October 11, 2005

It just keeps coming

Spectacular pack-kill at Techcentralstation where Douglas Kern's spirited (but deeply confused) case for ID gets sliced, diced, and shredded by Sallie Baliunas, Robert McHenry, and Max Borders.

Posted by CCRU-Shanghai at October 11, 2005 11:42 PM | TrackBack




there are some good, related articles in the current issue of New Scientist


Particularly these:

End of the Enlightenment

Enemy at the gates (about ID)

Don't know if these links work - they're subscription. If not, I can always paste the whole articles, if anyone's interested.

Posted by: sd at October 12, 2005 02:28 PM



sd - haven't got time to follow links just now - I'll try tomorrow

Actually think Kern's point #1 is quite interesting, a variant on a quite dynamic meme right now, namely: Darwinian rationalism need not be successful in its own terms, i.e. in propelling fertile societies. Probably its a new version of the old Nietzschean point about productive errors. When historicized by impending Singularity, however, it becomes a lot less convincing.

Posted by: Nick at October 12, 2005 03:08 PM



Nick, don't forget to check your email-box ;)

Posted by: lurker at October 14, 2005 06:10 AM




Posted by: northanger at October 14, 2005 10:17 PM



oops. wedge strategy appears in sd's "Enemy at the gates" article.

Posted by: northanger at October 14, 2005 10:19 PM



Some points not raised in the responses to Kern at Techcentral

Kern: "the advent of ID won't hurt American productivity a bit. Belief in ID does nothing to make believers less capable in science or engineering."

This is only partly true: belief in ID and Christian fundamentalism may not make believers less 'capable', but they certainly have limited, and would continue to limit, the scope of research that an individual or community is allowed to conduct in 'science or engineering'. This was clearly demonstrated in the theological argument against stem cell research. America is now lagging behind in this field, so American productivity has been hurt. With regard to the future, ID and fundamentalism will no doubt try to block nanotechnology research and genetic engineering, particularly once their importance to AI and The Singularity become clear.

If ID and Christian Fundamentalism did not interfere in research then it would be easy to tolerate their continuing existence and even the propagation of ID in schools. Tolerance could be a mask for cynicism: "If they can't take Darwinism, if they will be at each other's throat and society will descend into a nihilistic free-for-all without God's magic finger being seen at work everywhere, then let them have their absurdity and let them pass it on to children."

If ID is the latest mutation of the benign God-Founding-Fathers-pioneer-spirit meme, then there might still be some productivity left in the error - in that it prevents despair, keeps people busy, maintains the veneer of civilisation and staves off anarchy.

Teaching children ID is probably not as bad as teaching them hard core, Bible literal creationism because it installs the concepts of evolution, complex design and natural selection in the brain - even if these concepts are bastardised, twisted and deeply confused. Children are often resistant to the utter nonsense they are taught by parents and schools and are adept at picking holes and finding contradictions. If a child brought up on a strict diet of Christianity is capable of thinking themselves into a coherent Darwinist position, then it is clear that the step from the garbled logic of ID to a purely atheistic or agnostic conception of evolution is by no means 'difficult'.

Perhaps the one positive outcome of the ID debate is that it has pushed evolution to the fore.

In 1976, Dawkins wrote:

"Today the theory of evolution is about as much open to doubt as the theory that the earth goes round the sun, but the full implications of Darwin's revolution have yet to be widely realised. Zoology is still a minority subject in universities, and even those who choose to study it often make their decision without appreciating its profound philosophical significance. Philosophy and the subjects known as 'humanities' are still taught almost as if Darwin had never lived. No doubt this will change in time."

Postmodernism was the humanities' last ditch attempt to ignore biology.

ID is merely the latest attempt to keep God in the picture, adapting religion to evolution by producing the formula 'God AND Natural Selection'. The whole and fundamental point of Darwin's theory of evolution is that natural selection makes God unnecessary: the 'choice' on the intellectual front is 'God OR Natural Selection'

For Dawkins, any answers to the deep problems - Is there a meaning to life? What are we for? What is man? - that humanity provided before 1859 are basically worthless and should be ignored. Some philosophy pre 1859 may be interesting or compatible with the theory of evolution, but none of it is essential (for example, Hobbes was right, but there is nothing in his thought that cannot be inferred independently, from observation of human nature; neuroscience might reach conclusions that could be termed 'Kantian', but these conclusions are not reached via reading Kant). The question with pre 1859 philosophy is: how much time do you have to waste?

If we were deprived of all our culture (like the humans in Octavia E. Butler's Lilith's Brood) the theory of evolution, if we had access to it, would alone provide us with a conceptual framework sufficient to a) make sense of the world its mechanism, and b) begin experimenting and engineering ourselves. The theory of evolution is our absolute conceptual minimum, at least until another paradigm emerges.

The nature of fundamentalist faith means that it has to be understood and tolerated (cynically) because otherwise the condition just deteriorates:

"The challenge for the secular inheritors of the Enlightenment is to remain true to their values and be tolerant and pluralistic - even in the face of an opponent that can never reciprocate. That means understanding fundamentalist mentality, and at least not adding to the alienation that inspires the more extreme among them. "We must accept seriously held public belief as a normal part of modern living," says Davie. "The more you deny and attack it, the more defensive it gets.""


However, contrary to what Kern says, ID is slowing America and the Anglosphere down. Societies which are forced to tolerate fundamentalism and confused thinking are placed at a disadvantage to those which are not.

Posted by: sd at October 16, 2005 11:24 AM



sd - strongly agree with all your points above.
Whether ID will damage US competitiveness - hopefully the institution of science in the Anglosphere is now robust enough to fight off retrograde nonsense, and if there is a retreat, then East Asian nations unencumbered by monothesistic mythology will take over critical segments of advanced biotech, forcing a reversal of policy (or, unimaginably to me, continued slippage into second tier status (can't see how American universities and corporations could allow this to happen)).
It might be argued that ID is even more toxic than bible-thumping creationism, because it subverts the essence of science by introducing superstitious causes into superficially unimpaired scientific procedures, rather than proposing an alternative 'theory' (one so preposterous, of course, that it is effectively self-refuting among even the scientifically quasi-literate).

That Darwinism is THE essential discovery made by homo sap. to date also very convincing - the mechanism of variation-selection is by far the most plausible general purpose problem solving schema yet outlined, with the capability to generate new knowledge, rather than merely being an item of comprehension among others.

Posted by: Nick at October 16, 2005 11:42 AM



"continued slippage into second tier status"

Possibly the roots of WWV?

An underdeveloped, comparatively impoverished Anglosphere under the sway of anti-AI christian-humanist resurgence launches a resento-crusade against fantastically wealthy PacRim non-biological cyborg-experimental society?

Posted by: sd at October 16, 2005 01:58 PM



sd - intriguing scenario. Think the big PacRim players have their work cut out to get to the starting point with this though - neoliberalism is still an Anglosphere export right now (however sad it is to acknowledge that)

Posted by: Nick at October 16, 2005 02:54 PM



well this is the map for the catch-up:


from "The Singularity is Near" (hint hint, gloat gloat)

Posted by: sd at October 16, 2005 05:10 PM



more links from kurzweil in the tangents

Posted by: sd at October 16, 2005 05:48 PM



For all your talk of the Anglosphere, you've certainly missed the boat on the ID issue.
Fact: The US of A is based on Christian principles
Fact: The founding fathers refer to "the creator" many times in various seminal documents.
Fact: It is the respect for all the principles of Christianity, including literal understanding of Genesis that has made this country great.

