Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for February 14th, 2007

Creationism, geology, and a scientist’s soul

Posted by metaphorical on 14 February 2007

At first, I thought Marcus Ross was an idiot and the University of Rhode Island was wrong to grant his Ph.D. in geosciences. But then I started to think about my mathematical logic professor, Andrzej Mostowski, and I’m not entirely sure.

As described the other day in a NY Times article (“A creationist takes a place in the world of fossils,” reprinted in the International Herald Tribune here):

Ross is hardly a conventional paleontologist. He is a “young-Earth creationist.” He believes that the Bible is a literally true account of the creation of the universe and that the Earth is at most 10,000 years old.

For him, Ross said, the methods and theories of paleontology are one “paradigm” for studying the past, and Scripture is another. In the paleontological paradigm, he said, the dates in his dissertation are entirely appropriate. The fact that as a young-Earth creationist he has a different view just means, he said, “that I am separating the different paradigms.”

A friend of mine believes this to be possible to do, comparing it to believing “both Euclidian and non-Euclidean geometries as valid in their own contexts.”

Of course, on the face of it the paradigm talk is absurd, and the comparison to geometry inapt. Plenty of people, such as another friend, a retired geology professor in Connecticut, believe the Bible and contemporary ideas of evolution and geologic history to be true, but they believe the Bible to be allegorically true, or true in principle, but not literally. To say you are a “young-Earth creationist” and the Earth is at most 10,000 years old is to believe that the Bible is literally true. And if the Bible is literally true, it’s not just one of several paradigms in the sense of alternate geometries, it’s true, as in a-man-is-on-trial-for-murder-and-you-as-a-witness-have-to-tell-the-truth true.

So really, for Ross only the paleontological paradigm is a paradigm, something that can be supposed for the sake of argument to be true, in the same way that when Hilbert came along with non-Euclidean geometries at the turn of the 20th century, everyone still believed Euclidean geometry to be true-true, while Hilbert spaces were “interesting” and “valid,” meaning self-consistent and internally coherent.

And so I thought the paradigm talk to be bullshit, and a smokescreen, and the university to be complicit and culpable.

But then I remembered Mostowski. When I met him, it was the summer of 1973, between my freshman and sophomore years of college. For some reason I had got it into my head to spend the summer at Berkeley. Mostowski was teaching a math logic class, which I was utterly unprepared for, even more than I knew beforehand. I also signed up for an epistemology class, which I wasn’t worried about it, but the math class had me terrified as well as excited.

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Freedom is a journey, sometimes by bus

Posted by metaphorical on 14 February 2007

From a “Letter From The Closet” to Soulforce, an activist gay and lesbian Christian ministry.

Growing up, I was raised in a fundamentalist Baptist household. I committed my life to Christ at a very young age. While I grew in my faith throughout my childhood, I also began to have these feelings that no one spoke about. It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that I finally grasped what was happening. It was then that I realized I was having attractions for other guys. The thought that I might be gay scared me. I didn’t understand how this could be. I knew what my church had to say about it. I was very active in my youth group, read my bible, prayed daily, and had a deep respect for–and a good relationship with–both of my parents. I felt close to God at this point, and yet I knew this secret part of my life also existed. While I attempted to repress any thought that I might be gay, there were constantly nagging feelings that I was different. By denying my feelings, I was only lying to myself. I knew what was going on inside my heart, and yet it wasn’t until college that I finally dealt with these feelings. 

For years, I had been looking forward to attending a Christian college. I wanted to be surrounded by students and faculty who would support me in my walk with God and challenge my faith. After visiting Bethel, I knew that this was the place that God wanted me to attend.

Experiences like this, and letters like this one, inspired Soulforce to create an “Equality Ride,” a national bus ride of protest, modeled on the desegregationist Freedom Rides of 1961. (Soulforce discusses this history here.)

In 2006, during the inaugural Equality Ride, participants traveled to nineteen schools and engaged students, faculty, and administrators in conversation about the damaging effects of homophobic doctrine, the false notion that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identities are sick and sinful. This year, the journey continues with fifty-seven young adults going to thirty-two Christian colleges and universities. Two buses are taking the group on two distinct routes around the country in creative pursuit of social justice. In doing so, they are empowered to change countless lives. Love liberates the oppressed, redeems the lost, and resurrects the spirit.

The colleges they visited all have policies that ban homosexuals and homosexuality in the name of “Christian principles.” The Covenant College (Georgia) student handbook is typical:

“Student are also required to abstain from all activities which violate Biblical teachings, such as theft, drunkenness, slanderous or profane language, all forms of dishonesty including cheating, and sexual sins (such as premarital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and the use or possession of obscene or pornographic material).”

To read the accounts of the 2006 ride, success was mixed. The first stop was at Lee University:

Today was a reminder that success is always subjective. We spent the day at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, a Pentecostal school. Half the Riders spent the morning engaging in one-on-one dialogue — this because at 10 p.m. last night, the administration at Lee revoked their offer for us to have public forums, to give speeches, and to assemble in groups larger than three or four.

The bus was sprayed with graffiti — “Fags-Mobile” in hot pink spray paint — but on the other hand some other Cleveland residents helped them wipe it off. Lessons in tolerance and understanding apparently were exchanged in both directions:

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