Thursday, September 24, 2009

Scientific Failures and Wonders

See a well-balanced and cogent article in SEED Magazine: "Who Speaks for the Earth?" by David Grinspoon about the “METI imbroglio”... or whether we should allow a few fervent believers shout into the cosmos on all our behalf, based upon a narrow range of highly dubious assumptions.  The fairminded essay cites yours truly, among others. 

I’m also briefly interviewed about SETI at the Science and Religion Today site.

For those of you teaching or taking courses on “contemporary issues”...  See - hot off the presses -

Chainging-minds-issuesChanging Minds: Arguments on Contemporary and Enduring Issues.  Jon Ford and Marjorie Ford eds., Penguin Academics Series (2009) My chapter is on the future of surveillance.

“Into God” - The Upcoming Closer To Truth Feature Film, by Robert Lawrence Kuhn - may be of great interest, featuring interviews with luminary minds.

See a nice blog interview on Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys with yours truly.

Here's a video of a discussion on the Singularity, with David Brin, Vernor Vinge, Ben Goertzel, Jamais Cascio, Frederick Turner and others...

Ahem. I had an imbroglio with a minor (and somewhat new-agey) science journal -- The “Journal of Cosmology” after they first commissioned from me, and then rejected (amid childish editorial rage), a peer review of an amateur scientist’s paper on panspermia. That is the hypothesis, most-famously put forward a century ago by Nobelist Svanta Arrhenius, suggesting that all life on Earth descends from seed/spores that crossed interstellar space to land in our planet’s early seas.  After some hours of work -- courteously decrypting, appraising and discussing this paper -- offering both compliments and refuting evidence -- I was stunned by the editor’s response of actinic, unreasoning fury, based upon grievances that were wholly hallucinatory, bearing no relation, whatsoever, to anything that I actually said in my review.

I’ll not waste any further space here in this unpleasantness, though my review: An "explanation" for Life's Origins that falls way short is posted on George Dvorsky’s Sentient Developments site, because of George’s intense interest in life origins.


How cool is this?  You may recall that I wrote the storyline, scenario and opening sequence to the famous Dreamcast game (now on the Playstation 2!)... ECCO THE DOLPHIN II: DEFENDER OF THE FUTURE.  Now it turns out that someone (in Germany) has posted on YouTube not only the opening sequence, but also the interlude sections, telling additional bits of storyline, after the player achieves each major goal.  Sure, the ten year old animation now looks a little crude.  But it was state-of-the art in its time and is still quite beautiful.  And the voice-over by one of the greatest of all Doctor Who actors doesn't hurt. 

See an insightful interview with Pete Garrison, strategic thinker and fiend of SIGMA (The think tank of science fiction authors) in the new Indian SF Magazine,  KALKION. 

When America expires, we probably won't agree on the cause of death. For proof that autopsies of empires are inconclusive, consider the case of Alexander Demandt, the German historian who set out in the 1980s to collect . The final tally: 210, including attacks by nomads on horseback, blood poisoning, decline of Nordic character, homosexuality, outflow of gold, and vaingloriousness."  from How Is America Going To End?  Slate's "Choose Your Own Apocalypse" lets you map out the death of the United States, by Josh Levin.  Unfortunately, it’s a bit fluffy.  I get a bit more serious in my tabulation, in the forthcoming blockbuster novel, EXISTENCE.


Hey, I’ve had my differences with the “New Atheists” like Dennett and Hitchens and Dawkins, who just don’t seem to get how immature and stunningly ironic their wrathful pulpit-pounding makes them look.  Nevertheless, a calmer and less dogmatically self righteous version of their militant confrontationalism toward fundie fanatics seems wholly apropos.

origin of speciesNow dig this: ”On Thursday November 19, 2009, Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort (the banana guy) will be distributing 50,000 copies of Charles Darwin's 'Origin of Species' at universities across America to students for free. BUT THERE'S A CATCH!! Each copy will have a 50 page intro about how evolution has never been proven and how Darwin helped inspire the Holocaust.”  The noive of doze guys!  The Nazis burned Darwin’s Origin of Species!  The fundies’ insane position, that secularism leads to reduced compassion and morality and thus to increased violence runs diametrically opposite to every fact about the last 4,000 years.  And especially the last fifty.  If you rightfully classify both Communism and Nazism as quasi-religious mystical cults, then Dawkins et. al. are perfectly within their rights to claim that many parts of organized religion have been major drivers of human agression and pain.  Certainly, as we’ve seen, Red America has nothing to say to Blue America about morality, or teaching children to lead decent, responsible and ethical lives, since they fall far behind blue states and our cities in every moral category that can be measured by statistics, from divorce to domestic violence to homicide to STDs and teen pregnancy.  A certain amount of militant rejection of such BS is called for.

