Monday, December 31, 2007
Howard brought up the question of rationality, non-rationality and irraationality and later Howard said: Ira is right that we can’t expect all of mankind to become rational after being indoctrinated with organized religions’ dogmas for so long. But why excuse or promote this inflexible irrationality?
I'm not comfortable with calling religion irrational. Let's start with the dictionary definition of rational. Mine says that rational means having reason or logic. It seems to me that for the most part religions are logical and have reasons for what they propose. Let's also stipulate that we're talking about religions with a personal god, i.e., a supernatural being having personhood or intention. Although you and I may believe no such being exists, that doesn't automatically make the religion irrational. I would contend that all thinking requires a leap of faith at some point. Euclid's geometry is held to be the ultimate in rational thinking, but it requires faith in certain axioms in order to get started. The Declaration of Independence rationally explains why the Framers believe they are correct to separate from England, but they require an intuitive assumption. "We hold these truths to be self evident.....) All reason is built upon assumption. One of the reasons we come to different conclusions about almost everything in this world is our intuitive assumptions. For example, almost everyone in today's America would agree by virtue of rational thought that it was wrong for Europeans to take this land from the indigenous people. However, many people of the nineteenth century would start their reasoning from the axiom that no people nor person can truly possess a piece of this planet. Possession does not come simply by being born in a place. What one possesses comes only from conquest and the constant defense against incursion by others. Thus with a different first assumption or axiom, one arrives perfectly rationally at two very different conclusions concerning the taking of land from the Indians (or anyone else).
As to the idea that religious indoctrination being virtually unassailable simply because of age, I have to differ. I don't think that the age of a tradition has anything to do with its survival. What counts is the number of people who currently believe in a tradition. When that number is beyond a critical value, the tradition is very difficult to overturn. I don't think the age is much of a factor except as a measure of durability. The traditional place of women in society was thousands of years old when it was overturned in a very short time. World War II, The Pill and the disappearance of the icebox contrived to make the old tradition obsolete. The survival of a tradition has more to do with its benefits and its adaptability. If a tradition cannot bend, it will break. Religion has shown itself valuable to the individual and society despite a changing environment and has been able to make small adaptations. To my mind, the most important adaptation in the survival of modern religion has been to look the other way when the membership sins. The "love the sinner, hate the sin" concept in modern Christianity is ingenious. It allows a member to attend church on Sunday and lie, cheat and steal on Monday with impunity. Hence, humans can remain members, pay their tithe and do whatever they wish without the condemnation of their peers. That's a lot of flexibility.
Let me finish with a short Wikipedia quotation concerning one of the strange fathers of rationality. "In Croton Pythagoras established his academy and became a cult leader. His community was governed by a large number of rules, some dietary, such as those commanding abstinence from meat and from beans, and others of obscure origin, such as the commands not to let a swallow nest under the roof or not to sit on a quart measure. The movement was united by the belief that “all is number.” While the exact meaning of this may be none too clear, that it led to one of the great periods of mathematics is beyond doubt. Not only were the properties of numbers explored in a totally new way and important theorems discovered, of which the familiar theorem of Pythagoras is the best example, but there also emerged what is arguably the first really deep mathematical truth – the discovery of irrational numbers with the realization of the incommensurability of the square root of two."
Monday, December 24, 2007
Warmest Christmas greetings to friends of the Blog who rejoice and remember the birth of Jesus Christ.
And to all who have received or freely given help for the sheer joy of it! Literal believers or not, we all - if we are human - know the pleasure of helping others, particularly when we don't have to.
Perhaps the most famous editorial in the history of newspapers appeared in the New York Sun 110 years ago:
Virginia, your little friends [who say say there is no Santa Claus] are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.The full text of the editorial is available at: http://www.stormfax.com/virginia.htm
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. ... The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. ... Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
Ogden Nash captured the folly of disbelief in the spirit of giving in his famous poem The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus. Jabez Dawes makes a startling claim:
'Sure as my name is Jabez Dawes
There isn't any Santa Claus!'...
'Jabez' replied the angry saint,
'It isn't I, it's you that ain't.
Although there is a Santa Claus,
There isn't any Jabez Dawes!'...
No trace was found of Jabez Dawes,
Which led to thunderous applause,...
From grimy feet to grimy locks,
Jabez became a Jack-in-the-box,...
All you who sneer at Santa Claus,
Beware the fate of Jabez Dawes,
The saucy boy who mocked the saint.
Donner and Blitzen licked off his paint.
The full text of the poem is available at: http://www.westegg.com/nash/santa.html
Tzedakah is the Hebrew word for charity, rooted in justice and righteousness. Maimonides suggested a hierarchy of tzedakah, where the highest ideal is to offer a fellow human what we would call "a hand up" - giving him or her what is necessary to become independent and self-supporting. That could be education, a job, a business partnership or a loan - anything that helps without shaming the recipient.
How to give tzedakah? If possible, it is best when the giver does not know the recipient and vice-versa. At a lower level, the giver is anonymous but knows the recipient. At the next lower level, the recipient knows the giver but but the recipient is anonymous. At a still lower level, the giver and recipient know each other, but the gift is offered without being requested. Finally, there is the gift given after being requested.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.
The annual conference now brings together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).
This site makes the best talks and performances from TED available to the public, for free. Almost 150 talks from our archive are now available, with more added each week. These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted.Our mission: Spreading ideas.
So, as you can see, on paper (pixels?) it looks pretty promising as an intellectual source and igniter --- and in fact, I've viewed several of their offerings and they are of high quality.
As an experiment, I am proposing that all interested parties take 29 minutes (they lied about the 18 minutes in this case) to view Richard Dawkins' talk on militant atheism and respond to it. There are already many responses on the TED site to this talk.
To get to the Dawkins' talk video I would recommend that you navigate to it in order to get a better feel for the website; just use the link:
to go to the home page and the first line indicates that you can search by theme, talk title or speaker. Next make sure that View as Visualization and Resize by Most Discussed are checked and the page displays visual blocks whose size is determined by the amount of discussion generated and when you pass your mouse over each graphic more information appears --- it's fun to play around with.
Here is one way to navigate to Dawkins' talk:
Click on "Themes A-Z" just above the red line.
Click on the Theme, "Is There a God?" under the letter "I" and wait patiently.
Click on the video "Richard Dawkins on militant atheism" to begin watching the video.
The "About" section previews the talk and the speaker and the "Comments" section is similar to our blog and worth browsing. If you rate the talk you can view a summation which uses the same clever size technique (using words this time). I'd like to view "How the Mind Works" at some point but how to proceed from here is anybody's and everybody's choice.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
I agreed and quoted what turned out to be one of Arthur C. Clarke's Laws:
Howard went on: "... this feeling of mystery (or ignorance) may account for the rise the distrust of science in general and the increase in accepting occult and supernatural beliefs. In other words, if technical devices appear to have an unknown cause, then any event can have an unknown cause."
