Avoid the occasions of Slytherin

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Gone are the days when a pro-forma "stay in school" message could protect a popular entertainer from the slings and arrows of the authorities. As noted below by commenter Jeff, Pope Benedict XVI has joined Harold Bloom in publicly condemning the Harry Potter series. In a 2003 letter to the author of Harry Potter—gut oder bõse (Harry Potter—good or evil?), then-Cardinal Ratzinger proclaimed:

Many thanks for your kind letter of February 20th and the informative book which you sent me in the same mail. It is good, that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly.

A person named Michael O'Brien, identified by LifesiteNews.com as a "Catholic novelist and painter," author of "a book dealing with fantasy literature for children," and the "most prominent Potter critic in North America," emphasizes the need to get Ratzinger's opinion out there, both to clear up an earlier rumor that the Vatican had approved of the series of children's books and to prepare the faithful for the coming battle against He Who Cannot Be Named:

This discernment on the part of Benedict XVI reveals the Holy Father's depth and wide ranging gifts of spiritual discernment… It is consistent with many of the statements he's been making since his election to the Chair of Peter, indeed for the past 20 years—a probing accurate read of the massing spiritual warfare that is moving to a new level of struggle in western civilization.

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  1. Souls don’t exist. Thus there is nothing to worry about. 🙂

  2. Ok.. who’s going to a book release party? And who’s dressing up? Bonus question: who would (insert favorite politician/entertainer/potentate) probably dress as?

  3. OK, so far this is not my favorite Pope.

    This is one step away from a Papal Bull about Dungeons & Dragons.

  4. Stevo Darkly,

    Well, since even most Catholics ignore what the Pope says, I don’t see much need to be bothered by his idiocies.

  5. Ratzinger… er, Benedict XVI, is still focused on Western Europe, the least-relevant portion of his constituency. Look for increasingly irrelevant papal commentary in the future.

  6. Stevo – it’s right there with a Papal Bull about D&D.

    I wonder what the puppy pope would have to say about Harry Potter? 😉

  7. Do you suppose that adding ‘Catholic’ to ‘novelist’ obviates the need for ‘editing’?

    “This discernment on the part of Benedict XVI reveals the Holy Father’s depth and wide ranging gifts of spiritual discernment…”

  8. isildur,

    If you ever read Papal announcements, etc. you’ll notice that they fling words around like they were bits of pasta.

  9. It’s “spaetzle” now, thank you.

  10. Does anyone take the Catholic Church seriously anymore?

  11. There are people who take them seriously, and it’s increasingly the third worlders. And if that gives them the hope to get through their plight that’s great. Plus the retreat of the church is entertaining. If only there was some issue that could get the evangelicals out of our hair.

  12. It’s not just the verbiage. It’s piss-poor writing. Two more examples, just from that paragraph:

    “It is consistent with many of the statements he’s been making…”

    Those are some very long statements, if he’s still making them. Does he take potty breaks, or does ‘channeling the word of God’ make them unnecessary? Also: is it *inconsistent* with some minority of his statements, as this sentence suggests? Note that ‘I like cheese’ and ‘Apples are red’ are perfectly consistent with each other. The ‘Catholic’ ‘novelist’ implies that the Pope has also made statements in which he praises people writing Harry/Draco slash.

    (Revise to: ‘It is consistent with the statements he’s made… ‘)

    “… the massing spiritual warfare that is moving to a new level of struggle…”

    Would that be 13th level? Does the warfare gain +1d8 hit points and access to the Wizard spell list now? Also, does it make sense to amplify ‘warfare’ with ‘struggle’? If the warfare is moving to a level of ‘struggle’, that seems like a good thing to me. And what exactly is meant by ‘massing warfare’? Are multiple wars all headed for the same place, like some kind of military Woodstock?

    (Revise to: ‘A probing and accurate look at the spiritual struggle taking place throughout Western Civilization.’)

    That’s in *one* paragraph. I guess when your audience has only a limited selection, they’ll take whatever crap they can get their hands on.

  13. I nominate Isildur for best comment of day.

  14. Captain Awesome,

    Well, in Latin America Protestants are making major inroads. Plus, something like 70% of Latin Americans have no problem with many things that Church condemns – like birth control.

  15. Does anyone know whether the Church had any such choice comments for C S Lewis’s Narnia series ?

  16. If I could ask Michael O’Brien one question, it would be, “Mr. O’Brien, do you consider yourself a Catholic painter, or do you consider yourself a painter who is Catholic?”

    And if I could ask Michael O’Brien two questions, first I’d ask him about the painter thing, and then I’d ask, “Mr. O’Brien, why are you such a douchebag?”

