Nathan McQuillen And
His Social Constructions
Sean Baran

 

It seems (and you must have heard this one a lot from other atheists who're irritated at your approach) that you have managed to turn an absence of belief in social constructions into an equally strong counter-credo, with its own socially constructed "rational" world view, with little or no room for personal exploration of, or belief in, the infinity of unprovable but personally viable beliefs out of which we all build our individual selves.

 

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Additional comments added on July 13, 2001.

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Sean Baran"
Subject: Re: What_This_Person_Is_Talking_About_9242
Date: Friday, February 23, 2001 6:52 AM

Ah, very good! -- but it's worse than that! If you follow through to the end, you will see what kind of "historian" he is: "a historian of social discourse." This is code language for the postmodernism that physicist Alan Sokal was parodying when he published that hoax in the social journal Social Text. (I didn't catch on, at first, since this letter was one that I didn't read in advance before offering my reply, but read it and replied, line-by-line, as I went along.)

This explains why he didn't know diddly about the history of the slogan "In God We Trust," and missed, entirely, the great Freethought movement of the nineteenth century which was mirrored in England as the Secularist movement. He is not a "historian" in any sense that we're familiar. I'm almost convinced he's an advocate of this movement within social sciences, not only by his use of several key terms (such as "experiential data" and "sociolinguistic functions"), but by several other things he said and by several aspects of what he claims to know so much about that appear to have gone over his head.

Postmodernism, basically, says that empirical science is just another myth, like the creation myth of this or that Native American tribe or the world-view of Fundamentalist Christianity. Because these world-views seem, to the people in question, to be working for them, and so, since that model works for them, it is just as valid as empirical science, which happens to work for our tribe.

True, empirical science is a world-view shared by a "tribe" know as scientists, and they "construct" a crude "picture" of what they think reality is like. The difference is that only empirical science has been able to map DNA and take a peek at what the Big Bang might have been like. And we can explain how we did it in such a way that you can do it too. Unlike so many mystery cults, nobody has exclusive access to scientific method: it's here for anybody and everybody.

A Pentecostalist may think that the "gift of knowledge" is the most valid way to obtain accurate information, while the scientist thinks that Liberal Scientific Method is the most valid way to obtain accurate information. But, when placed side-by-side, in a social context of how beneficial these two methods are for the rest of us, there is no comparison. The Pentecostalist's "gift of knowledge" remains the same: visions or voices occurring exclusively within that person's head. The scientist's understanding is cumulative, meaning that the scientist will come to a greater understanding of a certain situation over a period of time, by testing various propositions and offering ideas up to public scrutiny.

Also, the Pentecostalist's "gift of knowledge" is just that: a gift. The Pentecostalist makes no pretense that you our I could simply avail ourselves of that method. Even according to the Pentecostalist theory, only certain "elect" people enjoy this "gift." Liberal Scientific Method, on the other hand, makes no pretence to being exclusive in any way: a lowly patent clerk would have been just as qualified to overturn the entire science of physics as was Albert Einstein. Wait a minute! -- Einstein was a patent clerk when he published his first paper on Relativity.

True, the Pentecostalist's method may be working for her, but that's the only real good it does. It will never cure cancer on a wide scale. That is, it will neither systematically develop several different methods for attacking various types of cancer, nor work as a "healing" method for more than the handful of people who will respond to the placebo effect. It will never discover anything about the ozone layer. Well -- perhaps a clue about the ozone layer could come to someone during a Pentacostal trance (something like this happened during the discovery of the benzene ring, but August Kekule was already a scientist, and already struggling to solve this puzzle). But the sad part would be that the rest of us will not have learned a thing about how to discover more information about our world.

With that, combined with your observation that he defines atheism as a dogma asserting that no gods exist, we come to this puzzling statement he made, and I make my first crack at trying to unravel it (my numbers):

  

It seems ... that you have managed to turn an absence of belief in social constructions [1] into an equally strong counter-credo, [2] with its own socially constructed "rational" worldview, [3] with little or no room [4] for personal exploration of, or belief in, the infinity of unproveable but personally viable beliefs out of which we all build our individual selves.

 

Ah!

1. I don't go along with him in placing much validity in social constructions. He is wrong in saying that I have an absence of belief in social constructions, I just don't give them much thought because, like all other people living in their own social constructions, I am too busy trying to keep my head above water in my own social construction to have the luxury of paying much attention to the social constructions of other peoples.

