Archive for March, 2023

Thoughts on “The Christian Delusion” (Part 2 – Why the Bible is Not God’s Word)

March 31, 2023

In this chapter, Edward T. Babinski, Paul Tobin and Loftus set out to argue against Biblical inerrancy, the idea that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, mostly by trying to find contradictions in the work itself or showing that it seems to have been influenced by the other cultures around them.

What struck me about this chapter is that while atheists, in general, keep asking us to treat the Bible and its purportedly historical events like general historical events, this chapter is a prime example of the atheist tendency to insist that we not do that and instead insist that if the contents of the Bible were created/transmitted by normal historical means — and so inherited the issues with such transmission — then that disprove the Bible because it cannot be literally true.  What this suggests to me is that they don’t really want us to treat the Bible like an ancient historical document and analyze it that way, but instead only ask us to do that so that they can slip in methodological naturalism.  They want to be able to argue that since the first things we tend to toss away from ancient legends are the supernatural elements, we need to treat the Bible like that as well so that they can encourage us to toss away those supernatural elements as well, and so throw out God.  Once theists — rightly, since they aren’t naturalists — refuse to do so, then they retreat to pointing out those inconsistencies and noting that the Bible isn’t the inerrant Word of God and so get us to toss away God that way.  But this requires us to treat the Bible as “special”, and we can ask what the point of treating it like any other historical claim was in the first place if they are willing to abandon it as soon as it gets inconvenient for them.

Now, they can somewhat rightly claim that the religions themselves treat it that way, and it’s totally fair to point out that their own presumptions are, in the end, contradicted by the content of the Bible.  The problem with this is that a lot of the very Christian religions that they most want to criticize aren’t literalists when it comes to the Bible.  When it comes to the New Testament, for example, the Catholic Church’s position is that the Gospels and other works just are historical documents, and so explain the discrepancies between them by appealing to the idea that different witnesses or perspectives always result in discrepancies.  And Catholics in particular are more than willing to consider the Genesis creation stories as mostly symbolic.  The common reply from atheists is that if there are things in here that were once taken literally but were really meant to be symbolic or if there were things in it that were corruptions of the original message through the normal issues with ancient historical methods, how could we ever parse these things apart to get at what really happened?  If there seem to be contradictions in God’s morality or theology, how can we ever figure out what the real meaning is?  What possible methods could we use to do that?  Well, as it turns out, we would use the existing methods of history and philosophy to do that.  We’ve been parsing through transmitted legends and dealing with seemingly contradictory philosophies all the time.  Just on the philosophy front, Kant had to add a section to “The Critique of Pure Reason” refuting Idealism because some people claimed that he was one … and it still didn’t work.  Wittgenstein wrote two contradictory treatises and only implicitly disavowed the first one.  We know how to approach such things to come up with what seems to be the most consistent interpretation of both historical and philosophical works.

Which is what the atheists tend not to do.  The first thing that we tend to do in such cases is indeed try to come up with the most consistent way to interpret the text, smoothing over things that seem contradictory and even dropping potential contradictions that seem unimportant.  As seen in this chapter, this is the exact opposite approach that the atheists take.  Instead of trying to reconcile as much as they can and only leave important and impossible to reconcile contradictions, they spend their time trying to list as many potential contradictions as they can.  One might think that they were trying to build a cumulative case, but what they are doing is indeed not a cumulative case.  What characterizes a cumulative case is that each step builds on the previous one to ultimately make their argument when they are all taken together.  What this means is that each individual step would not, in and of itself, prove their argument, and that all of the steps are directly related to each other.  For all of their examples, that’s not the case.  The steps are in general unrelated, and if any one of those arguments was both important enough and proven true that step in and of itself would win their argument for them.  Those are not the hallmarks of a cumulative argument.

So it seems clear that instead of a cumulative argument, what they are aiming for is a “shotgun” approach, where they fire a ton of arguments at their opponents and hope that one hits home.  However, in reading this chapter, it struck me that this approach actually works against them for anyone who is reading the argument and thinking carefully about it.  The issue is that with so many arguments, while it is indeed the case that they are likely to hit an argument that someone cannot simply refute, there will also be a number of arguments that they either can come up with an argument against or that they don’t consider an important contradiction and so not anything to worry about.  Given that, when they encounter an argument that they can’t argue against. they are not going to throw up their hands and declare that it can’t be resolved, but instead think that there probably is a resolution and that educated theologians might have even already come up with that explanation, and so it won’t move them.  The atheist will look like they are nitpicking a lot of the time and so even the ones that are important or are difficult to resolve will seem likely to be the same sort of nitpicking.

This flows into the arrogance of atheists to declare that if they can’t think of a way to resolve the issues or can’t themselves think of why God would do things that way, then it’s not reasonable to think that there could possibly be a way to deal with these issues.  This means that they list issues that convince them, but may not be issues at all for the theists they are purportedly trying to convince.  This is particularly evident in Loftus’ work, where he gives an example of how he’d rewrite the creation story to make it more “scientifically accurate”, but he doesn’t consider whether or not that would actually be better.  Would his scientific approach appeal to the ancient groups that the Old Testament originally appealed to, especially given the other nearby cultures with their own origin myths?

Seen in this light, the Bible actually seems to be a pretty good way to spread the Word of God considering how remarkably successful it’s been!  Taking just the creation story that Loftus rewrites, it had to appeal to ancient Jews who had exposure to the more mystical and mythical creation stories — hence Babinski’s discussion of the influence of those other cultures — while still holding meaning to the Jewish culture of the time Christianity arose and used it as a basis for Christianity, while still having some symbolic meaning for the more scientific world of today.  Considering how popular a religion Christianity is, it seems like the books of the Bible were introduced in the exact right way and at the exact right time to create Christianity.  Loftus et al may try to claim that therefore any other popular religion could make the same claim, but Christianity has a cross-cultural appeal, as we saw in the first part, that doesn’t apply to the other religions.  So on what grounds can Loftus criticize how God built the Bible and how He communicated with us given its success?

Loftus almost certainly would reply with the other points in his essay:  the way God communicated led to misunderstandings that have caused wars and other horrible things, and so if God had been more clear that wouldn’t have happened.  But again, considering the broad span of time and the broad span of flawed human beings that it had to bridge, that things would be misinterpreted and misinterpreted in self-serving ways was pretty much a given.  Even claims of direct miracles have been things that we see didn’t convince some and that we can totally believe wouldn’t have convinced some, so how could we expect any simple words to do that?  At this point, in order for Loftus to make his point he has to declare his own judgement to be better than that of the omniscient being he’s criticizing.  And note that this isn’t an appeal to “God’s ways are so mysterious that we could never understand them”.  Christians have come up with a lot of possible explanations for pretty much every objection that the atheists in this chapter have raised.  So the argument from the atheists has been “You haven’t come up with an explanation that we buy or accept”.  Yeah, but that’s not a strong argument.  To make the claim, as the title of this part declares, that the Bible is not God’s Word, they need to convince us, not the other way around.  And as noted when I talked about the “shotgun approach”, we can see how their own assessments of the situation are not anywhere near as solid as they’d like to think.  Given that, why shouldn’t Christians trust God over them?

Next up is the third part, on morality, which likely will approach things in the same way but will absolutely require philosophy to assess and not just history, which means that it is definitely more in my wheelhouse than this part.

Thoughts on “Final Destination”

March 30, 2023

I have a five pack of this series, and am planning on going through it before trying out Shudder and seeing what it has.  As it turns out, I think I have a bit of a history with this series despite not having watched any of these movies.  I seem to recall when they first came out talking about this with some co-workers and while they were saying how great it sounded my comment was that I thought it sounded really stupid, which got them to look at me incredibly funny as if I’d made some huge social faux pas in expressing how terrible I thought the concept sounded in response to them talking about how great they thought it’d be.  That wasn’t what got me to not watch any of those movies — my dislike of the concept was responsible for that — but it is something that stuck with me over the years.

The main reason that I didn’t like the concept was because even then I was partial to the idea of Death as a neutral as opposed to evil idea, as seen in “Incarnations of Immortality” (that I had read in high school after borrowing them from a friend), a view that is reflected in one of my recent stories.  But what I think I had thought at the time and definitely, after my experiences watching a lot of horror movies, reflects a deeper issue with the concept.  To make for really good horror, the killings can’t really be just simple killings, especially at that time.  They need to be somewhat gory and definitely a bit cruel, perhaps even drawn out.  But if Death wants to eliminate people who have escaped him, he wouldn’t kill them that way.  Death as accountant, cleaning up the books, is going to be, pardon the pun, deadly efficient at that task.  They will die in the easiest and most convenient way possible. as Death as no reason or desire to drag it out or torture people.  Making a concept of Death that would kill them in cruel ways was going to be difficult to do.