The rest of the world can't keep up because they lack our essential combination of respect for individuality and the right to profit combined with the rock solid foundation of the Judaeo Christian tradition. Argue all you wish, but in the end if we lose these fundamental elements of our identity to the secular humanist onslaught and persecution, the battle will be lost, and we'll become just like secularized, impotent Old Europe.

The Anglosphere is nothing without the one true God, who is its creator and final judge. You can try to take away credit from the author, but in doing so you sow the seeds of our country's destruction.

Posted by: spirit of USA at October 17, 2005 03:23 PM



Wow. Are you for real?

Posted by: sd at October 17, 2005 04:36 PM



"Wow. Are you for real?


Not sure what you mean by that, but the short answer is yes.

Maybe you live in some sort of secularist enclave, but where I'm from everyone feels the way I do, and no one would even consider asking me that question.
You try to connect productivity to evolutionism, but you miss the real cause of our productivity: The protestant work ethic. This is basic civics, and I'm surprised you react to it with such disbelief.
Why are you so eager to dispose of the core of our culture? These values are the root of the Anglosphere and our success. Do you even remember the Mayflower and why those people came here? Have you ever heard of the protestant work ethic?

Posted by: spirit of USA at October 18, 2005 02:26 AM



'Have you ever heard of the protestant work ethic?'

erm, yes. it's already been touched on here.


Sorry for my disbelief, but things and 'people' are often not what they seem to be on this site.

If you are indeed a supporter of ID and truly believe that the USA was founded on Christian principles, please:

1. present your scientific arguments which prove that natural selection is not a sufficient mechanism for the evolution of complex design. If God had a hand in evolution, why are human bodies put together in such an adhoc and inefficient way? (e.g. the male's sperm duct, nerves in a giraffe's neck).


2. put forward your views on stem cell research, genetic engineering and AI. How important do you think these areas of research will be over the next two decades? Given that China will be the leading world economy by 2020, isn't there a possibility that the USA will fall behind because of its moral inhibitions and superstitions?


3. acknowledge that the protestant work ethic (and the escape from persecution on the Mayflower) was also caught up in the dark side of human nature: genocide, slavery and bigotry. The USA was founded as much on disease warfare, annihilation of cultures that stood in its way, and the commodification of humans as much as it was founded on 'Christian principles'. Religion, like smallpox, was/is a weapon.

Posted by: sd at October 18, 2005 08:00 AM



"why are human bodies put together in such an adhoc and inefficient way", sorry not just human bodies - all bodies, hence the giraffe neck. The only truly efficient 'life form' to evolve is the virus.

Posted by: sd at October 18, 2005 08:03 AM



'Maybe you live in some sort of secularist enclave' - no I live in a fanatically Catholic country where women don't have the right to an abortion even if they are raped.

One last point: the Anglosphere is constantly mutating. God is having a hard time making himself useful these days, helpful though he might have been in the past. Old weapons belong in museums or antique shops.

Posted by: sd at October 18, 2005 08:39 AM



spirit of USA - thanks for showing up, the issue you raise is clearly an essential one. Protestant fervour certainly seems to be closely connected to economic vibrancy, even though there have been some intriguing counter-examples (generally ethnic Chinese) cropping up over the last century. On the other hand, technoscience required liberation from the cultural power of Christian institutions and ID definitely loses any argument posed on strictly scientific grounds - sd's stem cell point is also very relevant (also cloning and whatever other kinds of mad scientist biotech you want to throw into the mix). Even on strictly economic grounds there are issues - the pact between economic libertarians and social conservatives is not without its difficulties for instance.
Hope you've got the time to thrash through some of this with us ...

Posted by: Nick at October 18, 2005 11:33 AM



You want to argue the scientific merits of this or that part of creation theory. In this you commit the ultimate act of hubris, the assumption that you can liken yourself to God and look into His mind as an equal. If you want to trawl the web for a bunch of "scientists" who are posting their research from a creationist point of view, I'm sure you can find plenty of pseudo-scientific arguments to support their claims, just as your links provide a bunch of "proofs" which are just as conjectural as the other side's arguments, only less tested by time.

My main point: It is impossible to understand creation from our very limited spot within it, (space and time included). Even supposed LSD dropping geniuses like Crick who figured out the structure of DNA in a moment of pure inspiration later wrote books about why life can't possibly have evolved on earth and resorted to the "Panspermia" concept to explain away his doubts about the origins of life on Earth wihtout using religion.
For some reason I can't post a link here so just google "Crick panspermia" for a host of Xtian websites which answer this silly claim.

There is nothing in Christianity which would prevent you from building a computer, car, airplane or mobile phone. Nothing which would prevent you from traveling the world and exploiting natural resources which natives are too naive to exploit properly on their own. Nothing which would prevent you from gathering intelligence and applying it wisely to control the general path of humanity. These are presumably the technologies and traits you mean would be beyond our reach if ID were commonly accepted. If so, that's a very weak argument.

Man's place in the universe has several purposes in the following order:
1 Worship God
2 Direct others not engaged in 1 to the true path.
3 Pursue life liberty and happiness

There is nothing in there about understanding life's origins, and rightly so, because we are finite beings who are incapable of understanding these large principles. This is not part of our purpose.

That's where faith comes in. You Hyperstition fellas abviously understand the importance of this principle, or else this site wouldn't even exist.

As an authority no lesser than our President has said, evolution is just another theory. It can never be proved. You are trying to replace the system of faith which got us where we are (Christianity) with an obviously inferior system (once again, note Old Europe's slide into irrelevance after their secularization and de-facto acceptance of evolution).

Why would you do such a thing if you truly wish for the eternal dominion of the Anglosphere? If we lose our connection to the one true God, all that will remain of our civilization will be a few gadgets and shattered dreams. By turning away from God, you do exactly what the enemy wants you to do, leaving all of us exposed to their schemes.

Let's leave that which we can't comprehend alone, and get on with our daily business, the furthering of our culture for our children and grandchildren.

Posted by: spririt of USA at October 19, 2005 04:48 AM



spirit of USA - while not seeing entirely eye-to-eye with you on certain matters I suspect that most of the guys manning the bloody fringes of the free world see things pretty much like you do, so I respect that.

However, on ID (which you present honestly as Biblical creationism) your position seems theistic rather than scientific. Does religion really deserve to be brought into science classes? It is not itself remotely scientific but proceeds through faith and ad hoc rationalization rather than open-minded experimentation and naturalistic theory-testing. Neodarwinism could be suppressed, muddled, or displaced by ID, it cannot in any scientific sense be replaced by it since ID is essentially supernaturalist, calling upon causes that cannot - even in principle - be naturalistically identified, tested or evaluated. Pointing to gaps in current scientific models does not in itself produce a scientific theory, it either stimulates new scientific (naturalistic endeavours) or alternatively serves to satisfy those whose ultimate problem is with science as such - because they prefer revealed rather than experimental 'evidence.'

Your points about Europe are interesting. Does European secularism lead inevitably to soci*lism, appeasement and decay? What do you think of the thriving PacRim economies which seem to have melded secular rationalism with turbo-capitalism (take Hong Kong for e.g.)?
These are genuine questions for me, and I certainly accept that 'Red State' Biblical traditionalism seems to build backbones better than 'Blue State' whinging leftism. But Goldwater Republicans in their recent Reagan-Gingrich forms suggest it might be possible to cut-back on the Rovian big government compassionate theocracy without becoming a leftoid jellyfish.

