Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

November 7, 2009

A Different Response to Virginia O’Hanlon

Filed under: culture, science — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 11:04 am

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET

Virginia, your little friends are right. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe on faith. They do not blindly trust stories that don’t comport with their daily experience. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insignificant spec, as compared with the incomprehensibly vast universe we inhabit, but we struggle to comprehend what we can, face the unknown, and hold out hope that with honest and brave exploration we can push aside what we might wish were true and come to a better understanding of the way the world actually is.

Yes, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. There is no reason to believe a man in a red suit comes down your chimney to leave you presents for Christmas morning. It is most likely your parents who leave you your presents. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were a Santa Claus. To be subject to constant surveillance and to have an entity with the pretense of objectivity judging children’s morality who apparently bestows the best presents for children of the wealthy while bestowing more deserving children lesser gifts because their family is poor. It would be a world of deep injustice and arbitrary morality by a capricious being.

Believe in Santa Claus! You might as well believe in fairies, Big Foot, homeopathy, astrology, alchemy, and every other woo or contradictory nonsense. There is an asymmetry between proof and disproof. Some will say we cannot disprove Santa Claus, and this is true. Similarly, we cannot disprove that a being exists in the universe such that, if Santa Claus exists, this being would cause the universe to implode. Obviously, Santa Claus and this anti-Santa Claus are mutually contradictory by definition, we cannot disprove either, but at the same time, logic demands that they cannot both be true. So, what is important is not what we cannot disprove but rather the positive, objective evidence we have for believing something is true.

Positive evidence, observation, experimentation, skepticism, logic and reason, these are the tools of science; our candle in the dark. Using these tools makes us truly open-minded, for it let’s us accept new ideas while filtering and discarding bad ones. Faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance all have their place. But, Virginia, when it comes to understanding what is real, science is the undisputed leader.

No Santa Claus! This is merely one conclusion. The conclusion is not the important part, it is allowed to change and refined as one’s understanding develops. What is important is the process. There is no shame in being wrong for the right reasons, perhaps because you were told by someone you trusted. However, there is a shame not being willing to change your mind, or misleading others even if you have noble pretensions about a greater good.

I assure you, there is a grandeur to this scientific view of life; to see the world as it is, instead of how we would like it be. To love the lily for the color it is, as opposed to being so petty as to paint it. With this view, the world can be cold. It can be cruel, but there is a beauty to it that no myth can compare. Men’s imaginations, like our minds are small. There is enough true mystery in the universe, beyond our imagining, to explore for thousands of years, nay ten times ten thousand years. We have little need conceited tales of imagined self-importance. So, go out, explore, there is a whole universe waiting to be understood.

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September 14, 2009

The Strange Case of Robert Wright

Filed under: culture, religion — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 9:36 am

Robert Wright is a journalist and co-founder of Bloggingheads.tv Bloggingheads.tv is a site that hosts webcam discussions between public intellectuals. Recently, there has been a minor exodus of science luminaries (Sean Carroll, Carl Zimmer, P.Z. Myers, Phil Plait) because Bloggingheads.tv hosted discussions with Paul Nelson, a young earth creationist, and Michael Behe, a proponent of Intelligent Design, which led to a falling out.

On an appearance on the Colbert Report, Wright refused to call himself an atheist, but also stated he didn’t believe in the “Abrahamic” faiths, or any claims of special revelation. He stated that he thought that there could be a larger moral purpose unfolding on earth.

On the Report, Wright was pitching his new book “The Evolution of God.” Jerry Coyne has a lengthy review in “The New Republic.” Wright has also written a response to the Coyne’s critique.

After I read the review I thought the book was merely wrong. After reading the response, it appears to be something worse, clouded. As Coyne puts it in the end of his review:

It is remarkable that a book called The Evolution of God can be so pusillanimous, so dodgy, about the question of whether or not there is a God. Surely the question of God’s existence is the fulcrum upon which any discussion of God must rest. If the entity in his book’s title does not exist, then his book is much, much less than it purports to be. But Wright is content with waffling, and with guarded speculation. When he finally comes to the big question–is there in fact a God who is pulling humanity toward morality?–he suddenly becomes humble and retiring.

