Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Cosmic Heights - Alan Watts, Christopher Hitchens, Stephen Jay Gould

"Sigmund Freud often remarked that great revolutions in the history of science have but one common, and ironic, feature: they knock human arrogance off one pedestal after another of our previous conviction about our own self-importance. The first that we associate with Copernicus, Newton, and Galileo that taught us that we weren't living on the central body of a limited universe. And that Darwin's was the second that taught us that we were not separately created in the image of a benevolent deity, but were part of a history of genealogical connectivity of all living things. Now, in an odd sense, we know how contentious the first revolution was; we know the story of Galileo.
But the way I like to put it, I don't think that revolution was as important as Darwin's, because it's about real estate. The Darwinian revolution is about essence; it's deeper. The Darwinian revolution is about who we are, it's what we're made of, it's what our life means insofar as science can answer that question. "
Stephen Jay Gould

"Now, my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. I have read and heard many attempts at a systematic account of it, from materialism and theosophy to the Christian system or that of Kant, and I have always felt that they were much too simple. I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth that are dreamed of, or can be dreamed of, in any philosophy. That is the reason why I have no philosophy myself, and must be my excuse for dreaming."
John Burden Sanderson Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist. Possible Worlds and other Essays (1927) "Possible Worlds".

"The importance of the Scientific Revolution for philosophy is beyond question. Modern philosophy the work of both rationalists and empiricists would have been impossible without great advances in physics. Analogously, therefore, we could anticipate that the Darwinian Revolution will have important implications for philosophy. Indeed, I would go further and say that we might expect Darwin's work to have even greater implications for philosophy than those of physics. The theory of evolution through natural selection impinges so directly on our own species. It is not just that we are on a speck of dust whirling around in the void but that we ourselves are no more than transformed apes. If such a realization is not to affect our views of epistemology and ethics, I do not know what is. As I said in the Preface, I find it inconceivable that it is irrelevant to the foundations of philosophy whether we are the end result of a slow natural evolutionary process, or made miraculously in Gods own image on a Friday, some 6,000 years ago. "
Dr. Michael Ruse

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Christian Apologetics = Natural Politics & Posturing

"Man is by nature a political animal."

Christian Apologists despite their claim they represent the divine all powerful supernatural God act and argue like the natural beings they are. Christian Apologists are Political Animals. With ad hominems and machismo like declarations "atheists are scared", "atheists owned", "atheists destroyed", "atheists stupid". What you see here is a very political reactionary response to a tribes natural opposition. I see no divine humility or wisdom with the New Christian Apologists and their smug dismissive attitude and posturing.

There is alot of cynical talk of youtube atheism but the average Christian apologist on youtube engages in ego shining and identity politics. Ad hominems are not a good argument but they do make the Christian tribe feel better and help protect the ego from the uncomfortable questions from those with different perspectives. Christianity is a man made religion and its defenders keep underlining that point for us in how they go about defending their God concept.

Where is the humility, kindness, justice and genuine faith in modern Christian Apologetics? It lacks these but it has plenty of pride, sophistry, smugness and indifference.

"Now we see a blurred image in a mirror. Then we will see very clearly. Now my knowledge is incomplete." -The Apostle Paul

Christian Apologists are human mortals with all the limitation, baggage and bias that we all carry. Their knowledge is incomplete. Can they even admit what the Apostle Paul stated? Or are they so invested in protecting their pride and their tribe that they fail to see their own weakness and fragility?

The irony of this argument from Christian apologists who say that there needs to be a higher degree of biblical scholarship before commenting is that most of the Christian beliefs they defend are believed by people who have no such scholarship. IF more Christians studied the Bible at a higher level I think there would be more doubt and less fundamentalism. Is this what christian apologists want? More likely they use it to bully people into silence and obfuscation.

"They muddy the water, to make it seem deep."

"The Excessive importance attached to 'apologetics' is therefore an undeniable proof of the decline of the religious spirit...such apologists themselves furnish the proof of their complete ignorance of the real character of the doctrine whose more or less authorized representatives they believe themselves to be."
René Guénon (The Crisis of the Modern World)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Belief Instinct

"The human mind evolved to believe in the gods. It did not evolve to believe in biology."
E. O. Wilson

"And on the trillionth day, Man created Gods."
T.D. Pate

"I think that we reject the evidence that our world is changing because we are still, as that wonderfully wise biologist E.O. Wilson reminded us, tribal carnivores. We are programmed by our inheritance to see other living things as mainly something to eat, and we care more about our national tribe than anything else. We will even give our lives for it and are quite ready to kill other humans in the cruelest of ways for the good of our tribe. We still find alien the concept that we and the rest of life, from bacteria to whales, are parts of the much larger and diverse entity, the living Earth."
Dr. James Lovelock

Creating Confusion and Eternal Torture for a diluted and unnecessary "free will"

The Christian narrative is that in the beginning was God and he created this whole universe and existence. If this is true then this all powerful God is responsible for the great horror,suffering, and evil in the world. The reply is that God wanted creatures to have free will but this is questionable because at best existence for humans is a mix of deterministic factors as well as their will. So that is not a very fair system. And is there really a clear choice? There are other claims about this God and the Christian narrative must be taken on faith. So the choice is really more like chance.