Posted by: nick at October 19, 2005 05:57 AM



PS. to post links, cut off the beginning (up to "://")

Posted by: nick at October 19, 2005 06:34 AM



I think the spirit of the USA is well aware he/it is not making a scientific point. He/it is arguing from the criteria of what works vs. what does not, which is, I believe, close to the heart and soul of what hyperstition is.

The problem with evaluating explanatory narratives based on their effectiveness or ineffectiveness in regards to political/economic efficiency, strategic power, etc. is that when you find one that 'works' to your liking, such as, say, ID, there is no need to continue with the given line of questioning. There is no telling what practical advantages might be gained from experimentation and ideas based on new evidence and there would no longer be any incentive to seek it out. As Nick suggests, dissatisfaction with the current narrative is what creates the incentive necessary for scientific and technological advances to continue, and evidence is what keeps them around long enough (and enables them) to bestow practical advantages. And there is no question that is not fruitful when pursued in an inventive way -- simply coming up with any reasonably convincing solution/conclusion confers a bit of status, however short-lived (and convinces others to try it themselves).

Or -- a fiction without observable referents has only short-term (historically speaking) utility unless it is a) somehow impossible to take advantage of regardless of innovations based on new information or b) universally accepted -- we cannot stop learning until everyone else does, at which point we will have no reason to stop (conspiracy of intellectual cripples).

Posted by: traxus4420 at October 19, 2005 06:47 AM



Reasoned inquiry (with the goal to reach conclusions based on evidence) is always an investment, etc.

Posted by: traxus4420 at October 19, 2005 06:50 AM



traxus4420 - very thought provoking. Two immediate spin-off queries from me:
1) Can we define what it is for something to 'work' in a reasonably general yet rigorous way in order to process your point more thoroughly? While ultimately require nothing less than an abstract re-statement of pragmatism, a stepping-stone formulation might already be helpful.
2) Does it matter if the sense in which something 'works' is transcendent to the domain in question? For example, if a general was asked whether his attack plan will work and he replies 'sure, it will get me lots of media attention and girlfriends' even an ardent pragmatist might have questions. Similarly, the fact that a 'theory of life' 'works' to produce psychological harmony or even social inspiration remains entirely irrelevant to its functionality as a technoscientific machine-part

Posted by: nick at October 19, 2005 08:07 AM



oops - for 'require' read 'requiring'

Posted by: nick at October 19, 2005 08:10 AM



(hyperstitional) narratives are wielded by power structures.

The pragmatic function of a story is to simultaneously back up and implement economic, technological and military power.

ID is a heavily funded narrative whose basic function is to undermine the narratives of secular science and plunge the brain back into the dark ages of superstitous patriarchy.

ID uses human ignorance as a weapon used to bludgeon our brains back into their proper place, rather than as a stimulus to further exploration: "we are finite beings who are incapable of understanding these large principles. This is not part of our purpose." The theory of evolution, the discovery of DNA and quantum mechanics are all the beginning of the brain understanding 'large principles'. Nobody knows what AI will be capable of thinking, but is very likely that in terms of discovering and applying 'large principles' it will leave the unaided human brain far behind.

"most of the guys manning the bloody fringes of the free world see things pretty much like you do"

If that's true then the Anglosphere is well and truly stuffed:

a) it's just as barbaric, bigotted and disgusting as Islamic Jihad.
b) the PacRim combination of secular rationalism with turbo-capitalism is where capitalism's line of flight will really take off.

What happened to Kaplan's new pagansim?

Posted by: sd at October 19, 2005 10:58 AM



sd - think your (a) above rather excessive - how many people have been executed/murdered for criticizing Xtianity in recent centuries? (I've ripped into it pretty viciously myself at times and no one's ever threatened me). If your claim was downgraded to 'Xtianity (or Judaism) at nadir point of arrogant State-backed thought-policing was just as bad as Jihadism is today' then I MIGHT accept it. Let's face it: If Islam was debating something analogous to ID we'd already have won WWIV and come home

Posted by: nick at October 19, 2005 11:21 AM



PS. obviously hope you're right about PacRim

Posted by: nick at October 19, 2005 11:22 AM



(a) above rather excessive.


But if WWIV is actually (reformed, tolerant, modernised)Xtianity vs. (unreformed) Islam, rather than secular democracy vs. fundamentalism, then it is a nauseating crusade - two fundamentalisms at war. I guess many people in the USA would actually admit they view WWIV as the former - in which case that would be enough to make it the former (?).

Posted by: sd at October 19, 2005 11:37 AM



Have to agree with sd that if spirit of USA is indeed for real s/he's been given too easy a time

'Direct others not engaged in 1 to the true path.' particularly offensive to those of us who wish the world had more secular enclaves

as Nick mentions the protestant work ethic is an interesting hypothesis though not necessarily a convincing one - one look at the Hong Kong skyline and Weber begins to seem deeply unconvincing

surely India's vital inclusion in the anglosphere calls into question the importance of faith in the "one true God"

At any rate Judeo-Christian societies only become alligned with market forces and techno-scientific development when they escape from blind obedience to theological authority - the history of the West's resistance to the numeral zero makes this clear

Posted by: Anna at October 19, 2005 12:00 PM



Anna, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

Posted by: sd at October 19, 2005 02:02 PM




I think stories can 'work' -- have real consequences on people's lives -- in a variety of different ways, some unintended. They evolve and are modified by people to suit their needs/wants (and there are dominant narratives sponsored by power groups, folk narratives, etc.). Their 'success' I suppose would depend on whether or not their consequences are favorable. But conditions change, and that is the great strength of scientific narratives -- they are at once dependent on actual material conditions (less likely to be surprised) and capable of altering them (via technology) -- I think I'm thinking Hegel here.

PR difficulties arise when the material conditions informing a given set of theories come across as esoteric to the lay person, which I think is the case with evolution (and obviously, it's in competition with an already accepted mythic narrative). These narratives (theories) may be necessary to develop widely useful technologies, help understand human potential, etc. but the public begins to view scientists as high priests of an opposing religion, treating their ideas as such -- hence the necessity of a good education. And good media coverage -- there's little way to distinguish a good theory from hype (urban legend) when you read it in the papers...

On the two examples you give, I think if the general honestly believes his plan will work, then the status and girlfriends are sort of bonuses--at any rate he'll get more of each when it actually DOES work. If he's lying, then the above short-term benefits ARE the goal of his narrative, and so it has worked.

I think for most scientists, further techno-theoretical applications are the intended goal of any theory, social consequences being somewhat immaterial -- The Truth is All That Matters. Scientists like to be apolitical, even though that's just about impossible if their ideas are important enough. To political leaders, there's an apparent trade-off: support science regardless of social consequences in order to fully milk the techno-science advantages, or regulate it in the interests of social stability to be more compatible with public opinion and political objectives.

I think what tends to happen is real science gets dumbed down as much as possible so that it appears to be just another ideology. This is a real problem: what happens to healthy skepticism when disagreement requires uncommon expertise? How many beliefs must we hold in common in order to properly advance into an increasingly complex, technological future? Is the further breakup of society into the effectual (who know) and the ineffectual (who must accept, or, can believe whatever they want because it doesn't matter) inevitable?

