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Temporarily Vestigial

A long post, in which I talk about the SSACon as a whole, share pictures of the Creation Museum, conference, and the rest of the trip:

  • Pictures from the trip are here.
  • Random thing - Bayleaf India Bistro shoots to the top of my favourite Indian restaurants anywhere. The location is majorly inconvenient (a ways north of 270 and thus outside Columbus proper), but their food was absolutely amazing. If I still lived in Columbus and had a car, I can imagine making the drive once a week.
The Creation Museum:
  • Most of the exhibits were really slick, probably slicker than any American museum I've been to (my impression of European museums is that they tend to be both information-dense and slick, while generally American museums are just information-dense).
  • Their animatronic Adam and Eve were deep in the Uncanny Valley and creeped the hell out of me. They were in the same scene as dinosaurs
  • The museum had a very serious inferiority complex - practically everywhere they had "this is what scientists believe, this is what we believe", calling it a "human reason" versus "faith" divide. The (non-fundie) preacher we had with us found this phrasing really frustrating. It also was deeply engaged in christian evangelism - there were parts where they portrayed the godless life as one tied to genocide, drugs, inner-city slums, etc, and other parts where they talked about the glory of god in taking that away. In a sense, that part's not unreasonable, but any good philosophy could help end many kinds of bad life habits too. Religions are a particular kind of coherent life philosophies, but not the only ones.
  • As the museum is run by young earth creationists, they placed special emphasis on the story of the flood, trying to make it plausible as an (really, *the*) actual event, cutting, pasting, and ignoring science as needed. This was simply really bad.
  • They also made an interesting distinction - they had a lot about "pre-fall" and "post-fall" states of various animals and the planet. It was cute, but probably more ridiculous than the flood part - if one really is to go with an argument by design for all creatures (primacy of "kinds", with "microevolution" making those kinds into various species), the various traits of species on the planet do not work with their "all-creatures-were-vegetarians-before-the-fall" idea.
  • Because they argue that flood myths being common are evidence of a worldwide flood, they took that same logic to argue for the existence of dragons (as relatives of dinosaurs, which they think died out very recently). I watched a 20-minute presentation on this. It was hard not to laugh.
  • There was some decorative hebrew here and there. It was all in the modern hebrew alephbet, which is ahistorical for several of their purposes.
  • There were Amish in the museum with us! I think there were about 200 of us (including the priest for this purpose)
  • Some scenes were risque or disturbing - some parts felt a little bit pornish, and there was a disturbing exhibit showing an animal sacrifice. All the props were very well done though.
  • I was tempted to ride a triceratops, and was saddened to see an age limit - with my jewish-cowboy hat, it would've been a great spectacle. Apparently PZ Myers ignored the age limit - there's a great photo of him on it floating around the internet.
  • At the end, there was a guy (I think his last name was Lisle) who made a long philosophical argument for religion-as-science. I don't think anyone else in our group really listened, but the arguments were interesting enough that they merit a description and mini-response:
    • Morals are impossible without god and absolutism - this was the weakest of the three main arguments, as it was based partly on "believe this because the alternative leads to ugly conclusions", which is a broken way of thinking (most of the time, moral absolutists are afraid of there not being a right answer, and their arguments are just expressions of that fear or suggestions that if there is not a right answer, one either must become a barbarian or a sitting duck for one). It is the refusal to understand how one can be a moral force after becoming moral relativist that's the chief failing of absolutists in these arguments, although in their defense, we "strong moral relativists" need to get better at explaining our perspective - it is coherent, based on solid philosophy, practical, but living it and being able to explain it are two different things. I do both, most people I know can't.
    • Second thing he posed: Why does the universe have order? We need god to guarantee that order in order for science to work - without god laying that down, we would be adrift. This is an interesting argument, I think - a good answer illuminates some subtleties in our philosophy. The response we offer is that the universe having order is not a meaningful statement - we hold that there is no way it does not have characteristics, and it is our work to try to make sense out of those characteristics in a way usable to us. The ordering is constructed by us based on our observations, and if we imagine other rules (sets of state transitions), we could do science in such environments as well. Given any universe where we act, we would have science.
    • Third: Why are there rules of logic? Without god having created math and logic for us, we would not be able to think very well, and would not be able to do science. This is related to the second thing, and has a similar answer. Rules of logic are not intrinsic to the nature of things - math and logic are not truths, they are things that we have created and refined because they're useful for us to help order our thought (and they're often pretty!). We've tweaked them to be more useful over millenia just as we've tweaked the methods and practice of science, and mostly people with terrible phobias of uncertainty (or bad philosophy) try to paint them as harder truths than truth into the roots of their worldview.
    • I like thed the questions because they inspire deeper thought and they were not the irritating "bat-it-away-in-5-seconds" arguments people tend to make.
  • After the tour ended, we hung outside for awhile until they suggested we leave, the crowd moved outside the museum property limits, someone blew a shofar and did some kind of stupid ceremony involving desecration of communion wafers (I just think it was really childish and encouraged a kind of sensationalism we don't need), then we hopped in our cars and drove back to Cowtown. I had a rather good conversation with Jonathan Weyer (the priest) on philosophy, the state of various trends in christian practice, and some other things. In general, I've found Rabbis to be wonderful conversation partners (and for some reason, I get serious warm fuzzies being around most of them), and much more rarely I've found Christian religious leaders who are the same - open minded, careful, philosophically minded, and friendly. I get the feeling that these people, in a better world, would be involved more broadly in the practice of philosophy - in a sense, they feel like "my kind of people" in their interest in social and ethical philosophy/living.
It's worrying thinking of the isolated bubble of "reality" that Fox news and places like the creation museum have created. Popping that bubble is a very high priority - as the quote goes, "You are entitled to your own opinion. You are not entitled to your own facts." I am not committed to democracy, but as I happen to live in one and most of the other places I would consider living are organised that way, I am concerned about the growing distance between branches of society - I understand that evangelicals and seculars are the two quickest-growing demographics in the US. As there is at least a fair slice of the evangelicals that are divorcing themself deeply from reality on even the more practical matters, our democracy is at risk of becoming increasingly unstable. Democracies are at their most stable when people are within a certain distance of each other (theoretical democracy and "liberal democracy" are sometimes distinguished this way) - when basic facts or deeply-enough-held values are not broadly the same, people lose their willingness to accept the democratic process as a distraction from "fixing" society (I think we all do this, no matter what our perspective - democracy is not what matters most to us even for those who have a theoretical commitment to it). This is the same social illness that produces cranks like the birthers. Regardless of the strength of our universities and our news media, it will not save us from this danger if enough people consider Fox News (among the worst of our news media) the only reliable source, and consider places like Pensacola College and Liberty University (if that) the only reliable kind of higher education.

