Friday, August 24, 2012

Thinkers and Believers

Below, Bill Nye handily explaining WHY it's important not to simply "let them be" regarding creationists, flat-earthers, etc.

There are two kinds of people in the world: Thinkers and Believers. The distinction has nothing to do with religion or "atheism" or even intelligence - it's about how you approach life on a day-to-day basis. Do you think for yourself, or do you let someone (or someTHING) else decide for you? Do you put your trust in "traditions" or do you apply logic? Do you "feel" or do you reason?


Aiddon said...

god I love Bill

Anonymous said...

He wanted to finish with "it's just stupid" but held himself back... but the fact remains that it IS stupid... sometimes I can't understand why in 2012 people still believe amazingly stupid things like horoscope, saints, the literal meaning of the bible, or any form of god.

Evert said...

"There are two kinds of people in the world: Thinkers and Believers. The distinction has nothing to do with religion or "atheism" or even intelligence - it's about how you approach life on a day-to-day basis."

I wish more people got this.

Bill Nye looks great. We never got him over here in Britain, but I have seen a lot of him by osmosis due to being part of the skeptic [sic] movement.

He also was on Fox recently (last year?) where he delivered a great smack down over the climate change denial of the presenter.

KevinCV said...

I was a child who grew up preferring Beakman over Bill Nye, but I can't deny he's made some great points here. I'm a Christian, but I also believe in science and the potential it has for the future.

I could tell from watching this video that Bill is annoyed at these willfully ignorant people who continue to propagate archaic views that are holding us back. I give him props for being so civil about it, because I sure as hell wouldn't be. Thanks for sharing this, Bob.

Joshua the Anarchist said...

I wish my parents had listened to this guy. They homeschooled me all thoroughout grade school just to keep me away from those dirty, godless evolutionists. I've spent most of my adult life unlearning pretty much everything they taught me. It's a nightmare.

James said...

Bob, you're also a believer.

The Mason said...


Can you back that up with facts?

James said...

The Mason: Bob believes that most of humanity is worthless, that modern gaming consists of nothing but military shooters and sports games, and that his opinion is always right.

Anonymous said...

Yeah but those are his own beliefs. He isn't saying thinkers don't have any kind of beliefs. But he is informing his own beliefs his "thinkers" way, not because some guy taught him these things and he isn't questioning it.

You can become a believer of something like science, for going along with it regardless of what is known by you of it.

Cyrus said...

Just don't bait him, we'll just get another nasty diatribe on how Bob's such a hypocrite, because he once-


Huh, what? Anyway, while I'd like to share Mr. Nye's optimism on the demise of the unthinking hordes, I'm afraid things could get a lot worse first. The thought of the state of the world after four years of Romney/Ryan is enough to fill any critically thinking human being with dread ... and I don't even live in the US.

Anonymous said...


James, please don't start this again. You said you wouldn't bother Bob anymore. He nearly had to move his whole blog elsewhere because things got so out of hand. If you disagree with Bob's opinions, please back them up with facts, evidence, proof - instead of just trolling the same repetitive snide insults in the comments section that don't contribute to the conversation AT ALL. Let's all act like grown-ups and not have the same scenario we had for several months, 'kay?

A. Ivan said...

Seriously, you guys? You're going to back Bob up on this? He's a believer when it comes to the issues that REALLY matter, like Madden and Call of Duty. I'm with James on this one. If someone disagrees with me about EA yearly releases they are fucking worthless to me.

James said...

Oh, almost forgot: Bob believes that it's okay for peoples' rights to be restricted if it suits his goals.

And with that, I'm done. I was just having a bad day and needed to vent by pissing off Bob. So I'll retreat... until my depression kicks in again.

Megabyte said...

....seriously? We are back here again?

Look, if you claim to be a thinker, THINK. That simple. I wont tell you if Bob is a thinker or a believer because in most cases, neither I nor anyone here knows enough about him.

Im INCLINED to believe he is a believer when it comes to politics because his view fits so perfectly to the area, but I can not say for certain since this could simply be coincidence.

As far as games go, he's not a believer. No way in hell. Unlike politics, I see a lot of thought and pretty thurough commentaries on that from Bob. This is where is real passion is and he is NOT just repeating what he heard....

Actually, I think that makes him the perfect example of my core point... I don't think you will find a single person who is pure thinker or pure believer.... good luck proving me wrong.

Anonymous said...


That wasn't evidence: that was you voicing your opinion and masking it as fact.

Please remember that the onus of the burden of proof is on the person who makes a claim.

You have claimed that Bob is a believer, and now the burden of proof is on you.

We're waiting with bated breath.

Anonymous said...

"Seriously, you guys? You're going to back Bob up on this? He's a believer when it comes to the issues that REALLY matter, like Madden and Call of Duty. I'm with James on this one. If someone disagrees with me about EA yearly releases they are fucking worthless to me."

Wait... Are you being serious or is that sarcasm? It's really hard to tell on the internet sometimes. If it's sarcasm, please make it a bit more obvious next time. If it's serious though...

"issues that REALLY matter, like Madden and Call of Duty."

This statement broke my brain. There is no word for how mindboggling stupid that is.

Andrew said...

The problem with that idea is that when you start to try and tell people what they 'should' be believing, you become just as bad as they are. Whether you are right or wrong doesn't matter as much when you sink to their level.

Anonymous said...