On the other hand, the New Atheists are self-righteousness druggies without a lick of sense among them. They need to be reminded who brought them to the Enlightenment party! Franklin and Jefferson and Washington and Madison & co. turned civilization toward this wondrous, free and scientific civilization, and those fellows were nearly all either Freemasons or dogma-hating but hyper-tolerant deists.  The original Boy Scouts.

Whatever “opiate” it was that they were taking is precisely what we all need, right now.


I am a total sucker for bridges. Some even make me cry. Really.  Literally.  I think they rank up there, among the best things in the universe.  Now see one of the most beautiful bridges ever created.  The O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Bridge across the Colorado River 1,600 feet (490 m) downstream from the Hoover Dam. The entire project is expected to be completed by September 2010.

About $240 million.
Having something this beautiful to show aliens, so they’ll decide we are worth something, after all? 

Oh, this, too, is Cool!  A piece of an asteroid returned to the telescope that discovered it.

Prenatal exposure to environmental pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can adversely affect a child's intelligence quotient or IQ, according to new research.


A (somewhat) amusing satire of cheap sci fi novel plot cheats. 

This satire represents something that (in a very different form) ought to happen.

Flying with excess baggage is a drag, but hummingbirds have mastered efficient packing. The tiny hoverers have less DNA in their cells than any other previously studied birds, reptiles or mammals, researchers report. Among hummingbird species, however, genome size doesn’t vary along with body size, suggesting that birds’ DNA was pared down before the diversification of today’s hummers. Scientists have long noted the link between small genome size and high metabolic rates — a notion first put forth in 1970 by Polish scientist Henryk Szarski. Bats and birds have the smallest genomes of backboned creatures, and flightless birds tend to have bigger genomes than fliers.

Eliezer Yudkowsky is a research fellow at the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence.  He’s also been writing some terrific think-SF.  Highly recommended mind-food.  Especially the first one. (Though, to see one place where he might have got the main idea, go to my essay on altruism in the universe, A Contrarian Perspective on First Contact, an early version, posted some years ago.  Especially the part about intelligent bears, sacralizing infanticide... hm.;-)

Science-program producer Thomas Lucas has developed a new series of shows that breaks completely away from TV, into delivery via YouTube.  Have a look at Cosmic Journeys. 

Terrrific blog on, by “Geek Dad.”

Fascinating -- why winter-born babies seem to have statistically more likelihood to have problems.  Surprising reason.

Claims of magnetic monopoles have circulated for years.  Here’s the latest.

A Durban IT company pitted an 11-month-old bird armed with a 4GB memory stick against the ADSL service from the country's biggest web firm, Telkom. Winston the pigeon took one hour and eight minutes to carry the data 60 miles - in the same time the ADSL had sent 4% of the data.

Very interesting article about memresistors.  Seriously.


More... anon....


Acacia H. said...

To continue our previous discussion at the end of the other thread, I must admit some curiosity as to your preference for our going to asteroids or Phobos instead of harvesting water from the Moon, especially with the extended risks involved the further we get from the Earth.

While the eventual mining of Near-Earth Asteroids is a definite requirement for manned exploration of the solar system, there are a number of risks inherent at this level of technological expertise. We still need to test and perfect technologies to protect our astronauts from the effects of solar and cosmic radiation, lest the astronaut corps become a death sentence for some of our most brilliant minds. We also need to find efficient methods of leaving Earth's orbit - efficient in terms of both fuel efficiency and time-efficiency; while it might not matter that it takes months to reach Mars through a slower and more fuel-efficient orbit using gravitational slings around the Moon and the Earth to propel robotic spacecraft, how many astronauts would be willing to sacrifice what could be a couple years of their life to reach another planet and return?

