Factual Relativity

Back in 1999 when we moved out of an apartment in downtown to a fixer-upper in the ‘burbs, I took down my large marine aquarium that I’d maintained for a number of years. This was a big reef tank — 220 gallons in all — with a good 300 lbs. of live reef rock and other stuff. In terms of dimensions, we’re talking larger than a coffin. It was big. But the immediate future held lots of work for me on the new house so I took the tank and all the equipment down to Henry’s shop.

I always figured I’d set up another system and a few weeks ago a friend in our building set up a reasonably large one (150 gallons) and I pitched in with a bit of advice from my experience — though as a PhD in chemistry this sort of thing is right up his alley. So I caught the bug again. Interestingly, things have changed; it’s become easier, actually, so yesterday I went about setting up a smaller system — about 50 gallons. I’ll try to get into all that later, but for now, it’s 6 a.m. on Easter Sunday so I must post something about religion.

Suppose someone — maybe like the guy in Henry’s shop yesterday afternoon admonishing that he "ought to go to church on Sunday" — wants to set up a saltwater aquarium but wishes to disregard all the many inviolable principles having to do with the laws of nature. Rather, he believes that little microscopic fairies will take up residence in his tank and protect his biota.

Suppose further that someone like me comes along and stridently insists, without slightest equivocation, that he’s wrong and that all his stuff will die and rot. Sure; he has every right to do with what he wants with his tank and livestock, but the facts of reality aren’t up for grabs. Facts aren’t relative to anyone’s preferences or fantasies.

Granted; the guy might get all offended and bent out of shape if I go right ahead and ruin his pleasant fantasy about little fairies living in his tank, protecting his livestock. It’s such a nice fantasy. So comforting. It’s hard to imagine living in a world devoid of marine fairies bestowing their blessings upon reefs. How depressing: to confront the mean — indeed, hateful — inflexibility of water chemistry.

But he’s just one misguided soul. Nobody’s going to rush to his defense. Of course, if there were hundreds of millions world-wide — who believe in marine fairies — that might be another story. You’d have articles like this.

The problem with the neo-atheists is that they seem as dogmatic as the
dogmatists they condemn. They are especially frustrated with religious
“moderates” who don’t fit their stereotypes.

In his bracing polemic “ The End of Faith,” Harris is candid in
asserting that “religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a
terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once
each one of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of

Pay attention, because if this whole "neo-atheism" thing keeps on keepin’ on, you’re going to see this "argument" more and more. But it’s no more valid than the objection that I ought not be too "dogmatic" about marine water chemistry in the face of someone who’d rather believe in little marine fairies.

It’s everyone’s right and pleasure to decide which, if any, fantasies they wish to entertain and to what extent. What they don’t get to do, unchallenged, is to pass off fantasy for fact; and at root, that’s what this is all about and all it will ever be about. Today, billions of supposedly intelligent beings will file into large buildings far and wide to celebrate the fantasy that God was killed 2,000 years ago and rose from the dead. Alright; perhaps it’s a nice story — to each his own — but it’s simply a "nice story," if you go in for such things, and doesn’t necessarily mean a single thing to anyone but you.

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  1. mandrill on April 8, 2007 at 08:08

    As one famous heretic is said to have uttered "Nonetheless, The Earth Moves."

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