Also who is responsible for Satan if not God? And this God apparently gave Satan free will so it is not just for humans. Also do humans have free will in heaven? And if they do then it is possible to create a world where humans can live in perfect peace and have free will. So why all the prelude of death, disease, confusion and hell from a perfect Creator? The horrible truth is that for the Christian narrative to be consistent then there is no security in heaven either! In fact one verse in the Book of Revelation talks about a rebellion a thousand years after the return of Jesus. This is the best of all possible worlds? Some new angel may rebel like Lucifer or another Adam and Eve will rebel with their "free will" and we can start the whole confusing mess all over again. Even as a Christian one cannot be secure in future justice and peace because Satan and Sin according to the narrative started from divine perfection and creation!
If God is all good and all powerful it could have created a world where it started and ended with eternal bliss. Boredom not compassion would be the reason for creating a world such as ours. Does not God have free will? Is not God responsible for all things including evil and the suffering in it?

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.
Thomas Jefferson

The tragic history of human civilization and its many competing narratives of meaning...

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægæan, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Matthew Arnold Poem 1867

Pastor Robert Jeffress Sectarian Politics - Christianity as tribal identity

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Pastor Jeffress wallows in logical fallacies. *In logic, an argumentum ad populum (Latin for "appeal to the people") is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or most people believe it.

Christianity is not the oldest religion Pastor Jeffress and was considered a cult to the Pagans and Jews who came before Christianity.

"Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one-half the world fools and the other half hypocrites."
Thomas Jefferson

Article Six of the Constitution states that
"no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

The adulterous connection between church and state... [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Emotional Problem of the Christian Narrative (Why Theodicy Matters)

"As to gods, I have no way of knowing either that they exist or do not exist, or what they are like."
Protagoras ( 5th C. BCE)

The Problem of Evil (Theodicy) carries within it some degree of emotion because it is responding to the rather explicit theological and emotional claims of Christianity.

Christian Apologists like William Lane Craig will assert that those who bring up the problem of evil or other such problems with this Cosmic Drama are engaging in emotion and therefor it is not relevant to his Theology or God concept. But that would only be the case if his God concept was rather abstract and without any specific claims of its own. The moment you move from the Unknown God to the Known God then these claims of the known God can be looked at with a critical eye.

A quick reminder of the revealed God of the Bible:

Matthew 10:29-31New International Version (NIV)
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
This verse alone carries within it specific claims and claims that have an emotional weight with human beings. God is called Father. This Father cares for even birds. This Father knows the very hairs on your head. Be comforted for human beings are worth more than birds.
What specific claims with so much emotional appeal! God as Father is in itself an emotional and theological claim with huge implications to human psychology.

John3:16, 35
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son...The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.
Again the Father loves the world! What we know of human history and natural history is this love? And everything has been placed in the Son's hands. These are huge specific theological claims that are inherently emotional and are problematic when it comes to how human history and natural history have played out. Loving the world and having the world in your hands cannot be ignored if a person really wants to know whether this God makes sense in this world and Universe.

If God is to be understood through nature it is hard to see the Christian God as being conducive with that God construct. Charles Darwin used one family of parasitic wasps as evidence for natural selection, writing to a colleague:
"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars."

"That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes. Which is more likely, that pain and evil are the result of an all-powerful and good God, or the product of uncaring natural forces? The presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection."
Charles Darwin

When these specific attributes of the Creator are brought up then a person should question whether the knowledge of the natural world works well the description of this being. You can call that emotional but it is a rational response to emotional theological claims. It is intellectually dishonest to assert that those who reject these Christian claims are simply being emotional when those who accept these claims are also frail human beings with all the same emotional make up.

Many people are Christians not for Vulcan like logic but because of provincial social reasons that have much to do with psychological and emotional sources. Family bonds, parents, spouses, children, and the community have a great deal of influence on a persons emotional attachment to certain ideologies including Christianity.
Religion takes advantage of our emotions: our guilt, our fear, our solipsism, our shame, and our need for purpose and meaning in this life. The pillars of a human social life are covered with the vines of religious justification: Marriage, birth of a child, and the death of a loved one are infused with religious is this not an emotional advantage for the religious meme.

What could be more comforting to a highly evolved conscious decaying human than security in sex, children, and death? Religion has the emotional advantage par excellence.

In fact the God of the Bible is quite emotional as well. God is loving, merciful, angry, jealous, and gets emotional with the people of Israel many times in the Old Testament. If William Lane Craig is to be critical of all this perceived emotional reaction perhaps he should start with the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is from the imagination of emotional human beings and it shows.

The God of the Bible engages in criminal behavior and that is why it needs Defense Attorney's like William Lane Craig. Excuse it for genocide, creating Satan, sin, death, disease, and rewarding credulity and punishing people with eternal torture for using the brains they had been given. Lawyers for God defend such behavior on theological technicalities.

A Voice, Still Vibrant, Reflects on Mortality

By CHARLES McGRATH (The New York Times)
October 9, 2011

Christopher Hitchens, probably the country’s most famous unbeliever, received the Freethinker of the Year Award at the annual convention of the Atheist Alliance of America here on Saturday. Mr. Hitchens was flattered by the honor, he said a few days beforehand, but also a little abashed. “I think being an atheist is something you are, not something you do,” he explained, adding: “I’m not sure we need to be honored. We don’t need positive reinforcement. On the other hand, we do need to stick up for ourselves, especially in a place like Texas, where they have laws, I think, that if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ you can’t run for sheriff.”