But the most damning is Wrights own admission near the end of his response:

Well, (1) I’m only talking about progress along one dimension—a growing circle of moral inclusion, even across ethnic and national bounds, that is visible in most places across millennia, though not necessarily across decades or even centuries. This is the progress that Peter Singer documented in his book The Expanding Circle, that Steven Pinker has noted and theorized about, and that many other thinkers acknowledge as well.

What falsifiable claim is Wright making here? I can’t find one. Singer and Pinker explain moral progress as expanding the realm of moral consideration. For example, the difference between vegetarians and non-vegetarians usually revolves around whether non-human animals are worthy of moral consideration. For the militantly omnivorous, the answering is an absolute “no” which usually manifests itself in the form of “animals are tasty.” But what is Wright’s claim? Nationalism and ethnic prejudice are in decline?

One of the things that makes this claim so meaningless is the timescale. Wright demands that we have to look at it in terms of millennia. But the topic under discussion is “Abrahamic” faiths. So for Christianity we’d have two data points, Islam, even less. Judaism may give us several but it is not missionary, there is little to no focus on conversion.

Wright is conflating an empirical fact teleological purpose. There has been moral progress. This moral progress is manifestly due to expanding spheres of moral consideration. However, it is also historically contingent. That is, early Christianity represented a giant leap backwards. Polytheistic religions lend themselves to pluralism more easily than monotheistic ones do.

Wright seems to admit as much. From his response:

An ethical decline in the transition from polytheism to monotheism is contrary to my view? I encourage Professor Coyne to dip into chapters 6 and 7, “From Polytheism to Monolatry” and “From Monolatry to Monotheism.” The core argument is that ancient Israel moved from a polytheism that reflected a tolerant cosmopolitanism (sponsored by kings with internationalist foreign policies) to a monotheism that was, at its birth during the Babylonian exile, belligerent and retributive (and whose emergence had been abetted by highly nationalist kings, notably the brutally authoritarian Josiah). I expressly dismiss (p. 173) the view that monotheism was “morally universalistic from its birth,” saying, “a candid reading of exilic texts leads to a less heartwarming conclusion—that the universalism present at monotheism’s birth may not deserve the qualifier ‘moral.’” I add, “If you look at the earliest biblical texts that plainly declare the arrival of monotheism and you ask which of their various sentiments seems to most directly motivate that declaration, the answer would seem closer to hatred than to love, closer to retribution than to compassion. To the extent that we can tell, the one true God—the God of Jews, then of Christians, and then of Muslims—was originally a god of vengeance.”

Doesn’t that directly undermine his thesis? I don’t hold out any hope of Wright admitting this since it obviously didn’t occur to him when he wrote it. The truth is his thesis appears to be so nebulous that it can’t be meaningfully contradicted. It is surprising that people can apparently write over 500 pages of this kind of drivel. Although, I guess it should be more surprising that more people buy it. To paraphrase Mark Twain, it seems that books should accomplish something and arrive somewhere. When they fail to do so, they commit a literary offence.

Which brings us to another point, is it mere coincidence that Wright presents such muddled thinking in his book and his promotion of creationist garbage on Bloggingheads.tv? When you are not clear-thinking, does that have a pernicious effect on your acceptance of other wafflers? I think a stronger case could be made for this than anything Wright proffers in “The Evolution of God.”

May 11, 2009

How Can One Take Terry Eagleton Seriously?

Filed under: books, culture, religion — Tags: — codesmithy @ 10:21 am

Terry Eagleton has a new book called “Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate.” Eagleton is a literature professor and Marxist. So, it comes as a little bit of a surprise that he seeks to defend the theory and practice of religion against its contemporary critics. Nevermind that Marx said religion was the “opiate” of the people and Marx’s philosophy is fundamentally atheistic; it was supposed to be scientific and utopian after all.