While we have designs in mind for ion drives and the like, we still need to build them on a larger scale and see how efficient we can get them. We also need to learn how to survive on the surface of an unforgiving planet or planetoid; while we could learn that on one of the NEAs, they're only called [i]Near Earth[/i] because they pass through the Earth's orbital plane. Most NEAs are as far away from the Earth as Mars is.

The benefit of the Moon is that we can explore it, get the resources we need to escape its gravity well and Earth's as well, and experiment with the technologies we need to go beyond our planet, and yet still be close enough that if something goes wrong, rescue is possible.

Besides. People can look out their window at night and see the Moon. It's obvious, and it's a part of our collective consciousness. It's easier to get people interested in the Moon than Mars or some asteroid they can't even see as a speck of light in the night sky.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

David Brin said...

While you are talking about Panspermia...

David Brin said...

And nobody... despite sucking up to Bush... has ever shown a single increase in our actual capabilities or science, that would occur as a result of squandering a generation's space program on going back to a desolate rock, at the bottom of a gravity well.

Fake_William_Shatner said...

With all due respect (and not wanting to beat a dead horse), what you call a "Gravity Well" I call a Gravity Tea Cup.

Take a look at the fancy launch platform that the lunar lander used to jettison from the moon. Compare that to the giant Saturn V rocket that took three or four men and equipment up to the moon.

Of course the lunar orbiter, doesn't have to leave the moon, but it's a given that you would want a platform orbiting the moon anyway.

I've read a bit about the troubles with Tethering, and just spinning to provide gravity is NOT ideal for a big work platform. Trading a bit of escape velocity for shirt-sleeve working conditions is a good one in my mind.

>> I predict it is already a foregone conclusion that Panspermia will start on the moon with the proven discovery of water.

Already, laser tests have been conducted to send power -- and later, lasers will send power from solar cell equipped satellites as well.

There is a lot of heavy construction and basic materials available on the moon and no worries of pollution.

Lasers bake moon bricks and harvest oxygen. The shells of rockets and fuel can be catapulted from the planet with rail guns, while humans and delicate equipment take the slower shuttle using about 1/60th (a guess) of the force that is required from earth. A good tradeoff for having plenty of solar shielding and something reasonably close to earth.

>> I also think that "gravity repulsion" is around the corner by using phased light and quantum structures, which, if my theory about half-electron orbital distances is correct, could allow propulsion without the expense of fuel.

>> "Squandering money" in believable ways is EXACTLY what our government has been up to for years to make sure that the public doesn't get too wealthy. Remember our talk about Castle Building and Pyramids? Well, these wars that drain money do just that.

As an alternative to making people in Iraq miserable, so that we can eke out cheap carbon fuel -- why not waste it on difficult and wasteful space projects? There is nothing like practical science.

Without HUGE investment, there is no way a human can make it to Mars and back right now. A three year trip? I could do it, but you'd have to find a way to beam the latest XBox game to me.

Acacia H. said...

To be honest, the mining of asteroids (and Phobos) might be best left to robots. Of course, any mining in space would use remote devices (as the danger is probably too great to have people working the machines directly), but the majority of this sort of work would probably be both dangerous and boring, and that is the sort of thing we tend to use robots and remotes for.

The question of course is if humanity will eventually follow one of the ideas mentioned by Isaac Asimov in Nemesis, where multiple asteroids were hollowed out and inhabited. Considering the varied nature of asteroids, finding asteroids that would be best suited for such habitation is part of the problem: do we want a solid asteroid? Or would we build a station and then coat it with baked asteroid dirt to form a shell to protect the inhabitants from micrometeor impacts and solar/cosmic radiation.

Rob H.

Rob Perkins said...

And then, the shells of rockets and other metal-rich matter will be used as mass-driven kinetic bombs. Every silver lining has a cloud.

Eric said...

On atheism and anger:

Tim H. said...

Panspermia might even be the way life started here, but until we get some extraterrestrial proteins to look at, it's speculation. Supernovas seem really unlikely to me as a way to distribute life, not only are large stars unlikely to last long enough for life to have much time, but stellar explosions could be more than a little rough on complex molecules. I just took that as a given in my previous comment. Seems more likely that a spacefaring civilization might launch artificial comets with a molecular payload towards other star systems.

reason said...

