Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In defence of bible stories

A typical children’s bible story book.
The Joseph story is one that I have
often told to Martha (age 5)
I've been surprised by the number eyebrows raised at me telling Martha bible stories. Even though the eyebrow raising is probably at least half in jest.

Some think, or for the sake of a laugh claim to think, that I'm letting down the atheist cause and colluding in the indoctrination of the young.

From the other side of the argument it’s sometimes suggested that I'm up to something devious or that I'm secretly “looking for something” in that quaint phrase which is meant to imply I'm about the find the Lord. (I had an uncle who was a prayer warrior. He used to accost strangers on buses and ask them if they had Found The Lord. But I digress.)

I hardly think that telling bible stories requires an explanation but here it is for the curious. The story of Adam and Eve, for example, is one of the foundation myths of western culture. It’s unthinkable that any child should grow up not knowing it. The same goes for Oedipus, which I'm working on now, but that doesn’t get the eyebrows raised, or if it does for wholly different reasons.

And then imagine going through life saying that so and so is a good samaritan, without knowing the story behind the phrase.

True, many Bible stories presuppose the existence of God; but then other stories presuppose the existence of giants, goblins, talking animals, the Norse or Greek gods, and so on. I suppose you could say that by mixing religious stories in with non-religious I'm subtly undermining the idea that religion should be accorded a special place.

But that would be to ascribe underhand motives to me unjustifiably.

Read my tellings of Oedipus and Adam & Eve

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The No True Scotsman trick

“No Scotsman ever puts sugar on his porridge oats”
“But Angus McSporran does!”
“Ah, then Angus McSporran is not a true Scotsman!”
Anthony Flew is responsible for exposing this fallacious type of argument, in his 1975 book Thinking About Thinking.
I read this in “Philosophy Now” where I also see that this little book should be read by everybody, although it will annoy me because a large proportion of the examples are taken from muddles in what might well be seen as left-wing thinking.
The no true Scotsman thing tickles me, so I'll read the book anyway.
Flew has recently died. He was an atheist who a few years ago famously converted to Christianity or at least to Deism.  No true atheist would do such a thing,  therefore ....

Bertrand Russell on apricots

Bertrand Russell presents this argument in favour of useless knowledge:
“I have enjoyed peaches and apricots more since I have known that they were first cultivated in China in the early days of Han Dynasty; that Chinese hostages held by the great King Kaniska introduced them to India, whence they spread to Persia, reaching the Roman Empire in the first century of our era; that the word ‘apricot’ is derived from the same Latin source as the word ‘precocious’, because the apricot ripens early; and that the A at the beginning was added by mistake, owing to a false etymology. All this makes the fruit taste much sweeter.”
(In Praise of Idleness, 1935)
PS the false etymology intrigues me, but I haven't managed to track it down to my satisfaction