Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mayan Doomsday

Did you know that the Mayan calendar ends at December 21, 2012 and that the Mayans predicted the world would end that day?

Of course you didn’t. Not only did the Mayans not predict doomsday on that date, but the Mayan calendar doesn’t end that day either. To introduce a bit of Mayan terminology, a b’ak’tun is a cycle of time that is about 394 years, and a piktun is a cycle of time equal to 20 b’ak’tuns (so most scholars think). What happens is that the 13th b’ak’tun (a cycle of time that is about 394 years), and we simply begin the 14th b’ak’tun. Moreover, even if 1 piktun was only 13 b’ak’tuns, there is the kalabtun, which is equal to 20 piktuns, and there are even higher orders (cycles) than that. The Mayan calendar doesn’t even come close to ending in 2012.

That we’re the end of a big cycle on the Mayan calendar is noteworthy, but if the Mayans would be a live today, they’d be celebrating it with a party, kind of like we’d celebrate the beginning of a new century or millennium. And just as the turn of the millennium didn’t end our calendar, so too does December 2012 not end the Mayan calendar.

Some lessons from this

To attack the ignorant claim that the world is going to end December 21, 2012 because of the Mayan prophecy and the Mayan calendar ending, one could have refused to do any research and just say, “That’s nonsense” or “The Mayans could not possibly know when the world would end.” Such responses may be true claims, but you’re better off doing a bit of research than speaking from your armchair. In this case, research showed that there was no such prophecy and that the Mayan calendar didn’t end anywhere near 2012.

The same “do your homework” advice applies to atheism versus theism debates. Studies show that on average atheists have higher IQs than theists, but one can have a high IQ and make foolish statements via carelessness and inadequate research. To cite a specific example, consider The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Atheist philosopher Michael Ruse said the book made him embarrassed to be an atheist, and rightfully so. Many examples of Dawkins doing bad philosophy could be cited, but consider this from page 108:

I’ve forgotten the details, but I once piqued a gathering of theologians and philosophers by adapting the ontological argument to prove that pigs can fly. They felt the need to resort to Modal Logic to prove that I was wrong.

What Dawkins doesn’t seem to realize here (but would have if he had done the necessary research) is that the ontological argument for God is a use of modal logic. Saying that these theists resorted to modal logic to defend the ontological argument is akin to saying astronomers resort to looking through telescopes. I’m not saying that there isn’t a good refutation of the ontological argument (see my own refutation of the ontological argument), but if you’re going to attack it, at least have the intellectual decency to do the research so that you don’t make a fool of yourself.

The God Delusion makes a lot of bad arguments for the correct position. What’s notable about this is that Dawkins is obviously extremely intelligent; the man earned doctorate from Oxford. Yet a lack of adequate research made him an embarrassment to many philosophically sophisticated atheists. Unfortunately, a lot of atheists aren’t philosophically sophisticated, and don’t realize the blunders that Dawkins has made.

As the Dawkins case illustrates, even atheists make mistakes in regards to the atheism/theism debate; maybe not as often as theists, but they do make them. So it’s also worth noting that just because someone’s argument for theism is unsound, doesn’t mean that every objection against it will be a good one. In my next blog entry I’ll use an example to illustrate this, as well as illustrate the value and importance of learning logic.