Friday, March 21, 2008

John Derbyshire Irreligion Watch

I'm a big fan of John Derbyshire, the conservative author, mathematician, Ron Paul supporter, and sinogynephile. He can be irritating, though, especially this election cycle. Ron Paul vs. Al Gore 2008, John?

Anyway, the irritant this time is the latest example of his constant need to be provocatively irreligious:
I have to line up with Andrew on that Atlantic piece about Arthur C. Clarke.

"What Clarke failed to understand about the supposed 'mind virus' of religious belief is that it answers exactly this question — it grounds human dignity in transcendent truth."

The problem here is that the word "truth" ought to be plural. So ought "religious belief." There isn't just one, there are lots of them, and they disagree fundamentally among themselves about the transcendent stuff.

* This one says that after you die you go to a different plane of existence; that one says, no, you are reborn on earth.
* This one says there is an invisible Sky Father supervising our affairs, that one says, no, there are lots of Sky Fathers, each with a different portfolio; while yet another one says there are no Sky Fathers at all, only an ineffable void.
* This one says you should love your enemies; that one says you should kill them.
* This one says the Sky Father sent us a messenger 2000 years ago to show us the right path; that one says, yes, but he sent another messenger 600 years later, whose message was even more definitive; a third group tells us that, no, the second messenger didn't show up till 200 years ago; while down the street there's a religion that says the Sky Father will send a messenger in his own sweet time, but hasn't yet …

Doesn't look very dignifying to me, nor for that matter much like truth. Compared with this mess, those corny, laughable old non-transcendent truths — stuff like water is wet, fire burns, E = mc2, and eπi + 1 = 0 — look pretty good.
I'd like to congratulate the physical sciences on finding that unified theory, and leaving behind the mess and confusion of the competing "truths" of relativity, quantum mechanics, and string theory.

Whew. Finally.


At 12:31 PM, March 22, 2008 , Blogger Nick Milne said...



or maybe it's more like


At 10:47 PM, March 26, 2008 , Blogger TGGP said...

What? He said science gives us real truths, not that it has accomplished everything.

At 8:22 AM, March 27, 2008 , Blogger Vernunft said...

He seemed to suggest that an irreconcilable divergence of opinion in religion was indicative of its not being about truth at all. To that extent, science would appear not to be about truth either, which is absurd, which was sort of my point.

At 12:25 PM, March 29, 2008 , Blogger TGGP said...

"That the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the Chief Rabbi, or the Akond of Swat, have anything true to tell me about the world or my place in it, I am unpersuaded. That they have fundamental disagreements with each other about the "unassailable truths" of which they claim custody, doesn't help a bit. If I go to study astronomy, biology, or chemistry in Athens, Benares, or Cairo, I shall learn the same things in the three different places. Students of theology in those places will learn three utterly different things. Truth, it seems to me, ought to be indivisible, not dependent on accidents of geography."

At 8:42 PM, March 29, 2008 , Blogger Vernunft said...

Guess physics isn't truth...and I always thought it was. Oh well!


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