What Eagleton represents is someone who embraces the communist caricature of Marxism, a political movement which invented its own mysticism in the guise of dialectic materialism and became a secular equivalent to a toxic religion. Eagleton is a person who sees Jesus as some kind of proto-Marxist. In other words, a man who can only see things as he wishes them to be, not as they are.

Hence, we are faced with the Eagleton conundrum: the only way to protect one’s own irrational dogma is to protect them all. Unfortunately, the insanity of such an endeavor quickly manifests itself in obvious ways, as Eagleton does in his book, conflating Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins into the malevolent spirit he christens “Ditchkins.” Any serious discussion of Eagleton ends with the discovery of this delusional fantasy. Eagleton is no longer arguing against real critics of religion, he is arguing against chimeras of his own imagination.

One might complain about the supposed school-yard mentality of Dawkins and Hitchens. Don’t they know God can be the first cause because He (and it is almost invariably a He despite the fact that there seems to be no good reason why God would have genitalia if He was the only God) is eternal? No, because this issue has never been adequately met by theologians or apologists despite their sophistry and centuries to come up with a satisfactory answer. A theistic God, by definition, must be incredibly complex being and capable of observing, recognizing and resolving issues of unimaginable complexity.

Sure, a theistic God could explain the universe, but it falls well short of a good explanation for the following reason: however unlikely we find the possibility that the universe itself just came into existence by itself, we must admit that possibility that a complex God just popped into existence, or more unfathomably is eternal, and then created the universe is more improbable, and by a considerable degree.

From watching a one of Eagleton’s Yale lectures, it is obvious that he is not defending anything similar to Christianity as laymen practice it. Hence, having Eagleton defend religion is like having Michael Ruse defend science, one is never quite sure they get it. I have a hard time telling what distinction Eagleton would make between God and the numinous. It is quite possible he sees them as one in the same, but stripping the superstition out of religion is not a concession most believers are willing to make.

Eagleton makes the claim that God is not a Yeti. Yes, yetis aren’t invisible, aren’t able to read your thoughts, aren’t immortal, aren’t capable of altering natural laws of the universe, won’t convict you of thought crime, won’t punish you even after you die and don’t have a strange fetish about foreskins.

What Eagleton is clearly engaging in here is the time honored tradition of sophistry. He bemoans Dawkins running around in Oxford circles, and Hitchens in Washington, while simultaneously publishing a book based on lectures he gave at Yale. Yale! When Eagleton starts giving lectures at the atheist equivalents of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, next-door to Liberty University, or the University of Nebraska when resolutions are being drafted against him, then Eagleton will have a leg to stand on. Eagleton’s faux-populist appeal against the supposed elitism of atheists is only effective with a particular brand of unreflective, deluded hypocrites like Eagleton and students at Yale who are well on their way to being crafted in the mould of one of their famous alumni, George W. Bush.

Thus we reach an inescapable conclusion that Eagleton is a coward, a sophist, and a deluded hypocrite. He exists in a fog, with a mind addled by the over-study of pointless subjects. I can only hope he finds the good sense to actually listen and learn, so he might produce something of productive value to our species instead of retarding it by continuing to muddy the intellectual waters.

April 16, 2009

Challenge Accepted

Filed under: culture, religion — codesmithy @ 6:27 am

A commenter calling himself Will left the following message:

Guys, just take a look around us…I challenge you to take an honest look at the evidence for evolution, an honest look at the evidence for a worldwide flood, the fulfilled prophecy of the old testament, just because there are many “religions” does not mean that Jesus is not the savior of the world…God does not want our religion, he wants our hearts!

I accept this challenge, although I already find it a little bit insulting.  I have looked at the evidence for evolution, a global flood, and the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and have apparently come to the exact opposite set of conclusions the commenter has.