This "thinkers and believers" stuff is a good frame for thinking about why *pure* believers can be so unflaggingly irritating and destructive, but I think I mostly agree with Megabyte, which I never, ever do, and I admit it feels weird, but...people have moral instincts. There's lots of psychological evidence that that's true, and there's even plenty of cross-cultural work demonstrating that a lot of those moral instincts remain consistent in spite of culture and upbringing. So we have "gut responses" to every situation. Most of them are pretty useful - for example, we're good at thinking that a person who is violently beating another person is doing something wrong. But sometimes our moral instincts lead us astray - for example, repeated experiments show that people will obey authority figures in ways that can be really destructive, and that people will act to preserve authority structures in ways that are both pointless and destructive. So to some extent, everyone is a "believer" - in the sense that we use feelings to guide our moral responses.

But where being a "believer" becomes problematic is when people fail to take the next step, which is making the effort to test their beliefs against logic. Failing to take that step generally means you've got no way of knowing if you're right or wrong about what you're saying, which means you're less likely to be right and more likely to be wrong. Evolution is a good test for this problem because there's just so much evidence.

Somebody gave me a pendant today that said "you can believe nothing is a miracle, or you can believe everything is". It makes me sad, because the person who said that was Einstein, and I'm pretty sure that what he meant was "everything is explainable by science, but the fact that there's an everything to be explained by science is in itself pretty freaking inexplicable and amazing", and I'm pretty sure that what he also meant was that you can't pick some things (the existence of life) and declare them off-limits to human knowledge while other things (how gears work) are not, and I'm also pretty sure that the person who gave me the pendant thought the quote meant that I should gaze around in starry-eyed wonder and stop looking for a reason. Screw that noise.

Of course, most of the people who regularly comment on this blog strike me as thinkers, even the ones I tend to think of as "extremist libertarians who are wrong about everything", because it doesn't seem to me that any of you fail to think...except James, who is weird and sad.

Dave said...

Okay, first up: everyone ignore James. There's a potential for actual interesting discussion here and derailing this for his sake is going to rob us of it. Don't let him get away with it again.

Le sigh.

Anyway, actually on topic: I'm really glad Bob made an important distinction that's often overlooked in these kinds of discussions. I'm tired of not being able to say "I'm a Christian" without having to add "BUT NOT ONE OF THE CRAZY STUPID ONES!" Evolution is a fact. It's a beautiful and elegant fact that doesn't run counter to Christian (and, I'd bet, most prominent religious) belief. I honestly think that most of the hubbub around it is less about God and more about people being unwilling to think of themselves as animals or as a part of nature. It's about pride. "You callin' me a MONKEY?" That's what it's all about. Butthurtitude at not being a speshul snoflaek. God just makes a convenient excuse for their unwillingness to learn.

So yeah, Bill Nye is a cool (science) guy.

Anonymous said...

I think you all are so proud of yourselves for believing in evolution that you didn't notice that Bill Nye just did a terrible job explaining why everyone should believe in evolution. And this coming from a guy that likes Bill Nye and believes in evolution.

Omegalittlebob said...

I went to a Christian school, and they still taught us evolution. They we're very respectful of it, they didn't say it was dumb or sinful or anything like that. They taught us the whole history and everything about it, tested it like everything else in our science classes. No we didn't have tests on creationism and its various forms or anything like that (No we don't believe the Earth is only roughly 6000 years old), science classes were, well, science classes. We just looked at them from a Christian perspective.

As Nye said, I do think that in another few centuries there will be way less people who deny evolution. Among those who don't deny, will be Christian's (like myself) who still think in God and that he created everything. And there will still be those (because there always have been) people who are rude and bullheaded, and ignorant, and do not want to add any thinking into their faith, because they are lazy.

@ Dave

While I am open to the idea of evolution as the source for all the animals. I think that a raptor could over massive amounts time, slowly evolve into a bird. I don't think however, that, that awesome ability could come from nowhere. I don't think that humans were a result of evolution, and we're the creation of God, and all his flying spagetti monster powers.

The reason that I, and all other Christians I know, believe this, is not because we get bethurt at the idea of people "Callin us Monkeys" or that we're not "speshul snoflaeks". It is because we believe (and yes we put a LOT of thought into that belief) that God created us as higher beings then the animals, that we are "special". But being special is not an excuse for us to become prideful, rather it is a call to responsibility. To care for the animals, and the rest of the planet. It is God calling us to be the intelligent thinkers he made us to be. So that, we would not allow the fact that we are special, to fill us with pride, and lead us exploit others as a result. But rather that we would choose to humble ourselves, and live for something other then ourselves.

so yeah...that's what I think.

Anonymous said...

"Posts scathing review of sequel to movie that he also hated and got tons of flack for"

"Posts video that deals with religion, science, parents right to teach kids religion, and the creationism debate"

I see what you did there Bob

Anonymous said...

Omegalittlebob you are my hero.

Cyrus said...

But isn't there already pride in the assumption that Homo Sapiens' exceptional intelligence and potential for noble behavior were derived from an external, higher power with a plan, rather than a series of random events, leading to gradual biologcial and social change?

Omegalittlebob said...

@ Cyrus

Could you elaborate on that? I don't think I'm getting what your saying.

Anonymous said...

Omega, I think your perspective is really interesting, but you don't believe in evolution, you believe in a version of evolution that doesn't implicate you, and that's not the theory, nor is it what the evidence says. No matter how many people agree with you, you will always be wrong, because the evidence simply does not support what you're saying.

If you're going to believe in God *and* evolution, you're going to have to say something like "God is omniscient and all-powerful, and He created human beings in his image, and when he did so, he did it be having them evolve into their current state along a chain of speciation that can be traced back through a fossil record. He could have done it another way, but He didn't, and that's why the evidence says what it says."

If you say anything else, I'm afraid, you're denying science. Which is a valid option, but it means that people like me will assume that most of what you say can't be trusted.