Mr. Hitchens, a prolific essayist and the author of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” discovered in June 2010 that he had Stage 4 esophageal cancer. He has lately curtailed his once busy schedule of public appearances, but he made an exception for the Atheist Alliance — or “the Triple A,” as he called it — partly because the occasion coincided almost to the day with his move 30 years ago from his native England to the United States. He was already in Houston, as it happened, because he had come here for treatment at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he has turned his 12th-floor room into a temporary library and headquarters.

Mr. Hitchens is gaunt these days, no longer barrel-chested. His voice is softer than it used to be, and for the second time since he began treatment, he has lost most of his hair. Once such an enthusiastic smoker that he would light up in the shower, he gave up cigarettes a couple of years ago. Even more inconceivable to many of his friends, Mr. Hitchens, who used to thrive on whiskey the way a bee thrives on nectar, hasn’t had a drink since July, when a feeding tube was installed in his stomach. “That’s the most depressing aspect,” he said. “The taste is gone. I don’t even want to. It’s incredible what you can get used to.”

But in most other respects Mr. Hitchens is undiminished, preferring to see himself as living with cancer, not dying from it. He still holds forth in dazzlingly clever and erudite paragraphs, pausing only to catch a breath or let a punch line resonate, and though he says his legendary productivity has fallen off a little since his illness, he still writes faster than most people talk. Last week he stayed up until 1 in the morning to finish an article for Vanity Fair, working on a laptop on his bedside table.

Writing seems to come almost as naturally as speech does to Mr. Hitchens, and he consciously associates the two. “If you can talk, you can write,” he said. “You have to be careful to keep your speech as immaculate as possible. That’s what I’m most afraid of. I’m terrified of losing my voice.” He added: “Writing is something I do for a living, all right — it’s my livelihood. But it’s also my life. I couldn’t live without it.”

Mr. Hitchens’s newest book, published last month, is “Arguably,” a paving-stone-sized volume consisting mostly of essays finished since his last big collection, “Love, Poverty and War,” which came out in 2004. The range of subjects is typically Hitchensian. There are essays — miniature pamphlets, almost — on political subjects and especially on the danger posed to the West by Islamic terrorism and totalitarianism, a subject that has preoccupied Mr. Hitchens since 2001. But there are just as many on literary figures; there’s a paean to oral sex, and there are little rants about unruly wine waiters, clichés and the misuse of “fuel” as a verb. The book’s epigraph is from Henry James’s novel “The Ambassadors”: “Live all you can: It’s a mistake not to.” And in an introduction Mr. Hitchens writes: “Some of these articles were written with the full consciousness that they might be my very last. Sobering in one way and exhilarating in another, this practice can obviously never become perfected.”

In his hospital room he suggested that an awareness of mortality was useful for a writer but ideally it should remain latent. “I try not to dwell on it,” he said, “except that once in a while I say, O.K., I’m not going to make that joke, I’m not going to go for that chortle. Or if I have to choose between two subjects, I won’t choose the boring one.”

He added, talking about an essay on Philip Larkin that made it into “Arguably”: “I knew the collection was going to come out even if I did not, and I was very pleased when I finished that one, because of the way it ends: ‘Our almost-instinct almost true:/ What will survive of us is love.’ I remember thinking, if that’s the last piece I write, that will do me.” After a moment he went on: “The influence of Larkin is much greater than I thought. He’s perfect for people who are thinking about death. You’ve got that old-line Calvinist pessimism and modern, acid cynicism — a very good combo. He’s not liking what he sees, and not pretending to.”

His main regret at the moment, Mr. Hitchens said, was that while he was keeping up with his many deadlines — for Slate, The Atlantic and Vanity Fair — he didn’t have the energy to also work on a book. He had recently come up with some new ideas about his hero, George Orwell, for example — among them that Orwell might have had Asperger’s — and he said he ought to include them in a revised edition of his 2002 book, “Why Orwell Matters.” He had also thought of writing a book about dying. “It could be called ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting,’ ” he said, laughing.

Turning serious, he said, “I’ve had some dark nights of the soul, of course, but giving in to depression would be a sellout, a defeat.” He added: “I don’t know why I got so sick. Maybe it was the smokes, or maybe it’s genes. My father died of the same thing. It’s pointless getting into remorse.”

On balance, he reflected, the past year has been a pretty good one. He won a National Magazine Award, published “Arguably,” debated Tony Blair in front of a huge audience and added two states to the list of those he has visited. “I lack only the Dakotas and Nebraska,” he said, “though I may not get there unless someone comes up with some ethanol-based cancer treatment in Omaha.”

