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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Coruscating madness

Since his recent appearance on The Colbert Report, Andy Schlafly of Conservapedia has achieved new levels of wackiness that surprise even me. For example, he's recently begun insisting that if you choose to spend less than 5% of your time reading the bible then you are censoring it. Likewise, he now expects everyone to give "equal time" to the bible which is, in his view, the "most logical book ever written." It's somewhat mysterious to me what "equal time" actually means in this context. Equal time to everything else you read? Equal time to... you know... everything else you do? Please, Andy, if you're going to be a lunatic, at least be a lunatic with clarity!

Regardless, however, there's another issue buried in his insane ranting that I want to draw out, like venom from a wound. As y'all know by now (if only because I mentioned it in the last paragraph) Schlafly likes to assert that the bible is the most logical book ever written. It's not really clear to me what this would mean, even if true, given that logic is an approach to reasoning. As such, one can be logical or illogical, and one can be illogical in varying degrees, but once one is using logic properly, I'm not sure it's possible to be even more logical. It's sort of like following traffic laws, either you are or you aren't, and there are varying degrees of "aren't" but really only one level of "are." Nevertheless, fascinating as measurement issues are to me, that's not the point. I could also observe that to say that a book is "logical" is not the same thing as to say that it is "correct." Logic is a way of reasoning from point A to point B but produces correct answers more or less in proportion to the validity of your starting assumptions and data. If one has sufficiently screwy assumptions, a perfectly logical chain of reasoning will still produce a wacky result. Again, however, this isn't the point. The point you should be attentive to is that Schlafly is going to great lengths to assert- repeatedly and hilariously- that his particular religious book of choice is the most logical one ever written. And this is interesting because logic is, if nothing else, a very orderly and consistent approach to thinking, and Schlafly views this property as good.*

Next, consider Schlafly's recent masterpiece on quantifying order, which begins thusly:

Or in plain human speech:

“In the beginning was perfect order, and this perfection was with God, and this perfection was God.”

This is a tantalizing translation of John 1:1,[1] and it suggests that insight into the universe may be best understood by examining order, and its converse of disorder (entropy). Interestingly, the etymological meaning of the word "Devil" is synonymous with disorder.

Viewing science in terms of ordering and disordering provides unifying insights into otherwise disparate phenomenon. Aging, for example, ostensibly seems unrelated to the Second Law of Thermodynamics as biology and physics are currently taught. Yet both can be understood clearly and simply as an action of disorder.

Focusing on order and disorder as the defining principles for nature has additional benefits. It provides a way for looking at the world that is helpful rather than hurtful. Daily, or even hourly, disorder causes frustration and anger, which can then be turned against others or even God. But recognizing disorder as being caused by the Devil and easily overcome with faith is helpful. Moreover, some activities by their very nature enhance order, such as marriage.

New Testament miracles that ostensibly appear to be an unrelated collection of violations of physical laws, can be more easily understood as natural signs when viewed as a triumph of order over disorder.

I should note before we go any further that the "tantalizing translation" derives from Schlafly's own Conservative Bible Project. So, yeah, that's reputable. I should also note that some of the "implications" of his thesis are absolutely mind-meltingly insane:

Again, in plain text:

No one has ever quantified order, and it is a difficult challenge. It helps to make some initial observations:

-precise locations are more ordered than imprecise ones; spatial proximity to other objects is more ordered than distant proximity

-fast, predictable motion is more ordered than slow or unpredictable motion

-sharp delineation is more ordered than diffusion

-transmission of information is more ordered if there is less error

-the human eye is more ordered than other human organs

-in thinking, faith is more ordered than mental instability or disease

Query: is it a mistake to quantify order based on position or motion? Are spatial considerations even relevant to relative amounts of ordering?

Just... wow. It's difficult to even know what to do with that kind of thing. Regardless, however, I think it clear that Schlafly is arguing that order characterizes the divine and disorder characterizes the devil. Likewise, god is apparently very logical whereas things that are ungodly are, presumably, illogical. We're all clear on that? Good!

So, given the above, you can understand my bewilderment when I discover Schlafly's latest defense of poor design in the context of the intelligent design approach to biology:

Or, to quote the entire conversation with the critical passage in bold:

I have an open mind about this. But it's obvious from the Scienceline article that people exaggerate their need for a second kidney. All evidence is that the second kidney is superfluous in most people. So why do people exaggerate the need for a second kidney? Because evolution teaches that everything has a utilitarian purpose, and it misleads people into this false perception. The result is made clear by the article: 75,000 people need a donation of that extra kidney that most people don't need, but don't donate it due to being misled by the theory of evolution into thinking they do need it. That's a heavy cost caused by a politically motivated falsehood.

Design explains the extra kidney: symmetry, or even to have an extra one to give another person in need. It could even be there as a test for us. That's a challenging thought.