Anonymous said...

"There are two kinds of people in the world: Thinkers and Believers."

Do you really believe that? ;)

Anonymous said...

Bob doesn't think, like he says he does. After seeing his unwavering, unthinking, unintelligent world view of anyone who lives anywhere besides the Atlantic northeast, he believes the garbage that comes out of his mouth weather evidence backs him up or not--usually not.

Dave from canada said...

No, bob there are not "two" kinds of people. And if there was a dichotomy you could break the entire human race into, it most certainly would not be one you created in order to put yourself in the good group and anyone who you didn't like in the other group.

Real life is much more complicated than the juvenile, black and white, nerds vs jocks, "everyone who isn't like me is stupid" world you want to believe in.

Anonymous said...

There are two kinds of people in the world:

People who love the song "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey...and liars.

john said...

"It has nothing to do with religion, it just has to do with whether you take your religion more seriously than I do. 'Cause I'm a Thinker. I mean, obviously."

Dave (not from Canada) said...

@ Omegalittlebob:

Clearly, you're not the kind of person I was attacking in my post. So sorry if I accidentally stepped on your toes. But the history of human evolution has been exhaustively researched and documented. We did evolve, just like every other species on the planet, and we do indeed share ancestry with apes and monkeys (we ourselves are a species of ape). The rub here is whether or not you think that makes you less special or not. As a fellow Christian, I personally don't. I do believe God wants intelligence in the universe, on Earth and in all likelihood elsewhere as well. Whether we're apes or birds or reptiles or robots, I don't think it makes a difference. As long as we can think, we're US, and that's special enough for me.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Bill Nye

This reminds my of a discussion I had not long ago about why the AAA game industry is... well, the way it is, and my argument basically boiled down to this:

"There are too many Les Pauls, and not enough Jimi Hendrixes."

The problem isn't that we need more engineers, or more scientific intellectuals... the problem is that we have too many, and this sort of self perpetuation destroying our culture.

We're advancing faster than we can make use of the advancements, and we're inventing new tools faster than we can even learn to use them, much less actually master them. Because it's the artists, the poets, and the philosophers who create actual cultural application from any of that. And it's artists, poets, and philosophers we need more of, not scientists or engineers.

One would like to think that science and art would have no problem living side by side. But, art thrives off of diversity of thought and belief. It needs to be able to freely philosophize about the nature of our world and of humanity. When you act like scientific intellectualism is the only real form of intellectualism, you diminish all others. When you act like rationalism is the only legitimate philosophy, you discourage imagination. When you say that there is only one true outlook on the universe and if one disagrees with it they're wrong, you are actively destroying what feeds art.

And, unfortunately, this is all too evident in our culture. We treat people who pursue science for it's own sake like saintly monks, but people who pursue music, painting, philosophy, or any other form of expression for it's own sake as vagrant losers. It's why so little creative music is coming out of the US and we mostly import Europe's and Canada's. It's why so little great cinema or television is being filmed in the US. It's why there hasn't been a true artistic movement out of the US in over 40 years, or philosophical movement in over 60 years. We don't treat those pursuits as noble. We don't create culture in the US, we merely import it.

What parents should be teaching their children is to think for themselves. To expose them to as many areas of philosophy and belief as possible and let them reach their own conclusions. If they choose to believe evolution, that's fine. If they choose to believe creationism, that's also fine. But, for you tell them that they have to believe one or the other, then you're quashing thought and expression, not encouraging it.

Because, frankly, it's narrow-minded like yours that's holding the rest of us back.

john said...

@TheAlmightyNarf: Well said. I'm savin' that one.

Omegalittlebob said...

Don't worry Dave you didn't step on my toes or offend, or anything. I just felt compelled to add my perspective to the mix after reading your comment. You've also convinced me to do more research into all sides of this matter. I'm glad we were able to have such a discussion.


Anonymous said...

Narf...that was so beautifully written that I'm sad it's such utter nonsense.

America is a country populated mostly by religious people. Sparing for the moment any judgment on that, religious thinking isn't rational thinking, it's faith. On the other hand, when I think of "rational", I think of rationalist philosophers - Kant, Hegel, Marx, etc. No shortage of imagination there.

Now, lots of religious thinkers also have imagined fabulous things - that's how we get the Lord of the Rings - but are we really suggesting that Carl Sagan had no imagination? Seriously?

As for artistic movements, in music alone we've got Hip-Hop, probably the most important development in the world in popular music, as uniquely American. Punk we took from England but it has its own brand here, as do certain types of Metal.

And as far as philosophical movements go, we've got Libertarianism, which seems to be very much on the rise, the New Atheism (again, with some help from the UK), the New Evangelism, the very strange and semi-Canadian Occupy Movement, etc. etc.

My suggestion to you, if you haven't already, is that you start going to Burns...stuff like Burning Man. If, after that, you're convinced that Americans are lacking in imagination, I guess I won't know what to tell you.

But, although you write like a champ, and though I think you have a good point about not allowing smug rationalism to overwhelm the capacity to imagine, I think you are doing America a huge injustice.

Also, the idea that people should just believe whatever they want sounds nice but results in people like Todd Akin making idiots of themselves on national tv. Let's teach our kids to use their minds *well* rather than wantonly.

Laserkid said...

@ Anon

teaching kids top use their midns well DOES invovle exposing them to many ideas and teaching them critical thinking skills so they can come to amn good decision on their own.

Beign told evol;ution is good and getting itnellectually beat on for disagreeing is noi more healthy than beign told that evolution is a sin and you m,ust repent.

You don't get ghood thinkers (haha I addressed the original concept) if all they're doing is repeating what they were force fed, you just have believers who you may or may not agree with.

