile vomit, then yel “FUCK YOU, SIR/MA’AM!” at them. What worthless scum.

  15. #15 Matt the heathen
    January 30, 2007

    I felt really sad after watching that. I had a bit of a “wow, that could have been me” type feeling. If someone like Ham had gotten to me when I was that young, how would I have turned out?

    I do get some measure of hope from the girl wanting to grow up and “prove” creationism, like The Angry Astronomer pointed out. Curiousity and education will always be the enemy of the creationists, though for many of these kids, the psychological branding they undergo in this clip could prevent them from truly experiencing either.

  16. #16 BlueIndependent
    January 30, 2007

    This is distressing to watch because you want to reach out and smack anyone who uses arguments based on personal incredulity. It’s like watching someone actively switch themselves off because they don’t want to hear any of it. They don’t care and they will go to great lengths to push an anti-listening agenda; so far in fact that they will make random stuff up to convince themselves they don’t have to listen.

    The only comfort I can offer people here is that I went through all kinds of somewhat similar crap in grade school, and I turned out otherwise. I don’t recall any specific anti-evolution movements in my grade school, which seems to be a bit of an anomaly in hindsight. I did however get the “rock music is devil worship” treatment, which I found rather silly on its face even then. I was told AC/DC meant all kinds of anti-social and satanic things, and that all these 70s and 80s songs were about devil worship. It was always about satanic rituals and drug use. I recall almost nothing about sex (other than the usual scaring into abstinence crap that didn’t work anyways) and evolution as major evils. Again, I guess I got lucky.

    One other thing I do not recall is auditorium speeches like this on with Mr. Ham, with all kinds of feel good crap that is intentionally covering up real truths.

    There is hope that millions of children will not be led down an anti-science dead-end path that will deplete our country of its precious minds. But good people need to get the word out. Ignorance fills gaps and makes way for evil where due vigilance is not on guard.

  17. #17 Kseniya
    January 30, 2007

    The Nobel-seeking kid doesn’t realize it, but he wants to grow up to be Jonathan Wells. Sad.

  18. #18 Mac
    January 30, 2007

    PZ, as a recent graduate of UMM, I at first only heard vague ramblings about you & your blog. When I first checked it out, your blog seemed unusually bitter and angry. I now understand the reasoning behind your anger. If I were you, the mere existence of Ken Ham would leave me sleepless at night. If you ever get the chance to meet Ham, could you let us all know? I want a front-row seat to watch you rip him to shreds.

  19. #19 keiths
    January 30, 2007

    I found another preview of the documentary containing this magical moment: Ted Haggard, saying “You know, all the surveys say evangelicals have the best sex life of any other group.”

    Priceless.

    http://tinyurl.com/ype5kf

  20. #20 Chopra Says So
    January 30, 2007

    “–they’re lying to him” -PZ

    Yes and No. We need more of Magical Thinking

    why?:

    http://www.intentblog.com/archives/2007/01/the_nuisance_of.html

  21. #21 beepbeepitsme
    January 30, 2007

    What I found funny about the presentation that Ken Ham was making was that he showed the pictures of monkeys made to look like humans and then asked – “Does your grandfather look like this?” All the kids and Moms laughed. What he should have asked is – “Do I lokk like this?” Because seriously, have a look, that mock up picture of an ape looking like a human looks just like him.

    I bet the kids would have said, yes, he looks like you, if they had been asked. ;)

  22. #22 beepbeepitsme
    January 30, 2007

    Seriously, check the video, the poor dude doesn’t even realize that he looks like the mock up picture of the “ape-human.”

    The camera focusses on the face of a small boy soon after, and I figure that that small kid is thinking exactly what I thought. And that is that Ken Ham resembles the “ape-human” picture! lol

  23. #23 Michael
    January 30, 2007

    Oh hell. I regret clicking on that last link to Chorpa’s blog. I’m so much dumber now for doing so. The worst though are the people who argree with the nut. I’d feel sorry for them, but I no longer have the brain capacity…

  24. #24 John
    January 30, 2007

    I grew up in a very religious home(even my sister is a pastor) and I have taught both sunday school and evolution (with my biochem background at university) I especially taught evolution in the church. I wasn’t the only one; my church had taught it to me, when I was younger before the schools had, maybe my situation is unique.
    I am completely appauled at the claims this moron is making in the video. Unfortunatly in every niche there are absolute idiots. Not all religious people are so damn stupid mostly just the loud ones.
    I do not claim to be religious now, but I have certain respect for some relious people and the actual good work they do.
    For instance: On the down side My aunt is going to be teaching a course in Asia about how to include religion in their schools. That is total bunk.
    On the upside My sister has gone three times now to Rwanda with huge care packages for children and volunteers to run a local refuge for children in need. That is pretty good.

    Anyway, once in while some religious nut does something so stupid for PZ to rightfully blast him. I felt I should defend some of the ones who are trying to do good and not just indoctrinate.

  25. #25 Paul
    January 30, 2007

    One of the frustrating defences that people throw up when you start criticising religion is “oh, but religious people do good, how can you be against that?”. The more dishonest religious defenders (like that Fox News slug on the other thread) use it to imply that because you’re against religion, you must be against the good things it does, and are therefore a Bad Person and a Danger to Society.

    Yes – religion inspires people do good and selfless things. But it is neither necessary nor required for people to do good and selfless things. There are other things that can inspire people to selfless acts that don’t require them to suspend critical thought, buy into farcical myths and reject the evidence of the real world.

  26. #26 Dark Matter
    January 30, 2007

    We need to keep in mind that the *political*
    aim of the anti-evolution movement is the primary
    goal, not the scientific one, and that this is
    only one of many campaigns in a movement to mold
    society into something that believes whatever it
    is told. It is much easier to recruit young people to
    go fight the Phantom Menace if critical thought
    and sound judgment disappear.

    Would a more effective response result by convincing
    believers of all kinds that they are being manipulated
    into fufilling the long-term political goals of an elite?
    That the believers are being seduced away from their
    divinity by the “Uncle Screwtape” types at the top who
    are actually leading them?

  27. #27 Tim B.
    January 30, 2007

    May I be a kind of Devil’s Advocate?

    But first: my “spiritual” journey tracked from having been reared a Southern Baptist, to veering off into the Gurdjief thing, to back to a more nuanced Christianity, to reading about and accepting the purely naturalistic force of evolution. Presently, I’m a reluctant atheist or non-theist.

    Here’s what I find remarkable and, if I might be blunt, suspicious: the atheist confession that annihilation at death constitutes no existential problem, that being an atheist is a well-integrated, healthy response to life; I think, rather, something odd is going on with that perspective — the approaching, crushing extinction of oneself should, in a deeply reflecting mind, color one’s remaining days with chronic angst and, as Unamuno said, “The Tragic Sense of Life.”

    Or — maybe pathos is a symptom of a diseased consciousness and the true human way of living should be more akin to the blithe, unconcerned passage through time of a tree or some other unworried flora.

  28. #28 Nescio
    January 30, 2007

    [i]Have you looked in your backyard lately? I guarantee you that there is a church near you where Ken Ham and Kent Hovind and Duane Gish are quoted reverently.[/i]

    I don’t think that’s true, actually. I grew up in religious circles (my father is a pastor), and I’ve known and debated a number of local creationists, yet I’ve never ever had anyone quote Ham, Hovind, or Gish on me IRL.

