Archive for May, 2010

Creationism in Ancient History class: Been there, done that …

May 30, 2010

So, P.Z. Myers is livid over the relevant powers-that-be in Queensland, Australia adding a section on creationism (well, maybe) to the curriculum in Ancient History classes:

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http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/05/what_is_wrong_with_you_queensl.php

Look at this: they’ve explicitly added creationism to the public school curriculum in Queensland, Australia. That’s just nuts.

They’re even doing it in an entirely bogus way — they’re teaching it as a controversy in history classes.”

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Well, I remember way back when I was in high school, and I took the Ancient History class (it was mandatory, but I probably would have done it anyway) and one of the first sections in the textbook and so one of the first things we covered was — normally enough — origins of the world.  The textbook outlined at least the creationist and evolution story, and the teacher — as he always did — created a formal debate over creationism and evolution.  Four students on each side.  I was on the creationist side, with two people who were openly religious, another who was religious but not openly.  Me?  I’m just weird, and tend to champion the underdog.  The “thermodynamics” argument was raised, and I argued against a literal interpretation of Genesis — an early accomodationist-like position, I suppose — which drew a bit of attention (much to the chagrin of one of the people on my side [grin]).  At the end, the teacher took a poll of the class to see who had won the debate.  Now, I grew up in a Polish area in a high school that was something like 90% Catholic (it was a public high school, though) and where there wouldn’t have been all that many atheists … and the vast majority of the class voted that evolution had won the debate.

And as far as I know it never came up in any of the biology classes, although since I hate biology I didn’t take it past the grade 11 course.  Actually, to be honest, I didn’t take any OAC science classes … not because I disliked science, but because I needed the three mathematics courses, one English, and the Computer Science for my chosen program of study (the Computers wasn’t required, but I figured I should), wanted to take the Writer’s Craft, and I think I needed Geography or History.  There was no room for science in my OAC year.  However, in university when given the choice between business or science, I took Astrophysics.

Anyway, to return to the topic after than minor digression, we also covered Noah’s Ark — with textbook arguments that highlighted the big problems with the Ark at a practical level — and had a full-class debate on Sparta versus Athens.  The most interesting thing about that is that a few girls in the class had decided to side with Athens because they thought it treated women fairly well … and then after finding out how Athens actually did treat women converted to the Spartan side.

So, it looks like it’s been tried, and doesn’t seem to have any really negative consequences — even in really religious areas — and in fact seems to highlight the real scientific data.   So I fail to see what’s wrong with this.  In some sense, it is a controversy, and something that can be usefully discussed.  Myers seems to be just offended that they’re talking about creationism at all, and he does go a bit far in his condemnations of that:

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“It’s clear that they’re just trampling on history as a back door to get pseudoscience into the curriculum. I keep telling people, these creationists are cunning — the science side of the debate has gotten hardened by repeated attacks, and is usually better prepared to resist the foolishness, so they switch targets and catch history or philosophy off guard. Every academic discipline is subject to this corruption.”

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Yeah, because it’s not like there’s any field that might like to talk about it, and, say, talk about what myths were around and what was said about the past, in the past.  It’s a shame that there isn’t a field that talks about that.  Say, a field that talks about ancient history, and the origins and myths of that time, leading up in some sense to what we know about today.  Oh, wait, there is: it’s called Ancient History.

This is a dangerous line of argumentation, and I hope that what I’m talking about now really is just a slippery slope argument.  But what I see here is Myers essentially passing judgement on how Ancient History should talk about it and if they should reference an alternative and ancient view of the origin of the world and humans because he’s afraid that it might bleed into science.  But science doesn’t get to dictate to other fields how they should approach a topic.  Add in that this is probably harmless (and might be part of the curriculum in Ontario already), and there’s not much of a worry here.

Now, Myers does have the right to question what they’re doing as any person does, so here’s what he thinks they should teach:

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“There is some relevant history that could be taught, such as that from Ron Numbers’ book, The Creationists, which explains how ideas about creationism changed over the years, talks about the major figures in the creationist movement, and describes how creationism itself has changed historically…but I doubt that the people who are backing this want the subject addressed seriously as a series of events in the last 100 years.”

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Well, certainly not in Ancient History class, and outside of that class I’m not sure how relevant this is to anyone.  Surely we have much more interesting movements to study than creationism.

Ultimately, I don’t see the harm in this, and I also wonder if Australians see the debate the same way as Americans do.  I think that even if they did a good critical discussion of it would be a good thing, and it does seem like something that would be interesting and relevant to Ancient History classes, whether people currently believe it or not.  And especially if people do.

Yes, it does have to be done carefully, for both sides.  But that shouldn’t stop people from talking about it.

So, if Myers has some good reasons why it should be excluded other than “It’s creationism”, I’m all ears.  Otherwise, my personal history disagrees with him and I thus think he’s completely wrong about this.

Do you have to be jerks about it?

May 21, 2010

I didn’t want to talk about this too much — at all, actually — but I’ve been reading the comments in this post at Pharyngula:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/05/irking_accomplished_continue.php

And while it’s possible that I and many others are missing the point of Draw Mohammed Day, they are clearly missing our point.

I — and the posters and bloggers that are being ranted about — are not in any way saying that people don’t have a right to believe what they want or to draw pictures of Mohammed.  We are not saying that they shouldn’t defend those rights.  We are not saying that it is right for some Muslims to threaten or try to kill people who do draw pictures.

We’re simply wondering why the only way to defend your rights is to deliberately offend other people, some of which simply believe something you find stupid and have not and would never take any violent action to stop you from exercising your rights, and may even defend your right to do so.

Why do you have to be jerks about it?

Let’s take some of the analogies to show what I mean:

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SteveM, comment 82

“What would your reaction be to a group of Hassidic Jews firebombed a supermarket because it sold ham and other pork products? Would you still call it unneccessarily provocative to protest this firebombing with a day of “Eat Pork This Saturday”?”

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Well, I don’t like “unnecessarily provocative”, but I would think of that as poorly as I did this.  What I’d support is going to the police and supporting them in putting that group of Jews in jail, because as far as I know firebombing is illegal.  If I wanted to make a statement, I’d start a “Shop at supermarket X this Saturday”, and line up one of the other Jewish organizations — as many as I could — to support it as well.

What I wouldn’t do is potentially offend all Jews and, oh, yeah, in this case exclude them from the event, because they couldn’t do that.  Really good idea, there.  Instead of mustering the more moderate Jewish groups to isolate the extremists, let’s cut the moderates out because we think it’s in some way wonderful to attack the dietary prejudice as opposed to the actual action … while standing up and proclaiming that they are really targetting the firebombing, not the belief about not eating pork.

Hint: If you are really targetting the firebombing, you might want to make your action, you know, relate directly to it, as opposed to relating it directly to the thing that you say you aren’t actually going after.  Just a little advice.