Evolution has been proved, to the extent that any scientific theory can be proved, well beyond any reasonable doubt.  Read Jerry A. Coyne’s book “Why Evolution is True” for an outline.  But, some of the evidence that supports evolution include: the fossil record, atavisms, the flaws in our body plan (vestigial organs like the appendix, causes of back-pain, blind spots, hiccups), the patterns we find in biodiversity with respect to geography, none of which are explained by young earth creationism.

A global flood is completely unsupported by any credible physical evidence.  Since a global flood would presumably leave some traces behind, any story of a global flood is almost certainly false beyond a reasonable doubt.

As for the fulfilled prophecy, this would be strong evidence in favor of Christianity if the predictions were specific, falsifiable and otherwise inexplicable.  Similarly, if praying to one God versus another God or Gods or not praying at all really did cause significantly better outcomes for patients recovering from heart surgery (beyond that which can be explained by placebo), this would be evidence for the power of prayer.  That said, such studies have been done and they have found that prayers have no effect.  Which I think illustrates the fundamental difference between free thinkers such as myself and believers, I accept facts like these and try to modify my beliefs accordingly.  The religious hem and haw, engage in apologetics and generally just stick their head in the sand and drag their feet.

As for Biblical prophecy, Jim Lippard gives a good explanation as to why some atheists, myself included, find the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy to be so un-compelling.

Will is correct though.   The presence of other religions of the world does not imply Christianity is false.  However, these religions make contradictory claims so they all can’t be true.  Thus, the inescapable conclusion is that a good portion of the people on the planet must be deluded when it comes to their religious beliefs.  The question is: what evidence do you have to show that you are not one of the deluded ones?

Some evidence that you might want to consider on answering the question to whether or not you are deluded is if you are rejecting the conclusions of people who clearly are more expert that yourself in demonstrable areas.  Science has proven itself to be the objective leader in improving our understanding about the universe we inhabit.  I, quite literally, owe my life to science.  My father had an appendicitis in college which was long before he met my mother.  In earlier generations, such an infection would have been fatal, but thanks to antibiotics and modern medicine he survived.  This ignores all the countless ways science has improved quality of my life, from the food I eat, to the water I drink, to the books I read, to the computer I use, to the car I drive, etc.  As such, I feel no luxury to pick and choose which parts of science I accept and those that I reject when such conclusions are based on the same method and doing so would be based on mere convenience.  Similarly, I wouldn’t feel the luxury to pick and choose which parts of the Bible I would have to follow if I were to believe it was the inspired word of God and Jesus was his only son while simultaneously being God.  So, tell me, do you save?  Do you think about the future?  Do you love your enemies?  If I were to hit you, would you honestly turn the other cheek?  Do you really think it is ethical to live your life by such teachings?   Do you honestly aspire to?

For Will particularly, the IP address he sent this message from was the United States Air Force Academy.  Do you honestly see no incompatibility to the teachings of the savior you proclaim to follow and your actions?  If not, then please tell me, who would Jesus bomb?

April 7, 2009

On Distancing One’s Self from the “New Atheists”

Filed under: culture, media, religion — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 8:44 am

The concern-trolling, many-truths Madeleine Bunting takes another opportunity to complain about those loud and certain new atheists.  Bunting apparently finds them as annoying as the fundamentalists.  

In a way, I wish Bunting were a pastor.  When I went to church growing up, we sang songs about how much Jesus loved us and how one would know it (it’s in the Bible in case you couldn’t guess).  We also sang about Noah’s flood during Bible camp.  Now, I grew up in Western Michigan, which is conservative but I didn’t consider the church radical.  We were Methodists afterall.  It is odd that no one mentioned the fact that there is actually no evidence for Noah’s flood or that rainbows are caused by white light separating out into different wave lengths.  It is one thing to say that Noah’s flood should be given the same status as Santa Claus from the luxury of an ivory tower, but doubting the supposedly divinely inspired word of God when no one in your culture does  is another.

