Editor's note: This post has been corrected after I misidentified the authors of a journal article mentioning me.
Today I have several short topics to share.
Yesterday a public radio producer asked to speak with me about pseudoscience and the Kensington Rune Stone for a planned documentary about the artifact. I’m supposed to talk with her later this week, so that will be interesting, I guess. Of course, you know that any documentary on the subject will inevitably collide with Him Who Must Not Be Named…
Second, you may recall that a few months ago I wrote about Scott Alan Roberts’s claim on his Intrepid magazine website that Noah was racially pure. In his original article, Roberts wrote:
In actuality, when you examine the linguistics of the Genesis text, it clearly states that Noah was a man who was “pure blooded in all his generations,” meaning that his family line was “of pure human blood,” as opposed to the mixed blood of the rest of the population of the known world at that time.
Thus, he seemed to argue that Noah was genetically distinct from all others, which I naturally interpreted as meaning that Roberts viewed him as belonging to a separate race from everyone else.
Roberts is interested in the idea that both Adam and the serpent impregnated Eve, producing Seth and Cain respectively, the first pure human and the other an evil hybrid. These two, in turn, fathered the lines of the godly and the ungodly humans alluded to in Genesis 4 and 5 and made explicit in extra-biblical sources of much later date. In describing these, I referred to the two lineages as distinct races—following the traditional definition of race: “a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.” Thus, Noah was of a pure race and the others impure. I then noted that Roberts’s interpretation was closely mirrored in racist ideas:
The most extreme reading—and the one that is closest to that Roberts imposes on the Genesis text—is that of Christian Identity, which believes in the dual descent of Cain and Seth from the Serpent and Adam respectively and therefore claims that the (modern) Jews are the accursed offspring of Cain while white Europeans are racially pure Sethites.
Roberts, however, objects to the use of the r-word to describe the lineage of Noah, or those of Cain and Seth because he reads “race” as referring to Aryans, Negroids, and Mongoloids, even though the only races I specified were those of Europeans and (modern) Jews, and those in turn were selected not by me but by Christian Identity in using the same set of claims Roberts does. And he’d like everyone to know that he found this offensive, as he wrote in comments on my blog post:
As for my promoting any sort of "racial purity," you are simply incorrect, and have so misinterpreted and misconstrued (deliberately?) what it is I did say, as to become simplistically banal. Even more disturbing is the fact that you took little effort to contact me directly for any sort of clarification. This brand of self-limited research on your part belies a much deeper bias.
Despite apparently finding my post too dull (“banal”) for words, he went on to explain his view on the purity issue, which he says should be limited only to an understanding of Jewish mythology:
From within the Genesis account, it is the "pure human bloodline," as opposed to the mixing of human and "Elohim" bloodlines. This "mixed blood versus pure humanity" issue is actually from within the Hebrew scripture's account of the Nephilim, the offspring of the "Sons of the Elohim," which is the preamble to the account of Noah and the Ark.
In my original post I pointed out that this is untrue, and there is no concept of genetics present in the Genesis account of Noah’s purity.
Roberts clarified that “I am talking about ‘humanity,’ not a given race within humanity.” But he doesn’t seem to see the consequences of his own ideas. If you posit that there is a pure bloodline and an impure bloodline—that some are 100% human and others are not—you are saying that one group is genetically distinct from another, and that these traits are heritable: i.e., that the pure are a distinct race.
It’s also important to note that while Roberts attributes his interpretation to Jewish mythology, it is not the traditional Jewish interpretation of Genesis 6. The first of the two competing traditional explanations is that there was a small but limited number of angel-human hybrids (“the mighty men of old”) who were killed off in the Flood. This is why in Enoch and Jubilees the Nephilim live on only as disembodied spirits. The second competing explanation is that the two groups were the children of Seth and the children of Cain, who were usually seen as culturally rather than genetically distinct; i.e., godly or ungodly. That is, unless you follow Roberts in making Cain and Seth sons of different fathers. It is only by following this version—with Eve’s serpentine copulation—that you can create a “pure” bloodline for Noah. And that isn’t in the Bible. Instead, it can be found in early Gnostic texts, like the Gospel of Philip:
And he [Cain] was begotten in adultery, for he was the child of the Serpent. So he became a murderer, just like his father, and he killed his brother. Indeed, every act of sexual intercourse which has occurred between those unlike one another is adultery. (trans. Wesley W. Isenberg)
The same idea later appears in the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer, a medieval Jewish text, and is repeated in the Kabbalistic tradition of the Zohar. Iranaeus, in Against Heresies 30, records a number of similar traditions centuries earlier, with various permutations of who is having sex with whom, when, and how, as well as versions that lack various elements (one has Cain possessed by Satan)—demonstrating that these were likely later additions to the Biblical story, likely from Gnostic dualist beliefs, possibly with some influence from Zoroastrian dualism.
