Saturday, October 10, 2009

Earth is Spherical and Religion is Over

Various cultures have had conceptions of a flat Earth, including ancient Babylon, Ancient Egypt, pre-Classical Greece, and pre-17th century China. This view contrasts with the realization first recorded around the 4th century BC by natural philosophers of Classical Greece and later proved by brave seafarers, that Earth is spherical. Many Americans still believe the myth that it wasn't until Columbus sailed to the New World that Europeans knew Earth was round, but even in medieval Europe, it was already too late to write an "even-handed" Time magazine-style article about the flat vs. round issue. Even in 16th century China, a culture holding a seemingly immutable belief in a flat Earth, the whole mental paradigm shifted almost instantly once the evidence for a spherical world became overwhelming.

By the same token, evidence from the sciences of biology, chemistry, genetics, astrophysics, geology, etc. has piled up so high as to be overwhelming regarding the fact of evolution. Plus, for the first time ever in America, books against blind religious fundamentalism have hit the mainstream, with authors such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Chris Hedges, and Christopher Hitchens writing NYT Bestsellers taking on religion. So again, major segments of humanity, including the whole developed world, are on the edge of another huge and almost instantaneous paradigm shift. Like the belief in a flat Earth in 16th century China, fundamentalist religion is just about over. Unfortunately, most people don't know it yet.

Eighty percent of the world's people still believe that the creator of the Universe dictated a book. Many believe this so strongly that they will kill other people who believe that a different creator dictated a different book. Many Americans reading this would immediately think, "Yeah, those damned Muslims, blowing people up over religious differences," forgetting that a large percentage of Americans in the 1960's and 70's, mostly "Christian" at the time, had little problem with their government killing hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people ("godless communists"), almost as casually as if they were ants at a picnic. If we had information about a domestic terrorist, such as Tim McVeigh, and we knew that he was hiding, in the Bronx for example, would we take out an entire block in order to get to him? The answer is no, we wouldn't. People in this country would be outraged if we bombed a block and killed civilians to get to this guy, and yet that's what we're doing every day with our killer drones to non-Christians in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But already, especially in the developed world, we're seeing more and more "Christians" believing in evolution. In 2009, it's almost impossible not to believe in evolution and still be sane, with so many scientific disciplines seamlessly proving it. For the "holy book" idolizers, knowledge of evolution seems to diminish the majesty of God. Yet with a slightly open mind, evolution and all the other amazing laws of the Universe should only lead us to feel more awe in the face of Creation!

What has been diminished is the stature of the primitive mythology books, written by superstitious, perhaps even insane men, at the dawn of the Iron Age, that people have dragged into modern times as literal guides to cosmology and correct human behavior. Literally billions of people still base their lives on the stories in these books, a pathological, dysfunctional behavior that imperils all of humankind.

I've had "Christian"-deprogramming Web sites for 15 years (check out my vintage early-1990's web page design!--and click on the picture). Why do I bother? It's not just some pet peeve of mine. Fundamentalist religion is like a computer virus, which cripples the function of a computer. Teaching fundamentalist religion to a child is a serious type of child abuse. Sexual child abuse damages a child's self image, confidence, and attitude about sexuality, but teaching fundamentalist religion often damages a child's thinking capability for life. Fundamentalist religion is not a benign thing, like somebody's preference of one professional baseball team over another. President Reagan invited televangelists Hal Lindsey and Jerry Falwell into the Pentagon to advise him on nuclear weapons policy! Sarah Palin, chosen by almost half of us Americans to be second in command of our nuclear arsenal, would have gladly started World War Three in the name of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps in one or two more generations, fundamentalist religion in America will become a harmless hobby, like astrology. There won't be any need for laws or prohibitions against it because it will become conversationally inappropriate, and no one who adheres to it would ever be trusted with any kind of power or serious responsibility. It might take several more generations for people in some other countries to realize the absurdity of fundamentalist religion, just as it took centuries for the Chinese to comprehend what the ancient Greek mathematicians had discovered about Earth's shape.

If any of you take exception to anything I've written here, please read these very few Sam Harris quotes, carefully selected from two of his books I've read, before you respond. If you still feel like responding, I will of course answer every comment. I ask that you please comment by clicking the "Comments" link right below this post, so that others can see your comment and perhaps comment on your ideas. Posting anonymously is fine.