Case in point, when I was in elementary school I knew the basics of sexual reproduction even if I didn’t know the exact mechanics.  The one thing I did know is that it took a male and a female.  So, we apply this rule and try to make it jive with the creation story of Adam and Eve.  Adam and Eve begat Cain and Abel.  Cain kills Abel.  Now what?  Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had stumbled upon the wife of Cain problem.  I asked my parents and they told me to ask our pastor, which I did.  Now here is a quiz for Ms. Bunting.  Did the pastor tell me a) the story can’t be taken literally or b) there were other people contemporaneous with Cain?  

If Bunting chose option a, she would be wrong.  He told me there were other people that God apparently created.  This should not surprise anyone.  This is how religion behaves.  Sure, the theologian may defend God as a transcendent purpose and a vague intellectual absolute when debating with atheist, but know, in the churches there is no hint, absolutely no indication, that anything you are told shouldn’t be taken as if it were the literal truth especially when a child asks an honest question.  How else could a child interpret it?  Pastors are authority figures.  It would be one thing if peddling nonsense was limited to just adults.  It is quite another thing when children are the explicit targets.

Here is another case study.  At Christmas, one of my nieces exclaimed “Happy Birthday Jesus” which I took the opportunity to correct.  Christmas is not Jesus’ birthday; it is the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth.  I don’t blame my niece for this misunderstanding.  Generally, we celebrate people’s birth on their birthdays.  It is just in this case, we don’t.  In fact, the best evidence in the Bible suggests Jesus was born in the spring, not during the winter solstice.  So, why do we celebrate Jesus. birth during the winter solstice?  This isn’t a question I should have to answer.  It is one that any intellectually honest person in a church should at least mention during Sunday school or at least give some hint of future revelation.  Instead, we see the clergy carefully construct sentences that give no hint of the underlying history which they know or should know.  This is not coincidence, and the reason it will never happen is transparent: it is inconvenient.

It is easier for the church to act as if the creation story, the virgin birth, walking on water, water into wine, Noah’s flood, Jonah’s fish adventure, etc. are true than to defend their obvious nonsense.  Who is to blame when someone calls the church on its misleading duplicity?  According to Blunting, the blame belongs to the new atheists and their certainty.

It is telling that Blunting is never specific about what the new atheists are so certain about.  Dawkins rates the probability of their being a theistic god at approximately the same probability there are fairies under the garden.  From the evidence I’ve seen, I concur with that assessment.  Now, I am willing to change my mind if compelling evidence to contrary appears.  Dawkins has previously stated his commitment to do the same.  But given the claims are so extraordinary, it would require evidence many times greater than that for evolution, as an example.

For my part, the chain of coincidences would have to be so great it would be more likely that I had gone insane than the existence of Jehovah been proved, that is how deep the gulf that runs between my conception of what a universe would look like if Jehovah actually exists and the one I perceive myself as inhabiting.  It is would also be more probable that I were experiencing an atheistic universe inside a theistic one.  Such notions are a foundation of solipsism, where observable reality plays no role in informing our opinion about the universe we inhabit.  There is nothing we can do to disprove solipsism’s radical skepticism, maybe Blunting is looks forward to the day of when we can get rid of the new atheist’s demands for objective evidence and therefore pontificate indefinitely on various aspects of imagined realities without any hope of resolution.  I have no doubt it is easier for the intellectually lazy to be coddled in unassailable ignorance, but a minority of us see a real virtue in trying to view the world as it really is.

In the same theme, Bart Ehrman takes the opportunity to bash the “new atheists” also

Ehrman – who grew up casually Episcopalian, became a fundamentalist in high school, had his faith eroded by decades of studying the Bible’s textual history and now calls himself a “happy agnostic“– seems to be riding the same anti-religion wave that has swept Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens onto the best-seller list and late-night talk shows. But he says that while they share some readers, he tries to distance himself from the so-called new atheists.