I agree with Howard that technology is a mystery to most people using it, but I am not sure if he is right about a rise in the distrust of science or an increase in occult and supernatural beliefs. In fact, I am concerned the common folks place too much trust in science and, as a result, are losing their faith in the supernatural.
My reading of history is that irrational beliefs are central to the success of any society. If they get out of hand -OR- if they are extinguished by pure reason, disaster follows. As always, the "happy medium" is the path to success.
The scientific method is a totally rational ideal that is largely responsible for modern civilization. However necessary, it is by no means sufficient. We still need belief in supernatural magic and other things not literally true to make progress work.
Another of Clarke's laws states:
Indeed, we must creatively imagine we believe in the impossible to assure progress in extending the limits of science and technology. Howard agrees to a point: "An essential part of the scientific method is entirely rational, but another essential part is creative imagination often using irrational analogies and metaphors. Also, for physicists the natural world is super enough so that the religious supernatural appears quite dull."
We need to appreciate another of Clarke's laws:
When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
I, and most of the other active members of this Blog may be characterized, in the words of this law, as "distinguished but elderly scientists". We need to be wary of declaring anything impossible!
On the other hand, according to Isaac Asimov's corollary to Clarke's law:
"When, however, the lay public rallies round an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervor and emotion -- the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right."
PS: The photograph is of The_Turk, a 1770's chess playing machine. It turned out to be a hoax - a skilled human chess player was hidden inside the device. Today, however, you can buy a chess program that will run on your PC and beat everyone but a chess master. Larger computers are well-matched with human chess masters and, in the forseeable future, the world chess champion will be a computer.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Sunday, December 16, 2007
I know the scriptures are the writings of humans without the benefit of modern scientific educations. I know they have been translated and edited by humans for thousands of years. I am not a literal believer. Therefore, the rather obvious lack of scientifically verifiable content in holy books does not surprise me at all.
Hitchens claims (page 8) that religion has retarded development of civilization. On what evidence? None that I could find. The very fact that all societies and great civilizations of the past have been infused with what many of us judge to be irrational spiritual belief seems to argue for the benefit of religion for their survival and spread. If religion retards civilization, one would expect non-believing societies, free from religious retardation, to have been most successful. Can anyone cite an example? History proves the opposite!
Hitchens relates how he was asked by Dennis Prager if, approached by a bunch of men on a dark evening in a strange neighborhood, he would be less worried about his safety if he knew they were coming out of a prayer meeting. He spouts (page 18) a litany of cities (Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, ... "and that is only the B's") where, during certain times in recent and ancient history he would be less confortable if confronted by men exiting a religious meeting. Hitchens lives in Washington, DC and spends most of his time away from home in New York, London, Los Angeles, and so on. What would any honest person's answer be to that question?
He goes out of his way to trash both Mother Teresa (page 145+) and Ghandi (page 182+).
Hitchens was a Marxist before he lost his faith in that hopeless cause. He supported Trotsky who was exiled and later murdered by Stalin. One wonders if Hitchens would still be a Marxist had Trotsky turned the tables and eliminated Stalin.
Based on experience of loss of faith in Marxism, he laments (page 153) the pain he knows his book is inflicting on the religious faithful. I wonder if he is simply jealous of their faith? Like a kid whose balloon has popped, he savors the experience of popping everyone else's balloon.
He misquotes Rabbi Hillel, one of our most influential Jewish scholars, claiming Hillel stated the Golden Rule in the postitive version (page 213): "Treat others as you wish to be treated." In fact, even the slightest research would have shown that Hillel used the negative version favored by most Jewish scholars. Hillel wrote: "That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."
He has an entire chapter entitled "Is Religion Child Abuse?" and concludes it is much worse (page 217) "'Child abuse' is really a silly and pathetic euphemism for what has been going on; the systematic rape and torture of children ..." He cites cases where children have indeeed been abused by priests of various religions, but that is an argumentative trick. If some Englishmen rape and torture children would it be right to say English civilization is all about rape and torture of children?
In a Comment to a previous Topic I noted Hitchens's reaction to what he calls "Hannukah" (he can't even spell it wrong the "right" way "Hanukkah" as major media do :-(
"Hannukah" is, in his words, a "vapid and annoying" holiday where "the Jews borrow shamelessly from Christians in the pathetic hope of a celebration that coincides with 'Christmas'".
Sorry it annoys Hitchens, but our grandchildren and children and fellow Jews northwest of Boston were anything but "pathetic" a couple weeks ago as we joyously lit the Chanukah candles and consumed more than our share of latkes. In a multi-generational recognition, Vi and I and our family had the honor of lighting one of the candles at a multi-congregation event in Chelmsford, MA.
The Maccabees, the heros of our Chanukah story of religious freedom, were, according to Hitchens, "forcibly restoring Mosaic fundamenalism against the many Jews .. attracted by Hellenism." In doing so, they sired "the stench of Calvin and Torquemada and bin Laden ... a poisonous branch that should have been snapped off long ago."
Hitchens apparantly believes it would have been better for monothesim to have been wiped out by Hellenists in 165 BC because that would have prevented the excesses of Christianity and Islam!
Again, on what historical basis can that claim be founded? The Maccabee revolt was in response to the Syrian Greek effort to replace our monotheistic God with their pantheon of gods. To that end, the Temple in Jerusalem was forceably Hellenized. The success of the Maccabees restored a more traditional Judaism to that area, made the Greeks and later the Romans more tolerant of religious diversity in their empires, and set the stage for the later development of Christianity.
Would western civilization have been better off with a pantheon of Greek gods?
I think the case is clear that western civilization is an amalgam of Judeo-Christian and Greek/Roman civilizations and each of those components makes it strong. Had the Judeo-Christian element been left out, I think eastern civilization and religion (i.e., Ghengis Khan) might have wiped us out. Would the world have been better off? I don't know. However, Hitchens seems to hate western civilization so much that he might prefer whatever would have followed from a Mongol success.
On the positive side (at least for me as a Pantheist) he notes Leslie Orgel's comment (page 84): "... evolution is smarter than you are." (Orgel was an associate of Francis Crick, DNA pioneer.)
He also writes (page 165) "... people can be better off believing in something than in nothing, however untrue that something may be."
Friday, December 14, 2007
I went back and put labels on a few older postings.
If we do this for all new Main Topics, it will help Blog members find related Main Topics and the Comments under them.
Here is how they work:
The Author of a new Main Topic puts the labels (e.g,, L/C, liberal, conservative, mental health, ...) in the box at the bottom of the posting.
A reader can click on the label at the end of the posting and see all the other postings with the same label.
Ain't that great!
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Back in the early '50's, you'll remember that we had "wrap-around" windshields. Here's a quote from a January 23, 1954 Christian Science Monitor news story titled, Cadillac Declares Top Power: "The wrap-around, panoramic windshield follows the trend in most General Motors cars this year, designed to move back the corner post blind spot from the driver's vision. These windshields add 186 square inches to the window area. A total of 55 square inches has been added to the over-all window space compared with 1953."
