If you’re a Finn. . .

October 18, 2011 • 7:27 am

. . .or somebody who reads Finnish—and that doesn’t include me—you might have a look at this.  WEIT just appeared in Finnish, looking like this:

Oh, those crazy artistic Finns!

Here’s an article that just appeared in the Finnish paper Aamulehti (click to enlarge). There’s also an interview conducted by Mikko Pulliainen, who sent these links to me.

.  . . and a book review, which I’m told is favorable:

95 thoughts on “If you’re a Finn. . .

  1. Yeah, it’s favorable. The second paragraph reads: “WEIT by the evolutionary biologist JC is one of the best books available that popularize evolutionary theory.”

  2. I love the phrase “…Evoluutio on Totta” It has a nice ring to it. Maybe that can be the name of your television documentary series.

    1. Well, that phrase means, “…Evolution Is True”, so it rings true. I studied finnish for a brief time because I wanted some exposure to a non-Indo-European language and I managed to find a summer class. It’s remarkable because the verb “to be” (“on”) is not irregular and the pronouns are divided between animate and inanimate but not masculine and feminine. However, the case system and its attendant heavy inflection is intimidating to English speakers. However, despite its difficulties, spoken Finnish is, to me, one of the most pleasing languages to the ear. For a taste, I recommend listening to the Finnish singer Sanna Kurki-Suonio.

      1. For more Finnish sounds, here is an mp3 of an interview in with the great composer, Jean Sibelius, made in 1948. Scroll nearly half-way down to “Interview with Sibelius” and click on the .mp3 file (Sibeliuksen haastattelu). There’s an introduction for nearly 2 minutes, a brief question (from Kalevi Kilpi) and Sibelius begins, somewhat haltingly, at the 2 minute mark. I wish I could understand what he was saying. Just hearing him speak is a real “mechaya”.


          1. Interesting E.A. Blair. I thought the verb “to be” was irregular in all european languages. This I have to see. Can you conjugate its present tense so I can have a look?

            1. As it turns out I was overgeneralizing; there are two irregular forms in the conjugation of ‘olla’ (to be), but it is still far more regular than it is in English. Finnish may be a European language but it is not a member of the Indo-European language family. It is a member of the Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic language family. Not all European languages are IndoEuropean; Estonian is related to Finnish, and Hungarian is a member of the Ugric subbranch. Linguists theorize that the Indo-European migrations surrounded and isolated pockets of people speaking languages from other families.

              Here is what Wikipedia says about ‘olla’: “There are very few irregular verbs in Finnish. In fact, only ‘olla’ = ‘to be’ has two irregular forms on “is” and ovat “are (pl.)”; other forms follow from the stem ole–/ol–; e.g. olet ← ole+t “you are”, olkoon ← ol+koon “let it be”. A handful of verbs, including ‘nähdä’ = ‘to see’, ‘tehdä’ = ‘to do/make’, and ‘juosta’ = ‘to run’ have rare consonant mutation patterns which are not derivable from the infinitive.”

              However, it is still more nearly regular than any Indo-European equivalent.

      2. Swedes adore the swedish speaking finns, as they make swedish sound really nice. You know, “wish I sounded like that”.

      3. Interesting, I thought it was an Indo-European language. Wikipedia doesn’t seem to have any information on the relation of the Finnic families to the other major families. Do you have any online sources on the history of Finnic languages you could share?

          1. One other thing – the High Elvish (Quenya) language that J.R.R. Tolkien devised for his Middle-Earth stories was derived using the principles of Finnish phonology and grammar. (The Low Elvish – Sindarin – was derived from the same invented root language along Welsh lines.)

      1. Oh, those unassuming yet inventive Finns! I fondly remember spending a couple of summers there.

        The band Värttinä is equally fun but perhaps more approachable:

  3. They seem to like the double u and double ä. I note that “ism” in Finnish appears to be the suffix “isuus”, except that Mormonism should be “Mormonisuus”, while it’s actually “Mormonismi”. An interesting language.

    1. We like all vowels. In double.

      The reason Mormonism isn’t “Mormonisuus” is probably because it is a new-fangled religion and the word for it has entered Finnish very recently so it isn’t really translated as much as accommodated into pronounciation.