  17. I should point out that I too condemn Harry Potter. He’s a pale rip-off of Tim Hunter, created by Neil Gaiman for DC comics Books of Magic. We’ve watched Tim go through adolescence while battling otherworldly threats, deal with puberty, and save the world several times over. He even holds his own against John Constantine (the Alan Moore crated, Sting-influenced, emblematically British magician, NOT Keanu Reeves).

  18. Joe,

    Credit goes where credit is due… that comment was hilarious! 🙂 I think the reference to the first question (“…that painter thing…) really makes the comment. I nominate joe for best comment of the day (why don’t we have an ongoing contest for that? We could make it comment of the week like the comics guy at joshreads.com has. What do you all think?

  19. Swede, don’t encourage these clowns, they’re already wasting more than the ‘national average’ two-hours at work as it is. You trying to ruin the economy or something?

  20. When I was young it was Star Wars, then D&D that provided the subtle Christianity warping suggestions. Most of those kids are the Soccer Moms and Dads of today, spending their time fretting over sex and violence in all media. But then, I “grew up” into an atheist who, given the choice, would prefer the Force to God. Maybe they’re on to something after all.

  21. Damn, isuldur is smokin’ tonight.

  22. David,

    Well, the cool thing about the Force (not that I think that it exists) is that you can become a kickass Jedi Knight. Compare that to being a Bible-thumping street preacher. 🙂

  23. Does anyone take the Catholic Church seriously anymore?

    Yep. By the way, I tried to look up how many libertarians are Catholic. I was under the impression they represented the largest fraction of libertarians who are theists. Couldn’t find any corroboration, but I did turn up this poll on the demographics of libertarians.

    Does anyone know whether the Church had any such choice comments for C S Lewis’s Narnia series ?

    I don’t really know. I haven’t read the books, but I understand that Lewis felt rather chummy toward many Catholics, and these Google hits suggest the feeling is mutual.

  24. That poll’s a crock, Stevo:

    What is the predominant form of sexual activity that you engage in?

    monogamous 70% 70%
    autoerotic 16% 10%
    casual/promiscuous 7% 9%
    celibate 5% 7%
    polygamous 0% 4%
    group sex 2% 0%

    Only 10 percent autoerotic? That only proves 90 percent of libertarians are liars.

  25. Well, if you only have sex with yourself, you might be torn whether to count it as “autoerotic” or “monogamous,” and legitimately place it whichever category you prefer.

  26. David and Hakluyt,

    … I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff… but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one, all-powerful Force controlling everything.

    There’s no “mystical energy field” that controls my destiny.

    (all geeky apologies)

  27. David Rolfe,

    I thought about quoting those lines, then I figured it would be too geeky. 🙂

  28. Does anyone take the Catholic Church seriously anymore?

    Come on, we’re talking about an ideology that believes in bleeding statues, images of the Virgin Mary in fogged up windows, etc. 🙂

  29. Did anybody else see that Conan bit where he shows the Christian modified version of Harry Potter? Potter zaps the bad kid and in an obvious dub yells “Jesus kicks your ass!”

  30. Treefroggy-
    I have no idea what the official Catholic take is on Narnia, but I know that the fundamentalists/evangelicals HATE the series; not only does it feature Satanic elements like magic and talking animals, but in “The Last Battle,” (the final book of the series, that is basically Lewis’ take on the book of the Revelation) it is revealed that you don’t HAVE to worship Aslan/Jesus to get into Heaven; many followers of Tash (the demon-god of the Calormenes), and even skeptics and atheists, made it into Heaven in the end. A very un-Christian attitude, say the critics.

  31. I’m no fan of this Pope, but as I see it all this is is a polite letter to someone whose book he probably didn’t even read. Possibly even written by a secretary. If he makes a public announcement about it, then we’ll see.

  32. Jennifer-

    Interesting that you say the fundies hate Narnia. When I was teaching optics, I said something about how the eye evolved a particular feature. During the break in the middle of the 3 hour class I saw one of my students reading a Narnia book. I said “Good book!” and she said “But you don’t believe in it.” I said “What do you mean?” She said “You believe in evolution, and this is a Christian book.”

    The conversation didn’t get ugly or anything, I kept it cool, but it was interesting to hear her say that. I explained that (1) I am religious and (2) a lot of scientists like the Narnia books for reasons similar to why we like Lord of the Rings: Stories with magic and sword fights and monsters are fun.

  33. I can’t speak for His Howliness, but it seems to me that the message of the Harry Potter novels is consistent with our faith’s emphasis on redemption and forgiveness. Look at how Sirius Black, the werewolf, is redeemed and befriended!

  34. The letter seems to me like it is describing metaphysical things like the fate of souls in the afterlife and adversaial angels.

    So when Isildur attempts to map the letter onto the physical world, of course it sounds silly. Heck, relativity sounded batty to many a Newtonian and that was just plain physics, not even metaphysics. Here, we are talking metaphysics, and the images are bound to be strange, not even literally describable, when we use metaphors within our common experience to apply to things that are so far outside our common experience.