The second analogy is even better (same comment):

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“or a less extreme example. You go on a picnic with a group of people, one of whom is a Jew who keeps kosher. He sees someone elses ham and cheese sandwich, yells at him for insulting his faith and tosses the sandwich in the garbage. Do you think he is right to do that? Do you think it is unreasonable if the next time you go on a picnic with this group that everyone brings ham sandwiches to show him what an asshole he was for trying to impose the restrictions of his faith on everyone?”

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Yes, I do think that unreasonable.  What I think is reasonable is that after the picnic someone — maybe even me — go up to him and tell him that what he did was out of line, and that if he can’t act like a civilized person he can’t come to the next picnic.  And then not invite him if he persists in acting that way.  I don’t see how this shows him what a jerk he was for trying to impose the restrictions of his faith on everyone; what I see is an attempt to deliberately mock and flout his offense, in a manner that won’t teach him anything.

Now, if you wanted to actually teach him a lesson, you don’t do this.  What you do is you find someone who doesn’t eat — for whatever reason — something that he typically brings.  And so when he starts eating that, have that person jump up and yell and scream and carry on about how wrong it is to eat that.  The original person will invariably feel that the other person was wrong to get that upset, and that’s when you reply, “That’s how we felt the last time.”  He’ll invariably say that it’s different and that his is based on a deep religious faith, but then you simply reply “We understand that, and accept that.  But to us, it really does seem to be as trivial and pointless.  We can accept and respect your beliefs, but only if you respect ours as well.”

This may not settle anything, but it’s at least a shot.  And it avoids offending people who simply share the same belief.

So, let’s alter the analogy slightly.  Let’s imagine that there’s another person at that picnic who gets a bit offended when people eat pork around him.  And let’s say that if someone does bring pork, he simply comments that he won’t eat with people who are eating pork (for that meal) and then politely leaves.  Imagine that he did this at another picnic and didn’t even know about the guy who threw a tantrum.  So, at the next picnic, both guys show up … and everyone has pork.  Do you think that the more moderate person might feel equally attacked, and thus feel that his beliefs are being deliberately mocked and insulted?  Do you think that should have been the intent?

Now, imagine that the guy who started the trouble doesn’t show up.  Do you think that would make the more moderate guy feel any better?

And the sad thing is that the commentor and others will probably think that that was such a cool way to handle the situation.  Really great, a wonderful idea, amazing.  This seems to be because we have a tendency to prefer the extreme and the offensive to, oh, the things that are actually effective and harmonious.  Attention is preferred to using reason.  Which is sad coming from the supposed defenders of reason, I must say.

Anyway, the title of the post comes in here: in these examples, why do you have to be a jerk about it?  Why can’t you make it clear that the behaviour is unacceptable without going out of your way to offend the person?

I’ll defend people who cause offense — even knowing that they’re causing offense — if it’s part of their every day lives.  For example, I do have an unfortunate tendency to work on Sundays, which is not exactly appropriate for a Christian.  If my neighbour ranted at me for working on Sunday, I wouldn’t stop doing it just because he did that.  I probably wouldn’t even go out of my way to not work in front of him.  What I wouldn’t do is sit in my lawn chair on Saturday right in front of his house, and then spend the whole of Sunday doing work in front of his house.   I wouldn’t try to offend him, but I wouldn’t worry about avoiding it either.  And that’s the way you defend your right to believe what you want.

Another example gives what I think was a pretty good way to deal with these issues:

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Glen Davidson, #15

“Truth is, it’s more like the town (in Idaho, IIRC) where Jews were threatened with some kind of violence around Christmas time, and most everyone in town put a menorah on each door so that there’d be too many “potential Jews” for the thugs to attack.

That’s what draw Muhammed day is about, too many “possible targets” for the thugs to attack.”

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The story was highlighted by another poster:

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k8, #122

“This page gives a breakdown of the menorah story –

http://www.religioustolerance.org/menorah.htm “

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And from that link:

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“Jews often display their menorah where it can be easily seen from outside the house in response to a mitzvah (commandment from God) to publicize the miracle. 2 The Schnitzers are a Jewish family in Billings (population 83,000 at the time). 4 Following the mitzvah, they had stenciled a Jewish menorah on the window of their son Isaac, aged 5. (One source said it was an electric menorah.) 5 On 1993-DEC-02, someone threw a piece of a cinder block through the window. It and broken glass fell on Isaac’s bed, but fortunately caused no injury. The Schnitzers called the police. The investigating officer suggested that they remove the symbol. This caused a crisis in the home: how could they remove a symbol of Jewish religious freedom in response to fear of further religious harassment.

Margaret McDonald, executive director of the Montana Association of Churches, read of the incident in the local newspaper. She imagined what it would be like to have to tell her own children that they could not have a Christmas tree or a Christmas wreath because it might cause an attack on their home. She recalled an event in Denmark during World War II when the Nazis ordered all of the Jews in the country to wear a yellow Star of David so that they could be easily identified. The King of Denmark and many of its non-Jewish citizens took the initiative of wearing a yellow star themselves. The Nazis were unable to easily identify the Jews.

McDonald took action. She phoned her minister, the Rev. Kieth Torney at the First Congregational United Church of Christ — a liberal Christian denomination. She suggested that their Sunday school students fabricate paper menorahs for their windows at home as a sign of solidarity with the Schnitzers. He contacted other clergy across Billings. During the following week, hundreds of menorahs appeared in the windows of local homes as Christian families publicized their solidarity against religious bigotry. The police chief, Wayne Inman, was asked whether this might cause further criminal acts. He responded “There’s greater risk in not doing it.” “

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I disagree with Glen that this was a “safety in numbers” thing.  This was a very well-done way to express to those who had committed the vandalism that the people in that town had no problem with the menorah being displayed and that their violence did not speak for them.  It was displayed by people who were clearly not Jewish to isolate the vandals and demonstrate quite clearly that such views or acts were not a part of the religion or race or whatever that they wanted to claim membership in.  That this was unacceptable was expressed in a way that allowed for the members of the other religions to participate fully and express their own distaste for the actions. It clearly went after the violence, not the beliefs.

This editorial says it well (from the article linked above):

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“An editorial in the Billings Gazette on 1993-DEC-08 stated:

“On December 2, 1993, someone twisted by hate threw a brick through the window of the home of one of our neighbors: a Jewish family who chose to celebrate the holiday season by displaying a symbol of faith—a menorah—for all to see. Today, members of religious faiths throughout Billings are joining together to ask residents to display the menorah as a symbol of something else: our determination to live together in harmony, and our dedication to the principle of religious liberty embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. We urge all citizens to share in this message by displaying this menorah on a door or a window from now until Christmas. Let all the world know that the national hatred of a few cannot destroy what all of us in Billings, and in America, have worked together so long to build.” 6

The Billings Gazette published a full-page image of a menorah in their newspaper. By the end of the week six to ten thousand homes became decorated with menorahs.”