    Of course, I live in Sweden – I think you’re overestimating how famous these guys are in the world at large.

  29. #29 PZ Myers
    January 30, 2007

    My parochialism is exposed — I was just thinking of the United States. It’s everywhere here.

  30. #30 Shewie
    January 30, 2007

    Sorry to go a bit off-topic, but I had a very unsettling experience the other day that I needed to share with like-minded people.
    I was talking with two intelligent, scientific, non-religious friends, who vehemently agreed with each other that both creationism and evolution should be taught in SCIENCE class to:
    a) shut up the people who want to remove evolution altogether
    b) to present “alternate viewpoints”!
    I was so upset I didn’t know what to say. I have argued these points with non-scientists but with scientists… I was lost.

  31. #31 David
    January 30, 2007

    Tim B. Says:
    “Here’s what I find remarkable and, if I might be blunt, suspicious: the atheist confession that annihilation at death constitutes no existential problem”
    and
    “the approaching, crushing extinction of oneself should, in a deeply reflecting mind, color one’s remaining days with chronic angst”
    I have to disagree Tim — Having been an Agnostic/Atheist for about 20 years now, it’s not something which really bothers me. I can see that it could make someone feel as you think it ought to, but I prefer to try and make as much of the life I have as I possibly can.
    My legacy won’t be eternal life in an imaginary afterworld, but the effects of my life on the lives of the people who surround me. Towards that end, I’m involved in many charitable/educational organizations, and work never takes precedance over my family.
    If I had the power to choose to live forever, it would be very tempting — there are far too many experiences available for the short time we have, but denied that choice, I choose to live the life I have to its fullest extent, rather than dwell upon an imaginary afterlife I won’t be experiencing.

  32. #32 Steve LaBonne
    January 30, 2007

    Religion is a disease. It’s knowing that fact that makes us “hardline atheists” so impatient sometimes with the wishy-washy “agnostics” and the “religious liberals”. Having just a mild dose of typhoid is still not a good thing. You’re still carrying a contagious, dangerous illness.

    For Tim B.- I don’t especially like the fact that I’ll die someday. (Well, let me qualify that- I find the idea of eternal life, no matter how pleasant, to be utterly horrible and nauseating, as it must be to anyone who makes a serious effort to imagine what it would really be like.) But instead of sitting around marinating in angst, or passing blithe and unconcerned through time, I choose to do my best to make my existence, while it lasts, useful to others as well as enjoyable to myself. Try it sometime. You’ll feel much better.

  33. #33 David
    January 30, 2007

    Shewie says:
    “I was talking with two intelligent, scientific, non-religious friends, who vehemently agreed with each other that both creationism and evolution should be taught in SCIENCE class”
    I can agree with that, as long as it’s taught properly: including a listing all the evidence supporting evolution vs. all the non-evidence not supporting the other theories. It might stop some of the nonsense that the ID supporters are spouting for the media about scientists supporting ID, and ID being a “competing theory”.

    ID can only stand to lose if people are honestly exposed to its lack of structural underpinnings.

  34. #34 Tim B.
    January 30, 2007

    Perhaps it’s just a matter of personal nature and nurture that leads to either angst or life-to-its-fullest (David) and eternity-as-nausea (Steve). But I wasn’t really trying to promote something beyond the grave. I was insinuating that maybe evolution has produced a horrible quirk — human self-consciousness. And that maybe the proper default is mortal despair. And that (this will infuriate many) living positively might be a sort of false psychological buffer or bravado some foks put up to keep the slithering beast of extinction at bay.

  35. #35 Steve LaBonne
    January 30, 2007

    And that maybe the proper default is mortal despair.

    On the other hand- maybe not. Your attitude doesn’t infuriate me in the least; it just makes me want to send you my best wishes for overcoming your depression.

  36. #36 ts
    January 30, 2007

    Hi Tim B

    All of us will die.

    Forever is too long for the human mind.

    Just look at what the Idea does here on earth.

  37. #37 Tim B.
    January 30, 2007

    Heidegger spoke of “everydayness” in his philosophy as a way of revealing an inauthenticity of being. Finally, as an atheist, his thought trailed off into the fog of “gods” and Holderinesque poetic diffuseness. The striking thing to me is that he remained disquieted by existence, straining to possibly absurd lengths to situate himself in existence.

    Whether the ranting and raving of the radical Christian Right or the rigid rationality of a scientific, naturalistic orientation, both seem to me somehow disconnected from the awesomeness/awfulness of being. Even the wondrous sense of natural discovery that animates the scientist strikes me as at a certain philosophic remove from the chronic shock of being an existent that I think deep awareness should instill. The old something-rather-than-nothing problem, I suppose.

    But since my musings nudge against notions of progress and, instead, impact a blank wall of doing and being, I certainly don’t advocate too much awareness. Maybe as Steve inferred, I’m just depressed. Perhaps electro-shock therapy or illicit opiates…..

  38. #38 Steve LaBonne
    January 30, 2007

    Being comapassionate and useful is a hell of a lot more important than the kind of “authenticity” promoted by ex-Nazi “philosophers”. In my opinion, anyway.

    I’m a biologist. I feel a very deep awe at the complexity, diversity and long evolutionary history of living things. No crap German “philosophy” is required for that feeling- reality is quite awe-inspiring enough for those who bother to investigate it rather than sitting around gazing at their own navels.

  39. #39 llewelly
    January 30, 2007

    Michael said:

    Oh hell. I regret clicking on that last link to Chorpa’s blog. I’m so much dumber now for doing so.

    In fact, there is genius in Chopra’s latest article:
    Chopra said:

    Do you worship God? Take a pill.

    All we need to do is convince Big Pharma that there is money to made in a pill that cures god-worship.

    (Actually we’d still need a cure for the ridiculous pearl-clutching that causes people to flinch and squirm irrationally whenever it is implied that people are machines.)

  40. #40 Steve LaBonne
    January 30, 2007

    (Actually we’d still need a cure for the ridiculous pearl-clutching that causes people to flinch and squirm irrationally whenever it is implied that people are machines.)

    I’ll wager that if they really grasped the significance of the fact that the machine between their ears has something like 100 billion neurons making something like a quadrillion synapses among them, they’d be a lot more comfortable with the idea. To most people “machine” seems to imply something simple and dumb like a toaster or, at best, a car.

  41. #41 windy
    January 30, 2007

    Death is starting to look a lot better once you consider the alternative: being stuck with the likes of Tim B and Heidegger for all eternity.

    …ok, just kidding, but if existence is the problem, how does existing for ever solve it?

  42. #42 Will E.
    January 30, 2007

    Like when people say, “How can this be all there is?” What do they mean by “this”? We’ve got Hubble photographs, the Grand Canyon, the Himalayas, organ transplants, vaccinations, great white sharks, monkeys that care for paraplegics, air travel, Brothers Karamazov, democracy, the Beatles, Naomi Watts, Einstein, etc., etc.,–I mean, what more do they fucking want?!

