Answering a question I’ve been asked, because there are a fair number of atheists who hear the argument from motion or the argument from contingency and necessity and then ask, “why would the uncaused cause or the unmoved mover need to be intelligent?” In this video I look into the answers to that, and why atheists won’t accept them.
Month: October 2021
And the Rock Cried Out No Hiding Place
In the third season of Babylon 5, there is the episode And the Rock Cried Out No Hiding Place. As with most Babylon 5 episodes, it’s complicated, but there’s a very interesting section of it which more-or-less explains itself. It’s the intertwining of a scene where one of the main characters, Londo Mollari, finally defeats his nemesis Reefa, with a scene of a preacher and gospel singer visiting the space station Babylon 5 and singing a gospel song:
This is apparently based on an old spiritual song; I’m not sure if they changed the lyrics. The spiritual is probably based on the sixth chapter of the Book of Revelation:
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!
The two scenes meld together well, though Reefa trying to run away is not necessarily realistic. A great many evil people, when they see that their time is up, basically shut down and don’t struggle. That said, many do not. Evil is always based on upon believing an illusion. As such, believing the illusion that escape is still possible fits well. And, more to the point, it’s more symbolically accurate: the evil one is evil because he believes the lies he tells himself to the end. He does not heed the instruction μετάνοιτε (metanoiete), “repent!” He does not change his mind; he does not turn himself around. He sticks to the lie he has chosen and runs as hard as he can from reality towards it.
How Can You Say Someone Is Great…
…who’s never had his picture on a bubblegum card? This is the question posed by Lucy van Pelt in A Charlie Brown Christmas. And before anyone jumps down my throat about it being too early for Christmas stuff, A Charlie Brown Christmas is clearly an advent movie, not a Christmas movie. It is set during the time when people are getting ready for Christmas (hence rehearsing a Christmas play, rather than performing it), and it was first aired on December 9, in the year of our Lord 1965.
So go ahead and jump down my throat for it being too early for advent stuff—to be fair, it is still ordinary time—but be warned that I have sharp teeth and strong jaws.
Anyway, back to the question Lucy poses: how can you say someone is great who’s never had his picture on a bubblegum card? This joke was funny back in 1965, but I think that it’s gained in humor, over the years, because bubblegum cards are no longer something children collect. I believe that they’re technically still made, or at least trading cards are. The Topps company still exists and still makes baseball cards, though I’ve no idea who buys them. I collected baseball cards for about a year, back in the 1980s, and rapidly lost interest. So far as I knew no one else collected them back then, and in the intervening three decades I’ve never heard of anyone collecting them. (There are still trading cards that are popular such as Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon, but these are not relevant because they do not feature the pictures of real people.)
This was a childish question when Lucy asked it, but it was also an ephemeral question, which she would have had no way of knowing back then. This works with the theme of the show, though; it’s all about how people were caught up in the ephemeral world and had no idea of what really matters. The way that Lucy’s question works with this theme has only become better with age.
Fun fact: if Lucy was 11 when A Charlie Brown Christmas aired she would be 67 now (in the year of our Lord 2021).
The Old Discovery Channel Ad
For those who haven’t seen it, over a decade ago the Discovery Channel made and ran this ad to promote their television shows:
Now, when it comes to advertising, a great deal of skepticism and even cynicism is warranted. I think that this is expressed nowhere so well as in what might be one of The Last Psychiatrist’s best posts, The Dove Sketches Beauty Scam. It’s well worth reading the whole thing, and gives a good perspective on supposedly wholesome advertisements. Here is possibly my favorite part, though it loses something out of context:
“Oh my God,” you might say, “I know it’s just an ad, but it’s such a positive message.”
If some street hustler challenges you to a game of three card monte you don’t need to bother to play, just hand him the money, not because you’re going to lose but because you owe him for the insight: he selected you. Whatever he saw in you everyone sees in you, from the dumb blonde at the bar to your elderly father you’ve dismissed as out of touch, the only person who doesn’t see it is you…
I think that TLP is substantially correct.