    APPROACH 1: Now, some people demand that the metaphysical world conform closely to metaphors of their experiences here on Earth. For example, an Approach 1 follower might say that Harry Potter books cause no ostensible, economic problems here on Earth, so they must not be a problem in Purgatory either. Perhaps this approach is correct, but it doesn’t seem self-evident to me. I mean, we don’t directly know how Purgatory is run, or whether it gives primacy to the utilitarian considerations that weigh so heavily on this planet.

    APPROACH 2: Other people get rid of the difficulties here by waving away the existence of a meaningful metaphysical realm with a conclusory statement (eg, “souls don’t exist”). Magick!

    I fail to see why either of these approaches, 1 or 2, is less silly than the letter. I fail to see why either of these approaches is more scientifically supported than the assertions in the letter.

    Yes, you can be a Catholic and a libertarian. In a pluralistic state, the Church is one supplier in the marketplace of metaphysical ideas and teleological ideals. I would certainly rather have metaphysics remain a free market, rather than a command economy controlled by some of the smug peeps on this thread.

  35. Anyway, no effort by the Catholic Church to “censor” a book has ever been successful over the long haul. Most folks will yawn, then let out a polite chuckle, and then go about their business.

  36. “Censoring:” Sure it has been successful. There are plenty of books that many of my family members, past and present, refused to read (HP included) because the Church tells them not to. Of course, the tone quotes around “censor” make itt clear that we are not really talking about censorship here. However, there has been success in the sense that many, many people have foregone many, many readings over the course ofr history because of Church teaching. The Church isn’t trying to save *everybody’s* sould after all. Just peeps with a certain threshold level of obedience and intellectual humility.

  37. 8 hit-dice fireballs to the Pope. Paranoia and ranting will always show the true colors of that position.

    Live free, fight or fall.

  38. Dave W.,

    Well, souls might exist, but there is no evidence for them, though some will claim that NDEs are proof of souls. However, NDEs are experienced in lots of situations which aren’t life threatening, like when pilots are spun around in this big centrifuge chambers.

    Anyway, religious belief isn’t based on science or even rational thinking for that matter; its based on emotionally driven faith experiences.

  39. Dave W.,

    I was measuring success based on the ability to stifle the book’s presence in the marketplace. Take for instance the medeival Church’s efforts to ban the Talmud (and that was really a ban – true censorship); didn’t work. And if any organization needs humility, its the RCC.

  40. That’s right: science can’t prove souls exist; science can’t prove souls don’t exist. The correct scientific position is that souls may or may not exist and our present, primitive science does not even have a plan for how the existence-of-souls determination might be made as our observational tools get fancier.

    If science were a court of law, then the no-souls position would probably win because of the rule of thumb that it is simply too hard to prove a negative. But science ain’t a court of law, and the prudential difficulty-proving-a-negative-thing has no application to the kind of phenomena we are talking about here.

  41. Dave W.,

    Ahh, no. Absence of evidence is not evidence of existance. You’re grasping at straws. Sorry, but the atheist position is the rational position on the matter.

  42. Dave W.,

    Happily your Church now lacks political power outside its insignificant little enclave in Rome. Its lack of wisdom and humility are no longer allowed to be exercised in any substantive way.

  43. I don’t think the question is whether Catholics behaved badly in Medieval Times. Most everybody behaved badly in Medieval Times with the slavery and the unneccessary warfare and unfree speech laws and the torture and the [trails off like the phramacist on Family Guy].

    The question is whether people in Medieval Times would have behaved better, had they been Protestants or Hindus or athiests or agnostics. This is another one of those questions we can’t fully know the answer to. About the best you can do is ask somebody where they would have wanted to live if transubstantied back to the 14th century. I would choose Catholic France, in favor of some of the athiestic-libertarian nations that were having limited success back then.

  44. Absence of evidence is not evidence

    which is why I am so firm in my conviction that agnosticism (like my old man’s) is the correct scientific position.

  45. Dave W.,

    I’m sorry, but your logic simply doesn’t pass muster. In the absence of evidence I see no reason to believe in Gods, angels, giant pink invisible elephants, ghosts, alien abductions, tantric sex, that psychics can mind meld with pets, reflexology, or any of the other crackpot ideas that float about in the human world.

    If I were transported back to the 14th century, it wouldn’t be France, which spent of that century at war with England. I’d pick China, which was still within the midst of its scientific, commercial, etc. revolutions at the time.

  46. In the absence of evidence, I don’t see how you can scientifically support an affirmative disbelief in a specific God or a generic higher intelligence.

    Your disbelief is faith-based (as is my relijun).

  47. Dave W.,

    I wasn’t analyzing the content of the man’s text. I honestly don’t care. People who freely choose to remain ignorant, for whatever reason, are okay with me.