  43. #43 pluky
    January 30, 2007

    My splitting moment came in the fifth grade. I was chatting with the school librarian (who also taught the Bible class I went to on Wednesday afternoons) about the differences and similarities in the evolutionary sequences presented that morning in science class with that presented in Genesis I and II. She cut me off with some sort of comment that only the Bible could be believed. The rest was nonsense. At that moment, I opted for Darwin.

    This is not to say that I abandoned all belief in the ‘numinous’. I just stopped looking outside of myself for such. Whatever God is, or is not, it cannot be found through the idolatry of a book.

    Finally, those like myself do not do good works because our God(s) command such. Rather, we have found that doing good works is one of the most effective ways of developing that inner understanding upon which we rely; the Buddhists call this “Right Action”, “Right Speech”, and “Right Livelihood”.

  44. #44 Ginger Yellow
    January 30, 2007

    “the approaching, crushing extinction of oneself should, in a deeply reflecting mind, color one’s remaining days with chronic angst”

    But why? You didn’t exist before you were born and you won’t exist after you die. So? It was ever thus. Make the most of the time you have. To respond to mortality by spending your whole time brooding about it would be the least sensible thing to do imaginable. Besides the damage to your own wellbeing, it would prevent you from making things better for others, in particular for your descendants. Surely that’s the appropriate way to transcend the limitations of the self in an atheistic universe.

  45. #45 mark
    January 30, 2007

    Ken “Grandpa Monkey” Ham did not follow his own logic:

    Can you find the word ‘jet plane’ in the Bible? No, there weren’t any jet planes in those days.
    Can you find the word ‘computer’ in the Bible? Of course not, there were no computers in those days.
    Can you find the word ‘dinosaur’ in the Bible? Hell no, dinosaurs died out long before those days.

  46. #46 Tim B.
    January 30, 2007

    Thank you all for your opinions and suggestions.

    Conversation is stimulating, even when one’s attempt to get at some irritable, nagging aspect of mind and cosmos is contrued as a character defect or an unwarranted grasping after meaning. Perhaps I’ve insufficiently shed my religious, mystical skin — still traipsing after some numinous ghost behind the quantum motivations of matter and energy. Less a desire and striving for eternal life than an answer to “Why?”

  47. #47 AC
    January 30, 2007

    I think a lot of you are unknowingly proving to Tim B that you haven’t really thought deeply about consciousness and the end thereof, and that your lack of thought on the subject is a crude coping mechanism.

    Honestly:

    “If existence is the problem, how does existing for ever solve it?”
    “What more do they fucking want?!”
    “You didn’t exist before you were born and you won’t exist after you die.”

    These are not deep reflections. There is a very real terror involved with being both alive and conscious of life’s inherent transience. It drives some to madness, some (ironically) to suicide. It drives others to make the most of their finite experience. And it merely hangs over some like an ominous cloud. Some prefer self-imposed madness and weave elaborate mythologies in which they are somehow immortal. Some just try not to think about it.

    If one is to live, sanely and healthily, after confronting this terror, I don’t think there is any choice but to erect “psychological buffers”. But they needn’t be false or delusional. They can simply be honest, humble reactions of life in the face of death – many of which have been mentioned. Personally, I advise Steve LaBonne’s solution, and I bid strength it pursuing it.

    As far as consciousness being a “horrible quirk” of evolution, I think its benefits outweigh its ultimate drawback. Considering that everything dies, I’m glad to be a conscious organism. But that is only this organism’s opinion.

  48. #48 craig
    January 30, 2007

    “But I wasn’t really trying to promote something beyond the grave. I was insinuating that maybe evolution has produced a horrible quirk — human self-consciousness. And that maybe the proper default is mortal despair”

    I don’t think that’s the default, I think that’s something instilled by being brought up religious.
    I wasn’t, so as a lifelong atheist, I have no sense of anything being “missing.”
    So the fact that I’m not immortal is no more difficult to face than the fact that I don’t have x-ray vision or other superpowers.

    If you brainwash kids into thinking that they’ll grow up to be Superman and worse – that if they don’t manage to it means they’re a bad person, then maybe they will be depressed adults, but its not the default position.

    If anything is the default, its just incomprehension, pushed out of the way by “what’s for supper?”

  49. #49 craig
    January 30, 2007

    “But I wasn’t really trying to promote something beyond the grave. I was insinuating that maybe evolution has produced a horrible quirk — human self-consciousness. And that maybe the proper default is mortal despair.”

    Someone on Askville once asked simply “why?” and my response to them was this: “the question isn’t why, the question is HOW.”

    There is no “why” in the sense that you mean it. The question doesn’t even really make any sense. “How” is the one we can try to answer, and its more interesting anyway.

    If I’m wrong and there IS a god and eternal life, then after spending a few minutes playing with the easter bunny, I’ll be doggedly looking for the God Manual.

  50. #50 craig
    January 30, 2007

    Whoops, my second quote was supposed to quote a different message.
    The proper quote:
    “Less a desire and striving for eternal life than an answer to “Why?”

  51. #51 uncle frogy
    January 30, 2007

    I do not have the stomach to listen to any of the creationists if I have the choice, sorry.
    I learned in childhood not to listen or believe people who said things that sounded fantastic just because they said so. I guess I have been “protected” somewhat.
    I once got into a discussion with a guy who said he was an atheist turns out what he did not believe in was a God Being of some kind and understood all religions as believing in some kind of God being. That may be an over simplification both in what he thought and what religions in general think.

    Not every “religious” world view includes an afterlife.

    It is not necessary to live a “moral” good life.

    reason and evidence can lead to truth regardless of belief.

    B.S. should be labeled as such whenever and wherever it is found no matter who says it!

    I do not always manage to say what I think clearly but I do appreciate the discussions I read on this blog and agree with a lot of what is said here. Anger may be my reaction to the fundamentalists but I do not think anger is a very useful way to “fight” fear and lies.

    whish I knew of a better way.

  52. #52 windy
    January 30, 2007

    “If existence is the problem, how does existing for ever solve it?”
    These are not deep reflections.

    So do you have an easy answer my oh-so-shallow question?

    Heidegger’s existential angst was brought up. Do you think, if Heidegger awakened in the afterlife and found that it would last forever, it was suddenly fluffy bunny time for him? No more of those pesky questions about the meaning of existence?

  53. #53 g
    January 30, 2007

    What would it *mean* for the “proper” response to life to be mortal despair? Surely the proper response, as far as attitude goes, is whatever has the best consequences; that’s unlikely to be mortal despair.

  54. #54 Djur
    January 30, 2007

    Ms. Pelosi also said in an interview about this movie that she was “on their [the fundamentalists] side” in the culture war, because on their side is “Jesus” and on the other side is “Paris Hilton.” She also said that the people she profiles are not “holy-rolling Jesus freaks.”

    Furthermore, she said she’s raising her child with religion because if one doesn’t, the child becomes (finger quotes, dire tone) “unchurched” and is thus fair game for extremism. I shit you not.

  55. #55 Tim B.
    January 30, 2007

    g,

    Thanks. “Proper” is the wrong word. “Axiomatic” is closer. And by “mortal despair,” I mean a sense of the tragic (“despair” may also be imprecise). It has much to do with Kolakowski’s theme in his book *Metaphysical Horror.”

