An Elaborate Ruse

Friday, May 25, 2007

No sooner do I hear about and blog an amazing research tool than I wish I already had it at my disposal! I recall from somewhere that Ayn Rand very succinctly summarized the case against lying and it is driving me crazy that I can't remember exactly how she put it or where she said it. So I'll have to summarize....

When one lies, one sets himself up in opposition to the honesty and ability of anyone one hopes to deceive due to the fact that the way men discover the truth of a proposition is through gathering all available evidence and integrating it by means of logic with the rest of their knowledge. Thus, one ends up having to construct other lies to corroborate the initial one, remember to whom one said what and when, and so on, "waging", as I think Rand put it, "a war against reality", because one cannot just confabulate a free-standing lie and expect not to get caught.

I thought of the Objectivist case against lying this morning because I encountered, through Arts and Letters Daily, a link to a New York Times story about a propaganda effort that makes Michael Moore seem like a piker, and something its author found quite bemusing: a Creationist "Museum":

It is a measure of the museum's daring that dinosaurs and fossils -- once considered major challenges to belief in the Bible's creation story -- are here so central, appearing not as tests of faith, as one religious authority once surmised, but as creatures no different from the giraffes and cats that still walk the earth. Fossils, the museum teaches, are no older than Noah's flood; in fact dinosaurs were on the ark.


There are 52 videos in the museum, one showing how the transformations wrought by the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 reveal how plausible it is that the waters of Noah's flood could have carved out the Grand Canyon within days. There is a special-effects theater complete with vibrating seats meant to evoke the flood, and a planetarium paying tribute to God's glory while exploring the nature of galaxies.

Whether you are willing to grant the premises of this museum almost becomes irrelevant as you are drawn into its mixture of spectacle and narrative. Its 60,000 square feet of exhibits are often stunningly designed by Patrick Marsh, who, like the entire museum staff, declares adherence to the ministry’s views; he evidently also knows the lure of secular sensations, since he designed the "Jaws" and "King Kong" attractions at Universal Studios in Florida.

For the skeptic the wonder is at a strange universe shaped by elaborate arguments, strong convictions and intermittent invocations of scientific principle. For the believer, it seems, this museum provides a kind of relief: Finally the world is being shown as it really is, without the distortions of secularism and natural selection. [bold added]
When one considers the actual nature of the Christian story of creation, the fact that this story caused me to think about the argument against lying should seem odd at first. Why? Because this creation myth, being arbitrary (i.e., asserted in the absence of all evidence), has even less relation to the truth than an actual lie. In other words, the story of Genesis can not (and need not) be disproved. It should, like any other baseless claim, be rejected out of hand because the burden of proof lies with the person who makes a claim.

The various purposes of this museum, as the last line of the above excerpt would indicate, strike me as darkly interesting to contemplate, but I think the central one is to enable Creationists to pretend that there somehow is "evidence" for their wild claims about the universe being created in six days only a few thousand years ago.

In a sense, it is heartening that some Christians saw a need to make such elaborate efforts to "back up" their cosmological views. This provides us with some evidence that the influence of the Enlightenment on our culture, though waning, remains strong enough that they do not feel able to get away with just demanding blind acceptance of their myth or, by extension, of their religious views.

On the other hand, this "museum" is also a staggering display of willful ignorance and an implacable hostility to reason. It is, in fact, so staggering that author Edward Rothstein seems unable to fathom its actual evil:
In the museum's portrayal, creationists and secularists view the same facts, but come up with differing interpretations, perhaps the way Ptolemaic astronomers in the 16th century saw the Earth at the center of the universe, where Copernicans began to place the sun. But one problem is that scientific activity presumes that the material world is organized according to unchanging laws, while biblical fundamentalism presumes that those laws are themselves subject to disruption and miracle. Is not that a slippery slope as well, even affecting these analyses? [bold added]
He makes a good point, but he is wasting his time if he thinks he is going to give pause to any Creationists out there. Nobody capable of creating such a museum would be concerned with its approach constituting a "slippery slope" because it was precisely his intention to build a slippery slope!

To comprehend the full evil of this institution, one must recall the purpose of a real museum -- education through the presentation and some synthesis of evidence -- and its target audience. America, although becoming more religious, is still a society that respects reason. It is also a society that has, for several generations now, been poorly-educated in terms of material and, more importantly, method (i.e., how to think).

Although most Americans remain implicitly rational on some level, the ability of many to think on a very abstract level at all has been severely stunted. To such adults -- and to many children who have not yet learned how to think and perhaps never will -- this museum's overload of sensory data and facile explanations plausibly linking a few facts together might seem convincing.

The payoff, of course, is that, in the same manner Christians have done for centuries, this perceptual "evidence" will succeed in eliciting obedience and support for the various religious dictates packaged with it.

Once again, it pays to recall the words of the Fountainhead's arch-villain Ellsworth Toohey: "Don't bother to examine a folly -- ask yourself only what it accomplishes." This museum is no attempt to win an argument. It is an attempt to pretend that there is an argument behind Creationism at all, an attempt made in the hope that the American public is finally dumbed-down enough to fall for it.

-- CAV


: Corrected some typos.
5-26-07: The Inspector saves the day, perhaps two or three, in fact.


Anonymous said...

