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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Literalism vs. Hyperbolism

In the discussion about how to characterize Intelligent Design, Filll on the English Wikipedia offers this view:

ID is primarily about the inadequacies of the theory of evolution. It is secondarily about abiogenesis and fine tuning of the universe. It was created to try to create some way to fool the United States Judiciary and constitutional law experts so that biblical literalism could be taught in science classes in public schools, or even that teachers could be forced to teach biblical literalism in science classes in schools. It is part of a grand scheme in some cultural war that fundamentalist extremists are mounting to reform US society. There is minimal science behind ID, and therefore it is not really much of a hypothesis or a theory. It is a public relations and legal strategy by and large. It is essentially intellectually vacuous. The two meagre scientific ideas associated with ID, specific complexity and specified complexity, are mildly interesting but have no evidence to support them, and plenty of evidence against them. A major demand of ID is that "materialist" science be discarded, by which they mean that the definition of science should be returned to its pre-Scientific Revolution definition a few centuries ago, and that magic (and astrology) should be defined as scientific. This in fact is identical to the ideas promulgated by Al Ghazali around 1100 CE that destroyed Muslim science, then the most advanced in the world. --Filll (talk | wpc) 11:47, 20 July 2008 (UTC)

The confusion over literal vs. metaphorical interpretation of texts is a problem that is not limited to Biblical accounts. Even newspaper accounts are subject to disputes over how literally to take headline hyperbole. If a headline writer (say, on a news story in the NY Times, or on a public relations advertisement criticizing a PBS series on Evolution) crafts an emotionally arresting headline, should Wikipedia seize on a single instance of a hyperbolic term found only in such a singular headline (and nowhere else in original source material) and spin that singular appearance of an emotionally loaded word into a years-long kerfuffle over promoting a literal interpretation of that headline hyperbole?

It occurs to this writer that elevating a single instance of a hyperbolic headline into either a scientific theory or an irrefutable encyclopedic truth is the epitome of hyperbolic over-acting.

And if I'm over-emphasizing the hypocrisy of headline hyperbolism, then here I am over-dramatizing my Blogospheric Dissent From Encyclopedic Hyperbolism.

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