  56. #56 Steve LaBonne
    January 30, 2007

    There is a very real terror involved with being both alive and conscious of life’s inherent transience.

    Speak for yourself. I’m a complete coward when it comes to pain, but I can contemplate my future extinction with equanimity. And I’m 51, an age where it no longer seems purely theoretical. I think, frankly, that you’re suffering from a self-inflicted mental illness.

  57. #57 Steve LaBonne
    January 30, 2007

    To amplify on a comment that came out a little harsher than I intended, I think you should contemplate the possibility that it’s really the terror that needs to be “constructed” and that requires a good deal of mental energy (often supplied by religion) to maintain, rather than what you call “psychological buffers”.

  58. #58 Rey Fox
    January 30, 2007

    Djur:

    …? Oh, Alexandra Pelosi. You had me thinking of the more prominent Pelosi. Don’t scare me like that.

  59. #59 Fatboy
    January 30, 2007

    Tim B. wrote

    Here’s what I find remarkable and, if I might be blunt,

    suspicious: the atheist confession that annihilation at death constitutes no

    existential problem, that being an atheist is a well-integrated, healthy

    response to life…

    I don’t look at my atheism as being a “response” to life, anymore so than

    accepting a heliocentric model of the solar system as a “response” to life.

    It’s just a matter of looking at all the evidence before me, and trying to

    determine the nature of reality. The response comes after that, trying to

    determine how to live my life. I think others have coverred that well,

    already – namely, take advantage of the time we do have, and live life to the

    fullest.

    Secondly, “atheism” does not necessarily imply disbelief in souls. Most

    people who call themselves atheists also doubt souls and ghosts and those

    sorts of things, but not all. Maybe it’s just because I was Christian for so

    long, but I’m still trying to figure this one out. Either possibility offers

    intriguing questions – if souls do exist, what is their nature? How can we

    study them? Are souls merely passive, experiencing everything the brain does,

    or can they somehow influence the brain, and if so, what would be the

    mechanism? If souls don’t exist (and this is where the evidence seems to

    point), and our awareness is merely the result of physical processes, what is

    it about the processes in our brains that creates this awareness? Is it

    something to do with complexity, and if so, what other complex systems might

    be self aware? Plants? Computers? Planets? Galaxies? I’m not trying to

    sound all new age here – just trying to understand where awareness comes from.

    Somewhere else, Tim B. wrote that maybe the issues he was bringing up was the

    “something-rather-than-nothing problem.” This problem has nothing to do with

    atheism. I had the same problem when I was Christian. Only since God was

    supposedly the source of everything, I guess then I would have termed it the

    “Gord-rather-than-nothing problem.”

    Finally, on the issue of mortality, I do feel that the sense of loss I feel in

    facing my own mortality comes from having been a Christian. If I’d never had

    the promise of living forever, I wouldn’t have anything to feel loss over.

    Oh, and on topic, what Ken Ham is doing is despicable. I can usually feel sympathy for most religious fundamentalists – they were brainwashed as kids, and do honestly believe they’re doing whats right. But watching Ham do what he’s doing to an entire auditorium of children, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for a man like that.

  60. #60 Tim B.
    January 30, 2007

    Did you catch that part with Haggard questioning his acolytes about how many times a day they had right-wing sex and how often their wives climaxed?

    I’m not a violent person, but if he had asked me that personal question on camera (or even in private), I doubt I’d be able to resist a reflexive, very unJesus-like pastor thrashing.

    And did you notice the chronic weird gleam in Haggard’s beady eyes? I’ve seen that look before: the restless scheming of a narcissistic exploiter.

  61. #61 Nescio
    January 30, 2007

    Who is to judge whether my response to life is proper? God? Heidegger?

  62. #62 windy
    January 30, 2007

    I thought that Zaphod and Marvin were both meant as caricatures, but apparently the latter just had the “proper response to life” ;)

  63. #63 craig
    January 30, 2007

    “Ms. Pelosi also said in an interview about this movie that she was “on their [the fundamentalists] side” in the culture war, because on their side is “Jesus” and on the other side is “Paris Hilton.” She also said that the people she profiles are not “holy-rolling Jesus freaks.”

    Furthermore, she said she’s raising her child with religion because if one doesn’t, the child becomes (finger quotes, dire tone) “unchurched” and is thus fair game for extremism. I shit you not.”

    ugh. sickening.

  64. #64 Anton Mates
    January 30, 2007

    “Proper” is the wrong word. “Axiomatic” is closer. And by “mortal despair,” I mean a sense of the tragic (“despair” may also be imprecise).

    How could an emotional attitude be “axiomatic?” “I will cease to exist” might be an axiom of someone’s belief system, but “My impending nonexistence really sucks” isn’t really something that could carry a truth value.

    Also, consider that people generally choose to read/watch tragedies for entertainment. Getting to act out your own personal tragedy could be quite pleasurable–who hasn’t planned out their ideal death scene?

    Anyway, the majority of Christians seem to spend much more time and energy considering Hell than Heaven, yet most are not cripplingly depressed over the risk of eternal torment. Likewise, the ancient Greeks and Sumerians didn’t seem to mope much over the prospect of spending eternity in a gloomy, boring underworld. It really doesn’t appear to be natural for humans to worry overmuch about what happens when they die.

  65. #65 George
    January 30, 2007

    Here’s what I find remarkable and, if I might be blunt, suspicious: the atheist confession that annihilation at death constitutes no existential problem, that being an atheist is a well-integrated, healthy response to life; I think, rather, something odd is going on with that perspective — the approaching, crushing extinction of oneself should, in a deeply reflecting mind, color one’s remaining days with chronic angst and, as Unamuno said, “The Tragic Sense of Life.”

    What’s the alternative? A fantasy God and no angst? No thank you.

    There is nothing odd about the fact that we die. We die. How one feels about it will no doubt vary over time. A young person might not think about it much. A middle-aged person will dwell on it more intensely. An older person might have regrets and learn to accept the eventuality of death. A terminally ill person might look forward to it.

    There’s a lot more to it than angst. There’s happiness at being alive (Richard Dawkins has written some fine words on this topic). There is wanting to make the most of the time that one is given. There’s laughter and comedy and wonder and the awe of discovery that help to get us through life with grace and intelligence.

    I get as down as anybody about the fact that I won’t be around one day, but I don’t focus on it for too long, because it gets in the way of making the most of the days I am given.

  66. #66 Kseniya
    January 30, 2007

    I feel the need to join in the chorus here.

    Knowledge of ones mortality need not lead to despair. I don’t need immortality to be happy. There are ways to make the world a better place than the one we were born into, and any success that outlives me is more than enough success for me.

    The claims that there is no morality or meaning without God and that atheism necessarily leads to nihilism are vacant claims, claims rooted in a despairing view of the nature of humanity and a lack of faith in anything earthly and tangible, claims that betray a belief that the material universe and everything in it is completely devoid of meaning or purpose. That’s far more nihilistic than anything I’ve been able to come up with here in my private little secular paradise. But leave it to the self-righteous to project their own fears onto everyone else.