      1. What an admirable intellectual achievement that was!
        Helsinki must be the only Northern capital where street names, as pronounced by the locals, bear any similarity to their written form. Imagine as complex a language as Finnish, fraught with the disastrous orthograph of German, French, or English. (I’m not qualified to speak of Swedish, Norwegian, or Danish, but judging from the mix of merriment and puzzlement of native speakers whenever I try pronouncing anything in those languages, there must be some distance between graphemes and phonemes there too…)

        1. I interpreted sleeprunning’s comment so that the frequent double vowels in Finnish are like homozygocities in inbred populations (and we have few foreigners in our country). But Dutch has also lots of long vowels even though Netherlands has plenty of immmigrants. 😛

          1. They’re trying hard to get rid of those weird-speaking foreigners, but this Wilders fellow just won’t leave.

          2. Dutch really doesn’t have that many long (as in double) vowels. At least not that many more than, say, English (school, fool, see, feel).
            And for nouns, ONLY in the single form, not plural (boot, boten).

  4. Here’s a Finn ‘going off on one’ in the comments ~ I was amused that Google Translate probably makes his/her specious arguments more interesting!
    [I must try the Finnish Bible after Google does its magic ~ perhaps the words of god can be given an added zest via a layer of googledegookness]:

    However, there are a lot of scientists are believers in God, and I think they’re right when he said: “Evolution is impossible, because how long a person would be able to wait for the development of the lungs to breathe?

    Or developed after the heart and kidneys at a later date? Liver? None of these has not been able to wait, because without them people will die instantly. All this has had to evolve at the same time, in seconds.
    Science should not be called science if it is based on uncertain assumptions. In reality, science and religion do not conflict with each other, but we accept that we study God created the world. “(Pekka Reinikainen, a physician and scientist)

    For example, all known to Sir Isaac Newton was a Christian.

    So, is quite unnecessary stir by publishing negative articles about religion in Aamulehti, the world has always been a religion, and people should have the right to condemn anyone to believe or not believe.

    In the old days killed all the scientists who did not believe the argument that the country is a pancake. Taasko should return at the same time?

    Everyone just really let yourself free of propaganda to decide what you believe and what not.
    I personally believe in God, and yet the science, but I do not own anything blindly and without experiencing any / seeing.

    “Prove all things and hold fast that which is good” …

    Even a small idea:
    It is naive to think that everybody should think like you, if you do not believe in God, you takiasiako all the world religions should be banned?

    1. Sample that tickled me the most: “In the old days killed all the scientists who did not believe the argument that the country is a pancake”

    1. The skulls are weird presented like that. I wonder if they are random or represent species on our ancestral line. I don’t know anything to help me identify the skulls.

    2. So you don’t retain final approval over the cover art?

      Which I, for one, think would make a great poster…

  5. Others have already commented on the articles, but here’s my quick rundown:

    Aamulehti (Morning Paper) is a respectable newspaper, second largest in the country, although with few readers in the populous Helsinki area. But they promote your book nicely.

    The book review is very favourable. Very cool and matter-of-fact actually, but the reviewer didn’t find a single negative thing to say about WEIT, the highlights being ”One of the best books on popular evolution” and ”And evidence, by God, this book is bulging with”. The ”by God” thing is probably the reviewer´s humour, although most people don’t even associate the idiom with religion. Other content is mostly about evolution being a fact, not a theory and that it’s not based on chance.

    The interview is quite favourable too, but a bit simple and in my opinion, a bit clumsy and vernacular in comparison to the language and content of your own blog. I guess the interview was a phoner, which kind of dumbs things down a bit.

    Your interview seems to have hit a nerve, since the discussion under the article is extremely vivid, but very incoherent and tiring to read. The comments are mostly on the atheist side. But there are a few religious ones, too, even deeply. And I was surprised how they repeated the same old falsehoods any American faith head would say. Einstein, Newton, science is just another religion, science doesn’t know everything, many scientists are religious… couldn´t be bothered to read them all.

