Home again

October 17, 2009 • 9:47 am

I’m back after ten fantastic days in Guatemala.  What this means is that you’re going to be forced to look at my holiday snaps, beginning with Death Valley, continuing with the Atheist Jamboree, and then through Guatemala.  Here’s a taste of each.


Fig. 1.  On Artist’s Drive, Death Valley


Fg. 2.  Dan Dennett introduces the idea of a “deepity”, Atheist Alliance International meeting, Burbank


Fig. 3.  The Mayan city of Tikal, Peten, Guatemala. Atop Temple 2, with Temple 1 in background.

And yes, there are Guatemalan felids for Caturdays, too.  But now I must rest.

Kudos to Matthew Cobb and Greg Mayer for their many nice posts in my absence.

h/t: Otter for Figures 1 and 2.

40 thoughts on “Home again

  1. Welcome back and kudos to Matthew Cobb and Greg Mayer for keeping us entertained and for furthering our education.

  2. Aw, I thought that was a touching bit of inner circle jargon, Russell – how sad to learn that it’s just a typo.

    So in that first one Jerry – you’re thinking ‘Hmm…therefore Jesus Christ.’ Right?

  3. I’m trying to come up with something “gppd” could stand for…

    How about “Giving people paranoid delusions”? As in “M&K are proof that Jerry is gppd.”

  4. The Dennnett deepity slide that Jerry Coyne took a picture of is one that I wrote into my notebook (I was at the same conference).

    My question: Doesn’t Dennett’s construction render just about all symbolic or paradoxical language suspect? In other words, is it really a good idea for atheists to set upon the poetic in such a dismissive fashion—and show impatience for it? For example, wouldn’t these famous sayings be rendered “deepities” under such a definition?:

    “I measured out my life in coffee spoons.” (T.S. Eliot)

    “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.” (attributed to Jesus)

    “The arc is long, but it bends toward justice.” (Martin Luther King)

    “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” (Zen koan)

    Paradox and symbol exercise the mind in ways that might bring forward deep structures, or evoke the human spirit to a hopeful cause, or drive the imagination into an encounter with the sublime, or help us intuit the ontological mystery (the mystery of being). Do atheists really want to be the dismissers of such poetics? If a trope doesn’t have a readily obvious or available analog or target (as in Eliot’s “I measured out my life in coffee spoons”), shall it safely be ignored as nonsense?

    In short, will you destroy the metaphorical village to save it?

    And isn’t the universe already a huge deepity? Isn’t Dennett, well, late to the game? Atheists, for example, believe that the mind reduces to matter. This idea is almost certainly a deepity that appears to connect two things that are utterly ill understood and mysterious, even as it tells us very little. The explanation offered is only apparent. Atheists also believe that matter reduces to, well, nothing. Matter has always been, or it just hopped into existence somehow from physical laws that were just somehow there. That too is a deepity. Looked at too closely and such atheist assertions start to haze into improbability, paradox, and nonsense too.

    Talking about matter as an endpoint to explanation ends up driving us into the same deepity territory that theists drive into when they start talking about God. “There is no floor to the universe / but we walk the floor” (the poet AR Ammons).

    Is the wise atheist move Wittgenstein’s: silence?

    In any case, people living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

    Oh, and what does one make of particle physics in such a Dennett scheme? Is the particle/wave function of light a deepity? Must there be some reductive logical primacy that renders the paradox only apparent? Is that part of the atheist faith too, to deny the deepity qualities in quantum physics, and the mysteries at the heart of being? And if not, why does physics get to keep its deepities, even as human language must surrender its deepities for Dennett’s tidy formulations of what constitutes the permissable and rational in thought?


    1. Good way to stay on the subject of this post, huh?

      Once again, the definition of atheism is the lack of belief in any gods.

      Santi’s attributing all this other stuff to atheism is his usual agenda. This is from the guy who calls Jerry an asshole on his own blog where this stuff belongs.

      1. What’s my agenda? And my point of view doesn’t belong here?

        Why? Coyne doesn’t block my comments, and he told me personally that he likes dissent on his threads.

        So who died and made you the judge of the acceptable range of thought at this blog site?

        You are well named, New England Bob, because you are thoroughly a prude and puritan (just without the religion).

        And the link to this scandalous use of the a-word is where? What’s the context? Did I say something bad about Coyne (in context), or good?

        I think that, as a puritan, you wish to label Santi with the scarlet letter A!

        Reread your Hawthorne.


      2. As usual, you use ad hominems and twist and turn

        What is your agenda here? You post random stuff that has nothing to do with the threads. Maybe we should discuss needlepoint and plumbing here too.

        You can accuse me of being a prude but you nearly always hijack a thread. There are dozens of examples. Reality is a bitch for you, isn’t it.

