The Propaganda Value of evolutionnews.org

Evolution News is an arm of the Discovery Institute (DI). The DI is not a science-based institution but a creationist think tank from the United States. The DI, and their proxies like Evolution News, are well-known for promoting pseudoscience. Two of the most influential ideas coming from the DI are intelligent design—really a watchmaker argument for God—and Michael Behe’s “irreducible complexity”, e.g. something as complex as the human eye could not possibly evolve over time because the rods, cones, retina, and such are, well, irreducibly complex.

Both intelligent design and irreducible complexity were used in the mid 2000s as part of the Discovery Institute’s “wedge strategy” for getting creationism taught alongside evolution in science classes in the United States. Unfortunately for the creationists, they can offer nothing but rhetoric in support of their positions, i.e. they have not conducted a single viable or peer reviewed experiment supporting their hypotheses (because their hypothesis is really just a fancy way of saying God did it which is entirely unfalsfiable). Since the DI offers nothing tangible in the way of research to back up its assertions they lack scientific credibility. I would not go to this site for scientific reasons; however, I would go to this site if I wanted to learn more about the “culture wars” raging in the United States. Sites like Evolution News don’t dabble in science but in theological and philosophical hand waving; it is a fundamentalist propaganda website.

Here are a couple links you might find illuminating as they relate to the DI (and by extension to Evolution News):

1). The “wedge strategy” I mentioned before is an important thing to be aware of, i.e. since the DI has repeatedly failed to use courts to push creationism into biology classrooms they have changed tactics. The tactic is now to attack science itself generally (not just evolution). If public confidence in science can be sufficiently eroded, the thinking is then evolution can be weakened and in the space created creationism can be seen as a more viable explanation. Wedge strategy – Wikipedia

2). For legal context, check out the Wiki on the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School Board case. This was, I believe, the most recent attempt by the DI to get creationism into science classrooms. The DI failed, again, because they offer nothing concrete in the way of experiments, tests, and so on. Here’s a link to that case: Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District – Wikipedia. Interestingly, I read a book written by one of the biologists who was called to testify in this case on whether or not irreducible complexity and intelligent design were “scientific” theories. The biologist’s name is Ken Miller—a Catholic who believes in God by the way—who argued that these were not scientific theories because they could not be falsified, i.e. a genuine science question must be capable of being either proven or disproven. Intelligent design, for instance, is really the equivalent of just saying “God did it” when it comes to life on Earth. You cannot prove or disprove the claim. Anyways, Miller wrote a book called Only a Theory. He talks about the case and about Behe and so on in this book.

If you aren’t the reading type, you could download and listen to the podcast Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe (episode 190). Dr. Steven Novella interviews Miller and I believe they discuss the Kitzmiller decision and Miller’s role. Here’s the link to that: The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe.

Again, Evolution News is nonsense from a scientific standpoint; it is an example of propaganda and little else.

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She Died on a Saturday

The anniversary of my mom’s death is fast approaching. I wrote this piece twenty years ago and wanted to share it.

Looking Back
Looking back on my life I can barely recall a time when mom wasn’t sick or ailing in some measure. Don’t get me wrong I’ve got plenty of fond memories. In particular, I miss how she’d affectionately say things like “Rick, you’re such a geek” after I’d share one of my peculiar insights into life’s meaning when I was a kid.  Another memory that comes to mind is when I brought home Nintendo Golf. To play the game you had to swing a golf-club controller to hit the ball on the screen. Both of my parents were hardcore golfers so it didn’t take much to convince them to give the game a try. Dad liked it immediately.  When he got to the third tee he decided he wanted to hit the ball a little further so he swung the controller a little bit faster and in the process drove the club straight through a light fixture in the ceiling.

He was mortified.

I laughed so hard I could barely breathe (I actually fell to the ground). My dad was embarrassed by it all. Laughing at him didn’t help things. He wanted blood. You could see it in his eyes. He was a father of the old-school: one of those spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child types, a man expecting automatic respect and deference, a man who could not laugh at himself. And that’s why I found the situation so uncontrollably funny. (I felt like one of the palace guards from Monty Python’s Life of Bryan who couldn’t stop laughing because the governor kept saying the name Biggus Dickus to him over and over and over again.)  If it weren’t for mom dad would’ve killed me with that fake golf club.

