The Watchmaker: A Retake

Religious folk have an argument that goes something like this: A design implies a designer, which requires intelligence, so something created requires an intelligent designer, i.e. a creator deity. For example, if you were walking down a beach and came across a watch in the sand, even if you had never seen a watch before, you would know that the watch was created by an intelligent mind and not mere natural forces. By their faulty logic, we can see the world “must” have been created, which proves there was an intelligent designer, therefore god, and of course it must just be the specific god they believe in and he cares what you do while naked.

We know this is a dumb argument for a whole host of reasons. I’ve already blogged about it here. But for fun, I want to turn this argument around. Now, we know that we don’t just “inherently” know design. It is learned. It is a product of our experience with things made vs. things naturally occurring. For example, we can figure out if a book is fiction or non-fiction based on our experience with the two. If you ever in your life believed in Santa Claus, then at one time you did not have the skills to delineate fiction vs. non-fiction. You had to learn it.

Non-fiction history books dig through the evidence and try to draw reasonable conclusions. Fiction books are the product of someone’s imagination. And if the made-up story includes some people or places or events in actual history, it is called, appropriately, historical fiction. Unconstrained from having to make sure the history is correct, the historical fiction writer has creative license to tell the story from the point of view of someone in the story, including private conversations, their thoughts, and other details that would be impossible to know through a review of historical evidence.

So how can we tell historical fiction from history? Well, the easiest way is if the author says they are writing a fiction. The author of “Abe Lincoln vs. Zombies” was clear he was writing and directing a movie of historical fiction for the purpose of entertainment. The problem is that for older works the author isn’t available to ask. Yet there are still clues. For example, remember the private conversations and thoughts of the characters? These are impossible to know. Real witnesses can only report on what happens with the main character during the time they are together. If the “witness” describes all major events in a persons life from before birth to after death, and relates the private conversations with lots of different people, then you have a story, not an eyewitness.

Less obvious is when the story is written AS IF it were a legitimate eyewitness account. For example, it was long believed that George Washington, as a youth, cut down a cherry tree with his new hatchet, and when questioned by his irate father said “I can not tell a lie, I did cut it with my hatchet.” But that was all made up. We know it was made up because 1) the story was first told after Washington’s death, 2) The person that told the story had a propaganda goal, 3) the supposed “witness” to this event is unnamed, and 4) fortunately, this is recent enough history where the actual author and his subversion has been found out.

Yes, one Mason Locke Weems, a preacher, wanted to publish a book to convince people of the benefits of living a virtuous life. Instead of doing research on relationships or health or anything like that, he decided to make up stories about Washington’s youth. (As a preacher- see? All liars.) Washington, recently deceased, was an almost universally loved figure at the time, and if Weems could use some of that energy to get his point across, then great. So he colluded with a publisher, made up that story and others (like throwing a dollar across the Potomic), and viola! Historical fiction. It is lucky we were able to discover the truth by good history, but this illustrates characteristics of historical fiction.

Another obvious marker of historical fiction is if mistakes are made about the history. For example, New York was settled in 1624 by the Dutch, and initially called it New Amsterdam. In 1664, the English took over and renamed it New York, with both names being used for a while. So let’s say I’m trying to tell the history of a person and claim they wrote a letter saying they arrived in New York, and they wrote that in 1627, then it is clear I made something up. And if I say they arrived in 1608? Obvious bullshit. Messing up actual history based on current knowledge is a mark of fiction.

So yes, I CAN identify legitimate history from fictional history. History involves reviewing the evidence and piecing together the past, while fiction and historical fiction is to entertain or persuade and may have the markers of knowing too much, suspiciously adding previously unknown bits to the story in a way that seems to benefit the author’s goals, or just getting the actual history wrong.

Jesus was supposedly born in a town that did not exist at the turn of the first millennium. He hung out at a sea that was not called that by anyone in the region at the turn of the first millennium. Of the two rulers supposedly in power at the time of Jesus’ birth, one died 12 years before the other came to power. An unnamed (they were given names in the 2nd century) eyewitness supposedly attests to following Jesus’ parents before he was born and what they experienced while alone, what Jesus experienced while alone, what Jesus told in private to multiple people, what various rulers said in private to people and their thoughts, and what conspiring individuals said with their colluders. Jesus conveniently never says anything bad about the Romans, and even encourages compliance with their rule. Not only were these stories first put down well after Jesus’ death, we can actually watch additional new stories being added from Mark, to Matthew, to Luke.

