An odd observation.

In my book Catastrophe: Risk and Return (2004), I examined the issue of scientific literacy briefly, pointing out that only a third of American adults (adults, not 15-year-olds) know what a molecule is, that 39 percent believe that astrology is scientific, that 46 percent deny that human beings evolved from earlier animal species, and that almost 50 percent do not know that it takes a year for the earth to revolve around the sun (many do not know that the earth revolves around the sun). These are amazing statistics, and yet, according to the materials I consulted, the scientific literacy of the U.S. population actually exceeds that of the European

Union, Japan, and Canada.

This is an excerpt of Richard Posner from the Becker/Posner blog. It’s not important that you know who these guys are, but they are big brains in the fields of Law and Economics. They kind of guys who have theorems named after them. http://home.uchicago.edu/~rposner/biography.
Sure, the “ignorance of the masses” is horrifying in this passage, but what really struck me is the thought that if youtake any one of these scientifically illiterate people — and even the ones who are also just plain ol’ vanilla illiterate — I bet they’ll catch a false moment in a story. You tell them a story that doesn’t make

sense, or have doesn’t have internal consistency and they’ll be on it in a moment.
They’ll pop right up with, “But wouldn’t do that — he hates his father!” or “No, Robin Hood wouldn’t do that. He gives to the poor and scientifically illiterate!”
It illustrates how hard making a good story really is. Story is inculcated into us at a very early age. Science, it seems, is not.

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4 replies on “An odd observation.”

  1. “You tell them a story that doesn’t make sense, or have doesn’t have internal consistency and they’ll be on it in a moment.”

    If that were always true, would there be any religion? It’s easy to tell a nonsensical, internally inconsistent story if the listener/reader really really wants it to be true.

  2. I think you missed my point. Religions may be nonsenseical and internally inconsistent – but the stories that support most religions are not. They are quite marvellous. Check out the Power of Myth by Joseph Cambpell or the Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazier.

    Besides, the only way a story can “prove” anything is if it’s internally consistent. Like the idea that Superman can fly. Hobbits have hair on there toes. Animals can talk. These ideas are sheer nonsense. But once you accept one of these ideas, you can’t put Superman in a situation where he could just solve his problem by flying and not have him fly. They’ll be on it in a minute.

  3. I understood your original point and agree with it. I just diverged into a bit of musing.

    If a reader makes the initial suspension of disbelief and buys into the fictional world you created, then should no further suspension of disbelief be required? Sure, you should respect the reader as a partner in the experience, but it’s your world and you get to decide to a certain degree what’s consistent or plausible. Is something out of character? Well, it was until you redefined the character with the new bit of information. Or what if the point is to create a narrator who’s nonsensical and inconsistent—a story told by a madman?

    Getting back to religion, Christianity claims their diety is omnipotent and that his ways are not our ways. Well, right off the bat that takes away the reader’s right to declare anything the deity might do nonsensical or inconsistent (or immoral). In fact, that’s the intent of some branches of Christianity, to take human judgments out of the equation. God says _______________. Like it or lump it.

    But the Christian story, having established an omnipotent deity, throws in the idea of a redeemer. Why the third party? Why doesn’t God just forgive us directly since he is able? Why doesn’t Superman just fly?

    Christianity makes its deity omnibenevolent, but then inserts the idea of believers needing to beg and badger God with prayers to get him to cough up some of that benevolence.

    Then there’s the God who created imperfect humans and then would punish them for being imperfect.

    And yet Bible readers accept inconsistencies like these in the story because they’ve gone way beyond being mere readers. And when believers can’t let go of the inconsistencies and nonsensical bits, there are theologians and apologists to explain it all away. Too bad the stories we write don’t come with their own apologist to tell sharp readers they’re just too uninformed to understand that our flaws aren’t really lapses in storytelling, that the writer’s ways are not their ways, and that to question any of it will land them in hell.

  4. “Getting back to religion, Christianity claims their diety is omnipotent and that his ways are not our ways. Well, right off the bat that takes away the reader’s right to declare anything the deity might do nonsensical or inconsistent (or immoral). In fact, that’s the intent of some branches of Christianity, to take human judgments out of the equation. God says _______________. Like it or lump it.”