Evolution cannot plausibly explain the superfluous kidney, and hence its inclusion in this list. The theory claims that populations evolve, but there is no reason for an entire organ to develop which most of the population does not need. Pre-obesity, when evolution supposedly occurred, at most a tiny percentage of people would have had a need for a second kidney, far too few to just an entire population developing it.--Andy Schlafly 23:07, 2 November 2009 (EST)

Following your logic, why didn't God give humans two hearts as well? I agree with you in your belief of creationism, and I respect your opinion, but I disagree with your belief that just because you say it, it becomes a fact.Ssmith12 17:21, 12 December 2009 (EST)

Typical liberal response. The reason God didn't make humans with two hearts because humans don't need two hearts. Also, your liberal dissent and vandalism is very obvious. Next time, be more logical and read the Bible, the most logical book in the world.Biblekid17:56, 12 December 2009 (EST)

Andy Schlafly already admitted that the extra kidney is, well, extra, and that a human doesn't need two kidneys. I don't want to appear as a vandal on this site, I just wanted to make sure Mr. Schlafly shows a bit of humility, and perhaps quote a bible verse rather than just go on with his musing.Ssmith12 18:44, 12 December 2009 (EST)

There's no logic in your objection. An intelligent designer is not constrained by an idiotic straight-jacket of consistency.--Andy Schlafly 18:56, 12 December 2009 (EST)

Okay, so, to sum up: god and the bible are intrinsically the most logical things around. Likewise, god is the epitome of order while the devil is the epitome of disorder (or, alternatively, chaos). These assertions might lead one to believe that god's behavior should be... you know... consistent. Indeed, this seems to be effectively inevitable for a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly logical and perfectly ordered. In other words, if you know everything and can do anything, then- if you're logical- everything you do should represent the best way to do the thing you're trying to do. This is the case because if you're omniscient you know what the best way is, if you're omnipotent you have the power to implement that best way, and because you're logical you will always take the most effective route to your goal. As such, your behavior should be very consistent. Obviously, the world does not really support this notion. Now, one could respond by saying that we simply don't understand god's goals- in other words, his behavior IS logical and IS consistent when seen from his perspective. Fair enough, that's the standard "god works in mysterious ways" argument which is logical if, in my view, still a rather silly cop-out. Yet, that isn't what Schlafly does- instead, when it's convenient, he simply tosses off the "god is free to be inconsistent" line, and that's the end of it. And this is a problem because, if it's true, then we have to consider the possibility that god isn't logical, isn't ordered, isn't omniscient, isn't omnipotent, or some combination thereof, unless we are willing to accept that our own thinking is inconsistent.

But hey, if inconsistency is good enough for god...

* It's also interesting because Schlafly is Catholic and the Roman Catholic Church doesn't accept the doctrine of sola scriptura, which really seems to be what Andy is pushing. Way to be heretical, buddy!

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Blogger Jay Livingston said...

I don't know what happened to "tolerance of ambiguity"; I don't keep up with the psych/personality lit. But these passages seem to fit with a particular mind-set that seems far more frequent among conservatives, and that mind set is notably intolerant of ambiguity. It sees ambiguity as a dangerous threat and sees the world as a struggle between order and disorder, or in Mary Douglas's terms, purity and danger. So "logos" becomes not just "the word" but logic and order.

This mind-set also seems more characteristic of the Biblical Hebrews and more consistent with God of the Old Testament; less so with Jesus of the New Testament. But I'm less interested in the Schlaflys of the world as theologians or religious historianns than as examples of a certain contemporary mentality that spans religion, politics, and other areas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger scripto said...

"Moreover, some activities by their very nature enhance order, such as marriage."
Wha? Is he or has he ever been married?

"No one has ever quantified order, and it is a difficult challenge. It helps to make some initial observations:"
Lay it on me, Andy.

"-precise locations are more ordered than imprecise ones; spatial proximity to other objects is more ordered than distant proximity"
Umm - like Earth to Mars is more ordered than Earth to Jupiter? The further away things get from each other the more disordered they are? Both of them?

"fast, predictable motion is more ordered than slow or unpredictable motion"
Where does slow, predictable motion fit in?

"transmission of information is more ordered if there is less error"
Bingo. Found an acorn.

"-the human eye is more ordered than other human organs"
Agreed. Everone knows the eyeball is the king of all the organs.

"-in thinking, faith is more ordered than mental instability or disease"
Yeah. Like David Koresh or Mohammed Atta.

"Query: is it a mistake to quantify order based on position or motion? Are spatial considerations even relevant to relative amounts of ordering?"
Query back: WTF does that mean?

Andy will never give up. He'll be bugging someone to turn over the Dead Sea Scrolls so that he can check them for authenticity. Just like he bugged Lenski for some of his citrate eating bacteria. He wanted to duplicate the experiment by swallowing a beaker full of them with some orange juice.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"faith is more ordered than mental instability or disease"

If I wore this on a t-shirt into Andy's church, would they be accepting and proud??

Faith: it's better than being committed.

Thursday, December 17, 2009 7:17:00 AM  

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