    I was simply appalled at how poorly-written it was. When someone claims to be a novelist, I expect to see some basic proficiency with their chosen language.

    On the actual topic: I think any organization setting itself up as the enemy of Harry Potter is in for a rude shock. I often wonder if the Church intentionally looks for new ways to convince American Catholics that Rome has become irrelevant.

  48. Dave-
    No, disbelief is not faith-based; if anything, it’s the refusal to have ANY faith-based belief. Think of it this way: it is, perhaps, possible that people living 20,000 years ago had advanced technology that even surpassed ours, but we can’t find evidence of it because the technology has all been eroded away by time.

    I can’t prove that people back then did NOT have advanced technology; I’m just saying that I will not believe they had it unless somebody offers good proof. Same thing with God; I can’t prove he doesn’t exist, but I won’t believe he does unless I’m given proof. (And faith-based assertions like “I know he exists because I feel him in my heart” aren’t sufficient.)

  49. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of existance.”

    Similarly, lack of evidence of existence is not evidence of lack of existence. Particularly if you can’t point to where the evidence “should” be, were it to exist.

  50. Puppy Theologian,

    Sirius Black was a dog. Professor Lupin is the werewolf.

    Yes, I know everyone is having a serious discussion. I’ll get out of everyone’s way now.

  51. Whoops, forgot the final question of my post: which is the faith-based belief–that people 20,000 years ago HAD advanced technology, or that they did not? I’d say the former.

  52. I will say that the Harry Potter thing is not making me feel particularly close to my Church at the moment.

    Advice to Isildur: you may want to avoid Dante’s Heaven/Hell/Purgatory trilogy. The Hell part contains many images that make little literal sense and are therefore bad writing. Also, the Heaven and Purgatory parts are boring, and may even have similar writing problems, which I will discover if I am ever locked down in the hole with these two poems only.

  53. Joe:
    Similarly, lack of evidence of existence is not evidence of lack of existence. Particularly if you can’t point to where the evidence “should” be, were it to exist.

    So you are with me that agnosticism is the rational position? Hard to tell from what you wrote.

  54. Jennifer,
    You are confusing disbelief (atheism) with non-belief (agnosticism). Disbelief is affirmative and cries for support. Non-belief is another way of saying “I dunno,” and admits that good support for belief *and* disbelief alike is lacking.

  55. oh boy. here comes the weak vs strong atheism argument again.

    Jennifer – obviously this “prove that it doesn’t” is a smokescreen used to prevent critical thought. If you’re a believer, nothing will stop it. The “doubt what you’re saying until there’s some proof, but until there is, i don’t think there’s a monster under the bed” is probably a sin and is like a leg kick against a karate guy “hey! you can’t do that”

  56. Dave W.-
    I’ve always thought the agnostic/atheist bit was more semantics than a real difference. To return to my ancient technology example, there may well be a difference between “I don’t believe people had advanced tech 20,000 years ago” and “I don’t know whether or not they did,” but how would this difference actually play out in the lives of tech agnostics versus tech atheists?

  57. I’ve always thought the agnostic/atheist bit was more semantics than a real difference

    Yeah. That is the assumption that a lot of people, not just at this msg bd, need to rethink.

  58. Dave W.,

    I think my point works best as an argument for a humble, rather than aggressive, faith.

  59. Jennifer:

    To address your question:

    The general level of tech advancement of peoples living 20,000 years ago is a matter that is fairly reasonably, tho not perfectly, observable by science thru fossils and other archaelogical finds. This is a question where some good scientific evidence exists and has existed, even prior to the time that vonDannikin (sp?) guy came on the scene and tried to make an empirical case for ancient advanced civilations. Of course, vonDannikin lost and thor hyerdahl (sp?) won, and science can say with reasonable certainty that people 20,000 years ago were simply not that tech advanced.

    Before you pop the cork on that champagne bottle though, understand that there are questions about 20,000 years ago, where even a modern scientist should remain agnostic. As Joe probably knows, Harper’s just devoted a lot of pages to whether Europeans or Asians first inhabited No. America 20,000 to 10,000 years ago. That question is, of course, highly politicized, but these politics do not concern a rational scientist. Rather, a rational scientist is collecting and awaiting better evidence so she can get out of the agnostic camp on this particular question, as her curious, but disciplined, mind yearns to do.

    Of course, the author of the letter at the top of this thread is basically telling us how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Right now, the rational position on that is the agnostic one, as it is for the who-got-to-No.-America first question.

  60. So you say I need to rethink my position, Dave? Then please tell me, in practical terms, what IS the differnece between “I do not believe people had advanced technology 20,000 years ago,” versus “Since it is impossible to prove one way or the other, it is arrogant to conclusively say that people did not have advanced technology 20,000 years ago?”