        I am glad you cleaned the filth and lies and defamation from your own blog. You can pretend it never existed but we know better. Jerry Coyne already saw it so we know it existed.

        I guess you felt all alone on your blog that no one reads your supernatural woo, mind preceding matter and UFOs and the like. Maybe you cleaned it out but I have no reason to spend time around cesspools so I wouldn’t know.

  5. One more thought: maybe humans use “deepities” in language precisely in the effort to speak to the ontological mystery. To not address the ontological mystery with deepities is to fundamentally mispeak of it. In other words, to pretend that the universe is not itself an ontological deepity is to miss its strangeness. It is akin to sending the perfect love letter. Nothing quite works, so you write it again and again.

    The universe is a veiled lover.

    I know, that’s a deepity too. It appears to say something about the universe, but when you look closely it turns to jello, right?


  6. Oh, and just one more thought: could somebody offer me just one example of symbol usage in literature, or some sublime lines of poetry (or poetic language of any sort) that doesn’t function as a deepity (by Dennett’s definition)? Is, for example, this Blake poem a deepity? (Forgive the line break mistakes, I’m quoting from memory.):

    “O rose, thou art sick.
    The invisible worm that
    flies through the night
    in the howling storm
    has found out thy bed
    of crimson joy and
    his dark secret love
    does thy life destroy.”

    What’s the rose, what’s the worm, what’s the night, what’s the storm, what’s the bed, what’s the love, what’s the life?

    Dawkins once called Blake an “obscurantist.” Is he right? Shall we show Blake to the door?


  7. As I suspected, Puritan Bob is unable to produce a single page link to my blog that supports his characterizations of it.

    For those who are fair minded, I’ll point to this recent page in which I defended Coyne in a spat between him and Andrew Sullivan:


    And again I want to emphasize that Coyne told me that he welcomes dissent on his threads, and that they would be boring (to him) without dissent appearing on them. I thought that, in this thread, I respectfully raised some questions about the role of language in atheist discourse (prompted by the Dennett slide that Coyne posted).


    1. You are such a liar, Santi.

      Like a criminal, you hide the posts that you slimed and defamed Jerry Coyne.

      This is to be expected from a supernatural woo believer like you.

      Now you try to hide behind Jerry, appealing to people’s sense of authority. Guess what – people here actually think for themselves.

      This is to be expected as the juvenile, pathetic Santi plays his games.

      I had already pointed to your filth in posts on your blog weeks ago, Santi.

      You can run and hide, but it is now time that supernatural-believer, UFO proponent, and ‘mind preceded matter’ foolish Santi to grow up.

  8. Just for the record, This is where Santi calls Jerry Coyne an asshole.


    This is also where he admires William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute.

    Also his support for “psi phenomena and doesn’t think that mind can be reduced to matter.”

    Santi is the guy who calls himself an agnostic. Go look at his many posts about UFOs. Since I don’t believe in all this nonsensical woo, this fool calls me a puritan.

    Everyone around here is laughing at you Santi.

  9. First off, Bob, you and I are talking on an essentially dead thread here. I doubt anybody is following our back and forth.

    Secondly, I don’t know why you think the asshole post is negative, or why I would try to “hide” it. I’ve never removed anything from my site, and nothing on it is filthy (except, perhaps, in your own mind). The asshole post to which you refer is an explicit and positive defense of Coyne’s rhetorical style. Perhaps you calculate that people won’t actually click through to see what I said.

    Third, you obviously haven’t read what I’ve written about UFOs. I’m not a UFO believer, and I’ve been extremely hard on the UFO movement, as this post makes explicitly clear:


    I’d like to call a truce with you, Bob. You’re clearly zealous in your beliefs, and don’t like my views, which is fine, but I wish there was a way to talk about issues without the persistent nastiness and static. I’m happy to tone down my rhetoric if you have it in your heart to do so also.

    I want to emphasize what Coyne explicitly said to me: He said that he welcomed dissent on the threads at his blog, and that he would find the threads boring if people like me didn’t contribute to them. You may dislike his position, but please notice that he doesn’t erase my posts. Should he start deleting any of my posts, I’d respect his choice and not bother posting here anymore (or trying to). But he doesn’t. I would ask you to respect Coyne’s decision and not presume that you are doing him, or his site, a favor by presuming to police the site for him.

    Dissent is healthy. As an atheist, you should be glad that an agnostic comes around the sites you visit and shows skepticism towards ideas expressed there. If for no other reason, my very presence might help you understand how your rhetoric comes across to outsiders not committed to the same movement that you are.

    One last thing: People only argue about things that are live issues for them. In other words, atheism is a live issue for me. It’s a possibility that I entertain, and so I’m hard on it. I wouldn’t show an equivelent sharp edge towards, say, Mormonism or Scientology, because I simply would never consider becoming either of these two things. They are out of the purvue of things that I take seriously. But this is not my take on atheism. As an agnostic, atheism is a live option for me. It’s a vital philosophical stance. I take it seriously, and this is precisely why I argue with it.

