why a good story doesn’t make for good reasoning

September 4, 2012 — 11 Comments

stylized pokemon

If you went to college, you certainly remember taking a class in which you didn’t want to spend a whole lot of time on that 23 page paper on the farming techniques of 13th century serfs and the impact of said techniques on feudal agriculture. So you did some browsing around and padded the points you did research with page after page of boring fluff, betting that the professor was going to skim it here and there before giving it a grade. No shame in that, we’ve all done it. But did you know you can also do the same thing with blog posts and books, and make a living from repeating that padding technique? A good, recent example of that is a post by Keith Floor over at Cosmic Variance, in which he spends hundreds of words arguing that science could never be an effective substitute for religion. His thesis summed up in the one sentence it needed to be? People like just so stories and science doesn’t have them, therefore they’ll stick to the stories in which they’re special and important enough to be the children of a deity.

How is this argument new? Why is it so important that the same thing was published in Nature? And even more importantly, how is this a good argument? I would want to hear someone tell me that my AI research is going to get a $15 million development grant from DARPA next year and instead of consulting full time and researching part time, I can flip these roles and do what I love for the next five to ten years. But if it’s not true, maybe I should take note and not make plans on the story I want to hear, and focus on the consulting because that’s what pays the bills? This is the problem with accommodationism and mollycoddling faith in a nutshell. We can’t be nice and say that we’d never dream of challenging someone’s faith because that’s what this person really wants to believe. We tried that. It doesn’t work. We don’t need people to give up on every fun or interesting idea out there and apply Occam’s razor to every thought they have. But we do need them to make decisions based on facts. When people believe that they have the divine right to do as they wish, they can do a lot of damage and make very bad choices.

What we’d be doing if we didn’t advocate for science leading the way would be no different than the extreme of the self-esteem movement. Instead of telling little Johnny or Suzie that they really need to spend more time doing math and unless they do, their GPA isn’t going to get them into any college without years of remedial classes, we’d be telling them that math probably isn’t their strong suit and it’s ok that they got a D in geometry. Obviously the A in English means that they’ll be talented writers and literary critics so they shouldn’t worry about that mean old math. But we know that’s not true and that a D in math is a really bad thing. This is the same reason why we can’t tell the faithful that it’s ok to treat some people as less than equal because we know that a person from a different faith or with a different sexuality is just as biologically human as anyone and therefore, deserves the same rights. And this is why we can’t just let creationists preach their gospel of willful ignorance, because we know they’re wrong, we know they ignore facts, and we know that they’re coming from a place of denial. When we excuse a belief in myth, the faithful will take it as a license to ignore facts. Why should we give them this license?

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  • http://twitter.com/materion Arjen

    “But we know that’s not true and that a D in math is a really bad thing.” ?

    I recognize the benefits of being good in math but I know of worse things in life than a D in math. Should it really be a confrontation between acting out of belief and reasoning on facts?

  • venqax

    The faithful of all types use their beliefs to ignore facts all the time. It’s the human condition, not somethign that can just be laid at the feet of religion. Why should we allow the willful ignorance of faith in things other than religion, like The State’s ability to solve economic or social problems, be indulged? We KNOW it can’t, just as much we know creationism isn’t true. Does being an atheist simply mean you are convinced that religion is the root of all that blights us currently? Relgion has so many getting degrees in gender and ethnic studies, instead of math or science? Religion has given us a $16 trillion deficit? Religion has 43% of the populace on food stamps? Did religion destroy the USSR? I thought they really were atheists– or did religion destroy the promise that was communism too?

  • Greg Fish

    Ah venqax, back on your good, old hobby horse…

    OK, ok, I get it, I get it, you don’t like the government and you’re very creative at working in any excuse to defile that dead horse’s bleaching bones, even if that means commenting about something that wasn’t even mentioned anywhere in any post. But what the hell, I’ll entertain a few more problematic assertions of yours…

    Religion has given us a $16 trillion deficit?

    You can certainly argue that it helped. It was a messianic fantasy of our former president that added several trillion of those in badly mismanaged and inadequately planned wars and Islamophobia does help fuel excessive government spending on the TSA and the DHS.

    Religion has 43% of the populace on food stamps?