Thinking all of a sudden of the Nietzschean opposition btw. Xian-scientific obsession with Truth and the 'lie that creates'...

ugh, apologies for how long-winded and divergent this is

Posted by: traxus4420 at October 19, 2005 06:23 PM



sd - definitely don't think WWIV can be a 'crusade' because religious memes don't spread that way (even if it was desirable, which isn't the case from my POV). Perhaps it's a mistake to imagine a global war having an (or even two competing) political objectives, even if it needs to package itself that way at times. IMHO, WWIV is just like all its precursors: Accelerate the Process vs Anticapitalist Revolt.

Traxus4420 - first half of your comment above seems entirely convincing, especially viz the way science is received as an alien and threatening ideology by traditional narratives.
Been whacked by a stange bug since midday yesterday, so not sure I'm up to productively commenting on the latter half, except to say that you have definitely taken the pragmatics of science issue forward a step - will try to respond to your final flurry of questions when my brain re-activates (in the interim, anything further in the way of expansion from you would be good - the final para. is extremely intriguing and very compact)

Posted by: Nick at October 20, 2005 11:59 AM



from my POV WWIV is a clash of systems, but the Spirit of the USA (and no doubt many others in the Anglosphere) probably see it more in terms of a crusade. there are obnoxious strains in the Anglosphere that don't have to be tolerated. (treacherous) support for (and relocation to) the PacRim sphere is more appealing to me.

Posted by: sd at October 20, 2005 04:36 PM



sd - still under the influence of Imperial Grunts (Kaplan, heard distractedly as audio book), which describes the USMC in Iraq as Southern biblical traditionalist types and contrasted them with the effete New England media elites who are aiding and abetting their enemies.

The thought of monotheism of any kind making it much further into the future is utterly repugnant to me on a visceral level, but there are important historical and cultural questions that get closed down prematurely if such affects run wild from the start. For e.g. why can't Capitalism mobilize people to fight or vote for it without wrapping itself in religion to the point of total obscurity? s.o.USA's 3 goals for life on earth quite interesting in this respect, first two overtly religious, 3rd with market economics buried in it somewhere ... Yet my guess is that s.o.USA is probably as fierce in objective defense of liberty as anybody on the planet and far more likely than evolutionary sophisticates to have the firepower in the basement to back that up (when's the last time you stripped down an automatic rifle?)

Posted by: nick at October 21, 2005 06:35 AM



[Nick, very swift and clumsy this – reading a lot at the moment, realizing how pig ignorant I am, don’t have a lot of time for this.]

'why can't Capitalism mobilize people to fight or vote for it without wrapping itself in religion to the point of total obscurity?'

WWII was not overtly religious – if you watch the US military films from 1941-3 that justified the war and contextualised it for soldiers, the war is stripped down and minimalist, good vs. evil, freedom vs. dictatorship: there are no references to God, the films focus explicitly on economics and the values of civic society. In many ways, WWII was clear: the enemy’s values, aims and programs were transparent to all; Berlin was a clear geographical objective; unconditional surrender was a clear strategic aim.

Democratic Capitalism did mobilize people to fight without wrapping itself in religion.

The obscurity of WWII lay in Stalin’s master strategy (from 1943 to 1946) - simultaneously compromising the allies and forcing compromises from them, starting WWIII as the Red Army made its way to Berlin. WWII was a shocking demonstration of extreme levels of naivety and cynicism.

WWIV is a foggy, entangled war. The clarity is constantly obscured. I think this is partly because:

a)the neocon agenda has distinct religious overtones which are revolting for many supporters of secular democracy
b)the economic front is not stressed enough
c)the fundamental contradiction of imposing democracy is not addressed
d)pomo cultural relativism has undermined the ability and willingness to evaluate and to fight for values
e)leftoid anti-globalisation unthinking is the default moral setting for the mainstream media
f)old fictions, such as nation and national culture, are increasing difficult to believe in.

The result is confusion and uncertainty – not very motivating factors for soldiers or civilian support.

'when's the last time you stripped down an automatic rifle?'

Ha! Fair point. I'm a whizz on a photocopier though :)

Posted by: sd at October 21, 2005 11:07 AM



sd - great points as usual. (a-f) evidently in need of much thrashing through.
Suspect you might have slightly rosy picture of guiding WWII values - Those Europeans who fought fascism in large part did so because they were commies (they'd been fine with Adolf until he broke with Stalin), also suspect traditional beliefs (nationalism, religion, even racial animosity) played a considerable role (e.g. in Pacific theatre). Just because a conflict is 'right' doesn't mean the reasons people fight it are necessarily rational or even admirable, although they probably seem more so in retrospect.

Posted by: Nick at October 22, 2005 01:52 AM



'slightly rosy picture of guiding WWII values' - I meant the US motivation for fighting rather than the European. I agree that 'nationalism, religion, even racial animosity' played large part, particularly on the Eastern Front. However, I don't think being a 'commie' was a crucial motivating factor on the Western Front - the Nazi affront and threat to civic society was key.

[currently being swept along by Kaplan's 'The Coming Anarchy' - it's persuasive and relentlessly bleak. I'm interested to know how there can be any optimism whatsoever in the Anglosphere if even a small proportion of his predictions are on track. Is this dealt with in 'The Anglosphere Challenge'?]

Posted by: sd at October 22, 2005 09:13 AM



sd - well, the French and Italian resistance were basically communist and even in Britain chunks of the left waited until Barbarossa before lining up with the war effort. Important thing is that the universal 'moral' claim of WWII which no subsequent conflict has mustered is that the leftists could feel they were fighting for Stalin (rather than decadent capitalist democracy).

Anglosphere Challenge isn't really Kaplanesque, it's remarkably upbeat - best seen as part of a larger project, since it focuses overwhelmingly on the core Anglosphere countries (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean, with South Africa trailing and very little on India or Hong Kong).
I'll definitely throw some more out here soon - the section on memetic plagues of the Anglosphere (Feudalism, Slaveism, and Utopian Revolutionism) is especially fascinating - Bennett sees all three as essentially alien but deeply disrupting cultural factors that the Anglosphere has needed to process out.

Posted by: Nick at October 22, 2005 11:59 AM



Nick - okay, but the French and Italian resistance weren't exactly big players in WWII.

Portions of the British left were involved in many of Stalin's intrigues (the Foreign Office seems to have been fully infiltrated), but I think it would be going a bit to far to suggest that fighting for Stalin was a motivating factor for the US, the Britsh and Commonwealth soldiers, and the Free Polish forces.

Hundreds of thousands of the latter had spent over a year in Stalin's Gulag before Poland and Russia re-established diplomatic relations in 1941. They left Russia via Iran, under the command of General Anders, and played decisive roles in the Battle of Britain and at Monte Cassino - they were definitely not fighting for Stalin. The best account of this is Gustaw Herling-Grudziński's 'A World Apart'.

Another factor is the British left’s disillusionment with the Soviet Union after Stalinist involvement in the Spanish Civil War – it was his experiences when fighting in Spain that turned George Orwell into such a fantastic anti-communist. Maybe I’m generalizing too much from Orwell’s example, but I think there are four points of escalating disillusionment for the British Left: 1. the Polish-Soviet War 1919-21 (which broke Lenin’s promise of peace from the April theses); 2. news of the (deliberate) Ukranian famine of 1932-4 (which may have claimed 6 million victims); 3.the Spanish Civil War; 3. the purges and show trials of 1937-8). Of course, some hard-liners (including spies) continued to support Stalin, but these events definitely took their toll on the British left.