Cyrus said...


Sorry, I'll try again: In your initial post, you wrote that our distinguishing features as human beings were given to us with a divine purpose, but that this was no "excuse for us to become prideful".

Yet the basic assumption of being special (in any positive way) already betrays pride, doesen't it?

Anonymous said...

Laserkid, I agree completely, but there's a difference between teaching people to think independently and teaching kids that anything they choose to believe is as valid as anything anyone else chooses to believe. The first thing is vital to democracy, and the second thing is idiotic.

MovieBob said...


Right purty words, friend. But your terminology (and, to be fair, most people's terminology in this case) needs work.

Knowledge and belief are two utterly seperate things, in that one refers partially or in chief to the ABSENCE of another. To believe in something means you hold it to be true in the absence of knowledge - this is the entire point of religious BELIEF - you can't know that it's true, so you have to have faith.

Conversely, however nice a rhetorical shorthand it makes, evolution is not something you BELIEVE in any more than you believe in water or asphalt. It's RIGHT THERE, you don't have to "believe" in it. Evolution is the same way: It is a fact. It has been proven. We have the fossils. We have the evidence. We have the math. It's a real, tangible, KNOWABLE thing. To not accept that is not to simply choose a belief, it's to deny reality.

Call things what they are.

Mister Linton said...

Irreducible Complexity: a single system which is necessarily composed of several
well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic
function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes
the system to effectively cease functioning.(Behe 2001)
Sounds like Bill is a believer unwilling to think outside of his own scientific "Black Box".

Anonymous said...

Bob, when are you going to grow a pair and admit that Obama is as bad as Romney? Continuing to hype up Obama as the best choice when both he and Romney are horrible makes you a believer as well.

Anonymous said...

If you believe there is a difference between Obama & Romney, you are wrong. Here is proof that both are bad choices:

SoriM said...

Thank you so much for this. It helps me clarify other people.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Anon 1:24

I'm not saying that rationalism is with out imagination or that there's anything even inherently wrong with it. Just that when one suggests that it's the only proper way of thinking and anyone who disagrees is either stupid or crazy that we start to have problems.

Yes, but Hip-hop would fall into the "over 40 years old" category, and Punk and Metal are not far behind. You would be hard pressed to name something distinctly American that's come about in the last 10 to 30 years.

Libertarianism and Occupy are political movements, not philosophical ones. To they extent there there's any underlying philosophy at all, they're mostly just poor regurgitations of Objectivism and Marxism respectively. Neither have amounted to a single new original thought.

@ Anon 8:43

I don't see how you could have one without the other. You can't both think freely, yet have to accept what some authority is telling you to believe.

@ Bob

See, what you and a lot of people don't see to understand is that what you're talking about is just one particular philosophy. You believe that there are absolute facts, and that we can know then. That we live in a rational universe and that science can explain it. But, that is just a philosophy and those are all unprovable assumptions. Many areas of philosophy reject those assumptions, especially in classical philosophy. Plato, imparticular would argue that there is no distinction between knowledge and belief as you've defined them.

It's perfectly fine for you to take those assumptions for granted, but there's no reason for the rest of us to have to.

Anonymous said...


Irreducible Complexity is a gigantic, smelly, positively dead red herring and Behe is a master troll on the level of William Lane Craig.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Mister Linton

As a rule, "irreducible complexity" is a poor argument, or at least a poorly made argument. It doesn't account for how features may have had different purposes before they reached their current form or how redundant features have been lost over time. Really, the only place it works is in regard to basic cells and abiogenesis (you can't have metabolism with out genetics, and you can't have genetics with out metabolism). But, it just doesn't work anywhere further up the evolutionary ladder.

Anonymous said...

@ Linton

Your argument is that if things are complicated we should pretend we don't have knowledge about them? Sounds like you're endorsing willful ignorance.

@ Narf

Ah, but see, this is a discourse problem. I have to imagine little brackets on everything everyone says in this conversation that say [it is my opinion that] because otherwise the whole discussion would seem like a game of assertion tennis.

Think of it this way: Bob is saying that HE has a philosophy, and according to that philosophy there are Thinkers and Believers. There is no magical force compelling you to accept that just because Bob thinks it, but if you DON'T accept it, he's going to put you in the "Believer" category and not take you seriously, and he'll be totally justified, from his perspective, in assuming that most of what you say about reality is suspect.

I see where you're coming from on Plato, but the essence of his Philosophy, it seems to me, is in the Apology, where he points out that it's absurd to pretend we know things that we don't, and that it's similarly absurd not to think carefully about our assumptions. So you could probably make a case that Socrates, at least, would end up on the "Thinker" side of this debate, at least some of the time.

I also think you're being somewhat hard on the concept of authority. No matter how smart I am, no matter how much I read, no matter how many experiments I do, I can never glean as much knowledge by myself as I can be trusting other people and what they tell me. And so I'm going to have to make, at some point, a judgment about which people to listen to and which people to ignore. Bob's theory - the "thinkers and believers" stuff - addresses the question of how to make that judgment. And if I'm the sort of person who considers myself a keeper of authoritative knowledge - a journalist, or a scientist, or a teacher, maybe - it's incumbent on me to try to establish my authority so that people will use their minds well.

Smart people can disagree about whether Bob's view - that only rational thought can result in useful knowledge - is the best way to use your mind, and even (I suppose) about whether or not there *is* a best way. But since Bob's way causes this entire conversation to be possible and the other way results in people living in - at best - huts, I feel like he's got a fairly solid case.