I read the article on the winter babies phenomenon and there is something I don't understand in the reporting (given that this is the WSJ, that may be an explaination). They seem to assume that the phenomenon is due to a peak in the fertility of underclass mums, whereas from the charts it is not clear whether it is the underclass mums who are causing the effect or the much greater number of middle-class mums. I just see a clear peak in middle class babies in May (and a drop in January). Well May just happens to be 9 months after August. Could these all be beach babies and the apparent peak in January is a residual as the middle class mums are planning to avoid being highly pregnant at Christmas time?

Maybe the WSJ just wants to blame the underclass for the phenomenon.

JuhnDonn said...

re: winterbabies.

Hmm... daughter was born 9 mos. and 3 days after Y2K. From what I recall, it was a pretty good party (bon fires and medieval tents and machine guns, oh my!).

Funny thing is, there's a lot of kids in her school whose b-day also falls around hers. Weird!

David Brin said...

Here's another very nice Yukowsky think-piece:

Reason & Gilmoure... you seem to nail it. Note, The "June bride" tradition was originally so that babies would be born in early spring, just before planting, so that mothers would then be able to help... and the babes would get sunshine while delicate. I think the laxity of birth control on romantic holidays is the likely explanation.

David Brin said...

Sorry (bloody blogger!)

go to:

Or to

eliminating the carriage returns

David Brin said...

Better Yukowsky links:

Windie said...

Are you sure the Dawkins article is legit and not just paranoid raving?

Its a broken link, so I can't see it.

Woozle said...

A re-posting of all four parts of Brin's "Political Totemism and the Danger of Metaphors" now available on Issuepedia.

Also, for what it's worth: I favor the "New Atheists". I'm tired of being "polite" to bad ideas whose only defense is the fact that they come from a religion -- especially when those advocating such ideas take advantage of this basically liberal impulse (politeness towards other cultures and beliefs) to promote an unenlightened, unegalitarian agenda which would deny respectful treatment for legitimate ideas.

I'm willing to defend them further (in the interest of generating some contrarian discussion -- not that there's any huge shortage) or let it rest.

David Brin said...

As you'll see in a future posting, I am perfectly willing to extend wolverine shiny claws and eviscerate the fundies (of all faiths) who have declared war on the Enlightenment.

What I'll not do is strawman generalize simply in order to dive allies into the enemy camp! That's called SToooopid! I see no benefit in driving off the methodists and reasonable Catholics and non-extreme Jews, all of whom have thrown their lot in with us. Not when we owe the ENTIRE Great Experiment to a pack of masons, deists and believers in Man's ultimate role as Apprentice Creator.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin said:

What I'll not do is strawman generalize simply in order to dive allies into the enemy camp!

Speaking as a Catholic in the Aquinas tradition, thank you! We've known for a long time that there's no conflict between faith and reason (actually, from Aristotle, even before "we" were Catholic!).

Though, I don't think any raging -- even physically violent raging -- will drive me into the enemy's camp, if the enemy is defined as the religious fundamentalists. In a sense, what is a raging, intolerant atheist but a fundamentalist? Same tactics, same kind of expression, same core controlling concept: what they're saying is right, and everyone else is wrong. Fighting fire with fire -- the oxygen rich environment that is the USA these days -- probably isn't a responsible thing to do!

I understand the raging atheist's decision to rage. I just wish they'd learn from history and take more productive action! Polarizing isn't going to help. Collaborative action through understanding will.

Tim H. said...

On the subject of disbelief, I would be a different sort of agnostic if I had not previously believed. Dawkins and Myers are entertaining enough, but I get the impression that if they knew as much history as evolutionary biology, it would give them pause. If religious wars break out on a large scale, millenia of progress could be undone. Eric Flint's "1632" series offers an accessible window into how bad it was the last time, and why religious freedom is such a great idea.

Woozle said...

Anonymous said: "We've known for a long time that there's no conflict between faith and reason (actually, from Aristotle, even before "we" were Catholic!)."

O rly?

So Martin Luther had it backwards?

And major churches (e.g. the Catholics, the Mormons, the Baptists) have entirely rational arguments against gays and their marriages, transsexuals, early-term abortions, stem-cell research, contraceptives? The Jehovah's Witnesses have completely logical reasons for refusing medical care? Muslims are completely reasonable in their belief that apostates should be killed, and that women must wear veils?

Anonymous again: "I just wish they'd learn from history and take more productive action! Polarizing isn't going to help."

