Magical Narrative Thinking

Before I begin, this focuses on a very specific example – so, if you have time, have a think about how it generalises. There are countless examples out there, in fiction especially, but where it bleeds over into real life we can run into serious problems.


Yes, it’s a post dedicated to Ken Ham, the dumbest person on the planet not named Ray Comfort, who recently said this in “celebration” of the same-sex marriage ruling in the United States:

hambow

Specifically, I want to look the part that says “Well, the president did not invent the rainbow; God invented it.” (emphasis added)

I’m sure many Christians out there think God is the de facto inventor of the rainbow by virtue of being the creator of the universe, but I’m not talking about that. That’s actually fairly self-consistent, and I can’t really fault it much. This is different. Remember: Ken Ham is a literal Biblical creationist.

He genuinely, literally believes the Bible is the historical book of record for all of history. And by extension, all of physics, too.

He honestly, really, genuinely doesn’t believe in any science that contradicts the Bible, never mind any historical fact that contradicts it.

He literally, actually, genuinely, really believes that the Book of Genesis is correct that the atmospheric phenomenon we call a “rainbow” is a sign from God, an apology for taking his anger management issues out on the entire population of the world in the single biggest act of genocide in “recorded” history.

Ken Ham literally, really, honestly, actually, literally, genuinely, properly, really, actually thinks that the rainbow was invented by God after the flood.

It didn’t, therefore, exist before the flood.

This is what Ken Ham actually believes – otherwise his entire world collapses in on itself faster than the rectal prolapse suffered by a homophobic televangelist after too much anal sex with gay hookers on speed.(That’s quite enough of that, Ed.)

Now to cut a long-winded pseudo-intellectual story short; we simply cannot build a universe where a rainbow cannot exist.

Well, we can, but we have to understand its wider effects. I’m perfectly okay with God Almightly clicking his non-corporeal fingers and altering physics in such a way that one moment there was no optical phenomenon in the sky and then suddenly there was… but we have to follow those changes to their logical conclusion. In stories, with their narratives, you can get away with changing one thing, but in real life you can’t.

There are three things you can change in order to stop a rainbow from being physically possible: the light, the principles of optics, and the source (I suppose one could call it the “material cause”?) of the refraction. Remove one of those components, and no rainbow is physically possible.

The details makes a fun and entertaining thought-experiment: what would happen if we stopped a rainbow from happening?

  1. Remove the light – No light, no rainbow. But then we can no longer see, either. Our vision requires light, so any antediluvian civilisation would be blind and incapable of sight. It doesn’t stop there, though. Without photons, chemical reactions that are sensitised by photons or that emit photons wouldn’t happen. Energy level changes at the quantum level would all have to take place non-radiatively. There would be no mechanism to masslessly transfer energy about the universe. Quantum mechanics breaks at the seams as it can’t shed energy around as photons. At the very least, the Earth would freeze solid as the sun was no longer capable of warming it from across the void of space with a massive influx of solar radiation.
  2. Remove the optical effects –  Now we’re cooking! We can keep the light, but let’s kill the concept of refraction. Okay… now we can’t see either, since our (allegedly “intelligently” designed) eyes have to bend light twice in order to focus. Once through the main cornea and then through our squishier lens. Antediluvian civilisation is still blind. Light now travels at the same speed through all media, not slowing down or altering. Light is no longer interacting with matter in the way it should. Quantum mechanics as we know it again shatters into a thousand pieces, the universe dies of entropic heat death before it is even born.
  3. Remove the water – Okay… let’s keep all the physics behind the rainbow! The universe exists, light interacts with matter, let’s just kill the rainbow at its source – the condensed water droplets in the atmosphere. Immediately we all die of thirst and starvation as there’s no water, so let’s put the water back. Oh, wait, the hydrogen bonding between water molecules, as well as the mass of two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom give bulk water very specific properties such as its vapour pressure, and its melting/boiling points – that means if we put the water back we’ll have water vapour, and it’ll condense around any particulate matter in the atmosphere… back to the drawing board, let’s alter conditions so that water vapour can’t condense! Aha! Let’s lower the pressure of the atmosphere, that should keep it in the gas phase… oh, wait, now people can’t breathe because the partial pressure of oxygen is too low for haemoglobin to work properly. Let’s up the molar proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere so the partial pressure is still ca.0.2 atm as it is now…. oh great, now not enough nitrogen for nitrogen-fixing bacteria to work with and we all die of starvation and let’s not even start with what the lower pressure does to the boiling point of the oceans and the gases dissolved in them… okay, so let’s boost the temperature above the dew point of water… bah, we’re all dead again… quantum mechanics remains in tact, but chemistry explodes in fireball of icy self-contradicting death and destruction that renders the planet inhospitable to everything that isn’t a self-contained abstract concept.

