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On not asking hard questions - The Ex-Communicator

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October 12th, 2010


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09:29 am - On not asking hard questions
My daughter is studying biomedical science at Manchester. There are a few elective modules and she has chosen one on evolution. She says there are students who are dropping out of the module, because they 'don't believe in evolution'. As she says, it's not like they didn't know what it was going to be about; the clue is in the title. My guess - and this is entirely a guess of course - is that they expected to go in and dismiss it, and found that was more difficult than they thought. They then had to either change their beliefs or drop the module.

I remember when I came back from university after my first year studying philosophy the local vicar told my mum he wanted to discuss faith with me, so I said sure, I'll give him some time. He came in all smiling and started on some spiel about how the eyes of faith let him see things that reason did not. So I said 'You are saying that you can perceive something, through faith, that I am not able to see? And you are telling me what you can perceive, to help me, like a sighted person helping a blind person?'

And he was nodding, smiling, looking relieved that I had got his meaning. So I lobbed him a very easy one, just to get the conversation started.

'But other people have a different faith from you. They tell me that they perceive something different with the eyes of faith. So, speaking as a metaphorically blind person, how can I tell which 'faith' perceives something real?'

And he was totally floored. He just gaped at me, as if the subject had never crossed his mind. He stood up, started to talk very rapidly about Our Lord Jesus Christ, and went away, and never came back. I have never seen him again to this day. I honestly didn't mean to upset him; it was the easiest next question I could think of.

(BTW I am not saying there are no good arguments he could have made - I was anticipating them - it was that he totally had not thought his position through in even the most superficial way)

Anyway, my point is that a lot of people act confident in their own intellect, but it's often that they have been protected from challenge all their lives. And of course we women are taught not to ask those difficult questions which will discomfit men. You are supposed to be twice as smart as he is - work out his argument as well as your own, spot where its weak points are, and then tactfully avoid them. I am just a naturally rude person, so I notice it quite a lot.

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Comments:


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From:happytune
Date:October 12th, 2010 09:11 am (UTC)
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SC reckons they should make the evolution module compulsory for people doing the subject.
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From:communicator
Date:October 12th, 2010 09:37 am (UTC)
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HP is saying the same thing here in the office.
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From:watervole
Date:October 12th, 2010 09:41 am (UTC)
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I agree. You shouldn't be allowed to study biomed without understanding evolution. All kinds of genetic diseases and odd quirks of human anatomy are linked into evolution.
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From:andrewducker
Date:October 12th, 2010 09:33 am (UTC)
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Absolutely. I have respect for some people with beliefs that I consider barking, because they have at least thought it through, and while I don't consider their evidence at all compelling, they have put the effort in to work the idea through and make it make sense to them.

And then there are people who just want to believe, and have, if anything, avoided thinking about it. It baffles me that representatives of the faith would feel that way.

Mind you, the same is true of politics, where I have respect for some people with opposite political standpoints to me, because they have worked for those standpoints, and a complete lack for people that hold the same beliefs as me who don't actually understand their own opinions.
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From:communicator
Date:October 12th, 2010 09:44 am (UTC)
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This vicar stuck with me because he obviously had a great deal of confidence in his own abilities; the conversation was his idea. I wonder what he expected to happen? And I deduce from this that he had spoken to many women more polite than me whose response to him had been to murmur 'How right you are my dear!'
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From:steepholm
Date:October 12th, 2010 09:49 am (UTC)
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Perhaps you were the first who happened to be taking philosophy? It does seem a fairly straightforward question, though, which should have been covered in Evangelism 101.
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From:andrewducker
Date:October 12th, 2010 09:51 am (UTC)
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I would love to know what he expected.

It seems to be a common thing amongst many religious people to think that others will just gracefully accept what they say, rather than actually ask them to explain.
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From:matgb
Date:October 13th, 2010 12:06 am (UTC)
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I have respect for some people with opposite political standpoints to me, because they have worked for those standpoints, and a complete lack for people that hold the same beliefs as me who don't actually understand their own opinions

Exactly. PRime example of this is Anne Widdecombe, disagree with her on almost everything, if she says the sky's blue I'll go check, but...

I respect her, specifically over her turning down a job as a health minister because she disagreed with some Govt health policies (esp abortion) and couldn't in conscience carry them out. Compare that with, say, Ruth Kelly, who's faith is even more extreme than Widdy's, accepting Equalities.

Then, of course, there's Simon Hughes, who I'm not sure understnads any opinions, let alone why party policy is the way it is on a number of issues.
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From:spacefall
Date:October 12th, 2010 10:15 am (UTC)
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I'm so glad you ask those questions.
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From:fjm
Date:October 12th, 2010 10:53 am (UTC)
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Ha! I have lost more than one job because I was the candidate who asked the awkward question... and not once did I realise that was what I was doing, until they came over all shifty.
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From:kerravonsen
Date:October 12th, 2010 11:31 am (UTC)
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Sounds like they were good jobs to lose!
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From:kerravonsen
Date:October 12th, 2010 11:30 am (UTC)
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The thing that baffles me about that Fundie attitude is how do they explain the numerous number of scientists that are Christians?
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From:julesjones
Date:October 12th, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC)
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As hoyland54 says, we're the wrong type of Christian.

The one I never could get my head around was one of my former colleagues, who was a couple of years older than me, but had also done physics at Durham -- and apparently would effectively say he was a Creationist if asked politely what his opinion on the subject was.

This was not a joke. But doing the Durham physics degree and genuinely remaining a Creationist would require some fairly serious doublethink skills, so I always wondered how much of this was essentially for the benefit of his family and church.
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From:kerravonsen
Date:October 12th, 2010 10:57 pm (UTC)
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There's more than one kind of creationist, though. There's the "God created the heavens and the earth literally in seven days" type of creationist, and there's the "God created the heavens and the earth in a metaphorical seven days" type of creationist. It's only the former type which would require doublethink. The latter type could easily reconcile a physics degree which points out that the universe is millions of years old, and a God who created the universe over millions of years. No doublethink required.