The problem of obstructed vision was solved by technology developed for WWII bombers. Bravo. Fast forward about twenty years and Lee Iacocca comes along to huckster "cab-forward design." Everyone signs on based upon a massive ad campaign. Besides, it's so stylish to move the windshield away from the driver and over the engine compartment!! It's more aerodynamic they assure us. (Actually the improvement is negligible.) The net result is that we all accept driving around with our view of the road obscured by a big fat post. Someday a class action lawyer is going to get smart and sue Chrysler for perpetrating this road hazard on the American people. With respect -Joel
Monday, December 10, 2007
LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND ALL THE STUFF IN IT.I'm a little disconcerted that a government agency would sponsor a blatant appeal to a specific religious belief. You may or may not believe in the concept of karma. Like Christmas symbols, it's possible to water them down for public consumption so that they lose their religious significance and thereby are allowable under the Constitution. I don't see how this is good for either religion or the State. The young people at whom the ad is aimed are often enamored by the Dalai Lama and Eastern religions, so this is not just a figurative use of the concept. I think that the parents of these young people (and Thomas Jefferson) would be right to be outraged by the governmental intrusion supported by their tax dollars.
Karma is the universe's system of checks and balances. Wherein everything you do has a corresponding effect. It's pretty simple really. Do good things, earn some karma points and raise your chances of good things happening for you. Do bad things and the cosmos may just send a swarm of locusts your way. Or open a black hole above your front yard. Or something similarly unpleasant. Maybe. Possibly. Better to keep things straight.
Based upon my experience in first-grade classrooms in recent years, the broader philosophical question is this. To what extent should taxpayer dollars be used to support propagandizing children in a "good" cause? We probably all recall as children participating in fire prevention programs, not skating where the ice is thin, and being kind to one's neighbor. None of these are related to reading, writing and 'rithmetic, but were deemed non-partisan safety or character building issues. Now one sees non-smoking, anti-meat, and environmentalism creeping into the curriculum from kindergarten on. Are we at a tipping point? At what point is the state just doing its job and at what point are they operating as a state propaganda machine, using the power and resources of the state to force a belief upon children. Is there a bright line somewhere?
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
This evening we had the pleasure of enjoying the lighting of the first candle with our triplet grand-daughters. Of course we ate traditional latkes (potato pancakes). Our grandchildren's Rabbi is anything but traditional. Not only is she a woman, but a woman married to a woman! Definitely not my grandfather's kind of Rabbi, but she is wonderful!
We hope everyone enjoys the winter holiday season with friends and family.
Chanukah is not an "important" Jewish holiday as it celebrates an event that occurred after the Hebrew Bible was completed. However, in modern times, in competition with Christmas, Chanukah has assumed major proportions.
I think it is fair to say that both Christmas and Chanukah really co-opt the Roman "Saturnalia" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnalia . That winter holiday is based on the Greek "rebirth of the Sun" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice). The ancients noticed that the Sun rose lower and lower as November and December wore on. There was a danger, if the trend continued, the Sun would not rise at all, and everyone would freeze. So, around the winter solstice, when the Sun begins to rise higher and higher, everybody lighted candles and were thankful the Sun was reborn.
So, "Yo Saturnalia", and "Merry Christmas", and "Happy Chanukah" and, for all the atheists in our group, have a "Wonderful Winter Solstice" (or, fellow Seinfeld fans, "Festivus for the Rest of Us")!
The Glickstein Family
Saturday, December 1, 2007
According to Gallup, "Fifty-eight percent of Republicans report having excellent mental health, compared to 43% of independents and 38% of Democrats. This relationship between party identification and reports of excellent mental health persists even within categories of income, age, gender, church attendance, and education."
The following chart shows that even low-income Republicans report better mental health than Democrats with similar incomes. As expected, Democrats with higher incomes report 17% better mental health than Democrats with lower incomes, but high-income Republicans report 19% better mental health than high-income Democrats and 36% bettter mental health than low-income Democrats!
Of course, Democrats and Republicans do not exactly map to L-mind and C-mind, but that is at least an approximation.
Some portion of the population will not participate in polls and others will tell the pollsters what they think they want to hear or what will make the pollster think more highly of them - or they may lie outright. Thus, despite the best efforts of the pollsters, the results may or may not represent the actual opinions of the total population.
Never-the-less, poll results may be the best information available for certain things. Also, the high visibility of polls indicates that media audiences tend to pay attention to them.
On the other hand, since the differences are so strong (20% difference between Republicans and Democrats) there is a good chance the conclusions are true. Therefore all you L-minds, if you adopt some C-mind attitudes, your mental health may actually improve (or, at least, you may think it has improved! :^)
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Both L-Minds and C-Minds will examine specific applications when offered a piece of global legislation or general policy. If one proposes a policy which outlaws the use of torture (I won't bother to define this term, since Howard and Ira disagree as to its meaning.) then all kinds of minds will demand that nebulous terms be clearly defined. All kinds of minds will ask "what if?" (As I've said before, I'm not interested in what politicians say, since they are motivated by electoral and partisan considerations that obscure their L/C Mindedness.)
Hmmm. Now that I think about it, I may have spoken too soon. Maybe specifics are not a universal desire. Two cases come to mind. The ERA was opposed by many C-Minds, because it was too general and would place too many issues in the hands of the courts. L-Minds argued the general principle was sufficient and that the courts could iron out the details. The same was true for the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law was lacking in specifics and subject to judicial interpretation. The latter resulted in the removal of street toilet facilities in New York City, because they couldn't be made wheelchair accessible. So, I guess I'm still uncertain about the underlying principle. I believe it's there but I can't seem to find it.
I would just like to clarify something. The kind of principles I'm looking for, should allow one to design an expert system capable of doing what you and I easily do intuitively. The expert program would be able to take any problem whether public or personal and select an L-Mind or C-Mind position. If it is a rule-based system we ought to be able to set of rules that would make this possible. ( I'll let someone else worry about the parser.) I believe this thought experiment will reveal some interesting things about the thinking process. With respect -Joel
Saturday, November 24, 2007
In the video, the guy stirs coffee with floating crumbs and notes the crumbs nearer the middle rotate at a different angular rate than crumbs further out. He then spins a compact disk (CD) and notes all the marks on it rotate at the same angular rate because they are embedded in the disk itself.
He says the stars in our galaxy rotate more like the marks on the CD, which leads scientists to postulate the existence of "dark matter", an invisible, undetectable substance that fills what appears to be empty space between the stars. Dark matter/energy constitutes the vast majority of the Universe.
According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aether_(classical_element), "Albert Einstein, in an interpretation he offered for his theory of special relativity, dismissed [aether] ... though he later reinstated a logical need for an aether in a commentary on his theory of general relativity, modern astrophysical theories refer to this as Dark Energy/Matter."
I, like classical scientists, cannot fathom an "action at a distance" force field, such as gravity, without some physical matter filling the void between the masses that are attracted to each other by that force. Were classical scientists basically correct about aether and is the modern notion of dark matter/energy simply a refinement of that concept?