She was an amazing woman. I went through something akin to a mid-life crisis around the age of twelve.  I specifically remember having a conversation with her on how life for me was irrevocably changing. (And I don’t mean changing in the sense hair started growing in places it hadn’t before.) I meant change in that I remained the same while everyone seemed to be growing more complicated; life was becoming inexplicably and un-necessarily harder; and peers—especially girls—made even less sense to me than before. She didn’t offer advice or attempt to explain away what I was feeling. I remember the exact words she spoke to me in the kitchen during that conversation 37 years ago. “You still want to be a kid.  I understand.” She was right.

Disbelief
I was the last of four kids to move out. I returned to visit only infrequently, and when I did, it wasn’t to visit my parents so much as to spend time with the neglected family cat or to play my drum set. I took my parents entirely for granted. I assumed they’d always be there. Perhaps that’s what made accepting mom’s death all the more difficult?

I couldn’t comprehend the loss.

I don’t believe it. That’s how I responded after learning she had cancer. I simply couldn’t believe it. Somewhere in the back of my mind I must’ve thought disease and death only affected other people. Many of us—including me—just don’t learn the lessons childhood should teach us through the countless bumps, bruises and band-aids.

We are mortal.

Ignoring the fact we die prevents us from living realistically; and when we dodge the balls life throws at us we not only ignore reality’s perils we fail to explore its possibilities.

Certainly subtle hints of mom’s decline were visible (if only a person knew what to look for). Unfortunately the cancer continued growing undetected until the most terrible and obvious symptoms of the disease expressed themselves. Though the effects of cancer are very real, the lightness with which people treat it never fails to astound me—especially in the case of smoking related cancer. People justify a stupid habit like smoking by appealing to the myth of the ancient smoking uncle or that it’ll never happen to me.

What makes you so special? Nothing.

When you rationalize away the danger you disarm yourself and empower the disease and its known causes. And guess what?  You may not know it but the decisions you’re making today have future consequences for your family (some members you may not even have met yet). Mom never did get to hold even one of my three sons. She would’ve adored them. They’re geeks like me.

Some Bad News
After spending several hours reading in a quiet corner of the university’s main library, I packed up my things and headed home for supper. Passing through the heavy silver doors of the library’s front entrance I entered the winter night invigorated by the cold. Snow blanketed the ground a foot deep in every direction. Jumping from one foot impression to the next I reached my rusted out Chevrolet Malibu. Sitting in the car waiting for it to warm up I felt like I was forgetting something: earlier in the day dad said he’d taken mom to the hospital for tests. She was supposed to stay overnight for observation. I decided to visit her before heading home.

Driving northbound down University Drive the dark outline of the hospital rose slowly above the lighted silhouette of Saskatoon’s downtown. Too cheap to park at a pay meter I risked the law’s fury by parking illegally at a nearby lot intended for the exclusive use of contractors. I made my way towards one of the hospital’s side doors. A group of white coated and professional-looking people—nurses, doctors, technicians—stood huddled smoking together in front of the entrance. I took a deep breath plunging through them to open the door entering the building. I ascended a set of brick steps entering the cathedral-like hospital mall—a massive elongated room with a towering ceiling and a multitude of cascading windows. Moments later I was at the information desk where an older woman sat in the middle of an octagonal desk doing nothing in particular.

I asked the attendant what room my mom was in. She began prattling away at a dusty keyboard: 6-1-0-3.  Thanking the attendant I made for the nearest elevator. Entering the elevator car I pressed the button for the sixth floor.  I moved to the back of the car busying myself reading posters on a non-descript bulletin board. One poster read “Pastry sale.  St. Joseph’s Church.  January 26th at 12 noon.”  Another read “If you see someone with an identification band around their wrist leaving the building, please notify hospital personnel.” Although the posters were about as stimulating to read as the Periodic Table of Elements, the material served its purpose: while the body is stuck somewhere it doesn’t want to be the mind remains free. I discovered this time gobbling trick of distraction at church when I was seven. Too young to understand anything the priest said I occupied myself counting each individual page of every song book I could find in the pews. In fact, my siblings and I turned page counting into a competitive game racing one another to see who could count them all first. Although I didn’t turn into much of a Christian I did develop panache for counting.