Anyway, the plot of the first movie is that a group of high school students are heading off to Paris, and a number of things happen to the male lead that imply and make him feel that he’s about to die.  Once on the plane, he falls asleep and dreams of a horrific plane crash — which, since I’ve been watching the TV series “Mayday” which covers the investigation of air disasters, was kind of cool — and then when he wakes up he sees that events are happening like they did in his dream or vision and he freaks out and tries to get off the plane, which causes him to have a fight with a classmate that he doesn’t get along with, which gets them kicked off the plane.  A friend of his goes with him to make sure he’s all right — told to do that by his brother — and another girl runs off the plane as well.  The airport security will let one of the two teachers that got off the plane back on, and so the female teacher tells the presumably French teacher to get on the plane.  And, of course, the plane explodes, which means that his getting off the plane has saved all of their lives.  But since he seemed to know about the plane exploding before it happened and because they all got off the plane and avoided it, we are introduced to two FBI agents who are investigating these things.  Anyway, things start to get back to normal, and there are some decent scenes with them feeling guilt and fear over what happened and what he knew, but then we start to get to the horror part, where the brother is in the bathroom and a puddle of water seeks him out, makes him slip so that he tangles his neck in the shower hose so that he strangles to death, and then the puddle retreats, making everyone think that he committed suicide over guilt for having left the plane and leaving his brother to die.  But before he died, the male lead had a vision that the brother was going to die, and rushes over to the house — too late — but sees the other girl there as well.  When he confronts her about being there, she says that the reason she got off the plane was because she could feel what he was feeling and so knew he was telling the truth.  At any rate, they end up sneaking into the morgue to see if the brother’s death was really a suicide, and the mortician talks about Death having a set plan and that since they’ve interrupted it Death will have to set it right.  They talk to their other friends, but they doubt and the one girl — the girlfriend of the guy the male lead had the fight with — declares that she’s going to live her life and then steps in front of a speeding bus.  The female teacher is the next to go — and she dies from a number of “accidents”, including getting stabbed by a kitchen knife and having the house explode — but the male lead had figured out that they were dying in the order that they would have died in the plane crash, but arrives too late to save her … but being there gets him targeted by the FBI agents as a murderer.  The girl, however, ropes the other two into helping him, and they try to go to a cabin her father used to have, but on the way the guy the male lead had a fight with freaks out and stops on train tracks, and then tries to leave only to have the car not start and his seatbelt not come undone, so the male lead gets him out, and just when they all think that they might have beaten it a piece of metal from the car is flung up by the passing train and decapitates their other friend.  They then conclude for some reason that this means that that guy was “skipped”, and so the male lead thinks that it was him who would be next and locks himself in a cabin being very careful to avoid anything that might kill him, and has one incident with a fish hook … but then figures out that the girl would have been next and rushes to find her, being chased by the FBI agents that she told where he was so that they could protect him, while she is being threatened by all sorts of the kinds of accidents that killed the others.  Eventually, she’s trapped in her car by a power line but the car is going to explode, and he uses his visions — this is what he used to save the other guy — to determine that if he grabs the wire he would save her, and it works but he survives as well.  Six months later the three survivors go to Paris, but then the male lead gets another vision and goes away from them so that they wouldn’t be killed him, I guess, and another series of accidents seems to be about to kill the male lead but the guy he had the fight with saves him … and then is presumably killed as the list has cycled back to the start of the list.

When I first started watching the movie, I was actually interested in it.  The production values were really good and the movie got off to a good start.  But once the accident happened, the issues with the premise came to the fore.  Why in the world would Death feel the need to kill them off?  What’s responsible for the visions he had that let him cheat Death in the first place?  Why in the world would Death have to contrive such crazy Rube Goldberg mechanisms to kill them off?  Why would Death feel the need to kill them off in the order in which they would have died?  If Death wanted to do that, why would Death skip someone who had been saved by the male lead’s visions?  And why would Death wait a month at first and six months at the end to try to clean things up?  None of this is at all explained and a lot of it is just complete supposition that happens to end up being true, but we really don’t know why any of this is happening.  If we could fit these things into a bigger pattern or an examination of how Death works, we could go along with it, but since we don’t know that the entire movie just seems like a bunch of contrivances layered on top of each other, and you aren’t going to enjoy a horror movie if you keep thinking that everything — especially the deaths — are just a huge set of unexplained and unreasonable contrivances.

Given that the movie talked about Death having a “Grand Design” — which doesn’t fit into any of the standard conceptions of Death — I really think that this movie might have originally been aimed at Fate being responsible for this but that Fate didn’t seem scary enough, so it was switched to Death.  It would have made more sense for it to be Fate, and I think it would have worked a lot better, because it would have given Fate an actual motive for killing them:  they had escaped their Fate, true, but more importantly their survival would impact the fates of other people.  This would also explain why Fate would go through so many hoops to kill them, because it had to kill them in a way that didn’t impact the fates of other people too much, and had to make sure that it didn’t kill anyone else while trying to kill them, but more importantly, again that it didn’t impact their fates too much.  Thus, Fate had to kill them in a permanent way, but in a way that limited the damage.  And so when someone escaped their fate Fate wouldn’t just try again like Death would, but would instead have to contrive and arrange circumstances that limited the impact on the fates of others.  This, then, would make the contrivances part of the characterization of the “villain” and would have us guessing about what Fate might try next.  It also would raise interesting issues about whether or not people could escape their fates, and also could have led to a philosophical comment on how Fate needs to do this because it can manipulate our choices to get us to the right end but that our free will is something that can interfere with Fate, raising an interesting idea about the clash between free will and determinism, and presenting that as a constant battle between the two.

Another issue with the movie is that the characterization can be a bit inconsistent, especially with the female lead.  She starts out being presented as a bookish type — she’s reading while waiting for the plane and is the only one who translates the French sign — but then when they need to break into the morgue she suddenly says that she likes to break the rules for thrills, which doesn’t fit.  Yes, you can have someone with that personality, but if you create that sort of tension you need to do something with it, and the movie never does.  The movie also doesn’t do anything with her ability to feel what the male lead feels, other than using it in a scene or two, but if you introduce something like that you need to do something with it since it’s such a notable aspect, and they don’t do that as well.  Also, the FBI agents are in the entire movie but don’t do anything, even providing a real obstacle for them to get around.  In all honesty, the movie fails an awful lot to do anything with the elements it introduces, which is a huge problem with it.

Given all of that, I don’t think this is a movie that I want to watch again.  The contrivances are just too much for me to really enjoy it, despite it having good production values.  And I do think that the flaw in the premise is a fatal flaw in the movie.

But I have four more of these to watch.  Let’s see if the later movies can do some development and make the premise more sensible.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone”(Disk 7)

March 29, 2023

So here we are heading towards the middle of season 2.  I found the first six episodes mostly disappointing.  How am I going to feel about this?

The first episode is “Nick of Time”, where a young honeymooning couple that includes William Shatner have a problem with their car and have to stop in a small town for a few hours.  He’s waiting to see if he gets a promotion and keeps calling in to ask about it, which his new wife tells him to stop doing before he annoys them, while being totally convinced that he will get it.  They stop for lunch in the local diner and start playing with a fortune-telling napkin rack — yes, really — and he asks it if he will get the promotion and it says that it’s already decided in his favour, so he calls in and is told that he got the promotion.  It turns out that he’s pretty superstitious and so keeps playing with the machine, and it tells him — through “Yes or no?” questions — that they shouldn’t leave before 3.  His wife is skeptical of this but he dawdles until just before 3, and they head out only to be almost hit by a car.  This causes him to become obsessed with the machine and goes back to ask it more questions, and it seems to answer them correctly, even to the point of telling them their car is ready before they knew it.  His wife gets more and more upset and tries to prove the machine wrong with her own questions but can’t, and finally just tells him that the machine might be able to tell the future, but the cost of that is committing to doing whatever it tells them to.  With that, he relents and they leave, but then another couple comes in and seems to prove an example of what could have happened to them, as the new couple keeps asking the machine what they should do and desperately want to leave the town but the machine keeps telling them “No”.

I liked the idea and how it was resolved with the wife’s admonishment, but the problem is that they set him up as being very superstitious which weakens the point.  Given how correct the machine was, it seems like you wouldn’t need to be very superstitious to think that it might be a true oracle, and her comment at the end holds whether or not the machine was really able to tell the future.  Bringing in the other couple, then, would either suggest that the machine was very convincing or that they were very superstitious too, and the latter is a much weaker take than the former.  The differences in attitudes between the man and his new wife could easily explain why he became obsessed and she didn’t, as she was more positive and he worried more and so wanted more reassurance than she did.  I will give the episode props for having good interactions between the couple which made it more interesting, but I do think the interesting premise wasn’t implemented as well as it should be, although its main point does come across well.