    Anyhow, congratulations on the Finnish version of WEIT. Vastapaino is quite a small publishing house though, so you may not get rich on Finnish sales after all (the translation of ”The God Delusion” (”Jumalharha”) was published by a small house as well). Probably those interested in evolutionary biology have already read WEIT in English, but those yearning for serious ammo against their nutty religious neighbours or incredulous anti-science mother-in-laws might go for the Finnish translation. Best of luck!

      1. Most people can, especially those with moderate to high education. However, translation will make the book much more effortless for many readers. Lots of English-written science books are translated and the translations seem to be more widely distributed than the originals. I could see people buying something overhyped like God Delusion in original before the translation comes out, but hardly WEIT.

        1. well, I did buy WEIT original but it is the kind of thing I *would* do. Special interests and all that. Otherwise your point stands of course. Reading is much easier on your native language.

      2. Yes, I’m Finnish. Hard to say the exact percentage, but I’d assume it’s pretty high. Maybe 50-90%, depending on the difficulty of the literature. I suppose the internet has also made English kind of a lingua franca for everyone.

        Then again, there are different levels of fluency and reading comprehension, and I’m not sure how many people actually find it comfortable to read their daily news and holiday fiction in another language. So translating WEIT or Dawkins into Finnish is very welcome.

        It’s a necessity for a small country with a strange language. Books and publications in English vastly outnumber those in Finnish (they are also cheaper). At the universities you may be expected to study for your exams in three languages, Finnish, Swedish and English. At least I was. If you’re only bi- or trilingual, you’re not considered good at foreign languages. My French and German are lousy, so I’ve learned I have nothing to brag about.

          1. Well, the fact is that people in small countries with minor languages have to be multilingual. But studying three or four foreign languages at school is a burden and away from other education, science, humanities and such. So there’s a serious downside. 

            It works fine and even develops your abstract thinking when you learn languages at an early age. My daughter’s fully bilingual at the age of three and will probably be tri- or quadrilingual by the age of ten. Then I hope she could concentrate on more important stuff.

            1. …studying three or four foreign languages at school is a burden…

              True. The whole system of language teaching in the conventional curriculum is incredibly inept and inefficient: too late, too little, too slow. Making a chore out of the most natural thing a child can do. Languages are tools, not an end in themselves.

              1. “Languages are tools, not an end in themselves.”

                Unless, of course, you happen to be a linguist.

  6. This is such an odd conversation about Finns. I live in Tampere (Finland, where Aamulehti is mainly from) and I have never heard so many comments from people liking finnish language. Thank you very much. You wouldn’t like it as much is you’d tried to learn the grammar. We have 15 grammatical cases.

    I at least like to read books in their original language, if it’s something I can understand. At least in the molecular biology field in finnish universities all study books are in english so I have to admit that I don’t even know what for example a sliding clamp (in DNA replication) is in finnish.

    1. The case forms aren’t so bad, especially for someone with a linguistics background, because most of the Finnish cases correspond to prepositional phrases in English. For example, Finnish uses the inessive where English uses “in” and addessive for “at” and so forth. What tripped me up was keeping track of all the adjective agreement for the various endings. English has pretty much reduced things to only three cases, but we’ve got a pantsload of prepositions.

      My exposure to the language was very short – a six-week survey intended for prospective tourists – but here in the US our opportunities for exposure to non-Indo-European languages is limited. I often vexed our poor teacher, though, because I had technical questions that went over her head. The following semester, my university’s linguistics department offered a course titles “Structure of a non-Indo-European Language: Hungarian”.

  7. Thanks, guys. The interview was indeed by phone and I’m sorry if it comes across as simple. It’s just that trying to compress an hour-long conversation to a shortish newspaper article is a bit of a challenge.

    Perhaps I should have concentrated on just a couple of themes instead of trying to cover as much ground as I could. Live and learn, I guess.

    1. Remember that this is a fairly sophisticated audience in terms of knowledge of biology and evolution — and that for most of the commenters here WEIT is preaching to the choir. If people here are a little bored by it that’s probably a good sign that it’s appropriate to the less scientifically literate folks who would get much more from the book.

    2. Mikko, it was just my opinion, no need to feel bad. Great that you did the interview, it wasn’t a bad job. I understand the restrictions on space, so you have my sympathies. It’s just that most of the comments below the article were so irritatingly ignorant and surprisingly dumb. This made me feel that the condensed interview may have simplified things a bit too much and sold Coyne’s ideas for short.

