Monday, 7 July 2014

Beliefs 2

So, I said that a belief was just a strongly held opinion, no more and no less. Beliefs are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. It would be simplicity itself to find examples of both, but we'd venture off into the world of ethics there, and that's not really my intent here.

I was gifted with this, this morning:

Is this a perfect example of a foolish belief? On the face of it, it looks like he said something very silly there, and we can all laugh. But first we have to ask 3 questions.

1. Did he really say that? Here's the actual quote:
"Wind is God's way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it's hotter to areas where it's cooler. That's what wind is. Wouldn't it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to wind energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I'm not saying that's going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can't transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It's just something to think about."

This is actually worse that the soundbyte, because...

2. He's wrong on more than just the obvious. Wind is not the way you shift heat from hot to cool areas. That's not what wind is. Mr Barton apparently does not understand weather at all. Furthermore he doesn't understand the difference between weather and climate. He doesn't understand how wind turbines work (despite having an engineering degree, please note). And a few other things. To sum up, he is not qualified to comment. And yet what position did he once hold?

The US (Republican) chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

But there's another question here.

3. Does he really believe that? I mean - if you sat this man down and discussed it, do you think he'd stick to what he said here? As much as I do believe in the stupidity of politicians, I don't think an educated man really believes that wind is finite, or that we could inadvertantly heat things up with more wind turbines. I think he knows better. I hope he knows better.

He mentioned God, and there's your clue. It could be another throwaway line, but the fact that he chose to say it, when talking about such an issue, suggests that he is the type of religious man who might just get ideas about how the world works from the Bible. Mr Barton is a Methodist, and I know how Methodists think, because my husband comes from a Methodist family. They are good people, to be sure, their doctrine is centered on kindness, but it's also very Bible literal. Without ever having met this man, I know what his head is full of, and I guarantee his education didn't cure it.

Still, it would have caused severe cognitive dissonance, rather than doubts. Two beliefs occupying the same space. A constant battle in his mind between the science he was trained in, and which he claims to be an expert on, and his nagging religious beliefs.

It is perfectly possible for a solid scientist to also be a deeply religious man. I know you love my Venn diagrams.

What doesn't work with science, however, are those religious people who take the early guesses of How Things Work that appear in books written over 2000 years ago literally. There are apologists who try, but they aren't very convincing. The question really is just how honest are these people being, when they insist that the Bible is correct?

There are so many examples of conflicts between scripture and science that whole websites have been created listing them, pointing out the errors, and whole other websites have been created by apologists explaining them, some more successfully than others. I once found myself in a discussion of the finer points of rabbit digestion as a result of all this, which was very, very strange, but today we'll go for a simple one, how God allegedly made Eve from Adam's rib.

in 1543, a Belgian anatomist named Andreas Vesalius dissected the body of a Swiss man who'd been beheaded, to study it, in public. He caused a massive argument not just by this apparent indignity, but also by demonstrating many things about the human body that had previously been unknown, or had been wrongly believed. The Greek anatomist Galen  had been the authority up until that point, and one of Galen's "findings" was that men had one less rib than women, "proving" the Bible correct.

Vesalius was a religious man, but also a logical man, and his explanation of this discrepancy was:

"It is commonly believed that men lack a rib on one side, and that men have one rib fewer than women. This is plainly absurd, even if Moses did say in the second chapter of Genesis that Eve was created by God out of Adam's rib. Granted that perhaps Adam's bones, had someone articulated them into a skeleton, might have lacked a rib on one side, it does not necessarily follow on that account that all men are lacking a rib as well."

His work was actually investigated on behalf of the church by the Emperor, and he was cleared of any wrong-doing, but that wasn't good enough. One of his peers, unhappy with the impact the research might have on believers, announced that "the human body has changed since the time of Galen".

Does that method sound familiar to you? When science doesn't agree with the Bible, change the science?

It's the same method used by creationists today, but of course the great irony is that it suggests evolution. It would be very interesting to hear the rib-story believers and the evolution-deniers sort that one out.