The elevator rumbled to a halt and the door opened. Entering a darkened hall I turned right, then right again, and walked towards a nursing station. I saw the number to mom’s room. I stepped inside but was impeded by a wide green curtain hanging across its width: peeling back the curtain I saw my proud father lying prostrate before my mother, holding her hand, sobbing. Meekly I approached her bedside. Her face was beet red, cheeks speckled with tiny sanguine dots—a product of relentless coughing; her hair hung about her shoulders in hapless clumps; and a film of hardened mucous formed into sores on her lips. I must’ve startled dad because he raised his head abruptly trying to brush away his tears. Mom was almost unrecognizable. I knelt down to touch her hand. Dad spoke to her quietly, “Dawn. Dawn. Richard is here. He’s come to see you.”

She raised her head feebly to acknowledge me and my throat felt like someone was squeezing it from the inside. I choked out a, “Hey, mom…” and looked up at dad searching for some sort of explanation. He avoided eye contact. So, dispensing with the pleasantry of discussing death around the dying, I asked him point blank what was wrong. He explained she hadn’t been feeling well for at least two months and she was having difficulty speaking. She didn’t feel well around Christmas. The inability to speak, however, was a revelation. He should’ve told me sooner. The anger I felt towards him disappeared replaced by a tremendous sense of guilt at being such a distant, self-absorbed son.

“Let’s go for a walk.  Mom needs to rest,” dad said while we walked out of the room into a deserted hall. “Rick, it doesn’t look good. There’s a good to definite chance she has cancer.”

He explained the doctors believed her dementia was caused by pressure on the brain from a tumor. (That didn’t explain why she was having trouble breathing.) She had swollen lymph nodes all about her neck and under her arms (sure signs of the presence of the killer disease). An examination was scheduled to take place sometime in the next few days to confirm the diagnosis. Then they would determine the most appropriate course of action. Instantly, the thought of her smoking entered my mind and my hatred for it grew.

“Apparently the source of the cancer has to be found,” dad explained. “If it starts in the lungs, then they have very different treatments than if it were discovered to emanate from the ovaries.”  He squeezed the back of my neck and said, “We’ll just have to prepare for the worst.”

I returned to the room alone to giving dad a chance to grab a cup of coffee. Her eyes followed me slowly as I moved across the room. Her neck remained perfectly rigid. I sat on dad’s chair and smiled awkwardly. The scab-like build up on her lips looked uncomfortable, even painful.

“Would you like me to clean up your mouth?” I asked.

She nodded.  I grabbed a wet cloth from the bathroom wiping away as much of the hardened ooze as I could. I felt like a person holding a newborn baby for the first time—I didn’t know how to hold it and I felt like I might break it if I was too rough. Something didn’t feel right about the situation (it felt backwards). I’m supposed to be the one who’s sick and she should be taking care of me. This wasn’t right. Mom, you’re supposed to get me some ginger ale to calm my stomach and a Batman comic from the corner store; I’ll skip school and watch television on the couch. I’ll feel better, no problem. Stroke my hair that always made me feel amazing and loved. I put the soiled cloth on the bedside table and returned to sit down beside her.

Quiet.

I inspected her puffy hand lying on the other side of the bed’s safety rail. When I was little I used to watch the Amazing Spiderman during Saturday morning cartoons.  I’d be eating my cereal and she’d walk up to me and start stroking my hair with that hand. She made me feel so cozy. I always hoped it would never stop. Now that hand appeared so alien. I extended my trembling hand to hers and began to cry quietly. The unrecognizable woman transformed into the mother I knew in my youth, and she used every ounce of strength remaining to her to say, “I’m sorry.” I cried uncontrollably laying my head and broken heart on the bed beside her. Life made so much sense until then.