Mr. Hitchens has an extensive support network that includes his wife, Carol Blue, and his great friends James Fenton and Martin Amis. Mr. Amis is known for being cool and acerbic, but as he kissed and embraced Mr. Hitchens last week, visiting on the way to a literary festival in Mexico, his affection for his friend was unmistakable. “Hitch’s buoyancy is amazing,” he said later. “He has this great love of life, which I rather envy, because I think I may be deficient in that respect. It’s an odd thing to say, but he’s almost like a Tibetan monk. It’s as if he’d become religious.” ***

Geoff Berg:
Though he was asked a variety of questions from the audience, none appeared to elicit more interest than the one asked by eight-year-old Mason Crumpacker, who wanted to know what books she should read. In response, Hitchens first asked where her mother was and the girl indicated that she was siting beside her. He then asked to see them once the presentation was over so that he could give her a list.

As the event drew to a close, Mason and her mom, Anne Crumpacker of Dallas, followed him out. Surrounded by attendees wanting a glance of the famed author, Hitchens sat on a table just outside of the ballroom and spent about 15 minutes recommending books to Mason.

"Christopher Hitchens to 8yearold who asked, "What should I read?" "All the old myths and fairy tales." -- Suzie Harmon on Twitter.

Hitchens’ list of books and authors: Dawkins’ Magic of Reality, Greek and Roman myths, particularly those compiled by Robert Graves, anything satirical by Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, PG Wodehouse (“for fun”), David Hume, and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Laughing Lions - Skepticism & Stoicism

"Great is he, who conquers the frightful. Sublime is he, who, while succumbing to it, fears it not."
Philosopher Schiller

"The art of living well and the art of dying well are one."

The Courage to Be and the Courage not to Be.

"To take into the inmost shrine of the soul the irresistible forces whose puppets we seem to be -- Death and change, the irrevocableness of the past, and the powerlessness of man before the blind hurry of the universe from vanity to vanity -- to feel these things and know them is to conquer them."
Bertrand Russell

A young shepherd I saw, writhing, gagging, in spasms, his face distorted, and a heavy black snake hung out of his mouth. Had I ever seen so much nausea and pale dread on one face? He seemed to have been asleep when the snake crawled into his throat, and there bit itself fast. My hand tore at the snake and tore in vain; it did not tear the snake out of his throat. Then it cried out of me; "Bite! Bite its head off! Bite!" Thus it cried out of me — my dread, my hatred, my nausea, my pity, all that is good and wicked in me cried out of me with a single cry.

The shepherd, however, bit as my cry counseled him; he bit with a good bite. Far away he spewed the head of the snake — and he jumped up. No longer shepherd. no longer human — one changed, radiant, laughing! Never yet on earth has a human being laughed as he laughed! O my brothers, I heard a laughter that was no human laughter; and now a thirst gnaws at me, a longing that never grows still. My longing for this laughter gnaws at me; oh, how do I bear to go on living! And how could I bear to die now!
Nietzsche - Thus Spoke Zarathustra

"The Vision and the Riddle" ends with a shocking scene where Zarathustra comes upon a shepherd with a snake in his throat. The snake--"the heaviest and the blackest"--could symbolize the choking effects of the slave morality, and, as my students have suggested, the snake's head, which Zarathustra exhorts the shepherd to bite off, could represent the Christian God himself. At the passionate urging of Zarathustra, the shepherd does decapitate the snake and is immediately transformed: "No longer shepherd, no longer human--one changed, radiant, laughing . . . a laughter that was no human laughter."95 After the death of God, there is only eternal recurrence, and this "cosmic" laughter of Hesse's immortals is the only proper emotional response to such a meaningless existence. As Graham Parkes says: "laughter [is] an often necessary concomitant of insight into the way things are."

Cosmic laughter is different from the laughter of the child who is the only being capable of loving herself and embracing every moment without any awareness of the terror of the inevitable return of many similar moments. Cosmic laughter is instead the "Olympian laughter" of the "deeply wounded,"97 those, like Nietzsche, who have suffered greatly, who know eternal recurrence as an "abysmal thought," but who still realize that they must embrace it with a child's acceptance. It is the laughter of the lion, who has come home to Zarathustra's mountain retreat resigned to the futility of all his Nay-saying and protesting-- in short, a reformed Titan.98 It is also the laughter of the Daoist sage or Zen master who says "Yes" to anything and everything in the universe, even though at its core it is a faceless hundun.
Excerpted from N. F. Gier, Spiritual Titanism: Indian, Chinese, and Western Perspectives

Religion has been a positive force in culture?

Debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dr. Barry Brummett (Chair, Department of Communication Studies, University of Texas at Austin) on the resolution "Religion has been a positive force in culture," June 4, 2011.

The Shield of Skepticism (The Danger is Fanaticism, Servility, Credulity)

"In the affairs of this world, men are saved not by faith, but by the lack of it."
Benjamin Franklin

It has been said as a rule that those selling the advice often profit more than those buying the advice. This can be applied to some financial advisers but all you have to do is go to the televangelist church parking lots and see the preachers expensive cars versus the flocks vehicles. The poor giving to the rich for misleading advice is part of society. When it comes to prosperity tv preachers, get rich schemes and books, or those in positions of self proclaimed authority this is often the case and it is why the shield of skepticism and doubt combined with the sword of reason and free inquiry are the weapons to fight off this lazy numb servitude to the superfluous and sophomoric pushers of false status. Who benefits? The saying goes, “it all depends on whose ox is being gored.”