    If anything, I’d say the latter group is the classic example of people who are “so open-minded that their brains fall out.”

  61. Joe,
    I agree. I think it is non-faith position (the agnostics, only the agnostics) that should be more aggressive. The Catholics and the athiests should both be more humble in their proselytization.

  62. Whoops, cross-posted there, Dave. But I still don’t think your post answered my question.

  63. Jennifer,
    ya gotta give me a chance. your question was tough and fair, but I think I answered it in a simultaneous cross post.

  64. David, just how loudly can one shout, “I don’t know?” “Doubt” is not a word you can put an exclaimation point after.

    An aggressive agnostic is nothing but an obnoxious atheist.

  65. Jennifer,

    I said that I thought we had a reasonable amount of scientific evidence that people 20,000 years ago were not advanced. I pointed out that the basis for my affirmative belief on this was the archaelogical record.

    I would use the same logic for the is-there-a-Godess-question, but we just don’t have the fossils on this one way or the other. So, its back to the athiest camp on this one, at least for the rational scientist.

  66. UNDERSTAND AND RESPECT THE LIMITS OF YOUR OWN KNOWLEDGE!

    These are the slogans of the aggressive agnostic. When someone is caught not respecting thiose limits, the aggressive agnostic springs into action and illumes those metes and bounds of the known with words of wit & wisdom.

  67. Despite the misspellings, you can probly see from my previous post that an aggressive agnostic will have some inherent humility in her position that aggressive Catholics and athiests do not seem to have.

  68. Well, at least I’m not Catholic. I am, alas, inescabably Bloomian. His point, however, is a good deal more elitist and humanistic than the Papist’s. Let’s be honest, though– The Jungle Book IS immeasurably better than Harry Potter, though I do kind of like the wizard.

  69. Jennifer, I said that I thought we had a reasonable amount of scientific evidence that people 20,000 years ago were not advanced.

    But, applying the same standards that you would use to take down atheists, I’ll point out that we have NO scientific evidence that people lacked technology back then. Perhaps they had cold-fusion reactors that were utterly destroyed in a war–prove that they did not. Maybe they had “organic tech” that enabled them to mutate plants so that the plants grew into full-fledged houses or spaceships–prove that they did not. It’s possible that the reason they left no trace of themselves for us to find was that they took EVERYTHING with them when they left Earth to go colonize the galaxy–prove that they did not.

    And as soon as you conclusively prove that the above statements are false, I’ll use that same technique to prove there is no God.

  70. I apologize for my faulty recollection of the Harry Potter novels. My mind has been occupied by many theological bones of contention.

    Still, the story of Prof. Lupin is a powerful parable of tolerance and acceptance for werewolves.

  71. Maybe they had “organic tech” that enabled them to mutate plants so that the plants grew into full-fledged houses or spaceships–prove that they did not.

    You make the point that belief, non-belief and disbelief are all matters of degree, probably best metaphorized as a scalar or spectrum, rather than as three separate and distinct, mutually-exclusive categories. That is good to keep in mind. However, while it may softens things at the margins, still think that belief, disbelief and non-belief are meaningful categories and that various phenomenom discussed in this thread (eg, existence of God, existence of ancient people, existence of ancient advanced tech, warring phalanxes of angels) can be substantially and meaningfully categorized according to my slightly oversimplified categories.

    Can I think of a phenomenom (let’s call it a category buster) that sits on the line between reasonable belief and reasonable non-belief. Sure. Global warming is the first thing that comes to mind. However, these borderline cases do not destroy my categories as meaningful and helpful constructs to use when somebody starts spouting off about God and His Angels.

  72. and to all y’all who are so sure that Flt 93 was brought down by bad driving, I say:

    UNDERSTAND AND RESPECT THE LIMITS OF YOUR OWN KNOWLEDGE!

    Go agnostic.

  73. The philosophical difference between an atheist and an agnostic boils down to Occam’s razor. I’m sure that the more philosophical types can find other distinctions, but that seems to be the basic idea of it.

    The social difference is that while both groups have plenty of nice people who mind their own business, the atheists also have a small but very noisy evangelical faction. I’ve never come across evidence of evangelical agnostics.

    (No doubt somebody will find an example of an agnostic evangelical, but surely such cases are rarer than loud atheists. And it makes sense: It’s hard to get in somebody’s face and make a strident case for not being sure. It’s easier to get in somebody’s face and be all strident if you’ve reached a firm conclusion on something.)

  74. Dave-
    I don’t quite know what your response meant in light of our previous discussion, but since you said before that being an atheist is just as much a matter of faith as being a believer, I’d like to know how believing that prehistoric humans left Earth and colonized the galaxy is no more and no less a matter of faith than saying prehistoric humans had only primitive Stone Age technology.