The Last Day
I didn’t visit her the next day. Instead, I broke hospital policy sneaking up to her room after visiting hours the following night. The hall and nursing station were empty. The door to her room closed. I hesitated momentarily and then opened the door. I discovered her lying in the middle of thought—her mouth agape, eyes fixed blankly on the wall, head hanging still as a doily off a piano nobody plays anymore. She took no notice of me. What goes on in the mind of someone who has so little time left to live? To me it is the thinking about, and not the actual, death that causes me the most trouble. I found out the next day mom wasn’t the scared one (I was).  Dad told me she admitted being ready to die, not fearing it, more concerned with the welfare of her children.

Three weeks later mom was admitted to the Palliative Ward at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon. I didn’t know it at the time but this was the ward where you go to die. There are no more treatments. Instead, doctors just try to take the edge off the pain. Nevertheless, even at this late a juncture, I still held out hope she’d recover.

Hope abandoned my family on this final day. I remember walking into her room half-expecting to see her sitting up able to carry on a conversation. She barely acknowledged me when I stopped at the foot of the bed affectionately squeezing the shape of her sheet-covered foot. She was so much weaker now: the steroids she took controlling the growth of the tumor was destroying her immune system. The night before the final day she got pneumonia. Her breathing sounded like that sucking noise when you’re trying to get the last bit of pop out of a cup with a straw.

My wife Camille arrived a little later the same day. I remember this vividly because it was the last time mom ever spoke to me. I sat by a window facing 20th Street holding a novel called The Immigrants. I didn’t do much reading (I found it comforting to hold a book in my hand for some reason). I was watching mom literally drown as her mouth and lungs filled with mucous she couldn’t expel. Mom motioned for Camille to come a little closer and then spoke something inaudible into her ear. Camille turned and said to me mom didn’t want me to stare at her anymore. Embarrassed I turned my gaze back out the window where a collection of tears and brilliant sunlight co-mingled blurring the cars on the busy street below into indistinguishable moving shapes. Camille used a mouth swab wiping away some of the mucous choking mom. In my heart I was so grateful for Camille’s help because it diminished, temporarily at least, months of futility.

Mom died that night.

It was a Saturday I think around 1:50 am. She was surrounded by her entire family. Her children (and their spouses) eventually left the room as her breathing became increasingly shallower with every minute. Three-quarters of an hour later dad appeared at the doorway to the family room where we were all sitting talking. He said she was gone. When I entered the room her mouth was puckered as if stubbornly asleep and her arms were stretched at the sides abandoned of life. I laid my head on the bed beside her, lifted her left hand and placed it on my head one last time.

I kissed her one last time.

Epilogue
When I was around ten years old I had a remarkable experience. I decided to include this experience in the narrative because in retrospect it seems connected:

I was lying in my bed thinking about my Grandpa Wilson (my mom’s dad) who’d just recently died of lung cancer. His death scared me because my mom was also a smoker. I feared she’d die in the same way. I wept bitterly begging God to take some of my remaining days and give them to her. While I cried a beautiful female voice spoke from the corner of the darkened room. The voice spoke two words absolutely dripping in compassion, “Oh, Rick.”  That’s it. In complete and child-like awe I shut right up scouring the darkness for the voice’s origin. I fell almost instantaneously asleep.

Sadly 16 years later my fears were realized. Just like grandpa and Aunty Joyce and Uncle Billy and Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Maki, etc. mom succumbed to a disease that continues to kill millions.  Now older, stronger, and supposedly wiser, I’ve come to look back on this mysterious voice with scepticism and disbelief; that is, until a similar experience took place when I was 26 years old. Mom had been dead nearly a year and obviously I missed her. I missed her so much. I feared somehow that I was forgetting what she looked like. I tried remembering every detail, the sound of her voice, and I couldn’t.

And then I heard that same voice again.

A woman’s voice spoke my name into my right ear. I  swear I heard it two just two inches away clear as day. Yet, despite how concrete both experiences felt I remain skeptical. For good or for ill I’m just not hardwired to accept these kinds of things at face value. Many years ago I learned the Cree believe that when a person cries he or she is then closest to the Creator. Maybe there was something to this whole voice/crying thing after all? I don’t know. There are lots of things I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll meet mom again or a semblance of her or if this brief existence is all there is. Yet, I know and feel she lives on in my heart like a poem—a pure metaphor of the mother—an impression that will remain until her youngest son joins her.

