In Which Aviatrix falls so far into her own metaphors so as to no longer have room for the story she was trying to tell.
Sometimes I have discussions with people who don't seem to make sense. A lot of people have such discussions, which I think is why some people think liberals are stupid, some people think conservatives are ignorant, and why religion gets so much flak. It's far easier to assume that the person on the other side of the argument just doesn't get it, than to figure out the misunderstanding. I try to start with the assumption that the person is neither insane nor stupid, and go from there.
I had a months-long on-and-off internet argument with someone once. I thought it was a point of philosophy that I was begging him to compromise on for the sake of a project and he just kept throwing it back in my face, seemingly refusing to even acknowledge that there was a risk. That was finally resolved when we discovered two words crucial to the argument were synonyms to him, but had a vital contrast for me. Being that the argument was in text, his written English was near flawless, and the position he seemed to be taking was not uncommon, it took that long to track down the discrepancy. And this was an easy one, because it didn't really represent a difference in our underlying axioms.
By axioms I mean things that people believe or know in order to know or deduce anything else. Those of you with a mathematics background know that you can't have a system of knowledge without having some arbitrary ground rules first. Our mathematical system is based on axioms like things that are equal to the same thing are equal to one another. I mean duh!
The problem is, people often don't even know they have them. They build what may be a perfectly logical and coherent argument up from a base that the other person isn't standing on. It's like trying to get someone from an island over to your mainland by building a magnificent bridge between the mainland and completely different island. Here is where people start to think one another are insane morons. The islander says he can't drive over what the mainlander knows is an excellent bridge, so the mainlander decides it's all due to religious prejudice and gives up on islanders all together.
The nature of an axiom is that it is something so self-evident that it doesn't even need to be stated. So people assume that everyone accepts that axiom, or even when they know that some don't, they don't see that their logical arguments depend on it.
A common axiom of thought is that the world is God's divine creation and that He is omniscient and omnipotent. People for whom this is axiomatic can't prove it. They feel it, they know it, the enormity of creation demonstrates it. It is true because it is the original Truth. I need a short name for people who hold this to be a self-evident truth, and "creationist" won't do because believing in divine creation doesn't require belief that it happened in six days, six thousand years ago. I'll call them God-ists, because it's short. For the purpose of this discussion it carries no other meaning than "people for whom divine creation is a self-evident axiom," and I've made it up solely to abbreviate the phrase.
God-ists nowadays universally know that not everyone shares that belief, but it doesn't stop them from thinking arguments based on it should sway non-believers.
Don't think I'm being unfair to God-ists here. Their frequent adversaries, those whose axiom is that the universe is a completely logical place, entirely governed by forces that can be understood in a physical sense, often do not realize that that is an unprovable belief, an axiom that all their knowledge rests on. It is every bit as unprovable as the existence of an invisible pink unicorn. But many Sci-ists can't imagine someone being able to get through their daily life without seeing the self-evidence of this truth. They dismiss God-ists as deluded without it.
That's a simplistic presentation with lots of room to argue about. I only intended it as a familiar example. Many God-ists embrace the Sci-ist's axiom as a kind of Second Law of Godotics: "God set up the universe as a logical place, governed by physical forces, except for when He intervenes." That combination seems to be to be the closest fit to what we've observed, except that a Sci-ist states the identical observation as "The universe is a logical place, governed by physical forces, even when something happens that we don't yet know the physical explanation for." Just because once upon a time every sunset and sunrise was understandable only as an act of the gods and now we can understand the workings of cells and atoms doesn't mean that God didn't set it up that way, and just because we are unwinding more and more of the wrappings of our physical world doesn't mean that there isn't still something at the core that is not susceptible to physical laws.
Whew, this got way more theological than I intended. I wonder if that's the feeling of the theoretical physicists who end up writing books or participating in projects like What The Bleep Do We Know? when all they are doing is trying to understand chaos theory and the fundamental nature of energy and matter in a rigid scientific way. I think of science and religion both working on the same immense jigsaw puzzle, with science rigidly sorting out all the edge pieces and carefully fitting pieces one into the other, trying to build up in a consistent manner from the border to the inside, while religion plucks pieces out of the box and tries to fit them together without knowing or caring which way up they go or how they relate to the border. A lot of the tabs are very similar in shape and size, so quite often both parties make errors in fitting pieces together. Each trumpets the other's errors as evidence that the other is all wrong, and even spends some time trying to take apart the other's assembled pieces. The advance of science has now built the puzzle to the point that religion has had to realize that many of their pieces are from a different puzzle altogether, but I suspect we're just reaching the point where some of the pieces that religion has assembled are going to match up with what science has assembled. No one, of course, has access to the picture on the box. It's probably kittens with string.
Whee, that was so much fun I never got to the story. Next time. Oh and Canadians, don't think about it too long: your 2008 taxes have to be filed by midnight tonight.