Sunday, April 29, 2007

Awesome possum!

Possum #1, perhaps in PMomma's infirmed absence, you could post a bit about how you see your Mom's blogging experience: how it has been incorporated into your family life; how friends, neighbors, family, and classmates might view it; what might be some of your favorite comments and why. That sort of stuff is quite interesting from a blog reader's perspective.

Possums 1 and 2 will now take questions.

48 comments:

fre3k said...

Hey there guys. I was wondering how your school friends who are religious feel about your atheism at that age? It would seem it is sort of a big deal in your town, whereas not so much in my hometown. No one really cared about religion at my school or in my community one way or the other.

Vincent said...

How do you deal with rejection by peers? When I was about 14 I was not accepted in the Fellowship of Christian Atheletes because I was Catholic, and Catholics weren't considered "christian" in my home town. That pretty much turned me against all protestants and made religion a taboo subject among my friends. I can't imagine if I'd been atheist - in fact I'm not sure I'd ever heard of atheists at that time.

Berlzebub said...

Here's one that goes along with fre3k's idea. How has your lack of belief affected those around you? Has it caused any of them to question their own beliefs?

Several years ago, I told a friend of mine about my lack of belief. She immediately began microanalyzing everything I said and did, and tried to explain to me how it made me "Hate God." Of course, it was very difficult for me to explain that I can't hate something that doesn't exist.

Have any of your peers shown that sort of behavior?

-Berlzebub

aiabx said...

When I was young, the worst thing a video game could do to you was make you fat. Do you lecture your mom about the dangers of the latest generation of consoles?

ondfly123 said...

Hi, Possums 1 & 2 - From what I have gathered reading the blog, PMomma wasn't an atheist when you were smaller. Did you attend church when you were young, how much do you remember about it, and was it confusing when PMomma became an atheist? How did she explain the change to you to help you understand and adjust?
I am a new atheist and have a five-year old who remembers church and threatens his little brother with comments like, "God will be angry if..." I have no idea how to handle that, so that is why I ask. :) Thanks!

Russ said...

Possums,

I don't know what your specific stand is on religions, gods or the supernatural, but I have witnessed how a few commenters on this blog have made quite nasty statements about PMomma and your family. I'd like to know three things: 1. What effect have those comments had on you?; 2. How do you think your family's experience on this blog might impact your own ability to be tolerant or accepting of others; and, 3. Do you think this experience might influence your decision to have a blog of your own some day?

Thank you for considering our inquiries.

Saurian200 said...

Possums 1 and 2 will now take questions.

All right.

Is there always a prime between n^2 and (n+1)^2?

Remember to show you work.

...

...

...

Okay, here's where it's from. Toward the bottom.

I couldn't resist.

Posso-wan-kenobi said...

P#2 takes the keyboard.
Is there always a prime between n^2 and (n+1)^2?

My magic 8 ball says, ask again later.

1. What effect have those comments had on you?; 2. How do you think your family's experience on this blog might impact your own ability to be tolerant or accepting of others; and, 3. Do you think this experience might influence your decision to have a blog of your own some day?

I don't read the blog most of the time. My mom and dad don't spend as much time yelling at us like I know some other families do. I don't know if blogs have made our family more tolerant. Since we all have our own beliefs we have to be tolerant to live with each other though.
I don't think I'd enjoy blogging. I like writing scenes and stories.

Did you attend church when you were young, how much do you remember about it, and was it confusing when PMomma became an atheist? How did she explain the change to you to help you understand and adjust?

I go to church with grandparents. I don't think it was confusing because my mom started reading books and talking about god stuff. She talked about it and it wasn't shocking. I think she's let us adjust on our own. Like she hasn't made us choose her or church or her or belief. She tells us that some people believe in gods and some don't and theres a bunch of people in the middle who don't even ask.

I am a new atheist and have a five-year old who remembers church and threatens his little brother with comments like, "God will be angry if..." I have no idea how to handle that, so that is why I ask. :)
If your fiver still believes in god tell him that god smotes tattle-tellers. I'm 10. Don't take my parenting advice. Smoting is always good though. Smote. smote.
j/k


Do you lecture your mom about the dangers of the latest generation of consoles?

Only when I can get far enough away that her healthy arm can't hit me with a shoe. She can throw stuff lefty!


How has your lack of belief affected those around you? Has it caused any of them to question their own beliefs?

My sister will answer these better. I haven't thought about it too much. I want to believe in god but I don't know why I want to or if gods are real. My friends and I are still wondering why girls chase us. If god exists why doesn't he make them stop?


How do you deal with rejection by peers?
I have not been rejected that I know of. Scouts is getting weird and I feel like people know my mom is an atheist when I'm at scouts. But, I think it's not really their business. I don't think I should be the one to tell them about atheism because I don't know enough about it to be teaching it.
I wish that went both ways some days.


was wondering how your school friends who are religious feel about your atheism at that age?
I don't know what i am yet. Some kids at my school think atheists are devil worshippers. I told them they were wrong and they wanted to know how I knew. Then we got distracted by something else. I don't think my friends care that much about religion.