  67. #67 Kseniya
    January 30, 2007

    The days come and go like muffled and veiled figures sent from a distant friendly party, but they say nothing, and if we do not use the gifts they bring, they carry them as silently away. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

  68. #68 George
    January 30, 2007

    Ms. Pelosi also said in an interview about this movie that she was “on their [the fundamentalists] side” in the culture war, because on their side is “Jesus” and on the other side is “Paris Hilton.” She also said that the people she profiles are not “holy-rolling Jesus freaks.”

    Furthermore, she said she’s raising her child with religion because if one doesn’t, the child becomes (finger quotes, dire tone) “unchurched” and is thus fair game for extremism. I shit you not.

    Sigh. So, I guess she has taken churchlessness off the table.

  69. #69 Keith Douglas
    January 30, 2007

    Steve LaBonne: *Ex*-Nazi? Heidegger expressed sympathy for the Nazis in his last public presentation, in the 1960s. (An interview with a newspaper, as it happens.)

    AC: Sure, some people are terrified that they exist, or that they won’t some day. But some of us aren’t, and that’s what you were hearing from us.

    I’m happy to exist, for now, but I know that I’m finite. Immortality would be boring; I’d do everything n times and still have infinite years to go.

  70. #70 H. Humbert
    January 30, 2007

    Watching the video and seeing all the anti-evolution billboards scattered throughout the bible belt got me thinking. Obviously the propaganda campaign there is prevalent and ubiquitous, and some injection of sensible science, no matter how slight, is direly needed.

    How much does it cost to rent a billboard? Would it be a worthwhile endeavor to start a fund for the purpose of erecting pro-science messages in various locals throughout the country? Why not a rural billboard that says “Evolution is a fact of life. Get the real information at http://www.talkorigins.com” or whatever?

    Sure, it might seem like very little, but perhaps it could send one or two high school students to a library to check out the vast evidence supporting evolution. Something needs to be done to counter creationist propaganda.

  71. #71 Steve Watson
    January 30, 2007

    Perhaps I’ve insufficiently shed my religious, mystical skin — still traipsing after some numinous ghost behind the quantum motivations of matter and energy.

    FWIW, I have some sympathy for Tim B’s position. As Steve Labonne suggests, this feeling is probably something mostly or only experienced by those with an extended religious period (either from childhood, or acquired later).

    Partly, there’s a kind of sadness that this thing I call “me” will, in a few more decades, cease to exist, and that in not too many more decades, my desiderata in the form of other’s memories of me, or of artefacts I leave behind, will also pass into oblivion. Against the backdrop of earth (or even human) history, we are as ephemeral as mayflies. In addition, there’s a loss of the sense of the numinous — of a universe pregnant with meaning (a concept I now find incoherent).

    The process, I think, is a kind of grieving. But like grief, one does get over it and move on (but while in progress, I think it deserves a humane respect). And I think (again agreeing with Steve L.) that a love of science — of the world of ideas in general, what Feynman called “the pleasure of finding things out” — can help enormously. Many of us (I won’t guess how many, but I suspect it’s behind a lot of religious, philosophical and scientific impulses) have this desire to, as it were, “locate ourselves” in the larger picture, to know our place in the universe. I don’t think there’s any tool better than science with which to do that.

  72. #72 Kseniya
    January 30, 2007

    Paris Hilton is an Evolutionist? That is like SO so kewl.

    Immortality would be boring; I’d do everything n times and still have infinite years to go.

    Not necessarily. In an infinite universe there are an infinite number of things to do, so even with an infinite amount of time you could do “everything” an infinite number of times and still never run out of things to do. Ever.

    Ever. :-|

    Which leads me to this thought: People desire (and seek) immortality because they can’t conceive of what it really means. I’m not sure I can, either, but I suspect human consciousness just isn’t cut out for it.

  73. #73 Patness
    January 30, 2007

    They’re out and about in Calgary. My friend’s g/f is part of this church that keeps talking crap about the “lack of a fossil record” and “the universe is too complicated to happen by chance”. It’s everywhere – and the moment I naysay it for the stupidity it is, people tell me that I have to treat their beliefs with respect if I want my beliefs to be respected.

    I give them the spiel about how equal time is crap, and I’ve already lost them.

  74. #74 craig
    January 30, 2007

    “How much does it cost to rent a billboard?”

    I’d be willing to bet that you would not find a billboard company that would accept your ads. “Too controversial.” “We don’t accept political ads.” “No attacks on religion, that’s hate speech.” Etc.

  75. #75 Geta
    January 30, 2007

    Tim B said:

    “maybe evolution has produced a horrible quirk — human self-consciousness. And that maybe the proper default is mortal despair”

    I grew up with no concept or awareness of religion in any manner until I was about 12-13 or so.

    Honestly, during this period I never felt “despair”. Life was life, I knew people and things die.. simply accepted that as “natural”. Also I found nature, the world, the universe to be of wonder. I found Grand Canyon to be amazing and the natural history behind it was simply fascinating to me. And so on..

    When a classmate exposed me to the Christian religion and it’s concept of God.. and finding out it was a common belief held as true by many plus to the concept of hell.. I was deeply shocked. Religion was utterly alien and I had a great difficulty understanding it. For about a year I was highly stressed, depressed, anxious and fearful as I learned more snippets about the Christian religion. It did NOT “make life better” for me.

    Eventually I started to just boldly question the validity of religion, it just simply didn’t seem to stand up on it’s own legs so I eventually realized religion was all man-made. That helped me get over the shock and my mental condition improved considerably after that.

  76. #76 Julie Stahlhut
    January 30, 2007

    “…. the approaching, crushing extinction of oneself should, in a deeply reflecting mind, color one’s remaining days with chronic angst and, as Unamuno said, ‘The Tragic Sense of Life.’”

    … ummmm, well, no. My knowledge of the eventual extinction of myself colors my remaining days with some concern that the process might hurt. That’s how I felt as a child believer, as a 14-year-old nonbeliever, and now as a 50-year-old who knows very, very well that all of us multicellular eukaryotes will eventually senesce and die.

    The concern is usually dispelled by interesting work, good relationships with the people in my life, and the knowledge that even a temporary existence is worth living if it includes occasional moderate doses of key lime pie.

  77. #77 Caledonian
    January 30, 2007

    If this hasn’t already been posted, it should be.

    Oceanic

  78. #78 John
    January 30, 2007

    My goodness that made me feel ill.

  79. #79 AC
    January 30, 2007

    AC: Sure, some people are terrified that they exist, or that they won’t some day. But some of us aren’t, and that’s what you were hearing from us.

    Oh I know. Like I said, I don’t live my own life in a state of perpetual despair, but I’m familiar with that despair – how it feels and what causes it. I just thought some of the responses to Tim B fell short. I feel like I’d be hijacking the thread to elaborate completely, but for example, since windy mentioned it:

    “If existence is the problem, how does existing for ever solve it?” – Mere existence isn’t the problem; conscious existence (with awareness of personal mortality) is. And there’s more to it than “immortality is a selfish fantasy”. I think it’s only natural for a person to not want their conscious experience to be irretrievably obliterated. Obviously we don’t want to be eternally bored or pained, but continued existence at least involves the potential for action. The loss of that potential is tragic, even without mourning one’s personal demise. I think the sense of that tragedy is why the suggestions in this thread are made and pursued. We look to our children and others who will live on after us, to the world that will keep turning after we die, etc. because our personal efforts must someday cease.