 

Canada in the Age of Trump

Months before Donald Trump won the Republican nomination and then the U.S. Presidency, Matthew MacWilliams, a University of Massachusetts postdoctoral candidate, stumbled across a striking way of looking at a candidate who seemed to defy all the rules of politics.
 
His polling research had revealed that parenting styles were a powerful predictor of voter attitudes towards Trump. In particular, MacWilliams discovered that those who preferred authoritarian child-rearing approaches—who valued traits such as obedience and good behavior in their children over curiosity or independence—were much more likely to back Trump. Moreover, their support wasn’t strictly contingent on traditional party preferences. As MacWilliam’s polls showed, authoritarian parenting preferences can be found among both Republicans and Democrats.
 
To further confirm his hypothesis, he also looked at correlations between those with authoritarian outlooks and more specific political views, such as attitudes towards the protection of minorities, terrorism and immigration. The results further confirmed the distinct alignment of values and politics that allowed Trump to win over working-class Midwesterners, religious South¬erners and even some affluent younger people, among them voters who might have balked at his positions on LBGTQ+ rights or looked askance at his behavior.
 
Extracted from Michael Adams’ Could It Happen Here? Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit.

The Scientific Worldview

The ancients answered unanswerable questions by saying “God (or the gods) did it.”

Questions surrounding the mystery of why people got sick, comets flew inexplicably across the sky, and volcanoes blew their tops, and so on, were explained through an appeal to mythical and religious narratives. This appeal reflected the very human need to address uncertainty by exerting, however ineffectual, some modicum of control over the external world. Human nature has not fundamentally changed (so people continue resorting to magical thinking and metaphysical handwaving in the present day).

As it turns out, what the ancients lacked wasn’t control but knowledge and an effective methodology: they lacked the techniques, critical thinking, worldview and technology required to leave the safety of the cave and emerge into the light seeing the world as it is as opposed to how it ought to be.

Science, the scientific method specifically, reveals we get sick due to disease carrying pathogens (not demons); comets are not harbingers of doom but conglomerates of rock and ice orbiting the Sun with clocklike precision; and volcanoes don’t blow up because the god of the underworld demands a virgin as sacrifice (it erupts due to a series of naturally occurring geological processes).

Religion gave us formulaic reasoning like “God did it.” Not particularly informative or descriptive.

Science gives us dynamic reasoning like “X happened due to physical factor A, B or possibly C.”

Science has shaped us socially and morally, in that, we make moral decisions (in the West) based on appeals to experience and practicality rather than to prescriptions like the Ten Commandments; and socially we have, and continue to develop, new relationships with one another through rationality in the form of democratic institutions, the necessary separation of Church and State, and establishing societies governed through the rule of law (as opposed to the rule of caprice).

A Conversation with Andrei

The following exchange took place between myself and a Facebook friend. People who are even a little bit interested in religious belief or the history of religion will get something philosophically out of the exchange.

Andrei observed: “Theology is based on sheer belief?”
Yes and no. Jesus certainly existed. Some argue he didn’t (but the ones who make such an argument are, in my mind, just a bunch of gainsaying pyrrhic skeptics). Jesus’ teachings also reflect a worldview steeped in an understanding of the God of Israel (as it existed in 1st century). Yet, while theology is sometimes based upon some things that are demonstrable, e.g. a historical Jesus existed as did a subsequent Jesus-inspired community who believed in the God of Israel, etc. the most important parts of theology—resurrections, original sins, the existence of God for that matter—are most certainly not. You believe in them. This is one of the reasons why creeds end with “Amen” (I believe) versus “Nosko” (I know). You don’t know any of it. Revealed truth, or revelation—and I mean no disrespect by this whatsoever—is inherently untrustworthy.