Virginia aka Ginny said...

Excellent answers posso-wan-kanobi. Of course there are no right or wrong to the questions, but your humor is appreciated!

I hope Pmomma is doing better...we miss her around here.

Awesome possum said...

Possum#1 - The Awesome Possum

I was wondering how your school friends who are religious feel about your atheism at that age?
I'm not convinced that I'm an atheist. I would say I'm an agnostic. I have a notion that God probably doesn't exist, but that's agnosticism (I think?). My religious friends see me as someone they can save: it's a bit odd. I think they (my religious friends) are more afraid of me questioning their God then they are about my questions. Maybe they expect God to snuff them out for daring to question? I don't know.

How do you deal with rejection by peers?
Not very well. I'm a pre-teen girl. We're the epitome of angst. HOW COULD YOU ASK ME A QUESTION LIKE THAT? ::sobs:: j/k

Really, I haven't experienced rejection because of a religious position. I've experienced rejection because I'm a girl AND I'm smart. Or, because I'm a year younger than my classmates...AND SMART. Or, because I'm good at Math and Science, but really hate art. I think every kid is rejected and rejects. It's not nice, but it happens. My mom says, "Duck and weave, then give a hug.": that's how I deal.

How has your lack of belief affected those around you? Has it caused any of them to question their own beliefs?
Hmmmmmmm. I'm not vocal about my beliefs. They're mine. Until I firm up my positions, I would rather keep them and discuss them where I know they won't be poo-poo'ed. There is a part of me that wants to scream, "People believe this?" On the other hand, there's a part of me that asks who I am to judge? If I want space, I have to give it.
The only time I've ever possibly influenced a peer was when I told them about humanism and morality. So many people think that being good necessitates a god. When I said I didn't believe that we actually talked a while. That was all fall out from my essay. I don't think it changed anybody's religion.

When I was young, the worst thing a video game could do to you was make you fat. Do you lecture your mom about the dangers of the latest generation of consoles?
Dude that was so funny that she hurt herself playing Wii. Not "ha ha" funny - "BURNED!" funny. We finally got a video game and she was the first casualty. I love my mom! Her worries about violence in video games was all for not, though, because she was taken down by baseball. Poor mommy. :( Don't worry - I'm keeping her stocked with cheese to go with her whine. We shall recall this story at family dinners from here on out. Our kids will be bored stiff with our tales of Grandma (my mom) getting owned by the Wii. What am I talking about? I'm not having kids. ::hurries out of the room::

Did you attend church when you were young, how much do you remember about it, and was it confusing when PMomma became an atheist? How did she explain the change to you to help you understand and adjust?
Yes. Possum-wan-kenobi and myself attended many, many masses. I don't mind a mass. It hones my observation skills. People watching is funny! OH! OH! My brother and me got to serve alter once and I totally wished I had a camera phone. There was a phone book behind the alter. Why? I don't know. Was the priest going to order a pizza if he ran out of communion wafers?

I am a new atheist and have a five-year old who remembers church and threatens his little brother with comments like, "God will be angry if..." I have no idea how to handle that, so that is why I ask. :) Thanks!
I had to get over feeling like I was being judged all of the time. That was really hard for me. I still feel like maybe there's some score card and I'm not five. If my mom had become an atheist when I was smaller, it might have been more confusing. Like my brother said, she talks to us about her logic and thoughts so it wasn't confusing. She told us it was okay to ask her questions if we didn't get it. I don't know what I would tell a five year old. I'm sorry. :sad face: Just keep loving him and helping him maybe decide how to show the other kid how to do things differently or better.


1. What effect have those comments had on you?; 2. How do you think your family's experience on this blog might impact your own ability to be tolerant or accepting of others; and, 3. Do you think this experience might influence your decision to have a blog of your own some day?
I don't like the comments that say stupid things like us looking sad or being pessimists. That hurts my feelings. I try to consider the source: some sources shouldn't be considered. That still doesn't make it sting less.
William was the scariest. I try to be more aware because of him and this blog. I don't feel right walking alone. Although, I don't think it would be safe if my mom wasn't an atheist. ::thinking thinking::
I think this blog has made me recognize my own intolerance. I can try to change that when I notice I'm doing it.
I really want a blog! ::hint hint:: My mom says a diary is blog enough for now. When I'm older and mom and dad relax, I might keep a blog. ::hint::

Is there always a prime between n^2 and (n+1)^2?

Remember to show you work.

:: I heart math.::
I'm just now learning prime conjectures and log fuctions. Distributions are confusing, so far. I don't know if it'll ever make sense to me. I wish it would.

How does glycolysis produce ATP? Show me your work. Provide accurate drawings...so that I can turn them in on Friday.

Saurian200 said...