      It’s not your fault that most people only encounter the ideas of an author in a condensed form of an interview or worse, trust the second hand opinions of critics. If the interview serves as a gateway to actually reading the book, that can only be a good thing.

      1. I’m not feeling bad by any means; the issue about space restrictions vs. text quality is a professional hazard I wrestle with every day.

        The article has been commented upon very extensively; unfortunately I quite agree with you about the quality of the discussion. Apart from the comment that goes: “Written by Pulliainen, no surprise there.”

        Something of a honour, I guess;)

  8. Just to make sure that it´s not all so sunny for Coyne and other New Atheists in Finland: I´m Finnish and me and many other Finnish people regard Coyne, Dawkins, etc. as ignorant and vulgar New Atheists, whose philosophical naivety is a joke.

    If I want to read good criticisms of theism and religion, I turn to Hume, Mackie, Oppy, Sobel, and the like. You New Atheist folks just don´t know what you´re talking about. Professor Coyne is a fine biologist; but when he talks about philosophical issues like the relationship between science and religion, it´s a bit embarrasing, really.

    1. Oh really? Have there been some brand new and convincing arguments for God since the time of Hume? The people who are ignorant and vulgar are not the New Atheists, but those people who still believe in sky fairies and try to impose that view on the rest of society. All we do is point out the lack of evidence for those fairies. If that’s vulgar and embarrassing, you don’t know the meaning of the words!

    2. me and many other Finnish people

      If you use invisible audiences to back you up, you’d better be prepared to support your statements quantitatively. How many people in FI have actually read Hume, Aquinas, Plantinga? Are these readers a reliable representation of the general population? How many of them find the philosophical arguments for a superbeing convincing?

    3. […] it´s a bit embarrasing, really.

      If I’d been Finnish, I would have found Ilari’s post embarrassing. Really. And not just a little.

      And, Ilari, isn’t it also a bit embarrassing to accuse people of ignorance and embarrassing behavior .. and you can’t even properly SPELL ’embarrassing’?

      1. My deepest apologies.I´m not a native English speaker, but I left one ‘s’ out from a word. Shocking and so very embarrassing.

        Ok, this is getting childish, I´m finally off.

        1. Don’t let the door hit your gluteus on the way out! IT’s telling that you say there are such convincing arguments for God but then say you won’t give us any.

          I’d say THAT is childish.

          Come back only when you’re prepared to make a convincing case for God. We don’t want you around calling us all names; we want some substantive argument.

          1. I´m sorry, but you guys call religious people names, so perhaps a bit of name-calling from me is appropriate. I also do not want to defend complex arguments on this kind of a venue, I´m sure you understand that.

            But I can list the arguments that I find convincing: cosmological arguments (Leibnizian, Thomistic and Kalam); fine-tuning argument; argument from the emergence of consciousness; and the moral argument.

            You can make any argument look stupid by caricaturing it, so the straw men versions of these arguments popular in the New Atheist circles aren´t the arguments I have in mind.

            But there you go. You must read authors like Swinburne, Craig and Moreland for a full defence of these arguments. And whatever you think of them, no rational and honest person will say that God and sky fairies are epistemically on a par after studying these arguments carefully.

            Take care.

            1. .. you guys call religious people names, so perhaps a bit of name-calling from me is appropriate.

              What happened to ‘the other cheek’ thing?
              Anyway, if THAT’s your modus operandi, maybe you’ll have more fun commenting over at PZ’s blog. They are delightfully vulgar and really like your kind there .. (be prepared to be consumed for breakfast).

            2. Just for fun:


              (1) Everything existing thing has an explanation (principle of sufficient reason).

              Problems: What is meant by “existence”? What is meant by “explanation”? Heck, what is meant by “thing”? The progress of science has consisted largely in undermining the notion of the special existence of separate entities and redefining those entities as relationships between more fundamental entities. This is something like Nietzche’s “being vs. becoming”. “Explanation” too is quite problematic: does the explanation need to be comprehensible to the human mind? If not, how do we know the explanation when we see it? And even “thing”: is my can of soda a “thing” separate from the aluminum can and fluid it contains? Continue down to the level of quarks, gluons and electrons.