    Oh is that was Rush has been bellowing lately? The most recent stats say that food stamp use is at 15% of the population. Yes, that’s an awful lot, but that more than 87 million people less than you said. And are you really going to blame the government for companies not wanting to hire people and cut into their bottom line after they returned to profitability? After all, the corporate share of the GDP is the highest it’s been in 60 years. So if you’re so ready to blame the government for the unemployed, are you ready to praise it for corporate revenues?

    Did religion destroy the USSR? I thought they really were atheists…

    Yes, of course they were. Which is why I heard mentions of Jesus, God, and various saints on a daily basis as I was growing up behind the Iron Curtain…

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    He’s also confusing the deficit and the debt…

    Oh, and kids shouldn’t get D’s in anything, English is important as well.

  • Greg Fish

    Oh, and kids shouldn’t get D’s in anything…

    Ramen to that. You never know what skills will come in handy so before you find your niche, it’s best to make sure you have a well rounded education first.

  • venqax

    Fast posting is bad posting. Guilty. Yes, it’s a debt. The deficit is only a bit over one trillion dollars, which, coincidentally, is about what the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost overall. So that is one-sixteenth of the debt, if you really want to stand by the rather odd claim that the wars are somehow religious crusades. And given what happened on 9/11, and the plots foiled since then, I’m not sure about your definition of a phobia. That trillion stands very small compared to the accumulated waste of the very secular, very humanist, and epically failed Great Society over nearly half a century. And about even with one Big Flush of “stimulus” spending in relatively no time at all.

    And yes, 43% is the increase in people on food stamps since Obama’s plopping down in office (around 100% increase in spending). Not 43% of the population FGS! (I think that’s the goal for a second term. So don’t give up.)

    Ah venqax, back on your good, old hobby horse…

    My horse is just parrying yours, Greg. All that’s bad is because of that sinister row of the religious, the fundamentalists (who for you, I think, are the same thing) and Republicans peeing on your science fair.

    And are you really going to blame the government for companies not wanting to hire people and cut into their bottom line after they returned to profitability?

    Absolutely (although not completely). Most companies have not returned to profitability. Especially small ones which make up the bulk of the economy. And of course they aren’t going to hire because with Obamacare, and the very real threat of large tax hikes, and even more regulation, they have no idea at all what kind of shape they are going to be in tomorrow. Business abhors that kind of uncertainty, and what of that exists is entirely the govt’s fault. If I had a business I wouldn’t be hiring or spending now either, even if I was one of the few making money.

    Did religion destroy the USSR? I thought they really were atheists…Yes,.. Which is why I heard mentions of Jesus, God, and various saints on a daily basis as I was growing up behind the Iron Curtain…

    So, I then take it that atheist government worked out real well?

  • Greg Fish

    That trillion stands very small compared to the accumulated waste of the very secular, very humanist, and epically failed Great Society over nearly half a century.

    Considering that the federal debt really took into the stratosphere with Reagan, and stayed stable during the implementation of the Great Society, something about your conclusions there doesn’t add up. One minute on Wikipedia should clear that one up for you. Considering that under the Great Society era, the United States expanded into a truly global superpower with an almost inexhaustible military, enjoyed large per capita incomes, and made massive strides in the civil rights arena, calling it an epic failure hardly seems appropriate.

    And yes, 43% is the increase in people on food stamps since Obama’s plopping down in office…

    Yes, of course. It was his fault. He personally fired millions of people, just like Bush Jr. personally destroyed the mortgage market and imploded Wall Street…

    All that’s bad is because of that sinister row of the religious, the fundamentalists (who for you, I think, are the same thing) and Republicans peeing on your science fair.

    Republicans tend to pee on science fairs the most. The religious tend to oppose good education the most. Both oppose taking steps to create a new economy that will actually work for the 21st century for irrational or absurd reasons. Them’s the facts. If you don’t like ‘em, I can force you to.

    Most companies have not returned to profitability. Especially small ones which make up the bulk of the economy.

    Companies rely on people buying things. Large companies aren’t hiring, people don’t have the money to buy things, therefore smaller businesses are hurt. Those large companies are very profitable right now and they choose not to hire. Your whining about regulations is just a regurgitation of talking points which doesn’t account for the simple fact that companies do not have to hire people. They choose to based on their needs and even if you made them pay no taxes and let them pollute and screw over every employee from the senior management to the janitor on health insurance to their hearts’ content, they would still not go on a hiring spree because that cuts into their bottom line.

