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