              (2) If the universe has an explanation, it is God.

              Problems: Is this a premise or a definition? As a premise, it seems indefensible. One can imagine other explanations, and even if one has trouble doing that one can still suppose that there may be a non-God explanation for the universe that is incredibly subtle or incomprehensible to human minds, etc.

              If it’s a definition then the argument is pointless. “There is an explanation for the universe, and whatever that explanation is I define as God.” To borrow from Douglas Adams, if the universe was sneezed into existence by the great, green Arkleseizure, you would have to admit that the sneeze itself is God according to this argument.

              (3) The universe is an existing thing.

              Is it? Or is “the universe” a categorical label for the class of everything that is supposed to exist (the union of all categories)? If the latter, then if anything exists there is a universe, and the universe doesn’t need an explanation separate from those things it “contains”.


              So the Liebnizian argument is not very effective for me, mainly because the basic premises require metaphysical and ontological commitments that I am unwilling to make. Clearly you don’t need to rehash Aquinas from beginning to end to argue about the premises of these arguments and the virtues of accepting them. You can simply argue for the premises directly. But you don’t. None of you ever do except to insist that actually true physical theories have nothing to do with metaphysical notions of causality (which seems at once counterintuitive and extremely convenient for your side of the debate).


              So anyway, this notion that atheists are vulgar and unsophisticated for using bumper sticker slogans as argument is obviously bullshit, and you’ve demonstrated that yourself: you do the same thing, but instead of “sky fairy” or “bronze age goat herders” you have slogans like “Kalam argument” and “Thomas Aquinas.” None of you ever seem capable of actually engaging with people who question the premises of these arguments: if there’s any doubt at all, then the doubter is clearly a vulgar charlatan. It’s a very disingenuous way to go about arguing.

  9. “The people who are ignorant and vulgar are not the New Atheists, but those people who still believe in sky fairies and try to impose that view on the rest of society.”

    This is exactly the kind of embarrassing and ignorant New Atheism that I´m talking about.

    Read Hume, or Mackie, or Oppy, and then read theists like Aquinas, Haldane, Swinburne, van Inwagen and Plantinga. It´s a major debate, and people who think it can be “settled” by reference to “sky fairies” are what I mean by “vulgar” and “embarrassing”.

    1. We don’t really need a list of names, thanks.

      Just tell us which major debates you personally find convincing.

    2. Well, dude, I’ve read every one of those people except Haldane, and although I see a “debate” (that is, people who appear to be intelligent take opposite sides), I don’t see any evidence that should fuel such a debate

      What you don’t seem to realize is that the lack of evidence for any god—a lack that can’t be made up for by any amount of philosophical lucubration—make the whole “debate” moot.

      The debate has been settled by two words: NO EVIDENCE. Those who think that there’s still a serious debate in light of that are the embarrassing ones.

      Don’t pull the courtier’s reply here; if you think there’s evidence for God, give it.

      1. My point was that if you read these theistic philosophers, you´ll find THE EVIDENCE. Merely shouting “NO EVIDENCE” and repeating it over and over again isn´t very clever.

        Swinburne, for example, gives a powerful cumulative case for the existence of God in his The Existence of God. You may disagree with him, but the fact that you retort to “sky fairies” shows that you´re just not a serious contributor to the debate. That´s why professional philosophers, even the atheistic ones, don´t like the New Atheists very much.

        And hey, I´m not going to defend any theistic argument in HERE.

        I´m off to bed, it´s bedtime here in Finland. I wish you guys all the best, although I hope that one day you´ll come to see that vulgar New Atheism seems to philosophers of religion a bit like young earth creationism seems to evolutionary biologists.

          1. Sigh, just when it looks for a moment as if one of the Faithful has finally stepped forward to steamroller those uppity New Atheists with unanswerable arguments for the divine, he/she turns out to be just another drive-by philsophical name-dropper.

            “I can’t be bothered sticking around to tell you, but just read X, Y and Z and you’ll see how convincing the evidence for god is. Oh, and by the way, you’re all rude and mean for calling god nasty names”

            Maybe the next one….