From The End of Faith:
"How is it that the absurdity of this idea [that certain books were written by God] does not bring us, hourly, to our knees? It is safe to say that few of us would have thought so many people could believe such a thing, if they didn't actually believe it. Imagine a world in which generations of human beings come to believe that certain films were made by God or that specific software was coded by him. Imagine a future in which millions of our descendants murder each other over rival interpretations of Star Wars or Windows 98. Could anything--anything--be more ridiculous? And yet, this would be no more ridiculous than the world we are living in."

From The End of Faith:
"Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim as to its infallibility. People tend to organize themselves into factions according to which of these incompatible claims they accept--rather than on the basis of language, skin color, location of birth, or any other criterion of tribalism. Each of these texts urges its readers to adopt a variety of beliefs and practices, some of which are benign, many of which are not. All are in perverse agreement on one point of fundamental importance, however: "respect" for other faiths, or for the views of unbelievers, is not an attitude that God endorses. While all faiths have been touched, here and there by the spirit of ecumenicalism, the central tenet of every religious tradition is that all others are mere repositories of error, or, at best, dangerously incomplete. Intolerance is thus intrinsic to every creed. Once a person believes--really believes--that certain ideas can lead to eternal happiness, or to its antithesis, he cannot tolerate the possibility that the people he loves might be led astray by the blandishments of unbelievers. Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one."

From The End of Faith:
"While Christianity has few living inquisitors today, Islam has many. In the next chapter we will see that in our opposition to the world view of Islam, we confront a civilization with an arrested history. It is as though a portal in time has opened, and fourteenth-century hordes are pouring into our world. Unfortunately, they are now armed with twenty-first-century weapons."

From Letter to a Christian Nation:
"Your qualms about embryonic stem-cell research are similarly obscene. Here are the facts: stem-cell research is one of the most promising developments in the last century of medicine. It could offer therapeutic breakthroughs for every disease or injury process that human beings suffer--for the simple reason that embryonic stem cells can become any tissue in the human body. This research may also be essential for our understanding of cancer, along with a wide variety of developmental disorders. Given these facts, it is almost impossible to exaggerate the promise of stem-cell research. It is true, of course, that research on embryonic stem cells entails the destruction of three-day-old human embryos. This is what worries you.

"Let us look at the details. A three-day-old human embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst. There are, for the sake of comparison, more than 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly. The human embryos that are destroyed in stem-cell research do not have brains, or even neurons. Consequently, there is no reason to believe they can suffer their destruction in any way at all. It is worth remembering, in this context, that when a person's brain has died, we currently deem it acceptable to harvest his organs (provided he has donated them for this purpose) and bury him in the ground. If it is acceptable to treat a person whose brain has died as something less than a human being, it should be acceptable to treat a blastocyst as such. If you are concerned about suffering in this universe, killing a fly should present you with greater moral difficulties than killing a human blastocyst."

From the conclusion of Letter to a Christian Nation (this quote spoken to a typical American Christian):
"Nonbelievers like myself stand beside you, dumbstruck by the Muslim hordes who chant death to whole nations of the living. But we stand dumbstruck by you as well--by your denial of tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God. This letter has been an expression of that amazement--and, perhaps, of a little hope."

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Happy Double Anniversary! Blasting caps!

The brave third cousin of my brave (now deceased) niece Lisa just wrote a surprising article in commemoration of the 64the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima (three days ago) and Nagasaki (today). Daniel Ellsberg (of Pentagon Papers fame), as you probably know, at great risk to himself and his family, knocked over the first big domino that eventually led to the fall of Richard Nixon.

Ellsberg doubts that even one percent of Americans have an understanding of the difference in explosive force between a Hiroshima-size atom bomb and a hydrogen bomb.

Here's an excerpt:

Every one of our many thousands of H-bombs, the thermonuclear fusion bombs that arm our strategic forces, requires a Nagasaki-type A-bomb as its detonator. (I doubt that one American in a hundred knows that simple fact, and thus has a clear understanding of the difference between A- and H-bombs, or of the reality of the thermonuclear arsenals of the last 50 years.