What do you do when the other side is pushing an ideology which actively attempts to destroy liberal tolerance of other ideas? How can we tolerate intolerance? How can we continue to treat the other side with deference and respect when they repeatedly break the rules of civil discourse?

Sometimes, you have to take a stand and say "no, these arguments are garbage, and their proponents are a menace to an enlightened civilization".

Sure, there are religious factions that are more reasonable about these things -- but that does not excuse the greater abuses of religion. If well-meaning people of faith were more inclined to stand up and denounce the less-well-meaning who abuse and hide behind a wall of religious piety, I would be more inclined to be sympathetic.

It is much more common, though, for well-meaning people of faith to give anyone who wears that same shield -- "faith" -- a free pass for all manner of atrocity.

It is more or less at that point that "faith" becomes the problem.

David Brin said...

Anonymous... I accept alliance with you, gladly. Though do not expect our alliance to be without internal/fraternal tiffs! I have real problems with Aquinas and Aristotle. Sure Faith and Reason can be made compatible. The inherent friction is between Faith and SCIENCE...

... which is not the same thing as "reason" at all.

Reason -- and mathematics, its most rigorous branch -- is a metaphor generating system. We scientists shake our head over the inherent madness of actually believing you can "prove" anything at all with armwavings, pencils and paper.

Sure, math is internally self-consistent, brilliant and generally honest. But when it talks about the actual world, we take nothing on faith -- OR on "authority", which is what everyone did, under the Scholastic tradition, referring backward in time to scholars whose authority rose, the farther back they lived. While some scholastic traditions, such as the alchemists, the talmudic rabbis and (sometimes) the Jesuits, did allow for the notion of truth-finding through reciprocal argument and gradual progress, it wasn't till AFTER Newton that this approach faded from science in favor of successive, evidence-based, iterative improvement of paradigms.

Moreover, the realms overseen by faith and science have changed, as successive "permanent boundaries" shifted... like most recently the actual creation of living cells from scratch. Had this happened in my youth, the furor would have been HUGE! Now, theologians don't even talk about Craig Ventor. He's a non-issue. The retreat to a new line in the sand has already taken place and life-creation from scratch is no longer seen as the sole province of God.

Think about that! It is huge, amazing, incredible, and nobody even mentions it -- at all!

There IS a theology that's compatible with all of this. It is even consistent with some angled interpretations of scripture. But it is not the widely accepted one.

So, sure, I'll side with you in creating a great coalition to defend reason... and yes, reasonableness (more important!) and tolerance etc against the forces of intolerance and rage. And while most of those forces seem to be gathering in the extreme-religious zones, the New Atheists certainly do strike one of my contrarian alarm tones, reminding us that the body/mind poisons of indignation addiction can strike down anyone.

But you see, I am congenitally contrarian. And while you and I fight darkness, side by side with the freemason George Washington and the deist Franklin, do not expect me not to heckle you and poke.

It is what I do.

Jumper said...

I'm not sure unplanned panspermia would survive the radiation.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I have have been a little more clear when I posted. My goal was to demonstrate that even among traditions that appear to be opposed to the Enlightenment and its principles, there can be significant common ground. I did not mean to imply that there was complete agreement.

I do maintain that people of good will, whatever their background, can work together in a spirit of mutual good will and respect to achieve great things.

Woozle said, So Martin Luther had it backwards?

Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk (prior to 1516, of course!). If memory serves, Augustinians follow the Platonic tradition. That's not the tradition I consider myself a part of, so I don't want to speak for it. I will say that I have serious problems with the Augustinian mindset. Because it suggests ideas are more "real" than reality (as shown here), it opens people to all kinds of manipulation. I think fundamentalists have a greater affinity for Platonic thought than Aristotelian. 

Woozle said, And major churches (e.g. the Catholics, the Mormons, the Baptists) have entirely rational arguments against gays and their marriages, transsexuals, early-term abortions, stem-cell research, contraceptives?

Rational? Sure. Given a certain premise. For example, if life really begins at conception, what's it called when you intentionally end a human life? It's cool if you disagree that's where life starts, but I think it's pretty rational to say that intentionally ending a human life is a problem.

Rational folks can discuss the underlying issues, even with abortion (and even if we can find few example of such a civilized discussion!).

What do you do when the other side is pushing an ideology which actively attempts to destroy liberal tolerance of other ideas?