The second episode is “The Lateness of the Hour”, where a man, his wife and their adult daughter are all living in a house together and the daughter complains that they never leave, and that the servants never change.  It turns out that the servants are all machines invented by the father, and the daughter complains that they are becoming dependent on them and cut off from the world, while the father implies that being sheltered from the world is a good thing.  The daughter eventually convinces him to shut down the machine servants … but then discovers that she, herself, is a machine and breaks down.  The father can’t fix her, and ends up repurposing the model into a maid like the one he shut down earlier, although seemingly with even less personality and will than the others.

This episode ended up being boring because it’s pretty much mostly the daughter griping about things with long speeches which don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.  I also found the ending puzzling and depressing, as the father says that he couldn’t bear to have the daughter leave but turning the daughter into a simple servant with no personality doesn’t seem like something loving parents could do, which undercuts the entire message of the rest of the episode.  For me, there’s really just nothing of interest for me in this episode.

The third episode is “The Trouble with Templeton”, where an aging stage actor is heading out for a rehearsal, and laments that he’s getting old and that his much younger wife is cheating on him, and then laments that his one true love died young.  When he gets to the stage, the director has been replaced with a younger one and the actor eventually walks out the door … only to discover that he’s back in 1927 when his first wife was still alive.  He seeks her out but she’s simply out for fun and excitement and ultimately doesn’t seem like his first wife at all, and when he leaves the speakeasy where he found her it all goes dark.  He ends up returning to the stage and finds a script that describes what they told him, decides that they all acted that way so that he’d return to the present, and regains his moxie and starts ordering the director around, which the director respects.

This is another episode filled with speeches, although the actor playing the stage actor has the gravitas to pull it off.  But the entire past sequence makes no sense at all and hints at elements that the episode itself ends up scuppering, making it all seem rather pointless.

The fourth episode is “A Most Unusual Camera”, where a husband and wife team of low-level crooks hit a curio shop and, well, get nothing of interest except a camera that can take pictures that show the future, including that her no-account brother has escaped from prison and is staying with them.  They take the camera to the track and use it to predict who will win, making them a load of money, but then a waiter comes in and notes that the camera can only take ten pictures.  They start to fight over it and the husband and brother fall out the window to their deaths, and then the waiter returns after she has taken a picture of the death scene to clean her out, and then notes that there are more bodies where the two men fell, and when she runs to check she trips and falls, and when the waiter looks out and then looks at the picture he notes that there’s a fourth body and seemingly falls to his death himself for … some reason.

I think the interaction here is better than in other episodes, but the ending is really contrived and rather stupid, and because of that it doesn’t really explore its premise all that well.  So my memory of this one is that it’s kinda “Meh.”

The fifth episode is “The Night of the Meek”, where a drunken department store Santa gives a long speech on getting fired that he drinks because he wants to see the kids who are poor get things for once and if he doesn’t drink he’d end up crying, but then he finds a bag full of cans that when he looks back is full of presents, which he goes to give out.  He gets the police called on him because they believe he stole them from the department store that he was fired from, but at the station the cop and the manager who fired him discover that the bag is full of cans … but then the Santa pulls what the manager wanted for Christmas out of it, and they let him go.  He gives out all the presents and one of the people he gave a present to says that there was nothing for him there, and the Santa laments that all he really wants is to do that again next year, at which point he comes across Santa’s sleigh and an elf telling him that it’s time to go because there’s a lot of work to do for next year, and he flies off in the sleigh, an act witnessed by the manager and the cop.

This was an interesting premise ruined by the fact that the Santa kept making speech after speech after speech about what he wanted and how he viewed the world.  It really seems like Serling wanted to get the message out but doing it with less words would have worked better.

The last episode is “Dust”.  A man is set to be hanged in a small, one-horse town and a peddler comes to town, and spends his time mocking the condemned man until the sheriff, who is sympathetic to the condemned, kicks him out.  It turns out that the condemned was drunk and had an accident that killed a little girl, and the funeral is today to be followed by the hanging.  The condemned man’s father stops the funeral procession and pleads for mercy, but they aren’t amenable.  Then the peddler gets the idea to sell the old man some “magic dust” that will change hearts, and the old man gets together the money for it and takes it to the hanging and spreads it over the people … to no effect.  They pull the lever to drop the trap to hang the condemned man … and the rope, that the peddler had sold them brand new, breaks.  The old man pleads for mercy and the parents finally give in and let him go free, and the peddler returns the money to the kids of the people who raised it.

The peddler is a very annoying character who spends a lot of time mocking people and laughing.  That he’s willing to completely scam the old man doesn’t make us like him any more, which makes all the screen time he gets really, really annoying.  Given that he’s so shady, I’d believe that he sold them shoddy rope if he himself wasn’t so puzzled over it.  He uses a lot of words to say nothing, which contrasts him with the only really interesting character, that of the sheriff, who says very little but it’s all really meaningful.

This, then, leads me to the new problem that’s cropped up in these episodes:  a penchant for speechifying instead of witty and clean dialogue.  The sheriff character shows how effective simple sentences can be when one of the locals brings his family to the hanging and the sheriff admonishes him with “This ain’t a carnival” and the local replies “They’ve never seen a hanging so I figured I’d teach them something”, and then goes on to teach them about keeping on the straight and narrow and the sheriff says “Gonna shoot them in the arm to teach them about pain?”.  This is simple, meaningful, and witty, and a sharp contrast to the speeches in the rest of the episodes.  This disk contains a lot of episodes with a tendency to pontificate — and interestingly not in the Shatner episode — and the pontification isn’t all that interesting or well-written.  The previous episodes didn’t do that, at least not as noticeably, and so hopefully this won’t continue and the show will get back to doing things the way it did in the previous episodes and so fix this new problem while fixing the old ones as well.

Thoughts on “Dark Ages: Nosferatu”

March 28, 2023

So as I’ve said before, what I’m currently reading in the time I have set aside just to read — which is generally while eating or watching curling or baseball — is a collection of White Wolf Vampire the Masquerade novels set in the Dark Ages — yes, that’s the name of the series — that I had picked up from a used bookstore ages ago, tried reading once at lunch but never managed to finish.  Sorting through my boxes of old books I came across them and set out to finally finish reading them.

The first book in the series starts with the famous sacking of Constantinople. A leader of the Noserferatu, Malachite, recounts to us that the leaders of the city, especially the Ventrue Michael, had been predicting that this would become a great, golden city represented by Michael’s Dream for the Cainites (vampires, which in this universe are seen as being caused by the curse God put on Caine).  Malachite is deeply attached to the Dream, and sets out to see if Michael still lives and so if the Dream still lives.  Once he discovers that Michael is dead, he sets out to find one of the others who created the Dream with Michael to see if the Dream can be reborn.  He also becomes attached to a human servant of another Cainite from another clan, who is transferred to him so that her mistress, Alexia, can come with him to seek out an oracle of her clan and so that he might ask a question on Alexia’s behalf.  After a number of travails, they make it to the oracle they are seeking, only to have it revealed that he had indeed met with the Cainite he sought and was rejected by him because he treated him like an insane old man, and Alexia does not get her answer either.  And, even worse, the human he cared for ended up being the sacrifice he needed to make to get the oracle in the first place.

When I was doing my reading of historical works, this siege came up a number of times because of the folly of a Christian Crusade’s only achievement being the sacking and burning of a major Christian city.  What was nice about this book is that it really does dive into what that experience would have been like, which is really what I want from a book set in a historical context.  Whether it’s entirely historically accurate or not is really beside the point as long as it presents it in a way that makes sense.  And the book also doesn’t shy away from representing Christianity itself as being important, especially to the Cainites, despite them seemingly being cursed about this, a fact that will carry on in the next few books.  So the historical aspects are well-done.

Malachite himself is an interesting character, with some interesting plot points.  He is trying to save a young Cainite child who has the gift of prophecy, as he has fallen into a strange coma and his two siblings have died from that.  He is dedicated to the Dream and wants to revive it, and he is impressed by and has an interesting relationship with the human that he ends up sacrificing, which makes the sacrifice scene more poignant.  He also has to manage some interesting political realities, not the least of which is with Alexia, whom he needs but doesn’t trust, and who is actually lying to him, but also with some other factions of Cainites that can be more or less friendly to him at times, as well as Alexia’s own clan that aren’t all that happy with her quest.  It’s to the book’s credit that it manages to interweave all of these different elements together without making the book feel overstuffed.  The book does this by weaving all around the central figure of Malachite as things that he has to deal with and that come about naturally because of what he’s doing and his specific goals.  Since he’s sympathetic, we see these as obstacles he must overcome rather than an overly complicated plot that we, the reader, must deal with.