    In conclusion, I’d ask you to consider working with the friction of people like me who might oppose some of your views, and not treat that friction as something to push away, but as something valuable to welcome.

    As Hamlet says of his father’s ghost: “As a stranger, bid it welcome.”


    1. I will stop attacking your comments if:

      1. You do not hijack a thread with completely irrelevant comments that have nothing to do with the topic.

      2. Stop attributing false motives to atheism.

      3. I will even let go ‘mind preceding matter’ if it is part of the topic, but if you don’t produce evidence then I will ridicule any wordy tome about it.

      Just keep in mind that I also have an opinion and I am free to express it here.

      If you need to hear Coyne’s words, the only thing he told me is that you had deserved being banned, which he did even before I pointed out your ‘asshole’ post to him.

      1. Bob,

        I appreciate the civil tone in your post above.

        As to Coyne telling you some time ago that I deserved being banned, if he contemplated the idea he never followed through with it. And he explicitly told me only a few weeks ago that he welcomes dissent in his threads. I take him at his word. Should he erase something that I’ve submitted to a thread, then I won’t make any attempts to post here in the future. Also, if he tells me scram (which would take him just a second of his time in one of these threads), I would respect that. I don’t want to contribute to threads at a blog where the person managing the blog doesn’t want me there.

        And I agree that you are free to express your opinions, and I actually want to hear what you have to say (when you’re not appearing to be trying to drive me from the site). I actually find it fascinating to hear the opinions of people who see the world with different premises from mine. I like being surprised. It makes me think.

        As for producing evidence of mind preceding matter, I’m not sure what, for you, constitutes evidence in this regard. Such a belief is always going to be an inference based on what science has heretofor been unable to explain (such as where the laws of physics came from in the first place). It is always going to be a “god of the gaps” inference. I maintain only that it is a reasonable inference, not that it is true. I don’t know if it is true.

        Please recall that I am an agnostic. I advocate the entertaining of the possiblity that mind precedes matter in the universe, and I make the case for it in a stronger manner talking to an atheist than to a theist. An agnostic is in the position of being able to prod theists with difficult atheist questions and atheists with difficult theist questions. Because both theism and atheism are live options for me, I am hard on both points of view (when talking to someone who believes in one or the other of them).

        You have, in the past, taken my agression towards atheist ideas as a sign that I’m a secret theist. In fact, I’m an agnostic who respects atheism so much that I do my best to think of things that would disconfirm it or cast doubt upon it. This is not for the purpose of harming it, but for the purposes of making the best case I can for it in my own mind, confronting in as strong a manner as possible its weaknesses, so that I can (for myself) think through what I think is true and false about it.

        One of the “most live” atheist options for me has always been Camus’s philosophy. In the theist realm, the “most live” option for me is some form of deism (“the featherbed upon which the lapsed Christian frequently falls”), or Niebuhr-like liberal philosophical religion.

        One option I seriously entertained (and that I’m not really taking seriously anymore) is Zen Buddhism. I practiced vegetarianism, meditation, and yoga for several years, started having kids, and let all of these practices lapse. There’s something emotionally dead in Zen practice that I can’t quite shake. It’s too harsh a confrontation with nihilism (emptiness). I want a persona (while I’m alive). I don’t want to think of it as an illusion.

        Sorry for the long response.


      2. Yes, Santi, but of course you have publicly called me “kind of an asshole,” whereas I’ve never called you a single name. Rationalize that as you will, but who among us is more civil?

  10. I need to read up on Dennett’s deepities (I’ve read most of his books and seen him lecture, but that’s still new to me). But I would be very surprised if he means to include literary or poetic language in the definition. He is a philosopher, so I am guessing he means to include only (ostensibly) straightforward statements meant to be read for their direct meaning, as in philosophical discussion. Dennett has great love and appreciation for art and the humanities and there is no reason to believe he wants to reject or limit creative artists’ creative latitude.

    1. Yep, you’re absxolutely right. He was discussing theology, and the tendency of theologians to use deepities to hide an essential emptiness in their thought. Dennett certainly did not extend this idea to the arts, and it is fatuous to think that he did.

  11. Whyevolutionistrue:

    It is certainly true that Dennett did not draw the extended inference to poetry, but it is also true that he’s letting a cat out of a bag. Martin Luther thought that he could confine critiques of the Catholic Church to the tidy confines of Orthodox Christendom, and to his chagrin he learned otherwise. Dennett likes universal acids. “Deepity” is one of those acidic observations of his that won’t just stay put (nor should it).