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While people who didn’t think menorahs should be displayed might not have been able to participate, they could still show their solidarity with this in other ways.  And there were no messages mocking people who didn’t like displayed menorahs.  They simply displayed them, and with the solidarity message people could accept why that was being done.  And while there was more vandalism and violence, it faded, and the community came together.  All faiths joined and felt able to be a part of it.  Which is a far cry from what would happen with the examples given above.  Or Crackergate.  Or Draw Mohammed Day.

What I find most striking is that a lot of the same people who are supporting examples like those listed above are people who also claim to be humanists, and hold that as the way to live.  They often also emphasize empathy as a way to build social harmony.  Did they someone never consider how the people who are caught in the middle — disapprove of the violence, but do feel offended by the original action — might feel if they demonstrated the way they want to?  Do they not understand that if you want people to know what it’s like, you kinda have to do the same thing to them?  Do they not understand that one of the main underpinnings of humanism is the idea that all beliefs, at least, have to be respected, though not followed?

Are the examples of the firebombing, the ham sandwich, Crackergate and Draw Mohammed Day examples of true humanism?  ‘Cause if it is, then count me out; I’ll just go be Stoic in the corner, thanks for asking.

Does humanism mean that you have to be a jerk about it?  Do we have to be a jerk about it?  Or can we find another way?

Billings, it seems to me, found another way.  Why can’t we follow their example, and find another way, too.

Draw Mohammed Day …

May 21, 2010

Well, I guess I should comment on this, since I’ve talked about things like this.  So here it is:

I don’t really see how it benefits anyone or anything to attempt to show something about radical Muslims by doing something that will offend Muslims who are not so radical.

Most of the people I’ve read or come across who thought this was great basically argued that it was them standing up to the radical Muslims who threatened to kill people who drew the pictures of Mohammed.  Now, I don’t think it all that radical an assumption to believe that the majority of Muslims who would find such pictures offensive didn’t want to see anyone killed because of it.  And, yet, the best way these people could think of to draw attention to the fact that, really, killing someone for doing this sort of thing is … to choose to do the thing that would also offend those people who agreed with them on that point.

Good job.  Let’s offend the people who should be on your side.  Well done.

I’m not sure what this really accomplishes, or how anyone could think it accomplishes anything.  I suppose that, in this case, it could be an expression of solidarity, in that people might be accepting the risk of people coming after them as well and put their lives on the line as well.  That might be nice for those threatened, but I’m not sure how that will really end that sort of threat.  But I guess that’d be defensible.

Now, if you managed to get influential Muslims on your side, then that would have far more teeth, as the ones who are making the threats would essentially have to go against their own and show themselves to be less interested in protecting their religion and more interested in hurting people.

Which returns to the original point: shouldn’t these responses be aimed squarely at getting people — and especially Muslims — to be caught between having to explicitly support killing people who draw these sorts of pictures or publically showing that they really don’t support that?  As opposed to being caught between defending their being offended by people drawing those images or having to accept that they shouldn’t be offended?

Adding to this that some of the pictures weren’t just simple images, but attempts to mock other parts of the religion, and this doesn’t seem productive, and really doesn’t seem aimed at starting reasonable discourse about the issue.  For some of the people that participated, it is quite likely that this was just an opportunity to mock a group they dislike.  Since when did that become a tool of rational discourse?

And for those who wanted to make a point, since when do you make a point by taking a method that directly and is directly aimed at offending people?  It’s one thing to not limit yourself by what might offend someone else, but quite another to make offending people the point of what you’re doing.

If we can’t tell your attempt to make a rational statement from an attempt to be a complete and utter jerk, maybe you should rethink how you’re making your rational statement.

A clear finish …

May 21, 2010

I don’t finish a lot of video games, especially RPGs.  Which, actually, are about the only ones that I actually do finish (I don’t count strategy games like, say, Master of Orion 2 where one game is supposed to be an instance of a game, like playing a board game once.  And, interestingly, I don’t think I’ve ever finished one of those for MOO2 either …).

The RPGs I’ve finished are:

  • Suikoden III (multiple times).
  • Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2 (multiple times).
  • Persona 3 and Persona 4 (too many times to count)
  • The first two .hack games.  Maybe the third, too.  But since that was 1 game in 4 parts I’m not sure it counts.
  • Shadow Hearts.
  • An old TSR RPG whose name escapes me at the moment (and I only managed to finish it because while the rest of the party was getting slaughtered in the final battle, the wizardess ran out of the room to the end area and won the game for everyone [grin])
  • Lord of the Rings: The Third Age
  • X-Men Legends 1 and 2
  • Marvel: Ultimate Alliance

There are probably a couple that I’m forgetting, but there can’t be too many more.

Now, I have a lot more games than that, and generally not finishing a game doesn’t mean it’s bad.  There are games like Wizardry 8, Icewind Dale 1 and 2, Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land, and Final Fantasy X where I get into them, start playing them, and then get distracted by the next shiny thing and put them aside.  I’ve played the starting dungeon of Wizardry 8 many, many times — because it’s a good game to build a customized part for — and rarely make it past Trenton before something else draws my attention.  Another set of games are games that I start or try to start, but that don’t really grab me right away and so I end up putting them side to play later, like Starcraft, Torment, and the Fallouts.  And there are some games that I start and dislike, like Baldur’s Gate, but that I try to convince myself to give another chance every so often and end up tossing them aside again.  And then there are some games that I buy and don’t really play at all, which I don’t really remember at the moment.

Now, I do think that possibly the fact that my system is out of date and I don’t have a new console will help with the “distracted by shiny objects” part, as I’ll only have old games competing with each other.  But there’ll always be new characters to create or combinations to play that will get me away from any game that is proceeding too slowly, and so I don’t think I’ll ever finish Wizardry 8.

But, in some sense, this is what made City of Heroes such a great game for me.  The character creation was so varied and different powers made for a different enough experience that it could keep me interested.  Well, until I think it started wanting more RAM than I had (or had to spare) and everything slowed down enough to irritate me.  I’d upgrade my PC — or at least try more RAM — but it was also expensive, since for a game like Wizardry 8 if I play it a couple of days a week for a couple of weeks and then put it aside for the next whim it doesn’t cost me anymore, but it would if I left my subscription running while I went to give Fallout another try, or play Rebellion again.

But that’s one benefit of an MMORPG for people who solo a lot: the side benefits of building your own character and having your own adventure where other people may play a part, but you run the show.  And that’s the only thing I miss about them.

Maybe I’ll finish Sakura Wars soon.  I really don’t want it to end up on the list of games that I just never finish, and the shiny things are starting to swarm …

102 reasons why I’m not anxious to get a PS3 …

May 21, 2010

On gamefaqs.com, there are 102 console-style RPGs listed for the PS2.