The one issue that I have follows from Malachite being sympathetic, however.  The sequence with the Cainite that he was seeking — the Dracon — is a very standard trope where someone who is seeking a teacher or authority figure is tested by them presenting themselves as something humble and then judging them based on how they react to that.  This, for example, is what Yoda did to Luke in “The Empire Strikes Back”.  But given all the obstacles that Malachite faced and all of his worries, that he’d react badly to someone that he has just met and who seems to be wasting his time when he is pressed for time to at least save the Cainite boy is understandable, especially given that the Dracon doesn’t give him any indication that he is the Dracon or someone of importance.  So it doesn’t really seem like Malachite himself has failed and so deserves rejection, but seems more like the Dracon is treating him unfairly.  And since we like Malachite and, at least, if we aren’t completely versed in the VTM universe have no reason to think the Dracon particularly wise, that makes us think worse of the Dracon and makes Malachite’s failure there less tragedy and more something to rail at.  Contrast this to the sacrifice of the human that he was attached to and that does seem like a tragedy, something that he needed to do to seek the Dream, and that when the information turns out to be something he can’t use it’s the tragedy of a sacrifice that he needed to make but that ultimately did not give him what he wanted.

That being said, it’s a pretty good book.  It does what we want the first book in a series to do, as it sets out the world and what we need to know to understand what’s going on, sets up enough plot elements for later books so that we can easily see the connection between them and so they don’t have to spend a lot of time introducing the general plot and can focus only on their specific issues, and is interesting enough in its own right that we feel that the series is likely to be interesting.  I liked the book but will comment at the end of the series of 13 books — not all of which I have — whether or not I’d read it, and the series, again.

Thoughts on the Women’s World Championships

March 27, 2023

So, the Women’s World Championships were on this past week.  Canada with Kerri Einarson managed to take bronze beating Anna Hasselborg’s Swedish team that started a bit weak but came on later, and Switzerland won their fourth straight gold squeaking out a won over Norway.

What I noticed in this tournament especially but also noticed at the Scotties — the Canadian Women’s Championships — is that the ice at these events has … not been good, to say the least.  Here, it was particularly bad, especially early on, as by halfway through each game the center of the ice was getting slushy and soft which made draws particularly difficult.  A team would thrown one and it would die well short of the rings while the next one would sail right through, thrown the same way and with the same weight, but just in a slightly different path.  Brushing also wasn’t effective in those cases.  It got better towards the end, but the ice was still inconsistent from draw to draw and even inside the game.  While it wasn’t as bad at the Scotties, the same thing happened, less inside one game but more between games.

Now reading the ice and ice conditions and as ice conditions change is a big part of the game.  But in general or at least it seemed in the past that the ice conditions tended to change in ways that were consistent and that a team could figure out if they thought ahead and then paid attention to how their rocks were reacting in a game.  Here, it seemed that they had to guess a lot about what the ice conditions would be and the team that guessed right more often won the game.  While I didn’t pay that much attention, it didn’t seem like this was the case at the Brier, at least with the ice conditions.

What this is doing is making the game, or at least the women’s game, into a much less interesting game for me to watch, because what it means is that more games are won due to mistakes by the other team than great shots.  If a team misses a shot because a brilliant setup leaves them a really tough shot to make, that’s one thing, but when the ice is that inconsistent they miss shots that they should make but we can’t blame them for it because the ice has been so inconsistent.  Add in that there were a lot of times that the commentators were questioning the strategy choices of the players and much of the time it really seems like the women’s game is error-filled paired with flashes of greatness.  If the comments of those retired players were reflecting a difference in strategy between the old and new guard but the strategies were working out, that would be one thing, but most often when they said that they thought it was a really bad idea it turned out that the strategy failed in the exact way they said it would, either because they couldn’t make the shot and the miss they had made things much, much worse for them — which could reflect a difference in strategy, but not one that I think is good and works out for the teams — or else because they actually make the shot but then that leaves a shot by the opposition that kills them.  So shot-making mistakes and strategy mistakes, it seems to me, are far more common than I’d like, as games being decided on mistakes instead of great shot-making and strategy doesn’t interest me.

Another thing that I had noticed is that a lot of the skips — again, mostly in the women’s game only because that’s what I pay attention to — can be rather … vocal when it comes to calling their own shots.  Now, the way it’s supposed to work is that there is a person in the rings holding a broom down as a target for the person throwing, with the other two members of the team over the rock sweeping it.  In general, both are supposed to call line in some way, but at some point it is generally understood that the person in the rings is supposed to be calling the shot, which means telling the sweepers what to do.  This is why you have the skip doing it for all the other shots, and the next best person at reading the line doing it for the skip’s stones.  A lot of the time, though, Kerri Einarson was very loudly calling the line, and doing so very aggressively and forcefully.  This leaves the sweepers in a bad position, as they have to decide who to listen to if they are not calling the same thing, and it seemed at times that Einarson was calling things very forcefully when Val Sweeting was deciding what to do, and if they followed Sweeting Einarson seemed to get quite upset if things didn’t work, which would mean that the sweepers would have to decide who they wanted to listen to.  At the Scotties, I noticed that Rachel Homan and Jennifer Jones did that as well, often doing that as if they expected the sweepers to listen to them instead of what the person in the rings was calling.

The thing about that for those teams is that while skips can indeed be aggressive on things like that, those are the three teams where they really shouldn’t be.  For Einarson, Sweeting used to be a skip and is a great line caller, and so Einarson should really be able to trust her to call the line most of the time and the sweepers really should be just ignoring Einarson at some point down the ice.  For Homan, while she has less reason to trust Fleury since they’ve only started playing together this season, Fleury is a former skip and can call the line, and so it’d only be a difference in style that would cause Homan to overrule her … but her team is also likely to trust Homan more than Fleury, which would result in Fleury being ignored, which isn’t good for team unity.  As for Jones, she definitely has more experience as she’s playing with a young team, but if she is there primarily to help them and not for her own self-aggrandizement all she is teaching them by screaming out the line call is to not trust their own judgement, which is not going to be good going forward.  I do wish that the skips would, well, shut up a bit more, but with those three, at least, given their personalities there is no way that they will.

And, finally, Canada came in third, but went 7 – 5 in the round robin and barely squeaked into a six team playoff.  Meanwhile, the Swiss went 12 – 0 in the round robin and undefeated in the playoffs.  And so Canadian curling fans can and have been asking:  why isn’t Canada doing better on the world stage?  The commentators noted that there’s a lot of parity in at least the women’s game, but Canada was losing to teams that they probably should have beaten and that the Swiss did.  Also, Einarson went perfect at the Scotties and has won four straight Scotties, to match the Swiss performance at the worlds.  So you could argue that this is the result of Canada’s strategy of not focusing on one team but instead of spreading the funding and support out more, and running things like the Scotties to pick the team instead of just choosing the best performing team.  But this is belied by the fact that the Swiss team actually plays in the Canadian Grand Slam of Curling, and has not had that dominant a performance in those events so far this year.  In fact, Einarson herself has either beaten a lot of the teams that played at the worlds, or beat teams at the Scotties that beat those other teams, and the teams that she lost to often went on to lose to teams that she or others had beaten on the Grand Slam.  It’s difficult to say that any of the teams that were in the final four at the Scotties couldn’t have beaten any of the teams in the worlds, given that many of them had beaten them on the Grand Slam.  So why is it that Canada struggles so much more at the Olympics and at the Worlds?  We’ll see how Brad Gushue does at the Worlds this year, but this is a bit of a puzzle.

Anyway, the next curling that I will be talking about happens to be the last two Grand Slam events, in mid-April and mid-May.

Halcyon Diary: Fight the Emperor!

March 27, 2023

So Kira and myself headed to the Oppressor to face Darth Angral and see if he really killed Master Orgus, but things got … complicated.  Remember how Kira was a “Child of the Emperor” before she fled.  Well, it turns out that that’s not just a title that he had for some of his servants, but that he can take over her body at times and subordinate her will.  And he did it when I faced Angral, but she managed to shake off his control and we put Angral down.  However, he took her over again and I had to fight her, but once I’d beaten her she managed to shake off his control again, and this time it seems to be permanent.  All that was left, then, was to disable the weapon on the ship and confirm that, unfortunately, Angral was not lying when he said that he killed Orgus.

