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Angels Dancing

Entry 1954, on 2018-12-17 at 20:26:25 (Rating 4, Skepticism)

Have you ever been in a situation where you are listening to a group of people discuss a topic with incredible intensity and then suddenly realised that the subject is entirely fictitious? A classic example might be a bunch of Tolkien nerds talking about the intricacies of Lord of the Rings. It might sound like they are talking about real places and people until some element of mythology arises, like a dragon, and then you understand this is all based on fantasy.

That's the way I often feel when listening to people talk about the subjects which I consider are basically fictitious. If you follow this blog much you might guess that a couple of subjects I see as being more fantasy than reality are religion and feminism. So imagine my consternation when listening to a podcast of a panel discussion on the intersection of religion and feminism!

A lot of the contentious issues being discussed owed their controversial status to poor definitions of their core purpose. For example, the claim that feminism is just about "equality for everyone" is pretty fatuous. I mean, most people support this idea, but a lot of them would not identify as a feminist, and one of the panel on the podcast didn't either.

I often find that the more militant women I meet are very proud to announce their status as a feminist, yet when they are asked what it really means they can only come up with the most vacuous statements like wanting equality. It is fairly clear that they haven't really spent a lot of time thinking about it. Maybe if they did they wouldn't identify as feminists.

And religion is possibly even worse, except that religion isn't enjoying the undeserved admiration and veneration that feminism is currently, so it isn't quite so confident in its claims. Although, the Muslim on the panel seemed to have a fairly high opinion of that religion, and seemed to be lacking some of the humility and equivocation of the Christians.

But there is always a lot of talk about the difference between faith and religion, and very few people really want to identify as religious, even though they might belong to a specific church. So I do wonder if religion even exists according to their definitions.

Even the LotR fans seem to have some rigour behind their claims, even if the "research" is entirely based on a fictional world. But the religious people, and especially the feminists, just seem to think that they can throw opinions and informal musings around as if they had some validity. So claims like "atheists have their own system of faith" are accepted with no questioning at all. Surely, if even such a ridiculous statement as that is used in a serious discussion it must make us suspicious that the rest of what is being said is similarly without much merit.

Then we get the "angels dancing on the head of a pin" types of comments. First, I know that this phrase is actually an attempt (probably successful) to ridicule Aquinas's discussion of several questions regarding angels, such as "can several angels be in the same place?" But both questions are equally pointless and for the same reason, because a prerequisite for a discussion of angels is that they actually exist. Unless they do exist, it is difficult to establish their characteristics with sufficient certainty to answer such questions.

And equivalent arguments exist for religious people and feminists. Before you discuss what God's wishes are, would it not be a bad idea to establish if he actually exists? And if you want to proceed with the question in a theoretical way to establish what results we might expect if he did exist, then make a precise definiton of the type of god he is and be prepared to say that contrary evidence leads to the conclusion of his non-existence.

And that's another thing... is god a "he"? This was another discussion the panel had which was just so silly that it's hard not to laugh. Here are some grown, and allegedly intelligent, women discussing whether God is a man or woman. One pointed out that there are gender-neutral pronouns in some languages, such as Maori. Well that gets a point for political correctness, but loses 10 for complete irrelevance!

I mean, what has some obscure language in the South Pacific, with no connection to the origin of Christianity at all, got to do with the gender of God? Absolutely nothing, but it's just another meaningless catch-phrase that these people like to use in the place of serious intellectual discussion.

So maybe that's the difference between genuine (mostly science-based) attempts to establish truths, and simplistic imitations of real academic work which are simply a means to attain fake legitimacy for deluded people who have never really examined their beliefs with any degree of skepticism. Maybe that's the difference between the physics and the women's studies departments at universities. Maybe that's the difference between the Origin of Species and the Bible.

The difference is that a genuine attempt to establish facts might start by creating a theory, but then that would be tested with the full knowledge that the testing might destroy the theory. But a less honest field might just invent a theory based on no particular real-world evidence and simply for the purpose of reinforcing an existing dogmatic belief which itself is based on nothing with any merit, and leave it there with no testing or chance of invalidation.

So when listening to a discussion on one of these "less rigorous" topics it is important to try to establish just how different it is from a discussion of the Lord of the Rings. Sure, it might be internally consistent. Sure, if you accept some initial beliefs some of the conclusions might logically follow. Sure, there might be a lot of people saying the same thing. But is it really just another discussion of Gandalf's philosophical beliefs, or how the patriarchy is constantly working to hold back women's progress, or how many angels there really are dancing on the head of that pin!

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Comment 1 (4974) by kersten on 2018-12-19 at 14:09:36:

How would you feel about a discussion of the Dickens book "Oliver Twist" an entirely fictitious novel with well known characters that never existed? Did I hear you say a waste of time? Then we may as well close all the faculties on English Literature in our universities. All profitable discussion must come from the discussion of real events and real people the rest is dross. All fictional novel writing must cease forthwith and we must ground ourselves in facts.

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Comment 2 (4975) by OJB on 2018-12-19 at 14:26:37:

I didn't mean to imply that there is anything wrong with studying fiction, per se, although some people would make a case to say that it is a waste of time! My main point is that we must distinguish between what is fantasy and what is reality. For example, a discussion of physics involves reality (in any reasonable sense), but a discussion of theology is more about fantasy. Feminism is a more difficult case. I would argue that a lot of it involves very little fact, but that is a controversial opinion and could be argued against!

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