Our popular image of nuclear war--from the familiar pictures of the devastation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima--is grotesquely misleading. Those pictures show us only what happens to humans and buildings when they are hit by what is now just the detonating cap for a modern nuclear weapon.

Posted on Aug 5, 2009
By Daniel Ellsberg

To leave a comment for Mr. Ellsberg, click here.
To leave a comment for me, please click the comment link below. Anonymous comments are fine.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sarah Palin and Sponge Bob in 2012

Here's a picture of our neighbor's truck. His Bush/Cheney '04 sticker makes me sad and mad every time I see it (we go to work and come home at about the same time). And I noticed this morning, when he stopped at the little neighborhood cafe, that he has a brand new sticker:
This guy, not the Bush/Cheney/McCain/Palin neocons, not the economy or climate change or immigration, is THE top problem in America. We have the power and the wealth to become a pretty cool country ALMOST OVERNIGHT if half of our people weren't morons. The average American car sits unused 22 hours a day and the average American commute is 16 miles. GM had a production ready electric car in 1999, the EV1, yet after testing it and leasing out about 1,000 of them, they took them all back and crushed them and sold the battery technology to Exxon/Mobil. The drill-baby-drill mentality prevailed.

I do, however, realize it's not that simple. I've finished Obama's first book, Dreams From My Father, and I'm halfway through his second, The Audacity of Hope, and I'm learning from him that by focusing on what tears us apart rather than on what binds us together, "conservative" and "liberal" adversaries push one another to extreme positions.

I'm actually kind of a Republican at heart, and I do understand where these guys are coming from. If we "liberals" were given free reign, the world we'd make might not be a utopia at all, but more like a communist nightmare. Capitalism works great when you have a gigantic almost-virgin land mass you can rape, while communism seems to go very, very bad very, very quickly no matter what.

But now that the whole world is in peril, and since there are no more virgin continents to settle and rape (unless we want to make Africa the new America and kill off those pesky Africans like we did the Native Americans), we Americans really need to find a brilliant amalgam of capitalism and socialism. There are literally millions of possible permutations of human economic activity possible, but it is morons like our neighbor who put it all in terms of only two choices, rather dead than red. And it is morons on our side that make a more socially responsible world seem so goofy, weak, and corrupt, e.g., teaching Ebonics as a real, viable language. Our neighbor, who might have some valid insight about the potential horrors of socialism, digs his heels in even more and becomes almost clownish in his politics.

On some level he knows that his new Palin sticker makes him look stupid. But just as rap and hip-hop music have made the ghetto (a sad and tragic place if there ever was one!) seem cool, somehow, with the popularity of shows such as "Jackass," "Sponge Bob," and "The O'Reilly Factor," STUPIDITY has become cool!

This neighbor is unteachable. However, if he had to experience terror and extreme physical hardship due to the policies of his capitalist masters, he might completely change his tune. He may soon have the chance to go through just such hardships, thanks to his voting against himself (and against me and my children and you and yours) during the last few election cycles. If I sound a little self righteous, it's just that it's very hard for me to abide people who think it's OK to hog the supplies on a lifeboat, that they're somehow better than the other passengers, especially when they call themselves "Christians."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Explanation of The Split

By Richard Hamilton-Gibbs

In the scientific world, where experiments can be repeated by other scientists to confirm consistent outcomes, the only question is the integrity of the scientists conducting the studies. Scientific fraud is relatively rare, because it is exposed by the work of other scientists when they do not get the same results. Scientific fraud also disposes of the reputations of the fraudulent scientists once and for all. For example, Korean researcher Hwang Woo-Suk was exposed as a confidence trickster in stem cell research. His findings have been completely discredited, and are not quoted by even scientific nut-cases as "proof" for anything.

In the real world, many world events are "one-time", and will not be repeated. Then, there is simply a question of Belief. Do you believe the event actually happened? 

This is compounded by the acceptance that politicians recounting current events are not held to the same standard of honesty as scientists. In fact, it is common for American politicians to lie, and the American people regard this kind of "flexibility" with the truth as acceptable, for any number of reasons ranging from national security issues to economic stability.