Andrei said: “Yes it is quite impossible to conduct repeatable experiments on trinity, and observe a material process. But I don’t care about a monotheistic God, or a Creator, or an Intelligent Designer, like the Discovery Institute argues for (I think that’s what they argue for). I care about the revealed God of the Bible, and the death and resurrection of Christ.”
Well, I think that the Discovery Institute’s fellows likely share your honest conception of a God revealed in scripture; this is who they’re trying to defend after all against those awful materialists. Nonetheless, we are leaving behind science and entering the realm of metaphysics (theology). There’s a genuine risk, whenever we’re relying upon the exercise of pure reason (revelation), of simply inventing reality and/or postulating things into existence, e.g. Plato’s perfect forms or St. Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God immediately come to mind. I get the impression that the “revealed Christ” gives you hope (which is a hope I share incidentally); however, our hope in this revealed God (or the revelation itself) is not evidence of His existence. Belief or revelation or feelings, in other words, does not a thing make, i.e. God exists quite independent of a theist’s assent or an atheist’s ardent denial. This has some implications for faith that I’d rather leave for a separate discussion if you are so inclined.

Andrie observes: “These [revealed truths] might be impossible to repeat, but they have to be real events to have real implications for my daily behavior.”
Completely understand and appreciate what you’re saying here. Yet, the funny thing about faith in my experience is it always reveals more about the individual adherent’s assumptions about what God is or what God is not as opposed to revealing something actually accurate or meaningful about God Himself. For example, many Christians have problems accepting the theory of evolution because it seems to suggest there’s no need for a creator or a special act of creation (like the one presented in the Book of Genesis). Therefore, some Christians dismiss the theory of evolution out of hand because they don’t like the potential implications for their strongly held beliefs (really, assumptions). One of my better friends actually articulated it as follows: if I have to make a decision between the God of the Bible and science then I’ll side with God 100% of the time. Here’s the rub: it is possible for God to exist AND for evolution to be taking place at one and the same time. I’m not saying that is an easy dichotomy to maintain but it is an option. The knee jerk reaction some theists have to evolution does not actually reflect God’s limitations or potential permutations; rather, it reflects the insecurities, convictions, education, assumptions, etc. of the individual adherent.

You said that “events have to be real” in order for them to have “real implications for your behavior”. You’re making an argument from consequences here (which is fallacious). In reality you can have the appearance of an event being real, e.g. Saddam Hussein possessing WMDs, etc. that can really influence decision-making and action-taking, e.g. the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As it turns out Hussein had no WMDs. There was still an invasion though. What is a theological equivalent of your argument from consequences? Probably Anselm’s ontological argument, e.g. I can conceive of the most perfect being; since I can conceive of this being it necessarily must exist. Anselm was successfully refuted by William of Ockham about a century later when Ockham observed “I can conceive of the most perfect unicorn” but does this necessarily mean unicorns exist? I suppose there’s a reason why Anselm is called a “saint” while Ockham was continuously in trouble with Church authorities and the stake was never far away. Anyways, Andrei events do not have to in fact be real to have real implications for your behavior. You simply need to believe these things occurred and then act accordingly. We all do it.

Andrei said: “And from the revealed word of God we can start to argue and decide on issues. But it has to be grounded in history and passed on by reliable witnesses.”
David Hume probably has one of the better responses to what you’re saying here with respect to “reliable witnesses”. He argued that if people never lied and were never lied to; if they were never deluded or practiced self-delusion or made errors of judgment etc. then we might be justified in taking what people say at face value. The problem, though, is it is unwise to give anyone (including ourselves), anything, or any source of information, etc. unqualified support (no matter how comforting unqualified acceptance of that thing, person or source might be).

Andrei asked: “And is there a place for falsifiability in religious practice and belief?”
I would argue there is a place for falsification in every discipline worthy of the name; moreover, you could make the argument that at the Council of Nicea when Athanasius and Arius’ supporters were debating the nature of the Incarnation that they were utilizing a type of falsification. I would argue, though, that both Athanasius and Arius’ followers were arguing from competing metaphysical claims (and not from something objective as defined).