If I were you, by the way, I'd talk about the history of scientists whose discoveries resulted from faith-based behavior; Columbus, allegedly, but definitely Tycho Brahe and Johannes Koepler, Newton, and Leibniz all made flat out INSANE assumptions about the world based on their quirky, out-of-the-mainstream religious beliefs, and had they not done so, they might have failed to make the discoveries they did.

The kind of epistemic relativism you suggest is a trap, and it's deeply unappealing to the vast majority of people. It also has real consequences; a person who can't distinguish between what is actually real and what they believe to be real is institutionalized in our society, and I guess you must be a big fan of Focault, but I'm really not.

Anonymous said...

I also think you're being kind of snobby about what counts as a real philosophical movement and what doesn't, and that you're being kind of ignorant about art. It seems to me that we live in a time where there is a massive amount of creative work available to us. In fact, there's probably more really great art available to more people now than there ever has been in human history, since there are a) more people and b) faster, cheaper means of distributing it. It's not at all hard for me to come up with examples of new art forms (web design, video games, vector graphics, cell-shaded animation, rotoscoping, digital comics, podcasting, flash mobs, reality television...I'm not going to keep doing this, but you either get the point or you don't).

Maybe what you mean is that there isn't something like the "beats", or like "The Pre-Raphaelites", but a) there really is, all these little subgenres have names, and b) the reason that we don't have mass consensus on popular culture anymore is not because of rationalism but because we have the so many more people distributing their visions and ideas so much faster than ever before.

In fact, I kind of think your whole attitude is a failure of imagination and curiosity on your part. Stop telling me everything sucks and go find something you like, ok?

Datamancer said...

"See, what you and a lot of people don't see to understand is that what you're talking about is just one particular philosophy. You believe that there are absolute facts, and that we can know then. That we live in a rational universe and that science can explain it. But, that is just a philosophy and those are all unprovable assumptions. Many areas of philosophy reject those assumptions, especially in classical philosophy. Plato, imparticular would argue that there is no distinction between knowledge and belief as you've defined them.

It's perfectly fine for you to take those assumptions for granted, but there's no reason for the rest of us to have to."

That's kind of bullshit. It doesn't matter what someone believes, gravity still works. There's no way to philosophize that out of existence, and using the term "believe" in relation to gravity doesn't make any bloody sense. Yes, there's a large degree of freedom in philosophy, but there comes a point where freedom is exercised in such a way that it detaches a perspective from reality and turns philosophy into nonsense. The only thing that changes about evolution based on someone's philosophical perspective is that they might go from "evolution is a factual representation of reality" to "regardless of the ultimate nature of reality, evolution appears to be true based on what we can observe upon this plane of existence."

Frankly, I don't see any value in a philosophy that says "I can make up my own facts." That's completely ineffective on a scientific level, it leads to horrible things on a personal and societal level, and it only serves to make things far more complicated than they should be.

@Anon: "If you believe there is a difference between Obama & Romney, you are wrong."

This is exactly the kind of thing where this applies. Obama is far from perfect, but claiming that Obama is just like his Republican opponent, or that he's just like Bush, is misinformed to the extreme. He's done a lot of good while he's been in office even if he hasn't done everything he's promised, and saying that they're no different is a reductionist view that fails to account for the complexities that are actually at work. The Democrats and Republicans both have major problems; our entire system needs reform, but certain individual figures are better than others, and there are facts and statistics relating to certain policies that prove it. That this kind of reductionism pervades political debates is ridiculous.

john said...

@MovieBob: You have a very interesting definition of "proven." What we have is a collection of fossils that seem to fit a pattern that fits with a generally well-reasoned theory put together to explain it, and some small-scale stuff we've observed in the present day that seems like a good microcosm of what that theory predicts on a larger scale. That's a far, far cry from conclusive proof of the kind you're claiming.

Nobody sentient (that we know of) was there to observe it happening over the first three billion years and a hefty amount of change (if you want to be extremely generous and class all members of the genus Homo that ever walked the earth in there, that's still only 1/15th of a percent of the estimated span of life on Earth.) Certainly nobody was taking detailed enough notes for us to draw any solid conclusions from until the last couple thousand years - in an evolutionary timescale, that's peanuts. Some things that we have observed in the century or so that we've been actively looking seem like a good fit for the theory, but we can't say for certain that behaviors displayed in the course of a couple centuries would scale so linearly out to what has been predicted over many, many millions of years.

So we don't have any definitive eyewitness accounts of evolution in action. We do have the fossil record, which does seem to fit - but fossils are just fossils; they're snapshots of a moment in time, not full-fledged recordings. Certainly there's nothing that says they aren't open to other interpretations.

Yes, from a certain perspective it does seem a little silly to reject what seems like a reasonable explanation for the development of life. But to act as though "reasonable" equals "proven beyond all doubt" merely because a theory that has been honed over the course of a century to fit the evidence available fits the evidence available and general scientific consensus says it's correct (and worse yet, to suggest that nobody should question it and people who do so are hindering the development of civilization) is to be every bit as fanatically orthodoxical and close-minded a blinded "believer" as you accuse dissenters of being.

Viredae said...

I just hate the fact that when people say "religion doesn't take science into account" they basically just mean "insane christian beliefs don't take science into account".

What about Islam? we don't believe the world started 2000 years ago, we have no problem with dinosaurs, we still don't know where we stand on evolution as a whole, but that's because we're not affected either way.

God made every single specie that ever existed? Okay, that's cool, did he just make one organism that is capable of evolving into an entire world's worth of creatures? sounds nice! he mixed and matched, and there's actually multiple origins of life on earth? Interesting thing to know.

I hope people can be more accurate in the future.

Anonymous said...