For example, I have long considered the invasion of Iraq as a dreadful error, wrong on so many levels, and justified by non-existent WMD claims  by the Bush White House.

However a conservative friend of mine has suggested to me that there were WMD's in Iraq, and he listens to Republican conspiracy theorists, who turn up on late night radio and claim that they Believe the WMD's were there in Iraq, but they were spirited over the border into Syria during the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003, or somehow magically concealed.

This is a perfect example of an event that, if it happened, only happened once. If those weapons were spirited away into Syria, it happened in a very tight time window. To test this theory, the event cannot be repeated, and there appear to be no eye-witnesses, just True Believers. 

To reach any logical conclusion requires Investigation, not unsubstantiated Belief, which means examining every information source on the subject, before making your personal judgment of what happened. Along the way, you have to take into account that many people will tell self-serving untruths, or quote unreliable sources themselves.

At the end of this analysis, people will all believe different things, based on the credibility they assign to their different sources. So a committed Bushie will still be saying today that they believe there are still WMD's somewhere that we haven't found, and anti-Bushie's will be saying today that the whole GWB White House line was always a fraud to justify invasion.

I think a lot of this has to do with how fearful people are about the motivations and intentions of the rest of the world, and what they then perceive we need to do to protect ourselves from them.

My conservative friend has conservative instincts that lead him to see the rest of the world as very threatening. This allows him to see GWB in a positive light as doing something about a dangerous world. Now he is not a bad person, but he tends to use information sources that reinforce his existing beliefs, and discount sources that he dislikes. In this, at times he is as susceptible as any Creationist to  the dogma of the True Believer, by discounting any information  from any source he dislikes.

This lack of rigor at times needs gentle correction, and that may be because he is under a misconception of how something works, or the relevance it has in any given situation. He needs to have a clear logical pathway, but getting rid of his Belief System can be an impediment to clear thinking. For example, he so loathes Hillary Clinton (and Bill) that there is no point in discussing anything related to them. There is no way either of them can ever redeem themselves, and any successes they have will always be countered by any bad tales, even fictional tales, to make them look either incompetent or evil.

My progressive friends, on the other hand, make connections of great compassion, and do not see the rest of the world as nearly as threatening. Accordingly, they are much more into outreach and helping, and they see the military interventions that have been committed in their name as Americans as not being justified, and rank them as atrocities. Accordingly, the numbers of Vietnamese who died as a result of American intervention there, they take some responsibility for. Many conservative Americans find reasons to justify America's involvement, and as a New Zealander, we suffer from the same issues, because NZ was there supporting the American effort (with regular NZ Army troops). 

Now at times, either view is correct. There are plenty of instances where people have taken advantage of the caring efforts of others to abuse them. There are also plenty of instances where paranoia has led to heavy-handed mass-murder.

Meanwhile, nothing much is going to change with the US  Military, unless this economic meltdown impacts US spending.
This nicely illustrates the huge disparity of US "defense" spending compared to the rest of the world. The next 14 players all added together still fall about $100 billion short of US expenditures.

I think this is probably the difference between the Left and Right wing. Fear. Left-wingers do not fear the rest of the world so much. When, as a Left-Winger, you express anger at the neocon approach to "peacekeeping", neocons feel even more threatened, and more fearful, and talk about a "more dangerous world", because they feel the need to exert more control at any cost over the elements in the world they perceive as a threat they fear. Left-wing resistance to this control makes neocons very paranoid, and have them perceiving the Left Wingers as part of the problem. Neocons often talk about Liberal Conspiracies, Bleeding Heart Liberals, and Commies, to group the less fearful into the Opposition they have to defeat. And as I mentioned before, True Believers, in their paranoia, regard killing their enemies as a viable solution to their problems. 

Both sides can quote examples of the failed policies of the other. Left- and right-wingers each have their successes and failures, and history always tells the story, and the longer ago the events happened, the more accurate the history becomes, because it is not such an emotional issue to the historian, unless it is a pivotal part of his Belief System. For example, ask a Christian Fundamentalist if Jesus rose from the grave, and he will look at you as if you must be nuts to even ask that question, because for them, the answer is "of course!".