The advice of authority or those who claim authority usually benefits those in authority. Obey my law, pay me, give me, trust me, and somehow all this servitude will benefit you. The divine right of kings, the pope is infallible, the teacher never makes mistakes and other platitudes based on titles are empty without the respect of reason and common sense. The shield of skepticism is of more value than the shield of faith because one gives you the protection against charlatans, con artists, demagogues and authoritarians of all stripes and the other makes you more likely to become a victim of the former and succumb to these vultures who feast on the naive and the gullible. In a world such as ours skepticism is a virtue and faith is a vice.

The Pope's comments:

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a "reductive vision of the person and his destiny"... Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well

The Nazi regime also hated academics and intellectuals...Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Voltaire, Einstein...are these Skeptics of Christianity Nazis in waiting? Was Socrates, Epicurus, Lucretius,Democritus and Democratic Athens blessed by the Church?
There is a problem with generalizations and ignoring the ambiguities and complexities of history as the Pope does here. It was not Nazi Atheism that was the problem it was the Nazi thirst for power and those willing to worship power. That impulse is universal in humans and is also in the history of the Church.

It's what the Philosopher Bertrand Russell called "The cruel thirst for worship."

The Church is made of humans of course...humans that carry the same weaknesses of any other group. It is not atheism that is the problem but the lack of vigilant skepticism of human power whatever the form. The Nazis were not all Atheists by any extent some of the Nazis were Catholic and when one studies the rise of Fascism in Catholic Italy in the 20's with Mussolini the Authoritarianism and anti-communism of the Church helped out Fascism. Hitler was inspired by Fascist Italy. If you want to connect atheism and Nazism you would also have to connect the Church to Fascism. Is that the kind of generalization the Pope wants?
Who supported Franco and Fascist Spain? Franco was raised a devote Catholic. There is much literature on Anti-Semitism and some of its roots can be traced to Christian reactionaries towards Jews. Shall one blame Christianity for the Holocaust on that variable alone?
Shall one generalize all priests as pedophiles? The horrors of World War II cannot be laid at atheists in general. Humans and their will to power and lack of skepticism is the problem and that includes the Church as well.
It reminds one of the Tea Party types and their distrust of Big Government only. As if government is the only form of abuse. History has a warning for Big Church and Big Business as well.
On Christianity and the English people again it is a more complex history. It is not always a good influence considering the religious wars and corruption that is part of the history. To be steeped in history is to go beyond Christianity and to study the philosophy and democracy of Greece. As well as the Republic of Pagan Rome. Democracy came from Ancient Pagan Greece.

"What Athens was in miniature America will be in magnitude. The one was the wonder of the ancient world; the other is becoming the admiration of the present."
Thomas Paine, Rights of Man

The Pagan Roman Republic was an inspiration for the American Experiment. George Washington was the Roman leader Cincinnatus not the King of a theocratic State.The Renaissance was inspired by Pagan Greek and Roman ideas. Christianity cannot claim it was the only influence in the Western world. There are deeper roots that are in Ancient Greece and Rome that the Church had nothing to do with. The Catholic Church would appreciate that people do not generalize the Church and is seen with complexity and not demonized as pedophiles and crusaders. But the Church should have some reciprocity and not be simplistic and ignore history's complexity with its criticisms of atheism. Skepticism of human power whatever the claim whether divine or secular is important in keeping a vigilant guard of human liberty.

"What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not."

James Madison, American President & a Constitutional Founding Father

"In fact it is comfortable to see the standard of reason at length erected, after so many ages during which the human mind has been held in vassalage by kings, priests, and nobles."
Thomas Jefferson letter to James Madison, December 16, 1786

"In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot.... they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind"
- March 17, 1814

"As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us."
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, Oct. 31, 1819

Water, Life, Change

"everything is in flux and nothing abides;
everything flows and nothing stays fixed;
everything is constantly changing and nothing stays the same"

Infinity Water - Case Study from KORB on Vimeo.

A mandala is a sacred geometric figure that represents the universe. The traditional Tibetan sand mandala, when completed, is deliberately destroyed. The sand is poured into a nearby stream or river to distribute the positive energies it contains. This ritual reminds those who painstakingly constructed the mandala of the central Buddhist teaching of the impermanence of all things.

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
― Siddhartha Gautama

Friday, October 7, 2011

What does it feel like to fly over Planet Earth

A time-lapse taken from the front of the International Space Station as it orbits our planet at night. This movie begins over the Pacific Ocean and continues over North and South America before entering daylight near Antarctica. Visible cities, countries and landmarks include (in order) Vancouver Island, Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Phoenix. Multiple cities in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. Mexico City, the Gulf of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, El Salvador, Lightning in the Pacific Ocean, Guatemala, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Lake Titicaca, and the Amazon. Also visible is the earths ionosphere (thin yellow line), a satellite (55sec) and the stars of our galaxy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Spirit Ends When The Brain Dies

Michael Graziano
Professor of Neuroscience and Novelist, Princeton University:

In my last post I commented about the link between the brain and the mind. That post received so much interest and so many comments from all perspectives that I thought it would be useful to explore the topic more systematically. Nobody should be mistaken about the cultural importance of the topic. The link between the mind and the brain is not merely a medical story. Its implications reach into almost all aspects of religion and spirituality including the belief in God, ghosts, angels, devils, and life after death.