There are 17 listed for the PS3, which includes released and under development.

Okay, okay, a lot of those 102 might be Japan only or duplicate versions of the same thing, and the PS2’s been around longer, but still … 17.  Considering that some of the console-style RPGs that are out there I won’t play or aren’t really that sort, this is pretty bad.

The Xbox 360 actually has more listed — 23 — although a lot of them are the same as those on the PS3.

The Wii has 24.

Yeah, none of the new consoles so far seems to have a good selection of console-style RPGs.  Which are what I use the console for.

When you start looking at other categories there, the PS3 has 26 Action-RPGs — which I don’t care much for — and 8 PC-style RPGs.  Well, at least they haven’t gone PC on me.

The Xbox 360 has  38 Action-RPGs and the same number of PC-style.  So it just has more RPGs in general.  Interesting.  The numbers are still to low for me to get that system.

The Wii has 34 Action-RPGs and no PC-style RPGs.

So, I guess it really could just be time, and time will give me more of the RPG gameplay that I’m looking for.

Guess I’ll just have to sit on my wallet for a bit longer …

Is Theistic Evolution Intelligent Design?

May 19, 2010

Well, there’s a lot of fuss that’s been kicked up over a post by Karl Giberson criticizing a post by Michael Zimmerman, and I hope to get around to talking about these in more detail later.  But what I’ve noticed — and it follows from previous things that have been said — is that there’s a question of where theistic evolution should fit.  Does it count as accepting evolution, or is it the same as — or at least shares the underpinnings of — intelligent design as equated to creationism.

I think that theistic evolution is a view that should be counted as accepting evolution, and so it isn’t ID in the sense of ID where one claims that ID opposes evolution.  And to start talking about that, I’m going to reference Zimmerman’s post since he actually gives a definition of what has to be accepted to be ID:

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-zimmerman/intelligent-design-scient_b_571703.html

“The basic concept of intelligent design comes in two parts and is as simple as it is satisfying for those unwilling to think deeply about the natural world, science, or the nature of religion. Part one, stretching way back to the ancient Greeks, notes that nature is so perfectly integrated that it must have been designed just as we see it. Part two, largely attributed to Lehigh University biologist Michael Behe, says that while some aspects of nature might certainly have changed (evolved?) over time, others are so complex that they must always have existed in the form we find them in today. Indeed, he coined the term “irreducibly complex” to explain such structures. Change anything at all in these irreducibly complex structures and they fail to work.

Both parts of ID are spectacularly wrong.”

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Okay, so let’s start here.  I’ll argue that theistic evolution need not accept either of those contentions in full, mostly because both of those contentions seem to implicitly or explicitly argue that things have to start as is in total, which would, in fact, contradict evolution (since that says they develop over time).

So first, let me outline what I think is the basic requirement of a theistic evolution:  evolution occurs as described by science, but at least some portion of it was built, created or tweaked by a God to get to the desired ending state.  This could include initial conditions (ie setting the initial state of an organism so that certain results simply were going to occur), the environment, or even tweaking or manipulating particular mutations so that certain traits spread properly.  Underlying all of this, though, is the main thrust: evolution proceeded as we discovered, and no traits that science does not claim happened “all at once” have always been that way.

So, let’s turn to the first claim.  Is theistic evolution forced to accept that the world is perfectly integrated to the extent that it has to be designed?  No, not at all.  They can accept that the world’s integration could arise through the selective processes identified by science.  They can even accept that the world is not perfectly integrated, which might have theological implications — why didn’t God make a perfect world? — but doesn’t impact that portion of the debate.  And they certainly need not accept that it was always this way.  So that part of ID isn’t one that theistic evolution has to accept.

So what about the other?  Well, theistic evolution doesn’t have to accept irreducible complexity at all.  But irreducible complexity is, in fact, something that theistic evolution would like to see, but only in a very special way.  What they’d like to have — at least — is that there is some trait that could have climbed Mount Improbable … but not under the conditions that the organism was actually in.  A trait that it seems quite unlikely to have had enough of a benefit to be selected for, or that was introduced just in time for an environmental change to make it beneficial, or anything that means that something made that trait survive when it really probably shouldn’t have.  In some cases, of course, randomness dictates that these sorts of odd things will occur, but if they keep happening and are required for things to end up how they ended up, we have to start wondering if there was a reason for things to be as they were and if something, then, was responsible for guiding it.  But note that this could apply to portions of the one overall thing, and so it wouldn’t have to be created all at once.  Theistic evolution doesn’t have to ever say that some organ or trait ever sprung into existence out of whole cloth.  It can accept completely climbing Mount Improbable.  All it need say is that at some point, someone left a rope to make the climb easier or possible, and that rope was left by God.

I don’t claim we have any such cases or proof now, because I don’t think we do and, in fact, think these things impossible to find (practically).

So it seems to me that theistic evolution fits more into an evolutionary side than a creationist side.  All it shares with creationism is the believe that God was involved.  But that it isn’t atheistic and may not be precisely Darwinistic isn’t enough to say that it isn’t an evolutionary perspective, or that it and ID can’t be distinguished (and so both must be attacked and destroyed equally).  It seems to accept evolution, and the claim is that ID doesn’t accept evolution.

Is it still religious?  Well, duh.  But that’s not all that interesting a claim, as we’ve discovered.

So we must make certain that TE doesn’t get lumped in with ID and dismissed because of the issues with creationism.  It’s a different theory than those, and must be treated as such.  This doesn’t make it right, but it should mean that it isn’t simply refuted by association.

Sakura Wars: Difficulty.

May 19, 2010

So, I’ve hit a bit of a snag in Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love.

I’m at what is about the second or third last sequence, right before I get to choose which of them I want to date.  And so a couple of weeks ago I went through the dating/investigation sequence, and then hit the combat sequence.  And then discovered that I really didn’t have any idea what I was doing and messed up one of my first moves.

I knew that there was a trick to it and that I’d figure it out eventually.   But I was tired and didn’t feel like going through that at that point, so I shut it off and figured I’d get back to it later.

I haven’t loaded the game since.

Part of this is because the best time for me to play it is Friday evening, since it’s the one night where I start playing things later in the evening — and so would like something that can be shorter — and yet I also usually don’t have to get up that early the next morning so if it drifts over a bit it’s fine.  I either don’t have the time on the weekdays, or have more time that I’d like to devote to the game (what would I do when I hit an episode break).  And I’ve had to get up early the past couple of weeks, and so haven’t played it then.

But another part of it is that I know there’ll be some trial-and-error involved and that I’ll mess it up at least once or twice, and have to replay parts of it.  The fact that I’ll have to do this is basically making me not want to play the game, despite the fact that I really, really, really want to finish it.