This reminds me of something I read in “Five Stones and a Sling” (a book written by philologist and theologian Michael Goulder). Goulder was something of an outlier in the theological community because he didn’t pay lip service to science or scientific objectivity. He lived it and this is likely what led him eventually to a position of agnosticism. Goulder observed biblical scholars do not practice objectivity but go into their studies with certain fundamental assumptions already in mind. On page 28 of “Five Stones” Goulder remarked: “My disappointment was due in large part to my inexperience.  I had supposed that scholars were dedicated to the pursuit of truth, wherever that might lead, and that new ideas would always be welcome.  This however is only partly true.  Before new ideas come, scholars have [already] reached a consensus, and their position as authorities depends upon their agreeing with that consensus.  Their teachers, whom they normally honoured, had taught them the consensus; they had written their books assuming it, and therefore, to think that they and their fellow experts had been wrong and that a new scholar, of whom they had not heard, was in a position to put them right.  But there is another problem: most scholars of the New Testament have religious loyalties [going into any study]: they want the text to be orthodox, or historical, or preachable, or relevant.  So any new interpretation which does not fulfil these conditions is not likely to be approved.”

Andrei begins his conclusion: “So now we come to materialism and how you said that fundamentalist Christians are inconvenienced by physicists un-weaveing the rainbow (did you say that?).”
When I was referring to the “unweaving of a rainbow” I was actually alluding to a poem by John Keats (early 19th century). He lamented the fact that science seemed to pluck the mystery of out nature and he castigated the Newtons of the world (scientists) for replacing a world of beauty with one that is cold, hard and sterile (a purely material world).

Andrei asserted: “I would say scientific enterprise (eg. discovering the laws of the universe) needed monotheism and suffered under the polytheistic pantheon.”
Demonstrably false my friend. Science was born out of Greek rationalists who saw gods abounding everywhere. In his book “Cosmos”, Carl Sagan describes the fertility of thinking as it existed in Greece (6th to 4th centuries BCE) through the likes of such thinkers as Thales, Anaximander, Anaxagoras, and Democritus. With that said, you are sort of correct by observing science suffered under the polytheistic pantheon, e.g. you’re alluding to the Pythagoreans persecution of the rationalists in ancient Greece. If you didn’t know about this persecution, you successfully intuited it (or learned some version of it from a teacher likely). I’ve completed some courses online related to these early thinkers, etc. and the Pythagoreans looked at the rationalism of Thales et tal as leading necessarily to atheism (atheism in this case as inspiring disbelief in the Greek pantheon, i.e. the rationalists after all explained that volcanoes didn’t blow up because gods were angry but it was a reflection of some sort of natural, observable, definable process). So these rationalists were eventually supplanted because they were irreligious; and, I think, you’re sort of right when you observed the scientific enterprise “needed monotheism” to come to be, e.g. it was the Catholic Church that established the university system in northern Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries that eventually gave us the renaissance, reformation and Enlightenment/scientific revolution; the Church didn’t intend for these changes to occur; however, however, interesting things happen when you grant genuine intellectuals the freedom to inquire and study; it was also the Catholic Church that destroyed the library of Alexandria in the5th century in an effort to stamp out the so-called heresies of Thales, Democritus; it was a science hating Christian mob that murdered Hypatia (the last curator of the library). Hypatia made many enemies when she asserted that all formal dogmatic religious are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final.

Andrei further observed: “This is because monotheism gave society the confidence that inquiries and discoveries are repeatable, and that real laws can be discovered with certain implications.”
Actually, the way I’ve heard this articulated is that the Christian-Judeo worldview sponsored the notion started by the Greeks that truth was knowable, objective, and could be articulated. You don’t need monotheism for this philosophical underpinning of science. You just need rationalism and the pagan Greeks had it first.

My Facebook Memories for November 18th

Here’s something a little less serious and maybe a little more humorous. My Facebook memories for November 18th from 2012 through to 2017.

Edified by My Cat
Edified by my cat. She was banging at the deck door where the neighbor’s cat stood mocking her silently. My kitty was banging the door in an attempt to tear it off its hinges. The other cat just sat there all Charlie Chaplin-like. So I ran to the deck with a toy light saber in hand, opened the door, and chased the interloper away. My cat followed me out peering defiantly in to the darkness in a posture akin to one held by someone saying to themselves, “That’s what I thought.” She followed me back in. I sat down with my laptop to continue working. Then she jumped up on my computer, looked at the deck door, looked at me, back at the deck door and then hissed. She snuggled me a minute as if to say “You done good” (my cat has terrible grammar).