But of course nobody today believes that men have one less rib than women, or do they? (Deep sigh.) Google it yourself. Not only do some people still believe this, others acknowledge that Vesalius was obviously correct that the missing rib would not be passed down (but q.v. Lamarck's theory, which came later!), but that in any case, they say, Adam's rib simply grew back!

I should point out right now that none of this is actually Biblical, it's actually all completely irrelevant - it's a typical case of layers and layers of apologetics being created due to a complete misunderstanding. The Bible did NOT say that woman was created from man's rib. Nope. Never did. It said "side", not "rib", and the story was symbolic, not literal. The purpose of this piece, as has been understood by bona fide Torah scholars since ancient times, was to demonstrate that women are equal to men. Never mind what believers have corrupted THAT with, that's what it was about. But instead of finding a logical explanation regarding the intent of the story, people sit and argue the minutiae of bone regeneration. Look it up if you don't believe me.

So, you see, beliefs, specifically nonsensical beliefs, which is to say non-scientific beliefs, have survived all the way into modern times, masquerading as religious beliefs. Secondary mythology has arisen, based loosely on a poor interpretation of the Bible, that people have picked up on, and taken on board as beliefs.

Essentially what we have here is rumours, gossip, hearsay. The "some guy said" method of collecting information. Beliefs, no matter how wrong, are powerful, contagious, and therefore potentially quite dangerous.


  1. Everyone knows that wind comes from Canada and makes things cold, not hot.
    I grew up in a Methodist family. Despite being medical professionals they taught me that men had less ribs than women. I held that belief until I was a preteen and there was a skeleton found in my town. They were trying to determine if it was male or female (it came from a young child) and I realized that if men had one less rib then boys would also and it would be easy to tell male or female. But I never brought it up to my family because I felt like I would be bad for doing so. I did wonder why they didn't come to the same thoughts I did.

  2. "Despite being medical professionals they taught me that men had less ribs than women."

    I rest my case. Thanks :)

  3. I go to a Methodist church only to keep my honey company when he goes. I sit there placidly during the service while I mentally argue with the preacher in the privacy of my mind. Religion makes no sense to me.

    1. I don't think its purpose is sense. But I'll be coming to that later in the week :)

  4. Another well-written piece. Factual and entertaining. And scary. Especially since I have KNOWN people who fit this "profile;" believing all sorts of nonsense, SPREADING that nonsense and generally incapable or unwilling to check anything out (sources) before they go off on their little rants. And of course, these people vote. Uff-da. I'm telling' ya….

    1. Oh very scary, yes. It's driven by an urge to believe "God can do anything", which could be considered positive by other believers, but it ends up making them all look so credulous as to be embarrassing.

      When I was a child I was told by a teacher that donkeys had a cross on their backs because Jesus rode on a donkey. I remember thinking that it made no sense whatsoever, and this must have reflected in my face, because she showed me a picture of a very English-looking Jesus sitting on a donkey. Which was already striped. This was an educated woman, I was a child, she couldn't see the problem there, and I could. Difference between us? Desire to believe.

  5. Perhaps the very word, religion, can help shed a bit of light on belief. Webster's maintains the definition, " organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship...." Sticking to a system is fine when it works, and I think we can see what happens when it does not.

    There are people who spend entire lifetimes seeking 'truth,' yet truth is a malleable thing. What many believe true one day can, with improved and better data, become obsolete the next. Yet if one holds to their beliefs, elevates them to the point of worship, it is up there--closer to the heavens, to that makes it all better, right? :/

    The absolute is but the opposite end of the spectrum from the 'chaotic commingling' from whence it 'arose.' We hold ourselves back when we do not accept(!) change; having belief--may be fine for a while. We are not perfect, and to hold beliefs in such high esteem of righteousness, it stands to reason, becomes wrong at some point, no matter how desirous. ~ Blessings! :)

  6. Every time I think I've seen enough stupid on this issue, I see images like the above. It always reminds me of a friend I had years ago, who was absolutely convinced that God created the Earth (as per the Bible) and told me to my face that my description of the Big Bang theory was a fairy tale.