I think you mean this paragraph from Galt's speech:

"Honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud—that an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality, where you become a pawn of their blindness, a slave of their non-thinking and their evasions, while their intelligence, their rationality, their perceptiveness become the enemies you have to dread and flee—
that you do not care to live as a dependent, least of all a dependent on the stupidity of others, or as a fool whose source of values is the fools he succeeds in fooling—that honesty is not a social duty, not a sacrifice for the sake of others, but the most profoundly selfish virtue man can practice: his refusal to sacrifice the reality of his own existence to the deluded consciousness of others."


Gus Van Horn said...

I am not sure this is the quote I am trying to locate, but I do appreciate your posting it since it is definitely on-topic and, as is so often the case with Ayn Rand, makes the point far better than I, anyway!

Dismuke said...

Are you sure it was not Dr. Peikoff who said the quote you are trying to remember? In one of his speeches, (My Thirty Years With Ayn Rand, if my memory is correct) he spoke on the subject at length and somewhat along the lines of your paraphrase.

Gus Van Horn said...

You nearly read my mind there, Dismuke! I almost added in reply to PMB that I was starting to think that someone else, like LP, might have said it! I may not get to look for it until after the weekend, though.

Inspector said...

It is this:

"The essence of a con-man's lie," she began, "of any such lie, no matter what the details, is the attempt to gain a value by faking certain facts of reality."
She went on: "Now can't you grasp the logical consequences of that kind of policy ? Since all facts of reality are interrelated, faking one of them leads the person to fake others; ultimately, he is committed to an all-out war against reality as such. But this is the kind of war no one can win. If life in reality is a man's purpose, how can he expect to achieve it while struggling at the same time to escape and defeat reality?"
And she concluded: "The con-man's lies are wrong on principle. To state the principle positively: honesty is a long-range requirement of human self-preservation and is, therefore, a moral obligation."

It was Ayn Rand but it was from "My 30 years"

I used it recently in a rather futile and frustrating argument against some pragmatists.

Gus Van Horn said...

Ah! That's it!

Thank you, Inspector! It was incredibly frustrating, to say the least, to have something like that on my mind, but to not be able to remember where I/d heard it.

Inspector said...

You're welcome, Gus. I'm glad I could help you. Luckily, it was fresh in my memory.

Galileo Blogs said...

I enjoyed your commentary, Gus. I thought your your observation was especially good that the purpose of this Christian "museum" is to raise the arbitrary to a level where it becomes an argument worthy of refutation or debate.

The religionists are always angling for a debate. I think it is because they know that if their opponents debate them, they have granted the religionists a legitimacy they cannot achieve on their own. That is why the best general response to a religionist is to dismiss or ignore their argument.

By the way, a Christian fundamentalist I know came up with a twist on their arbitrary belief system. He distinguished between "New Earth" and "Old Earth" creationists. The New Earth creationists are the type who created the creationism museum. They believe the earth was created 6,000 years ago, and that man and the dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time.

The Old Earth creationists apparently now grant that the earth is very old, say 4.5 billion years. I believe they still oppose evolution, though. (My acquaintance was proud that he was a more "rational" Old Earth creationist, not one of them crazy New Earthers!)

The fact that Christianity morphs into New and Old Earth Creationists shows why it is pointless to debate them. Since their beliefs are completely arbitrary, they can make anything up. The Deux et Machina in their minds gives them free rein to endorse an arbitrary new theory whenever they feel their ideas are overly challenged by facts or they simply want to cloak their beliefs to gain more converts.

Exposure is the best way of dealing with them, which is what you did in your nice write-up. Silly people. I hope they sunk millions on their silly display.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you!

The "New Earth Creationists", as a species of non-fundamentalists who pay lip-service to reason, merely pave the way for the real creationists by making acceptance of aspects of that arbitrary myth appear to be compatible with reason.

Your story does remind me of an amusing episode from my college days. Back then, I was in the process of abandoning religion. I was an evolutionist, but thought that a divine being probably got things started at some point.

In those days, I had a roommate who was a mathematician, and yet also a fundamentalist. Another friend and I frequently would discuss the topic of evolution with him, but never got anywhere. For example, my friend once brought up an animal that was transitional between reptiles and birds. The only thought this provoked in the fundie was that it had to be either a bird or a reptile.

Anyway, I or we had this guy on the ropes on time and he just exploded, maintaining that he "had faith", and brandishing his Bible. He hit his crescendo at last by literally THUMPING it. It was very annoying at the time as a display of indomitable irrationality, but very funny in retrospect.

I wouldn't mind having back some of the time I wasted talking to that guy....

Anonymous said...

Inert matter, inert laws of physics and chemistry. Yet the human body is made up of over 2 million different chemical compounds. It's hardly surprising that according to surveys, 60% of doctors believe in God. And doctors by definition of their job requirements, are more reality oriented than most objectivists. Do you think their are no closet objectivists that believe in God. According to these internet objectivist sites, zero percent of objectists believe in God - what a lying joke. Its not just Christianity that plays games with the truth. Did you know that if the 22 known fundamental constants (eg the atomic weight of a proton) was different, you would have no Sun and hence life. What a big, big, big, big coincidence that they are all just right. No God, yeah sure. Who is it Gus, that's playing games?

Gus Van Horn said...

"Did you know that if the 22 known fundamental constants (eg the atomic weight of a proton) was different, you would have no Sun and hence life. What a big, big, big, big coincidence that they are all just right."

By the same token, it surely couldn't be just a coincidence that this Intelligent Designer got all of this right. Things like that don't "just happen", so someone had to have invented Him, too.

Your argument is very old, and still faulty. The rest of this is just bile, although I can't resist noting that once, well more than 60% of physicians thought bloodlettijng was a great cure-all.