On Deepities

I love language. I also love, to borrow from Lois Lowry’s The Giver, precision of language. I have no issue with big words or even long sentences, but I do have a problem when people use big words and long sentences as a means to confound, and inexplicably impress, their target audiences.

Skeptics like Daniel Dennett and Peter Boghossian have charitably called these phrases, “deepities.” Others might just call them bullshit, but for this post we’ll stick with Dennett’s original word, “deepity!”

A deepity is a string of meaningless, often high-sounding words that have no precise meaning whatsoever, but boy do they sound impressive!

There are certain domains of human pursuit where deepities are offered as explanations all the time. Religion and to a lesser extent, philosophy are two such domains. Deepak Chopra is legendary for his ability to weave mysticism and physics terms in to rambling, incoherent nonsense that his fans absolutely eat up!

Below is the tweet Deepak currently has pinned to his twitter feed:

What the heck does that even mean? Consciousness is the constant of all constants? I can almost guarantee that if you asked Deepak to provide operational definitions for his idea of “consciousness” and his idea of “constants,” you would be drawn in to a thirty-minute lecture on quantum consciousness and quasi-God enlightenment paradigms, the conclusion of which would leave you wanting either a cheeseburger or a lobotomy.

Deepities are not limited to the professionals either. Here’s a twitter exchange I had just yesterday. You’ll notice that I use the Socratic method. It’s a very effective technique to cut through deepities.

The C.S. Lewis quote wasn’t a deepity insomuch as it was a claim to knowledge that has no evidence. So I simply responded with a question that targeted the more general question around, “why should we believe him,” rather than target the claim about God and Satan itself.

The deepity came in the answer I received:

“Lewis expressed truths of Scripture uniquely. It’s true.”

Never mind the discussion about what exactly does Pressing On Ed mean by a “truth of Scripture,” and why he thinks it’s a good thing to have to be unique about making sense of something that’s allegedly true? In other words, for something allegedly so important, shouldn’t we all be able to conclude whether or not it’s true without needing a unique translation of English in to English?

But rather than go down that road, I was more curious about how one determines a “truth of Scripture.”

“Personal faith & study by comparing what the Bible says about truth w/ what really happens.”

The next answer I received was a bit more straightforward. We were cutting through the deepities. There were still some nonsensical phrases like “personal faith,” but it sounded like we might be getting somewhere with a testable claim!  Comparing something that the Bible says is true, with what actually occurs in reality, sounds like something we can actually do!

Alas, my request for Pressing On Ed to provide an example of this test has gone unanswered. Maybe he is researching and will get back to me.

Until then, be on guard for deepities and happy critical thinking!

Will the Correct Bible Translation Please Stand Up?

If you’ve read my piece “It’s Good to Get Gobsmacked” either on my blog or on the Street Epistemology blog, or if you’ve listened to the corresponding recording of that piece on the SE Podcast, then you already know that I grew up going to a Southern Baptist church.

While I do not ever recall it being explicitly stated at church, and while my memories are admittedly quite distant as the years have rolled past, I’m quite sure it was implied that the King James Version (KJV) was the expected translation of the Bible that we were to use during our services and our Bible studies.

For many years my assumption was that there was no better translation.

With all of the “thees and thous and shalts and shalt nots,” the KJV was the first mass-produced English translation of the Bible. And being first has some serious sticking power! Not to mention that 16th century English just sounds more exotic. As if that somehow makes the words more believable. It’s sort of like how Hollywood has almost every character of antiquity – Greek, Roman, Middle Eastern, etc. – speak English with a British accent. It makes no sense, but it somehow is more believable than an ancient character speaking English with an American accent.

But does being first, or does being the most widespread, mean it’s the most correct?

In this case, not even close.

According to most Biblical scholars (the academic experts who spend their lives reading and studying Latin and Greek languages, Greco-Roman history, etc., and who build evidence-based cases for this sort of thing) the King James translation of the New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus.  The Textus Receptus is nearly universally accepted by those same scholars as a fairly poor and unreliable translation built on Erasmus’ cobbled together 12th century manuscripts.

Even shortly after Erasmus published his translation, other more “reliable” Greek translations began to trickle out. Whether it was Erasmus or someone else, the bottom line is all translations are based on copies of copies of copies of the original manuscripts. And there are no original manuscripts. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Because there are no original manuscripts of any of the New Testament writings, and because these thousands upon thousands of copies of manuscripts were scattered across what was the former Roman Empire, and because none of these copies of copies agree precisely with each other in terms of content, and because these copies of copies were written by many different people over the course of centuries, and because the KJV was published before the academic field of “Textual Criticism” had ever been dreamed up, I always find it peculiar when people suggest the KJV translation is somehow the “best.”