Awesome Possum,

How does glycolysis produce ATP? Show me your work. Provide accurate drawings...so that I can turn them in on Friday.

No problem. Here you go!

You'll totally get an A. Trust me.

Russ said...

My hearty thanks to the Possum Brigade.

awesome possum said...

No problem. Here you go!

You'll totally get an A. Trust me.


Ahahahahahahahahahahaha!! Yeah. Thanks for all of your effort. I especially liked the "sparkle power" of the black magic. ;)

aimee said...

You have taught those possums well Pmomma : )

The Rev. Jenner J. Hull said...

Great Q&A!

As for Possum #1 being an agnostic...

I'd agree and say "We all are." As the Queens of the Stone Age said, "No One Knows."

Many of us choose to consider ourselves atheists because we've never seen any evidence for the existence of any god but, regardless of what they "believe," every single person on the planet is an agnostic. Though people may say, "There is a God" or "There is no god," the lyric remains true; "No one knows."

But that's just my personal opinion (and I do consider myself, for all intents and purposes, an unrepentant atheist, in that "if you can name a specific god, I don't believe in it").

My question is, "What do the younger Possums think of other types of Woo-Woo, like so-called 'psychics' or 'the Secret?'"

Tone said...

Possum # 1 and 2:

Wow you guys are so smart for your ages. I'm not really surprised, but are you sure you're not really androids?

Thank you.

Vincent said...

M.Hull,
Agnostic is generally either one who is not committed to a belief system, or one who believes that there can be no certain knowledge about a specific topic.

So, one who believes s/he knows, or just believe a god exists or does not exist is not agnostic because s/he is committed to a belief.
You're agnostic if you accept that you cannot truly know, but if you don't accept that, you're not agnostic. Though you may not in fact know, or be able to know, that doesn't make you agnostic, just ignorant (lacking knowledge).

Oh, and P1, the correct phrase is "all for nought."

Molly said...

Wow, your kids are amazingly well adjusted. Good job lady! I just hope that can stick to their beliefs as they progress. Middle/high school can be a rough place, but it does end.

Catherine said...

Thanks for the responses so far. I was wondering if you've ever been interested in dabbling in various organized religions and which ones those might be? Thanks.

Saurian200 said...

Awesome Possum,

Ahahahahahahahahahahaha!! Yeah. Thanks for all of your effort.

You're welcome. I do what I can. ;)

I especially liked the "sparkle power" of the black magic.

It wouldn't work without the sprinkles. Check your textbook.

Russ said...

The Rev. Jenner J. Hull said,
Though people may say, "There is a God" or "There is no god," the lyric remains true; "No one knows."

For me this poses an interesting question that is quite important for decision-making concerning belief and non-belief of supernatural ideas. If they feel so inclined, I'd like to get Possum 'pinions on it, too. I'll give a brief setup and then propose the question.

Literature provides us all with great opportunities to learn life lessons of all sorts. Tales like "Aesops Fables," crafted specifically to highlight a "moral-to-the-story," and Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and its intended message of social injustice and the need to fight it, demonstrate that desirable virtues - inspiration, courage, fortitude, honor, honesty, and reason, among them - can be found in human experience recorded in literature.

As laudable as this trait of literature may be, the comment by The Rev. Jenner J. Hull induces me to ask: even though a known work of fiction deeply moves the hearts of men, should we ever declare fiction to be true?

I ask because the Bible and the Koran, for instance, are known to be works of pure fiction, and, yet, many, perhaps even most religionists, assert that they are actually factually true. Scholarly sources show all of man's holy books to be products of human creativity. Now, Hull says, "No one knows," but, as point of fact, we do know that they are fiction, so again I ask: even though a known work of fiction deeply moves the hearts of men, should we ever declare fiction to be true?

Paul said...

[silentsanta, NZ]

Russ, what are you smoking?

Labeling the Bible as a 'work of fiction' may be satisfying, but it really doesn't help any. Christians will just get pissed off at you and stop listening to you, and atheists who should know better may dismiss the historical accounts contained within, and then be surprised when certain characters (David, Pharoahs, Jesus) or events (census, exodus) crop up in other historical accounts.

One's atheism should never rest on shaky conjectures such as 'Jesus never existed'. We have a far stronger argument: The default position should be to go with 'there is no God, unless we see some compelling evidence' and the onus is on religious people to come up with something more substantial than hearsay, relics, badly-written old books, and threats to make their case.

By labeling the Bible as a 'work of fiction', you introduce disputable and unnecessary additional premise to what would already be a perfectly sound argument. This makes your overall viewpoint appear weaker.

Retlor said...

The Bible is full of things that didn't happen, and a small number that might have.

It's closest to a historical novel, I guess. :P

Russ said...

Paul,

If you give my comment slightly closer scrutiny, you will observe that I did not suggest that one's non-belief should be based on the fact that the Bible is fiction. I simply ask if we should ever declare - or as in the case of Christians, demand - that a work of fiction be considered true.