“They seem to understand so little about religion,” he told me in a telephone interview. “If somebody attacked science with as little knowledge, they’d be laughed off the map.”

First of all, people attack the theory of evolution and therefore science (because it was discovered using the same method) with considerably less knowledge than any of the “new atheists” mentioned have towards religion. Far from being laughed off the map, it seems to be a prerequisite to getting one elected to the Texas Board of Education, a large state with a correspondingly large biology textbook market where standards they adopt become the de facto standards for many other states. This is a real struggle that has real implications for what children are taught in the biology classroom.

Either Ehrman is saying that the “new atheists” are more ignorant about religion than creationists who attack evolution (keep in mind, Kirk Cameron thinks you should be able to find a chimeran “crocaduck ” because birds and reptiles share a common ancestor and that banana’s are an atheist worst nightmare in spite of hundreds of years of cultivation and selective breeding) or we don’t laugh people off the map according to the criteria Ehrman supposes.

I can’t say that I’m that surprised this is how certain segments of the media portray the “new atheists,” the people with the sheer audacity to challenge establishment views and institutions with clarity and honesty. The central problem religion posses is that we leave our collective moral authority to the prejudices of illiterate goat herders. No matter how benign religion may become, the danger still lurks. All it takes is one charismatic person to look at the text and say, “we have been doing this all wrong, look at what it says right here.” Such people are impossible to deal with on a religious level, because once you accept the fact that the Bible is the infallible, or at least inspired, word of God all else follows. The only way to refute it is to reject the premise. This is something, by definition, a religious believer refuses to do.   Avoiding religious radicalism in the future means fostering secularism today. This is something that all the “new atheists” seem to understand, although apparently lost on Bunting and Ehrman.

December 31, 2008

Harold Pinter

Filed under: culture, history, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:19 am

Harold Pinter was a playwright and critic of United States foreign policy.  In 2005, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Above is his acceptance speech.  Democracy Now! had excerpts on their December 30th show, but the whole speech is interesting in its own right (from outlining the process he used to write plays to giving a passionate defense of the Sandinista government).  

Pinter passed away Decemember 24th, 2008.

September 3, 2008

Reflections on the Bristol Palin Fiasco

Filed under: culture, politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 9:55 am

The Internet was buzzing with rumors this weekend that Bristol Palin was the actual mother of Trig Palin, Sarah Palin’s fifth child.

Fueling the rumors was this photoHowever, this story also with a photo is the most convincing, clinching that Sarah Palin is actually the mother of Trig.  Everything else, as it turns out, is just coincidence.  Therefore, I feel obligated to preface any comment on this story by saying Bristol is not the mother of Trig, Sarah is.

Now from the you-can’t-make-this-up department, the McCain campaign countered these “vicious” rumors, not with a photo of Sarah being clearly pregnant, but by saying that Bristol can’t be the mother because she is currently 5 months pregnant, and pointing out that Trig is four months old.

This leaves me sort of dumbfounded on exactly what was so “vicious” about the rumors then.  Let’s say for the sake of argument that the rumors were right (which they aren’t) and that Sarah Palin was covering for her daughter.  Is that so horrible?  When I think about it, there is a part of me that finds it admirable that a mother would make that type of sacrifice for her daughter.  Really, who is hurt? Who is worse off?

Ok, ok, it is based on a deception and lying is bad.  Worse than Santa, the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny?  Worse than telling your kid that the Earth is only 6,000 years old?  Worse than telling your kid that they will burn in Hell for all eternity if they don’t open their heart to your particular brand of religion?  Worse than denying anthropomorphic global climate change? Worse than burdening them with more debt to China? Worse than continuing a disastrous war that was based on bad information?  Worse than endorsing ignorance as the preferred method of preventing teenage pregnancy?