    On the contrary, according to the old testament humans were given free will, and it is our CHOICE to take human judgement out of our OWN PERSONAL equation. The bible never says “Gods way is the only way, and regardless of what you believe its going to be forced upon you.” it says that God’s way can be the only way for your life if you choose to make it that way. Christianity, (again, contrary to popular belief) is about personal experience. Nothing matters but your own personal experience. In fact thats the one thing that someone must understand to understand bible-based christianity. Nothing matters, not your family, not your money, not your body, nothing… except you and God, and trusting that God will provide those things and your ability to keep/gain/lose those things.

    “But the Christian story, having established an omnipotent deity, throws in the idea of a redeemer. Why the third party? Why doesn’t God just forgive us directly since he is able? Why doesn’t Superman just fly?”

    There is no “third party.” I think mayhaps you’ve missed something in your study of the bible. There is God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are one and the same. Before Jesus was born, people who spoke to God spoke directly to God, and the needed to sacrifice something that was important to them (a lamb, grain, whatever) to sort of “clear the path” for God, to allow God to be in the presence of sinful man. Then Jesus was born — God in human form. He lived as a human, he was tempted as a human, he did everything a human does except sin. He was even depressed. He cried. He was angry and annoyed. He was human. Jesus was sacrificed, in the way a lamb was sacrificed before Jesus came on the scene, to make peace between sinful man and God, becuase God cannot be in the presence of sin. Think whipping boy. Jesus died, and was ressurected, and he ascended into Heaven, leaving behind the Holy Spirit. Thats the supernatural power of God. There is no “redeemer” party… there is only God.

    “Christianity makes its deity omnibenevolent, but then inserts the idea of believers needing to beg and badger God with prayers to get him to cough up some of that benevolence.”

    This is a complete and total fallacy….

    Revelation 3:20 “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.”
    Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, recieves; he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

    see? no begging involved. I could list other references, if you’d like but, this post is long enough as it is.

    “Then there’s the God who created imperfect humans and then would punish them for being imperfect.”

    Before Jesus died on the cross, God punished people for being imperfect. But Jesus was crucified, and that was all the punishment God needed to issue for all the sins of the entire world.
    And furthermore, if you sin, all you have to do to have that sin COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN as if it NEVER EXISTED is sincerely know that what you’ve done is wrong and make a concentrated effort to change. Period.

    “And yet Bible readers accept inconsistencies like these in the story because they’ve gone way beyond being mere readers.”

    Have you ever take a literature course? Have you ever studied a complex work in another form of english? example, Shakespeare? read and completely understood anything by shakespeare? picked out all the puns that Mercutio makes in R&J? Or that Hamlet makes? there are a lot. Lots of references, lots of really perfect language where one word encompasses dozens of contextual meanings. How about Lord of the Flies? nearly everything in that book is a metaphor or a symbol.

    Becuase thats what i do, and i can only speak for myself. So yes, i’ve gone beyond a mere reader, i dont just read the bible, i study it.

    “And when believers can’t let go of the inconsistencies and nonsensical bits, there are theologians and apologists to explain it all away.”

    Its not a matter of “letting go” its a matter of CHOOSING to believe it. There are also apologists for the government, and the president to explain his fuck ups away. Is the existance of the presidents fuck ups a fallacy?

    “Too bad the stories we write don’t come with their own apologist to tell sharp readers they’re just too uninformed to understand that our flaws aren’t really lapses in storytelling, that the writer’s ways are not their ways, and that to question any of it will land them in hell.”

    Serisouly, dude, i’m not trying to pick on you but you obviously have not read the bible, and if you have you have apparently NOT understood it. I suggest that you pick it up sometime becuase it really is an interesting read, from a literary standpoint. And you are really bitter towards chistians, did one of them put a tack in your chair? and why do you judge EVERY SINGLE CHIRSTIAN by what popular theory has taught you? I can tell you for a fact that the way most of the world — christian or otherwise — would define “christianity” is not even remotely factual.

    I’m not totally disagreeing with you; there are wacko christians out there who read wayyyyy too into things and who go through a lot of meaningless motions or believe a lot of bullshit CHURCH DOCTRINE that many people mistake as biblical fact. But seriously, do some of your own legwork and stop believing hearsay.

    Sorry for this HUGE post, patrick, but… ykno… i gotta do what i can, ykno?

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