Which was even more confirmed when Orgus showed up as a Force ghost, which very, very few living Jedi manage.  He said that we have to defeat the Emperor, and sent me back to Tatooine where an apprentice of Master Tol Braga had some sensor readings that needed to be taken in secret to the Jedi Council.  It turns out that Braga is planning on using them to breach the Emperor’s hidden fortress so that we can go after the Emperor directly.  That’s a pretty good idea.  However, he wants to try to capture and possibly redeem the Emperor, which is a monumentally bad idea!  Still, we can worry about capture vs kill later, once we’ve managed to get everything we need to breach the fortress.  And the place to start for that is Balmorra.

The Ultimate Fantasy Life

March 26, 2023

“So, Dr. Morse, how are things at the facility?”

Dr. Morse felt a surge of anxiety.  The plain, ordinary-faced man who stood before him in the plain, simple, conservative suit was one of the company inspectors, true, but he wasn’t a normal inspector.  He was possibly the top inspector from the company, a trouble-shooter, someone who was often called in to handle the toughest cases.  That would imply that he knew about the resident in room 33A.  But the company was smarter than that and often sent him out to facilities that they thought were doing too well, just to shake out possible problems when the directors broke down blubbering out of the anxiety of having their secrets revealed.  Did the inspector know?  Did he suspect?  Should he then hide the problem, or confess it?  He didn’t want to confess it, but of course the inspector’s tone was deliberately neutral, revealing nothing of whether he knew or not.

Dr. Morse decided to bluff it out.  “Why, it’s perfectly fine, Inspector Johnson.”

Inspector Johnson raised an eyebrow.  “Really?  Even … ” and here he stopped to look down at his clipboard, “… Alexander Cimetta?”

Damn, Dr. Morse thought to himself.  He knows.

“I assure you that everything is under control, ” he begin, but the inspector cut him off.

“From the records here, he is not participating.  At all.  The facilities we maintain are here to improve the quality of life of their residents, and obviously that cannot happen if they refuse to participate.”

“But he refuses to use them!  What am I supposed to do, force him?!?” Dr. Morse protested.

“No, of course not, ” the inspector replied soothingly.  “We aren’t tyrants.  But your job is to find the enticement that will get him to participate willingly, and you have failed to do that.”

Dr. Morse huffed.  “I’ve tried everything … as you’d know if you really had access to all the records.”

The inspector raised an eyebrow, and Dr, Morse immediately regretted his frustrated burst of bravado.  But he’d tried so hard.  He’d used every ounce of training that he’d been provided, every single aspect of Cimetta’s psychological profile, every trick in the book.  It hadn’t worked.   No matter what he tried, Cimetta simply refused to partake of the benefits the facility offered him, and he did so in that infuriatingly calm way of his, a way that pretty much mirrored how the investigator had talked to him here.  Sometimes Cimetta offered reasons, that followed an eccentric and yet airtight logic that Dr. Morse couldn’t shake.  Sometimes he just smiled and politely refused.  But the outcome was always the same:  a refusal.

The inspector replied calmly, “I’ve seen the records, but I can assure you that I’ve seen tougher cases.  We’ll find a way to bring him into the fold, and then this blemish on your record will be removed.”

I’d like to see that! Dr. Morse thought to himself, but didn’t say out loud.  Part of the reason for that was that he felt he’d pushed his luck too much and didn’t want to actually get into trouble.  But another part was that he actually had some hope that the inspector would finally succeed.  These inspectors were the best-of-the-best, and from what he’d heard about Inspector Johnson he was the absolute best.  If anyone could convince Cimetta to participate, it would be him.  And if he could convince Cimetta to participate, then it would mean a much better life for Cimetta than he had.  So, in reality, Morse really did want to see that.

“Take me to room 33A”, the inspector said.

After they had walked the relatively short distance to the room, rang the bell, and had the door open for them, they confronted Alexander Cimetta.  He didn’t look like he’d be a problem case.  While he had an intellectual look about him, he didn’t seem like someone who would be that willful, or someone who had had that great a life beforehand to be bored with what they offered.  As usual, he spent most of his time on the small terminal in the room, reading, writing, playing some older games and watching some older shows, and in fact pretty much doing everything except engaging with the wonderful technological advance that was the raison d’etre of the facility.

“Hello, Mr. Cimetta, ” the inspector said.  “I’m Inspector Johnson … “.

“And you’re here to find out why I’m not using the Hololife Simulator and encourage me to change my ways, ” Cimetta replied calmly and almost jovially.

“You’re well-informed, ” the inspector replied.

Cimetta shrugged.  “You’d be amazed what you can find out when you spend your time reading and researching instead of in a Hololife.”

“But Alex … may I call you Alex?” the inspector began.

Cimetta nodded.

“But Alex, while I’m sure that’s the case, why would you want to?  The Hololife can give you any life you want, a life where you can explore anywhere you want and do anything you want.  Why would you want instead to live in one room viewing old 2-D images through a terminal when you could have all of that?”

Cimetta shrugged.  “I like it just fine, ” he replied calmly.

“But you don’t even really have a job, ” the inspector pressed.  “Inside the Hololife, you could have any job you wanted.  We know from what you’ve read and what you’ve written that you have a lot of ideas that you’d like to put into practice.  Well, inside the Hololife you could be the person who makes those decisions!  Determines the fate of the entire world!”

“But that’s a Hololife world, not a real world, ” Cimetta replied.

“But to you, it would be a real world.  To you, you would be building the world the way you want it to be, ” the inspector continued.

“But in that case I wouldn’t want the responsibility, ” Cimetta replied.  “In case my ideas go wrong.”

“But they would never go wrong!” the inspector replied.  “The world would work out just the way you expect it to!”

“But then I wouldn’t be testing my ideas empirically, ” Cimetta replied.  “So if I could go in and see how my ideas worked out, I might be tempted … but that would require me knowing that it’s artificial and that it can reset if I get it wrong, which would hardly be living in a Hololife at all.  But if I think it’s real, the responsibility would ruin it for me by causing me great anxiety.  Either way, creating that sort of life for myself in a Hololife isn’t a life that I’d actually want.”

The inspector tried another tack.  “Well, of course you don’t have to create that sort of yourself.  You can create a perfectly ordinary life, but one that provides you with more than you’re getting now.”

Cimetta shrugged.  “I’m getting pretty much all I really need now, ” he replied.

“But you are living, by necessity, a solitary life, whereas inside the Hololife you’d have much more contact with people you want to have contact with, ” the inspector said.

Cimetta shrugged again.  “I don’t really want to have more contact with people, ” he replied.

The inspector smiled.  “Come, come, Alex, we know that you have at least some desire for contact with people.”

He then moved to a nearby console, pressed a couple of buttons, and suddenly a holographic person appeared in the room.

“We, of course, have read your writings — they’re public, after all — and so I’m sure you’ll recognize her.”

Cimetta did.  She was a particular actress that he personally found attractive.  Her long dark hair spilled over her shoulders, her makeup was done impeccably to bring out her best features without being obvious, and the sexy lingerie she was wearing showed off her assets, including her fantastic legs.  Yes, Cimetta had to admit, her hologram was about as attractive a representation of her as you could possibly have.

“Now, of course, here you know that she is a hologram.  But inside the Hololife, she’d be in a real world, a real situation, and so there’d be nothing to clue you in that it isn’t ‘real’.  You could have a relationship with her.  Marriage, perhaps.  A family, if you wanted.  Just you and her, if you didn’t.  A world outside and the girl of your dreams!  What more could you want?”

Cimetta shrugged, smiled, and replied, “Not interested.”

The inspector raised an eyebrow.  “Not interested?  Why not?”

Cimetta shrugged.  “Just not interested.”

The inspector was starting to get frustrated.  He’d faced hard cases before, but they either usually gave him openings when they said what was wrong with what he was offering or gave in to the more direct temptations.  But when Cimetta gave him reasons they were too ironclad to give him openings, and when he offered things that were more visceral he didn’t seem to have much reaction and didn’t give him reasons.  That led him to think that he was on the right track with the more visceral and hedonistic approaches.  The psychological profile said that Cimetta was more interested in the intellectual than the hedonistic, but if Cimetta hid the more hedonistic aspects of himself then it might be wrong.  That would explain why Dr. Morse’s approach wouldn’t have worked, because he would have followed the psych profile.

Then again, this hadn’t worked, but perhaps that was because it simply wasn’t hedonistic enough.  Yes, the psych profile also said that Cimetta was a bit conservative and a bit traditional, but at this point it was all about temptation, and those who are conservative and traditional in public are often the ones who are the most tempted by more … extreme hedonism.

“And look, ” the inspector said, pushing some more buttons.  “If  you don’t want to be limited to only one …”

Another famous actress appeared.  Again, it was one that Cimetta had always had a crush on.  Again, she was decked out in a way that maximized her attractiveness and, more importantly, maximized her attractiveness to him.  They really did have a lot of information on the inner workings of Cimetta’s mind.  But not the important ones.