Hey, at least Sarah is the mother of Trig.  Although, I’m personally finding broad ignorance a whole lot more terrifying than petty deception.

September 2, 2008

Amy Goodman Arrested at RNC

Filed under: culture, politics, protest — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 8:39 am

Amy Goodman, award-winning journalist and host of Democracy Now!, was arrested at the Republican National Convention on Monday.

According to the Washington Post, Goodman has been released.

Goodman’s arrest is the culmination of a long series of events leading up to the RNC.  The FBI attempted to infiltrate “vegan potlucks” back in MarchThen there were a series of preemptive raids the weekend before the RNC.  Finally, we are seeing an escalation of mass arrest tactics used at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York.

It is usually shrill hyperbole to call the United States a police state.  However, if what is happening in the Twin Cities does not constitute a police state, then what does?

Arresting journalists is a typical tactic of third-world dicatorships.  Now we are seeing it imported.

Glenn Greenwald has more.

August 24, 2008

The Genius of Richard Dawkins

Filed under: culture, science — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:53 am

Richard Dawkins finished up the series The Genius of Charles Darwin for Channel 4 and various youtube can be tracked down for those interested in watching.  In the series, Richard Dawkins takes some jabs at the god hypothesis.  I don’t agree with Dawkins on everything.  His attitude towards the science teachers seemed a little harsh.  I highly doubt a science teacher in the United Kingdom are tenured.  As a student of evolution, he should be adept at recognizing aspects of the environment that favor the behavior the teachers exhibited.

Nevertheless, Richard Dawkins is an unreasonable man.  It is part of what makes him great.  His goal is not to adapt himself to the world he finds himself in, but rather to change the way the world thinks.

Dawkins is simply uncompromising when it comes truth we see with our own eyes.  Science demands skepticism, it encourages us to ask questions and provides a way, albeit meticulous, to answer them.  Dawkins finds it positively insulting for someone to deny the evidence for evolution, as well he should.  People who deny the evidence for evolution should be considered more fringe than those who deny the evidence for the Holocaust on any objective scale.

It has been said that science is friend that sometimes tells you inconvenient truths.  Dawkins, as a scientific man, embodies that ethos.  Much like his atheism, he just takes it a step further.  He will not allow people to believe a lie.  He rails against the relativism of the age and the moral turpitude it betrays in his colleagues.  Science isn’t the esoteric knowledge confined to privledged elites in ivory towers.  It is to be shared, and if people don’t believe it, then they should be challenged until they relent.

Humanity can simply no longer survive the combination of genius working to make tools to kill one another and the supreme lack of sense to use them.   Evolution is central to understanding there is no savior.  We make our own beds in which we will lie.  Believing the untrue but comforting is a recipe for disaster.  Thank goodness for people like Dawkins to wake us from our delusion; the best type of friend there is.

August 20, 2008

Jared Diamond: Collapse Lecture

Filed under: culture, environment, history — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:42 am

Jared Diamond gives a lecture about his book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.”  Choose is probably too strong a word.  As Rush put it in their song “Freewill”:

If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice

The underlying point is that Malthusian catastrophes have already occured on small scales.  There are finally enough of us to accomplish disaster on a global scale.  The elephant in the room is population.  We can choose humanely and preserve human dignity and quality of life through zero population growth (although even this may entail some reduction in resource usage) or we can let the catastrophe choose for us.

Diamond asks what did the last Eastern Islander say when they chopped down the last tree?  It is a failure of imagination to think they did so out of stubborness, invoking property rights and such.  When it came down to one tree, the disaster was already upon them.  He/she probably saw no other option.  The society didn’t address the issue until it was too late to do anything about it, at which point they couldn’t.  The destructive spiral was most likely caused by desperation, a vain attempt to stave off the inevitable thus making the problem worse.

Issues, like deforestation, can strike very fast.  Easter Island may have been in a halcyon age right before it met unmitigated disaster.  Nothing is inevitable.  However, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

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