    If religion trucks in insincerity (in terms of its propositional statements), poetry does also. It’s the same trick. You are under a spell. You think you’re having an experience of content, but there are no signifiers that really go with specific signifieds. Poetry and religious language are both halls of mirrors in this regard.

    Given this fact, here’s the question for atheism: Should atheists enjoy a chief form that religion comes packaged in (that is, poetry)? In other words, should atheists draw pleasure from it, even as they know that poetry functions as a trick of drifting signifiers—a form of “deepity.”


    1. I think it is absurd to state that religion ‘owns’ poetry.

      By analogy, some religious people use generosity and help others with compassion, so does that mean that religion owns generosity, help and compassion? Of course not.

      Dennett is extremely precise in what he states. Extending it by inference is a foolish exercise.

      1. Bob,

        I think that “absurd” and “foolish” is an overstatement (to say the least).

        But I agree with you that generosity is an analogy. Religion doesn’t own poetry or generosity (obviously).

        Still, I’d ask you to at least consider some questions: What role should poetry play in the life of an atheist who is insistent on precision in language? Does the reading of poetry foster suspiciously religious habits of thinking? Dennett’s dippity observation raises (at least for me) some broader questions.

        I, personally, think that if you get to the bottom of poetry you are likely to find that you have also gotten to the bottom of religion.

        You should at least know who you’re boxing with.


      2. Poetry has nothing to do with religion. Neither does art, music, football or tiddly winks.

        Any of them can get inspiration from many diverse places.

        Once again, I insist that the definition of an atheist is one who does not believe in any gods. An atheist who is insistent on precision in language is no more likely or unlikely than a theist who is insistent on precision in language or a police officer or a UN translator or a shoe salesman.

        By your analysis there can be no atheist poets. That is ludicrous.

      3. Bob,

        You’re inferring a reductio ad absurdum (by bringing my observation to a “ludicrous” point).

        Wallace Stevens, an atheist poet, writes of the “palm at the end of the mind.” Of course an atheist poet can speak to the ontological mystery without making that mystery god. But I think that both poetry and religion are gesturing toward the ontological mystery (which can also be experienced as emptiness or the viva negativa).

        My question is this: what would atheist poets like Shelley, Hardy, and Wallace Stevens have made of the 21st century New Atheism and Dennett’s “deepity” observation?

        To my mind, religion is a kind of poetry literalized. And even after religion is deliteralized, and made into poetry again, people will still need poetry. So what’s the role of poetry within atheism? What’s atheist poetry pointing to? What are its signifiers shifting towards? Nothingness? To what, exactly, does it speak?


      4. To my mind, religion is a kind of poetry literalized.

        Not to my mind. Does anyone else feel that way?

        Atheism is not a movement. It is not an ideology. Atheism is the lack of belief in any gods.

        What’s atheist poetry pointing to? What are its signifiers shifting towards? Nothingness? To what, exactly, does it

        ‘atheist poetry’ is an oxymoron. The above statement asking what it is pointing to is equivalent to asking “What is north of the north pole?”

        From Wikipedia:

        “Poetry … is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning.

        It is art. It has no ‘getting to the bottom of’

  12. Jerry:

    “You wrote: ‘Yes, Santi, but of course you have publicly called me “kind of an asshole,’ whereas I’ve never called you a single name. Rationalize that as you will, but who among us is more civil?”

    In this instance, obviously you are. And you may be right that I’ve rationalized the post. I’m human, and I sometimes exercise poor judgment in the heat of arguments. In the context in which I used it, I believed at the time that I was complimenting your tart and blunt “impatient with nonsense” style. Conventionally, people often call someone who speaks the way that you do on some issues being “kind of an asshole.”

    But I would ask you for some self reflection here. You do frequently come off (tone-wise) as smug, impatient, and contemptuous of people who disagree with you. It’s not just me who picks up that vibe from you. Andrew Sullivan gets that impression also. Maybe we’re being oversensitive. I don’t know. But calling liberal agnostics and atheists who take a different tack from you toward religion “faitheists” is an example. It’s derogatory. It’s disrespectful. It’s a way of calling somebody an idiot or a fool. It poisons civil discourse. It functions as a heuristic for quick dismissal, and substitutes for engagement. And by adopting a PZ Myers rhetorical style you obviously provoke less than kind responses. It’s surprising to me that you would be surprised. You alone get to be barbed, caustic, and sarcastic?

    I’m not trying to pick a fight with you. I’m interested in your point of view on things. It surprises me and provokes my thought. That’s why I come around to see what you have to say. At my own blog I call you one of my “nay bears” (the human neighbor who shrugs at things I might take seriously, or takes a big rhetorical bear swipe at them). But even though I disagree with you on some things, I still see you as my human neighbor, and as a stranger to my way of thinking, I bid you welcome.

    I think that we should love our “nay bears”, not eat them.


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