Saturday, June 13, 2009

The new priests: Experts

"Man has been forced to vegetate in his primitive stupidity; nothing has been offered to his mind, but stories of invisible powers, upon whom his happiness was supposed to depend. Occupied solely by his fears, and unintelligible reveries, he has always been at the mercy of his priests, who have reserved to themselves the right of thinking for him, and directing his actions."
- Baron d'Holbach, 1772

The Baron's words are just as true today as they were in 1772, but the referents have changed. The "invisible powers" offered to man today are not angels and demons, but obscure material forces. These are the forces that make him contented or depressed, form his character, and direct his life without him knowing it. In place of the priests of old, we have "experts" who dispense therapy and pills to relieve his depression, other experts who construct government education and welfare programs, without which obscure social forces will inevitably turn him into a criminal, and yet other experts who inspect his genetic code like tea leaves and tell him that he is doomed to be a loser anyway. Instead of confession, we have therapy; instead of the sacrament of baptism, we have the sacrament of abortion; instead of Calvinism, we have genetic determinism. Man still vegetates in his primitive stupidity... but I cannot help but think that vegetating in front of American Idol is a little more primitive than vegetating before the Te Deum at High Mass.

Man's happiness depends on invisible powers. Unfortunately, that's just the way it is whether you are an atheist or a Calvinist, or something else altogether. The decisive question is not whether you can get rid of the stories altogether, but which stories you will believe.


blog nerd said...

Good post.

I've often remarked amongst my mommy network, that we used to be scared of demons and curses on our young, and now its invisible bacteria and SIDS and they try to sell us products that will keep them protected. SIDS proof mattresses=charmed amulets from the Middle Ages. Man is essentially superstitious and that never goes away.

We just use different stand-ins as a placeholder for our inclinations toward the supernatural.

And when something progressive comes to replace the ancient, its usually worse than what came before.

Confession: I like to vegetate in front of American Idol. LOL

David T. said...

I'm a great believer in traditional fairy tales as critical to the education of the young... and I read them to my kids every night when they were younger.

One of the lessons they teach - a lesson pointed out by GKC - is that there ARE dragons in this world, forces and beings who are out to crush you... but those forces can be defeated or held at bay through the Christian virtues. The dragons will always be with us, just the names change.

I end up watching Idol as well, as my wife and daughter are big fans...

bornagain77 said...

Cool Post

J said...

Forgive me but I don't think the analogy of old priests and today's experts really works. A 17th century priest was nothing more than an established authority, given to him by people that were so very concerned about their afterlife.

To compare that to say a scientist at the CDC or a professor at a college makes no sense.

If you are comparing priests of old to the talking heads and pundits of today, then yes the analogy would work.

The Discovery Institute comes to mind, for example. Just like a priest, they line their pockets under the guise of a non-profit, selling ridiculous, unproven gunk.

David T. said...


I'm glad this post meant something to you, thanks for stopping by.


That 17th century priest was typically the only educated man in town. Maybe the only one who could read. People came to him not just about the afterlife, but for all sorts of mundane purposes in this life as well. Sometimes he took advantage of the situation and lined his pockets, of course. Not always or even most of the time.

Today, people go to scientific experts rather than priests for answers. Just like the priests of old, modern experts are tempted to take advantage of the situation, which they sometimes (but not always) do. The CDC is a real institution that does good work. But modern therapy is, in my opinion, largely a racket to suck money out of the gullible by dispensing pills and advice - often simple common sense advice that the old priest would have given you for free. We're talking millions of dollars and an entire industry. It's amazing the number of ordinary people who can't seem to get through the day without their happy pills.

The Discovery Institute is small potatoes. How many people have even heard of it? For success in lining your pocket through unproven gunk, try the whole global-warming racket. Just threaten an environmental Armageddon in the name of science, and you won't be able to find a place for all the money people will throw at you. Ask Al Gore.

PhillyChief said...

The fact that most people today are still ignorant of the things in life which affect them in no way makes the people they turn to for help with those things comparable to the people their ancestors turned to, and it's completely ridiculous to suggest otherwise. Unlike the mythical angels and demons our ancestors were told were responsible for their conditions, today's doctors and other experts can point to actual causes such as cholesterol, white blood cell or hormone levels and the existence of viruses, bacteria, and cancer cells. Far from "invisible", these things can be seen and even shown to patients unlike the invisible agents priests of yesteryear claimed were responsible for this or that.

Today we may still be ignorant and dependent on others who are more learned, but "the decisive question" is hardly between "which stories you will believe", but rather whether you're going to believe stories or facts. Perhaps the ignorance of our ancestors was inescapable, but today, to choose the former over the latter, would be inexcusable.

David T. said...

thanks for stopping by.

when the experts stick to clear facts - like bacteria and white blood cell counts - they are a pure blessing. Not so much in the areas I'm talking about, therapy and global-warming scaremongering. There are many others. I think our ancestors - Socrates, for example - would be amazed how gullible we are about certain things. Like how we believe a pill can make you happy. (See "Artificial Happiness" by Ronald Dworkin, an atheist).

PhillyChief said...

when the experts stick to clear facts....

Which immediately separates them from the "experts" such as priests, who have no facts at all to stick to, again making your implied comparison silly.

If your intention was honestly to address how people can be as easily duped today as they were before, then this post missed the mark big time.

David T. said...

The old priests knew no facts at all? Not even one? There is a certain type of skeptic who will not grant that anyone prior to the modern age knew anything at all. All was utter darkness and ignorance. This is one of those "facts" that modern experts repeat that isn't really a fact at all, but a myth.

