Professor Tertius’ Laws of Presumptuous Pontification

“Woe unto him who pontificates outside his fields of expertise!”

— First Opinions 2:19

In forum venues throughout the Internet I’ve often posted the serious errors in matters of history, linguistics, and religious studies facts one often hears from scientists and/or media celebrities like Richard Dawkins, Neil Degrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye when they speak outside of their fields of expertise.  Dr. Tyson got himself into significant embarrassments in both the Cosmos series and various speaking engagements as his repetition of popular myths, factoids, and deceptive (or worse) quote-mining caught up with him. Bill Nye remains oblivious to why Christians react negatively to his bumbling attempts to critique various scriptures. Sadly, such casually told “misinformation and disinformation” often ends up in the published works of these popular teachers of science, and yet, regrettably, without footnote citations where their often questionable and even downright erroneous claims about history and ancient literature could be further scrutinized.

Speaking erroneously, yes even borderline preaching, outside of our respective field(s) of expertise is not the monopoly of young earth creationists, former hosts of children’s TV programs and documentaries, or very entertaining evolutionary biologists. It happens to all of us, at one time or another, because it is a human foible, not solely the pathology of a particular sectarian group. (Of course, the big problem for YECists like Ken Ham in this regard is that he has no field of expertise for which he can speak and teach with any likelihood of making sense!)

[My remark about Ken Ham is not some “cheap shot” merely to make a joke. I’m quite serious. Ham has no exceptional training in any field of science nor much of any training in Biblical studies, a reality which will come as no surprise to those familiar with his articles, books, and videos. He admits “I’m not a scientist” but if one presumes to declare wrong the entire science academy, the world’s elite professors in university departments of geology, biology, physics, and astronomy,  you’d better be prepared to explain why someone so woefully uninformed, uneducated, and unfamiliar with the basic terminology and principles of science has any credibility, not to mention any compelling evidence of having somehow figured out what a planet full of top scientists got wrong.]

Being very self-conscious of my own embarrassing track record of having been a young earth creationist speaker/debater back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, having presumptuously lectured so defiantly against the science academy in the fields of biology, geology, physics, and astronomy at a time when my C.V. was not as well-rounded in those topics as I should have been, my public confession on behalf of all reckless pontificators is experientially appropriate.  At that time, so long ago, I held a lowly (Assistant Professor) but respectable position in a respected “secular” university science department on a perfectly respectable, tax-payer-supported university campus–but not in one of those fields obviously relevant to the “creation science” targets of my denialism. Accordingly, even to this day I remain all too vulnerable to criminal charges, prosecution, and conviction for serial violations of…

[1] Professor Tertius’ First Law of Presumptuous Pontification:
When a scholar takes action to pontificate upon and/even denigrate some concept from a field of scholarship in which said scholar does not have significant knowledge, training, and experience, he/she produces an equal and opposite reaction from the scholars who do.

Some readers will notice that Professor Tertius has recently expanded his obviously narcissistic while eponymous law to emphasize not just the pontification, not just the confident declaration of opinion, and not even just the recklessness of casually speaking (preaching?) outside of one’s fields of knowledge, training, and expertise. I’m flagging the galling presumptuousness of which we are guilty when we, the uninformed, without the requisite compelling evidence and analysis which might have a ghost of a chance of surviving peer review within the academy, claim either (1) to have made a notable observation or even a discovery which the world’s top scholars of the relevant fields of the academy have overlooked, or (2) to have “proven” the aforementioned academy in error or somehow deficient and in need of our correction, expertise, or tutelage. To capture that human malady to which we are all vulnerable in those two ways, the Laws of Presumptuous Pontification serve as a “reality check” when we (hereafter the Pontificator) think ourselves more insightful, better informed, or even more honest or less “biased” than the scholars of the relevant fields of the academy (hereafter, the Pontificatee(s) regardless of whether or not said scholars are present to witness the Pontificator’s violation.) The individual proofs of the corollaries to the First Law are left as an exercise for the student.

Corollary #1 to the First Law of Presumptuous Pontification 
The greater the presumptuousness of the pontifications violating the First Law, the more oblivious is the Pontificator and the more obvious is the violation to the Pontificatee(s).