Which leads to a more general discussion of “difficulty”.  With Persona 3 and Persona 4, I always play it on “Easy”.  Even when I carried over my really, really powerful MC (for Persona 3).  Even when grinding Tartarus enough to level my other characters was boring me to tears, and making me hate Tartarus.  This is because dying is even less fun, and I didn’t want to have to try and retry and of the boss encounters.  It’s also why I never try the bonus dungeon.

See, story-based games have a problem, or perhaps a connundrum.  Some people, like me, play them primarily for the story, with the game being interesting diversions that push the plot along.  But the issue here is that the story and game elements can clash, and it all comes down to how hard the gameplay is.   If the gameplay is too hard, then people get frustrated with the gameplay and don’t get to finish the story.  And then they consider the game to be less than ideal.  But if you make it too easy, then there’s not much of a game there; you might as well just be watching an anime or animated movie.

Sakura Wars is, in fact, not a very difficult game.  I’m not particularly good at those sorts of games and I’m not having any issues so far.  But the more involved — and therefore difficult — the fights get, the more chance there is of my hitting something that I can’t figure out and quitting the game, which would mean that they’d  turn off a potential future customer (my big worry about the game was that the combat would tick me off enough that I’d never finish the game).  The Personas had a difficulty setting for combat, and that the “‘Answer” expansion didn’t was a source of frustration for me (although I did beat it twice).

These are decent ways to try to strike a balance.  But there are really bad ways.  For example, it was either Baldur’s Gate or the original Icewind Dale (or both) that gave you a difficulty slider … and then said that if you set it lower you’d get less XP in combat.  Which, to me, meant that I’d get less cool things if I set it lower (levels, level powers, skills, etc).  Which would make the game experience worse for me.  So I left it where it was, and ended up with the typical narcolepsy and reloading if one of my characters died.  Yeah, don’t give me a difficulty slider and then punish me for using it.

Note that this was done in the MMORPG City of Heroes (the ability to bump it up and then I think you got more XP for encounters, but they were harder) but there it worked, because all it cost me was time to keep it on a more manageable level.  But in a static game, that doesn’t work; there are only so many monsters to kill in following the story, and getting less XP means having less levels at the end  unless grinding can be done.  In CoH, I could reach the highest levels and all the cool powers even if I kept it at the easier levels; in the other game, I couldn’t.

There’s not really much of a point to this.  I’m just pointing out the trade-off and how it’s impacting my enjoyment of Sakura Wars.  If there’s anything to take away from this, it’s that customizing the experience and difficulty without penalizing players is a good thing, and should be aimed at by any game that wants to do anything with a story.

The poverty of the incompatibilist position …

May 15, 2010

Jerry Coyne recently attacked an attempt by Dr. Joel Martin to prove statistically that the majority of religious people at least don’t have any real issues with evolution:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/religion-and-evolution/

After reading my post here, reading his posting should make your irony meters explode.  Seriously.

I’ll get into some of Coyne’s massaging of statistics later, but that’s not the main point of this post.  The main point of this post is to talk about something inspired by and which follows from a comment on that post by Zeke: the fact that there really seems to be no argument or coherent position to the incompatibilist/anti-accomodationist position:

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“(2) The requirement that Christians accept “non-theistic evolution” in order to be counted as pro-evolution is anachronistic and ridiculous. Basically, you’re saying that theists have to become non-theists in order to become acceptable pro-evolution-people to you. Well, fine, that’s the hardcore New Atheist position, but don’t pretend like you are actually talking about the question of whether religious Americans accept evolution any more. You are talking about whether religious Americans accept atheism. When one states the question accurately like this, isn’t a very interesting question, really. Theists aren’t atheists is really all you are saying in the posts. And what else is new?”

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The best paragraph in Coyne’s post that highlights what Zeke is saying is this:

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“My own judgment is that the Catholic Church does not accept evolution as it’s understood by scientists, who think that the human mind, like the human body, is the result of evolution, and that the mind emerged from matter.  By asserting that mind (and “soul”) did not evolve but were instilled in humans by God, the Church can be seen as an advocate of intelligent design.  It differs in degree but not in kind from IDers like Michael Behe, who accept some evolution by natural selection but also assert that other traits were created by a supernatural intelligence.”

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Zeke rightly points out that this essentially says that you can’t be scientific unless you’re an atheist or hold an atheistic view (or naturalistic view all the way down).  This, of course, would be the heart, I suppose, of the anti-accomodationist/incompatibilist position: theism is incompatible with science.  The problem here is that we can clearly see that Coyne is doing it by definition, not by argument.  And, worse yet for the incompatibilist position, he seems to be doing by saying nothing more than: “Religion is not science”.  Which, of course, is absolutely true, but uninteresting, and as uninteresting as the claim that theism is not atheism, which Zeke rightly identifies as being an uninteresting question.

And here is the revelation: the incompatibilist position, to be taken seriously, has to be making a serious point and have a meaningful position.  Thus, the onus is indeed on them to define “incompatible” in a way that matters.  It’s clear that simply saying “Science is not religion” is not it.  So, then, what would it be?

Well, let me propose what I think is the at least potentially interesting position they can take.  In order to have a position that’s worth considering, it cannot be the case that they merely claim “Some religions are incompatible with science” and then point to religions that posit — for example — that science cannot work because all of the empirical evidence that science could work on that contradicts their Biblical evidence is simply an illusion created by God (or Satan).  Yes, that religion would be incompatible, but that wouldn’t be enough to make an interesting point.  After all, there are philosophies that are also incompatible with science in that regard (see many post-modern ones) and I could easily invent one in a minute, and yet no one would argue that that means that philosophy and science are incompatible.  So that just won’t do.

No, what’s required here is the stronger and meaningful position of “Science and religion are inherently incompatible”, in the sense that if A is a religion then it is incompatible with science by definition.  By which I mean that the definition of religion somehow entails that it will, in some way, be incompatible with science.  And, of course, we don’t want to do this by simply saying that religion and science are incompatible, so what we would have to do is define what you have to have to be a religion and show that one of those traits entails being incompatible with science.

What this means for the common arguments I’ve seen espoused is that the incompatibilists cannot, as I’ve already said, point to a religion that isn’t compatible as evidence for their claims.  They need, instead, to get down into the argumentative trenches and show an inherent conflict between science and religion.  However, it does mean that accomodationists and compatibilists can point to religions that are compatible with science as evidence for their positions.  After all, if there exists something that by definition is a religion and yet is compatible with science, it can’t be the case that science and religion are inherently incompatible.