Strange Dreams

I had the weirdest dream last night. Picture this, Mr. Freud. A subtle, in so far as I can tell, unwritten Radiohead song (strong acoustic and drum presence) playing in the background. I am a female, East-Indian physics student at a university during the Apocalypse, e.g. riots, chaos, etc. During one of the stranger conversations I had with my female colleagues I quoted some fictitious physicist saying, “Purity in the theories of physics is not limited by physics but by our DNA.”

Is that what it’s like for females all of the time?

Losing My Religion
Teaching my kids catechism tonight. My son Alec observes the following during the group conversation:

Alec: dad.
Me: yes Alec?
Alec: [alluding to a previous discussion we had concerning the uncertainty of “Heaven’s direction” (90 degrees up from wherever you happen to be standing on Earth) making the direction of Heaven to an Australian the complete opposite to that of a Canadian] you know how all our “ups” are different but everyone’s “down” leads to the same place?
Me: yes?
Alec: we at least know where one place is…

If You Seek Wisdom Drop Your Opinions

The Buddha observed that if you seek wisdom you should drop your opinions. Experience has taught me an additional truth: if you seek wisdom develop your capacity to empathize, perceive and see issues from someone else’s point of view. Specifically, just because an idea or issue isn’t important to you (or doesn’t affect you directly) this doesn’t mean that that idea isn’t worthy of consideration or that the issue isn’t important in principle.

Too many of us, without even realizing it, think and operate from a narrow position of egocentrism or self-interest; we think we’re informed, and we hold strong opinions, but–instead of seeing the 1s and 0s that make-up reality like Neo from The Matrix–we are ultimately just making things up as we go along. We are being arbitrary. This kind of thinking follows the formula: if I don’t personally approve of X, or if I don’t like X, I appeal to a combination of my dislike, and fundamental ignorance, as a sort of evidence in support of my opinion on X. The problem, though, is your like or dislike has absolutely nothing to do with anything whatsoever.

I’ll explain.

I make mistakes in reasoning all of the time. I know for a fact I reach conclusions without having all the necessary information or without taking time for proper consideration. So why, I wonder, should I ever hold an opinion or view so strongly I am unwilling to change my mind? Moreover, should my experience ever be the standard by which everything else and everyone else is measured? I’m thinking, no.  I understand people are going to form opinions (that’s inevitable). Yet, isn’t it possible to form more thoughtful, nuanced, and principled opinions? I think so. But we must practice more empathy and more humility. We have to drop some of our opinions.

Former American Vice-President Dick Cheney was an outspoken opponent of the LGBTQ community for decades. Then, suddenly, he changed his mind…when his daughter came out as a lesbian. Now he supports gay rights. Gay rights are human rights. Women’s rights are human rights. The rights of people of color are human rights. Rights don’t just belong to my tribe. Cheney should’ve supported gay people, not because his daughter is gay (and he is now personally affected), but because reasonable people should seek to operate from a consistent set of principles and beliefs. If you do otherwise, you are just making stuff up as you go and living incoherently (worse still you’re imposing your incoherence on others).

 

According to the Buddha, when we form opinions we are creating not discovering reality. We construct a narrative that both makes sense to us personally and which agrees with whatever political culture we just so happen to belong to by the accident of our birth. Arguably, we need to create meaning; doing so helps us navigate and make sense of the world; nevertheless, in the process of creating meaning we would do well to avoid becoming a sort Dr. Frankenstein giving life to a monster (an opinion) reflecting our vanity on to an unwitting world; rather, we have a certain ethical responsibility to ourselves and others to think and contemplate well; and, if you can, give life to opinions reflecting principles that are self-evidently true rather than to ones satisfying the need to win arguments or mock others. In the end, there’s more that links us than separates. Perhaps if we forget some of the things we were taught, or that we’ve taught ourselves, we can in principle work towards building better and happier communities.