  • venqax

    The purpose of the GS was to end poverty. The poverty rate today is the same as it was when the GS began. And it’s cost trillions of dollars, not just “when it was being implemented” but ongoing, now, still. It’s one of those Big Govt gifts that keeps on giving. You would have to call that a failure by any definition. Civil rights weren’t part of the GS, and they don’t cost anything.

    And companies don’t hire if they don’t have to. Why would they? Especially when things like mandated benefits make it so expensive to hire. They hire when they need more employees. And if they are not growing, they certainly don’t need more employees. Is that hard to understand? Any sane flush company under the current regime would sit on its cash– or invest overseas– not hire, not spend, not do anything it didn’t have to do until the rules of business improved. Or just toss money away on govt-backed nonsense, like windmills, knowing they’ll get more than they lose back in some kind of credit. Who needs economic sense when politics pays so much better. Why would you think just being profitable would cause a company to hire more people? You think hiring people is what business exists to do? They are probably profitable because they have the right number of employees, more or less, as it is. The economy isn’t growing. Now, business’s other agenda of polluting and screwing people over just for the hell of it, they might continue to do that just for fun if it doesn’t cost too much.

  • Greg Fish

    The purpose of the GS was to end poverty. The poverty rate today is the same as it was when the GS began.

    And this would be a fear comparison if we didn’t just go through an economic cataclysm not seen since the Great Depression, one that was greatly aided by trying to completely strip away GS laws, not just modify them for new ways of doing things. I could better argue that conservative economic policies are a failure because the states that implement them wholesale lead the nation in welfare recipients, McJobs, obesity, and come in almost dead last in education, especially because many such policies were enacted specifically to deal with the fallout from the Great Recession.

    And companies don’t hire if they don’t have to. Why would they? Especially when things like mandated benefits make it so expensive to hire.

    You’ve never heard of independent contractors, have you? And I’m just curious, how do you expect employees to afford medical care nowadays, when a trip to the doctor can easily cost $1,000 if he or she has to run a few tests? Fuck ‘em? Who cares? Employers took on the responsibility during the GS era. Now they don’t want it. But they don’t want the government to do it either and the don’t pay their employees enough to afford really decent care.

    As for your rant about why companies aren’t hiring, you simply appropriated what I said and added some “regulations bad, government bad, venqax smash!” to it. You also missed the arguments laid out in the post after this as to why companies don’t need to hire if they didn’t have something to do with blaming the government for their lack of need for employees and options to outsource both their HR and their wares.

  • Jypson

    In summation your honor, “regulations bad, government bad, venqax smash!” I wish I could draw, that would make a hilarious comic.

  • venqax

    Greg, the poverty rate has hovered between 11 and 15% from the mid-60s to now. No dramatic changes happened to it because of the “economic cataclysm”. Maybe you’ve been watchin msnbc. And how do you figure attempts to strip away GS laws caused the economy to collapse? Not a big enough public debt? To little growth in food stamps? The biggest drivers of poverty in the US, BTW, are out-of-wedlock births and households headed by single mothers. Not somethig you can blame on religion– since it tends to be against that sort of thing. Things that, in fact, sckyrocketed due to the GS’s welfare policies. The states that have gotten away from statist economics– WI, OH, NJ, TX– recently are doing the best right now economically. The ones that have stuck with big govt model– like CA– speak for themselves.

    I don’t understand what you don’t understand about companies’ hiring policies. What do you think motivates a company to hire people? What govt policies could you point to that are doing anything to encourage them to do it? I pointed out specific ones that are discouraging them from it. Health care is the red herring here. It is not the goal of businesses to provide health insurance to people. HC might be a problem, but it’s not their problem more than anyone else’s. So, if you forece them to pay for it, OTBE,they are going to hire fewer people. That is very, very simple. And employers never “volunteered” to have HC fall on them. Independent contractors? The value of them is that you don’t have to give them benefits. But if you aren’t growing, you don’t need them either.

    If you really were concerned about solving the HC problem, you’d concentrate on reducing its cost, instead of just trying to get others– be they “corporations” or taxpayers– to pay for it. There was a time, not that long ago, when people bought health insurance, paid some fees-for-service, and it was affordable for most. You’re a science and tech guy, right? Not really a social policy person. I’m starting to wonder if there are things about the old SU that you don’t miss. No corporations…govt saving your bacon, if you have any…free medical…free education…no poverty, right?… religious folks kept in their place…no pollution, I’m guessing, since there were no evil businesses to do it– sounds like somethig we should be glad to be working toward.