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
We have so much to be thankful for!
We hope you and yours are celebrating together and enjoying a wonderful time. Vi and I are spending the day with friends here in The Villages, FL. We plan to visit our triplet granddaughters and their parents in Andover, MA the week after Thanksgiving.
Vi and Ira Glickstein
Monday, November 12, 2007
Each week we read a portion ("parashah") of the Books of Moses ("Torah"). In this week’s parashah there is a verse you’ve heard before. In Genesis 26:4, God, speaking to Isaac, reinforces the oath He swore to Isaac’s father, Abraham:
... and I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and will give to your seed all these lands; and by your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed
While researching, I came across a skeptic website. Having nothing better to do, they’ve taken the entire bible, verse by verse, and annotated it with skeptical comments. That they have devoted so much time and effort to their self-appointed task speaks volumes of the power of our Torah.
Has God gone back on His promise to Abraham and Isaac?
You get your genes from your biological father and mother. But there is something else you get from your parents, ... and also from your uncle Joe and your aunt Bertha ...
Well, it’s the cultural equivalent of genes, which are known as “memes”. Memes include things like the language you speak, songs, customs, clothing styles, technological and scientific knowledge, basic concepts of justice and morality, and so on.
Before that meme was proclaimed by Abraham, people believed there were “spirits” in objects like the idols Abraham’s father sold in the marketplace. There was a separate “god” in the wind, the oceans, the planets and so on.
Abraham recognized that God was Universal. That is the core belief of Judaism and we say it twice during our service:
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.
(Hear, O Israel! The Eternal is our God — the Eternal alone.)
Does anyone know who came up with the word “meme”? It was Richard Dawkins in his popular book “The Selfish Gene” published in 1976.
Dawkins latest book is “The God Delusion”, published last year. He thinks Abraham’s meme is a delusion, a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. In this book he is pretty harshly opposed to organized religion. You might call this book an atheist manifesto.
I agree to a point - some ultra-fundamentalists have misused religious organizations. But, let’s not “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. I think, in general, synagogues, churches and mosques have had a positive influence on society and civilization.
Today, the three Abrahamic religions together constitute more than half the world’s population. There are billions of people alive today who have inherited the “seed” of Abraham, the meme of a Universal God!
And, who knows, when human life is sent to colonize space, they may read Genesis 26:4 as “… I will multiply your seed on the stars of heaven.”
I'm going to give a talk at our local philosophy club this coming Friday. I would once again like to bounce some ideas off of you folks and see what you think.
During the first half of the talk, I'll talk about fallibility. I'll start with some quotes from Thomas Jefferson, who mistrusted his own judgment when it differed from those around him. I'll talk about the fact that on huge issues like religion the world is highly divided signaling us that a large number of brains are wrong. The high divorce rate is another demonstration that the human brain is a faulty decision maker. Many people make low level decisions concerning job selection, car choice and home selection and are later full of regret. How is this possible?
I'll then review some of the sources of error in human thinking and decision making process such as bad statement of the problem faulty data in, incorrect modeling of the world and incorrect execution. In fact there are so many opportunities for error that one is surprised that we ever get anything right. We are fortunate that most choices are binary and we have a 50/50 chance of being right despite the brain's manifold inadequacies.
We might ask why we have this strange situation. Why is it that nature has screwed up so badly? I believe that the answer is simple. We are not using our brains for the purpose they were intended by nature. That's an anthropomorphic way of saying that our brains evolved to fulfill a life or death survival function, and we use them in ways that are mere "spandrels" or unintended consequences. I'll describe the importance of the brain as a tool to predict the intention of a potential mate, friend or adversary. I'll also discuss the value of the brain in the prediction of the movement and location of game, weather and plant life. All these things have direct implications for survival of the species. Great works of art, literature and philosophy have an effect on the survival of the very few creators involved, but little effect on the propagation of the dna of the creators throughout the population. Therefore, we should not expect a great ability for complex thinking and decision-making to be a common trait in our species. I'll split the audience into small groups and have them see if they can come up with an L/C Mind trait that is non-pejorative.
I'll then move into all this stuff about L-C Minds that we have previously discussed. My objective is to get people to think a little harder about the point of view of others i.e. to show respect. My definition of "to respect" is to act as though there is a possibility that you are wrong and your intellectual adversary is right, no matter how totally farfetched that might seem on the surface.
Any suggestions would be appreciated. With respect -Joel
Saturday, November 10, 2007
War a period of hostile relations between countries, states, or factions that leads to fighting between armed forces, especially in land, air, or sea battles.
War, in international law, armed conflict between two or more governments or states.
When such conflicts assume global proportions, they are known as world wars. War between different parts or factions of the same nation is called civil war.
A rebellion is not legally considered a war; to entitle the armed forces of the rebels to the rights and privileges of belligerents, the government they serve must be organized so as to be in a position to meet the duties resting on belligerents, that is, they must have the power to maintain law and order within the regions occupied by them and to carry on war on a large scale by land, sea, or air.
International hostilities sometimes continue for long periods of time without being acknowledged as wars. The Korean War was regarded by the U.S. government as a police action. Conflicts or wars in which major powers purposely refrain from employing all their armed strength are often known as limited wars. Short of peace, such limited wars are now recognized as a preferable alternative to the specter of nuclear war. International wars are generally terminated by treaty and civil wars by a peace proclamation. The usages, customs, and treaties of nations have formed a system of laws of War.
Acts of international terrorism do not fit the above definitions of war for the following reasons:
a. They cross international borders.
b. The acts are not armed conflict between nations.
c. Terrorists do not abide by “laws of war” today defined by the Geneva Convention.
d. They are neither a civil war nor a rebellion.
e. They do not respect any international law.
f. They murders civilians indiscriminately seemingly purposefully to cause freight amongst a populace.
Thus, we are not engaged in a war, instead we are engaged in an international action to suppress or eliminate terrorist actions conducted by international thugs who, to obtain their desired goals spread fear to weakening national and international resolve - in today’s parlance, Al Qaida and Muslim terrorists.
Why is this definition important? Why shouldn’t we call it a war? Because by employing the term war both our national leaders and we the people view our action is Iraq as being, and should be, fought by our military supported by other government agencies. We were at war when we defeated Saddam Hussein in Iraq and in entering Afghanistan. Since defeating Saddam we have acted more as an international police force attempting to stabilize both countries. Our military is good at engaging in war. Saddam was defeated with little lose of life on either side. Since then we have tried to use our military along with the military from other nations as an international police force, something for which they are not trained. The results have not been effective. Further we have earned the enmity of other nations.
An article in the Orlando Sentinel, “Best, brightest shrug shoulders about Iraq” discusses the indifference of the young adults toward our actions in Iraq. They know few if anyone who is military. It has no effect on their lives. They also refuse to take any responsibility for Iraq or to take part in the debate. In other words they are indifferent to our fight on terrorism. This attitude might be extended to our entire populace. A common expression is “we support our troops in Iraq”. By implication we say that we support the men and women in our military but not necessarily their deployment in foreign nations.