That’s consistency for you. There isn’t a world where you can’t have a rainbow yet let it still work exactly as it does today. You can’t pick it apart from the rest of the universe and treat it as a narrative block, a piece of magic with its own separate rules. If you change one rule, it changes for everything.

What’s Stopping You? Nothing, and That’s the Point.

For years upon years upon years, religious apologists have been asking the same question of the non-religious and non-believers – what’s stopping you from committing crimes? What holds you back from raping, murdering, stealing and generally causing chaos? What stops you?

ham_miley

After all, we don’t – and to a degree can’t – live by any moral guidance determined for us and dictated from up on high.

Now, this opens up a huge can of worms when you take it to its conclusion; namely, that such questions imply that if the existence of an all-powerful creator-deity was suddenly disproved, or that said-theist stopped believing in it overnight, that they’d immediately embark upon a murderous rampage leaving nothing but dust in their wake. It assumes that under humanity’s playful exterior beats the heart of a ruthless, sadistic maniac. A fair assessment of humanity given our track record, sure, but not one that exclusively correlates with atheism. It also raises issues of trust – would you trust someone who explicitly said that the only thing stopping them from knifing you in the face right this second was their fear of a god?

Tu quoque aside, a far more interesting response to the accusation of being an atheistic amoral psychopath is brutal honesty – nothing is stopping me. Literally nothing stops us, as non-believers, from stealing, murdering, raping and pillaging, vandalising, burgling, buggering, and blasting our way across the planet for the whole duration of our short, sad and miserable time on it. But the simple fact is… we just don’t do that. By-and-large, we’re peaceful people. By-and-large, people are good. A person will stop to help another if they’re able, they’ll obey the law – something that only really exists to prevent the minority from exploiting the kindly majority.

So the accusation levelled by apologists really doesn’t make any sense so long as the atheist they’re talking to isn’t, in fact, committing any crime or sin. Nothing is stopping me from doing all that stuff. Nothing at all. I have simply murdered and raped everyone I have wanted to, and I have vandalised and stolen and destroyed everything I have wanted to. I won’t claim cherubic innocence on every count, but those cases really do round-off to zero. I have done everything I have wanted to, and it just so happens I haven’t wanted to do any of those criminal or immoral acts.

Anyway, that’s all introduction material. It’s all been said before, by multiple people, and probably in longer and shorter forms. You know this, surely.

My question is this – has anyone ever heard of a response to it? The likes of Ken Ham seem to base their entire anti-atheist worldview on it (see the accompanying image above). Their claimed monopoly on the laws of morality and goodness – or, at least, acts that we consider positive, constructive, non-harmful, and wellness- and happiness-maximising – relies on this absurd notion that we are a bunch of wild and rabid lunatics underneath. They need us to be sinful in the absence of God. But we’re not. They need us to be wild savages without the guidance of the Bible. But we’re not. The position is fundamentally flawed and falls at this very first, very mild hurdle.

So what next?

What therefore proves you must need God to be good even in the face of this?

What shows that we cannot possibly make moral decisions for ourselves even in the face of evidence that we make moral decisions for ourselves?

The ball has been on the theistic side of the net for a while now. I can’t even recall the first time I heard someone say “I’ve murdered exactly the number of people I wanted to: none”. Has anyone out there in Internet Land heard of a response to that?

This is a genuine question for those out there – have the Hams, Comforts or even the C. S. Lewises of the world ever taken the next step? And if not, why not? And how would you even begin, hypothetically speaking, to throw the ball back?

Messages from Creationists

Before I start, a question. Seriously, what the fuck is with this trendy shit where you write on a piece of paper and take a photograph of it? Shitting bullfuck it’s just so fucking lame. Anyway… Here are some images of creationists from the Nye/Ham debate ripped from Buzzfeed and elsewhere. I thought I’d answer them. I’ll try and be nice. Some of the time.