It was weird seeing the really heavy security at the museum (private security forces with guns, attack dogs), but maybe there are good reasons for that.

There were two people kicked out of the museum, but from what I understand, both of them merited it.

Touching a bit more on the conference schedule,

  • There were awards for service work. Impressive stuff - trips to rebuild after the floods, etc.
  • Sean Faircloth was Majority Whip in the Maine legislature, and he was part of a presentation on how to do political activism. I spoke with him a bit more later at the bar that evening - he's an interesting guy.
  • Presentation on dealing with the media - Would've been interesting if I had not read up on this stuff before. Good advice, I think
  • Reverend Wyer's discussion on how to do shared projects with religious groups was good, and particularly useful given the discussion on service projects. His organisation was willing to help structure those interactions when and where appropriate.
  • Edward Kagin of American Atheists talked - he's a crazy old dude, and American Atheists is the most hardliner faction that attended the conference, but he was also kind of amusing. The word 「irrascible」 was probably invented for people like him.
  • Hemant Mehta (who I've met in Pgh before, and who seems to be a pretty good guy, and who recieved a lot of publicity by selling his time to visit churches on ebay) gave a speech on dating within the movement (really, more about dating geeks than anything else). Not really so helpful for me given how rarely attracted and shy (and stuck with nonproductive crushes on people I kinda know) I am, but it was entertaining.
  • PZ Myers talked about his activism online. I understand it better now, but I still believe he's at least occasionally acting like a troll and that he's encouraging bad culture. By this time, I came to appreciate that on other topics, he's pretty reasonable and a good guy (I spent a fair amount of time around AshleyP and PZ Myers on the trip). I suppose the term troll doesn't quite fit him either - he doesn't have the typical intense ego or decrepit personality that people like Jason Scott or Greg Deeter have. I suppose one can troll without being a troll.
  • The schedule was pretty brutal - early morning to late evening. Wow.
So, that was the conference.