    To amplify on a comment that came out a little harsher than I intended, I think you should contemplate the possibility that it’s really the terror that needs to be “constructed” and that requires a good deal of mental energy (often supplied by religion) to maintain, rather than what you call “psychological buffers”.

    No worries Steve. I took your meaning without the clarification, and you have a point. I think the terror is inherent in contemplating the matter, but people tend not to become mired in it without a catalyst. I’m interested in those catalysts – what they are, how they arise, how they can be neutralized. I think that, in their absence, people tend to do as George said: “I get as down as anybody about the fact that I won’t be around one day, but I don’t focus on it for too long, because it gets in the way of making the most of the days I am given.”

    My main intent is to argue that this reaction is not false, disingenuous, or what have you. On the contrary, I think it is the very essence of “well-integrated, healthy” atheism, even if it isn’t precisely expressed.

  80. #80 windy
    January 30, 2007

    And there’s more to it than “immortality is a selfish fantasy”. I think it’s only natural for a person to not want their conscious experience to be irretrievably obliterated.

    That could be just natural selection playing tricks on us :) Perhaps excessive fear of death in conscious animals is an important survival trait, rather than a profound philosophical revelation.

  81. #81 George
    January 30, 2007

    Nice Richard Dawkins quotation on dying:

    “We are going to die and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they’re never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place, but who will, in fact, never see the light of day, outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. …In the face of these stupefying odds, it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. Here’s another respect in which we are lucky. The universe is older than a hundred million centuries. Within a comparable time, the sun will swell to a red giant and engulf the earth. Every century of hundreds of millions has been in its time, or will be when its time comes, the present century. The present moves from the past to the future like a tiny spotlight inching its way along a gigantic ruler of time. Everything behind the spotlight is in darkness, the darkness of the dead past. Everything ahead of the spotlight is in the darkness of the unknown future. The odds of your century being the one in the spotlight are the same as the odds that a penny, tossed down at random, will land on a particular ant crawling somewhere on the road from New York to San Francisco. You are lucky to be alive and so am I.”

    We are lucky to be alive and therefore we should value life. Life is precious. We’re never going to get another one. This is it. Don’t waste it. Open your eyes. Open your ears. Treasure the experiences that you have and don’t waste your time fussing about a non-existent future life after you’re dead. Try to do as much good as you can now to others. Try to live life as richly as possible during the time that you have left available to you.

  82. #82 David Marjanovi?
    January 30, 2007

    I think, rather, something odd is going on with that perspective — the approaching, crushing extinction of oneself should, in a deeply reflecting mind, color one’s remaining days with chronic angst and, as Unamuno said, “The Tragic Sense of Life.”

    As an apathetic agnostic, I just say “pfff — what do I know” and don’t care any further. And no, I am not capable of reading/watching tragedies for entertainment. Sure, there are some that everyone should have read/watched, but not for entertainment, not even the Kishon tragedy (I forgot its name).

    As an aside, I can’t see how “I don’t know, and you don’t know either, you just believe you know” is a “wishy-washy” stance…

  83. #83 David Marjanovi?
    January 30, 2007

    I think, rather, something odd is going on with that perspective — the approaching, crushing extinction of oneself should, in a deeply reflecting mind, color one’s remaining days with chronic angst and, as Unamuno said, “The Tragic Sense of Life.”

    As an apathetic agnostic, I just say “pfff — what do I know” and don’t care any further. And no, I am not capable of reading/watching tragedies for entertainment. Sure, there are some that everyone should have read/watched, but not for entertainment, not even the Kishon tragedy (I forgot its name).

    As an aside, I can’t see how “I don’t know, and you don’t know either, you just believe you know” is a “wishy-washy” stance…

  84. #84 Tim B.
    January 30, 2007

    Well, AC understands the peculiar coloration of what I’ve been fumbling on about. It’s not really a quivering in the corner fear of death thing. It’s not a wish to burst into an eternal afterlife. It’s more like death represents the apotheosis of the Absurdity. That it hammers home the fact that, while living, the Big A can be, in some folks, very disconcerting, disorienting. Like Sarte’s nausea at the oppression of mere being hanging in a vortex of Nothingness. And appeals to various flavors of normality and projects of integration can seem philosophically glib.

    Nature is driven by the force of persistence, transformation, and transcendence into new categories or states of being. The remarkable hominid brain, teeming with unfathomable synapses, broke into a new mode: self-aware mind. It occasionally looks around and observes the forces of persistence at play, the drive of being. Again occasionally, that mind considers its own body’s and personality’s contributions to the play of persistence — reproduction and legacy — and they seem insufficient markers of uncanny subjectivity. Self-awareness (awareness of one’s extinction) seems an excessive expense of cosmic energy if the job is simply passing along genes. Any blithe, furry creature could accomplish that.

    I don’t know the answer, but I’ll put it this way: Gustav Mahler’s 6th and 9th Symphonies, sounded out or not, represent serious and sincere acknowledgements of the human predicament, of the almost logical requirement that the human soul be not obliterated. Much great art is driven by disquietude. Should Van Gogh have put away his spiritual, angst-driven brushes and just been satisfied with Don’t worry, Be happy?

  85. #85 Loren Petrich
    January 30, 2007

    Was Alexandra Pelosi serious about taking the fundies’ side in the culture wars? It seems like she swallowed their propaganda whole.

    I wonder if she would want her son raised in some religion that teaches the sort of sexist things that many fundies believe, that women ought to shut up about religion and let their husbands instruct them (yes, that’s in the Bible), that women ought to be housewives who grovel before their husbands and not have careers like (say) documentary filmmaker or Congresswoman.

    And why is Paris Hilton supposed to be so horrible? She seems totally silly and airheaded to me; she’s trying to boost her career with her exhibitionism.

    And there are alternatives to both the fundies and the Paris Hiltons of the world, and if Ms. Pelosi refuses to take them seriously, that’s her problem.

  86. #86 George
    January 31, 2007

    Should Van Gogh have put away his spiritual, angst-driven brushes and just been satisfied with Don’t worry, Be happy?

    Don’t worry, be happy. Unless you are Van Gogh.

    How’s that?

  87. #87 Steve LaBonne
    January 31, 2007

    Tim, you still just don’t get it. The real question is, should Van Gogh have been sitting around obsessing about his mortality, or PAINTING? Should Mahler have gone into a philosophical funk after his heart diagnosis instead of responding by composing the 9th Symphony, das Lied, and as much of the 10th Symphony as he had time to complete? The answers are, I hope, obvious. Artists want to live above all because they want to work; they hate to leave this world until they’ve accomplished everything they know is in them.

    If you think anybody here has been advocating complacent self-satisfaction, or that any of us doesn’t very much want to go on living as long as we’re in good enough shape to accomplish something more than breathing, then you’re really not understanding any of the replles to your comments at all.

  88. #88 windy
    January 31, 2007

    Dawkins: Here’s another respect in which we are lucky. The universe is older than a hundred million centuries. Within a comparable time, the sun will swell to a red giant and engulf the earth. Every century of hundreds of millions has been in its time, or will be when its time comes, the present century. The present moves from the past to the future like a tiny spotlight inching its way along a gigantic ruler of time. [...] The odds of your century being the one in the spotlight are the same as the odds that a penny, tossed down at random, will land on a particular ant crawling somewhere on the road from New York to San Francisco.