“Influencing” is a long word. Who the hell thinks they could possibly fit “influencing” in that gap and so willingly chooses to break up a word with a hyphen when handwriting? No, really. Who the hell does that? If Bill Nye can influence anyone in a positive way, it should be to avoid being this short-sighted and stupid.


GOD IS A DICK! JESUS SUCKS COCKS!! KEN HAM IS AN IDIOT! THE BIBLE IS FAKE! GRAAAAA!!!

Still no lightning bolts. I guess that answers that one.


Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Yes. Absolutely yes.


Short answer: No.

Long answer: Once you understand that 1) the Earth is not a closed system and so the Second Law won’t rigorously apply 2) that the complexity of the chemical reactions that form life in fact are driven by entropy increases in the wider system and 3) that “does not…” at the beginning of a question introduces ambiguity and is as stylistically appalling as combining that hair with that beard – one or t’other, please. Then no.


The heliocentric model of the solar system demonstrates that the sun is in a (relatively) fixed position while the Earth orbits around it, during that time the Earth also rotates so that from a (relatively) fixed position on Earth, the sun appears to orbit around the Earth. Sections of the Earth that face away from the sun are in darkness, an alternatively switch between facing towards and away from the sun. Hence the sun comes up and down from our frame of reference.

Something else just bugs be about this one, but I can’t quite put my finger on it…


I’m going to have to go through my thermodynamics lecture notes and find the part where ΔG = ΔHTΔactually does this…


Indeed.


Okay, serious answer time. Put a coffee on. An “objective meaning” in life is not, in fact, objectively required. That much is self-evident from the mere fact that someone can even ask this question. We need to remember what “objective” refers to – it’s something that exists independently of the self and of our opinion. In short, it’s something that remains true regardless of our belief in it, anything else is subjective and dependent on our thoughts and opinions. As a corollary to this, we can easily show that any claim of objective meaning is, in fact, subjective. Saying, for example, that “God has a plan for us” does not give me, in a subjective sense, any meaning, or comfort, and indeed interests me not. If this sort of statement was objective by the definitions of “objective” I’ve just given, this wouldn’t be the case at all. The easiest way to respond to such a question, therefore, is to ask where you get your objective meaning in life. That’s properly objective (see, online I can bold, italic and underline!) and not “subjective but I totally don’t think it is”.


[Insert every paper ever written on chemical biology, abiogenesis, autocatalysis, chemical selection, biochemistry, science…]


“AVADA KEDAVRA!!!”

Books. Don’t mess with them, kids.


Because aliens are comparatively plausible. And considering most serious people think panspermia and directed panspermia are totally batshit implausibly stupid and only gullible idiots who watch too much SyFy believe in it, what does that say about Young Earth Creationism, Mr I’m Only Going To Show My Hands Rather Than My Gurning Face?


The only thing where there is no in between, is between your ears where the rest of us have squishy grey stuff.


I’m going to go ahead and assume you don’t know what any of those words mean.


You’re a fucking idiot.


Because you’re also a fucking idiot.


OH SWEET JESUS I MIGHT NEED TO TALK ABOUT INFORMATION THEORY HERE!!!

Nah, fuck it. Dawkins already did the hard work for me here. Warning, it’s long. It’ll blow your tiny little creationist brain just trying to comprehend that many words in one place.


I believe my purpose is to praise Allah and glorify his prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Prove me wrong, bitches.


Only one Australopithecus specimen?!? Holy crap, someone better tell the President of Paleontology fast! They think there’s nearly a dozen!!


Now here’s  a definitional linguistic clusterfuck I’m not diving into…


Easily, actually. Because I’m smart. Well, perhaps not “smart” in the grand scheme of things. But next to people who think the entire human population was created through incest, twice, I’m a fucking 1-in-a-trillion genius.


Wut?


Because when given the choice, some of the monkeys preferred to stay the same.

