Thursday, February 24, 2011

Stories and evidence

PZ's finished his review of Horvath's Christian fanwank, and ended with this quote from him:

"Let's face it," Horvath says, "People are moved as much by Story as they are by Evidence. And we've got the best Story in town."

People are moved by stories. It's no secret that I'm training for the London Marathon, and actually, during my training, there has been a story that's helped keep me going, and given me inspiration.

It's a story about a man that never backs away from evil, always fighting for what is right. He can hang around with judges and prostitutes just the same. He doesn't kill, but let's those receive justice in due course. He's come back from the dead to help fight the sins of man.

Yes folks, Batman.

Recently it was tipping it down with rain, it was muddy, there were ankle deep puddles. I briefly thought about cutting my run a bit short to get out of it, and the thought that came to my head is "Batman would run through this". So that moved me in a quite literal sense.

Seriously though, stories are fantastic things, and can be truly moving. I wish I had the skill to put it in to words, but I don't. Phillip Pullman (unsurprisingly) does in his moving defense of the public library (which for my non-UK readers, are under threat in this country. For my UK readers, do check out the link and help save our libraries):

I still remember the first library ticket I ever had. It must have been about 1957. My mother took me to the public library just off Battersea Park Road and enrolled me. I was thrilled. All those books, and I was allowed to borrow whichever I wanted! And I remember some of the first books I borrowed and fell in love with: the Moomin books by Tove Jansson; a French novel for children called A Hundred Million Francs; why did I like that? Why did I read it over and over again, and borrow it many times? I don’t know. But what a gift to give a child, this chance to discover that you can love a book and the characters in it, you can become their friend and share their adventures in your own imagination.

And the secrecy of it! The blessed privacy! No-one else can get in the way, no-one else can invade it, no-one else even knows what’s going on in that wonderful space that opens up between the reader and the book. That open democratic space full of thrills, full of excitement and fear, full of astonishment, where your own emotions and ideas are given back to you clarified, magnified, purified, valued. You’re a citizen of that great democratic space that opens up between you and the book. And the body that gave it to you is the public library. Can I possibly convey the magnitude of that gift?

Stories, can be, without doubt, wonderful, powerful, moving things. But evidence can be just as much, if not more. Who can not be moved by the fact that whoever you are reading this is the most recent offspring of a succession of generations, who won out in the struggle for survival long enough to pass on their genes, and who stretch back 3.75 *billion* years, that came into existence out of the complex biochemistry at the time, from material which was forged in the heart of an exploding star. I get amazed sometimes, like now, just looking at my hands typing, and thinking of all that goes into those movements, the history that built them.

When you get great stories such as The Ancestor's Tale, or the story of how Einstein came to realise why E = MC you can the double whammy of being moved by a story and learning new things, based on evidence.

Being moved by stories is great, but not being more moved by evidence shows a lack of imagination in my opinion. As for Hovarth, it appears that he would rather teach you nothing by separating stories from evidence, which makes me wonder if any of his stories would help you learn anything new at all, apart from his narrow world view.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, London Atheist. I hopped over here from Anthony Horvath's site after I saw the comment you posted. Thanks for taking the time to respond. One thing Anthony told me about these stories was that he found them lying around, saw that they were somewhat connected, and decided to release them. So if the stories aren't as polished as other stuff you've read, that might be a good explanation.

    One thing bout Tony, though, is he's big on evidence. His whole ministry grew out of a religion debate forum dating back to the late '90s. A lot of the people are still there, atheists and Christians alike (and many other worldviews to boot). Here's an example of some of the discussions we have ( Dannyboy is an atheist who, I believe, lives in London as well. I'm a Christian from Ohio in the USA. Danny wanted to talk about an objective morality that didn't require a deity (based largely on a recent viewing of Sam Harris' TED talk on the subject). Danny used to believe in relative morality and we're in the process of talking about what this shift means for him and other perspectives on the matter.

    There are other conversations as well: Does god exist? Is homosexuality a sin? Why are Christians such assholes sometimes? The usual stuff.

    We've been debating these idea for over a decade, and we're getting tired of hearing our voices echo against the walls. We'd love it if you'd join us.

    Whether you make it or not, good luck on the marathon. I've always wanted to do something like that.

    Joe (aka "The Sasquatch") @sasquatchinc (although I rarely us twitter).


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