Jon Stewart just said that all U.S. presidents have been Christians. That would come as a surprise to Jefferson, and probably to Lincoln as well.
Tag Archives | Jove’s Witnesses
Beat Your Swords Into Thetans
I just saw a commercial in which a girl acting in a school play suddenly breaks from the script and asks why soldiers should obey an unjust ruler’s order to go into battle, and why government should be allowed to serve only a few rather than everybody. Radical stuff, especially the former. (The latter is a pipe dream, though a well-intentioned one.)
So I went to the advertised website and discovered it’s some L. Ron Hubbard outfit. Does that mean the Scientologists are pushing military civil disobedience now? I didn’t know they swung that way.
Still, on said website one of the listed 21 Ethical Precepts is “Don’t Do Anything Illegal,” which would seem to conflict with the aforementioned suggestion of endorsing civil disobedience. Of course on a Socratic-Scholastic-Spoonerite understanding of law there’s no conflict, but is that what they mean?
I suppose I could satisfy my curiosity by shelling out 18 bucks for a bundle of booklets; but the last Hubbard tract I read did not awaken within me any desire to tackle another.
If you’re familiar with the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and with the musical Fiddler on the Roof, then you should enjoy this delightfully insane musical, Shoggoth on the Roof, which sets characters and situations from the former to the music of the latter. (If you’re unfamiliar with either or both, you’ll be somewhat baffled ….)
Here, for example, is an excerpt, to the tune “Sunrise, Sunset”:
Arkham, Dunwich, Arkham, Dunwich
filled with haunting fears
neighbors who hide up in the attics
inbreeding happily for years
Or this, to the tune of “If I Were A Rich Man”:
If I were a Deep One
blub blub blub blub, blub blub blub blub
blub blub blub blub, blub blub blub
all day long I’d swim beneath the sea
if I were a Dee-eep One
terrify the tourists
blub blub blub blub, blub blub blub blub
blub blub blub blub, blub blub blub
if I were an icky icky fish
scaly slippery frog-eyed kind of man
But my very favourite is this adaptation of “To Life”:
To life! to life I’ll bring them
I’ll bring all these dead men to life
and if that life has no quality
still there’s the quantity
I will bring them to life!
To life, to life I brought him
I brought Dr. Halsey to life
of course I first had to kill the man
with some ingenious plan
(He just shot him!)
Okay, it’s true, I shot him
I shot him but brought him to life ….
The sound is very professional, and the voices are excellent.
When I tried to buy the CD from the website the link wasn’t working, so I bought it from Froogle instead. But the official site seems to be working again now. (And you can listen to audio samples.) So buy your copy now! Otherwise, unspeakable horror awaits you ….
A Show of Hands
According to this guy who was on The Colbert Report tonight, straight men and gay women are more likely to have ring fingers longer than index fingers, while gay men and straight women are more likely to have index fingers longer than ring fingers. Result: I have gay hands!
Since, according to so many religious conservatives (see, e.g., here and here), we’re supposed to let our bodily parts define our moral obligations, does this mean I’m now morally obligated to become gay?
In Search of Lost Time
Two interesting science-fiction stories that I read years ago stay in my mind, but I don’t recall the authors or titles. If you remember either of these, please let me know. (My vague feeling is that the first story is by someone famous, perhaps Asimov or someone like that, and that the second story is by someone less known.)
1. A device is invented to see into the past. But it can’t go farther than a few decades back, so it’s no use for finding out the truth about ancient history (by contrast with the next story). The ultimate upshot of the story is that the device means a drastic social change, the end of privacy forever, because five seconds ago is still the past, and so anyone can watch what anyone else is doing anywhere. (Libertarian sidenote: if this were indeed to happen it might initially seem to make resistance to government much harder, since the state could spy on everyone easily; but I’m not sure it would, since – assuming, as the story does, that everyone has one of these devices – the true actions and motivations of government officials would be much easier to expose. Also, determining guilt or innocence in court would be a lot easier. But these are my own remarks; the story didn’t explore these political implications.)
2. A team of time travelers is going back to the first century to observe the life of Jesus and find out what’s true and what’s false in the Biblical account of his career. A Catholic priest is invited to join the team but is reluctant. Everyone assumes that his reluctance stems from fear of finding out that the Church’s teachings about Jesus are mistaken. But in fact it turns out that the priest’s belief in the historicity of the Gospels is perfectly firm, and the real reason for his reluctance is his fear that he couldn’t honestly look Jesus in the eye and claim to have been a “good and faithful servant.”
[cross posted at Liberty & Power]
Joseph Sobran suggests (conical hat tip to LRC) that people’s willingness to help or praise others refutes Darwinism and atheism, and defies Randian egoism. Let’s take these in turn.
Darwinism: Sobran seems to imagine that if Darwinism were true, people would be interested solely in their own narrow survival and would have no genuine concern for others. This is wrong on two different levels.
First, Sobran mistakenly assumes that Darwinism commits us to holding that all our mental contents, all our beliefs and desires, are there solely because they promote survival. Yet Darwinism implies nothing of the kind. Natural selection explains our possession of various capacities for learning, choosing, being influenced; but natural selection by itself does not guarantee that these capacities will be exercised solely in survival-conducing ways. How could it? My belief that 666 is the square root of 443556 isn’t there because that belief has survival value; there may be cases where it would, but I doubt that it ever has. Instead my belief that 666 is the square root of 443556 is the product of a general capacity to figure things out (i.e., reason), and that capacity has survival value.
Second, even if Darwinism did imply that all our mental contents are directly explainable by natural selection, it still wouldn’t follow that we should be surprised at the existence of genuine other-concern. Suppose (and this does not seem to be an especially heroic assumption) that creatures who are inclined to cooperate with one another are more likely on average to survive than those who aren’t. What more does one need by way of an evolutionary explanation? Has Sobran never read Spencer? Or Darwin himself?
Sobran thinks it should be a puzzle for the Darwinian why human beings express varieties of concern that other animals lack. But he himself offers the answer: reason. And as I noted above, this is a perfectly Darwinian-compatible explanation.
The weirdest section of Sobran’s article comes when he suggests that “killing your own children” (this is Sobran’s tendentious description of abortion; he seems to have forgotten that before a woman has given birth she has no “children”) “makes some sort of sense from an atheistic and Darwinian point of view,” since “[i]f survival is a ruthless competition, your kids are your competitors.” Um, Darwinian natural selection promotes traits that enhance the likelihood of reproduction; survival is selected for only insofar as it promotes reproduction. (Of course we can outwit natural selection, and a good thing too; the view, mysteriously popular among many religious conservatives, that we should bow to the purposes of our genes surely contradicts Genesis 1:26.)
Atheism: I was initially puzzled as to how Sobran’s argument was supposed to be relevant to atheism, until I realized that he is treating atheism and Darwinism as equivalents. But they aren’t. One can be a Darwinian without being an atheist (for this we have the assurance of no less an authority than Pope John Paul II), and one can likewise be an atheist without being a Darwinian (as all atheists were, prior to the 19th century, and as many have been since).
Randian egoism: Sobran treats Randian egoism as though it counseled against genuine concern for others. But Randian egoism says no such thing; its conception of self-interest is modeled on Aristotelean eudaimonia, and most definitely includes various forms of other-concern. There is a dispute in Randian circles as to whether such concern is related causally or constitutively to self-interest; but such concern remains genuine in either case. Egoism is a doctrine of the ground of our legitimate concerns, not of their scope. If egoism is Sobran’s basis for rejecting Rand, he should reject Thomas Aquinas for the same reason.