Oh! That's easy!

Act like an adult. Give the erring kids a good example.

Anonymous said...

Part II of my response to Woozle:

Woozle said, Sometimes, you have to take a stand and say "no, these arguments are garbage, and their proponents are a menace to an enlightened civilization".

Absolutely! I agree with you.

Put another way: There's a Catholic out here -- a guy with a degree in Roman Catholic theology no less! -- who's on your side. Who thinks that the Enlightenment is something worth protecting. Who thinks that the American philosophy of government is unique in history and is worth almost any sacrifice to protect.

If well-meaning people of faith were more inclined to stand up and denounce the less-well-meaning who abuse and hide behind a wall of religious piety, I would be more inclined to be sympathetic.

What makes you think I'm not doing that? Abuse is abuse. Any temporal expression of power is suspect; power expressed through a patriarchal system that has no checks and balances? That's begging for disaster. That's one of my areas of operation (though I'm not making a lot of progress). So, yeah, there's a lot of work to be done in that space.

It is much more common, though, for well-meaning people of faith to give anyone who wears that same shield -- "faith" -- a free pass for all manner of atrocity.

What I'm telling you is that I agree. Faith is no excuse for any hurtful behavior. Indeed -- it should be a call to find even better ways to treat other human beings. 

It is more or less at that point that "faith" becomes the problem.

Do you really think the problem's faith? Not a personal addiction to neural chemicals? Not humans ignoring the lessons of history? Not humans acting with a sense of immunity from prosecution?

Is it really so hard for you to believe that someone who considers himself a man of faith is sitting here agreeing with you?

I'm over long now, but I'll say this: I think it really is hard for you to believe because I'm guessing you've had a string of really painful experiences with people who called themselves religious. So, please take what I say in the spirit I'm offering it: there may be people out there who aren't what you expect and who can help you defend the things that are important to you.


soc said...

What about Sam Harris' point that moderate religious people provide cover for fundamentalists. Once it is acceptable, and even respectable, to believe in a god and scripture, you validate faith. So fundamentalists can't be taken to task for having faith. One weapon gone from our arsenal.

Then when they use scripture to justify things we find horrible, what response would moderates have, since those scriptures have been accepted as of divine origin and as sources of moral guidance. Needless to say, scripture that was written millenia ago operates in a different moral universe than the one contemporary western society inhabits.

In other words, how can you take on fundamentalists without attacking their premises, which also happened to be shared by moderates?

David Brin said...

Not enough attention is paid to the prioritization of assumptions. For example, you may be a member of a church whose official doctrine posits that those who do not follow identical incantations to yours are "not saved."

On the other hand, you were raised in a culture that assumes "that's just the point of view of my book for Sunday mornings and you have yours and of course there are many paths of equal value, so long as there's earnest goodwill."

Um, this is an absolute logical contradiction, of course. Moreover, I do feel that people who accept such contradictions -- and shrug them off --operate at a lower philosophical plane. They just don't get the need to re-evaluate.

Nevertheless, so long as tolerance is the higher-priority meme, such people tend to be okay fellow citizens. And they do NOT "supply cover" for the fundie enlightenment-haters. Dennett and Dawkins are fools.

In contrast, Sarah Palin's cult is sufficiently strident in focusing repeated attention -- with pleasure and joy -- upon the "everybody else is damned" theme, that we know full well which of the two conflicting views has her philosophical priority. The "Everybody has their own right to an opinion" meme is the part that's superficial, political, a matter of convention and convenience. What she prays for, actively and with voluptuous eagerness, is for a day to come that will see the absolute end of the United States of America, plus utter damnation of most of its citizens.

Oh, it's easy to despise such people and know them for The Enemy (their choice, not mine, though - unlike many of my fellow citizens -- I am willing to take her at her word.) But what about people with the opposite priority choice, Shall I let them off the hook?

At one level, sure. We are allies toward a better world. I'll defend them from the New Atheists. Still, I nurse a grumble in my heart. A legitimate complaint. A deep and abiding dare!

Suppose you are forced to face this contradiction in stark opposition where and when it really matters -- say, during a Book Of Revelations Armageddon, in which it suddenly becomes clear that that horrible scenario is ACTUALLY happening, and everybody other than your own small clade of correct incantation chanters is going to suffer extended, gruesome, torture-level dismemberment, followed by perpetual torment in Hell.

