I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Lynching creationists, confirming judges, and much more. Here are a few of the stories that marched across our desk this week:

Creationist school board candidate runs a terrible ad, at FA.

swung by neck not tail


Sam Wineburg: New media literacy law won’t work, at WaPo.

Jon Shields on the decline of the conservative professoriate, at NA.

if one wants to be exposed to a broad spectrum of political ideas, it is still far better to attend Notre Dame or Baylor than Berkeley or Cornell.

More spoof articles get accepted by academic journals, at NR. HT: MM

a call for awareness into the different ways dogs are treated on the basis of their gender and queering behaviors, and the chronic and perennial rape emergency dog parks pose to female dogs.

Kavanaugh Karamazov? Comparing the trials of Brett and Dimitri at PD.

Trials are not the place for working out our social grievances and anxieties.

Call Obi-Wan: The US Navy now has real ray-guns. At Cosmos.

ray gun

>>pew pew<<

Did Common Core change teacher behavior? Larry Cuban says kinda.

Professor under fire for hateful comments about the Kavanaugh hearings, at IHE.

Does this flyer count asliberal indoctrination” by a public-school teacher? At PI.

pa liberal indoctrination

Civics ed? Or sinister indoctrination?

Taxpayers fund a school field trip to the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, at LHL.

Mitch McConnell as Hindenburg, a “gravedigger of democracy,” at NYRB.

What’s the big IDEA with this fast-expanding charter network? At Chalkbeat.

Ah, fresh air! A pop history of baby cages at GH.

baby cage

You can forget those “free-range” child-rearing practices…


Hoaxing at the End of the World

What happens when we can’t tell the intentionally preposterous from the incidentally ridiculous? Does it mean we’ve reached the end of our rope? When we can’t tell hoaxes from reality, it serves as yet more evidence that we don’t have any solid way to judge.

Most recently from my adopted home state of Wisconsin, we see the hilarious story of Chop & Steele. These two goofs pretended to be innovative fitness instructors. They went on local TV news shows to demonstrate their stupid workouts, including smashing Easter baskets, hitting each other with sticks and racquets, and doing a variety of things with tires. As Steele explained about one maneuver: “This one works your delts, your tris, your plaps.”

Work those plaps.

It was hilarious and obviously ridiculous. But the news shows couldn’t tell. They welcomed Chop & Steele as fitness experts. And now they’re mad. Chop & Steele are being sued for their fakery.

The local TV news shows aren’t the only ones who look idiotic. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH may recall, the academic world was embarrassed by a similarly ridiculous hoax twenty years ago. Professor Alan Sokal at NYU published a garbled nonsense essay in the journal Social Text. As Sokal explained later, his satire was an attempt to prove how ridiculous academic politics had become. The fact that his nonsense essay could be published, Sokal wrote, proved that “some fashionable sectors of the American academic Left have been getting intellectually lazy.”

No one likes to be goofed on. It seems, though, that when satire moves so close to reality, we’ve reached some sort of sad equilibrium.

In the News: A Fundamentalist Epistemology?

The New York Times yesterday ran some excerpts from a discussion on its philosophy series, The Stone.

ILYBYGTH readers should check out the exchange, since it is one of the few recent forums in which the issue of creation/evolution is given a respectful, intelligent back-and-forth.  It also centers on the notions of a Biblical understanding of knowledge.

In this dialogue, philosopher Michael P. Lynch and physicist Alan Sokal discuss the reasons why there has been no simple cut-and-dried solution to the creation/evolution debates.  In this snippet, Lynch insists–correctly in my opinion–that the issue is not really the science of evolution, but rather the source of epistemic first principles.  That is, how do we come to know something?  Fundamentalists will insist that the first source of knowledge must be Holy Scripture.  If we “know” something that contradicts the Bible, we can’t really “know” it, any more than we can “know” that a dog is a cat.  The reason for the evolution/creation “stalemate,” Lynch argues, is that the arguments have simply circled round and round one another, each arguing convincingly from its own perspective.

In response, Sokal offers what seems to me to be a very concise and cogent explanation of the non-fundamentalist position.  Fundamentalists, he argues, DO share the epistemic principles of non-fundamentalists, except for a few irrationally privileged categories.  Here’s a snippet from Sokal:

The trouble is not that fundamentalist Christians reject our core epistemic principles; on the contrary, they accept them. The trouble is that they supplement the ordinary epistemic principles that we all adopt in everyday life — the ones that we would use, for instance, when serving on jury duty — with additional principles like “This particular book always tells the infallible truth.”

But then we have a right to inquire about the compatibility of this special epistemic principle with the other, general, epistemic principles that they and we share. Why this particular book? Especially, why this particular book in view of the overwhelming evidence collected by scholars (employing the general epistemic principles that we all share) that it was written many decades after the events it purports to describe, by people who not only were not eyewitnesses but who also lived in a different country and spoke a different language, who recorded stories that had been told and retold many times orally, and so on. Indeed, how can one possibly consider this particular book to be infallible, given the many internal contradictions within it?

Lynch responds with a defense that might hearten intellectual fundamentalists.  Here is just a small selection:

The second reason we can’t rest content with the fact that some principles are widely shared is that some debates are over the priority of principles. Some people reject the idea that scientific reasoning should always trump more traditional methods of knowledge. Thus, believers in creationism typically don’t deny induction and abduction (coming up with the best explanation of the data) full stop. Rather they deny that these principles have priority everywhere. Imagine, for example, a dispute over these two principles:

(A) Abduction from the fossil and physical record is the only method for knowing about the distant past.

(H) Consultation of the holy book is the best method for knowing about the distant past.

The friends of (H) aren’t rejecting abduction outright: they are merely asserting that in some situations abduction is trumped by the more fundamental principle (H). So we can’t just call them out for using abduction in some cases and not in others. And obviously, we can’t travel back in time and use observation (another commonly shared method) to settle who is right and who isn’t about the distant past. What that shows is that debates over even very specific principles like these can end up grounding out — either the participants will end up defending their favored principles by appealing to those very principles (citing the book to defend the book) or appealing to other specific principles that the other side shares but gives a lower priority. So shared “natural instincts” and methods can’t always win the day, simply because the problem isn’t always about what is in common. The problem is about what trumps what.

The root cause of the discussion is whether or not there is a distinctive fundamentalist epistemology.  Lynch defends the notion (without embracing or defending the claims of that epistemology), while Sokal dismisses it.  In other words, is the fundamentalist, Bible-centric understanding of human knowledge a legitimately different way of knowing about humanity and the universe?  Or is it simply an overly complicated apologetic?  That is, do fundamentalists merely claim to have a different way of knowing when it suits their theological needs?