Gullibility was a determining factor in WWII. The US, particularly Roosevelt, were incredibly naïve and idealistic. in their dealings with Stalin. The US administration made the fatal mistake of assuming that the Soviet gangsters played fairly, kept their word and had a respect for democracy. The US really did seem to think it was as simple as good vs. evil, rather than democracy and communism ganging up against facism.

[the stuff about maps and borders in Kaplan is brilliant – spot on.]

Posted by: sd at October 22, 2005 03:46 PM



Nick - Basically there is no inherent difference between narratives, fact-based or not, to most people, aside from each individual's already-given allegiance to one or the other. For those who can bring some amount of detachment to bear, narratives are inevitably evaluated through utilitarian criteria, like any tool. Even for those who are not so detached (the majority), it is recognized that this is how one debates a point. Like spirit of the USA above, when appeals to common morality fail, they fall back on utlitarian arguments even though blind faith is their primary motivator -- utilitarianism is simply how one preaches to the unconverted.

The second most effective mode of argument is evidence, not primarily because it appeals to peoples' idealism or satisfies curiosity, but because at its best, given a degree of rationalism (itself a thought-paradigm with proven usefulness), it gives people no choice but acceptance. The thing with science is that it objectifies the functions of a typical narrative, placing its basis not only outside any subjectivity but also in the world -- it extrapolates its narratives from things that are undeniable without recourse to radical skepticism/solipsism/irrationalism. But science also creates effects -- it is utilitarian to the nth degree. Miracles are great PR.

Why science hasn't completely obliterated religion and the irrational is not because it 'doesn't have all the answers' -- Xianity has just as many if not more terrifying blanks and inconsistencies than science -- it's because a) being irrational still works and b) you don't have to accept a theory to use what it creates. You don't have to question your personal metaphysics when you use a microwave. You do, however, have to believe in God in order for your prayers to work, in order for Him to carry you to victory. You do have to believe in order to fit in with your tightly-knit community.

We quickly become accustomed to the miracles of science. They become invisible because they require no belief. The most spiritual technologies are the ones with the most spectacular failures, like airplanes, the ones that gives us the most pleasure, like movies, or that give us social capital, like cars. Because the empiricist ideology from which science derives is against faith, and can't promise us the greatest rewards (such as eternal pleasure, life after death, love, which, if ever materially realized, will come through the user-friendly, eventually invisible TOOLS of science, which again require no belief), it will never be widely accepted the way it demands to be accepted: through knowledge, not belief. But it MUST be by some -- without acceptance it can't advance and can't continue to provide the rest of us with miracles. The question is how many converts does it need? Scientific knowledge, being an ongoing, increasingly complex process, takes too much work, and is only really available to the initiated. Hence science, and consequently secular materialism, can only be totally accepted by the public in the same irrational, clannish way religion and patriotism are.

Further, since science draws its power from objects, it can only subsume all other ideologies by physically determining human beings, putting its objects inside us. If this is possible, pure empiricism will become the only ideology ever to realize a world of converts.

Posted by: traxus4420 at October 22, 2005 08:32 PM



traxus4420 - this is a crucial line of thought you're exploring.

A few comments:

"Scientific knowledge, being an ongoing, increasingly complex process, takes too much work, and is only really available to the initiated."

But now computers cut down the work load and speed up the data gathering process (e.g. mapping the human genome finished ahead of schedule).

I also think that the details are complex, whereas the guiding paradigms are (necessarily) simple. Underneath genetics lies molecular chemistry, under molecular chemistry lies quantum physics... but you don't have to have detailed knowledge of each level.

With regard to 'the initiated' and 'converts', I'm not sure that these metaphors are very helpful. It is likely the opposite of what you describe is happening:

"...within a decade a single person at the lab bench could sequence or synthesize all the DNA describing all the people on the planet many times over in an eight-hour day, even given profligate human reproduction. Alternatively, one person could sequence his or her own DNA within seconds.

... For several years community colleges have offered courses of study aimed at providing the biotech industry with skilled technicians. A case in point: when it was founded in 1990, the sequencing facility at the Whitehead Institute Center for Genome Research employed primarily scientists with doctorates. Over the years these PhD's were gradually replaced by masters degrees, then bachelors and associates degrees. Now many of the staff have completed only a six month qualification course at local community college or are recent Tibetan immigrants who received training in basic skills at the Institute. These technicians are educated in all the steps necessary to shepherd DNA from incoming sample to outgoing sequence information, including generating bacteria containing DNA from other organisms. This point bears repeating: Creating genetically modified organisms is now the province of immigrants with little formal education. More sophisticated practical knowledge is available to many AP Biology students in high school. Pointing the way into the future, several universities now teach a Molecular Biology for Engineers class. Exploring the limits of this trend is a class taught at MIT wherein students ranging from undergraduates to post-docs design and test new genetic circuits.

'The Pace and Proliferation of Biological Technologies, by Rob Carlson'


We are heading into a period of open source biology and DIY genetics - the opposite of obscurantism and priesthood.

Posted by: sd at October 22, 2005 09:24 PM



I do see that increasing ease-of-use is something that is happening across the cultural board, and this is something that will probably open people up to these formerly arcane disciplines -- however, this pattern has happened before with computers. I remember using DOS, and it was not intuitive and did less for me and without my knowledge than Windows, which is now so user-friendly a grandmother could use it. The point with these technologies is that they get designed in such a way that you don't have to understand them to use them. If they didn't keep advancing so quickly, the computer would be as invisible an appliance as the microwave.

To fully grasp the cause-and-effect chains that make sense of these technologies and give rise to controversial narratives like evolution, one has to do one's homework. If you don't really and truly get what's going on then there is an element of faith involved. You accept rather than know. For example, I get the basic concepts of quantum physics, evolution, etc. but if someone came along challenging these ideas, I would have no way to defend them, precisely because I am not conversant with the details. Again we accept because the resulting technology works, rather than because we understand the theory on anything other than a superficial level.

I suppose a lot of this depends on how removed people are from what they are actually doing by some user-friendly interface or other. With this biotech info you bring up, I'm not sure how much these immigrants/students need to understand what they're doing -- are they thinking conceptually and relating their work to observed phenomena, or are they following recipes?

It seems unlikely, at least here in America where I'm surrounded by both, that fanatically religious thinking will cease because of new technologies, or vice versa -- what there is is a rift between those who theorize and design technologies and those who unreflectively use them. A technology that counteracted this tendency would be one that requires the user to understand what he's doing, and not just moving little icons around on a screen. I'm also unsure exactly how necessary it is that this happen.

Posted by: Traxus4420 at October 23, 2005 01:50 AM



so much going on now in this thread it's hard to keep up (esp. with body pulsing disgustingly with Cthulhu virus - hopefully abating) - agree with sd that T4420 point on science-without-belief an amazingly interesting step - maybe science has to begin demanding almost unbearable sacrifices (again) for it to attract mass devotion?

Posted by: nick at October 23, 2005 02:33 AM



traxus4420 - i think we can really go places with this stuff.

Fully agree with this: "we accept because the resulting technology works, rather than because we understand the theory on anything other than a superficial level."