“… you can have two.  Open relationship?  A tripartite relationship?  The choice is yours!”

Cimetta raised an eyebrow.  “And what if I don’t like their personalities?”

“Then you don’t need to be in a relationship with them!” the inspector.  “You can determine the precise relationship you have with them!  Or you can adjust their personalities however you like!”

Cimetta smiled.  “But then it wouldn’t really be them, would it?”

The inspector was getting even more frustrated, as the only time Cimetta gave him any kind of an answer was when he could launch a devastating counter.  “So then replace them!  Pick anyone you like!”

The inspector hit more buttons and a large number of other women appeared, all dressed to maximize their attractiveness and all ones that Cimetta fond attractive.  “Pick any!  Pick all!  Build a harem!”

Cimetta smiled.  “Not interested, ” he replied.

The inspector lost it.  “Why not?!?  We’ve offered you a life where you are in charge and have power!  We’ve offered you a simple life!  We’ve offered you a traditional family life!  We’ve offered you hedonistic bliss!  We’ve offered you everything you’ve ever wanted!  We’ve offered you things that you yourself might not even have known you wanted!  In short, we’ve offered you the Ultimate Fantasy!  How can you reject that?!?”

Dr. Morse was shocked.  He’d never seen an inspector react this way.  The implications of that were shocking, as it suggested that perhaps. perhaps, this was someone that they couldn’t convince.  That had never happened before, and he didn’t like the implications if that happened here.

That unease only deepened when Cimetta seemed nonplussed by the inspector’s rant.  “Do you really want me to tell you why I reject it?” he replied mildly.

“Yes!” the inspector replied, exasperated.

“You’ve done a very good job of exploring my fantasies and trying to bring them to life, true.  But what you miss is the nature of fantasies.  Yes, these are all things that I want, but they are also things that are ultimately monumentally bad ideas.  In short, gentlemen, you are offering me things that I shouldn’t have.  That’s why they live only in my imagination, because that’s the only place they can sensibly exist.  Fantasies, gentlemen, are things bound by nature to the imagination.  By attempting to make them truly real, or even seem truly real, you bring them out of the imagination into some sort of reality … and once in reality, they don’t work anymore.

“So, gentlemen, I want my fantasies to remain in my imagination, and as fantasies.  And if that is the case then Hololife can’t offer me anything more than I’m getting right now.”

They all stood in silence for a long moment, and then the inspector said, “Very well.  We will respect your wishes.”

He then turned to Dr. Morse, “Halt all efforts to convince Mr. Cimetta to use Hololife.  Cease all observation.  Provide him with anything material that he asks for.”

The inspector then turned back to Cimetta.  “I hope you enjoy the remainder of your life.  I don’t understand nor do I agree with it, but the choice, ultimately, is yours, and I am now convinced that you have, indeed, made it, for better or for worse.”

The two of them left, and the door clicked shut behind them.  Cimetta waited until he saw the lights turn off on the cameras in the room and checked to ensure that he wasn’t being recorded, and then he himself went to the console and pressed some buttons.  A chessboard and the first actress suddenly appeared in the middle of the room.  “Let’s play a game, ” she said, with a twinkle in her eye.

He sat down at the chessboard.  After all, he mused, sometimes the imagination could use a little help.

Thoughts on “The Christian Delusion” (The Outsider Test for Faith Revisited)

March 24, 2023

So the last essay in the first chapter is by John W. Loftus, the editor of the work, and where he revisits what he is most famous for, “The Outsider Test For Faith”.  Now, I’ve criticized “The Outsider Test for Faith” myself, and so on reading this chapter didn’t find his defenses all that strong myself.  But why I want to take on the chapter in more detail is because there are some interesting philosophical implications to what he says here … implications that I don’t think he sees.

So, a quick reminder of what the Outsider Test for Faith really is.  Loftus noted that religious people reject the miraculous claims of other religions, and reject the claims of other religions to having truly divine entities, and yet are completely convinced that their miracles are true and their entities are divine.  In addition — and this is the argument that he most relies on — which set of miracles and which set of divine entities they believe in depends greatly on the cultural context they were raised in.  If someone was raised in a Christian culture, they will be completely convinced that Christianity is true and that all other religions are false, but if someone was raised in an Islamic culture, then they would be equally convinced that Islam is true and Christianity is false.  What Loftus’ test asks religious people to do, then, is step outside their cultural context and examine their own religion using the same standards that they use to evaluate and reject the others, and if they do so rationally and honestly he is convinced that they would have to reject their own religion as well and become atheists, with an additional implication that this method is, in fact, why most atheists are atheists, and that if religious people follow his method they will come to reject their religion for the same reasons that atheists reject all religions.

One of my main objections to the OTF is that it fails because religious people don’t reject the religions of other people for the reasons that Loftus thinks and not for the reasons that atheists reject them.  This entire chapter only makes that more clear, because both Loftus and the author of the previous essay, Jason Long, are pretty aggressive in calling religious beliefs ridiculous and nonsensical, but it seems to me that the main reason they — and many other atheists — believe that is because of their attachment to naturalism.  The problem is that no religious person rejects other religions because they are making supernatural claims, as they all accept that at least some supernatural claims are true (the ones their own religion makes).  So Christians do not reject Judaism because it posits miracles, but instead because Judaism does not accept Christ as the Messiah.  And they do not reject Islam because it includes divine entities, but because it, again, doesn’t accept Christ and Christ’s message properly.  And the converse is also true.  Judaism rejects Christianity because it is obvious to them that Christ is not the Messiah (because he didn’t bring peace to the Earth) and Islam rejects Christianity because they do not properly accept Muhammad.  So for the most part, they accept that those religions at least and in general all other religions could be true and are not inherently ridiculous. They just happen to think them wrong because they clash with beliefs they already hold.  So it’s never going to be the case that if they step outside of their own cultural context that they will think of their own religion the same way that atheists do.  They might come to a rejection of their own religion on the basis that from that perspective theirs doesn’t seem more reasonable than the other religions, but that wouldn’t be what Loftus would be advocating for with the OTF … and many of them may well follow the epistemological principle of “Maintain your own beliefs unless you have reason to reject them”, and that kind of minor “Mine doesn’t seem inherently better than other religions” is not a strong enough reason to do that.  At that point, the debate between someone like myself and someone like Loftus is epistemological, and not something that the OTF could settle.

Loftus tries to deal with some objections, and I think these can be sorted into three main categories:  denying that the beliefs of Christians and others are as tightly tied to their culture as Loftus asserts, arguing that even if those beliefs are formed primarily from that culture that doesn’t make them false, and arguing that atheists like Loftus have equally culturally formed and yet equally deeply held beliefs that they are unwilling to give up, and don’t consider themselves irrational for holding.

Let’s look at the first category.  What the objections have pointed out is that Christianity has been successful in areas that are not traditionally and cultural Christian, and that Christians and members of other religions change from the religion they grew up with all the time.  Loftus’ attempts to defend his view against these charges are … underwhelming, to say the least.  Basically, his refutations here end up arguing that those people are not converting rationally and so are not using the OTF at all, and so it’s not a valid objection to his claim.  But this misses the point of the objections.  The point of these objections is that contrary to Loftus’ assertion and assumptions, people come to believe in religions that weren’t part of their cultural background all the time.  Which means that there are perfectly natural mechanisms that would cause a Christian to convert to another religion that don’t involve the OTF.  Thus, if religious people maintain the religion of their culture, they do so because they find that the new religion doesn’t fit their view of the world as well as their original religion, because if it did, as we’ve seen, they would have converted.  What this suggests, then, is that there’s no real need for the OTF for people to convert from the religion of their culture, and so Loftus would have to argue that while whatever method they are using could work, it’s not a proper way to do it and so they would have to use his OTF.  But then Loftus loses the big argument for why the OTF is needed, which is that you have to step outside your cultural context and the beliefs you were raised with to come to the conclusion that your religion is false.  Clearly, these examples prove that isn’t true.  Thus, is argument would have to be that we all ought to do that as a normative claim, and not one that follows from the descriptive idea that we would never be able to assess our own religion in a way that would get us to reject it without doing so.  We definitely could, so why should we use his method other than that he thinks doing so will bring us closer to the conclusion that he wants us to draw?

