Deep Questions and Tribal Answers

  • Science fiction and philosophy;
  • The next frontier of book bans;
  • Ken Ham rues the difficulty of indoctrinating children;
  • Paul Krugman on voters, and why conservatives still think the economy is bad.

Big Think, Jonny Thomson, 3 Oct 2023: Apocalypse philosophy: What science fiction teaches us about existence, subtitled “There’s nothing like the end of the world to make you a philosopher.”

Key Takeaways

• The best science fiction presents philosophical thought experiments that make us ask deep questions. • Here, we look at a broad range of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic scenarios and isolate four themes common to them. • As it turns out, science fiction has a lot to teach us about existence.

Whenever you see an article like this in a general publication (whether website, newspaper, or magazine), it’s invariably mostly about SF movies and TV. And that’s true here. The few titles that are books are here because they were later made into movies or TV series. Let me see if I can find any exception…? Nope. It’s not that long an article.

On the other hand, there are of course books, verging on academic books, that look at philosophical concepts through science fiction, either in anthologies of SF stories (like this one or this one, neither of which I have (though their stories are common), and at least one book of essays, Science Fiction and Philosophy: From Time Travel to Superintelligence 2nd Edition, which I do have.


At the other extreme from the accumulated wisdom of millennia found in philosophy are those who “have a worldview as fragile as glass.”

Adam Lee, OnlySky, 5 Oct 2023: The next frontier of book bans: Seahorses and talking crayons


Conservative parents demanding the banning of books and the censorship of schools have a worldview as fragile as glass. They can’t even tolerate the idea of children hearing that they might not be who or what society tells them they are.

Lee captures the essence of opposing worldviews. Does it matter whether people believe what seems to be based on evidence, or should they believe whatever makes them feel good, makes them feel special.

Which comes first: the facts or the interpretation?

To those of us raised with a rational, scientific way of viewing the world, this is obvious. You should gather as much evidence as you can, determine what conclusion it best supports, and believe that. That way, you’re best likely to hold a worldview that accurately reflects reality.

However, religious conservatives have the opposite strategy.

They say that what you should do is first, decide what you want to believe; then make the facts conform to that, either by putting a particular spin on events, or simply omitting the ones that inconveniently contradict your preferred conclusion.

This shouldn’t be a controversial or insulting statement. This is something that religious conservatives are very open about. For example, the creationist organization Answers in Genesis says so themselves.

They argue, in postmodern, post-truth fashion, that evidence never proves one worldview over another and it’s all about what assumptions you start with, so you might as well pick the one that makes you feel the best. In their eyes, a universe where God exists and promises to reward the faithful is more comforting than a godless universe where humanity is on our own, so we should believe the former rather than the latter.

The “liberty” to read what I want you to read

This is a consistent theme in the behavior of right-wing groups like the Orwellian “Moms for Liberty,” which in reality is anti-liberty and anti-free-speech. They exist for the purpose of imposing their personal political beliefs on everyone. They want to control what should be taught in classrooms and what books should be available in libraries, and they want a heckler’s veto over any course material that makes any conservative upset.

The article goes on with many example, including ones about crayons and seahorses.


It boggles my mind to hear conservative politicians complain about “woke” indoctrination, even as they rewrite textbooks to reflect their preferred histories, and strive to impose their religious values on all children in public schools. Do they not hear themselves?

OnlySky, Captain Cassidy, 6 Oct 2023: Crisis averted! Ken Ham knows why evangelicals ‘lost Gen Z’, subtitled “Indoctrinating children for me, never for thee!”


Ken Ham says evangelicals have ‘lost Gen Z’ because he and his ilk can no longer indoctrinate children in public schools.

We explore his claims and figure out where the blame really rests.

The background is useful here. Religious people seem not to understand how religious doctrines change with the times. Even within their own lifetimes.

Ken Ham leads a Young-Earth Creationist group called Answers in Genesis. As the label implies, he erroneously believes that his god conjured everything in the universe into existence about six thousand years ago. (I’m sure that was quite a surprise to the civilizations around back then.) Other kinds of Creationism exist, some of which come much closer to the Earth’s real age of 4.5 billion years and the universe’s real age of 10-20 billion years, but here we speak only of Young-Earth Creationism.