You could push this in several ways though.

Scientific narratives work because they provide frameworks and hypotheses which motivate the gathering and application of data. There are concrete, observable outcomes. This is in strict contrast to the other-world promises of Xtianity (which have their utilitarian functions, as you note).

It seems highly likely that within a decade humans living in prosperous runaway technocapitalist societies will be empowered to sequence their own DNA at home (or pay a reasonable sum to have someone else do it). This kind of information is as close as humans can get at the moment to metaphysical data. To know what your genes have in store for you and, on top of that, to be able outwit them through reprogramming your own sequence (and those of any offspring you might have) would mean that information is the power to act on reality. Humans having power over their genes is comparable to humans getting their hands on the Bible and interpreting it during the Reformation, but having power over your own biological prison is a profoundly more useful than having power over religious codes.

In such a scenario, 'understanding', in the sense of parsing concepts, is to some extent irrelevant. Viruses and bacteria seem to be the only other 'life forms' that can actively alter their genome, and they do so without cerebral cognition (see the New Scientist Article on The Pathosphere in the Bird Flu thread). There is 'intelligence' at work here, but it is the strategies and the processes that are intelligent, not the viruses themselves.

The more computers are in the DNA sequencing and reprogramming loop, the less details humans have to understand. It is possible to envisage humans making the big decisions at first, for example whether or not to alter their ageing program, whether or not to get their senses and brains enhanced, whether or not to put some wolf genes in their mix..., but once this process is up and running humans will be in an arms race, and arms races unfold strategies of their own and lay down imperatives all of their own. Intelligent strategy may actually work more smoothly if humans do not comprehend it.

If/when AI takes off, there will be no way of disentangling human science from machine science. Computing will inevitably work its way into the decision-making loop by coming up with the goods: AI will be trusted, treasured and funded if it produces results. Humans will be relieved of the burden of trying to understand the whole process - delegated cognition. Maybe the ultimate human decision will be 'Let them do the thinking, or become them'.

Posted by: sd at October 23, 2005 05:50 PM



sd - don't know a huge amount about the technologies you are and have been citing, but provided the forecasts are accurate, then I think we're in agreement as to the probable result. It just isn't practical to know as much, or even close to as much, as can be known about...well, quite a few things (unless it's your job). Action tends to get sabotaged by too much thought.

I guess I'm just undecided as to whether or not science has what it takes to rally masses of people on an ideological/belief level. It probably shouldn't be used for such an obscene purpose anyway. Science isn't supposed to be believed in -- belief isn't scientific. At base, accepting an idea because it appears to produce results, rather than 'knowing,' is what science is all about, come to think of it.

It seems like the way to eradicate the harmful consequences of certain strans of organized religion is to put more people in the user's chair of technology, as future DIY gene-splicing promises to do. People will then have their freedoms at stake, rather than fairly abstract 'beliefs.' Trouble then seems to be a) what the anti-evolution anti-science crowd is capable of NOW and b) how to ensure (if that's even possible) that the really revolutionary technology ends up in the hands of more than an elite few.

Posted by: Traxus4420 at October 23, 2005 10:55 PM



Genome sequences are now free and accessible to anyone with an internet connection, and sequencers can be bought on-line.

These is a good overview:


and here you can get the genomes for a wide range of bacteria and viruses:


specifically for viruses:


and for sequencers on-line - it's already big business - these people advertise on Google:


and here's their brochure:


ot there's this company:


It's just a matter of motivation and money.

Posted by: sd at October 24, 2005 12:31 AM



or even 'this is a good overview'

Posted by: sd at October 24, 2005 12:31 AM



oops - you have to download the brochure from roche applied science - it's in pdf format, quite slick.

Posted by: sd at October 24, 2005 12:36 AM



Thanks, I'll take a look at this stuff.

P.S. Is your dislike of religious thinking (at least monotheism, forgive me for extrapolating) and championing of technology mainly pragmatic? I ask because from these last few posts I'm starting to feel like some version of logical positivist, or a follower of Karl Popper. Both modes of thought seem alien to at least the older discussions on this board. Where are we coming from here as to views on the legitimacy or function of science? Are there older posts I should check out?

Posted by: traxus4420 at October 24, 2005 06:48 AM



t4420 - doubt whether there's a coherent answer to your question here (as far as older posts go, it will just get more confusing). I'd recommend treating it as a constellation of idiosyncratic phobias at first, while trying to needle more satisfactory answers out of the various h. constituencies slowly and with subtle cruelty ... The (hopefully temporary) absence of Abu-86 also skews the situation somewhat.

Posted by: Nick at October 24, 2005 02:06 PM



traxus4420 -

"Is your dislike of religious thinking [monotheism] and championing of technology mainly pragmatic?"

For starters, I disagree with the line of thought that presents Western science as an outcome of Christianity: Lee Harris (from Tech Central):
"In short, the belief, or illusion, if you will, that the world is the result of intelligent design has been the necessary condition for the construction of Western science, and it explains the otherwise mysterious fact that science, in any genuine sense of this world, arose only in countries that were part of Christendom. Intelligent design, in other words, was a constructive illusion."


This is the kind of bigotted nonsense that makes me despair of the Anglosphere.

Western science emerged in pagan antiquity, was nearly obliterated by the rise of Christianity and Germanic barbarism, was kept alive in Arabic libraries:
"The Muslim expansion into Spain in A.D.1085 brought with it a new world view and new learning previously unknown in Europe, such as the technology of papermaking. The scholars of Islam in Spain also brought with them a vast body of empirical studies in natural science developed by generations of men from traditions ancient and contemporary who all spoke from outside of the narrow world view of the Catholic Church articulated by St. Augustine of Hippo. Included in the Arabic libraries were a fully developed mathematics of physics and astronomy, and the ancient Greek medical texts of Hippocrates and Galen, as well as the entire body of Aristotle's writings. The Arabs massive written record of non-Christian discussion included new ideas supported by incontrovertible proofs of evidence or logic, and some of these valid new ideas contradicted outright their corollary forms as taught by the Roman Catholic Church. The recovery of this ancient learning, supplemented by what the Arabs had gained from the Orient and from their own observations, constituted the intellectual rebirth of Europe. The Theocentric world view of Europe was further shaken throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as the Europeans who went east to fight in the crusades discovered for themselves that their infidels had a higher civilisation. The Muslims had hospitals, sewers, irrigation, and for battle, heavy artillery in the form of great iron cross bows. In debate, the Muslims were more sensible, with their background in Aristotle. For Europeans, it was the worst form of culture shock: the discovery of their own backwardness."

Re-activated pagan science and Islamic Science relentlessly undermined Christendom from the 11th century onwards, despite the determined efforts of crusaders and Mongols:

"1200s - Second wave of devastation of Muslim resources, lives, properties, institutions, and infrastructure over a period of one hundred and twelve years. Crusader invasions (1217-1291) and Mongol invasions (1219-1329). Fall of Baghdad (1258) and the end of Abbasid Caliphate. Two million Muslims massacred in Baghdad. Major scientific institutions, laboratories, and infrastructure destroyed in leading Muslim centers of civilization.

1400s - 1500s - Third wave of devastation of Muslim resources, lives, properties, institutions, and infrastructure. End of Muslim rule in Spain (1492). More than one million volumes of Muslim works on science, arts, philosophy and culture was burnt in the public square of Vivarrambla in Granada."