The problem I have is that, in general, not only have the incompatibilists I read — Larry Moran, Coyne, and PZ Myers, as well as everyone they link to who agrees with them — never bothered to do this, they’ve never actually bothered to even define their position, or even argue for it.  I know that I am coming a little late to the party, but even in Dawkins’ book I don’t see a really well-defined position of how science and religion are incompatible, with good arguments for that position.  In general, I get the impression that their argument is more like “I don’t like religion, so it’s bad.  Science is good.  So incompatible.”  Okay, okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement.  It definitely, though, seems more like “Some religions disagree with science on some of the things I think are important, and I prefer the methods of science to those of religion.  So, incompatible.”  But, however you slice it, the big issues do seem to be personal ones.  Religion, for example, opposes teaching evolution in schools or wants to teach intelligent design.  Religion disagrees with some scientific views that they find appealing.  Religion causes people to kill in the name of religion.

None of these, of course, are valid philosophical arguments.  And this is problematic for these incompatibilists since most of them also advocate reason and critical thinking (and oppose religion also because they think religion doesn’t do that).  This means that they can’t allow such personal arguments to sway them.  They have to provide objective arguments that everyone can follow and evaluate.  And they also need to outline a precise position so that we all can determine if they hold the two incompatible in a way worth worrying about.  None of which I’ve seen.  (If someone has a good link or a good book that does outline this, feel free to recommend it).

But as it stands right now, the incompatibilist position is too vaguely defined to be evaluated, and what little it does talk about is too shallow to be a meaningful distinction, as it seems to reduce to “Religion is not science”.  So none of that is helpful.  And note that the burden of proof is not on those who don’t accept that science and religion are incompatible, but on those who are arguing that they are.  The incompatibilists made the claim, so they must prove their claim.

Now, let’s look at a couple of ways in which people can claim religion and science compatible.  I submit two broad categories: NOMA (that science and religion, at their heart, deal with two different areas) and a claim that religion and science are two different methodologies for looking at the same truths.

Let’s start with NOMA.  The most obvious NOMA position would be that science is naturalistic and so studies natural things, and religion is not and concerns itself mainly with supernatural things.  This is a commonly held distinction, and so looks like a good starting place.  But there is an objection to this, which is made by Dawkins and Coyne and, well, almost all of them: if supernatural things have an impact on the “natural” world — through miracles or creation — then science can study them while they’re looking for natural causes.  So that wouldn’t put supernatural things outside of the scope of science, unless the supernatural thing never actually does anything (the deist God, then, is considered the only NOMA-eligible religion).  So, NOMA doesn’t work.

To see what’s wrong with this position, we need to look at little deeper.  In order for the original distinction to have any meaning, we have to consider that science makes at least a naturalistic presumption, in that it assumes — at least — that all things are natural (if it doesn’t just simply decide that the supernatural doesn’t exist).  So, from this, it follows that when given a choice between a naturalistic explanation — no matter how improbable — and a supernatural explanation, science will choose the natural one.  And then this becomes a problem for the counter to the natural/supernatural NOMA distinction: how can we assume that science would ever allow for a supernatural explanation if they will take any natural explanation over a supernatural explanation?  It will only be the case that science will accept the supernatural if there is no other natural explanation possible, but we know that there are almost always other explanations for any phenomena we witness.  Thus, it seems like there will always be a possible natural explanation for science to accept over the supernatural one.  This sort of biasing would indeed create a NOMA position, in that a field that simply rejected a naturalistic presumption — without claiming that supernatural things existed — might in fact take supernatural explanations where science would not.  In short, there is room in NOMA for a field that does not make the naturalistic presumption, and therefore studies the supernatural in and of itself.  Which is a position that science cannot take since they never allow themselves to accept the supernatural explanation.

Note, BTW, that science may be perfectly reasonable and even right to do so; I do not claim that anything supernatural really exists.  This is an entirely philosophical debate, looking at arguments and presumptions.  We can always hammer out the details later.

The other claim would be that science has its methodological assumptions — to use Larry Moran’s, that it is rational, evidence-based, and skeptical — and religion has a different set, either because it adds or rejects one or more.  I’ve already argued that religion does indeed do this, by rejecting skepticism:

https://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/an-answer-to-larry-moran/

But, in this case, NOMA doesn’t apply.  Religion and science look at the same things, but they do it in different ways.  Since the expectation is that they’ll all come to the same answers eventually, there’s no conflict between them, even if they disagree at some times about certain points.

There is a counter to this: the counter of irrelevance.  Science is, we all agree, massively successful.  If religion is studying the same things it is, and we expect them both to get to the same answers, what do we need religion for?  This might be the underlying thought behind replies to “Science has no answers for X” that are of the form “Well, how good has religion been at them?”: the idea that religion hasn’t proven that it can give answers to what science hasn’t been able to do either.

I’ve shown in the post I referenced above that I do think that rejecting skepticism can be useful, and as long as it can be useful there’s room for both methodologies.  We may need to have some methods of conflict resolution for the times when they aren’t claiming the same facts, but that they disagree at times wouldn’t make them inherently incompatible in an interesting way.  It would simply make them different.  And different in way that my post does point out allows someone to use either according to the specific circumstances.

So, this could be an incompatibilist viewpoint, but only in a sense that is uninteresting, as it reduces to “Religion is not science”.

Another potential claim, following from the definition of religion, would be this: Religions require that there be a god.  Science has proven that gods do not exist.  Therefore, religions are incompatible with science as they deny — in principle — scientific fact.

Unfortunately, there is no scientific fact that gods do not exist.  Some religions might be in conflict with scientific fact, but few of those are inherently in conflict with scientific fact.  To take a few examples, while evolution over time is a scientific fact, that that was not influenced by a God is not; there is no scientific fact and, it seems, no possibility of scientific fact claiming that.  It is not yet a scientific fact — to take Coyne’s argument above — that the mind evolved or that there is no soul.   So, religions that accept evolution over time but posit the influence of God are not, in fact, incompatible with scientific fact.

As I said in the comments of Coyne’s post, if a religion allows itself to conform to scientific fact and then adjusts its views to match that scientific fact, it isn’t incompatible with science.  Theistic evolution is precisely that sort of case: it conforms to the scientific facts of evolution by adjusting its views to conform to them.  Eventually, scientific fact may eliminate such religions, but that day is not this day.

There are other arguments and positions that can be held, and I welcome people like Dawkins, Moran, Coyne and others outlining them and arguing for them.  Or, at least, defining a position that I can evaluate.  Otherwise, I think any rational person has to conclude that the debate over accomodationism has to be called off due to the lack of an opposing side.

Now, let’s take a look at some small things in Coyne’s post.  He says this:

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“There are many ways that accommodationists try to show that faith and science are compatible, but never before have I seen a scientist with this aim play so fast and loose with the data.”

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Well, since he makes this charge so bluntly — and repeats it at the end — I guess we can expect that he will play strictly with the data, right?  Right?

Sigh.  Nope.