And yet, there are other historians who can equally argue that Jesus never existed. That he was a historical fable, of whom the first writings appeared about 60 years after his death, with no record in the secular record of his ever having even existed!

So this is an example of how Belief Systems are built, and persist, and can continue to be supported by people who are not bad people, just totally different in what they choose to believe.

What we choose to believe is always a personal choice. Changing other people's beliefs is often impossible, and is not something I try to do.

I think Google got it in one with their company slogan, "Don't be evil".

I think we all have to define what we regard as evil, or "intentional behavior that is unacceptable to me personally", and make our case for our positions. Too often, people have these underlying beliefs that they have not thought through, and as a result, build a tower of logic that has no real support even in their own belief system. When they examine their fundamentals, they themselves discover that the logical axioms on which they have positioned their beliefs are so flawed that they need to completely rethink their position.

Unfortunately, it is often an impossible task to get people to examine their basic axioms, because they cannot divorce their examination of their basic axioms from the body of prejudice they have built  based on these axioms.

And I think it comes down to fear. The more fearful we are, the more essential it is that "we kill them before they kill us." It is easier to adopt this path when we have no empathy for the "enemy", and do not take their humanity into account.

I think this topic of reconciling people who have very different world views is becoming more and more important. To get into the real basics of what people believe, and why, and how to sift information from dishonest sources to reach the multiple possible logical conclusions, and evaluate all of them to choose what we believe in.

For a more successful future, we need Americans to become a lot more logical in their information analysis, and less trusting of their beliefs.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Split in America

I want to ask all of you to think about how to heal the split in America. I might not have time to answer every response--there are 441 of you on my email list, and I know most of you, plus many of you send out my stuff to others--but you know I will read every one carefully. 

Here, below, is a perfect example of the split, a letter to the SF Chronicle by my friend Karl and a response to it. Please read them both and then think about how we can bring these two sides together. 

Karl's letter:

Isn't it about time for GOP apologies?

As Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele falls all over himself to apologize to the real leader of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, I think it is a good time to ask the Republicans to go one further and apologize to Americans.

Apologizing for such crimes as lying, and starting a war based on some of those lies, torturing, phone tapping, judge fixing, not to mention offshoring our jobs, making the way for fraud on Wall Street, and otherwise ruining the economy.

It was just a few days ago that Limbaugh was called out for being incendiary and when he asked for them, the apologies even came on his radio program.

So we can wait a few days, now that you Republicans know that America wants you to apologize. You know where to find us.

Karl Hodges

Response to Karl's letter:

Here's a Republican apology

Karl Hodges wants Republicans to apologize for America's problems. He is correct; the GOP owes America an apology, and also a promise to make amends.

As chairman of the San Francisco Republican Assembly, I apologize to every man, woman and child in America. We Republicans failed to do our job to defeat the most unaccomplished and unqualified presidential candidate in history. We Republicans expected the media to expose a glib community organizer from Chicago who never held a job. We apologize for failing to convince rational adults that mindless slogans will not protect the life, liberty and property of the American people and the free world.

America's investors know this president is using the present crisis to dismantle capitalism. That's why the stock market is crashing and Americans are losing their retirement savings. America's adversaries: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and al Qaeda know this president opposed liberation of 25 million Iraqis, and heads the party that whined, "this war is lost." That's why the world is a more dangerous place.

But an apology is not enough; the GOP also must make amends for what it failed to do in November 2008. Therefore, we Republicans will work harder to ensure that this president fails to impose European socialism and second-rate health care on America. We will also tell every American what this president never will tell: "We will pay any price, bear any burden to assure the survival of liberty," and with no apologies.

Mike DeNunzio

Let me just add this, now that you've read both letters: The atom bomb that ended our war with Japan (whether it was right to use it or not) was not a Democrat or a Republican atom bomb, it was an AMERICAN atom bomb. With the economy tanking, we're probably in more immediate trouble than we were in during World War II, and yet America has become so divided that we're almost crippled when it comes to dealing with the problem. 

Please comment below, or send me an email.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Republican IT Specialist Dies in Plane Crash

Was Michael Connell assassinated?

This short, interesting interview really makes you wonder. Seems like at the last minute they're trying to dispose of some dirty laundry.