November 9th, 2005
I picked up No god but God from the library, on the basis of Rafe’s recommendation. I’ve barely started it, but I find Aslan’s approach of flowing between “religious history” and “factual history” fascinating and enlightening. Rather the trying to find the Truth(tm) of Islamic history, he skillfully cuts between the various truths, both presenting “the Revelation” in matter of fact terms, while pages later cutting away to an analysis of the topos and tropes of messianic childhood myths. (but watch that you don’t forget this tension, as we’ve been trained to reject pluralist narratives, which can be confusing when reading an ahistorical history)
Like I said, I’ve barely begun, but I found a fascinating snippet of insight on page 13 talking about the techno-rhetorical (my word) innovations in monotheism.
More then a thousand years before Christ, Zarathustra preached the existence of a heaven and a hell, the idea of a bodily resurrection, the promise of a universal savor who would one day be miraculously born to a young maiden …. a non-proselytizing and notoriously difficult religion to convert to — considering its rigid hierarchical social structure
So Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all represent successive waves of innovation to produce a more viral ideology that could better leverage network effects. It’s an idea that has fascinated me since an off hand comment in a college history class that monotheisms were better able to displace traditional pagan cultures because monotheists were able to bring their God with them rather then being tied to a series of local, non-portable phenomena.
Perhaps it points to my spiritual bankruptcy, but I’d buy a Clayton Christensen style analysis of major religions in a heart beat.
November 17th, 2004
When you run a blog called “Laughing Meme”, even if you don’t particularly have a good reason for choosing the name, you, in my mind, incur a certain obligation, all things being equal, to go see Richard Dawkins when he is in town, even if you aren’t really a fan.
Turns out he is a on a book tour for Ancestor’s Tale, a Canterburian stroll back up the evolutionary tree, pilgrims stopping to tell their stories at each major junction on the path from leaf to root. A bit silly. Pilgrimage point 1 is where we diverge from the chimps, point 2 is the gorillas, and so forth, back to point 39, 4 billion odd years ago, where we’re joined by the bacteria to complete the last leg before reaching the primordial Celestial City.
Other then that “39” number, there wasn’t a lot of interesting data to hold onto. Maybe I just spent too much time hanging out with Aidan, but I’m consistently disappointed in biology lectures. So many leading biologist fail to bring the imagination and excitement. Maybe they’re dumbing down to the public, but if the best you can do for a hook is to wow me with the news that whales are descended from the even-toed ungulates, then we’re in for a long night.
A few points of interest:
- once he got over trying to wow with the news of sheep sized rodents (aka capybara) he did mention the historical interesting note that the Catholic church classifies capybara as fish, at least on Fridays. Interesting, but more something I expect to learn from Mark Kurlansky, not Richard Dawkins.
- part of the historical rejection of evolution is tied to an uncanny valley like phenomena. (a term that Polar Express has finally brought to the masses) Apes were felt to be too human to be really cute, and were rather seen as brutish and ugly.
- he made passing reference to the megafauna die outs in America as being tied to arrival of humans
- he is on an 8 state book tour. 8 blue states. “presumably where they read books”