A 21st Century Rationalist in Medieval America

Has anyone been reading A 21st Century Rationalist in Medieval America by John Bice? I hope so. It’s a very interesting book. I have a few questions to spur a discussion:

Do you feel like the person described in the title of this book? If so, what specific experiences have you had that make you feel this way?

The book is a compilation of columns the author wrote for several newspapers. Have you been inspired to write for your own local paper by reading this book?

Do you think the columns in this book would be accepted by your local paper for publication? Why or why not? (Please specify where you live if you think that’s pertinent.)

Do you think the book (or the columns) would have been better focused without the political topics? Or do you think those topics helped to make the articles better suited to news-oriented media?

In the introduction, Bice says he wrote for the newspaper because he wanted people in his local area to get to know an atheist. The articles were originally written for the general public, with a large Christian majority. The book, however is for unbelievers and skeptics. Which do you think is a better audience for these pieces and why?

I hope this doesn’t sound like a pop quiz. These are things I’ve been thinking about as I read, and I look forward to your thoughts on these questions and anything else the book has spurred you to think about.

John Bice has a new column in today’s paper: Jesus is not returning


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. I usually don't do this but today you hit a nerve. When I woke up this morning my radio was putting out static so I went searching for NPR on the dial. I first came across a preacher who was railing against our evil society that didn't support faith. Too much critical thinking was his beef. He went on to site several parts of the bible that proved the importance of accepting faith blindly (Joshua at Jericho was one). Needless to say this gave me a rather bleak outlook today.

    Our local paper has a values page on Fridays that deals with religion and any woo thinking as uncritically as is possible (a seminar on angels? why some people there saw several while others saw none. Answer: why you have to open yourself up to the experience.)

    The only article they did on a local skeptics group ended with a quote from the preacher who stands on the corner outside a downtown theater with a large cross railing against the evils of our society (homosexuality is his biggest beef). His comment on the skeptics was that they weren't very tolerant of Christians. Mind you this was the end of the article so no rebuttal was printed to this comment. A man who spends his free time telling people they are going to hell gets the last word about tolerance?

    Middle ages? Just around the corner kids, dust off your hair shirts.

  2. I definitely plan on reading that book — it's in my queue.

    As for the "pop quiz," the only part I can answer so far is the first set of questions — whether I feel like the person described in the title, and why.

    An otherwise very intelligent, earnest, and inquisitive friend of mine, just a few years ago, indicated that he had bought into the canopy "theory" that backed up young-Earth creationism — indeed, he had been given the (false) impression that this was revolutionary, cutting-edge science! I was, alas, not as kind as I should have been in my handling of the matter (and will try to be more diplomatic in future close encounters of this kind), but I gave him a LOT of factual information in a very short time that shredded this "theory," then topped it by providing him with a few books (such as Broca's Brain and The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan) to start him on the road to a clearer understanding of science and the use of critical thinking. He now feels rather understandably angry toward the institutions that fed him such bilge as the canopy "theory," not only making him ignorant of the truth, but thereby enlisting him in helping to promote a lie.

    That was not my first encounter with the notion of the canopy "theory." I first encountered it from my 6th-grade public school teacher. Read that again: my 6th-grade public school teacher. She also taught that Atlantis had sunk itself through "immoral use of the laser," among other fascinating pieces of trivia that I, a child, soon realized were absolute nonsense. (I strongly suspect that her informational journal of choice back then was The Star, a notorious supermarket tabloid.) I was lucky that I had a pretty decent functioning BS detector as a kid, at least when I took the time to research something; rather than fall into the logically fallacious traps set for me by promoters of pseudoscience, I more often than not could see them for what they were. It amazes and depresses me that many otherwise intelligent adults (and hordes of less-intelligent people of all ages) are so easily fooled, and that they thus so often also become accomplices to the cons that they themselves fell for, increasing their spread.

    And nowadays, on the Internet, I read of all sorts of mind-blowing nonsense being touted as if it were solid fact, all over the planet. Heck, yes, I feel like a 21st century rationalist in a mediaeval WORLD. To use another historical analogy, I feel as if barbarians are storming the gates of rationality, and we have very little time left to defeat them before they overwhelm us completely — especially since so many of them vote.


  3. I think sometimes those of us in the present tend to be overly dramatic as to the plight of rational thinking in this country. I currently live in Kansas, the butt of many jokes I realize, but it's not like I walk up to people every day who are shouting down rational thinking or atheism. The majority of Kansan's are like people in New York City: they're just trying to pay their bills and raise their kids.

    What does get all the attention? Some nutball preachers from Wichita, and a school board, who as soon as they revealed their plans for pimping Intelligent Design were voted out.

    So, I think we should take a deep breath, step back, and realize that this is the most scientific literate country in America, and recent studies indicate that while our school kids aren't so into science, our adults are. Let's keep an even head, and continue to promote rational thinking.

  4. Well, I suppose with 300 million people living there, you're bound to have a sizable collection of some of the dumbest people imaginable, as well as a nice array of some of the smartest.

  5. I feel like the person described in the title of this book sometimes… when I read the news…. when I talk to born-again Christians… sometimes I think there are people out there who are being intentionally dense and pretending they don't understand what I say becasue they don't want to admit there's a hole in their ideology. Either that, or they're incredibly stupid and I feel a little (yes, just a little) arrogant saying that, since I didn't use what smarts I have to become a rocket scientist or anything.

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