            1. As Feser puts it:

              This sort of thing is depressingly common on the Internet: “You didn’t prove the truth of [Thomistic metaphysics, Darwinian evolution, quantum mechanics, etc.] to my satisfaction in your latest combox remark; therefore you’re an idiot!”

              These are complex issues, so one must be prepared to study a bit.

              I already briefly listed the arguments for theism that I find compelling, by the way.

              1. I am familiar with all the arguments that you listed, and I do not find any of them to be convincing. What I was asking was whether you had some other evidence that I might have overlooked. If the only evidence that you are offering here is the set of arguments/”proofs” provided by Swinburne, Plantinga et al., I must remain agnostic.

        1. Can you at least provide a summary of what you think is the evidence? As I understand it, Plantinga took the position that he doesn’t need to provide evidence, because belief in god is for him a “basic” belief (part of his noetic structure). This claim is not one that I particularly find convincing, but the point is that it’s actually a way of pre-empting the question, perhaps acknowledging that there simply is no evidence.

        2. Please explain why simply using the phrase “sky fairy” marks one as not contributing to the debate. The common view of God, certainly the one I was introduced to in the Catholic faith, is of a superhuman person — a thinking, feeling person making decisions the way human beings do but with incalculably more power to carry out those decisions. What is wrong with this view of God? And if this view really is wrong why are you harassing atheists instead of the tens of millions of religious believers who subscribe to such a view of God?

          When atheists use the term “sky fairy” they’re referring to an actual belief held by actual believers — held by many, many more believers than the nebulous “ground of all being”/”emergence of consciousness” crap.

          Finally, the notion that one must read all of Aquinas and these other fine gentlemen to understand the arguments is quite suspicious. I can prove that there are an infinite number of primes in two sentences. I can prove the five color map theorem in two paragraphs. I can explain the basic idea and math behind special relativity inside of an hour. Why can’t any Aquinas devotee give even a capsule summary of why these arguments are so convincing?

          After all, we’re not demanding you need to go through our reading lists book by book to appreciate our arguments or to contribute to the greater conversation. NA’s tend to simply engage with what the other person is saying — there’s no deflection.

          Let’s give an example of this last one. Say you were credulous of evolution because of the second law of thermodynamics. We would tell you, “Oh, well you need to go back and read some Boltzmann, Carnot, and Gibbs and then maybe it would be worth my time to talk to you.” We would just explain to you what the second law of thermodynamics says and why it doesn’t contradict evolution.

          See the difference? That difference makes me think that the real tactic here is one I’ve seen many times: “The mere fact that you don’t believe implies that you are too vulgar and unsophisticated to understand. If only you could understand, you would be a believer.” Humpy Dumpty would call that a nice knock-down argument. I call it a load of bullshit.

          1. Say you were credulous of evolution because of the second law of thermodynamics. We would tell you, “Oh, well you need to go back and read some Boltzmann, Carnot, and Gibbs and then maybe it would be worth my time to talk to you.”

            That should be “wouldn’t tell you.”

    3. It´s a major debate, and people who think it can be “settled” by reference to “sky fairies” are what I mean by “vulgar” and “embarrassing”.

      This is interesting. Whoever said anything about “settling” the question by reference to “sky fairies”? You are the only one as far as I know.

      We are saying, “OK, let’s hear your arguments then. What do you find convincing about the cosmological arguments that we have already read and rejected as NOT convincing?” What part of that sounds like we consider the matter “settled”?

  10. One can have both, with specific relevance to this fine blogwebsite. Namely, the mot juste is pikku kissa, i.e., little cat.

    There are YouTube videos of such aplenty, and there is a rhythmic track (unfortunately not availbable for online purchase) by the now disbanded band Ultra Bra. The lyrics are online, with Google readily translating line by line.

  11. Wow, this Ilari dude really went all out on at least three of my favourite logical fallacies. Started with a series of Argument from Authority, then did the heavy lifting with Proof by Verbosity and finished us off with nice Appeal to pity, as it’s past our bedtime in Finland.

    I used to have a theologian friend like that, a nice guy. But in even a minor disagreement, I never got a clear answer about anything, just a list of books I haven’t read to prove he’s right and I’m wrong.

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