[worth looking at, to appreciate the extent of Islamic contributions to science]

The most offensive aspect of Christianity is its crudity. The amazing complexity, efficiency and resourcefulness of the natural world is sprayed over with gross concepts that are an insult to any brain that can think: the Trinity, the virgin birth, transubstantiation, eternal life as a reward - it's metaphysics for monkeys, patriarchal primate psychology. In terms of biological and technological adaptation, humans did just as well BC as they did AD: they had agriculture, proviruses, writing and science, and had migrated from Africa to South America and Australia, before Christ showed up. An evolutionary history might one day tell a convincing story in which Christianity is the main culprit slowing down scientific and technological progress.

The brain is the most complex piece of machinery we know of, yet the soul as conceived of by Christianity is perhaps the ultimate human idiocy: the brain's denial of itself. The day the brain comes up with a description of itself that does justice to its own efficiency and sophistication will be the day that 'humanity' could justifiably be proud of itself.

Michelangelo, a true renaissance man that Europe loves to fetishize, spent a lot of time in his youth studying anatomy by cutting up corpses, an activity which was strictly forbidden by the church. When he painted the Sistine Chapel his depictions of naked genitals caused outrage and were painted over after his death. Michelangelo saw that biology has to be faced, that we would have to start looking at corpses and genitals, that the body, with all its pumps, cables and liquids, can be beautiful.

Christianity does not want to look, and it strives to prevent science from looking. The reaction to stem cells is just the beginning - there's massive reaction ahead.

[I'm thinking about Popper ... later]

Posted by: sd at October 25, 2005 12:39 AM



sd - my basic response to your position is total concurrence, but I think it might be possible to expand on the discussion. Evidently, Abrahamic Monotheism - especially in its virulent Islamo-Christian strains - is a uniquely powerful meme-plague, so Dawkins-style dismissal doesn't really help much on the level of macrosocial (and/or hyperstitional) analysis.
As I've noted before, also think you're a mite harsh viz Lee Harris, his assertion cited above might be false, but is it really 'bigoted'? For sure, classical paganism would have provided a far more attractive foundation for an advanced civilization than frothing revealed religion, but 'if onlys' don't give us much to work with as far as the ongoing global 1God-sickness is concerned.
Monotheism has made itself a destiny. That has to be dealt with, not wished away.

Posted by: nick at October 25, 2005 02:30 AM



sd - ok, point taken -

Playing a bit of devil's advocate here (there's a weird reversal), but the philosophical foundation for Christianity can be traced back to Plato/the Stoics. I would say classical paganism can still be considered the foundation of modern society, embrace of monotheism being a fairly logical next step to Plato's transcendental idealism. There's also the problems popular paganism is usually credited with: the impossibility of history, humanity ultimately subservient to the world and its anti-progress masters, etc.

Going by pure economic, technological, and military prowess, the most powerful popular metaphysics/resulting ideology seems to have been the combination of Christianity and a limited pagan revival. I suppose one could argue either that Christianity gave Europe the needed missionary/conquering zeal while neoclassicism supplied the brains, or that it just made things bloodier, messier, and cruder than they had to have been.

Looking at monotheism as part of a necessary progression does make for a nicely symmetrical metaphysical (de)evolution: polytheism - monotheism - atheism (aka materialism/anti-metaphysics).

One thing I've always liked about Christianity over other monotheisms: the idea of a historical turning point. Post the death of Christ everything changes. All humanity suddenly gains an ally against the oppressive natural world and against the oppression of earthly kings and tyrants, or at least gains the ability to take such a radical stance. You could argue all day whether this outlook turned out to be helpful, harmful, or largely superfluous, but I think it's worth some consideration.

For my part, I think monotheism is a dead end at this point, but I tend to vacillate when the question turns to historical value.

Posted by: traxus4420 at October 25, 2005 03:55 AM



maybe the reason monotheism needs to be retired is that now we can physically alter the world and ourselves in a momentous way, or at least we've figured out how to get to that point. In other words, not until now have we actually been capable of facing reality without metaphysical illusions...

Posted by: traxus4420 at October 25, 2005 04:00 AM



"the reason monotheism needs to be retired" - best of luck popularizing this idea :)

Posted by: nick at October 25, 2005 07:42 AM



this is an increasingly bizarre discussion (I keep intellectually patting my pockets to see if I've forgotten something).

nick - re Lee Harris, I think it's better to err on the side of harshness than let him get away with it. His essay 'Why Theology is a simple muddle' is brilliant and thought-provoking, but, as far as I'm concerned, it contains two errors:

1. The assertion that science emerged in Christendom and only Christendom. To ignore the huge contributions of pagan and Islamic science is monumentally prejudiced, unfactual and, well, unscientific. It makes is very difficult to take his position seriously.

2. The assertion that Christian beliefs do not interfer with scientific progress. This is demonstrably false.

some other points:

3. The defence of Christianity because of its motivating and guiding power is also patronising. He bases his essay around the Dayton farmers, claiming that they would find no succour in the theory of evolution and natural selection. It seems to me that farmers, people whose trade is grounded in artificial selection, have a vested interest in deepening their awareness of evolutionary processes. In the 21st Century, science is going to be vastly more helpful to farming than God ever was.

4. He misrepresents Dawkins, claiming that science would never have got off the ground if Dawkins had been around at the start, because his view of evolution would discourage scientists from looking for order in the world. According to Harris, Dawkins is saying the world is entirely random. However, Dawkins' point is that there is design without foresight. Natural selection does produce highly organised arrangements of matter, so we can look for order, but that order is not planned and specified in advance. There is even more motivation to study the order if it is self-organizing, rather than part of the plan of a bearded primate projection: the natural world is more amazing without God.

I really do not understand why Dawkins is so often portrayed as some kind of dogmatic, intolerant bogeyman - he is one of the few scientists to have consistently and aggressively maintained the atheist position. There is a dearth of articulate atheists. He deserves a lot more respect than he gets.

traxus4420 - I'll respond to your points later.

Posted by: sd at October 25, 2005 09:09 AM



sd - I'm not bashing Dawkins, generally I agree with him, it's just that his lack of any sociohistorical framework for the Monotheism calamity leaves him with nothing except an increasingly bad-tempered lament at human stupidity / memeplague. Worse still, this bleeds into a condescending Antiamericanism which reeks of Oxford common-room elitism.
The sort of questions that need to be asked are:
a) How does anybody escape this disease? (Once the outbreak kicks-in, it is atheism that is the anomalous case).
b) To what extent does Abrahamic Monotheism put a gradient into history that is lacking within pagan-cyclic temporality (and fundamentally infesting the notion of progressive historical development, even without the even more remarkable infusion of apocalypticism)?
c) Does secularism lead paradoxically to Darwinian unfitness (of the kind presently trending to the extinction of Homo Europus)?
d) Can anything be done to empower atheism with memetic virulence / popular momentum? Or do we have to settle for secularism (separation of church/state) until the machines get involved and reformat our brains?
e) What exactly is the 'intuitive religion' (inherited from the pleistocene and neurologically hard-wired) that the monotheistic meme-plage is building on?

Posted by: nick at October 25, 2005 09:38 AM



Lots to think about. I'll be a bit more thorough later, but here are some quick responses:

'a condescending Antiamericanism'- I think Dawkins the journo is a separate entity from the Dawkins philosopher-biologist. The journo has problems with scale adjustment - evolution is big picture and vast time, and this is why there is a 'lack of any sociohistorical framework'-attempts to attack the small picture are necessarily clumsy.