If you investigate the relevant contemporary sciences which address claims from the Bible, it is indisputable that the Bible is a work of pure fiction. For instance, not one valid piece of written evidence attests to the existence of the Biblically-depicted Jesus - not a single one. The Bible, packed as it is with gross error and contradiction, does not constitute acceptable evidence of anything. Secular historians of the time wrote nothing that could be construed as pertaining to miracle-worker Jesus, although it is known that several of those same historians had their writings edited by Christian scribes at a much later time to include references to Jesus. This is known because earlier copies of the their manuscripts don't include the references, and, the references that were added were word-for-word identical in each case.

You mentioned the exodus as an example of a Biblical event that might pop up in other historical accounts. If you are in possession of the data that supports that will you please share it. Few people are aware of it, but no evidence at all exists for the exodus as depicted in the Bible. A couple points are worth noting in that regard. First, if there had been a mass exodus of Hebrews out of Egypt, Egypt's economy would have immediately collapsed since Egypt was completely dependent on the Hebrew labor to sustain its commerce. No evidence exists for such an economic downturn. Further, no archeological support whatsoever exists for a mass exodus or for wandering about the Sinai peninsula for forty years. It's not possible for tens of thousands of people to meander about the desert without leaving some kind of evidence that they were there, yet that is precisely what the contended exodus did. It never happened. The Bible is pure fiction.

You say, Paul, "The default position should be to go with 'there is no God, unless we see some compelling evidence'." I entirely agree. God is a fictional character and, as such, by default, it is non-existent - no different than "The Cat in the Hat," "Oliver Twist," or "Sherlock Holmes." The Christian God was created through a clear mythological evolutionary process over several millenia. Claims of evidence cannot make the fictional real: no claims of evidence are sufficient to turn Sherlock Holmes into a real person. The Christian God is no different: once fiction, always fiction.

I'd still like to have your feedback on my original question, Paul: even though a known work of fiction deeply moves the hearts of men, should we ever declare fiction to be true?

Zipi said...

Awesome Possum, I think this would be a perfect fit for you.

Vincent said...

russ,
while I personally believe the bible to be fiction, I think you make the statement too strong.
There is evidence a man named jesus (or the aramaic equivalent) lived in judea at that time.
There was a census ordered by Augustus Caesar and there was a king Herod who died of parasitic worms.
By calling it "pure" fiction, you imply that everything in it is made up. Gone With the Wind is a work of fiction, but is it "pure" fiction? There was a civil war in the USA, Atlanta was a city and it was burned to the ground. There was no Scarlet O'Hara, but that makes it a work of historical fiction, not pure fiction.
Princess of Mars is a work of pure fiction. None of the characters or events is real.
Several characters and events in the bible were real.
Dismissing it out of hand, as has been pointed out, leaves you perceived as lunatic fringe and easily dismissed and is not a good way to make a point.

Russ said...

Vincent,

To be sure there were many men in the greater Judea area named Jesus. That does not mean that any of them could perform miracles. If none of them could perform miracles, then the Jesus characterized in the gospels and the rest of the New Testament is a fiction in that he bears no resemblance to a real person. It is a fact, Vincent, that no one was sufficiently impressed by the Jesus' miracles during the time he is supposed to have lived to write them down. It also a fact that the written chronicling of the Jesus story did not begin until about 40 years after he would have lived, meaning that no one was sufficiently impressed with the Jesus story in those intervening decades to bother recording it. The gross differences, especially the contradictions, in the gospel accounts are further proof that Biblical Jesus was a fictionalized character. This makes perfect sense considering that the cult of Christ was in direct competition with numerous other religions for converts. To better compete, his authors added bells and whistles called miracles to make Jesus more attractive in the messianic marketplace.

This fictionalization of Jesus parallels the fictionalization of others in the Biblical accounts who have names common to the area. The Biblical accounts of persons who are known from non-Biblical corroboration to have really existed in the region - David, Herod, Solomon, and the Pharoahs for instance - are also fictionalized. There were no plagues, no one had infants slaughtered, the kingdom of David was vastly different than the Bible's telling of it, the conquest of Canaan did not happen as related, there was no Noah's flood, the list goes on and on. When a fiction writer borrows the name of a person, place, thing, or event, the result is still fiction.

Vincent, you say, "Dismissing it out of hand, as has been pointed out, leaves you perceived as lunatic fringe and easily dismissed and is not a good way to make a point." Now, think about that for a minute. People even today believe in witches because it is written in the Bible, but you suggest that I'm on the "lunatic fringe." People think that a historical human being was killed and came back to life, but I am banished to the "lunatic fringe." People think that Noah's flood story, complete with mating pairs of every animal on the planet was real, but you consign me to the "lunatic fringe." No evidence for any of these exists, but I'm the one put in the "lunatic fringe." So be it. For the moment, I'll embrace my exile to that "lunatic fringe."