When most of us think about the key conflicts between science and religion, we tend to think about Darwin's theory of evolution published in 1859, or Galileo's persecution by the Catholic Church in the 17th century. These famous clashes between science and religion are resolvable. Every sensible modern religion accepts the fact that the Earth orbits the Sun. Liberal religions are gradually accepting the scientific fact of biological evolution.

One disconnect between religion and science, however, is much older, much more profound, and may be much harder to bridge. It dates back at least to Hippocrates in the fifth century BC. At that time there was no formal science as it is recognized today. Hippocrates was nonetheless an acute medical observer and noticed that people with brain damage tended to lose some of their mental abilities. A passage attributed to him summarizes his view elegantly:

"Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only, arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs and tears. Through it, in particular, we think, see, hear, and distinguish the ugly from the beautiful, the bad from the good, the pleasant from the unpleasant..."

Hippocrates evidently understood the central conflict between observation and most spiritual beliefs. The belief in a spirit world, a world of consciousness that exists independently of physical substance, that survives the death of the body, that comprises ghosts and angels and deities, is incompatible with the observation that damage to the physical brain systematically takes away chunks of the mind. The medical facts suggest that mind, though it definitely exists, is something created by the brain and that it dies piece-by-piece as the brain dies.

About a century later Aristotle famously disagreed with Hippocrates, placing the mind in the human heart. Aristotle listed his reasons, many of which sound vaguely plausible given the analogical and somewhat mystical thinking of the time. How did Aristotle go so wrong in his medical analysis? He was a theoretician. Hippocrates, who worked in a hospital, saw the effects of brain damage every day and grounded his theory in observation. Nobody who spends appreciable time with brain-damaged patients can avoid the obvious conclusion. The brain is the source of the mind.

Another famous view of the brain/mind problem was outlined by Descartes two thousand years later, in the 17th century. In Descartes' view the mind was an ethereal substance, a fluid, that was stored in a receptacle in the brain. When he dissected the human brain he noticed that almost every structure came in pairs, one on each side. The human soul was obviously a single entity and therefore it could not be stored in a double structure. In the end he found a small single object at the center of the brain, the pineal body, and deduced that it was the house of the soul. The pineal body is now known to be a gland that produces melatonin and has nothing whatever to do with a soul.

Descartes' idea, aside from being wrong in the particulars, has a deeper problem. There is no part of the brain that, when damaged, takes away the Cartesian soul. Instead damage to different structures takes away different chunks of the mind. The ability to formulate a sentence? Lost in damage to Broca's area. The ability to understand language? Lost in damage to Wernicke's area. The ability to see, imagine, or comprehend color? Lost in damage to specific regions of the visual system. The ability to think about the space around the body? Lost in damage to another set of brain areas. The ability to intuit the feelings and intentions of others? Impaired after a stroke to a specific network of brain regions. And so on. The mind is a collective and bits of it die when parts of the machinery are mucked up. Even awareness itself, as I wrote about last time, can be splintered apart and compromised by brain damage.

The effect of brain damage is certainly not the only pertinent evidence. Some of the more interesting evidence comes from the direct electrical stimulation of the brain. A little more than a century ago scientists tried applying minute sparks of electricity to surface of the brain, stimulating the circuitry. The technique was improved and elaborated and is now one of the main methods for probing the brain's circuitry. For example, before removing a tumor from a person's brain, a surgeon will expose the brain while the person is awake and under local anesthetic. The surgeon will then study the effect of electrical stimulation, mapping out the function of this and that brain area, to avoid surgically removing any area necessary for language. Some of the most colorful and memorable experiments of this type were done by Penfield in the early 20th century. He found, as have many others since, that electrically tickling a specific spot in the circuitry has a specific and predictable effect on the mind. Whether seeing, hearing, feeling hunger, feeling rage, remembering a scene from childhood, making a coordinated gesture, even feeling as though you've intentionally chosen to make the gesture, these many bits and components of mind can be turned on and off by altering the activity of neurons.

The evidence is now overwhelming that every aspect of the mind is produced by the brain.

The realization that the brain produces the mind is similar in some ways to the theory of evolution before Charles Darwin got to it. Prior to Darwin, the theory of evolution was much discussed and the fossil record certainly supported it, but nobody could point to a plausible mechanism. How exactly did one species evolve over time into many new species? Darwin proposed a mechanism that fit the evidence: natural selection. Survival of the fittest. With the discovery of this simple mechanism, the science of biology was revolutionized.

The idea that the mind depends on the action of the brain is amply supported by the scientific evidence. But nobody knows how a brain produces the inner experience -- the feeling of consciousness. What is the mechanism? That is the question of our time. Many theories have been proposed, including one of my own, and only time and data will tell who is right.

I draw two personal lessons from the neuroscience of mind.

First, far from dismissing mind, or spirit, or soul as nonsense, I see these quantities as far more precious precisely because they are vulnerable and finite. In a sense I've become more spiritual as my scientific understanding deepens and I realize that spirit is a passing conjunction of information.