  75. Or, to rephrase my last post, how is “I don’t believe in the existence of something for which there is no proof” requires equal faith as “I DO believe in the existence of something for which there is no proof.”

  76. Puppy Theologian,

    <spoilers>

    Well, you have to remember, the acceptance only came from “good guys,” i.e. Dumbledore and the rest of the blood traitors and muggle lovers. Prof. Lupin still had a rough life because most of the Wizarding world (including those in power like Fudge and Umbridge) still rejected him completely.

    Still, one of the major points of the novels, that J.K. Rowling herself has stated on many occasions, is that our choices, not our blood (genes), determine the kind of people we are. That and that friendship can be more powerful than family in interpersonal relationships.

    </spoilers>

  77. Dave, I suggest you take your own advice, “UNDERSTAND AND RESPECT THE LIMITS OF YOUR OWN KNOWLEDGE!”

    The God question is quite different from the question of 20,000 year old technology. We have an archaeological record from that era, from which we can gather evidence to support or refute theories about the level of techological advancement.

    One of the “limits to your own knowledge” is that we don’t have any such body of evidence relating to the existence of God. This is what I was getting it when I said, “Particularly if you can’t point to where the evidence “should” be, were it to exist.”

    Some guy tells me, the CIA put a chip in my head, I can take an x-ray. If there is no chip, that’s evidence against his theory. Where am I to look for evidence, one way or the other, about the existence of God?

  78. Shawn,

    From the evangelical, and now apparently Catholic, standpoint, there are no good guys in the Harry Potter series. There are only evil users of magic separated by degree.

  79. David,

    True, that’s the reason for the scare quotes.

  80. Or, to rephrase my last post, how is “I don’t believe in the existence of something for which there is no proof”

    “I don’t believe” conflates “I affirmatively disbelieve” with “I dunno.” While this conflation is coherent, it is very unhelpful when we try to advise the person in your hypothetical.

    How I would handle this hypothetical is to first ask the person, do you affirmatively disbelieve, or are you substantially uncertain re the something-in-question.

    If the person’s answer “substantially uncertain” then we give the gal a ribbon that signifies that she is clear of faith-based thinking (unlike the person who believes without evidence).

    If the person’s answer is that they affirmatively disbelieve, despite the lack of evidence for such disbelief, then we point out the faith based thinking (just like the person who believes without evidence).

    ANTICIPATING YOUR NEXT QUESTION:

    Sometimes absence of evidence is evidence. Lawyers call this res ipsa loquitur (sp?) and call up metaphors of fish swimming around in the milk.

    However, the absence of evidence type evidence only works when we would have the reasonable expectation that some evidence would be observable if the thing in question did exist. This works pretty okay when dealing with tort suits because we can question the witnesses and have a good peek at the forensics. It even works pretty okay with ancient humans because they tend to leave bones and physical detritus when they do anything and most especially when they build rocket ships.

    Moving back toward the main topic of this thread, when we get to the God and immortal souls question, we simply have no reasoonable expectation that physical evidence would exist and be observable (at least when limited to current observational methods). So lack of evidence type evidence will not work right now on this particular, but important, question.

  81. Where am I to look for evidence, one way or the other, about the existence of God?

    String theory posits the existence of 17 dimensions.

    As far as dimensions 1 to 4: I suggest exhaustively checking deep space, the ocean floors and the magma at the centre of the Earth and all the other planets.

    As far as dimensions 5 to 17: tese need to be checked in their entirety. This should be done as soon as science can muster the tools to do the checking.

    Once we get done with all this investigation, I will be ready to accept the res ipsa argument against a higher intelligence.

  82. Oh, and we gotta check the inside of our minds, too. You know, the chemistry and other physics of memory and conscious thought. The Goddess may be sitting there waiting for us with metaphysical tea and cookies if we can get there.

  83. I always felt that Prof. Lupin’s predicament was meant to be a veiled reference to homosexuality. At the very least, there seems to be a definite move to teach kids tolerance there.

    I also noticed that Prof. Lupin’s lessons to Harry mimiced many common practices that psychotherapists use to teach kids how to deal with difficult emotions/situations etcetera. The spells are equivalent to “Keep a happy thought at the front of your mind” and “Find a happy place” with a distinctly visual component to back up the exercise.

    Children indoctrinated into the mental health industries tricks? It amazing that Tom Cruise hasn’t weighed in with Pope Rat on this one.

  84. You don’t know the history of “defense against the dark arts.” I do. Are you aware that this subject has been taught by werewolves, government bureaucrats, frauds, and even henchmen of Voldemort? Are you aware of that? Do you understand that?

    There is no such thing as “dark magic”.

  85. heh heh. You actually sound just like the character Professor Umbridge in the last book. As I remember, Nick pointed out back then that JK was making a superbly anti nanny-state point in that book with that character. Having read it (obviously) I agree.