But, now, Vincent, for the sake of discussion, I'll concede the word "pure," and I will restate my question: if I withdraw the word "pure," leaving simply "fiction," then should the resulting, say, less than pure, fiction be held up as true?

I humbly await your reply.

awesome possum said...

Hey peoples!
I'll try and answer the new questions after I get home and get homework done.

Russ said...

I just discovered a new blog which might be useful to those with an interest in the historical Jesus. It's called graveyardofthegods and the relevant post is:

http://graveyardofthegods.blogspot.com/2007/03/illusion-of-power.html

In the blogger's response to comments he gives some good references from his research, and, for me it's interesting how closely he echoes my position about the fictional nature of the Bible, including Jesus.

Vincent said...

Russ,
I don't wish to take up Pmomma's space here with a detailed debate so I'll be very brief.
I never said you were on the lunatic fringe. I said - not clearly apperently - by dismissing the bible in its entirety as having no basis in reality you will be dismissed as lunatic fringe by the believers. You won't have any more luck debating a believer by saying "your book is pure fiction" than they will have with you by saying "it's so because god said so."

so, short answer to your question is no. Fiction is not true. If it were it would be non-fiction.

awesome possum said...

If they feel so inclined, I'd like to get Possum 'pinions on it, too. I'll give a brief setup and then propose the question.

I have the inclination, now I need to figure out if I have the ability. :o)

should we ever declare fiction to be true?
My homework was easier than this.

No, I don't think we should ever declare fiction to be true because it's emotive (? is that the right word). I think you can write books based on truth, but tell a fictional (not true) story or close to true story; however, even if you had a beginning in truth, your story can still be a lie. It's still fiction.

::thinks::If I read a book about Russian emperialism (I'm reading about the last Tzar and his family), I can use other sources to verify the history. I don't have to depend on how the Anastasia book makes me feel to know if Anastasia existed. Kind of in the same vein as the Bible and Christ, we know that tzarist Russia existed and the emperial family existed, but we don't know what happened on that night they were slaughtered in Ykaterinburg. Did Anastasia survive? If she lived, would that be miraculous? How do we know if the story of that Anderson lady was true and she was Anastasia? We can answer some of those things with science (DNA, forensical science). But, even eyewitness testimony can be false. Jesus and the Romanovs are going to occupy similar realms because we can't know what happened to them. I can't put it in words better than that. That's how I feel. Did I make any sense?

ARG! Restate the position: "WE" should never declare fiction to be true. Fiction by definition is not true. If it were true, it would be non-fiction. Right?

My brother wants a hack at this.

Possum-wan-kenobi said...

If we could declare fiction to be true I would demand that Master Yoda meet me for mediation every morning.

I like Star Wars and the force is a cool idea. But it's not real. I think religious people take feelings beyond reality and then they want you to believe their head game.

awesome possum said...

Master Yoda meet me for mediation every morning.

Jake. Yoda isn't a lawyer.
MED-I-TA-TION.

Ohmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Ohhhhmmmmmmmmmmmm.

STOP READING OVER MY SHOULDER.

Russ said...

Vincent,
Please accept my apology for having misinterpreted your intent in mentioning the "lunatic fringe." I understand your point that I will be quite ineffective at debating believers if I employ the tactic of using phrases like "The Bible is fiction" or "You are an idiot," or "The evidence does not support the existence of a Jesus as depicted in the Bible," or to borrow from Thomas Edison, "Religion is all bunk." I'm certain that you are correct in that regard. I also understand that, debating or not, most believers will seat me squarely in the lunatic fringe simply for being different from them.

But, here at PMomma's, as on many other websites where I'm less often engaging believers, I feel comfortable stating the conclusions I've arrived at after several decades of effort to make sense of the origin of Christianity and the Bible: I see both the religion and its holy book as fictions.

Paul said...

[silentsanta, NZ]

Russ,

You're being disingenuous by presenting historical writings on Christ as a matter that has been settled; it hasn't. Testimony from experts is insubmissible as support for a premise when the experts are not of wide concensus.
I've studied a small amount of Ancient history, and while I accept that passages (e.g. Tacitus) are disputed in some circles, this does not constitute proof that 'Jesus did not exist'.

Furthermore, your claim that 'no one cared enough to bother writing things down' is inadmissible, because the fact that historical scripts do not (to wider knowledge) exist today does not preclude the possibility of any having been written at the time. Neither you nor I are in a position to review all literature written 1st century Judea, as most of it doesn't exist anymore. I recall a certain amount of purging of writings declared non-canonical also went on in later years; you may dispute the existence of 'Christ' but to my knowledge you don't dispute the Churches destruction of texts they declared 'heretical'.

Proving things is difficult; disproving things is almost impossible, as P#1 said 'we can't know what happened'. Luckily, we don't have to! given our entirely reasonable default position.