So, all that said, I think that there is something of value in this ad, despite it being an ad. The value is two-fold, and I say this as someone who hasn’t watched TV, and hence hasn’t watched the Discovery Channel, in close to two decades now. Actually, before I get to those, let me quote the main conclusion (which is in the penultimate section) of TLP’s post:
That Dove wants you to think of it as the authority on beauty so it can sell you stuff makes sense, there’s nothing underhanded about it and hardly worth the exposition. The question is, why do they think this will work? What do they know about us that makes them think we want an authority on beauty– especially in an age where we loudly proclaim that we don’t want an authority on beauty, we don’t like authorities of any kind, we resist and resent being told what’s beautiful (or good or moral or worthwhile) and what’s not?…
“But I hated the ad!” Oh, I know, for all the middlebrow acceptable reasons you think you came up with yourself. Not relevant. The con artists at Dove didn’t select these women to represent you because you are beautiful or ugly, any more than the street hustler selected you for your nice smile. They were selected because they represent a psychological type that transcends age/race/class, it is characterized by a kind of psychological laziness: on the one hand, they don’t want to have to conform to society’s impossible standards, but on the other hand they don’t want the existential terror of NOT conforming to some kind of standard. They want an objective bar to be changed to fit them– they want “some other omnipotent entity” to change it so that it remains both entirely valid yet still true for them, so that others have to accept it, and if you have no idea what I’m talking about look at your GPA: you know, and I know, that if college graded you based on the actual number of correct answers you generated, no curve, then you would have gotten an R…
“Everybody gets something out of every transaction,” said Joe, explaining why people want to be conned. That’s what ads do for you. They’ll let you complain that they are telling you what to want, as long as you let them tell you how to want.
Again, TLP is substantially correct. (I, personally, tended to get almost every answer on every test right, and teachers tended to ignore me as an outlier when setting curves, but that’s irrelevant to the point.) So how does the Discovery Channel ad have value when it is substantially similar to the Dove Beauty Sketches ad?
It does because of the description of human beings implicit by contrast in my favorite description of God: He who accomplishes all things according to the intentions of His will. The effects of human actions are mostly accidents, because we don’t know enough to know most of what we’re actually doing.
The Discovery Channel was trying to establish itself as the source of awesome, as being on team love-reality; much like Dove it’s trying to establish itself as an authority on what is interesting and awesome, and also as the source for these things. Yes, they’re doing these things, but that’s not all that they’re doing, because they’re human and so most of what they do they did not intend.
The goal was to present themselves as being the gateway to the awesomeness of the world, as well as having the brand identity of being on team awesome. The key distinction between this ad and the dove beauty sketches is that the latter used entirely artificial things—descriptions and a drawing—while the Discovery Channel ad uses real things—a picture of the earth from a satellite (the astronauts were, admittedly, obviously fake), real video of a great white shark flying out of the water as it tries to catch a seal, a picture of a real mummy, real video of lava and spiders, etc. While Dove was trying to sell a fiction as reality, the Discovery Channel ad has some reality in it.
The other key difference is that the Dove ad sets Dove up as the expert, while the Discovery Channel ad is largely supplicating itself to the grandeur of something else which existed before and will exist after the Discovery Channel.
Maybe the Discovery Channel is on Team The World is Awesome and maybe they’re just pretending, but if they are, then it is a case of hypocrisy being the tribute that vice pays to virtue. Either way, there is tribute being paid to virtue. And you don’t need to watch the Discovery Channel to appreciate that tribute to virtue.
I don’t watch it.
Monty Python is Very Uneven
Having recently watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail with my eleven year old son, I was reminded of how extremely uneven Monty Python was. They had quite a few absolutely brilliant sketches. They had some mediocre sketches. They had a fair number of really bad sketches. This extends to their movies, too, which are basically just loose collections of skits with a common theme. (In the case of Holy Grail, their theme was “medievalish”.)
Despite this extraordinary unevenness, Monty Python movies and sketches are held up as some of the heights of comedy. There’s a lesson, here, for writers: overall quality is good, but when it comes to being memorable, the heights you reach are more important than the average.
There is an asterisk on that, which is that it probably matters significantly what your competition is. Mitchell and Webb, for example, had a similar number of brilliant sketches, but they had far fewer really bad sketches (their snooker commentator sketches are the only ones that come to mind) and not many bad sketches either. Overall, their quality was higher, though the peaks were no higher. Had they been competing at the same time, Monty Python probably would have fared worse.
(Of course, there are other things that make the two not directly comparable. All comedy is a product of its time, and Monty Python especially so. The 1970s, in its post-world-war-2 context was a time when people hungered for different more than they hungered for quality, and many of Monty Python’s sketches reflect that. While Monty Python wouldn’t fare nearly as well against Mitchell and Webb in the 2010s, Mitchell and Webb wouldn’t fare nearly as well against Monty Python in the 1970s—the audience just would not have been in the mood for most of it.)