Monday, October 11, 2010

A Rhetorical Scared Straight

It is generous of Cathy Lynn Grossman to walk us through the hazards of posing thoughtless rhetorical questions:

[Jerry] Coyne argues we must clear vision from the fog of belief and religious structures that nourish communities of faith. No common awe for the dazzling sunrise here. He loathes gray areas (i.e. fog) and insists on the black-and-white view that religion is a force for the awful, unlike science's force for the good.

Does your gray matter -- i.e. your brain --see more shading to all this?
The most fundamental hazard of the rhetorical question is that it will be answered outside its own critical frame. Here, the correct answer to Grossman's question is yes, and on two counts, but they do not affirm what she seems to have in mind. To wit:

(1) Yes, Cathy Lynn Grossman, we can see "more shading" if we read Jerry Coyne's column rather than your tendentiously cropped bastardization of it.

(2) Yes, Cathy Lynn Grossman, we can see "more shading" to the matters at hand than the two alternatives you've given between, weirdly, "common awe for the dazzling sunrise" and cold, bloodless science. One of those shades, the one Coyne was emphasizing, concerns the truth of the natural world and the method by which it can be established and separated from guesses. It is perfectly compatible with dazzling, awesome sunrises.
Mt. Hood sunrise, 2/2008
Not that anyone asked me, but appreciating some of the science behind, say, atmospheric refraction and discrete dipole approximation subtracts nothing from the amazing qualities of sunrises, but rather adds to it substantially. Whereas imputing it to a cosmic visual effects studio is, well, to flatten it into just another lame contrivance. It is precisely akin to watching the vistas of planet Pandora on the big screen and knowing that, however interesting the appearance, it's just James Cameron trying to sell tickets or win an Oscar.

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