Second, the neuroscience of the mind gives me a wonderful opportunity to work on a scientific problem that is truly meaningful. About 25 years ago Francis Crick, famous for his role in understanding DNA, posed a question. Is it possible for brain science to address consciousness, a topic traditionally studied by philosophers and theologians? The answer is a definite yes. Many neuroscientists including myself have joined that effort.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault

Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault in ’71, at the height of the Vietnam War, the American linguist and French historian/social theorist appeared on Dutch TV to debate a fundamental question: Is there such a thing as innate human nature? Or are we shaped by experiences and the power of cultural and social institutions around us?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Regarding ContraPoints modest enlightenment

“History could not come into its own until theology gave way.”

"Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous."

Some thoughts on ContraPoint's video. I was very interested in what particular shift he was making in his perspective. I think Wittgenstein used an analogy of using a ladder to get to a position and then looking back and realizing the ladder that got you there is no longer there. For me I see the enlightenment in a similar fashion. It is a beginning not an end. And for some it is a necessary start creating the space and ability to dare to question and think freely.
It sometimes takes the blunt force of freethought (activism, pathos, blasphemy, playful ideas) to break free from the dogmatic ice. The enlightenment is something to pivot off of not to remain static or to burn in place but to keep flowing. Knowledge is like water its great vitality is when it keeps moving and fills the spaces before it. It can become poison if it stagnates in one area or it can drown the person in despair if the weight of a lost paradise is too the statement goes "it was like trying to drink from a fire hose"... one must flow with the water of ideas and strive to see the world in its fullness by being aware of ones limitations as well as the possibilities in the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge.

I have no consternation with ContraPoint's shift only I hope he still appreciates the ladder that got him suspended in mid air. The ladder is no longer there but it was a necessary tool in breaking from the box of dogma. And his previous atheist activism may have helped someone else become more free and brave in their thinking. And there are others who still need the blunt force of active playful skepticism to give them the chance to think freely as a human possibly can. At times it takes great wrestling and activism to escape dogma and in doing so the person who breaks from that still feels the need to wrestle with broken chains no longer there. Getting to a point where those previous chains of the mind no longer haunt the individual can be a longer process than we think.

This is why I continue to look kindly on the so called new atheists because they were instrumental in helping me break free from the dogmatic ice. It took some blunt hammers to start the cracking and the rest was the heat of curiosity and the desire to know. To use a biblical analogy I see the Capital "E" Enlightenment as well as ones smaller personal "e" enlightenment as the Moses that freed one from the tyranny of the Pharaoh and like Moses it can only take one into the desert of freedom and responsibility of thought. The desert is not always a positive experience and can lead to many other problems. Personally I see Existentialism as a fine partner in this existential desert. Whether there is a Joshua of the enlightenment that leads one to the promise land of progress is not something that I can state with certainty. One reason I doubt the gods is because I doubt the humans who created them. Faith in men can be just as problematic as faith in the gods.

The Philosopher John Gray directly challenges the value and purpose of the Enlightenment in "Straw Dogs":
"I should liken Kant to a man at a ball, who all evening has been carrying on a love affair with a masked beauty in the vain hope of making a conquest, when at last she throws off her mask and reveals herself to be his wife." In Schopenhauer's fable the wife masquerading as an unknown beauty was Christianity. Today it is humanism.What Schopenhauer wrote of Kant is no less true today. As commonly practised, philosophy is the attempt to find good reasons for conventional beliefs. In Kant's time the creed of conventional people was Christian, now it is humanist. Nor are these two faiths so different from one another.
Over the past 200 years, philosophy has shaken off Christian faith. It has not given up Christianity's cardinal error – the belief that humans are radically different from all other animals. Our lives are more like fragmentary dreams than the enactments of conscious selves.
We control very little of what we most care about; many of our most fateful decisions are made unbeknownst to ourselves. Yet we insist that mankind can achieve what we cannot: conscious mastery of its existence. This is the creed of those who have given up an irrational belief in God for an irrational faith in mankind.
But what if we give up the empty hopes of Christianity and humanism? Once we switch off the soundtrack – the babble of God and immortality, progress and humanity – what sense can we make of our lives?

And another philosopher counter the enlightenment, Isaiah Berlin:
“We are doomed to choose and every choice may entail irreparable loss.”
It is true in a purely utilitarian approach that there are many variables to a good life and breaking free from dogma may not always lead to a good life in a strict emotional and physical sense. And I nod in agreement that it is easy to escape one ditch only to end up in another ditch. I believe it was Nietzsche who compared Kant to a fox that escaped a cage only to be ensnared into a trap.

But this should not lead one to being paralyzed in pursuing and sharing new ideas. There are many paths to a more vital and full thought life. And some of those paths must go through the enlightenment. Whether this leads to progress will depend on ones definition of progress. The enlightenment should be a mother that openly offers her death to those she gave life to. To question the Enlightenment could be progress whether in capital P or not.

In conclusion I hope ContraPoints keeps sharing because he seems to have a healthy dose of skepticism, irony, and an itch for discussing ideas.

"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."

"There is nothing to prevent a man from changing his mind. Consistency is not a virtue in itself."
"Nobody human is ever consistent."
Christopher Hitchens

Saturday, October 1, 2011

In the Image of Primates

Creationist Christians assert that Man was created in the image of God. But have they asked about this:
Why are apes, monkeys, and other primates made in the image of man? Not only in basic physiology but in the DNA itself. Which is why Christian Francis Collins believes the DNA evidence is enough to convince him of evolution as a working scientific theory. Humans are primates. Humans are apes.