As to your question 'should we ever declare a work of fiction to be true', the short answer is "of course we bloody shouldn't." but it's sort of an O'Reilly-style leading question as it relates to this conversation. As I said earlier, it belies the fact that certain elements (of the Bible) do appear true, (kings, wars, certain events). Certainly I accept that none of the miracles recorded has any compelling evidence. I also accept that it's a stupid book and not a good starting point to base one's world-view.

I stand with Vincent regarding 'pure fiction' being too strong a label to apply.
I place it in the same category as Homer's accounts of the Trojan War: the war is unlikely to have unfolded the way he describes, but that does not mean that Troy, or Agamemnon or various other characters did not exist, or do at least some of the things attributed to them.

My question for p#1: Given the meandering nature of internet debates, and how entropy seeps in and the discussions always go off-topic, is there any hope for humankind?

awesome possum said...

Given the meandering nature of internet debates, and how entropy seeps in and the discussions always go off-topic, is there any hope for humankind

I had to look up entropy. I thought it meant "disorder or randomness".

I hope there's hope for human kind. I'd really like to experience the world before it gets ruined. I don't know if I understand what your question was.

Russ said...

awesome possum and Possum-wan-kenobi,

awesome possum said, "My homework was easier than this." That's not unusual, awesome possum, the most exciting and rewarding things in life are things that classrooms only hint at but don't really prepare you for. Case in point: ask one Possummomma, what classes she took that taught her how to rear four possums. She just might echo you, awesome possum, and say, "My homework was easier than this." If she says that, then ask her which is more rewarding.

I'm really glad you both were inclined to address this question. From my perspective, each of you latched onto distinct but very important aspects of this ultimately hypothetical question: in the real world, we can't actually turn fiction into reality, though we often see people try. Then, you each stated your case in a way that showed you understood both the question as well as your own approach to it.

awesome possum, I think you nailed the idea that once you stray from material known to have a factual basis, you are in the domain of fiction. I also think it was particularly astute of you to use your example to underscore how we can verify the existence of real things through multiple mutually-reinforcing lines of support: Russia, the czars, and many of the events involving them have effected the world around them, and those effects constitute evidence that Russia, the czars, and those events were real. You further reinforce how important evidence is when you say
"we don't know what happened on that night they were slaughtered in Ykaterinburg." As the quality of evidence degrades, our degree of certainty follows in lockstep.

One more point, awesome possum: you said at one point that "even if you had a beginning in truth, your story can still be a lie." The word "lie" could suggest that there would be ethical concerns when attempting to force fiction to be treated as truth. That might raise lots more questions, but that is much of the fun of intellectual inquiry.


Possum-wan-kenobi,
Your quip, "If we could declare fiction to be true I would demand that Master Yoda meet me for mediation every morning," shines a light on the consequences of treating fiction as truth. If a person or a group could willy-nilly invent ideas and then force other people to treat them as real, those others could be forced to adopt any bizarre notion that popped into the mind of the idea people. Where might we see this sort of thing in modern society?

When you said, "I like Star Wars and the force is a cool idea. But it's not real," you also hinted at the idea that we can imagine lots of things, but that doesn't make them real. We can imagine and wish for things that will make us happy, excited or contented, but wishing and imagination will not make something real.

Thanks Possums.

Virginia aka Ginny said...

Great posts all! I've enjoyed reading everything. :)

Ben said...

I like Star Wars and the force is a cool idea. But it's not real.

Humorously, if you google jediism or jediism forums, you will learn that real people are building a real religion based on the force being real. You can't make this stuff up.

Vincent said...

I think a recent survey in Australia had Jedi as the most common religion. I'll have to look that up again.

Fiction is something everyone knows is untrue.
A lie is something only the teller knows is untrue.

Sean the Blogonaut said...

We are strong in the force... and we also love stiring and making fun of our own govenment institutions.

70,000 Jedi in Australia.

Source:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/2218456.stm

Sean the Blogonaut said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Russ said...

Paul,

I'm curious. What is the [silentsanta, NZ] that starts each of your comments?

Your last comment opened with, "Russ, what are you smoking?" and this one starts with, "Russ, You're being disingenuous." Clearly, Paul, I am failing to get my point across to you.

Let me start again. This time I will completely disregard any reference to Biblical scholarship since it is completely irrelevant. Cumulatively humanity has wasted billions of lifetimes trying to ferret out the truth from a work of fiction, the Bible, and we still have nothing to show for it. As such, we have no need whatsoever to rely on those completely fruitless efforts. Instead of depending on a discipline which has shown itself unable to reach consensus, primarily due to its practitioners desires to treat that fiction as truth, I can apply simple reason and dispense with hearsay.