  86. I wonder what the puppy pope would have to say about Harry Potter? 😉

    I haven’t read the books, so I will hold off on making any pronouncements on them until I know more. If only my collie-eague Benedict would do the same.

  87. Advice to Dave W.:

    Learn to distinguish between critical reading for grammar, structure, and readability, and reading to gripe about people who dare to use metaphors.

    I was not trying to read him literally and therefore become aghast that he might have used a metaphor somewhere. Let me say it again: My criticism is entirely that he’s a POOR WRITER. I’ve been known to sling a metaphor or three around (look, I just did).

    ‘Uses metaphors’ is not the same as ‘garbles a bunch of poorly chosen words together into something that bears only peripheral resemblance to competently-written English.’

    On the use of metaphor:

    1) Ensure that your metaphor makes sense. ‘He fought with the strength of a giraffe’ is a bad metaphor. ‘He fought with the strength of a tiger’ is a better metaphor, but a cliche.

    2) Avoid cliches. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using metaphors you read in other sources. ‘After all,’ you think, ‘everyone knows what they mean.’ The ‘strength of a tiger’ is an example. What happens when you use a cliche is not what you intend: people aren’t put in mind of strong tigers, they’re put in mind of the last place they read someone else using that same cliche. If you can’t be original, avoid metaphors.

    3) Know when metaphors enhance clarity, and when they detract from clarity. It’s a convenient shortcut to say ‘the sky cracked open’ when referring to lightning. It enhances clarity, because we all understand what is meant by ‘cracking open’. ‘He read the letter and his stomach plunged into a pit of angry pasta chefs’ does not enhance clarity. What is a pit of angry pasta chefs like? You may know, but readers have no idea, except possibly that it might make you a bit flour-y.

    4) When writing commentary or criticism, making a political, philosophical or legal point, or otherwise engaging in ‘serious’ writing where your meaning must be absolutely clear, AVOID METAPHOR. You don’t want, in that kind of writing, to give the user a sense of what you mean. You want the reader to know precisely what you mean, even if you sacrifice vivid imagery for precision.

    5) Ensure that you can write sentences that actually make sense before you start experimenting with metaphor. The examples of poor writing I cite above in my previous posts are poor because they’re badly written, not because they employ metaphor. Once you’ve mastered verb tenses (which this writer has not), word selection (which this writer has not), and structuring sentences for clarity and readability (which this writer has not), then and only then is it appropriate to start looking for decent metaphors (which this writer has failed to find).

    Protip: ‘massing warfare moving to a new level of struggle’ is a poor metaphor, at the very least. If you actually appreciate Dante, you should feel a sense of embarassment, if not shame, that you compared his excellent work to the swill this ‘catholic novelist’ managed to shovel in just one paragraph.

    (Note the use of metaphor above, where I used ‘swill’ in place of ‘text’, and ‘shovel’ in place of ‘write.)

  88. Argh, too much spec writing at work. Replace ‘user’ with ‘reader’ in point 4.

  89. Isildur,

    to address one of your points:

    ‘He fought with the strength of a giraffe’

    there is nothing inherently wrong with this metaphor.

    The strength of a giraffe is that she eats the high up leaves and therefore doesn’t compete (ie, fight) with the short-necked, non-climbing herbivores for scarce food. In this sense, the giraffe has a strength that the tiger does not have, because the tiger must compete for scarce energy sources with lions and bears and murderous chimps.

    Of course, the key to understanding the metaphor here is to understand that the relevant form of stength is not the kind of strength that US troops and contractors are showing in competing for scarce energy in Iraq or the kind of strength shown in carrying the mostest luggage at the airport.

    Rather, the strength of the giraffe is strength in (evolutionary?) design and in exploiting this design advantage to the fullest. We could learn a lot from a giraffe, especially if we could find an uncontested and plentiful energy source the way the giraffe has. On some threads, I have gone as far as to suggest that homeland security and defense spending be largely re-allocated to alternative energy research. Of course, nobody here gets that because nobody here understands the strength of the giraffe.

    My larger point is that you make no attempts to understand the metaphors of the letter at the top of this thread. Ultimately they may be bad metaphors, more boring than the metaphors of the Purgatorio, or perhaps more misplaced than the creative metaphors mushroom-cloud metaphors of Dick Cheney to the business community circa late 2002. However, those weren’t the criticism you made. You seemed to be saying that the metaphors were bad because they stretched your comprehension too far. I say: let your comprehension stretch first and then take out the metaphors on their own terms only after they are fully understood.

  90. Giraffes are pretty gosh darn strong.

  91. Well, we will have to see how they deal with Kelo.

  92. I think the crucial question of this thread boils down to: If a tiger fought a giraffe, who would win?

    The question is not so easy to resolve as some might think. Giraffes are African and tigers are Asian, and thus do not encounter each other in the wild. However, as a proxy, lions sometimes kill giraffes. Lions and tigers are of approximately the same size and strength. (The largest cats are Siberian tigers.)