Also, my picture galleries are back online at media.dachte.org. I would use flickr, but I already have my own servers, I don't like being nagged to pay, and I don't like relying on services that somebody could take away. I'm (again) using Spider Eyeballs to build the HTML and make all the different sizes of all the images. At some point I will have to go through and be more selective about what's there - I tried to cut out everything with no merit whatsoever (or that was blurry), but I think I set the bar too low.

In which I share random thoughts that nearly caused me to crash the car on the way back:

It's not the thoughts themselves, but rather the urge to jot them down, that caused me to very carefully type them into my windows laptop that was acting as jukebox for the trip. I usually got the wrong key anyhow, but carefully typed gibberish is not that hard to correct - if I get several letters of "the-right-general-area on the keyboard", it's a fun puzzle to pull it together (if I were bored enough I would write a program that would try to do that automatically.

  • Given *our* fusiform gyrus, perhaps next-generation video cards should have a generative fusiform gyrus to let them render faces in much greater detail than the rest of scenes. It seems we've already crossed the Rubicon^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hentry to the uncanny valley, and getting to the other side of it would be tactically wise.
  • The Humanist Movement seems to be reasonably successful at building the foundations of a value system as well as accompanying institutions. I think I've mentioned before that I see philosophy of this sort as being akin to wandering out of a nice house in the woods with the intent to eventually build one's shelter, usually while it's raining. Given how tiring and lonely this is, it's both convenient that humanism is there and almost tempting to adopt that identity - I'm at high levels of comfort among most secular humanists, as much so as the more liberal and moderate marxists I've met, and while they're not quite the same, it'd be easy to have a shift in perspective/identity/philosophy and consider humanism my movement. I'm still too driven by my own vision to accept these nearby ones, but the temptation is pretty strong - most of the core statements of humanism (what I'm tempted to call their Nicene Creed or Mosaic code) I've seen are things I could accept, with only small bits strongly objectionable.
  • Urban Engineering - modeling traffic flow is surely interesting to some people. Shaping traffic flow using mapquest/google maps/etc would surely also be interesting to a fair subset of those same people. Would offering statistical shaping of these things to city engineers be a useful tool?
  • What is it that makes large numbers of people singing at the same time generally awful? Is it that some people can't sing, is it that the large numbers don't have experience singing together, or is it sheer numbers?

Random musings:

  • Gates move - the building is terribly not-ready, and the construction crews and new residents seem mutually confused as to why we're moving in at this point. It needs at least another week or two to finish cooking. The inappropriate narrowness of the stairs is, as suspected, an immediately obvious problem. Watching Wean hall start to empty out is really weird. At this point, ⅓ of the offices, roughly speaking, have transitioned. Tomorrow begins the next third (each move is a 2-day ordeal), and friday begins the last third (I'm in that group). I'm doing some light packing at this point, tomorrow the packing will probably take the whole day (especially as the CMCL labspace needs a bit of final prep).
  • I've been slightly obsessive over "Jump Little Children - Cathedrals" and "City of Lost Children soundtrack - Who Will Take Your Dreams Away?" recently.
  • New Digital Camera came in - Powershot G10. It's nice.
  • Running shoes are surprisingly easy on my injured foot.

Comments

(Anonymous)

Creation Museum

I have to give you credit -- I don't think I could have subjected myself to the creationism museum without simultaneously crying, laughing, and losing my lunch.

/Debb
I swallow Humanism hook, line, and sinker.

"In general, I've found Rabbis to be wonderful conversation partners (and for some reason, I get serious warm fuzzies being around most of them), and much more rarely I've found Christian religious leaders who are the same - open minded, careful, philosophically minded, and friendly."

I wish I'd had the same experiences with Rabbis; those who trained me in my youth were Orthodox, and not so philosophically oriented.
I went to a Catholic Jesuit high school. Among the Jesuits, there were some such as you describe.
He doesn't count as a Christian, but I wonder if you ever encountered Rev. Mark Belletini, of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Columbus.

(Anonymous)

Great Meeting you

I loved the conversation as well. If you get back to Columbus, let me know. And thanks for the blog add!

J-