Let me start by making a few observations and stating how I, being a rational person, interpret them. I'll put them in the form observation...interpretation
1. The creation story in Genesis never happened...The Bible is fiction.
2. Noah's flood never happened...The Bible is fiction.
3. The exodus never happened...The Bible is fiction.
4. The conquest of Canaan never happened...The Bible is fiction.
5. The miracle of the Immaculate Conception never happened...The Bible is fiction.
6. While many people named Jesus are known to have lived in Judea, not one is known to have performed miracles...The Bible, including miracle-performing Jesus, is fiction.
7. The stories of Jesus' life are mutually contradictory...The Bible is fiction.

Of course, if I went into detail, there could be thousands of such statements.

Frankly, Paul, it makes no difference if a person named Jesus ever lived. The one depicted in the Bible is fiction.

Let me emphasize the point. Let's assume, you, Paul, are writing a biography while I comment on the process.

You write, "His name is Russ." I say my name is Russ, wouldn't it be an interesting coincidence if he was writing about me.

You write, "He was born in Detroit, MI." Wow, I was born in Detroit, too.

"His mother's maiden name was Molson." Hey, that has to be me!

"His father's first name is Charles." That is just too freaky. It's gotta be me.

"He can see through walls and fly." Uh, no. Wrong Russ.

Let me borrow from awesome possum, "however, even if you had a beginning in truth, your story can still be a lie. It's still fiction." Indeed, in the span of one sentence your account has transformed from possibly true to a fiction about no one who has ever lived or could possibly have lived. It matters not that some of your narrative includes a few real names and events. Once it has become fiction, your account is deemed unreliable as a historical reference. Professional historians, for example, do not site historical fiction as factual sources. Why? It's fiction, thus, by defintion, not reliable for factual purposes.

Paul, you are indeed correct that I "don't dispute the Churches destruction of texts they declared 'heretical'." Unfortunately, much of what they destroyed in their purges were documents by regional historians which might have allowed us to look at this from clearer perspective.

Let me plunk my bum back in academia for a moment and share a couple ideas about early church history. First, while observing the falsification of Christian writings in the second century, the Roman philosopher Celsus wrote about the revisionists and fictionalizers: Some of them, as it were in a drunken state producing self-induced visions, remodel their Gospel from its first written form, and reform it so that they may be able to refute the objections brought against it. Now, you might say to yourself, a nip and a tuck, here or there, make this a bit clearer, flower up the language bit, no big deal. But, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia in reference to the Bible as a whole, "In all departments forgery and interpolation as well as ignorance had wrought mischief on a grand scale." So, by their own admission, Paul, it's fiction! A fiction that they insist must be treated as truth, but a fiction nonetheless.

The existence of characters from any form of fiction starts out disproven, even in historical fiction: while a character may share strong similarities to an actual historical personage, the author is under no obligation to adhere to known factual information about that person, thus the character depicted is not the historical person at all: it's fiction. Since Biblical Jesus is a known fiction, the existence of Biblical Jesus is by default disproven. Just like flying Russ above, fictional miracle-working Jesus does not correspond to any real person who could have ever lived.

Paul, a rational person does not need to consider anything beyond miracles to identify Jesus as fictional. If there was a real person named Jesus who lived exactly as depicted in the Bible except that he did not perform miracles, nobody wants him, especially Christians.

You characterized the question as "sort of an O'Reilly-style leading question." In the comment where I proposed it, did you read what prompted it? I asked it to stimulate some ideas. You must admit, Paul, the only place where fiction is expected to be revered as truth is religion. I thought the comments by the Possums were quite insightful, so, I think it was a productive question despite the extraneous tangents.

When you say, "I stand with Vincent regarding 'pure fiction' being too strong a label to apply," my curiosity is aroused about what from the Bible you would consider to be accurately depicted based on non-Biblical evidence.

I want to finish by responding to your comment to P#1: "Given the meandering nature of internet debates, and how entropy seeps in and the discussions always go off-topic, is there any hope for humankind?" Remember, this thread was to be used as an open forum wherein pensive possums could ponder profoundly posited problems. I for one hope that the zigging and zagging of this thread, in precisely the way it was intended, doesn't cause you to doubt that there is hope for humankind.

Vincent said...

"Professional historians, for example, do not site historical fiction as factual sources. Why? It's fiction, thus, by defintion, not reliable for factual purposes."

That's just not true.
Your apparent definition of fiction (stories where some element is not true) would encompass pretty much all "historical" writing up intil roughly the mid 19th century.

History as a rational, facts only, scientific style investigation into the past is a relatively new development. Much of what historians have to rely on for early history is hageography and myth. Yet still they rely on them. They just come up with rational arguments as to why they give weight to parts of the stories. They reject things that don't fit with our understanding of the world but accept those that do, if there is an external reason to do so.

The Trojan war is a good example. By your definition of fiction, there never was one because it was only in a work of fiction.

Deoridhe said...

The Trojan war is a good example. By your definition of fiction, there never was one because it was only in a work of fiction.