    BUT lions hunt in groups, and they have the advantage of numbers when tackling very large prey. Tigers are generally solitary.

    EXCEPT recently some groups of tigers have been observed hunting cooperatively together like lions. It’s rare, but it does happen.

    I suspect a group of tigers could take down a giraffe, but a lone tiger would probably have a great deal of difficulty.

    The hardest part would be getting a plane ticket to Africa.

    But most likely we will never know.

    Giraffes and tigers. Those fascinating, beautiful and mysterious creatures. Killing and kicking the shit out of each other whenever they get the chance. Or if they ever got the chance, they would.

  93. My point is that the giraffe’s long neck is its strength. WHA???????? You point out that it makes the giraffe more vulnerable in a lot of situations (eg, tiger fights, slip and fall, running into low hanging branch).

    However, the giraffe understands that, ultimately and over the long haul, the long neck can help ward off starvation. This long term, systemic advantage outweighs all the gruesome accidents involoving giraffe necks.

    In other words, the strength of the giraffe is that it takes care of its long run energy needs, first and foremost, even at the expense of limited, but substantial, “military” vulnerability. The giraffe has her priorities straight as far as the important things go.

    You picture a tiger versus giraffe fight as a spotted, long-neck horse kicking against a striped, toothed cat. I picture it differently, as a population of starving tigers, dying because the lions happened to snag all the energy-rich gazelles, while the population of giraffes just keep munching on the high canvas, getting in the last laugh in the end.

    Will there be terrorists attacks against the giraffe population by the starving tiger population? Sure. the tigers are frustrated and those towering, neat, upthrusted necks are just too much temptation not to punch a hole into once in awhile when a convenient opportunity arises. But, overall, giraffes cost too much energy to kill. They will not help the tigers survive.

    In other words, you look at the “fight” as the giraffe-on-tiger battle. I look at it more broadly as the whole evolutionary war. That is why I say that you fundamentally misunderstand the strength of the giraffe.

  94. Dave W.,

    Before you start to define what atheism is, understand that it comes in many different flavors.

    The merits of your belief in God are as grounded in reality as the belief in invisible pink elephants. Its non-sense.

    joe,

    The point of course is that you don’t have to. God grows more and more superfluous over time as science advances and explains more about the nature of, well, nature. God at best lives in the margins of the unknowned to true believers; and such a God isn’t worth much.

  95. The merits of your belief in God are as grounded in reality as the belief in invisible pink elephants. Its non-sense.

    Of course, I agree.

    And I reply:
    The merits of your affirmative disbelief in God is as grounded in reality as the belief in invisible pink elephants. Its non-sense.

    Only the agnostics win when avoiding nonsense is the prime objective. I thought I had made that clear on this thread.

  96. Dave W.,

    Again, you don’t understand the various types of atheists, and therefore you remain in a sea of ignorance.

    And no, the merits of disbelief are substantial. Just as are the merits of disbelief regarding other kooky, irrational, primitive, humbug, etc. ideas like reflexology. The most rational position is weak atheism, and always has been. In the absence of evidence (and there is none for God and never has been), the default position in science as elsewhere is that an object, etc. doesn’t exist, not that it might exist. Basically your concept known as God is philosophy; that’s fine, but there’s no reason (aside from silly stories in several thousand year old texts) to accept it. As there is no reason to accept it, one can simply discount it. Of course, its already been stated you are so open-minded as to allow your mind to flop out of your skull, so…

    The only thing you have made clear is that you don’t know what the fuck you are talking about. Look up the differences between the various meanings of the term atheism.

  97. Its rather laughable to state that disbelief in a God equates to a belief in invisible pink elephants.

    You are ignorantly equating the proper conclusion associated with absence of evidence with an improper conclusion based on absence of evidence. For example, absent evidence of their existance, there is no reason to believe in cancer clusters; however, such absence does not allow one to rationally believe in cancer clusters. You must be a sucker for all manner of junk science.

  98. You are ignorantly equating the proper conclusion associated with absence of evidence with an improper conclusion based on absence of evidence.

    As I explained above, this only applies if you are able to explore for evidence and you know where to look. It works well for courts because lawsuits tend to be about things like vehicular accidents, contracts, kidnapping, etc, etc — stuff that tends to leave behind evidence we have access to.

    With God and souls, we simply don’t have access to where they live (assuming they live). therefore, lack of evidence means nothing on this particular enquiry. Leave your res ipsa logic in court. It no workee when talkee metaphysic.

  99. While I cannot prove the exsistence of God, I highly doubt it. Does that make me a “good agnostic” or a “bad” one?

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