    Now I can only imagine unlucky Homer Simpson-like types waking up in the dark, immobile past and going “D’oh!”.

  89. #89 Tim B.
    January 31, 2007

    Steve,

    I’m fairly certain I’m about to contradict some of the things I’ve said previously, but I wanted to get back to my original post about playing the devil’s advocate. I was prompted because I perceived, in the thread, a general, almost gleeful repudiation of all things religious. I share most of those repudiations. But I hesitate to dismiss entirely the ancient, still-prevalent urge, in many, for transcendence that appears to drive the religious impulse: the hoary human on a time-distant meadow looked around and up at the stars and was aware of herself…and grieved over a cat-eaten child; and felt an existential unease at the overall situation; gods were sought, but they have been silent; she lived on and begat a posterity of cathedrals, Origin of Species, and Das Lied (a paean to loss, unease, and dissatisfaction).

    Of course, one doesn’t throw up one’s hands and become a pillar of pathetic salt. But just as consciousness isn’t logically reducible to the physical, the bittersweet qualia of Mahler’s imbibing protagonist could hint at an answerable realm of being beyond the quotidian.

    Or maybe not. But sometimes I wonder who is the more pathological — those beseeching an invisible, implausible deity or those horizontaloids pressing confidently forward into an unhaunted future of progress. (I was quite shaken and stirred by John Gray’s *Straw Dogs*.)

  90. #90 Steve LaBonne
    January 31, 2007

    Well, I actually don’t think at this point that we’re really in that much disagreement after all. I think we’d agree that the “urge for transcendence”, however defined, is an inextricable part of being human, and that this urge is a far better thing when channeled into art and science than into religion.

  91. #91 Tim B.
    January 31, 2007

    Agreed, Steve, though I’d still leave a crack open at the door to the abyssal, echoing cathedral.

  92. #92 Steve LaBonne
    January 31, 2007

    As long as the Berlioz Requiem (composed by an atheist!)or the Bruckner 8th is being performed inside in that nice reverberant acoustic, it’s a deal. ;)

  93. #93 Tim B.
    January 31, 2007

    Speaking of requiems and Bruckner’s 8th, just the other day, in one of my morbid moods, I was thinking how swell it would be for my funeral service to be accompanied by the 8th’s Adagio (rather than some hackneyed organ hymn).

  94. #94 windy
    February 1, 2007

    Tim B wrote: But just as consciousness isn’t logically reducible to the physical…

    Yes, it is. We don’t know exactly how it reduces to the physical, but it is at least *logically* possible to reduce it to the physical (or better: to the chemical, electrical and the biological). Scientists studying consciousness are operating on that premise. You’d better tell them if you know for a fact that’s not possible (and collect your Nobel on the way…)

  95. #95 Steve LaBonne
    February 1, 2007

    I missed that one; completely agree with Windy. (Please let’s not start a series of boring quibbles over the many mutually incompatible meanings of the word “reduce”.)

  96. #96 Tim B.
    February 3, 2007

    The Hard Problem of consciousness establishes to my satisfaction the logical impermeability of states of qualia to any granular seepage of matter, chemical or otherwise. “Scientists studying consciousness” will logically never peel away a super-subtle layer of synaptic tissue to reveal the what-it’s-like to smell a rose and feel pleasure in its color. Areas of tomographic resonance may light up like a Christmas tree when those events are occurring, but the actual experience will remain sublimated beyond any mapping or picturing. Consciousness is the wall against which the neuroscientist will bend and break his frustrated scapels.

    No, logic points only to “solving” the problem by ressurrecting dualism. The fruitful path points, ala Chalmers, to subjective experience being a brute primal law, as primary as gravity and electro-magnetism. And not something emergent or supervening.

    Or — more to my own intuition — consciousness is a Thomas Nagel mysterium. Attempts to understand are precluded by the logical fact that reduction is an objective sieve through which the subjective does not pass. And since the subjective self is unable to explain itself to itself, we’re left with a permanent lacuna.

  97. #97 Caledonian
    February 3, 2007

    The so-called “Hard Problem” is the last refuge of the mystic and the incompetent.

  98. #98 Uber
    February 3, 2007

    The Hard Problem of consciousness establishes to my satisfaction the logical impermeability of states of qualia to any granular seepage of matter, chemical or otherwise. “Scientists studying consciousness” will logically never peel away a super-subtle layer of synaptic tissue to reveal the what-it’s-like to smell a rose and feel pleasure in its color

    Good grief.

  99. #99 Tim B.
    February 3, 2007

    “incompetent”…”Good grief”

    I’m stunned by argumentative force of these rebuttals.

  100. #100 Keith Douglas
    February 3, 2007

    Kseniya: But one’s personal state-space is finite, so one would presumably run out of things to learn. I guess one could claim our souls somehow have infinite storage capacity, but I am not sure that would be me even if it were (per impossibile) true.

    Tim B.: “The Hard Problem of consciousness establishes to my satisfaction the logical impermeability of states of qualia to any granular seepage of matter, chemical or otherwise.” And you know this how?

    If “qualia” are so ineffable, how do we make predictions successfully about their structure. See Paul Churchland’s stuff on his “new colours” (which aren’t really new, but the prediction of their existence should [amongst many other things] give pause to the mysterians).

  101. #101 Tim B.
    February 3, 2007

    Keith,

    How do I know that *I* am logically satisfied? I guess because, owing to the conventionality of language, the pronoun “I” converges on my sense of interiority.

    How do I know that I am *logically satisfied*? Maybe acquiescing in the persuasive simply grants me a sensation of intellectual pleasure.

  102. #102 Tim B.
    February 3, 2007

    But seriously: in my post #95, I think I covered my reasoning by associating myself with the Nagel paraphrase — reduction is an objective sieve through which the subjective does not pass. And I’ve read nothing that deflects me from his old what-it’s-like-to-be-a-bat thing. That anyone else may be dissatisfied with the logic of a Chalmers or Nagel is fine with me. Each to his own capacity.

    Perhaps my own capacity will be expanded by researching the Churchland stuff. It’s new to me. I’ll check it out.

  103. #103 windy
    February 5, 2007

    Consciousness is the wall against which the neuroscientist will bend and break his frustrated scapels.

    Vitalists used to say the same thing about life.

  104. #104 Ichthyic
    February 5, 2007

    Does anyone on this blog know people who came into college like that?

    yes. there are a couple that frequent the ATBC area of PT.

    ask around there if you are really interested; I know one of them very much likes to rag on the bible college he went to for duping him so hard.

  105. #105 Ichthyic
    February 5, 2007

    I forgot one of the tolerable categories of creationist bio students: How many do the work to fully understand the theory of evolution and THEN set out to debunk it?

    only one person I have ever personally met falls under that category.

    Jonathan Wells. Though i wouldn’t classify him as tolerable, would you?

    although John Davison also did that (he actually published articles in cell and nature and taught biology at UVM for many years before he lost his mind), though I can’t say I’ve ever met him face to face.