'the extinction of Homo Europus' is due to soci*lism rather than secularism per se. The renaissance and the enlightenment were secular processes. Soci*lism snuck Christian values in through the back door.

back later.

Posted by: sd at October 25, 2005 11:29 AM



sd - agree with your last point, but still worth spinning the whole thing out hideously ;)

Posted by: Nick at October 25, 2005 12:46 PM



If we were going to have a theism thread, how do you think the topic should be initially pitched?
(Or is everyone out of ammo on this for the time being?)

Posted by: Nick at October 26, 2005 12:19 AM



god, i hope so. oops...lol.

Posted by: northanger at October 26, 2005 12:43 AM



northanger - great contribution!! ;)

Posted by: Nick at October 26, 2005 01:21 AM



How about pick some of your favorite questions that we seem to have landed on, phrase them in an especially provocative way (spliced with your opinions, which I've been eagerly awaiting), and throw up some sexy religious iconography for good measure?

Recent posts have, I think, been sorely lacking in pictures.

Posted by: traxus4420 at October 26, 2005 01:47 AM



Discovered this book (have not purchased):

Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origin of Religious Thought by Pascal Boyer (look it up on amazon, was unable to post the link).

It's religion looked at through evolutionary psychology. Don't think we need to go into origins as much as he does, but to understand the current effects of the behemoth that is monotheism will probably require breaking it up and looking at a few parts at a time, recognizing that the various mythological tropes its different versions use to 'sell' themselves (resurrection, Genesis, virgin birth, prophets, etc.) have a very complicated relationship with the core suppositions (humanity linked to a unitary transcendent being). Any successful religion, or any meme-belief system from political movements to mass marketing, has necessarily fused itself with society, inhabiting and influencing communal functions via ritual while being influenced in return.

Also consider all the invisible ways Christianity affects the most inner workings of western society and thought - historical time notation being the most obvious. Using B.C. and A.D. doesn't mean you have to believe in Christ, but its certainly been branded, a perpetual grafting of our narratives on to His. On some level Christianity has made itself inextricable.

A strategic perspective I think is called for here: what are the key emotional/social structural/psychological territories such a wide-ranging meme needs to occupy and how has monotheism 'evoloved' to occupy them? To what extent was it enforced or coerced and to what extent popularly adopted? Can the elements of its marketing campaign be abstracted from its theological/philosophical content -- which is the deciding factor for success?

These may well be impossible questions.


(a reviewer for the book pettishly notes that Boyer neglects to mention the 'religious experience' element (satori, enlightenment, personal revelation) that I think was brought up several posts ago -- I don't think this is necessarily key to understanding monotheism's success/value, but it's something else to think about)

Posted by: traxus4420 at October 26, 2005 06:17 AM



sorry for the delay in repsponding. time thieves.

Posted by: sd at October 26, 2005 07:05 AM



t4420 - expect aesthetics will disappoint for a while yet (Tachi has also been asking for some movement on this front, but it's more of a hanging-on-by-the-fingernails operation for the moment).

Posted by: Nick at October 26, 2005 02:36 PM



traxus4420 -

"Post the death of Christ everything changes. All humanity suddenly gains an ally..."

It didn't change for everyone, not all humanity adopted Christian calendars, and large swathes of humanity gained enemies in the form of crusaders, conquistadors and missionaries.

With regard to Popper - haven't read him for over ten years, but after an insufficent wikipedia data top-up, I think there are several points of interest:

1.'fitness' rather than truth - conjectures, hypotheses and theories survive because of their pragmatic value - they are useful and confer advantages.

2. the similarities between Popper's 'World Three' and Dawkins' memes is intriguing.

I think the thing that seems to be lacking from Popper is War (it's not brought to the fore or sufficiently clarified by Dawkins either).. Scientific theories do not just evolve towards more interesting problems, as Popper suggested - they are funded, endorsed and employed by power structures and are used in conflicts. It's not a question of cultural relatavism, but rather of cultural war. [this needs a lot of further clarification this].

Nick -

"To what extent does Abrahamic Monotheism put a gradient into history that is lacking within pagan-cyclic temporality"

Abrahamic Monotheism and apocalypticism is profoundly linear in its phallic approach apocalyptic zero. Kurzweil goes to great pains explaining how harmful this way of thinking is, and how disadvantageous it is to those imprisoned within it (e.g. economists, the US governement). Humans who haven't got straight-line time in their minds will cope with the impact of TS much more smoothly.

"Can anything be done to empower atheism with memetic virulence / popular momentum?"

Potential. Once technological potential is evident and demonstrable, e.g. in life extension, humans (vehicles programmed to survive) will start opting for the atheistic option in droves.

"What exactly is the 'intuitive religion' (inherited from the pleistocene and neurologically hard-wired) that the monotheistic meme-plage is building on?"

The fear of death? The imperative to survive is so hard-wired in humans that they prefer to live in appalling conditions than die. The irony is that by overprogramming humans to survive, the human genome will be replicated less, and will instead be subject to tinkering, reprogramming and extension.

Posted by: sd at October 27, 2005 02:06 PM



Definitely interested in hearing more about the war angle with regards to scientific theories -

Christian time vs. pagan time -- Both insufficient, as far as I'm concerned. I brought up the idea of the turning point as a potentially useful concept, and would never imply that things actually turned out that way. The singularity is another turning point, though unless I'm missing something it seems doubtful things will change for EVERYBODY (at least not for the better). Maybe this inability to totalize history is part of the idea's weakness.

What is a more relevant concept of time? An integrated network, perhaps?

I'm still unconvinced that technology alone will make everyone give up transcendence. We've seen the potential of technology expand time and time again. Religion situates itself at the limits of imagination, and technology (not just theory, which can always be dismissed) must meet the limits of imagination in order to contradict it, which may prove to be like trying to cross an ever-retreating border. Life extension will only bring on mass atheism when it figures out immortality -- I doubt death when you're 500 is any easier than death when you're 80.

What I think those after mass atheism (provided a mass empiricism is expected to follow) are trying to do is block the desire to manipulate meaning, which religion has also tried to do. As I think this desire is more or less innate and subject to the same freedom/imprisonment battle fought over all human abilities, it may prove an impossible (and not very worthwhile) task.

Oh, and just blame religion on drugs: www.futurehi.net/archives/000748.html#more

Posted by: traxus4420 at October 28, 2005 07:19 AM



"I'm still unconvinced that technology alone will make everyone give up transcendence." -t4420
There simply isn't enough time in the context of the Singularity Revolutions for major shifts in glacial anthropomorphic meme-sludge to take place before everything sparks into cyberpsychosis. The present constellation of religious forces is the environment in which the coming events will unfold, whether we like it or not.

sd's invocation of the fear-of-death motive is highly intriguing - wierdly, I'd totally forgotten about this arche-chestnut. Don't think technoscience will shift things by progressive enlightnment however - it will change what we are before persuading us of anything.

Posted by: nick at October 28, 2005 09:18 AM



'the war angle with regards to scientific theories' - there's a book screaming to be written on this. requires stacks of research.

In The Singularity revolutions, is death anything more than data loss?

Posted by: sd at October 28, 2005 11:44 AM



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