The police, the FBI etc. are trained to handle civil disturbance. They know how to act when trying to apprehend suspects in a civilian environ. The military, on the other hand is trained to apply overwhelming force to conquer an enemy’s military force. Loss of life and ancillary damage are acceptable, (of course with reasonable constraint). We have supplemented the rules of war, the Geneva Convention, with rules of engagement for our troops in Iraq, these rules tie the hands of the military and can cause confusion and possibly inappropriate action when engaged with suicide bombers, roadside bombs etc amongst crowded city streets.
If we find it necessary to employ forces in foreign countries with the mission of restraining terrorism we need to train those forces to operate in a civilian environment, within Bagdad for example. An environment not suited to the military. As an alternative we could create a separate department of the military trained to engage in the type of action we are engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our military police may be properly trained for this type of action and could be used as the basis for forming such a department.
Today we have two separate organizations engaged in the fight against terrorism, Homeland Security here in the states and the military overseas. Homeland Security is doing an effective job, our military, on the other hand, has not proven effective – not because of the quality of our military men and women but because of the mission that they have been handed. Possibly the two could be combined by recruiting a police force trained to conduct counter terrorism duties in foreign countries under Homeland Security to replace the military’s occupational duties, the military would then be employed as it is trained for in actual war situations.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
He was bar mitzvah in his native Nuremberg Germany in 1936 and fled to the US, earned his US citizenship as a soldier, and survived a combat war injury.
Heinz wrote the following for the D-Day Museum in New Orleans in 2001. I think it is well worth reading about an immigrant who fought for his adopted country and contributed to the US in so many ways.
Company B 12th Engineers Combat Battalion 8th Infantry Division
The Early Years
I was born in Nuremberg, Germany on February 22, 1923 into a middle-class Jewish family. I was a twin but my brother was still born. I was the second child, having a brother 15 months older.
My childhood was uneventful until Hitler came to power in 1932. I am sure I don't have to dwell on the fate of the Jews in Europe. Fortunately, my parents decided to send my brother and myself to the United States in 1936 to live with an uncle. I cannot imagine the state of mind of my parents that led them to that decision, not knowing if they would ever see their children again. However, my family was lucky. My parents and all my other relatives except my paternal grandmother made it out of Germany by 1938.
We lived in Newark, NJ and I graduated from High School in 1941. As I was financially unable to go to college, I started as an apprentice Pattern Maker while I went to engineering school at night. Since I was a child, I always wanted to be an Engineer. As a pattern maker I learned to make wooden patterns that were used to make sand molds for castings. It led to a lifelong appreciation of wood and also taught me to use my hands and to fix things.
The War Years
I was drafted into the Army in April 1943. I was inducted at Fort Dix, NJ and then shipped to Fort Belvoir, VA for basic training in the Corps of Engineers. During the summer months I contracted Scarlet Fever and was hospitalized. I felt well after a few days, but my throat culture remained positive for six weeks. During that time I was quarantined in a room the size of a bathroom in a one-story barrack that was not air-conditioned! I am sure the temperature in my room hovered around 100 degrees for weeks.
During my stay at Fort Belvoir I also became a United States citizen. Since I was still a minor, the only way I could become a citizen was by being in the Armed Forces. I appeared before a judge in Washington, DC and was sworn in. It was a proud day in my life.
After I was released from the hospital, I completed my basic training and in the fall of 1943 was shipped to Camp Reynolds near Pittsburgh, PA. This was a replacement camp from which soldiers were assigned to their permanent units either in the United States or overseas. After a few weeks of waiting to be assigned I came down with a low-grade fever which I could not shake. I was not sick enough to be hospitalized, but not well enough to be on duty. I spent weeks either loafing around the barracks or playing pool in the day room. I got to be a pretty good pool player!
In March of 1944 I was sent to Camp Kilmer, NJ to be shipped to Europe as a replacement. On March 13, 1944 we embarked on the Ile de France. She was a luxury liner and the former pride of France. She had been reworked as a troop ship and there was nothing luxurious about her! My quarters consisted of a canvas bunk with about two feet of space above and below me. We did not travel in a convoy because the ship was supposed to be fast enough to avoid the German U-Boats. At least that was what they told us! The crossing was uneventful and we arrived in England on March 21, 1944.
I had looked forward to getting to England because my family drank tea instead of coffee. This was common among German Jews, probably because of our Russian background. I looked forward to a good cup of tea, but was bitterly disappointed when I found out the British drink their tea with milk! I only like it with sugar and lemon.
We were lodged in a small English town whose name I have forgotten. About a week after I arrived I wound up in the hospital with double pneumonia. It was probably why I had that low-grade fever at Camp Reynolds earlier. I was still in the hospital on D-day and remember the excitement that swept through the hospital when everyone realized the invasion of Europe had finally begun.
About the middle of June I left the hospital and was sent to Northern Ireland to join the outfit I would spent the rest of the war with. I was assigned to Company B, 12th Engineers Combat Battalion, 8th Infantry Division. After a short training period with my new outfit, we embarked on a Liberty ship for the beaches of Normandy. The trip took about a week and the weather was beautiful. We spent most of our time sunbathing on deck. We arrived at the beach on either July 4th or 5th. We climbed down the side of the ship on nets into landing crafts that took us close to shore and we had to wade the rest of the way. This was similar to the situation on D-day, except no one was shooting at us! We relieved the 82nd Airborne which had dropped behind the German lines the night of D-day. They had taken tremendous casualties and were pretty shell-shocked. I watched them deliberately run over bodies of Germans with their Jeeps. War will do this to people.
While relieving the 82nd , I experienced my first artillery fire. I dove into the nearest hole and can still hear the laughter of the veterans as they told us it was outgoing mail, not incoming. One of our batteries had opened fire from right behind us! It didn't take us long to learn the difference!
Below are listed some of the war stories that I experienced and will never forget.
1. Gas Attack.
One night I was on guard duty about a half mile from where we were camped out for the night. In the middle of the night my partner and I heard people yelling off in the distance. The yelling got louder and nearer and we finally heard the word GAS! We had gas masks, but they were safely stored in our trucks in the camp area. We briefly discussed what to do and then decided to abandon our post and run for our masks. The run was all uphill and I ran out of breath about halfway there and decided gas or no gas, I couldn't run any further. It turned out the Germans had fired some phosgene shells which set off a gas alarm throughout the beachhead. No one ever said anything to us about leaving our post, which of course is a court martial offense.
The Allied Armies broke out of the beachhead and most headed east toward Paris and Germany. The 8th Division however, headed west towards the Brittany Peninsula and the city of Brest. A major U- Boat base was located there and had to be neutralized to protect our ships in the Atlantic. One day at the outskirts of Brest we were called upon to remove a roadblock that was holding up the attack. It so happened that some of our troops had just liberated a wine warehouse. There was lots of wine around and we had our share of it. As we approached the roadblock, the Germans opened up with sniper and machine gun fire to keep us from removing it. Feeling pretty heroic, a few of us at a time ran to the roadblock and removed portions of it until the fire got too heavy. None of us were hit and we eventually removed the roadblock. We were rewarded with a Bronze Star for our heroism. In retrospect, I have no doubt our heroism came out of a bottle!