Corollary #2 to the First Law of Presumptuous Pontification 
The presumptuousness, smugness, and pride of the Pontificator varies inversely proportional to the square of the ignorance of the Pontificator in the relevant fields of scholarship and directly proportional to the cube of the amusement and laughter of the Pontificatees when present to witness said violations. ** [See Footnote for proposed revisions.]

Corollaries #3/#4 to the First Law of Presumptuous Pontification {1978 version.} Also known as:
Professor Tertius’ Zeroth Law of Universal Presumptuous Pontification {1997 AAPPS revision.}
There is no immunity or exemption from Professor Tertius’ First Law of Presumptuous Pontification, neither in reference to the individual scholar nor to the relevant field(s) of scholarship. {Some textbooks use this alternative version:  All scholars and fields of scholarship within the academy are governed by Professor Tertius’ Laws of Presumptuous Pontification.}

Corollary to Professor Tertius’ Zeroth Law of Universal Presumptuous Pontification {1997 AAPPS revision}
Religious Studies, Political Studies, and Sexological Studies are not exempt from Professor Tertius’ First Law of Presumptuous Pontification. As legitimate academic fields within the university academy, established facts do exist within them and the uninformed opinions of violators of the First Law do not trump or hold equal credibility.

(In other words, just as denialist rants against the The Theory of Evolution do not matter to the evolutionary biology academy, opinions denying the data/evidence, theories, and laws of academic fields relevant to Biblical Studies are ignored by the Biblical Studies academy. Likewise, the enormous expertise gap between the knowledge and judgments of the academy and the average “man on the street” exists for every field of the academy.)

[2] Professor Tertius’ Second Law of Presumptuous Pontification:
Presumptuous pontifications concerning Professor Tertius’ First Law of Presumptuous Pontification are not exempt from the First & Second Laws of Presumptuous Pontification even if presumptuously pontificated by Professor Tertius. ***  [See Footnote.]

In a future blog edition, I do plan to review some of the most egregious and public violations of the First Law of Presumptuous Pontification in the preachy, misbegotten tangents of Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Neil Degrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye. After all, for years now Professor Tertius has posted thousands of comments, forum posts, blogs, and articles focused entirely on the atrociously ignorant pontifications generated by the millionaire entrepreneurs of the origins, mega-ministry, industry of “creation science.”  Yet, in doing so, I do realize that I’ve contributed to the popular misconception that ignorant and presumptuous pontification is the singular talent of “creation scientists” even though that industry hardly has a monopoly on ignorance and bloviation. The rest of us deserve at least a little bit of credit–or equal time if you will.

My own embarrassing history of violations has and will be an ongoing theme of the Bible.and.Science.Forum so I don’t feel hypocritical in flagging these very human foibles in others. (Plus, nowadays when I go out on a limb of the bloviation tree and risk yet another violation, it doesn’t count because behind my back I have my fingers crossed.)

Bill Nye declares, “The moon is not a light!”  
Drat! How did Hebrew exegetes and theologians miss that one?
Thank you, Bill!

If Professor Tertius’ First Law of Presumptuous Pontification is ever amended to include a Three Strikes Law, the Dawkins-Tyson-Nye triad just might become my cellblock neighbors as we serve out our life sentences with no credit for time already served. Even though their foibles deserve their own individual, in-depth reviews with documented examples in some future blog edition, I will go ahead and mention a personal favorite because I often use this one in lecture appearances. I’ll call it…

Bill Nye the Science Wise Guy

I’m amused by how many times Bill Nye has smugly declared an “obvious error” in Genesis 1, shaking his head while lamenting, “The moon is not a light!”  Yes, ladies and gentleman, Mr. Nye has discovered a previously unpublished (so apparently undiscovered) lexicographic “rule” in English [we won’t confuse him by mentioning that Genesis was written in Hebrew] which demands that every light be an original light generator or original source. Sorry, Bill, The Oxford English Dictionary disagrees with you. So does Joe at my local Sears store when he asked me how many lights I wanted in my special order, front-entrance door for my house. [For centuries now, a “light” has been a common synonym for a window pane.]  Oh, I ordered a sky light also! Yet, the same Bill Nye, who would fail an English vocabulary test on this word thinks he’s found a problem which Classical Hebrew lexicographers and Biblical Studies professors have somehow missed! Yet, he wonders why audiences in Bible Belt states packed full of those laughably uninformed young earth creationists chuckle when Mr. Nye proudly declares, “The moon is not a light!”  Much like the YECists who continue to spout the same erroneous definition of a scientific term or to quote the already discredited quote-mine from Darwin’s classic tome, Bill Nye proudly repeats his “The moon is not a light!” factoid at press conferences and TV talk show appearances. He and the lavishly approving host laughs at those silly, clueless creationists and affirms Bill’s alleged “obvious error in Genesis” while congratulating his brilliant insight. Such scenes are painfully and awfully close to being analogous to Kent Hovind praising Ray Comfort for destroying the The Theory of Evolution in a single blow with his latest video.