Honesty is the best policy

So, this cropped up on Facebook. As before, I’m banned from both Ham’s page and AiG’s page for merely talking to another atheist, so couldn’t challenge him directly what this was about (had to wait for some others who weren’t blocked to spot it and call him out on it).HamWhere is the email? Is it so offensive that Ham couldn’t reproduce it? Would his followers be too sensitive for the foul language? Did Houston Atheists send him a large collection child pornography? Did someone link him to one of my more egregious rants? (oh, bloody hell I hope not…)

Well, it wouldn’t be in Ham’s best interest to cite it in full, would it… because you can actually find it here. Unless there’s some other Houston Atheists. Or some other homeschooling conference held in Texas in August. Or some other Ken Ham of some other Answers in Genesis. Or some other 30th-31st May 2013. If you read it yourself, in an unbiased way at least, the letter itself seems fairly polite. It’s strongly worded, sure, but it simply lays out the position; that Houston Atheist’s “vehemently oppose the indoctrination of children with radical fundamentalist theology under the false guise of science”. This is the position shared by many, and there are few (if any) ways of tiptoeing around the subject in a way that makes people feel better about it. There is no way of saying “I think you’re wrong and can prove it” that isn’t going to come across as pretty mean – you just have to grow a thick skin and Deal With It by proving yourself right.

Ken Ham, though? No way, no way at all. He just blindly asserts that the email is rude and unprofessional, and his followers lap it up unquestioningly – such is the protective bubble he keeps them in. No questions asked, no attempt to judge for themselves, not a faint whiff of curiosity about what the email actually said. Not one of his followers asked to see the evidence in the form of quotes or extracts, or even the thing in full. This is the absolute opposite to how things like science or free-thinking philosophy works, where you have to – shock horror – prove what you’re saying by showing it or demonstrating it. I know it’s quite a scary prospect to actually back up stuff and have people call you out when you don’t sufficiently do it, but it’s flown us to the moon and cures cancer, so there must be something to that method. This is the central problem with most creationists; they won’t back themselves up, or if they do it’s to the same insular sources again and again that are effortlessly debunked.

Now, this post isn’t an attack on Ham being religious or believing in God. Really, it isn’t. If I was into that sort of thing, I would do shit like send John Sentamu death threats, disown by Christian Facebook friends for merely existing, and start telling Buddhists that their religion is wrong because Jesus married a 9 year-old Aisha in order to ward off vengeful Thetans. No, this is an attack on Ken Ham being dishonest. He is making statements about something that he hasn’t cited, and we’re supposed to blindly accept what he says. Maybe the later blog post he promises will raise actual quotations (I won’t hold my breath, though) but right now he’s already poisoning the well without citing a single quote – buttering up his audience to accept that Houston Atheist’s egregiously insulted him no matter what words they actually said even if he does get around to quoting them.

It’s about how we go about doing things that’s important – what Ken Ham believes is trivial, but why he believes it is everything. And why he believes it evidently sucks.

So I have made a statement that says Ken Ham is being dishonest by feeding his followers with blind assertions with no evidence – I’ve put the screencap above to demonstrate it. I’ve then said that the email from Houston Atheists is perfectly fine, and not a foul attack on Christianity, and linked to it to demonstrate that – if anyone disagrees, then they have the material at hand to quote what is offensive, unprofessional and rude about it.

Because that’s what honest people do; and what Ken Ham does not do.


Addendum: He has released the promised blog posts and my response is “oh bugger off, Ken“. Selectively quoting the email, and claiming it wasn’t signed by someone even though it was signed by the organisation – which, you know, people can do if they like – and conveniently not quoting the parts where they offer to have a suitable venue, moderator and suggest an experienced ‘evolutionist’ for their ‘side’ – instead, trying to pretend as if such things were his own great ideas. Again, you can check the full text of the email in the link above if you disagree that this is what they said.

And just as before, not even one of his followers decided to ask for more context or the full email.

But Ken Ham takes the cake…

I have no problem with people banning users from their Facebook pages, or their sites, or their blogs. I really don’t. People cry out “freedom of speech” when their posting rights are kicked to the kerb, but, frankly, you’re not actually suffering or having any rights challenged for having posting rights revoked on Facebook. You’re really not, you whiny little so-and-so. You still have your own profile, or an ability to create your own page, or set up your own blog for free (like this one). I’m not averse to banning someone myself because I am under absolutely no obligation to take bullshit from people when I’m calling the shots. But that is, at least, such a rare event that it hasn’t actually happened yet – my M.O. for idiots is to let them show themselves up, while my M.O. for intentional and repeated troublemakers is to simply deprive them of the attention they crave. Usually, by the time someone has triggered my threshold they’re bored and long gone.