In late November of 1944 we had long since left the Brest area and driven across France to the main front. On the way we drove through Paris shortly after it was liberated and our platoon leader deliberately got us lost so we could see more of the city. The inhabitants of Paris welcomed us with flowers and wine, but we were forbidden to leave our trucks and so had no close encounters with the people.
One day we were in a village in Luxembourg when the Germans unleashed an artillery barrage on us. One of our sergeants yelled at me to jump into a jeep and move it to the back of a building for better protection. When I told him I could not drive, he could not believe that an American soldier could not drive a car! However, I had grown up in a city and my family didn't own a car and I had not learned to drive one.
Shortly after the Battle of the Bulge our platoon was called upon one evening to go to the front and try to get wounded soldiers out of a minefield they had entered during that day's attack. We got there after darkness had set in and could do nothing until daylight arrived. It was not possible to clear anti-personnel mines in the dark. All through the night we heard the soldiers calling for help and it was apparent that some didn't make it through the night. Listening to their cries for help all night and unable to do anything was a terrible experience. The next morning we went in and cleared paths to all the soldiers that survived and helped to get them out
5. The Enemy.
One night we were up front with the infantry and it was bitterly cold. I spent the night in a foxhole with nothing but my uniform and my topcoat. Waking up after a restless night, I had great difficulty straightening my legs because they seemed to be frozen. Fortunately, I managed to get the circulation going and they were all right.
Shortly after daylight we saw two German soldiers leave their fox hole and run toward their line several hundred yards away. Some of our guys opened fire upon them, but didn't hit them and they disappeared over a hill. These were the only German soldiers other then those wounded, dead, or captured that I saw during nine months of combat! I also never fired my gun during all that time.
6. Roadblock #2.
This next incident happened in January 1945 somewhere in Germany west of the Rhine River. We were called up to the front lines and asked to remove a roadblock. It consisted of one of our tanks that had been hit and was blocking a road needed for the next day's tank attack. Our plan was to use some dynamite and blast it off the road. We were told that the road was clear and there were no Germans around. The road was bordered by open fields except that a wooded area started on one side right about where the disabled tank was. We started down the road in broad daylight toward the tank. Just as we approached it a German machine gun opened up on us from the corner of the woods. Fortunately it missed all of us and we dove into the ditches on each side of the road. My first thought was I hoped the ditches weren't mined. My next concern was whether the machine gun could traverse along the ditch. We were lucky and safely made it back to our starting place. We were then told to try again after it got dark. We were also told that the machine gun nest would be eliminated. Based on what had happened earlier, I am not sure that was very reassuring to us!
After dark we started down the road again. I remember carrying a case of dynamite on my shoulder, but no rifle. I felt kind of naked! We got to the tank and my assignment together with another soldier was to go about fifty yards beyond the tank to remove some barbed wire that the Germans had stretched across the road. We carefully checked the wire for booby traps and started removing the wire when a loud explosion went off behind us. I first thought it was a mortar shell, but quickly realized I had not heard any shell coming in. We worked our way back to the tank and found that the guys placing the dynamite had set off a booby trap. Several members of our squad were wounded, including our platoon commander, Lt. Cohen. We managed to get all our wounded back to our lines and then went back down and blasted the tank off the road and removed the barbed wire. The Germans never bothered us that night, but it was a horrific experience nevertheless.
The next morning the tank attack started and almost immediately bogged down. I remember walking back to our trucks along the road lined with tanks with the rest of my squad and cursing at the men on the tanks for not going forward. I guess the experience of the night before left us less than understanding of their problems.
I, together with several others of my squad, received a Bronze Star for our efforts. This one I can say I deserved!
I never learned if our wounded comrades survived or not. In war, information is hard to come by.
7. My Last Battle.
In mid-February I found myself in the small town appropriately named Krauthausen. The town was divided by a river with all bridges across it destroyed. We were on the west bank of the river and the Germans on the east bank. The town was about 60 miles west of Aachen. The weather was cold and wet, but no snow.
An attack was planned and a night patrol was ordered to cross the river at night to learn something about the German positions. The river crossing was to be made by a small assault boat manned by three engineers and carrying a squad of infantry. This was the standard method for this type of operation.
I was not selected for this operation. The river current was very strong and the boat was swept downstream and never made it across. Fortunately, all occupants made it safely back to our side. The next night the operation was attempted again with the same result. The following night it was my turn to go.
I went with two of my buddies to the assembly area and met with a squad of infantry commanded by a 2nd Lieutenant. This time someone decided a small assault boat wouldn't do and they brought up an amphibious vehicle known as a Duck. It was operated by two African-American soldiers who had no idea that they were at the front and what they were being asked to do. One must remember the Army was not integrated in those days.
We were briefed and started toward the river in the Duck. It was pitch black and raining. As we left the main road the Duck got stuck in the mud! I remember thinking, great, we don't have to go. However, someone had the foresight to bring an assault boat along and we were going to attempt the river crossing in a way it had failed two nights in a row.
The standard way to approach the river was for the squad leader to lead the way followed by one of the Engineers carrying some of the paddles. The infantry men would carry the boat and the other two Engineers would bring up the rear with the rest of the paddles. The Lieutenant started toward the river and I followed at about twenty yards as the lead Engineer. I could not see the Lieutenant ahead of me in the dark, but caught up with him near the river. He had encountered some barbed wire and was attempting to remove it. I asked him to let me do it because I was trained to do this, specifically to watch for booby traps. However, he told me he would do it and I turned around to stop the rest of the patrol from getting too close. Just as I turned away he set off a mine!
I was hit and fell to the ground. I did not feel any great pain, but had difficulty breathing. I heard the rest of the patrol drop the boat and hit the ground. I realized that the Lieutenant must have been hit also. Everything was quiet for a while, but I knew my buddies would come looking for me. I remember taking off my helmet and tried to make myself as comfortable as possible, but I still had difficulty breathing. Eventually my buddies reached the Lieutenant and me and started carrying us back to the road. They got hold of a jeep and we went off to the nearest aid station. I remember the Lieutenant lying next to me on the jeep, but I never knew how badly he was hurt or if he survived. I never even knew his name!
Upon arriving at the field hospital, I was operated upon immediately. I had never lost consciousness. I later learned the extend of my injuries. My right lung was punctured and collapsed. Several ribs were broken. My intestines and other organs were perforated, I had a deep flesh wound in my thigh, and the fingers on my right hand were injured. I am sure if I hadn't carried the paddles on my right shoulder and turned away just before the explosion, I might have had serious head injuries.
Luck was with me that night. The surgeon on duty, I believe his name was Major Satan, was a chest specialist from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. I remember as they cut my clothes off that the nurses were kidding me because my feet were so dirty. The fact that I hadn't taken off my shoes and socks for days and slept in a coal cellar for protection from shelling probably had something to do with that!
