Angels in the architecture

16 07 2013

This is not a “why I am not a creationist” piece. Oh no. Even though I’m not.

This is a hit on a “why I am a creationist” piece.

Virginia Heffernan, who can be an engaging writer, has apparently decided to disengage from thinking. In a widely commented-upon piece for Yahoo, the tech and culture writer outed herself as a creationist. It is a spectacularly bad piece of . . . well, I guess it’s a species of argumentation, but as she kinds of flits and floats from the pretty to the happy and fleetly flees from sweet reason, it might be best to consider this a kind of (bad) performance art.

My brief with her is less about the God-ish conclusion than that flitting and floating: she rejects science because its boring and sad and aren’t stories about God sooooo much better?

You think I’m exaggerating? I am not. To wit:

I assume that other people love science and technology, since the fields are often lumped together, but I rarely meet people like that. Technology people are trippy; our minds are blown by the romance of telecom. At the same time, the people I know who consider themselves scientists by nature seem to be super-skeptical types who can be counted on to denigrate religion, fear climate change and think most people—most Americans—are dopey sheep who believe in angels and know nothing about all the gross carbon they trail, like “Pig-Pen.”

I like most people. I don’t fear environmental apocalypse. And I don’t hate religion. Those scientists no doubt see me as a dopey sheep who believes in angels and is carbon-ignorant. I have to say that they may be right.

Uh-huh.

Later she mentions that she’s just not moved by the Big Bang or evolution, and that evo-psych is sketchy science (which it is) this must mean all of science is sketchy (which it is not).

And then this stirring conclusion:

All the while, the first books of the Bible are still hanging around. I guess I don’t “believe” that the world was created in a few days, but what do I know? Seems as plausible (to me) as theoretical astrophysics, and it’s certainly a livelier tale. As “Life of Pi” author Yann Martel once put it, summarizing his page-turner novel: “1) Life is a story. 2) You can choose your story. 3) A story with God is the better story.”

(Would it be fair to mention at this point that I hated Life of Pi? Too beside-the-point?)

To summarize, she likes technology—because it’s trippy—but she doesn’t like knowing the hows and whys technology actually works, i.e., the science.

This would be fine—after all, there are all kinds of things I like without necessarily being interested in how and why they came to be—were it not for the fact that she’s a technology writer.

Perhaps she’s a closet Juggalo, or maybe she thought Bill O’Reilly waxed profound on the movement of tides, or maybe she just ate a shitload of shrooms and floated down to her keyboard, but I’d be very—excuse me, super-skeptical of the views of a tech writer who apparently thinks angels make iPhones.

~~~

I have to admit, I was more amused by her piece than anything, and her Twitter exchange with Carl Zimmer left me gasping; to the extent I can make out any kind of coherent line at all, it seems to be “I like stories more than theories—so there!”

As someone who likes both stories and theories—yes, Virginia, we can have both—however, I hate her feeding into the Two Cultures divide, not least because dopey angel-mongering tends to diminish even further the humanities.

I am a science enthusiast, but I am also a critic of the some of the more imperial epistemological claims by some scientists (what often gets branded as “scientism“). To note that the methods of science (methodological naturalism, nomological-deductivism—take yer pick) and knowledge produced from those methods are bounded is often taken as an attack on science itself.

And, to be fair, sometimes—as in the Storified Twitter spat, when Heffernan (big fat honking sigh) pulls Foucault out her nose to fling at Zimmer—it is.

But it ain’t necessarily so. It is simply the observation that science is one kind of practice, that it hasn’t escaped the conditionality and history of practice into some kind of absolute beyond.

Now, there’s a lot more behind that observation that I’m willing to go into at this late hour, so allow me to skip ahead to my ire at Heffernan: her dipshit argument makes it harder for those of us who’d prefer our critiques both dip- and shit-free.

So, thanks Virginia, thanks for stuffing your face with shrooms or replacing your neurons with helium or whatever the hell it was that lead you to declare the moon is made of cheese.

But next time, if there is a next time, Just Say No.


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5 responses

16 07 2013
dmfant

glad to see you aren’t engaging with reading dopes anymore who will only raise yer blood-pressure, just read Lightman’s “a sense of the mysterious” which I would highly recommend.

16 07 2013
16 07 2013
absurdbeats

Hey, it’s not like I’m reading Richard Cohen or David Brooks. . . .

17 07 2013
dmfant

agita addiction?

16 11 2013
kathyray freedman

Hi, there. I only heard about this controversy last week, but I must say that it appears to be largely a tempest in a grande half caff latte. After reading VH’s original piece I concluded that she does believe in God, finds Biblical myth in Genesis a comforting metaphor, knows quite a bit about her own branch of science and technology, but not a whole lot about other areas. Think Howard and Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. It’s also pretty clear it was meant to be just a tad on the humorous side. God forbid (oops sorry!) that she blaspheme the Great Orthodoxy–No God, Nothing But Evolution ,Faith Stupid, Religion BAD–and still expect to be allowed to write about Technology! Call The House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, if they still exist, or maybe the NSA. I bet Ms.H got plain sick of all the Know-It-Alls smirking and giving each other the Secret Atheist Handshake whenever God is mentioned. Relax and chill. Don’t be such a science Puritan.

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