Let me look next at the idea that they hold beliefs that are equally cultural and equally strongly held without having any better justification for them (whether or not there actually is a stronger justification for them available).  The biggest section of this is an examination of the objections of Victor Reppert, who uses the examples “rape is wrong” and “representative democracy is a better form of government than monarchy”.  Loftus first admits that some of the beliefs we hold that way may not be necessary, but then presents a defense of those specific beliefs from Richard Carrier.  While I won’t go into them in detail, they are basically his standard ones:  someone who considers what a woman who is raped will feel will conclude that rape is wrong, and someone under a monarchy who properly understands democracy would clearly prefer the latter.  The interesting point here is that what Carrier is engaging in here to defend these propositions is in fact clearly apologetics.  He is rationalizing a justification for these beliefs, and those justifications are … dubious, to say the least.  For the first place, that something makes people feel good or bad doesn’t mean that the belief is true.  If a religious person said that the feeling that people get from being religious makes them happy enough and that losing that belief makes them depressed enough that we should hold the religion to be true, both Carrier and Loftus wouldn’t accept that as an argument, so we have no reason to accept it in the rape case either.  And that someone in the past might think that democracy is better doesn’t mean that it is, and they’d reject that sort of argument for religion.  So Loftus’ supposed defenses are the precise sort of rationalization that he wants religious people to give up using his OTF.  So that doesn’t really work to support his point.

And he needs to demonstrate that we can and do hold these beliefs for reasons beyond that we take them from our culture, because any belief that he has to accept he holds because he got it from the cultural context and yet that he doesn’t want to give up opens the door for Christians to say that they treat their Christianity the same way, and so he could not claim that they are necessarily irrational for maintaining that belief simply because it’s one that he rejects and thinks ridiculous.  Especially since the main belief that drives them considering Christianity ridiculous, as I’ve already noted, is their belief in naturalism, and I have raised problems with naturalism (which is why I reject it).  If my and other objections have merit, then Loftus cannot claim that his belief in naturalism is justified, but he would be unlikely to simply reject it.  Ultimately, he considers religious ridiculous because of a belief that he has and religious people clearly don’t.  This changes this all to a debate over fundamental beliefs, which is one that the OTF cannot settle.

Which leads to the final category:  that just because a religious belief is culturally formed doesn’t mean that it’s false.  In order to pull off this argument, Loftus relies on an implicit and at times explicit statement that culturally formed beliefs are not reliable.  He contrasts this with science and even epistemological skepticism which are methods he considers to be reliable.  The problem is cultural beliefs are reliable.  Cultural beliefs become cultural beliefs by standing the test of time.  Yes, some of them could turn out to be false, but that is true of science as well.  And if Loftus claims that science tests and corrects its beliefs, we can see that cultural beliefs are corrected by its own methods as well.  If a cultural belief stops working, the culture will eventually abandon it as we see in the Western world with the shift from monarchy to democracy.  It may take longer for cultural beliefs, but ultimately if a cultural belief stops working it will be abandoned and replaced.  Thus, lots of cultural beliefs are indeed true, some of them are wrong, but for the most part enough of them are true to consider it reliable.  What this would mean is that we are always rational to maintain a cultural belief unless we have good reason to think it false, and as I’ve noted before I don’t think they are.  Loftus could try to argue that science is more reliable, and so we should trust science over cultural beliefs, and science says that Christianity is false.  But even if we accept that epistemology says that we should accept science over cultural beliefs, this would change the debate from us needing to take the OTF to an argument over whether science really conflicts that strongly with religion.  And since I myself have raised philosophical objections to naturalism, it cannot be because of science’s methodological naturalism or else Loftus and myself would be arguing over whether that is valid.

What this means is that as we go through this essay we discover that the OTF is unnecessary.  People change religions and even become atheists without it, and there is little reason to think that their approaches are completely invalid as opposed to being them trying to build the most consistent worldview they can.  At any rate, we don’t need to step outside the culture to change or drop religion.  We all hold cultural beliefs and fundamental beliefs without necessarily having proper justifications for them all the time, and in fact some of those are the very beliefs that cause atheists to consider religion ridiculous, thus reducing the debate to a debate over which sets of those beliefs we should accept.  And finally, a lot of those discussions will be over what epistemology is the right one to use, and we need to settle those questions before we can assess whether the OTF is necessary or even useful.  At the end of the day, the OTF is a method that Loftus promotes because he thinks it will be more likely to turn religious people into atheists, but that in and of itself should make us suspicious of using it unless it really is the right approach … and given the reliability of cultural beliefs I don’t think it is.  Ultimately, then, it is not the case that Christians who refuse to take the OTF are really engaging in a double standard because that’s not why they reject other religions in the first place, and there are a number of good philosophical reasons to be suspicious of it.

Revisiting “House of Demons”

March 23, 2023

I have to admit, I was a little concerned about rewatching this movie after rewatching “Living Among Us” and “Family Possessions”.  I had placed those movies in my box of movies to maybe rewatch, but after rewatching them promoted them to my closet for movies that I likely will rewatch at some point.  Now, I had enjoyed those two movies and I watched them before enacting that system, but I still did enjoy them more than I remembered, and found their flaws less annoying than I had the first time through.  Since one of the main reasons for me to revisit them was to see if my opinion of these three movies had changed now that I have watched more horror movies, this led to me a scary thought:  was the change in my opinion due to my being able to compare those movies to the other movies and appreciate what they did better when I saw what the alternatives were?  And if that was the case, could it be the case that instead of disliking “House of Demons” I might — horror of horrors — end up liking it?

Well, after watching it, I can say that all is right with the world and the world makes sense again.  “House of Demons” still sucks.

We start with a view of some kind of cult living in a house, and then show a group of people at the rehearsal party for one of their friends.  We discover that they were fairly close once, but drifted apart after an accident damaged the brain of another friend leaving him pretty much catatonic.  They all are supposed to stay at the house of the groom’s uncle, which happens to be the place where that cult was in the past.  The movie flips between showing the cult and their ritual and the four of them dealing with each other, until the cult leader and some of his followers end up in this time and strange things start to happen, including a demonic creature running around and them having strange visions about their past.  Ultimately, they have to deal with their personal demons to avoid the disaster that befell the cult while the leader attempts to corrupt one of them to his side to create a bigger sacrifice to allow him to prevent the illness of his brother.

This movie didn’t need to suck, as it has two good ideas.  Either of the ideas could have worked on their own.  If they had simply had this as a ritual that opened up some kind of portal that brought the personal demons of the people to the forefront, that would have worked really well as we would have had an explanation for the events but it could have focused more on them.  They also could have done a pretty good movie with the cult opening up the portals and the fallout from the cult leader’s obsession.  Heck, even combining the two of them would have worked with the cult leader being drawn into the future by their pain and trying to find a way to get back to where he was by manipulating them, as he notes that he feels that his ritual failed because of their situation.  Instead, he only ever interacts with one of them and so isn’t integrated enough with the others to properly intertwine the two stories but is too prominent to work as background and isn’t enough of a threat to work as a villain or threat either.

What this means is that the movie flips between the two stories, which makes the movie a bit incoherent.  What makes it worse is that while they have to flip between those two stories, it also has to flip between the personal demons of the other characters, which leads to some huge shifts in tone, with the one character being threatened by a couple cult members and then we move on from there to the one woman being flirted with by the cult leader.  Doing this also makes it quite difficult to develop the characters properly, and so their personal demons are treated pretty much perfunctorily.  We find out, for example, that the doctor’s parents were very scientific and insisted, for example, that there was no Santa Claus which plays into his ending, but we don’t really get much development for that.  Nor do we get much development of the one woman’s issues with her mother, which means that at the end the clever moment where we see her mother that she feels so inferior in looks to and she doesn’t look at all like she imagines her mother to look is lost because we never had enough development of that arc nor do we see enough of the mother at the end to be sure that that’s what’s happening.  Dropping one of the stories or integrating them better would have given more time to develop these stories better.

This movie also manages to fumble one of its most critical tasks, raising interesting questions about something that viewers normally take for granted but which can turn a movie incredibly boring if it’s fumbled.  In a movie like this, we need to be introduced to the characters and their relationships so that we can understand what the events mean and understand their personal demons for those plots.  This movie does that in the context of the party, but the issue is that the party is incredibly boring because we don’t know enough about these characters yet to care about what’s happening there and the party disconnects their stories from each other which means we find out about them in sequence, not all at the same time.  So there is a real sense where we wonder why we should care about this at all, and we don’t find out anything of enough import to make it worthwhile.  Introducing the main characters and telling us what we need to know about them is indeed something that needs to be done early on and it’s not going to win any real plaudits if you do it right, but doing it wrong sets the absolute wrong tone for the movie which can end up ruining it.  Here, what I would have done is drop the party and have them all arrive at the house, with the minor amount of exposition to explain why they’re all staying there before the wedding, and then have them reveal their issues as they talk to each other without having to meet the fiance, for example, as part of it.  They did do that a bit here anyway so it would have dropped a pointless scene and allowed them to drop hints of the horror issues that they were going to face at the same time.