Let’s look at one of his arguments.  He takes a quote of two charts, puts them side-by-side, and then tries to establish that the Catholic Church doesn’t really accept evolution.  Now, before I comment on this and show his conclusions, note that this is why he wants to do this:

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“If you move Catholics from column “A” to column “B”, the proportion of American who belong to non-compatibilist faiths goes from 45.85% to 75%. ”

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So, it’s important to him to get that (I will, BTW, reproduce the whole paragraph later to talk about it in more detail, but this is just what I want to show for now).  You can find the graphs in his post, and I just want to highlight his “analysis”:

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“But we don’t need to rely on these anecdotes.  Go back to the Pew Forum survey again, and look at all the figures about faith/science conflict, including Catholics—53% of whom find science and faith often in conflict. Do the following data paint a picture of compatibility between the magisteria?”

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So, he’s referring to the left-hand graph, which does show that 53% of Catholics think that science and religion (he says faith, they say religion) are often in conflict, 39% said that they weren’t, and 8% refused to say.  Well, fair enough, as far as it goes.  But he ignores the right-hand graph, which asks the more specific and far more relevant question of whether or not science conflicts with that person’s specific religious beliefs (the question is a bit awkward, but that’s what it gets at, it seems to me).  And when asked if it conflicts with their own personal religious beliefs, 52% of Catholics said … no.  44% said it did, and 3% refused to answer.  And the left-hand question asked “often”, while the right-hand said “sometimes”.

So, the data that Coyne provides contradicts the claim that Catholics believe that science conflicts with their religion.  They think that it often conflicts with “religion”, but not theirs.  Or, at least, the majority don’t, and it’s about the same numbers on either side.  So how is this evidence for his contention?

Note that even if he hadn’t completely ignored the more relevant and direct data, his point doesn’t work … and he’s smart enough to know that it isn’t.  After all, he does argue that claims of “X% of scientists are religious” doesn’t say anything about whether or not science and religion are really compatible, since they could be wrong about that.  So, then, why does he think that asking Catholics if they think science and religion are compatible is any sort of argument for compatbility, to the extent that he uses it to claim that there is a conflict (at least for Catholics)?  They could be just as wrong.  Now, he can be slightly forgiven since he was replying to someone who was using statistics, but this returns to the irony point: don’t abuse statistics to make your point, and don’t make arguments that the statistics aren’t relevant to.  Coyne does both in one paragraph.

The next graph talks about the acceptance of evolution:

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“And if you break down opposition to evolution by faith, you find that only 33% of Catholics (as opposed to 32% of the American public) see life as having evolved over time due to natural processes. And 27% of Catholics, in opposition to the official dogma of their church, see life as having been created at one time and remaining unchanged since—only a bit less than the 31% of the public in general:”

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Again, I won’t copy the graph.  So what we have is this: For Catholics, 33% seen life as having evolved over time due to natural processes, 25% see it has having evolved over time guided by a supreme being, 7% say it evolved over time, but don’t know how, 27% said that they existed in their present form from the beginning of time, and 8% didn’t answer.  So, right away, that 7% above should probably be included in the compatible position; there’s no God or anything that’s against natural evolution there, bringing it to 40% that are perfectly compatible with Coyne (we shouldn’t let that they don’t know the science stop them from being considered compatible).    Anyway, Coyne concludes:

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“So Martin chalks up 67 million Catholics as belonging to churches that accept evolution—yet only 33% of individual Catholics buy non-theistic evolution.”

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Well, it’s somewhere in-between that and 40%, but the real question is: So?  Why is the precise form of evolution the determining factor in compatibility here?  He never says, but simply asserts it, which is a bad thing for someone trying to show that they are, in fact, incompatible.  I submit that the important thing with evolution is “Evolved over time”.  If you accept that, you accept evolution in every meaningful sense.  If you have a different idea of how that progressed, that doesn’t mean you don’t accept it.  That Catholics tend to think that a divine hand guided it doesn’t mean that they don’t accept evolution any more than if someone thought that natural selection wasn’t the overwhelming factor in evolution it would mean that they didn’t accept it (oh, wait, Coyne might argue that, too).

This is devolving to the logical fallacy of the “No True Scotsman”; even accepting the heart of the theory is not enough for Coyne, so he adds on other details to say “But they don’t really accept evolution”.  This carries on through the discussions of the soul that Coyne uses to claim that the Catholic position is really ID (see the top of the post); that they disagree that mind also evolved and argue that it was given to us by God makes them ID … in an interesting sense for the accomodationist debate, somehow.

The worst part about that is that if you look at the fields that pay the most attention to mind — Cognitive Science, Philosophy of Mind, and Psychology — it isn’t clear that mind evolved.  There are emergentist positions of mind, and it seems that emergent systems don’t really evolve the way evolutionary theory would want them to.  They can be selected for once they appear, but you can’t select for the individual parts since they only work when they’re all stuck together.  There’s no clear path as to how mind could have evolved.  And evolutionary psychology is not the overwhelmingly popular theory of mind in psychology, and has its own problems (as Coyne himself admits).  Does this mean that anyone who held, say, an emergentist theory would have to reject evolution?  Hardly.

This is clearly just an attempt for Coyne to massage the numbers so that he can avoid the embarassing result that because the Catholics accept evolution, most religions — by numbers of followers — accept evolution.

But Coyne does back out of this, with what almost might be a good argument related to Martin’s claims if he hadn’t missed the entire point of all of this:

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“If you move Catholics from column “A” to column “B”, the proportion of American who belong to non-compatibilist faiths goes from 45.85% to 75%.  But this whole enterprise of totting up faiths is misleading.  It is individuals who reject evolution, fight science textbooks, and make trouble for evolution—many of these in opposition to the “official” positions of their faiths.”

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And the numbers seem to indicate that that’s about 27% of Catholics, unless he wants to argue that the official position of the Catholic Church is not compatible.  But he does, in some sense, miss the point: you cannot claim that a religion is in and of itself incompatible because some of its followers disagree.  The official position of a religion being compatible is a great start, and gives a perfectly rational and reasonable response when, say, a Catholic comes in claiming that their religion and evolution are incompatible.  You simply say: “Your religion disagrees with you”.

Now, there are two groups that could fit into this “disagrees with the official position camp”.  The first are those that don’t know what that position is.  When you answer the above — with the evidence — they will say “Huh.  I didn’t know that”.  And then they will either join with the official compatible position, or move to the second group: those who are aware of the position and disagree with it.  They, then, will have reasons for disagreeing with it.  Reasons that they can outline and can be argued against.  At this point, it’s probably better for the scientists to stay out of it and let the Catholics argue over it, but this is a job for philosophy and theology and those fields are welcoming of opinions from everyone.

So, no, those people shouldn’t be a problem, if their religion accepts evolution.  And they’re a minority anyway, even by the normal numbers.  So, what’s Coyne’s problem, again?

