Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Review of _God's Debris_

When I saw that Scott Adams had written a philosophical thought experiment, I was very hopeful. Maybe he was another Galileo or Newton, someone who was recognized for one field of endeavor but was secretly producing profound insights in religion and philosphy. His introduction was very promising: his stated audience is "people who enjoy having their brains spun around inside their skulls." The enthusiasm he brings to this task is what won my admiration and my hope -- I feel a kinship to anybody who at least recognizes that thinking about such things are important, and that it is possible to engage topics such as religion with descrimination without blind knee-jerk skepticism or cynicism.
Adam's also professes not to believe the ideas that he presents in the book. I certainly hope this is true, though after reading the book I don't think that's quite as true as he makes it out to be. He certainly thinks the ideas are compelling and consistent enough to provoke cognitive dissonance in the reader.
Alas, the ideas are not as compelling or consistent as he might have hoped. Sometimes he is spot-on: I thought his chapter on "Genuine Belief," which recognizes that most so-called "believers" don't take religion seriously, was a well-reasoned and bold challenge to a taboo. So many of the others, though, were so wrong as to be painful to read. His critique of evolution was positively inane; he argues that we should have seen more evidence of evolution in modern times if it was real, but since evolution happens over (duh) _millions_ of years, it is entirely possible that we would see no evolutionarily significant mutations in the duration of recorded human history. (Nor would those mutations probably be recognizable as such, but that's another discussion.) Similarly, he puts forth an argument that all events will be repeated again and again; while he's certainly not the first person to propose Eternal Recurrence (Nietzsche was a big fan of the idea), there are mathematical proofs that demonstrate that all possible combinations of matter are not destined to repeat themselves, even in an infinite amount of time.
Once you run across one of those holes, so gapingly huge that you can't ignore it, it becomes very difficult to continue to see the old man holding forth these ideas as an omniscient super-being. After that, the book is spoiled; you lose faith in the character and maybe even the author who created him.
So what are you supposed to do with this book? Adams advises you to find the places where the old man is wrong, but at the same time says, in effect, "Don't write to me telling me I'm wrong -- I don't really believe this stuff." That seems like a clever way to get one's cleverest thoughts out in the public without having to endure the rigors of critically defending one's thinking. If somebody points out how some of his ideas are silly, he can smile sagely and say, "Ahhhh, you figured it out," without letting on that he really _did_ think he was on to something with that idea, and now his idea is toast. There is something slithery and not entirely honest about it.


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