Around 2-3 million people, the entire servant class, up and left Egypt after 430 years and fled, yet the Egyptians neither mention this, nor does any of this affect their daily lives or construction projects or agricultural industries or shipping or any other industry or household chores or culture. The author of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy is reported to be Moses, which is weird because it is written in third person. But sometimes people do that. But what people don’t do is write about the way people grieved after their own funeral. And anyone that was at Moses’ funeral was not there when his mom supposedly made a basket of reeds and sent it down the river with baby Moses aboard. Joshua supposedly toppled the walls of a city that had been abandoned at least 100 years earlier. Then we have a string of Judges and Kings that have private bedroom conversations and thoughts, all dutifully recorded. The message of loyalty and land rights is oddly in step with the ruling class not when the events supposedly happened, but when it was written down.

Etcetera.

Yes, I can tell history from historical fiction. I have lots of examples of history, and lots of examples of historical fiction. Like a man looking at a watch on the beach, I can see the crafting of a story with impossible witnesses, mistaken history, “newly discovered” stories after the death of the character, anonymous witnesses, and convenient propaganda and know that is was made by men.

Your bible is fiction.

The Spartan Atheist

19 thoughts on “The Watchmaker: A Retake

  1. But what people don’t do is write about the way people grieved after their own funeral.
    LOL!
    And you can add to the oddity of Egypt not missing a beat with a third of their population leaving that the people who supposed arrived in Canaan did not bring a new language, new construction techniques, unique pottery, distinct clothing, quirky habits which you’d surely have after 430 years, or about 18 generations.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “Your bible is fiction.” Yep! This is why I’m a Muslim. The Quran says right in it, “This book is not to be doubted!” Now, who in fuck’s name would make something like THAT up, eh?! No one. Therefor, it MUST be non-fiction and true. I drop my mic. $Allahu Akbar$

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I sure will become a Muslim. But I am confused. I thought you and I started our own religion of kicking ass?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, but that’s just for financial gain. Haven’t we both become billionaires since we created The Golden Boot faith?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I hear you. Our religion hasn’t picked up quite well

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Business is slow. We haven’t gotten down to writing the Holy book and inventing miracles

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I’m not entirely sure you actually have to write one. Just put a new cover on an old book and tell people it’s your holy book. Nobody actually reads those things anyway, right?

        Liked by 1 person

      5. This is a great idea. I will discuss it with my cofounder and see how we’ll we do.
        Maybe we take Koran and new testament 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Welcome to the faith of The Great Golden Boot: the god who kicks ass for ya!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Those various incidents of describing what took place while individuals were alone is one of the “kickers” for me. I even wrote a post several years ago about Jesus’ time in the garden and the sleeping disciples. Yet believers lap it up and swear it’s true because … well, because it’s in the bible!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. An excellent summation. Most of the Bible is mythology (another form of fiction). It’s as if millions of people were convinced that the stories of Zeus or din were actual history.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yeah most of the Bible “events” were written long after they supposedly happened, not to mention that the Gospels contradict key things about Jesus’s life. If there was a real Jesus he would be difficult to verify.
    When religious folk use the watchmaker argument they’re cheating also. You can say a watch is designed because you can track down the owner of the friggen watch. If no one had seen a watch before and you just found one lying down in the sand, this argument wouldn’t work anymore. Plus there is no proper criteria for something which would considers an ‘intelligent designer’ anyway; it’s an easy way to shift goal posts and make Christians feel better about themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, failure to understand their own thoughts and feelings and intuition is a key component of religiosity.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ya have to wonder too about the veracity of a book comprised of bit’s shuffled and selected to fit a story line acceptable to church leaders centuries after the events supposedly described!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What gets old fast is listening to them claim that there must be a god because the universe had to be created and then crickets when you ask them that if everything must have a cause and a creator, who created god.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Especially given that such an eloquent and entirely descriptive model is fully available to them. Its like watching the wind knock something over yet rejecting the explanation for a wierd, convoluted conspiracy.

      Like

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