There's much more evidence than that. Listen to what Nye said; the entire foundation of modern biology is the theory of evolution, which is like the theory of gravity or kinetic theory in terms of how convinced scientists are that it's the right explanation.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Anon 10:18

I think I need to reiterate what I'm arguing here... I am not arguing against Bob's beliefs, I am not arguing against Bill Nye's beliefs. I am arguing against Bill Nye's assertion that it is somehow harmful to our society to teach anything other than evolution because than we won't have enough kids growing up to be engineers or scientists.

I'm arguing that our culture benefits the most from as wide a range of thought and belief as possible, and that sort of philosophical censorship (which is exactly what Bill Nye is advocating) would do far more harm than any perceived good. I'm arguing that the scientific view point, while a perfectly legitimate view point for you or anyone else to hold, shouldn't be forced on everyone. That our culture benefits when there are some people who reject it.

No, not everyone should. We do need some scientists and engineers. But, we need artists, poets and philosophers as well.

"The kind of epistemic relativism you suggest is a trap, and it's deeply unappealing to the vast majority of people"

Yes, I'm aware that the vast majority of people are uncomfortable with others being allowed to disagree with them and having to tolerate beliefs other than their own.

@ Anon 10:18... again I guess

From what I've noticed, the vast majority of today's American art is very derivative of either European, Japanese, or early 1900s American art. Yes, there's amazing new stuff happening all the time, but none of it's happening here (or at least none of it's starting here). Perhaps that's a subjective observation, but it's one I keep coming to.

@ Anon 6:50

That's ad consequentiam, though. All biological science being based on the assumption of evolution being true doesn't make it so any more than all biological science been based on the assumption of creation being true 300 years ago made it true.

john said...

@Anonymous (6:50): Again, I'm not saying it doesn't look right or that there isn't a pretty good case for it. I'm saying that taking the fact that there's a pretty good case for it and going "there, it's totally proven, now shut up and agree with general scientific consensus like I do, because scientists said so" is A. drastically stretching the definition of "proven," and B. every bit the close-minded unthinking orthodoxy that Bob thinks he's railing against.

As for Nye, half of what he's saying is rather nonsensical - you can't explain biology without this one component that was first suggested in the 1750s and didn't gain widespread acceptance until the 1900s? What the hell were biologists doing in the centuries before that, then? The study of it goes back at least to Aristotle. How does radiation fit into it?

And among the other half, the idea that parents should not pass on their beliefs and culture to their children, for the purpose of social utilitarianism, is just disgusting. Just plain fucking disgusting. Bill, I used to think you were cool, man. When did you turn into a gigantic douche?

Anonymous said...

It is as simple as: In science classes, they should be teaching scientific facts and the scientific theories that are most widely accepted at the time. They should not be teaching things that are not based on facts or evidence and the should not be teaching wild speculations. Go look up the scientific method.

Maybe that's too hurtful for some people to manage emotionally. And I think that the posts on this blog is a choice piece of evidence for Bob's Thinkers V Believers theory.

But you know, there's no reason that evolution and creationism can't BOTH be true. After all, the Ancient Astronaut Theory has not yet been disproven.

Yes... aliens made humans. I said it.


john said...

@Anonymous: Except what's being discussed here is not the question of what gets taught in class, but the idea that parents should not pass on scientifically unorthodox views to their children. Because that might impair their usefulness to the social machine. Yes, culture and religion should totally be subject to the arbitrary "needs" of society. (Particularly funny coming from a guy who keeps declaring himself "libertine" and fawning over Atlas Shrugged.) What next, the idea that Jewish parents shouldn't teach their kids to eat kosher because it puts pork farmers out of work?

Anonymous said...

@ Narf

I think we have to talk about three ideas/questions.

The first is the possibility of beliefs which, if you have them or encourage others to have them, make you a bad person.

The second is the question of what should be taught in public schools.

The third is the idea that ALL beliefs are equally valid at some level.

Going backwards, all beliefs are only equally valid if the only criteria you use to judge them is whether or not they constitute a belief. I think there's a particular kind of belief that is more valuable than that, and I call that kind of belief Knowledge, which I would define as a belief that is a) Justified and b) True.

We can debate the criteria for justification forever, but a few good possibilities are: Authority, Religious Doctrine, Empirical Evidence, Logical Deduction. Many possible beliefs are not justified because NONE of those apply...which is why if I said I believed in a Flying Spaghetti Monster or an Invisible Purple Hippo, most people would think I was talking crazy. And those people would be right, because those beliefs aren't knowledge.

The second characteristic of knowledge - truth - is harder to define, obviously, but the simplest method is the correspondence theory, which says that for a statement to be true it has to correspond to some real phenomena in the world. Once again, the FSM and IPH don't meet that standard, or if they do, there is *simply no way to show (justify) that they do*, so out the window both of those ideas go.

So yes, believe what you want, but don't call it Knowledge. And please, for the love of God don't respond to this by explaining Hume to me, his standard for what constitutes knowledge is to high.

Science works through inference and testing. The reason "theories" like evolution are thought to count as knowledge is that, over and over again, people have made inferences; "well, if this theory were true, we should be able to observe that x", and then found x; DNA, chromosomes, genetic engineering, bacterial resistance, on and on and on...all these observations, and more, correspond to the Theory of Evolution, which makes it much more Justified than, for example, the theory of Creationism, for which there *are no possible observations that could make it more or less likely that it's true*. Beliefs like that, to me, and Bob, and Bill Nye, are not as valuable as beliefs that don't have those useful characteristics.