If we are defining “best” as the translation most likely to be closest to what the original authors wrote, then most scholars agree the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (NRSV), first published in 1989, the best. Yet people still say things like:

In summary, in 1516 Erasmus completed a rushed Greek translation based on a dozen or so copies of the New Testament that he was able to get his hands on in Europe. William Tyndale translated that copy in to “modern” English in 1526 (an act for which he was charged with heresy and executed), and the King James Version while also “translated” from the Greek, relied heavily on Tyndale’s translation. Alas, the KJV stuck and to this day, despite hundreds if not thousands of additional textual discoveries since the KJV and despite an entire academic discipline devoted to understanding how the Bible came to be the Bible, people still believe the KJV is somehow the best.

Thou shalt think critically about such things!

Happy critical thinking!

Apologetics and Presuppositional Circular Arguments

Diagram of a Presuppositional Argument

First, I want to know things that are true. To this end, I have been chatting with folks about a number of different God beliefs lately. I have seen quite a few very interesting, if not sometimes contortionist, arguments.  One such argument that I am running in to among certain, I will call them extreme apologetics practitioners, takes the form of the following:

X must be real because X is required to know if X is real or not, therefore by claiming X is not real, you are confirming X must be real.

It is a presuppositional argument, which basically means that it posits the belief ahead of any subsequent dialogue that seeks to discover the veracity of the belief. Its circular nature if granted makes the argument impenetrable to reasonable scrutiny. Which means that it is unfalsibable and therefore unhelpful for determining what is actually true.

Watch:

X must be real because X is required to know if X is real or not, therefore by claiming X is not real, you are confirming X must be real because X is required to know if X is real or not, therefore by claiming X is not real, you are confirming X must be real because X is required to know if X is real or not, therefore by claiming X is not real, you are confirming X must be real because…

By writing the argument this way, we see that it is a linguistic trick, not an intellectually honest attempt to support a claim. If you still do not believe me, just plug in anything for X.

Billy the Cosmic Gnome must be real because Billy the Cosmic Gnome is required to know if Billy the Cosmic Gnome is real or not, therefore by claiming Billy the Cosmic Gnome is not real, you are confirming Billy the Cosmic Gnome must be real.

Go Billy the Cosmic Gnome! This is of course, silly. Beliefs are true to the degree that they comport with what is demonstrably real. And like I said, I want to know things that are true.

Happy critical thinking!

Is D&D Demonic, revisited (VIDEO)

A few days ago I uploaded a sort of “tongue in cheek” video tackling the age old question, “Is Dungeons and Dragons demonic?” That video prompted quite a bit of commentary on some of the D&D sub-reddits. I thought some of the commentary was quite thoughtful, which caused me to reflect a bit on the original video.

The result was a “part 2” video which I just uploaded this morning.

Is D&D Demonic
Image via YouTube screengrab

I hope you all enjoy this approach as well and tangentially, it sort of occured to me that this might be a great lead-in question to have a conversation using “street epistemology.”

For those unfamiliar with the term, street epistemology is a “dialectical approach intent on helping people reflect on the reliability of the methods used to arrive at deeply-held beliefs.”

In other words, while in the process of explaining what D&D is so that ones fears are assuaged, you can probe what gives your interlocutor confidence that demons are actually real! Pretty cool huh?

So even though these two videos are a part of my Dungeons and Dragons playlists, they are also the first of a new series of videos I’m cataloguing under the playlist: Critical Thinking. Something for which we seem to be in very short supply!

I’ve built my Twitter following more or less under the umbrella of tackling irrational ideas, so hopefully this cross-pollination will grow some pretty cool fruit.

I hope you enjoy it! And please subscribe to my channel if you haven’t already!

Rediscovering Twitter

It seems like for me, 2017 is starting to develop a trend. And that trend is rediscovery! First it was Dungeons and Dragons (although technically I started playing D&D again in 2016), then it was “nerdom” in general, and now I’ve sort of stumbled back in to Twitter.

I used to use Twitter quite a bit. It was a great platform for debate, discussion, and the occasional narcissistic ego stroke (i.e., Ricky Gervais once liked one of my tweets and Richard Dawkins retweeted me so I saved pictures of both! ohhhh weeee!).

Then I just got burned out. I’m not sure if the platform was just getting too mean, too creepy, or what, but I just backed out.

But over the past few weeks, with the start of my YouTube channel, I’ve been taking inventory of my “social media” and thought, why not? Why not jump back in to Twitter with both feet?! And so I have.

So if you like watching me debate uninformed or misinformed people on any number of topics, including but not limited to: science, evolution, global warming, religion, gun control, LGBT equality, and politics, join me! Good times will be had by all!

Here’s my latest video on How to Play D&D.