Creationism is a relatively new doctrinal stance that arose in the 1970s-1980s thanks to an American law professor named Phillip E. Johnson. It had the marvelous good fortune of gaining popular awareness at a time when American evangelicals were undergoing a massive shift into the hardline fundamentalist-fused culture warriors we know today. The newly-politicized and tribalism-addled group happily absorbed Creationism along the way. By the late 1990s, Creationism was a required belief for them.

Often, Young-Earth Creationists call their belief system “intelligent design.” In this way, they pretend it’s not just another name for Young-Earth Creationism. In the 1990s and 2000s, this dishonesty was absolutely key to their disingenuous attempts to sneak their beliefs into public schools. I will not be granting them this pious fraud.

(Michael Shermer covered issues about creationism in his book Why Darwin Matters, which I summarized and reviewed here.)

Ham and his associates also erroneously believe that Christians who don’t accept Creationism are Jesusing all wrong.

He thinks this because of a very childish interpretation of the Bible called literalism. That means they erroneously think that everything in the Bible literally happened the way the Bible’s writers describe it. Their entire faith system depends on this belief being 100% true. So they get very fretful when other Christians have differing interpretations of the Bible. They think that such inconsistency “undermines” a Christian’s beliefs.

As far as I know, they have conducted no research into that assumption. In fact, they haven’t conducted much original research at all since their early years—because their field researchers kept realizing that Creationism was impossible and deconverting from the belief.

I agree that the literalist interpretation of the Bible is childish and nonsensical; in fact, this is one of my basic reasons to dismiss Christianity in its entirety. (And all the other religious faiths.) Most people don’t believe the news media gets things right about things that just happened yesterday(!), defying their belief in the veracity of records of things that happened millennia ago and weren’t written down until decades after; history tends to be written by the winners; sections of the Bible were written by many various people and translated and edited over and over for centuries, before being finally compiled. The Bible is riddled with contradictions, and examples of barbaric mentality and morality.

So why do so many people believe the Bible is literally true (despite, if nothing else, all its internal contradictions)? Human nature. It’s a kind of adopted heuristic. It makes life easy. You don’t have to think, or understand history, you just point to a book to answer whatever question or problem you have — very carefully pointing to the part of the book that supports your position, since there are so many other parts that support contradictory positions. This aligns with my provision conclusion, floated many times in this blog, that given the range of human personalities, the various settings of default human nature, some people are more inclined to rely on reason than not, and that a certain portion of the population truly does not understand how to rationally think, how conclusions should be supported by evidence, and not simply beliefs or ideology. And yet– human society gets along just fine with many people just like that. And that’s because human nature supports survival of the species, even if the cost is believing things that are not true.

Religion simplifies life, for believers. The rest of us have built the modern world.

The essay goes on, but you can predict what it will say. Details about their Biblical worldview and their frustration about how difficult it’s becoming for them to indoctrinate children.


Paul Krugman’s latest. The Republicans are a bit like the evangelicals, in their commitments, despite the consequences.

Paul Krugman opinion, NY Times, 5 Oct 2023: Will Voters Send In the Clowns?

I’m not a historian, but as far as I know, America has never seen anything like the current political craziness. There have been bitter disputes within Congress — in 1856, Charles Sumner, an abolitionist senator, was attacked and severely injured by a pro-slavery representative. But these were conflicts between parties, and slavery was nothing if not a substantive issue.

This time, however, the craziness is entirely within the Republican Party, which has just decapitated itself, and the insurgents don’t even seem to have any coherent demands. Many people have been calling the G.O.P. a “clown car,” and understandably so. This is a party that seems incapable of governing itself, let alone governing the nation.

Yet Americans, by a wide margin, tell pollsters that Republicans would be better than Democrats at running the economy. Will they continue to believe that? The fate of the nation may depend on the answer.

Economic news has been good lately — see the jobs report this morning! — but conservatives still think the economy is bad. Krugman floats a couple ideas, but, considering my themes on this blog recently, and of my essay and book in work, I think the explanation is simpler, and more troubling. Most people don’t pay closely to economic news, or any other news; they follow along with their community or tribe in adhering to basic beliefs about their side vs. the other side. They don’t do evidence. This trend has become more extreme in the age of social media, and I’m not sure what the solution is. It will likely only get worse.

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