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!

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.

 

The “ophobia” ruse as a means to protect ideas from critique

Twitter Richard Dawkins Ryan BaysMy morning started early with a cup of coffee and great intentions of adding a few paragraphs to my book project. As the rain fell soothingly outside, and just as I was getting the old writing wheels warmed up, I stole a quick skim of my twitter timeline. One of my favorite accounts is that of famous biologist Richard Dawkins and this morning, Dr. Dawkins was tweeting about British politics. In particular, about a Labour Party desire, expressed in no uncertain terms by Ed Millband, to outlaw the “scourge” of Islamophobia by making it a crime.

Islamophobia a crime? Absurd. How can criticism of anything be considered criminal in a free society? Writing, speaking, blogging, and drawing, all methods of critique, none of which do any real harm to anyone save challenging them to examine their own beliefs, and in so doing perhaps hurting their feelings. I replied to Dr. Dawkins’ tweet with one of my own:

“I suppose by attaching the suffix “ophobia” to the end of a set of beliefs, they expect immunity from criticism.”

Judging by the response to Dr. Dawkin’s re-tweet, this assessment resonated positively with a great many of his reasonable followers (and incidentally, quite negatively with a few of his less rational).

It would seem that the trick to ensure that one’s feelings remain unhurt, is to simply affix “ophobia” to the end of the label that captures whatever “deeply held beliefs” they hold, and then charge any critics with this new and wholly fictional affront.  Of course this is a gimmick. A cop-out. It’s impossible to but a boundary around what ideas fit within the protection of the “ophobia” and what ideas must make their case on the open market. There’s no limit to the “ophobias” that the holders of ridiculous or dangerous ideas can cower behind.

What’s this? You think L. Ron Hubbard’s book is silly? You’re just exhibiting Scientolophobia.

Did I hear you scoff at the doctrine of transubstantiation? You must be a Catholophobe.

What do you mean you don’t believe in Santa Clause? You are guilty of Santophobia.

Critical of religious doctrines that encourage death to apostates? Careful if you live in England, for if Milliband has his way, you may just end up breaking laws prohibiting Islamophobia.

We in the Western world have been down this road before. The road where certain beliefs and ideas were placed beyond reproach by the rule of theocratic law, but rather than label their critics as “Islamophobes” or “Christophobes,” critics were called “blasphemers” and “heretics” and were garroted or burned at the stake.  Of course, free governments will no longer issue death penalties for the crime of being offensive, but criminal penalties of any type are unconscionable.  No idea is beyond critique. No belief is too precious to be held above examination and yes, even ridicule.

If the goal of freedom-loving societies is to ensure the maximum number of people living in them have access to the possibility of human happiness, and if human happiness is a product of actions inspired by beliefs, then all beliefs need to be on the table. How else can we choose which are worthy of our respect? How else can we cause to whiter away under the relentless light of rational critique, those beliefs which inspire actual atrocities?