Archive for the 'Belief' Category

Alternative Realities

Romans Pancs, my friend from what is slated to be the other side of The Wall, observes in an email that a substantial fraction of the US population attends church, where they are fed a steady diet of alternative facts and fake (old) news. Yet not many people seem terribly outraged by this, and in fact churchgoers are widely respected for the power of their fact-free, unconditional faith.

Why, then, all the angst and anger and disrespect for those who place their unconditional faith in the fake news and prophesies purveyed by Donald Trump? Whence the double standard?

I have a separate question, motivated by the same observation: To what extent have the churches, by training people to accept obvious nonsense without blinking, created the condiitions in which Trumpism can flourish?

I’ll be glad to hear your answers to either question, or to both.

Click here to comment or read others’ comments.


Rock On

rockI don’t trust rocks. Rocks keep fooling me. They sit there looking all solid until you examine them more carefully and find out they’re mostly empty space, with a smattering of charged particles here and there. Then you look a little deeper and find out those charged particles are nothing like they first appeared. They don’t even have locations. Rocks, and their constituents, are nothing at all like they first present themselves. But at least they’re real. I think.

Now here’s what genuinely baffles me: Apparently there are people in this world (and even, occasionally, in the comments section of this blog) who haven’t the slightest doubt about the existence of rocks, galaxies, squirrels, and the rest of the physical universe, but who suddenly turn into hardcore skeptics re the existence of mathematical objects like the natural numbers. (Many of these people, I suspect, are in fact affecting skepticism because of a badly mistaken belief that it makes them look sophisticated. But that’s speculation on my part, so let’s put it aside and take their positions at face value.) I just don’t get this. Why on earth would, say, a scientist, commit to the belief that there’s a physical universe out there but not a mathematical one, when we know that our perceptions of the physical universe demand constant revision, whereas our perceptions of the mathematical universe are largely eternal. My conception of the natural numbers is very close to Euclid’s; my conception of an atom bears almost no resemblance to Demosthenes’s.

Continue reading ‘Rock On’

Ungodly Ignorance

According to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, forty-five percent of Americans Catholics are unaware that, according their own professed religion, the physical body of Jesus Christ tastes rather like a cracker. Protestants and Jews are equally ignorant of key facts about their own religions, though (at least according to the examples quoted in the New York Times) the gaps in their knowledge were less about theology and more about the roles of historical figures.

I can understand being simultaneously devout and a little hazy on religious history, but I don’t understand how you can be both devout and so hazy about the doctrines of your own church. In the words of Bryan Caplan, who blogged this first:

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For Heaven’s Sake

HuckabeeMAHere’s Mike Huckabee, quoted in The New Yorker:

If somebody asked me, How do I get to Heaven, I would tell them that the only way I personally am aware of is faith in Christ, because I believe the New Testament. That’s the only map I got. Somebody says, Well, I got a different map. O.K.! You know what? If it works, I’m not going to argue with you.

Well, that makes sense. If somebody asked me, How do I get to Mount Rushmore, I would tell them that the only way I personally am aware of is Route 90, because I believe in Google Maps. Somebody says, Well, I got a different map. O.K.! You know what, if it works, I’m not going to argue with you. Unless, of course, I actually care whether you make it to Mount Rushmore or not, in which case I might take the trouble to defend my map.

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In Heaven, There Are No Litter Boxes


There are roughly 30 million self-professed fundamentalist Christians in the United States. How many of them really believe what they say they do? New evidence suggests that the number is somewhere around 100. Either that or fundamentalism breeds exceptional callousness toward ones’ pets:

Many people in the U.S.—perhaps 20 million to 40 million—believe there will be a Second Coming in their lifetimes, followed by the Rapture. In this event, they say, the righteous will be spirited away to a better place while the godless remain on Earth. But what will become of all the pets?

Bart Centre, 61, a retired retail executive in New Hampshire, says many people are troubled by this question, and he wants to help. He started a service called Eternal Earth-Bound Pets that promises to rescue and care for animals left behind by the saved.

Promoted on the Web as “the next best thing to pet salvation in a Post Rapture World,” the service has attracted more than 100 clients, who pay $110 for a 10-year contract ($15 for each additional pet.) If the Rapture happens in that time, the pets left behind will have homes—with atheists. Centre has set up a national network of godless humans to carry out the mission. “If you love your pets, I can’t understand how you could not consider this,” he says.

Here is the full article by Mike Di Paola, writing in Business Week.

Edited to add: I shouldn’t have said 30 million fundamentalist Christians; I should have said (at least according to the Business Week article) 30 million who expect the Second Coming and the Rapture in their lifetimes.


bathtubYou know that metal plate in your bathtub? The one with the little lever on it that opens and closes the drain? What happens when the water level rises above that plate?

When my sister asked me this question over Thanksgiving dinner, I answered, with the utmost confidence, that it causes (quite instantaneously) an enormous flood. (Note the exact wording. This will be important later.) My sister nodded sagely and said “That’s what I thought, too.” My sister and I had the same mother, you see.

And then she asked, quite innocently, “So. How exactly does that work?”. And I was stunned—absolutely stunned—to realize not only that I had no answer to this question, but that there could not plausibly be an answer. Which somehow had never occurred to me in the half century or so that I’d been harboring this ridiculous notion.

Continue reading ‘Unbelievable’