I’m probably going to be too busy to do this regularly, but for old times’ sake here’s another. I’m not trying to take any position on the gay marriage fight in this post; that would take a much longer post, and everybody’s made up their mind on that already.
Is there anything sillier, or more painful to watch, than an amateur trying to show up an expert by citing cherry-picked information from the expert’s own subject of expertise? For example, creationists trying to “disprove” evolution by pointing to some trivial anomaly in the body of research. Much of the time it isn’t even a real anomaly, and reflects only the creationist’s ignorance of how evolution is supposed to work. My favorite: “If people evolved from apes, why do we still have apes?” The creationist smiles smugly; every educated person listening to or reading him winces, sighs, and decides it simply isn’t worth the effort of even beginning to correct this rube. Continue reading →
Ancient Athens, at the height of its power, commanded an empire of millions, covering most of the Eastern Mediterranean. Nominally, they were the foremost city of an alliance, but in practice, they dominated and extracted tribute from settlements in the Cyclades, Ionia on the west coast of Asia Minor, Italy, Sicily, Cyprus, and various points on the north coast of Africa. They even had a couple of colonies in Spain. This whole maritime empire was held together by the trireme, a 120-foot warship alternately propelled by sails or three banks of rowers, with a vicious battering ram on its tip. I’ve mentioned the trireme before, in my Darkened Ages post. It was a mighty weapon, but it had its limitations; it was strictly a coastal vessel, which had to make landfall every night to restock with food and water. Also, very expensive. At its aforementioned height, Athens could only build three or four triremes per year. Usually this was done by selecting one of the city’s richest citizens for the “honor” of funding it, in the form of a charitable endowment called a liturgy (lit. “work for the people”; also an apt term for our religious service, but one wonders exactly how the term got transferred!).
Anyway, suppose you were to go to one of Athens’s busiest shipyards and tell them that, at some point in the past, a man and his three sons, possibly assisted by their wives, had built a ship three times the length of a trireme, and far wider–a boat the size of a modern American football field. That these men had then loaded down said ship with massive amounts of heavy cargo–live animals, and plenty of fodder–and kept it afloat through forty days of nonstop storm conditions, plus an indeterminate period of calm afterwards. Continue reading →
I think–I’m not certain, but I think–it was C.S. Lewis who coined the term “chronological snobbery.” It refers to our curious modern tendency to assume that, because our ancestors were less technologically, politically, and economically sophisticated than we are, they were necessarily quite stupid. I should add that we tend to apply similar reasoning, albeit unconsciously, to people in poor countries, and most of all to tribal peoples. Of course, there’s nothing logical about this assumption; if anything, it is substantially more difficult to survive in a low-tech, unstable society than in modern times, and so one would expect successful members of those societies to be more intelligent than our own elites, at least in terms of raw capacity. Continue reading →