"A man didn’t understand how televisions work, and was convinced that there must be lots of little men inside the box, manipulating images at high speed. An engineer explained to him about high frequency modulations of the electromagnetic spectrum, about transmitters and receivers, about amplifiers and cathode ray tubes, about scan lines moving across and down a phosphorescent screen. The man listened to the engineer with careful attention, nodding his head at every step of the argument. At the end he pronounced himself satisfied. He really did now understand how televisions work. "But I expect there are just a few little men in there, aren’t there?"
-- Douglas Adams, paraphrase of a parable spoofing modern creationism that Adams often told, as retold by Richard Dawkins in "Lament for Douglas" (14 May 2001)
(Poo on his hands? Don't tell him until after lunch. It's funnier that way)
In this month's Bizarre Bible Lessons we find another little gem that shows us, once again, that all of the answers to life's problems can be found in the bible.
How should we answer criticism? Jesus gives us a great example of how to do it, AND make the people doing it feel stupid at the same time!
Let's see how he does it.
It all starts when the Pharoehs and some of Jerusalem's teachers come across Jesus and his disciples eating with "defiled" (that is unwashed) hands. (Mark 1-20)
Was Jesus a dirty bird?
The Pharisees thought so.
They once (according to the bible) asked him, in no uncertain terms, why he didn't wash his hands before a meal according to the tradition of the elders.
"Why didn't I wash my hands? You are all over most good stuff, like killin' sassy kids, judging people based on their sexual habits, and even trying to regulate thought crimes, but you don't help your parents as much as you could when it is inconvenient! So don't bother me with "dirty hands", they aren't gonna hurt me. Sort yourselves out!"
The Pharisees had been put in their place, or at the very least they had been confused into silence by his strange little rant.
After they left and Jesus was alone with his disciples, even THEY wondered why Jesus didn't want to wash his hands.
What was his answer to them?
"OMG, are you guys really this stupid? This is not a hard concept people! We aren't "defiled" by anything that goes into our bodies, we are only defiled by our actions. COME ON!"
His buddies accepted this (of course).
"Now let's move on to new business. We need to help a lady who has been defiled by an impure spirit that has gotten into her body. But we need to be careful, her mother is a complete bitch, so I'm gonna mock her a bit before we help. It'll be fun. Ok? Let's roll!"
(Umm, didn't you just say that nothing could defile us but what came from within ...?)
I don't want to get off track. His point was that our actions are what define us and what will or won't "defile" us. In other words, it's not what we take in, but what we put out.
Hard to argue with the spirit of what he is saying but in all this we forgot that the pharisees were just asking why Jesus wouldn't wash his hands.
He completely avoided the question and went on to say how we should kill sassy kids, advocated the policy of thought crime (envy), equated sexual immorality with murder (still not sure what sex has to do with morality) and defensively pointed fingers at anyone who noticed his dirty hands.
With all of the nonsense that Jesus had given everyone to think about, they forgot all about Jesus' annoying belief that unwashed hands weren't harmful.
And this is where we get to the moral of the story;
If someone notices your faults, baffle them with bullshit and deflect, deflect, deflect! Then move on to something else fun. Like insulting someone in need of help. Everyone likes that...
there is another lesson to be learned from this story ...
Jesus believed that bacteria on unwashed hands wasn't harmful. It doesn't matter if his belief was wrong, or silly, or misinformed, or even a confusing conflict between science and a supposedly omniscient mind (who should already know the harms of not being clean), all that matters is that he stood up for what he believed in. (and made them feel stupid enough that they likely won't question him again for a long time.)
WELL DONE Jesus! You have given us a lot to think about: how to defend our beliefs, insight into the veracity of well known scientific facts, and even more about leadership.
In this month's edition of "Logic 101" we will deal with the "Straw Man"
fallacy. It is a surprisingly common argument, and is very often based
on ignorance or willful misrepresentation of the original position.
A Straw Man is when a superficially similar (yet not properly
representative) proposition is substituted for the original and then
subsequently refuted. This creates the illusion of having refuted the
position without ever actually having addressed the original posit.
This sort of argument is endemic in political and religious debates as
they are often attempting to "preach to the converted" or to an audience
that is expected to have a pre-existing sense of confirmation bias
toward the subject matter. They are particularly effective to the casual
observer because the Straw Man very closely resembles the original
argument on the surface and any sense of this confirmation bias towards
the Straw Man's position will make it a very convincing argument indeed.
Let me give you an example:
Some anti-evolutionists argue that "Darwinists" (otherwise known to the
scientific community as "Biologists") claim that the evolution of
things, such as the eye, happened by chance. They then refute this with
a simple argument from incredulity by saying that nothing so complex as
a human eye could possibly have evolved through mere chance.
The problem with this is that no scientist has ever claimed that evolution happens
by chance. It happens through a series of random mutations and the
process of natural selection (in very simplified terms).
Another example would be to say that Abortionists "want to kill babies"
and then go on to talk about the immorality of killing the children of
the future. This is not a true representation of the Abortionists'
position. It is deliberately inflammitory for the purpose of a
dishonest smear campaign against those who disagree with Pro-life
It is easy to see how "chance" and "random mutation" get conflated or
how a "killing babies" comment could raise the hackles of those who
listen and to see how those who are looking for a reason to dismiss
evolutionary theory and/or pro-choice arguments might rush to quickly
accept these arguments.
But you would be wrong to do so. No one has posited these positions.
So any such argument that refutes that position merely distracts from
the actual facts of the matter. They either willfully or ignorantly
misrepresent positions so as to bolster their own position and gain
additional support from those whom they can convince with such dishonest
The only truths that a discovered Straw Man argument will reveal are
both the level of integrity and the level of ignorance of which the
person constructing the Straw Man possesses.
In short, make sure that you have a full understanding of the opposing
position before you attempt to refute it.
To do otherwise is to court failure.
For if you don't understand the subject, you clearly can't summon the
information nor the skeptical perspective that you will require to
If you are constructing a Straw Man out of a sense of dishonest
manipulation, then don't do a thing ...