And how does biology work with Eternal life organisms like the supposed characters of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden?
Life seems inherently to work with decay and death. Another words from stars dying, universal decay, viruses and bacteria, the predators on earth, and death all around... I do not see how there was a pre-death biology which is what Genesis asserts. Life feeds on Death and Death feeds on Life. Everything works with and because of inherent decomposition. The problem of death and suffering is solved from the outset...Nature has its system and it does not care.

The explanations of an intervening God, Adam & Eve, and Sin are superfluous and hubristic and these explanations create many more problematic questions.

American Christianity - A Kingdom of this World

John 18:36 - Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

Christianity as it stands now in the West and especially in America is about identity politics not a movement of the heart. It is about protecting ones status and keeping Christianity as the dominant identity. Unlike the Jesus of the gospels it seeks a kingdom of this world and fights for political space and power. It does not seek to reach the hearts of people it seeks to reach the public halls of power. This is not good for the health of spiritual Christianity. Political Christianity corrupts spiritual Christianity. Jesus of Nazareth did not seek to overthrow the Romans by political power. The Roman rule was a foreign pagan occupation and yet Jesus in the gospels said to pay your taxes to Caesar. Would American Christians accept such a message today? Jesus did not busy himself judging Roman pagan rule, taxes, prostitution and the like but rather his only source of real anger was against the corruption and hypocrisy in his own religious institution.

"What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?"
The Apostle Paul 1 Corinthians 5:12
Can you imagine the Religious Right in America taking this position?

"'Ah, Constantine, how much misfortune you caused. Not by becoming Christian, but by the dowry which the first rich Pope accepted from you."

Theologian Garry Wills suggests it was the freedom of religion in America that allowed Christianity to flourish in the free market of ideas versus the European history of Church institution and State. The greatest danger is from within not from without. It is not the secularism from without but the theology from within that is the threat to the original faith. The problems that I have come across seem to be not from unbelief but from bad belief. It's not trying to be good without God it's being bad with God that is a big problem in American Christianity. It's constructing a Jesus that orbits around personal wishes and not around the Jesus of the New Testament. To put it like this the people who are straying in church are not reading Thomas Paine and Voltaire but they are listening to bad theology from the pulpit that enables and encourages a selfish market friendly Christianity where God is your servant.

To reference the Fall of Genesis - Adam and Eve were not secularists they were believers who listened to a bad theology coming from the serpent. The serpent was a believer James put it whats so great about broad faith by itself when even the demons believe - so specific theology matters immensely... A misconstrued faith in an American Jesus that is not even based on the synoptic gospels is a type of faith but is it the original Christian faith?
When one considers the evolution from the radical Nazarene who was a threat to the Ecclesiastical order and to the order of the ruling class and through the process of historical washing of the Greco-Roman culture and then European culture to American culture it becomes an institution that supports the status quo.

The Jesus of Mark's Gospel(70?) had already been transformed by John's Gospel(100?which is very Greek in theology-logos-word-truth-life) into a transcendent and in control Divinity. When Christianity rose to official power in the empire it had been through an evolutionary change.
The radical misunderstood-messiah and tragic outcast of Mark's Gospel gets diluted over time...and then when the Catholic Church arose to dominance and was blessed by the State Christianity became a very institutional enterprise indeed. The Metaphorical Pilate and the Ecclesiastical Order now consumed the radical Nazarene into their system.

In this way I see it was the rise of institutional political Christianity that strayed from the original challenge of Jesus. Suddenly Jesus became official and a protector of the status quo instead of the challenge he was before.

American Christianity is seeking materialism (prosperity gospel) and political power (the religious right). This wealth and power gospel does not resemble the Jesus of the scriptures much less the Jesus of history.

When you listen to modern Christian Apologists they are not trying to convince unbelievers of this gospel instead they are working to keep Christianity's dominant status in the West. They are not defending the faith they are defending their own ego identity and their place in this world not some world to come.

Where is the humility, compassion, love, and faith in William Lane Craig's apologetics? Instead there is smugness, sarcasm, sophistry, and arrogance. For William Lane Craig there is little room for faith in God when one has so much faith in ones theological credentials.

Andrew Marantz reports on Dinesh D'Souza's new role as president of King's College, a small evangelical school located in the Empire State Building:

"We are living, for perhaps the first time in history, in a society whose basic assumptions are secular," D'Souza told the 36 ­members of the King's class of 2011. "Some Christians hope to change this through bottom-up, grassroots techniques. But I'm skeptical about that approach. Consider minority groups like Jews and gays, groups whose influence far outweighs their relatively small numbers. How do they do it?
By focusing on strategic institutions—finance, media, law. At the King's College, our mission is to prepare you to go into that world. It's, frankly, an elitist mission, which says that culture is formed from the top down. I can only hope we have given you the tools to complete that mission, the tools to be dangerous Christians."

You see the mission of modern Christian Apologists is to build and defend a kingdom of this world where there is real power to be gained in the political and cultural battles. The Kingdom of God can wait they have a kingdom of this world to defend today.