Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Inherit the Windbags

I was hoping to get back to my discussion of my life long of comics, but I wanted to post about some interesting conversation going on regarding a recent essay I wrote for Nextbook, Inherit the Windbags, in which I argue that things like Creation Science and Intelligent Design not only damage science, but the religious imagination as well.

One blogger, PZ Myers, really took me to task in a post he titles A pleasant, smiling apologist is still lying to you in which he writes: "Bebergal is waving his hands frantically, trying to justify irrationality as a power for human happiness rather than an impediment. There is no true power there. It is definitely the case that the human mind is not a piece of clockwork logic, and there are certainly irrational interpretations of the world that mesh well with our flawed preconceptions, and it can even make us feel good to give in to comforting myths. But this is not good for us."

Another blogger, Chris Schoen, does an elegant job of defending my unspoken position: He writes: "It's not a complete surprise that Myers can only conceive of religion, spirituality, or mysticism as a comforting, ego-stroking enterprise, because that tends to be all that rises above the background noise of our popular culture: AM Radio sermons, megachurches, and televangelists are almost impossible to avoid, and most of them tend to exploit (consciously or not) the same feelings of anxiety and insecurity that are so effectively targeted by television commercials...

But that's why we have books. That's why Eagleton and Orr and others are exhorting Dawkins et al to read them. Not just (or even) theology, but any the challenging disciplines of assembly: philosophy, literary theory, philology, cultural studies. Even a cursory command of these fields might help Myers think twice before writing something that imagination is 'a cognitive randomizer,' or--my favorite from this piece,--'science has taught us ... that our imagination is pathetic.' This is a confusion of categories along the lines of 'I can't be overdrawn, I still have checks!'"

I am excited about this conversation taking place over my essay and I am pleased it has incited some passionate responses. I consider myself a believer and a skeptic, a rationalist and a mystic and for both atheists and religious alike, I am the worst kind of animal, sowing misinformation and as Meyers would say, blatantly lying. But I know that historically I am not alone. Some of the great naturalists, theologians, and scientists have wrestled with the dual nature of what it means to be human, and for many of them, religious language functions well to describe the ineffable, however flawed it might be.

But you know what? All of this pales before the fact that we just landed a frickin' robot on MARS! Is there anything cooler than that?

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