And, after all of this, the ultimate paragraph:

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“Martin is wrong to claim that it’s a “misconception” that “[evolution] is viewed with distrust by persons of faith.” That happens to be the truth. We can’t make opposition to evolution go away by massaging the data.”

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Well, you could start by not massaging the data yourself …

But there’s one good point here.  Is evolution viewed with distrust by people of faith?  It may well be, and I think it is (even though Coyne certainly doesn’t demonstrate it in his post).  But then the question is: why is it viewed with distrust?  Is it because they don’t accept it?  Or is it because they keep getting told that their faith and evolution are in conflict by people like Coyne, even if they really aren’t?

Clearly the latter is not the fault of religion, or science, but is the fault of incompatibilists.  Let’s let them take responsibility for that first, and then we can see where it all shakes out using good, clear arguments and positions.

A positive review of “What Darwin Got Wrong”.

May 14, 2010

Coyne makes reference to a somewhat positive review of “What Darwin Got Wrong” here:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/05/07/dick-lewontin-reviews-what-darwin-got-wrong/

I’ll link to Coyne’s post even though I don’t want to say anything about it because, well, I should give him credit for posting one that he disagrees with.  The full review, by Dick Lewontin, is here:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/may/27/not-so-natural-selection/

What I’ll say about this is that Lewontin seems to raise much of the same problems that I did, so I’m not alone in my concerns.  How important they are might be open to question.  And he has an interesting take on the obvious examples of natural selection — like the peppered moth — that might raise some interesting questions about, at least, how you could know whether a trait exists because it was selected for or because it just happened to happen.

Once More With Feeling …

May 14, 2010

So, I’m working my way through Season 6 of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and I’ve hit what is clearly my favourite Buffy episode, my favourite episode of any of the Whedon shows I’ve cared about (Buffy, Angel and Firefly) and quite probably my favourite episode ever of all the shows I like: One More With Feeling, the musical episode.

Now, I don’t care all that much for musicals.  I really do like music, but musicals have been hit or miss for me.  I liked “Phantom of the Opera”, but when I actually went to see it I had already listened to the soundtrack a lot.  I didn’t care much for “Spamalot”.  I don’t generally watch any other musicals, movies or otherwise.  So you’d think that I wouldn’t care all that much for that episode.  and yet last night I watched it twice, and will almost certainly watch it at least one more time before I put Season 6 away.  I don’t watch any other episode more than once a run, even the ones I fall asleep during.

So why do I like this one so much?  Well, first, the music is actually pretty good in most places.  The songs are catchy and entertaining without being either too outdated or too New Agey.  The songs, basically, lean to the Top 40 side while still being the sort of thing that you’d have in a musical.  So, think Phantom, but more modern and with a bit more rock.  So the music is fun to listen to.

Second, there is a good bit of mocking of the musical formula involved.  Characters comment on it being terrible or cool, and there’s an acceptance that this is happening and it’s not normal.  Most musicals do just slide it in and everyone accepts that bursting into song happens.  But since this is Buffy, it isn’t accepted.  Spike in one of his musical numbers seems to be resigned to actually singing when it starts, with a a bit of a “Oh, bloody hell” expression on his face as he looks to the sky when the music starts.  Buffy at one point goes out to see if it was just them and notes a guy — with an entire street of back-up singers and dancers — singing about “They got the mustard out!” and returns with a simple “It’s not just us”.  A chase scene with Dawn later fits the standard of how you do those things in dance in a musical, and yet is so utterly absurd that — because we’ve all accepted that these things are just really, really absurd — that it just strikes us as another oddity, and we can essentially put that aside.  It’s supposed to look out of place; just go with it.

But third is that, ultimately, it’s well-crafted.  Scenes and songs fit together neatly.  Some parts are definitely aimed to take advantage of linking music and the scenes on the screen, such as Buffy’s last line in the intro song blowing through a dissolving vampire.  Songs join in interesting ways, like when Tara finishes “You made me believe” at the same moment as Giles starts a different song of “Believe me I don’t want to go”, and then the two merge (and diverge).  Even the absurd dance chase scene works for the uninitiated eye — mine — as a decent attempt at such a scene.  So, even as it pokes fun at musicals, it takes them seriously enough to do it at least decently.

Fourth, it keeps the humour of the show and weaves it in.  Xander gets the bulk of the work — as he normally does — from “Your tight … embrace, tight embrace” to “It could be witches, evil witches ” and then looking at Tara and Willow continuing with basically (I’ll miss part of it for certain, so it’s not a direct quote) “Which is ridiculous ’cause they were persecuted, really nice and I’ll be over there.”  I didn’t find Anya’s bunnies rant as funny as others did, but in general there is a good bit of humour spread out in both the songs and the non-singing portions.

And finally, it does a good job of doing something that needed to be done in a way that doesn’t bore the audience.  There were a lot of simmering plotlines that needed to be resolved or started at this point.  Buffy had just returned from heaven, and wasn’t quite herself.  Her friends, however, didn’t know that.  Xander and Anya were getting married, and some of the issues with that had to be expanded on.  Tara and Willow were having issues over Willow’s increasing reliance on magic.  Giles was feeling that Buffy was relying on him too much.  Spike’s love for Buffy and her returning it — kinda — had to be started.  To set this all aside to move onto the deeper issues of this would either require an entire episode dedicated to this exposition and character development, or continuing small portions of it in other episodes.  That the musical forced people to sing about what they were really thinking/feeling got this all out in the open in one big character development plot, but in a less boring way.  As Sweet sings at the end, no one can say that this ended well; there are now tons of new issues to address (some of which are finalized in the next episode, “Tabula Rasa”, like the break-up of Willow and Tara), but I didn’t come out of it overwhelmed by angst and depressed.  Ultimately, Fridge Logic (and later episodes) will pile the angst on, but it’s a less depressing way for us to see and have the issues come out, and prepare for the nasty resolutions later on.  So, it worked really well in that it allowed for a unique episode to move the characters along without boring or depressing the audience.  And that’s special.

What’s bad about the episode is the ending.  It really strikes me that having it be Xander who cast the spell in the first place seems to me to be a cop-out of an ending, like they knew that they needed it to be Dawn who was going to go back with Sweet originally but couldn’t think of a way to get her out of it at the end, and hit on the mildly humourous idea of having it be Xander who really should go back so that Sweet wouldn’t want to take him.  But there’s no indication that he would do it, would have wanted to, or that he even thought that it might have been him.  He also seems to hate musicals from the beginning, which would be odd if, you know, he’d wanted some singing and some dancing in the first place.  So that’s pretty much a cop-out, and there could have been a better ending.  Probably that part of the episode is best ignored.

And, since this is a philosophical writer’s guide, I guess I should say something philosophical.  Here it is: I think Kant would have approved.*

* This statement makes no actual claims about whether or not Kant would have approved of this episode.