Actually, I believe that was argued by some/many historians until one, called a crackpot for quite a while, followed the directions in either the Iliad or the Oddessey (I can't remember which had the directions) and found a city where the story said Troy was. This lead to some interesting speculations as to the nature of the "Trojan Horse" actually being an earthquake (horses are associated with Posidan who is associated with earthquakes) due to the evidence of said earthquake and the evidence of a makeshift city built in the rubble.

I saw it on the History Channel, so it has to be true. ;)

Stephen Littau said...

Hello possums! I don't think I have commented on here before but I am Aimee's husband, Steve. We are both big fans of your blog.

Anyway, I just posted a post called The Mysterious Ica Stones at my blog. It's about this creationist fraud who is peddling a book about how ancient Aztecs lived among the dinosaurs. I did just a little homework and found the whole thing was debunked 30 years ago, yet the author of this book decided to publish the book in 2005 anyway.

I hope you and your readers will stop by and leave a comment or two. Here's the link: http://fpffressminds.blogspot.com/2007/05/mysterious-ica-stones.html

Paul said...

[silentsanta, NZ]

Russ; I have used [silentsanta, NZ] since around February as a unique identifying tag to distinguish me from another 'Paul' who posts on these forums, who doesn't use the tag. The overabundance of 'Pauls' in this world is just one more irritating relic of the judeo-christian religion.

I apologize for the lack of tact in my previous postings; When I was Christian, I was irritated by how my peers would embrace lazy, weak arguments because they already agreed with the argument's conclusions; it was as if rational argument wasn't of interest to them. When I cast off my religious shackles, I decided to never embrace arguments I considered weak simply because I supported the conclusions being drawn.

My issue with your argument is that you appear to define (as Vincent put it) a work of fiction as "stories where some element is not true") and then draw conclusions that use a different definition of fiction.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding your point - I perceive you as engaging in the fallacy of equivocation.

Here is how I see your argument.
1. Something which contains at least one falsity is a 'fiction'.
2. The bible contains collections of statements.
3. One or more statements in the bible are false.
4. The bible is a work of fiction (from 1 & 3, logically concluded with this definition of fiction).

second argument:
1. The bible is a work of fiction [ from prior argument]
2. [Supressed definition: fiction is wholly false]
3. We should never regard fiction as true. [using the second definition of fiction]
3. We should never regard the bible as true. (from 1 & 3)

To me it is as if you're using one definition of fiction to conclude the bible is fiction, and a second definition to conclude that all contents of the bible should be disregarded.
My problem is that the first definition of fiction doesn't actually tell you anything very useful about the bible. All ancient historical texts could be dismissed as useless using the same arguments (I'm sure my copy of Suetonius' 12 Caesars contains numerous errors, but strangely it is still useful for some things...)

This debate could be decided conclusively if you provide a definition of 'fiction' that you are happy with.


An an argument with a less bold conclusion that I prefer is based on your first definition of fiction.

1. The bible is a work that does contain fictional elements, and may contain non-fictional elements.
2. We should never fiction as true. [using the second definition of fiction]
3. We should never regard the bible as wholly true.


Possum #1: Apologies about the entropy, especially as I used it in a metaphorical sense as a measure of the disordered, fractured nature of internet debates. I considered changing my language to make it easier for you, but I wondered if perhaps you wouldn't want me to change it. Based on your essays, I imagined you find people simplifying their language for you as a little insulting :) Fair enough, too.


Lastly, my favourite example of equivocation ( thanks Critical Thinking 105). Equivocation isn't always this easy to spot, though.


1. I am not in New York.
2. I am not in Oklahoma.
3. I am not in Oslo.
4. I am not in Cleveland.
5. If I am not in New York, or Ohio, or Oslo, or Cleveland, then I am somewhere else.
Therefore,
6. I am somewhere else. (from 1,2,3,4,5)
7. If I am somewhere else, I am not here.
Therefore,
8. I am not here. (from 6 & 7)

(notice the two different unstated definitions of 'somewhere else'. My lecturers used to say that most people could see there was something wrong with this argument, but couldn't put their finger on exactly what.

Paul said...

[silentsanta, NZ]

Sorry I should just address your point in the context of the "Biography of Russ".

Imagine my biography of Russ contained detailed factual descriptions of your entire life right down to every 15 minute period, but each day, once per day I inserted a single false 15-minute section. This means by your 1st definition that the work is fiction, yet it is obviously useful for certain things, establishing what might have happened on any given day.

To apply this model to the Bible, we would have to invert it and say perhaps one true section per day (approx 1% of content) is true. As such, it wouldn't be entirely useless, but almost.

Obviously the usefulness of the text relates to how much truth it contains, regardless of the semantics of our definition of 'fiction'. Each statement in the text should be evaluated on its own merits.

Please not that I am not contending that there is much truth in the Bible at all, but dismissing every single statement in a 1200 page text is too much; They must have got at least one sentence right, even by accident :) Perhaps one of the geneologies? (David to Solomon, 1 generation)