  106. #106 Ichthyic
    February 5, 2007

    And did you notice the chronic weird gleam in Haggard’s beady eyes? I’ve seen that look before: the restless scheming of a narcissistic exploiter.

    naww, that was just the drugs.

  107. #107 windy
    February 5, 2007

    Nagel in his bat essay actually says something quite different:

    …I think we also have some reason to believe that sensations are physical processes, without being in a position to understand how. Davidson’s position is that certain physical events have irreducibly mental properties, and perhaps some view describable in this way is correct. But nothing of which we can now form a conception corresponds to it; nor have we any idea what a theory would be like that enabled us to conceive of it. [...]

    I should like to close with a speculative proposal. It may be possible to approach the gap between subjective and objective from another direction. Setting aside temporarily the relation between the mind and the brain, we can pursue a more objective understanding of the mental in its own right. At present we are completely unequipped to think about the subjective character of experience without relying on the imagination–without taking up the point of view of the experiential subject. This should be regarded as a challenge to form new concepts and devise a new method — an objective phenomenology not dependent on empathy or the imagination.

    Not an impenetrable wall, but a challenge. (Not that Nagel has the final word on consciousness anyway, but his POW is probably more fruitful than Tim’s.)

  108. #108 David Marjanovi?
    February 5, 2007

    Nature is driven by the force of persistence, transformation, and transcendence into new categories or states of being.

    Huh?

    Honestly: Does that mean anything?

    The remarkable hominid brain, teeming with unfathomable synapses, broke into a new mode: self-aware mind.

    Elephants recognize themselves in the mirror. I forgot which bird species do, but several. Dolphins do. I bet we’ll find more. Or what do you mean by “self-aware”?

    Self-awareness (awareness of one’s extinction)

    I think that’s probably a consequence of language. If nobody tells you everyone dies, you’ll take a long time to reach that conclusion, and even then it will only be inductive reasoning.

    seems an excessive expense of cosmic energy if the job is simply passing along genes. Any blithe, furry creature could accomplish that.

    Yeah, and? Who said there’s no waste in nature, no by-products, no collateral damage? Nature is Stupid Design, remember.

    Concerning the Hard Problem, I wonder if it really exists. So far it looks very similar to vitalism… we’ll see.

  109. #109 David Marjanovi?
    February 5, 2007

    Nature is driven by the force of persistence, transformation, and transcendence into new categories or states of being.

    Huh?

    Honestly: Does that mean anything?

    The remarkable hominid brain, teeming with unfathomable synapses, broke into a new mode: self-aware mind.

    Elephants recognize themselves in the mirror. I forgot which bird species do, but several. Dolphins do. I bet we’ll find more. Or what do you mean by “self-aware”?

    Self-awareness (awareness of one’s extinction)

    I think that’s probably a consequence of language. If nobody tells you everyone dies, you’ll take a long time to reach that conclusion, and even then it will only be inductive reasoning.

    seems an excessive expense of cosmic energy if the job is simply passing along genes. Any blithe, furry creature could accomplish that.

    Yeah, and? Who said there’s no waste in nature, no by-products, no collateral damage? Nature is Stupid Design, remember.

    Concerning the Hard Problem, I wonder if it really exists. So far it looks very similar to vitalism… we’ll see.

  110. #110 ben
    February 5, 2007

    “incompetent”…”Good grief”

    I’m stunned by argumentative force of these rebuttals.

    I’m stunned that you think there was anything in your post but baseless assertion to rebut.

    “Scientists studying consciousness” will logically never peel away a super-subtle layer of synaptic tissue to reveal the what-it’s-like to smell a rose and feel pleasure in its color.

    You state something will never happen without providing any evidence that it is impossible. An equivalent counterargument would be “will too!”

    Consciousness is the wall against which the neuroscientist will bend and break his frustrated scapels.

    Again, says you. I say, “no they won’t! Neener, neener!”

  111. #111 Tim B.
    February 5, 2007

    Ben,

    Indeed, assertional. But instead of merely neenering, I’d welcome any alternative assertion regarding the interface of third-person materiality and first-person experience. Like maybe, “The way I feel when I stump my toe is made up of super-fine particulates, so far just too evasive of a microscope’s surveillance.”

    I’ve lingered assertionally on this thread mainly out of curiosity — to see if any others thought that the hard problem went philosophically deeper than the neuroscientists’ protocols. Apparently not. That’s cool. I’ll look elsewhere.

  112. #112 windy
    February 5, 2007

    Tim, you are mixing up the hard and the soft problems of consciousness. I assumed we were talking about the question “How does conscious experience reduce to physical matter”, which is something neuroscientists might study (broadly put). However, as I understand it the hard problem is usually framed as: why does conscious experience exist at all? But not knowing how it arose doesn’t mean that consciousness can’t be a physical phenomenon!

    Let’s take the conscious self as an example – during some periods (unconsciousness, non-dreaming sleep) it seems to be inactive. However, when we wake up, the self reappears unscathed. Where did it go in the meantime? Is it stored in the physical brain or off in Neverland?

    What about children? Somehow, they acquire consciousnesses after birth. If physical matter has nothing to do with it, why isn’t each new consciousness as alien to others as Martians would be?

  113. #113 windy
    February 5, 2007

    Like maybe, “The way I feel when I stump my toe is made up of super-fine particulates, so far just too evasive of a microscope’s surveillance.”

    That reminds me… have you ever needed painkillers? What’s your rationale for taking them? How could a small white lump of physical matter, containing mere chemicals, control your irreducible conscious experience of pain? :)

  114. #114 Tim B.
    February 5, 2007

    windy,

    Perhaps the *why* question is a super-hard problem. I’m fairly certain the hard problem has to do with “How does conscious experience reduce to physical matter.”

    Actually, Chalmers explores the possibility that consciousness may, indeed, be physical, but just not material. A primal law of nature that goes all the way down, like gravity.

    Of course consciousness and the brain are related. One doesn’t keep feeling and thinking after death (please forgive another assertion on my part). But I can see no way to understand the philosophical incoherence of self to not-self than to posit a complementary, not contiguous, situation between mind and brain.

  115. #115 Tim B.
    February 5, 2007

    windy,

    Pain or its absence is distinct from the sense that *I* am having it or not. Pharmocology addresses the same side of the world in which the toe-stumping occurs. A theoretical zombie could be subject to the debilitating effects of a headache and yet not be aware that *it* is having the pain.

  116. #116 windy
    February 5, 2007

    Of course consciousness and the brain are related. One doesn’t keep feeling and thinking after death (please forgive another assertion on my part). But I can see no way to understand the philosophical incoherence of self to not-self than to posit a complementary, not contiguous, situation between mind and brain.

    Fine, but there’s a difference between “I can’t see how we can explain X” and “it is logically not possible to explain X” :)

    Pain or its absence is distinct from the sense that *I* am having it or not. Pharmocology addresses the same side of the world in which the toe-stumping occurs. A theoretical zombie could be subject to the debilitating effects of a headache and yet not be aware that *it* is having the pain.

    Come on, are you telling me you don’t seek pain relief from the point of view of your conscious self? Because of the sense that *you* are in pain? Pharmacology is done by conscious beings for conscious beings.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.