This movie could have been good.  It had some interesting ideas.  But it just didn’t mix those ideas up properly and so left a mess instead of the tasty treat that it could have been.  I like some of the characters and could have liked them more with proper development, but since that doesn’t happen a lot of their elements come out of nowhere, like the doctor’s resolution of his guilt over the accident and coming up with an operation to help their friend, or the one woman’s willingness to kill her friends until she gets a phone call from her parents.  Sadly, they hint at the friend helping them with their problems but don’t make that part of the full resolution of everyone’s issues, and more could have been done with them facing their shared demons and his spirit attempting to help them through it, which also would have been a great idea.

Suffice it to say, this movie is going back into the box of movies to sell at some point.  It had potential, but didn’t fulfill it.

Next, I’ll be going back to movies that I haven’t already watched.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 6)

March 22, 2023

So now we start on Season 2, after Season 1 ended up being hit and miss.  How will Season shake out?

The first episode is “King Nine Will Not Return”. Here, a pilot wakes up in a crashed WWII plane in the desert, only to discover that all of his crew is gone.  As he tries to look around for them, he doesn’t see much but eventually sees some modern planes in the sky, and knows that he recognizes them from somewhere.  He eventually collapses, and the scene shifts to a hospital where it is revealed that he saw a newspaper headline that a lost plane from WWII had been discovered and just collapsed.  He wakes up, and it is revealed that he was supposed to be flying that plane but had a fever and couldn’t fly, and it never came back.  Thus, it seems that guilt caused his collapse, but when the nurse brings his shoes she empties sand out of one of them.

The issue here is that the episode’s structure causes it to hit the exact issue that the previous season’s episodes had.  As we start with him in the crashed plane in the desert, we know that a twist is coming and so spend all of our time trying to figure out what it was.  I think this episode would have worked a lot better if we’d seen him look at the newspaper headline and collapse, and then had him wake up in the desert.  Then we could have wondered along with him what happened and wondered if he was really here or not, which would have made the “empty sand out of the shoe” scene even more intriguing.  As it is, there’s nothing to indicate that he was really there and given the chain of events there really couldn’t have been any way for that to happen, so it seems like it comes completely out of nowhere.

The second episode is “The Man in the Bottle”.  An antique dealer who is struggling takes pity on an elderly woman and buys a worthless antique bottle from her, and when he and his wife open it it turns out to contain a genie who offers them four wishes, but is careful to note that they need to think carefully about the consequences of their actions.  The first wish they use to test the genie is to fix the broken glass in their display cabinet, which the genie does.  Then they wish for a million dollars in cash, and when the genie grants it they happily give a lot of it away … only to discover that they owe taxes on it and so end up with only $5.  After being admonished again to carefully think about the consequences of their wishes, the owner wishes to be in charge of a country where he can’t be voted out, and is turned into Adolf Hitler at the end of WWII, when the Nazis had lost the war and Hilter was about to commit suicide.  He desperately wishes for the wish to be undone, and it is … but that was their last wish, leaving them with nothing but a repaired display cabinet … and then the owner drops a broom against it, breaking it as well, as the two of them laugh about it.  Outside, the bottle reforms, ready for someone else to pick it up.

I liked the interplay between the owners and the genie, and the genie was delightfully urbane about the whole thing.  However, the genie’s motivations themselves are a bit muddled, making the plot a bit muddled.  I really, really liked the idea of them having to consider the consequences of their wishes and that they gave so much of the money away without thinking about how they’d pay the taxes fit into that perfectly.  However, when the genie turns the owner into Hitler right at the end of WWII that really comes across as the genie messing with them than of those being easily foreseeable consequences of their wish.  Yes, a modern country that doesn’t have elections would hit on that sort of thing, but it could have been right after Hitler took over or even Stalin and that would have worked as well.  But I did like the characters and their interaction, and it is an example of a plot where we know there is a twist and know that it’s coming — and might even know what it is — but the details around that are interesting enough to keep us interested and actually paying attention to the interactions in the episode itself.

The third episode is “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room”, which follows a nervous and not very successful gangster, whose boss tells him to kill a bartender or else be killed himself.  As the boss leaves, the gangster sees a more confident version of himself in the mirror, and they proceed to argue over whether he should kill the bartender or not.  The confident version of himself won’t let him kill the bartender, and ultimately he doesn’t and his boss comes by to take him to task over it, at which point it is clear that the gangster is the more confident version of himself and he abuses his boss and throws him out, declaring that he might be able to get the things that his weaker self couldn’t get.

While this sort of idea could be interesting, this premise really, really doesn’t work.  Gang bosses are not going to let someone go, especially someone who abused them, and the main reason the gangster was even thinking about killing the guy was because he’d be killed if he didn’t.  Yes, he risked going to jail for a long, long time but that might indeed be better than dying.  All the confident side of him managed to do, then, was get him killed, which ruins any point that this could have made.  That this was simply the two sides arguing with each other doesn’t make it any more interesting, and the payoff was both expected and, as already noted, incomprehensible.

The fourth episode is “A Thing About Machines”, following a reclusive, stuck-up and irritable — so much so as to be irritating — man.  He has one simple problem:  the machines in his house seem to hate him, and in fact they keep trying to tell him to leave and ultimately chase him from the house, where his car chases him into a pool, where he sinks and drowns despite not being weighted down.

The man seems to abuse his TV at the beginning, but the show establishes that the machines were already abusing him at that point, and we have no idea why the machines were against him so much or, in fact, how they managed to sink him in the pool without weights.  Yes, the man was a pain, but he didn’t deserve this and we don’t know what the machines wanted.  Given that, this is a poor episode overall.

The fifth episode is “The Howling Man”, where a man doing a walking tour of Europe in 1925 becomes lost in a storm and prevails upon a monastery to help him.  They don’t want to, but since putting him out would kill him they eventually relent.  However, he hears a strange howling but the monks won’t answer him when he asks about it.  He finds the man howling in a cell and is told by the man that he is being unjustly imprisoned here by the “mad” monks.  The walker goes back and confronts the head monk about it again but doesn’t get an answer until he threatens to go to the police.  The head monk says that the prisoner is actually the Devil himself, but the walker doesn’t believe him and eventually sneaks back to release the prisoner, who is then revealed to really be the Devil, who escapes.  The scene changes to the present, with the walker telling the story to a maid, explaining that he spent his life trying to capture the Devil again, and has locked him inside a closet.  After the walker leaves, the maid hears howling and goes to open the closet door.

This one is actually fairly well done.  The premise is interesting and the twist works because we spend most of the episode following the walker as he tries to figure out the twist and then it pulls the rug out from under everyone, and then the ending fits well with the rest of the episode.  I did enjoy this one.

The sixth episode is “Eye of the Beholder”, where we see a woman with her face wrapped in bandages attended by medical professionals whose faces are constantly hidden from the camera.  She laments how ugly she is and hopes that the treatment will cure that, and we discover that this is her last chance at a treatment or else she’ll be sent away to live with others.  We also hear in the background a number of things indicating that this is some kind of totalitarian society based on conformity.  When the bandages are removed, it is clear that the procedure was a failure … the woman is, in fact, a quite attractive normal looking woman.  Then it is revealed that the medical professionals are ugly-looking pig-faced individuals, and she, after some resistance, is to be sent to a colony where all the “horribly ugly” people who look like normal people are sent.

This is a very famous episode, and for good reason as the premise is incredible.  However, I found the execution to be flawed as it seems to mix two themes:  the idea of conformity and the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  If they had wanted to make this about conformity, what they needed to do was instead of making the medical professionals ugly make them normal looking and give her one small, almost unnoticeable flaw that meant that she didn’t conform to the norm.  This also would have allowed them to not hide the faces of the medical professionals as much, which would have given the twist away even if I hadn’t already known it.  However, the stronger point is indeed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder … but then it would have been much better to instead of holding out the hope that they would find each other beautiful to really drive home that in this society the standards for beauty aligned to what we thought of as ugly by having the two of them act as if they were being exiled to live around ugliness for the rest of their lives.  Implying that they would find themselves beautiful despite growing up in that culture encourages us to think of the “normal” people in that world as ugly as well, which pretty much scuppers that point.  So, a good premise, but a muddled implementation.

I had actually forgotten to write up my comments on this disk after watching it, and so only came back to it a couple of weeks later when I was trying to write up the next disk.  I remembered thinking that the season started off better but on actually writing down my comments on the episode that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Marc commented that Serling thought that most of the episodes that he wrote for the series were bad and I find that I have to agree with Serling on this one.  Some of them the bad ones were still better than the alternatives, but I wonder if part of my reaction here is like the one I had to “Eye of the Beholder”:  the ideas are good but the execution flawed which makes them all the more annoying.