I agree that the Pentecostalist's "social construction" is fine and good for her (which is why I won't go around trying to de-convert anybody -- contrary to his and others' slanders of me). I am an atheist and this website is, in part, a resource for other atheists in the hope that they won't have as tough of a time with their atheism as I've had with mine. The other part is the struggle to end the bigotry and stigma we endure (and his postmodernism didn't help him, considering that he just as viciously attacked me -- with contempt prior to investigation -- as any theists who have ever logged on to our website and drawn their guns). The last reason is that I suffer less than perfect health, and I do this as a hobby, to keep myself focused and busy.

2. Here's where he's wrong: I don't really have a counter-credo unless you want to call Liberal Scientific Method a counter-credo -- as that is the only thing in me that really resembles a creed: I submit to Liberal Scientific Method as the most valid method thus constructed for acquiring accurate information. Since I recognize the validity of science, I order my acquisition of information around that method. I even come on this board and test various idea I have about my social construction, and I report my finding here in case anybody else is interested.

But do I inflict my views on anybody (like he has done to me, by logging on to my website and sending me an e-mail)? No. The website is here, and people are never required or tricked into logging on to this website. I send no spam (except once, on AOL, at the very beginning), I do no advertising (apart from the listings in the major search engines), and even my Kittens page, which is now linked from several "Pets" websites, does not contain a link to Positive Atheism: that woman had to backspace over the filename and two folders to get to any file that would work (we now have our own 404 Error page, but didn't back then). Meanwhile, our website contains nothing along the lines of telling people they should give up religion (apart from perhaps, some historical writings such as Ingersoll). When people write to me, I never respond as if they should give up religion, only as to why I won't go along with them.

3. Every world-view is socially constructed.

4. There is little or no room for exploration beyond what people send to me here, because I don't have much of an opportunity lately to get out of the house. I am buried in work and obligations, and I don't feel all that well most of the time. As I said above, I am too immersed in the act of living my own no-bed-of-roses life to have the luxury of exploring very many other views.

However, I do explore several different world-views each day. I spent three or four hours today exploring his world view, plus the views of three theists and about eight people I can only assume are atheists. I also explored the world view of a social construction known as the phone company, who, after eight months, has finally agreed to get moving on my request to have my phone number changed -- to make the regular line the DSL line and the DSL line the regular line, so I can drop the regular line without losing the phone number I've had for over eight years. I also spent several hours exploring the social construction known as Adobe because I bought a program that doesn't do what it was represented as being able to do and I cannot get my money back because I didn't buy it from them. Then I explored the social construction of Kinko's, and as a result am shopping for a new printer for the magazine. Finally, I explored the social construction of the apartment manager and her maintenance worker, and discovered that my request to fix a leaky faucet has evolved into an order to completely redo the tub and tile (wherein they ended up completely forgetting about the dripping faucet!). Now I go to the bar and explore the social construction of their menu and wait-staff -- and perhaps some interesting people at the other tables (and always that classic cylindrical Miller lamp with the bouncing lights). But I will not explore the social construction of John Jamison & Son tonight (or the resulting pookah) because I have too much work to do.

And you know what? No atheist has complained about me thinking the way I do in this respect. Other atheists do their atheism differently, but I do mine the way I do because I have thought it through and continue to test it against what I've learned and the new opinions I hear from others. I also see it as something that I can live with when I go to sleep at night.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org> To: "Sean Baran"
Subject: Re: What_This_Person_Is_Talking_About_9242
Date: Friday, February 23, 2001 7:16 AM

I forgot to send you the link to a hilarious article, "The New Creationism," by Ehrenreich and McIntosh, which we ran several years ago.

The first paragraph says it all.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Sean Baran"
Subject: Re: What_This_Person_Is_Talking_About_9242
Date: Friday, February 23, 2001 9:03 AM

Don't feel left behind for missing it. Even in light of Alan Sokal's now-famous hoax, most people are still clueless about it, and for good reason: this stuff will never go anywhere outside of the Soft end of the university campus. Real science will prevail (short of a violent political coup by the Fundamentalist Christians) because real science actually works. It doesn't have to be politically correct.

I used to be into punk in the 1970s, but the scene is much different today -- and I am much older than when the Ramones blew through town and single-handedly rescued the entire genre of Rock music from "Miss You" and "Mr. Roboto" and everything else that was eventually to become of it. If you know of any great lyrics we might find useful, send them my way and I'll send you some samples of the magazine for your trouble.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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