I am pretty sure that the mine the Lieutenant set off was one of ours. First of all we were on our side of the river and the barbed wire was probably placed by us. Also, I saw an X-ray of my chest taken before any of the shrapnel had been removed and a piece in my lung looked like the corner of an American personnel mine.
8. The Road Back.
I spent about a week in the field hospital. During that time a Red Cross worker wrote a letter for me to my parents as my hand was bandaged and I was unable to write. I had never told my parents that I was in combat and always wrote as if I was still in England! The only one who knew the truth was my brother, who was serving in the Pacific Theater. That letter arrived home before the official notification from the War Department arrived! I am sure it saved my parents from the shock of receiving a telegram from the War Department. When it did arrive they already knew its content.
I was transferred by ambulance from the field hospital to a hospital in Liege, Belgium. Two weeks after that I again was transferred by ambulance to Paris. Unfortunately, I was in no condition to enjoy that great city! After one week I was flown to England to a military hospital that specialized in treating chest injuries. That was my first airplane flight! It was a C-46, the military version of the DC-3. It was outfitted to carry stretchers and had nurses aboard. I still remember that the landing was as smooth as any I experienced since. The pilot must have been specially trained to land a plane full of wounded soldiers!
I went through several more operations at the hospital and by May was an ambulatory patient. I became friends with two soldiers from the 101ST Airborne and the Rangers. For some reason we started to march through the wards and hallways of the hospital singing A duck must be somebody's friend to the tune of The Stars and Stripes Forever at the top of our voices! I think it was to wake everyone up in the morning. I also had the distinction of being the only one in the ward who did not have a drain tube in his chest.
There was great enjoyment at the hospital when the war in Europe ended in May of 1945. Shortly thereafter I left for home on the hospital ship "George Washington", arriving in Hoboken, NJ in mid-June. Walking off the ship I was handed a container of milk by the USO. I hadn't tasted fresh milk since I left the USA and it tasted terrific.
We went from the dock to a hospital in Staten Island before being sent to convalescent centers throughout the U.S. Since I lived in Newark, NJ, I was allowed to go home the next day for a reunion with my parents. I remember going to a restaurant with them that night and being the only one being served a steak because I was a wounded veteran.
The next day I was moved to Camp Upton on Long Island where I continued to recuperate until I was discharged in November 1945. While there, an announcement was made one Sunday morning that a bus was going to the Polo Grounds in NY for those of us who wanted to watch the NY Giants play football. We had special seats set up right behind the Giant's bench. This started my interest in professional football and I am still a Giants fan.
The return to civilian life was not difficult. I went back to school under the G.I. Bill of Rights and graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1949. I married my wife Betty in 1954 and we have two children, Linda and Peter. They have blessed us with four grandchildren that we love to visit. We pile up a lot of air miles as they live in Connecticut and Seattle!
I spent most of my working career in the aerospace industry. Job changes and transfers took us from West Orange, NJ to Huntington, NY to Charlotte, NC to New Orleans where I retired in 1991 at the age of 68.
When General Sherman said, War is Hell, he was understating it. Being caught in an artillery barrage or on patrol at night raises fears that cannot be described to someone who has not experienced it. The fear eats at your guts, but we all overcame it and did what we had to do. I did not volunteer to serve, even though I probably had more reason as a Jew from Germany than most of those who did. I do not feel that I have to apologize for this, as I did my job when called.
My greatest wish is that our children, grandchildren, and future generations do not have to go through what we went through. Unfortunately, I am afraid that mankind has not advanced enough to make this come true!
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Although there is something to this "judgmental" appellation, we need to find other words less confrontational and negative. My dictionary defines the word in negative terms: tending to make moral judgments. example; to avoid a judgmental approach when dealing with divorced couples. The word became popular during the 1960's when young people and pop psychologists labeled those who disliked the new morality as being "judgmental." The concept itself is much older, dating at least from the time of Jesus, who admonished "Judge not that ye be not judged."
Let's find an example of this behavior that we can all live with, and then find appropriate labels. Desi and Lucy have been married for many years. Desi starts fooling around with his secretary and decides to leave Lucy and the kids. Fred has habitually gone bowling with Desi on Thursday night. After the divorce Fred makes excuses to avoid Desi. When questioned by Ethel, his C-Mind replies that he can't associate anymore with a person who has revealed himself to be so lacking in moral character. What if everyone behaved that way? Ethel tells him he's being ridiculous. Her L-Mind says that Desi has done nothing to harm Fred and that it's none of Fred's business. He should quit being so judgmental.
If you agree that the above is an example of the thinking so often labeled "judgmental" and "non-judgmental", please see if you can provide adjectives which classify the two kinds of thinking. Make an effort not to bias the labels or use pejorative terms. I have a suspicion that this is actually a sub-set of the proximity factor we have previously discussed. L-Minds tend to value examining a situation on a personal basis, trying to understand motivation as much as possible. C-Minds place more value on examining from a distance on a global basis. Note that both are capable of thinking at either proximity, but they VALUE the approaches very differently. With respect -Joel
Friday, November 2, 2007
Can we afford to live by the rules and regulations of some stone-age desert people who had less knowledge and understanding of the world than a 10-year-old has today (geography, physics, biology, etc.)? And lastly, can we afford to be ruled by people who claim that god told them what to do, (invade Iraq, for example)?
Although as an atheist, I'm skeptical of those who lean too heavily on communication with a god, I grant respect to their beliefs. It is true that President Carter got us into a mess in the Middle-East (and elsewhere) by virtue of his pacifist religious beliefs. However, as with George Bush, this was based upon religious values, not based upon direct communication with God. Talking to God is not the same as holding a two way conversation. One can ask for enlightenment or with help fighting personal demons, as Carter claimed he did when he fought against "sinning in his mind."
The so-called religious right has no monopoly on religious principles which may have an impact on public policy. The religious left is extremely powerful even if the media do not demonize them with those words. The Quakers whose creed is based upon their reading of the words of Jesus concerning turning the other cheek, are devoted to pacifist activities and public protest. I note that President Clinton sent his daughter to a Quaker (Society of Friends) school and that Governor Michael Dukakis was trained at a Quaker school. It is seldom that one will not find an American Society of Friends involvement in war protest, gay rights marches and death penalty vigils. Activists (and presidents) on both the right and left deserve our respect for their values even if we don't agree with them.
One may argue issues without pretending that there is no basis for discussion, because one's opponent is some kind of nut who hears the voice of God in his or her head. If our media were not so biased, we would hear more about the political activities of the Society of Friends, and we would recognize that religious pressure groups have influence on both sides of the aisle. (We were fortunate in our philosophy club to have a talk by a member who went to a Quaker school as well as a member who was active in constructing telephone trees for the purpose of activating protests at a moments notice). Is this an interference of religious belief in politics or a natural expression of people of like values in public affairs?
