Butterflies and Wheels

Butterflies and Wheels combines some heavy critical writing with some very funny features. It defends science and reason from junk science and post-modernist critiques. It is heavy on references to atheist and skeptical sites, and generally anti-religious, unhappily tending to equate religion with fideism, fundamentalism and superstition. It is strong in writing and critical thinking.

It features a funny Fashionable Dictionary which highlights the way many people have distorted language. It also has a Wooly-thinkers Guide to Rhetoric.
I’m finding useful and interesting connections and arguments.
For instance Meera Nanda’s article on Postmodernism, Science and Religious Fundamentalism has an interesting look at the academic discipline of “science studies”

Science studies, as I said, is not an ordinary academic discipline. It constitutes the beating heart of postmodernism, for it aims to “deconstruct�? natural science, the very core of a secular and modern worldview. Since its inception in the 1970s, the discipline has produced a sizeable body of work that purports to show that not just the agenda, but even the content of theories of natural sciences is “socially constructed.�? All knowledge, in different cultures, or different historical times – regardless of whether it is true or false, rational or irrational, successful or not in producing reliable knowledge – is to be explained by the same causes. This demand for “symmetry�? between modern science and other local knowledges constitutes the central demand of the “strong programme,�? the central dogma of science studies. One cannot assume that only false beliefs or failed sciences (e.g., astrology) are caused by a lack of systematic empirical testing, or by faulty reasoning, or by class interests, religious indoctrination or other forms of social conditioning. A truly “scientific�? approach to science requires that we suspend our preconceived faith that what is scientific by the standards of modern science of our times brings us any closer to truth. In the spirit of true scientific impartiality and objectivity, science studies demand that modern science be treated “symmetrically,�? as being “at par�? with any other local knowledge.

The links took me to some useful and interesting off-site essays such as Wendy Kaminer on The Last Taboo which says in part:

Obviously, people carry their faith in God, Satan, crystals or UFOs into town meetings, community organizations and voting booths. Obviously, a core belief in the supernatural is not severable from beliefs about the natural world and the social order. It is the inevitable effect of religion on public policy that makes it a matter of public concern. Advocates of religiosity extol the virtues or moral habits that religion is supposed to instill in us. But we should be equally concerned with the intellectual habits it discourages.
Religions, of course, have their own demanding intellectual traditions, as Jesuits and Talmudic scholars might attest. Smart people do believe in Gods and devote themselves to uncovering Their truths. But, in its less rigorous, popular forms, religion is about as intellectually challenging as the average self-help book. (Like personal development literature, mass market books about spirituality and religion celebrate emotionalism and denigrate reason. They elevate the “truths” of myths and parables over empiricism.) In its more authoritarian forms, religion punishes questioning and rewards gullibility. Faith is not a function of stupidity but a frequent cause of it.
The magical thinking encouraged by any belief in the supernatural, combined with the vilification of rationality and skepticism, is more conducive to conspiracy theories than it is to productive political debate. Conspiratorial thinking abounds during this period of spiritual and religious revivalism. And, if only small minorities of Americans ascribe to the most outrageous theories in circulation these days — that a cabal of Jewish bankers run the world, that aids was invented in a laboratory by a mad white scientist intent on racial genocide — consider the number who take at face value claims that Satanists are conspiring to abuse America’s children. According to a 1994 survey by Redbook, 70 percent of Americans believed in the existence of Satanic cults engaged in ritual abuse; nearly one-third believed that the FBI and local police were purposefully ignoring their crimes. (They would probably not be convinced by a recent FBI report finding no evidence to substantiate widespread rumors of Satanic abuse.) As Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker report in Satan’s Silence, these beliefs infect public life in the form of baseless prosecutions and convictions. If religion engenders civic virtue, by imparting “good” values, it also encourages public hysteria by sanctifying bad thinking.
Skepticism about claims of abuse involving Satanism or recovered memories would serve the public interest, not to mention the interests of those wrongly accused, much more than eagerness to believe and avenge all self-proclaimed victims. Skepticism is essential to criminal justice: guilt is supposed to be proven, not assumed. Skepticism, even cynicism, should play an equally important role in political campaigns, particularly today, when it is in such disrepute. Politicians have learned to accuse anyone who questions or opposes them of “cynicism,” a popular term of opprobrium associated with spiritual stasis or soullessness. If “cynic” is a synonym for “critic,” it’s a label any thoughtful person might embrace, even at the risk of damnation.

I’ll be browsing these essays for ideas and references.


One response to “Butterflies and Wheels”

  1. Tony: I read through this stuff, and wanted to report that my small brain now hurts a lot. I had a similar feeling when I read Consilience by EO Wilson.

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