Another useful characteristic of a scientific belief is Predictive Power. I can use the theory of evolution to predict what bacteria will do, how a species will respond to a change in its ecosystem, or where I'm likely to find certain kinds of fossils...and my predictions are MUCH MORE LIKELY TO BE RIGHT! That's a feature you ONLY get with beliefs justified by empirical observation and logic. Authority and Religion simply don't help you at all with this, which is why the "knowledge" they offer is not as good.

Anonymous said...

So, ok, what beliefs should be taught in public schools?

Well, public schools are a Federal program and therefore are supposed to be free of religious belief. That means no teaching beliefs that arise from specific religions except insofar as you're teaching about those religions as a subject. Hooray! None of those non-falsifiable ideas with no predictive power for our kiddies! That fills me with joy as a person who is *paying money for this program and expects to get some social benefit from doing so*.

Now, I imagine that doesn't comfort you much, because you think there should be a diversity of ideas. I think so, too, but I don't think that diversity should be so great as to include beliefs that are unjustified and/or false, at least not in Public School; parents who absolutely must educate their children in Flying Spaghetti Monsterism are always free to homeschool or create a private FSM school.

And it would be false to suggest that science lends any credence to "creation science" or "intelligent design"...because it doesn't. Those ideas are based on religious beliefs that are not representative of the way mainstream science works.

It is fair...and, in fact, necessary, to say to children that science is all about being open to changes in belief due to changes in evidence. In fact, it's important that people investigate theories that are "long shots" from a scientific perspective - a good example would be Acupuncture, which was long thought to be nonsense, but in fact turned out to have a testable theoretical structure behind it once people got down to the science, and in fact it changed our view of how the endocrine system works.

But science without falsifiablity simply doesn't work, and science based on religion cannot be falsified. I have no problem with all manner of philosophy being taught in *philosophy* classes, and no problem with creationism being taught as part of a course on *religion*...but it isn't part of science, and it's important that people who grow up to be scientists not misunderstand what they're doing. That's why Bill Nye is right to object to biology classes that include these theories, which is what I understand him to be saying.

Anonymous said...

Finally, is it possible to have a belief that makes you a bad person?

This is not entirely the point, but I think it kind of relates to this debate because if you understand that the answer is "yes", you can see that there are some real stakes here in terms of what society ought to teach its young people.

I think there clearly are examples of beliefs that make you a bad person. Intolerance (racism, sexism, homophobia) is one example. Megalomania (believing that you are better than everyone else) is another. Zealotry (believing that everyone must believe the One Truth without question) also makes the list. For this reason, by the way, I tend to think that Randians are kind of crap - they tend to combine all three (not so much racism/sexism/homophobia as intolerance for anyone who isn't a self-aggrandizing entrepreneur).

Another kind of belief that makes you a bad person, or at least a dangerous person in a democracy, is a false belief. That's because if you believe things that aren't true and vote those beliefs, the results will not be reliably good. For example, a person who votes to cut all funding for infrastructure to save money because they believe that roads don't need maintenance ("they're made of rock, stupid!") is not doing anyone any favors; that person presumably agrees with the values of society - roads are good for everyone - but has false beliefs about how those roads come to and continue to exist, and that makes his or her vote worse than useless.

In a dictatorship or an oligarchy, that wouldn't matter so much, which is why non-democratic countries (like China) are much more deliberate in their efforts to misinform the public than democratic countries - but since, in those countries, the social contract is more Hobbes than Locke, this works out - only the dictators/oligarchs have to benefit, and the people simply have to not be annoyed enough to rebel.

This, on a side note, is why Fox News is so annoying to thinking people; its perverse insistence on making up issues like the "Ground Zero Mosque" and the Duke Rape case and whether or not Obama is a citizen etc etc. is the result of a business model that sees beliefs as commodities to be sold to the public in exchange for advertising revenue; the truth of the belief becomes less important than the cash value of propagating it. In a democracy, that's very destabilizing.

So what I'm saying is, a) some beliefs are more valuable than others, b) we should teach the valuable ones at school, and c) to do otherwise would make us morally suspect.


Anonymous said...

...oh, some odds and ends.

Calling art "derivative" is code for "not understanding how art works". Joseph Campbell made a whole career out of explaining how all heroes in all cultures have roughly the same story. Harold Bloom, not one of my ideological buddies, explains the Canon of literature literally as being the history of literature that writers have liked, imitated, and made reference to. So all "great" literature is inherently derivative.

Art works the same way. For like 1,000 years, all the art made by Europeans was about Jesus, Mary, God, and sometimes the Devil. A lot of that art is still great and important. When artists moved away from that, they did it in part by taking advantage of new technology and in part by taking inspiration from Rome. But Rome's great art was about taking inspiration from Greece...and Greece took its cues from the Phoenicians...and so on.

What I'm saying is, we're doing ok.

And John, I'm aiming this at you, too...I hope you read it.

john said...

@Anonymous: I read it, but I'm not sure why you were aiming it at me. I do agree that derivation is not inherently bad - it's one of many items in the artist's toolbox - but on the other hand I generally share Narf's opinion that the arts in the US are in a state of serious decline. I think I'd more attribute it to pervasive commercialization pushing derivation to the forefront of a huge majority of projects and often forbidding the people involved from engaging in any other part of the creative process, but I do think that what he's saying about the idolization of dogmatic rationalism stifling creativity has merit.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Anon 6:58 - 7:28

You spent so much time and effort writing about irrelevant red hearings that I'm actually fairly surprised this wasn't just an article copied from some where. But, lets talk about your questions anyway...

"The third is the idea that ALL beliefs are equally valid at some level."

I'm not arguing that all beliefs are equally valid. The relative validity of individual beliefs in this case is moot. Just that they should be free to exist regardless.