Roberts took notice of my blog post because Father Jack Ashcraft, the sedevacantist whom many readers will know from his comments on my various blog posts, posted part of an article by Paul and Phillip Collins about my post and Roberts’s own views that was written for his journal, Vexilla Regis. The excerpt online at his blog. In that article, the authors attack Roberts, and they also had some things to say about me that were, frankly, a bit surprising:
Colavito is a pathological skeptic with a penchant for dissecting straw men on behalf of scientism. This philosophical disposition automatically underscores an epistemological weakness in Colavito's criterion for evidentiary acceptability. Scientism embraces empiricism as the only epistemology suitable for rendering the world intelligible. However, this is a naive Enlightenment-era assumption, as is evidenced by the fact that empirical observations are preceded by and interpreted according to certain pieces of a priori knowledge. This observation undermines the primacy of a posteriori knowledge, which is a chief epistemological claim of empiricism. Nevertheless, Enlightenment-era empiricism informs much of Colavito's investigational approach.
Make of it what you will.
Finally, Greg Taylor of the Daily Grail has an interesting blog post berating skeptics for not having enough fun with Fortean mysteries. (Disclosure: Taylor published one of my articles in his Dark Lore series.) Taylor believes that skeptics and scientists need to understand how the public thinks. He doesn’t give the public much credit, but then I wouldn’t either for many of the same reasons:
Another factor contributing to the issue is that for those intimately involved in science, the minutiae are important. Those things that might seem boring to others are important. But, members of the reality-based community, here's the reality of the situation: Joe Public out there is coming home from a long day of (often mindless) work, looking for a combination of entertainment and education in the one or two hours they might have to spare before going to bed and then wading through the same shit all over again. Would you like to listen to a bricklayer bemoaning the lack of understanding in the general public about the finer points of a good mortar? That's what you sound like folks. People's time is valuable, and they don't want to spend it hearing you whining about how everyone else doesn't invest enough time in what you find valuable.
Taylor is right that the public at large doesn’t have the ability or the time to wade through the minutiae of specific claims (most people can only be experts on a few subjects), but on the other hand refusing to engage in the specifics of claims is what gives fringe characters the room to make absurd claims. If no one opposes them on specifics, their ideas go unchallenged and gain artificial credibility. If you can’t go into the ancient texts, for example, and demonstrate exactly how a fringe theorist has misused each line, then criticism of their claims about those texts with vague appeals to probability reads like an equally unsupported assertion, not a conclusion from firm evidence.
The question isn’t whether to deal with minutiae but when to do so. Strange that no one complains that sports analysts obsess over minutiae and discuss facts and statistics that would bore non-sports fans silly. Taylor doesn’t really explain which forums he is accusing skeptics of abusing with whining and stultifying science (his examples are from Twitter, that hotbed of in-depth research), and he also doesn’t clearly differentiate between scientists and skeptics (they are not synonymous). Enthusiasm and entertainment—showmanship—are valuable tools for interesting audiences in ideas, but they have to be backed with well-chosen facts and careful expertise. Surely there is a difference between books, popular magazines, TV documentaries, Twitter feeds, and skeptical journals like the Skeptical Inquirer. Each has a different standard and audiences approach them with different expectations. We can’t lump them all together as “boring” and claim that a book should be as breezy as a Facebook post; or, conversely, that Twitter shouldn’t have skeptical rebuttals just because it saps some of the “fun” out of the Fortean.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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