I've learned that it is useless to argue with people who think this way... good luck and thanks for stopping by.

PhillyChief said...

Great deflection attempt.

I'm sure they knew some facts, but how much of those facts came into play for treatments that people came to them for compared to treatments based solely on faith? For instance, what do you suppose their response in the middle ages was to a seizure?

History is full of scientific discoveries in ancient times. The Egyptians had forms of contraceptives before the time of Jesus of the Christian bible. They even figured out honey served as a wound sterilizer, Greeks had crude forms of steam engines and batteries, and then there's the wealth of knowledge that was lost when the Christians killed Hypatia and destroyed the library of Alexandria.

Only a fool would suggest either people before the modern era either knew nothing or were mentally incapable of knowing anything. However, sadly, these past discoveries are known to us because they're anomalies. Without an establishment of the methods of discovery and a reverence for that method and the fruits of that method, even when they contradict ancient beliefs, more discoveries couldn't be made and the ones already made couldn't be maintained, or in the case of the Library of Alexandria, were destroyed.

Now what I ACTUALLY was saying before was that you can't equate ancient priests making faith based diagnoses with those of modern doctors. Surely you can debate that, since you're arguing that you can in your post here, and not try to debate something which you simply made up and are pretending is my point. THAT, I'd agree, would be useless to argue.

David T. said...

I am well aware of the history of science and how it works. I have degrees in physics and electrical engineering.

Defending science doesn't mean defending everything in the modern world that is called scientific. I'm grateful for all the advances of modern medicine and science. Nonetheless, a lot of what is called "science" today is just sophistry - I mean certain kinds of therapy in particular, and puts people in the same place they were in the ancient world, the helpless victims of mysterious forces. The global-warming hysteria is another example.

This is what I'm talking about, not the undeniable benefits of modern science. Why can't we just have the benefits of modern science and not the bogus ideology that seems to come with it?

PhillyChief said...

Actually, what you're objecting to really is people's ignorance, their unquestioning dependency and acceptance of what they're told, and those who would exploit that. Unfortunately, that's not how your post read, but rather it read as modern experts are somehow comparable to ancient priests, with a lot of ridiculousness like "the sacrament of abortion" and "[t]he decisive question is not whether you can get rid of the stories altogether, but which stories you will believe."

If you want to rant against willful ignorance, blind acceptance and extoll the virtue of questioning, then I'm with you, sir.

okie27 said...

A corroborative excerpt from the San Francisco Chronicle:
Debra J. Saunders

Sunday, July 12, 2009

No wonder skeptics consider the left's belief in man-made global warming as akin to a fad religion - last week in Italy, G-8 leaders pledged not to allow the Earth's temperature to rise more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

For its next act, the G-8 can part the Red Sea.

The worst part is: These are the brainy swells who think of themselves as - all bow - Men of Science.

The funny part is: G-8 leaders can't even decide the year from which emissions must be reduced. 1990? 2005? "This question is a mystery for everyone," an aide to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said.

And while President Obama led the charge for the G-8 nations to agree to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in industrial nations by 2050, the same Russian aide dissed the standard as "likely unattainable."

No worries, the language was nonbinding. Global warming believers say they are all about science, but their emphasis is not on results so much as declarations of belief.

Faith. Mystery. Promises to engage in pious acts.

Global warming is a religion.

J said...


I will grant you that there are some people that embrace environmental issues just like religious people: belief in a bit of nonsense, extremism in behavior, and proudly keeping facts and logic from getting in the way of their faith.

But just because some people act that way does not discount the problem as a whole. An overwhelming majority of scientists on the IPCC, for example, point to multiple lines of evidence that the planet is warming, and that some amount of this is caused by us. These lines of evidence seem to be coming from observations of several areas of science.

To arbitrarily rule that out, and to decide that its all a crock is just as bad, if not worse, than overreacting.

These days, it is not the crazy environmentalists that seem to be the loudest, it seems to be the fad of "going green" and the equally loud deniers.

And where I can concede there are crazy environmentalists, I will also assert that the deniers sound a lot like the guys who think the moon landing is a hoax. There's crazy on both sides.

Its up to us to look at where the overwhelming majority of facts point and start making real, achievable policy decisions. But that's not as easy as calling global warming a religion is it?

okie27 said...

`The global warming issue is an excellent illustration of the subject of the post. Climate science is enormously complex involving not only the atmosphere, but the oceans, land management, solar, planetary, and even cosmic factors. Any person representing himself as sufficiently expert in all these disciplines to claim that the “science of global warming is settled” is simply not credible. The leading “expert” of the global warming campaign is James Hansen (NASA/GISS). He has publicly stated that coal-fired power plants are “death factories”, that “coal trains are no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria,” that CEOs of oil companies should be put on trial for “high crimes against humanity and nature.” That seems an awful lot like a medieval heresy issue. I know of no reputable global warming skeptic (holocaust denier?) having used that type of invective.
Your reference to deniers sounding like the guys who think the moon landing was a hoax should have been attributed to Al Gore. Interesting that one of the last men to walk on the moon was Harrison Schmitt, Phd Geologist, who had this to say about the issue: “Actual observations show that climate varies in response to natural forces and that human burning of fossil fuels has had negligible if any effect over the last 100 years.” We may be headed for a much warmer climate, or more likely in my view, and far worse, a much colder one. I certainly agree that we should be looking at where the overwhelming facts point. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the public (really) think that one of our leading scientists is Al Gore.