With respect -Joel
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Friday, October 26, 2007
In an email, Stu provided the following link "What atheists Kant refute" from the Christian Science Monitor. Dinesh D'Souza is interviewed regarding a series of anti-religious books by Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens. http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1017/p09s06-coop.html. That led to an email exchange between Stu, Joel, Howard and Ira. Rather than limit that exchange to a small, private group, here is an edited version for the enjoyment of readers of this Blog. I hope it generates lots of cross-discussion!
EXCERPTS FROM CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR STORY
Reason must know its limits in order to be truly reasonable.
Opinion editor Josh Burek talks with Dinesh D'Souza about atheism.
Religion has faced formidable foes in its history. But atheism hasn't generally been one of them – until today. A recent string of bestselling books has put believers of all stripes on the defensive. Religion, say authors such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, is an unreasonable form of blind faith, often leading to fanaticism and violence. Reason and science, they contend, are the only proper foundations for forming opinions and understanding the universe. Those who believe in God, they insist, are falling for silly superstitions.
This atheist attack is based on a fallacy – the Fallacy of the Enlightenment. It was pointed out by the great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant erected a sturdy intellectual bulwark against atheism that hasn't been breached since. His defense doesn't draw on sacred texts or any other sources of authority to which people of faith might naturally and rightfully turn when confronted with atheist arguments. Instead, it relies on the only framework that today's atheist proselytizers say is valid: reason. The Fallacy of the Enlightenment is the glib assumption that there is only one limit to what human beings can know – reality itself. This view says we can find out more and more until eventually there is nothing more to discover. It holds that human reason and science can, in principle, unmask the whole of reality.
In his 1781 "Critique of Pure Reason," Kant showed that this premise is false. In fact, he argued, there is a much greater limit to what human beings can know. Kant showed that human knowledge is constrained not merely by the unlimited magnitude of reality but also by a limited sensory apparatus of perception.
Consider a tape recorder. It captures only one mode of reality, namely sound. Thus all aspects of reality that cannot be captured in sound are beyond its reach. The same, Kant would argue, is true of human beings. The only way we apprehend empirical reality is through our five senses. But why should we believe, Kant asked, that this five-mode instrument is sufficient? What makes us think that there is no reality that lies beyond sensory perception?
... Notice that Kant's argument is entirely secular: It does not employ any religious vocabulary, nor does it rely on any kind of faith. But in showing the limits of reason, Kant's philosophy "opens the door to faith," as the philosopher himself noted.
Kant exposes the ignorant boast of atheists that atheism operates on a higher intellectual plane than theism. He shows that reason must know its limits in order to be truly reasonable. Atheism foolishly presumes that reason is in principle capable of figuring out all that there is, while theism at least knows that there is a reality greater than, and beyond, that which our senses and our minds can ever apprehend.
I agree with Dinesh D'Souza that our five senses are insufficient to apprehend the whole truth of the world. However, I don't trust our "faith" sense to fill in that lacuna reliably. D'Souza's book is titled What's So Great About Christianity, and, if it is a pean to traditional Christianity I don't necessarily think it will satisfy me. On the other hand, if he makes the point that religion in general (when not too fundamentalist or radical) is of net benefit to civilization, and that, via Christianity, civilization and society has been uplifted, then I would buy it!
As it happens, I am currently reading Dawkin's The God Delusion and, so far, (about 70% into it) am not overwhelmed (even though I respect Dawkins and enjoyed a couple of his other books). Perhaps I will find some meat in the book as I go further, but, so far, he is demolishing arguments for a God external to the Universe who created it and is interested in day-to-day activities of individuals and regularly manipulates His Creation. The idea of a "personal God", while quite common to the average "Joe and Jane" is, IMHO, so flat that it does not need further attack.
He acknowledges Einstein's pantheistic God and quotes Hawking and others who use the term "God" in that vein. Dawkins then makes an incredible charge (worthy of Ann Coulter :^) when he says (p19):
... I wish that physicists would refrain from using the word God in their special metaphorical sence. The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking ... God of the Bible... Deliberately to confuse the two is, in my opinion, AN ACT OF INTELLECTUAL HIGH TREASON. [EMPHASIS added]
I checked the index and could find no reference to the "Gaia Hypothesis" that we humans (and other life in the biosphere) are, by our role in evolution and natural selection, creating some sort of meta-consciousness that does wield some overall power and intentionality at the whole Earth level. That concept is part and parcel of a pantheistic belief an God and, if true, fully worthy of the use of the term "God". I hope he gets to it.
Dinesh D'Souza’s argument that our five senses are insufficient to apprehend the whole truth is a misleading half-truth about science. One can argue that all the sciences began by going beyond the natural senses with measurement devices. Chemistry began with the analytic balance, biology with the microscope, physics with the telescope. Spectroscopes, particle detectors, radiation detectors, scanning electron microscopes, atomic force microscopes and dozens of other instruments go many categories and many magnitudes beyond our senses from the highest energies and smallest particles to almost to the entire detectable universe. Science also explains why things exist beyond our knowing, that is, beyond the event horizon and black holes.
The panentheist definition of God is the totality of whatever exists (the "ground of existence") in the broadest possible sense of “exists’ including what we can never know. My opinion of Dawkins is that he is a brilliant polemicist but not a reliable authority on either religion or science. Right or wrong, I think his motive is winning arguments, and he is good at it. He could also have been a great preacher or maybe an insurance salesman.
Thanks for the reference, Stu. It's interesting to me that Dinesh D'Souza is trying to make something out of nothing. The trouble with quoting old philosophers is that they are often deprived of essential knowledge that any school child has today. Kant wrote in a time in which there was no remote sensing and man had to depend on his own immediate sensing capability. This gives one a very restrictive idea of what can be known by the senses and what actually exists. He also misrepresents science as very narrow and restrictive in its view.
First of all, science places no limit on what might be invisible to us and our sensory surrogates. It only requires that the unsensible world be consistent with the sensible world in any place
they make contact. It we use D'Souza's tape recorder analogy, I would say the following. If you postulate that an invisible, unfeelable, unsmellible, etc. tree falls in a forest next to the tape recorder, then the tape recorder should at least hear a sound which is consistent with the existence of such a tree, even if the tape recorder can't "see" the tree fall. The science establishment has demonstrated that it is willing to seek out hypothetical things that are normally invisible. Remember that scientists hypothesized the existence of the neutrino based upon seeming violations of Conservation of Momentum and Energy. The particle was actually "seen" only after the the design of an experiment, expenditure of millions of dollars and tons of steel from old battle ships (if I remember correctly). Believers in the invisible world of religion can't even propose a consistency experiment.
I understand, even if I don't agree with, authors like Dawkins. It seems as though we still have terrible global clashes over religion. In Dawkins' mind and that of others, such clashes will continue as long as humans are willing to be motivated by a blind faith that makes them intolerant of those who don't also admit that unverifiable truth. In a sense, Dawkins is acting out of political ideology rather than science. I think that Ira's laisser-faire policy is the right one. Aggressive atheism (or pantheism) is not the way to fight aggressive religion.