Though I am haunted mainly in my dreams, there is, technically speaking, no Statute of Limitations for violations of the Laws of Presumptuous Pontification. Fortunately, in my case those embarrassments were long before the Internet, although its ARPANET predecessor was underway and I eventually had civilian access for a time–another bizarre but very real chapter in the life of Professor Tertius–and no videos, to my knowledge, survive to be used against me. So if any dastardly YECist just had an extortionistic thought to possibly foil and bleed Professor Tertius, even while he is in hiding under the WPP [Witless Protection Program], all audio recordings as well as the cerebral cortex memories of the surviving witnesses of my appearances on the “creation science” lecture circuit have been duly erased by our operatives.

Yes, the ex-YEC underground is quite powerful and we are everywhere. Yet even we ex-YECs are not exempt from Professor Tertius’ Laws of Presumptuous Pontification. You might even say we wrote the laws.
[According to the Journal of the American Academy of Presumptuous Pontification Studies in their “Papers & Proceedings of the 157th Annual Conference of the American Academy of Presumptuous Pontification Studies” (Vol. 157, no.4 [2014]) the plenary session voted to delegate to the AAPPS Standing Committee the task of determining the details of a new draft of “A Proposed Revision of the Revised Amendment for Corollary #2 to the First Law of Presumptuous Pontification.” Scholars have long recognized the limitations of the inverse-cube relationships for both the amusement variable “a” and the laughter variable “v” and the obvious fact that the derivative of the functions eventually approach a limit as said amusement and laughter functions parallel the frustration and grave-concern functions of Pontificatee.]
{A preliminary proposal to appoint a committee to reconsider the re-examination of the published papers and policies of the AAPPS for re-publication in the light of appropriate gender-inclusiveness in all presumptuous pontification, papers, and proceedings was approved and proposed for postal dispatch to all academy members for a final vote.}

[I thank Dr. Douglas Hofstadter for challenging me and indirectly inspiring the discovery of the <em><strong>Laws of Presumptuous Pontification</strong></em> when he asked me an interesting question about my Biblical Studies research during a coffee & cookie speaker’s reception so long ago. Fortunately, Hofstadter’s casual question did not require divulging my last remaining contaminations of YECism to the Visiting Professors standing around us, including the academic journal editor who would, years later, play an important role in recommending an important collaboration and lucrative foundation grant which made my most important publications possible. Plus, in that same conversation, Dr. Hofstadter joked about some semi-esoteric ideas which are much more widely recognized today because of his Pulitzer Prize winning book. Strangely enough, that conversation of no more than three minutes, tops, also challenged me to reconsider my differences with Kurt Godel, and–as the saying goes–the rest is history. We are all beholden to the academy in non-polynomial complete networks of countless vertices and edges. No discovery or epiphany is solely our own.]

(c) 2014. Professor Tertius & the Bible.and.Science.Forum
All rights reserved & underserved. Direct all permission requests to the Bible.and.Science.Forum at the domain.



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2 responses to “Professor Tertius’ Laws of Presumptuous Pontification

  1. I should mention that I’m likely to be very occupied by various projects and travelling during December. So I may not be posting many new blogs here, but I will try to keep track of comments in order to reply.

    If ever you wish to contact me, just send an email to Bible.and.Science.Forum at the domain. (Obviously, we avoid posting complete addresses on-line due to spam trawler’s collecting email addresses.)

  2. Pingback: Evolution-Denialism: It’s About Feelings, Not Just Facts | Bible.and.Science.Forum

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