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Subject:  Re: Religionists miss the scale of things Date:  3/13/2005  7:44 AM
Author:  sandyleelee Number:  143632 of 519606

Well, I could go on and on. The important point is that Pascal and his contemporaries had not been exposed to any of the enormous body of evidence that the natural world is much richer than imagined by any medieval European (or any resident of Palestine two thousand years ago). Of course they were religious -- there was no reasonable alternative. Today, on the other hand, we have a viable alternative. By suggesting that Pascal's Christianity in some way justifies yours, you call into question your knowledge of history, science, math, and yes, perhaps even your own native intelligence.

Ed's primary problem, Loren -- and that of most theists -- is that they lack even the most rudimentary exposure to or understanding of the very disciplines you enumerate. They are, to all intents and purposes, living at the time of Newton and, if they have any tentative ideas about science, they are pretty much limited to Newton's Laws. Most theists have never taken a class in formal logic. Most theists have no grounding in advanced mathematics. Few, I would guess, even took chemistry in high school and have only the shallowest understanding of the scientific realm as it existed in the 17th century, much less today.

This morning's New York Times is running an editorial which deplores the inability of most Americans to even understand and correctly assess the validity of an argument by analogy:

When Grover Norquist, a leading conservative activist, was on the NPR program "Fresh Air" a while back, he casually made a comparison that left the host, Terry Gross, sputtering in disbelief. "Excuse me," she said. "Did you just ... compare the estate tax with the Holocaust?" Yes, he did.

We are living in the age of the false, and often shameless, analogy. A slick advertising campaign compares the politicians working to dismantle Social Security to Franklin D. Roosevelt. In a new documentary, "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," Kenneth Lay compares attacks on his company to the terrorist attacks on the United States.

An uneducated citizenry is prey to every manner of charlatan, and is likely to hold every manner of uninformed opinion about subjects central to their wellbeing -- and to the wellbeing of others. Untrained in the skills required for reasoning even at the most fundamental level -- Aristotelian logic -- most Americans seem to be making judgments on matters of life and death on the basis of rhetorical ploys which students at medieval universities would have found laughable.

When one combines the undeniable truths that most people are only of average intelligence, have little actual interest in or motivation towards the acquisition of the level of knowledge -- increasingly complex and daunting -- needed today to make decisions about matters outside their narrow and largely personal focus, and react to feelings of inadequacy and incompetence in an increasingly complex world with stubborn and emotional credulity, it's hardly any wonder that most American believe in angels and hell and a Supreme Being peering down on them from the sky.

It takes a great deal of intellectual energy to function even adequately in the modern world, and most people seem to unwilling to expend such energy. Instead, they take comfort in number and band together to exclude that which makes them feel inadequate and uncomfortable and frightened and embrace any doctrines or outright con jobs which bring them a sense of personal power and security.

We live in dangerous times, and the greatest danger we face is human ignorance, and the determined efforts of those with power to keep most humans ignorant.


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