I’m also not too bothered about, say, Ray Comfort’s zero tolerance approach to profanity with his use of the Ban Hammer. I find it a bit distasteful that his threshold is so low (anything stronger than “my golly gosh” gets your a spanking), that he has no concept of the use/mention distinction (so even quoting it hypothetically gets you the Hammer), that he bizarrely extends this into abbreviations (“OMG, your BS is appalling” gets you whacked) and, well, I haven’t yet challenged him on made up swearing like “frack” and “feldercarb” (but I imagine he doesn’t take kindly to it) – but it’s his prerogative to take such an overly simple approach and it’s not a difficult a rule to abide by. I don’t begrudge him this choice, it’s his to make. It’s a pain in the ass, but Fucking Deal With It.

But Ken Ham, however, is a bit of a different beast in this Ban Hammer regard.

Firstly, though, a caveat. Unlike Comfort, where I’m fairly certain he manages the page personally, I’m not sure if Ken Ham’s Facebook page and his respective Answers in Genesis page are ran by him or a subordinate. It’s not unusual to delegate social networking activity to a minion, especially when you have an organisation as well funded as Answers in Genesis. But it’s under Ham’s name, so I’m going to refer to him personally for this. I’m going to proceed as if he is the one physically typing out the messages and doing the day-to-day admin. So, that said…

I’ll demonstrate with my own experience. Okay, so in principle this is me being “butthurt” over being banned from posting on AiG and Ham’s personal page. But what was the crime? It was this: it was a single post (my second, I think), responding to another atheist about the now infamous creationist science quiz. I can’t remember the exact wording since it was quickly deleted and shoved down the Memory Hole. It wasn’t a profanity-ridden rant, it wasn’t a repeated trolling, it wasn’t egregious insults (and, people should be well aware that I’m capable of that). It was a single post, and of fairly neutral, matter-of-fact tone. But, because I had talked to someone else, I had basically outed myself as an “enemy”. This was enough.

Ham’s approach to the Ban Hammer is different to most others. Eric Hovind and Ray Comfort have a threshold for getting rid of troublemakers – and I take great pains to point out that this is their prerogative, and if I was on the receiving end of the shit that atheists hurl at them, I’d do the same. Seriously, most Internet Atheists are stupid, obnoxious pillocks with the reasoning abilities of sour cream that’s been left out of the fridge for a month. They get what they deserve. Yet Hovind and Comfort still have a threshold of sorts and are fairly open to discussion. I once dropped a minute-by-minute snark-filled review of a Eric Hovind video and he let me. Kudos to Hovind, he left it up there, even though my most meaningful definitions I was trolling the fuck out of him and I admit it. There is no threshold you have to go over with Ken Ham. There is no barrier to a ban. Any and all dissent is quashed immediately.

I’m not going to argue this as a freedom of speech issue. That would be to simplify the point and then miss the actual point entirely – after all, I’m writing this, my freedom of speech is not restricted or infringed, I’ve covered that already. I’m arguing it based on the deceitful nature of Ham’s approach to his flock, and why he goes about having this zero-barrier approach to the wielding good ol’ Ban Hammer.

This is what Ken Ham does. It’s why I think he’s one of the most insidious creationists out of the entire bunch. He quashes dissent, rails against any criticism as if it’s an undeserved attack on his oh-so-precious beliefs, and frames everything as a vast conspiracy of persecution against him and his followers. It’s this approach that’s concerning and objectionable. Comments are all disabled on anything Answers in Genesis puts out, his Facebook pages are cleansed and purified, and we’re lucky that the YouTube channel even allows the rating system. In short, he specifically selects all the options to create an echo chamber of agreement. He removes any sources of criticism except for the ones he allows through, which he then twists and frames as unjust persecution. This isn’t just the case with his forays into Web 2.0, this is true of his most well-known work. For instance, his “How do you know? Were you there?” which he drums into young children; this serves no purpose except to selectively immunise them from thinking critically about what they believe. All of his lectures specifically quash thinking in favour of rote repeating of his points and with zero exploration, thinking or questioning of them allowed.

Now, that would normally just be some hyperbole by people who equate “critical thinking” with “thinking exactly like me”, but in this case it’s actually true. Ken Ham chants his mantra, and makes sure the children he lectures to can repeat it back verbatim and unquestioningly before he releases them into the world. Until that immunisation is complete, they’re held in a bubble – free from dissent and protected from alternative views.

So, its not what he believes that concerns me, it’s how he goes about it. It’s not something anyone with any love of reason should tolerate, but an echo chamber like this isn’t something you can fight against easily.