But, I would ask you this of science... can you actually prove that it works? Can you compare science against a control? Can you defend it with out resorting to selection bias? I mean, if I were to shake a magic 8-ball enough times, I would eventually get the right answer. Can you actually empirically show that science is better at making predictions than a magic 8-ball?

"The second is the question of what should be taught in public schools"

Completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand. We're talking about what parents teach their children at home, not what's taught in school.

"The first is the possibility of beliefs which, if you have them or encourage others to have them, make you a bad person."

Well, first off, the criteria of what constitutes a "bad person" is subjective to the point of ambiguity. Generally when one calls something "bad" it's because they don't like it in a way they can't logically explain. But, with out getting to deep into moral relativism, I'm going to assume given the context of the rest of your post that you mean "harmful". And, in that case... no.

I've made this argument several times before, but... Beliefs in and of them selves don't beget actions, and harmful people will do harmful things regardless of belief. The two simply do not correlate to each other at all.

As for the case of you're misinformed voter, the real problem isn't his initial belief but that the people who know about road maintenance did a poor job convincing him otherwise. And, I think that is the case far more often than not.

"Calling art "derivative" is code for "not understanding how art works""

A work being inspired by another and a work being derivative of another are 2 entirely different things. Yes, all art is inspired by other art, the distinction is whether it tries to be something new in it's own right or not. A good example would be how Aliens in inspired by Starship Troopers, but Halo would be derivative of Starship Troopers.

Anonymous said...

@ Narf

Since you said you would admit that you're wrong if I could demonstrate conclusively that science will get the right answer more often than a Magic Eight Ball, here's the proof:

The magic 8-Ball has the following answers.

● It is certain
● It is decidedly so
● Without a doubt
● Yes – definitely
● You may rely on it
● As I see it, yes
● Most likely
● Outlook good
● Yes
● Signs point to yes
● Reply hazy, try again
● Ask again later
● Better not tell you now
● Cannot predict now
● Concentrate and ask again
● Don't count on it
● My reply is no
● My sources say no
● Outlook not so good
● Very doubtful

So any question you ask it has a 50% chance of a "yes" response, a 25% chance of a "I don't know" and a 25% chance of a "no". Assuming you roll the "I don't know"s again, that means that the breakdown will have something like an average of 71% yes, 29% no.

So if you ask the magic 8 ball a question like "Will it Rain Tomorrow?", you will only be accurate if reality happens to correspond to exactly that percentage of answers - I imagine there are places where that would be a pretty good fit. For everywhere else, though, it's pretty wildly off, and, of course, the situation gets worse if I ask a question like "Will there be a hurricane tomorrow?" or "Will everyone spontaneously combust tomorrow?"

Predicting the weather, or spontaneous human combustion, can be done using observation of empirical evidence and tools developed using the scientific method. Those methods work better than a magic 8-ball, QED.

I'm sorry that my red "hearings" so confused you, but my point was that using elementary logic and intro-philosophy epistemology, your case can be torn asunder, and I spent the time doing it because it was like doing a fun (yet easy) Sudoku puzzle while watching Breaking Bad, and also because your thesis is so dangerous and so wrong and I am that guy from the XKCD cartoon.

And yes, by "bad" I mean "harmful", and no, I am not persuaded that actions and beliefs bear no relationship to one another. There's evidence in cognitive psychology (Dan Airely's new book is a good example) that getting people to do bad things relates mainly to their ability to rationalize their behavior, so in fact there's quite a strong relationship between people's willingness to steal or harm others or fail to help and people's professed moral framework. We know this because of experiments done with controls and repeated trials and "science-y stuff", but you don't care, I suspect, because evidence holds no meaning for a free-spirited, poetic individual like yourself.

In the meantime, I'm wondering how you justify your extremely self-assured assertions about which art is derivative and which art is inspired while telling me that ALL moral judgments are so subjective that it's too ambiguous to even talk about it.

What I begin to suspect is that you either a) just like to keep the argument going, which I respect (obviously) or b) just cannot admit to being so spectacularly incorrect as you are on this issue due to unwarranted pride or c) have a chip on your shoulder about logic because you're not much good at it but clearly want to be. I feel like c) is too mean, and I've seen you say smarter things than this, so I'm going with a).

But that's what I choose to believe.

Anonymous said...

...oh, sorry, to respond to that one argument about the subject of the discussion: it's possible that we agree.

All positions and beliefs have a right to exist, if they absolutely must. But some of them are stupid, and most of them are wrong, and parents who teach their kids that science doesn't really explain anything better than a magic 8-Ball are harming their kids with their nonsense.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Anon 12:04

I have a number of issues with your proposed experiment:

1 - Despite your "QED", nothing was actually demonstrated. You gave a break down of the probability of the 8-ball being right and just asserted that science would perform better. You presented nothing showing the probability of science being right, much less actual empirical evidence.

2 - "Will there be a hurricane tomorrow?" and "Will everyone spontaneously combust tomorrow?" fall quite clearly into the area of selection bias.

3 - I would concede that a magic 8-ball is perhaps a bit too weighted to work properly as a control, but that doesn't negate the need for controlled experiments. We'll just need to find more controls to compare against.

And, are you referring to “The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty”? The entire thesis of the book was that rationalization was an unconscious process that happens that completely independently and often in-spite of "professed moral framework". All his experiments showed that he could get people to perform dishonest behavior regardless of what they believed. I'm baffled as to why you would even mention that book.

For all your talk about empirical evidence, your argument is disappointingly lacking in it.

(As an aside, I suggest you look up "Danth's Law". I never call people out on it because for me it's like a shark smelling blood in the water, but it's something that perhaps you should be aware of.)