The whole "Science versus Religion" thing is a red herring which far too many people get caught up in. Science, by its very nature, cannot disprove Religion because Science deals in the material world only, and Religion deals with the material and the spiritual. Science cannot prove Religion either, for the same reason. Any religious belief which allows itself to be "disproved" by science is stupid. So, yes, I do think the "seven-day" creationists are massively stupid. They hand their enemies the knife to stab them with. God does not lie. God does not allow the material world to lie, either. It makes me so angry when Fundies essentially teach that faith is required to be irrational rather than non-rational; that faith requires one to believe that God lies in order to "test" believers. How dare they! How DARE they! (seethes)

Ahem. Sorry, seem to have hit one of my hot buttons there.
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From:julesjones
Date:October 13th, 2010 06:36 am (UTC)
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He was a capital-C Creationist, i.e. God created the world in a literal 6 days and one of rest. Which was a mindset that baffled the large contingent of "evolution is God's tool" scientists on the site.

(NB - someone who thinks that Genesis is a metaphor for 4.5 thousand million years *isn't* a creationist, even if they think that of course it's all God's work. Creationist is a term used specifically for someone who denies the reality of evolution and geological timescales; it does not include everyone who thinks that God created the universe.)

You might enjoy my post on evolution is God's tool.
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From:kerravonsen
Date:October 13th, 2010 07:24 am (UTC)
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Ah. My mistake. It makes me so sad...
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From:kerravonsen
Date:October 12th, 2010 11:49 am (UTC)
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What bothers me, on either side of these kind of arguments, are the people who are not only certain that they are right, but that everyone who disagrees with them must be an idiot. I can't help but remember the offhand remark that sparked a flamewar on the Lyst back in the day: "Of course, everyone here is too intelligent to believe in God."

'But other people have a different faith from you. They tell me that they perceive something different with the eyes of faith. So, speaking as a metaphorically blind person, how can I tell which 'faith' perceives something real?'
I mean, that's the obvious question, isn't it?
I wonder if that vicar was too used to the mindset of "there is Christianity and atheism, so all I have to do is convince them of the existance of the supernatural, and we're set". I think of recent decades, there has been more awareness of non-Christian religions, which that vicar might not have internalized.

My thoughts about the eyes of faith let him see things that reason did not is that it is... half right.
Not having done philosophy, I probably don't have the right words to talk about this, but I consider knowledge to be of two kinds: the rational, and the non-rational. A third is the irrational; it goes against reason, while the non-rational should be in harmony with reason. Far too many people on both sides of the argument equate non-rational with irrational, and that leads to a mess. Those who think that "faith" is more important than reason are the ones who drop out of evolution courses; those who think that reason is more important than faith are the ones who lose their faith after taking evolution courses. From my point of view, both of them are mistaken.

And of course we women are taught not to ask those difficult questions which will discomfit men. You are supposed to be twice as smart as he is - work out his argument as well as your own, spot where its weak points are, and then tactfully avoid them. I am just a naturally rude person, so I notice it quite a lot.
LOL. I must be a naturally rude person too.
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From:executrix
Date:October 12th, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC)

Saucer of Cream for Table Two

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"I don't believe in evolution!"

"Yeeess....well, I can quite see why YOU wouldn't."
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From:trixieleitz
Date:October 12th, 2010 11:42 pm (UTC)

Re: Saucer of Cream for Table Two

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:D
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From:sheenaghpugh
Date:October 12th, 2010 02:38 pm (UTC)
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Maybe you should have tried him with Lessing's parable of the three rings:

In the Orient in ancient times there lived a man who possessed a ring of inestimable worth. Its stone was an opal that emitted a hundred colors, but its real value lay in its ability to make its wearer beloved of God and man. The ring passed from father to most favored son for many generations, until finally its owner was a father with three sons, all equally deserving. Unable to decide which of the three sons was most worthy, the father commissioned a master artisan to make two exact copies of the ring, then gave each son a ring, and each son believed that he alone had inherited the original and true ring.

But instead of harmony, the father's plan brought only discord to his heirs. Shortly after the father died, each of the sons claimed to be the sole ruler of the father's house, each basing his claim to authority on the ring given to him by the father. The discord grew even stronger and more hateful when a close examination of the rings failed to disclose any differences.

The dispute among the brothers grew until their case was finally brought before a judge. After hearing the history of the original ring and its miraculous powers, the judge pronounced his conclusion: "The authentic ring," he said, "had the power to make its owner beloved of God and man, but each of your rings has brought only hatred and strife. None of you is loved by others; each loves only himself. Therefore I must conclude that none of you has the original ring. Your father must have lost it, then attempted to hide his loss by having three counterfeit rings made, and these are the rings that cause you so much grief."

The judge continued: "Or it may be that your father, weary of the tyranny of a single ring, made duplicates, which he gave to you. Let each of you demonstrate his belief in the power of his ring by conducting his life in such a manner that he fully merits -- as anciently promised -- the love of God and man.
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From:communicator
Date:October 12th, 2010 02:52 pm (UTC)
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Lovely
From:huskyscotsman
Date:October 13th, 2010 04:56 pm (UTC)
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Wow, that is good. A fable for theists and atheists alike.
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From:trixieleitz
Date:October 12th, 2010 11:41 pm (UTC)
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In case you haven't already discovered her, you might like Greta Christina's writings on atheism. And all sorts of other thought-provoking stuff, but it was the atheism that I thought of first when I read your tale of the vicar.

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