In that case, what will you do? It is a fair question, since the BoR is right there, in your holy writ.

I've already made up my own mind what I'll do, in that event. But my choice is obvious. But for some of you, the choice won't be as easy.

You might actually be one of the elect, with eternal bliss at stake, if only you'll toe the line and stay with the forces that are perpetrating the most monstrously righteous -- and righteously monstrous -- pre-arranged and scripted act of deliberate sadism in all the universe.

I know what Sarah Palin will do if -- by pure happenstance of birth and upbringing and personality -- the incantation-mix that she ascribes to just happens to match that of the Chosen Few, elected by an angry God, ruthlessly following a storyline straight out of a schizophrenic's LSD trip

Barely suppressing hand-rubbing shadenfreude glee.... she will attempt to mask it with an occasional "tsk" of "sorrow" for all those (*giggle*) lost souls who didn't listen to her, back in normal times. I'd not expect -- nor ask -- from her anything else.


David Brin said...

But what about you? (The generic "you" aimed at all the people who sincerely want to fit older, wrathful incantations into modern, tolerant and enlightened robes.) What will you do, if those "sacred" stories from more insecure and angry times actually come true?

Or if some milder version -- softened and spiffed-out by later theologian-rationalizers -- turns out to be correct. e.g. after death, you head toward ecstasy while sadly witnessing your "un-saved" neighbors and fellow citizens drift away from eternal bliss as a matter of "cause-effect choice" that casts no blame upon the sad-eyed Creator who weeps over every beloved whose (utterly sincere but uninformed and ignorant-innocent) secular choices caused their incantations to be wrong and thus for them to drift into a non-punishment, non-Hell, state of eternally-bereft numbness, forever removed from joy? Again, as a matter of simple cause-effect, with no blame to fall upon the designer of the entire system?

(Believe it or not, that is the new, politically correct, rationalization of damnation! One that lets God off the hook. Brilliant! If no less ultimately sick than before.)

They boil down to the same thing. So. Here's the challenge and the dare. If either of those things happens, who will have the guts to raise a hand and say -- "WAIT a minute... that doesn't seem right!"

Or, perhaps, even : "I won't be any party to this."


David Brin said...

But what about you? (The generic "you" aimed at all the people who sincerely want to fit older, wrathful incantations into modern, tolerant and enlightened robes.) What will you do, if those "sacred" stories from more insecure and angry times actually come true?

Or if some milder version -- softened and spiffed-out by later theologian-rationalizers -- turns out to be correct. e.g. after death, you head toward ecstasy while sadly witnessing your "un-saved" neighbors and fellow citizens drift away from eternal bliss as a matter of "cause-effect choice" that casts no blame upon the sad-eyed Creator who weeps over every beloved whose (utterly sincere but uninformed and ignorant-innocent) secular choices caused their incantations to be wrong and thus for them to drift into a non-punishment, non-Hell, state of eternally-bereft numbness, forever removed from joy? Again, as a matter of simple cause-effect, with no blame to fall upon the designer of the entire system?

(Believe it or not, that is the new, politically correct, rationalization of damnation! One that lets God off the hook. Brilliant! If no less ultimately sick than before.)

They boil down to the same thing. So. Here's the challenge and the dare. If either of those things happens, who will have the guts to raise a hand and say -- "WAIT a minute... that doesn't seem right!"

Or, perhaps, even : "I won't be any party to this."


David Brin said...

I know I will. But then, I am what God or nature or mutagens made me -- an ornery contrarian who cannot not poke at whatever is in front of me. Every such correct-incantation scenario has me shuffling off to perdition already, anyway. Where I already know what I'll do (if this very unlikely chain of events happens).

If I am left with the five greatest gifts, the ones that make us human, I'll simply use them as best I can, to live as best I can, to learn (amid either brimstone torment or sheol-emptiness) how to cope and live on as well as possible, to discover the rules and then use my strivings, even across eons, to help my fellow damned. To ease their pain a bit. To tend to them and keep trying to find a way out.

Those gifts? Curiosity. Compassion. Ambition. Problem-solving skill. And Hope. (The very same traits, by the way, that a more reasonable "father" would want most, in children who are on a trajectory toward something far brighter than mere "salvation." Toward work -- as burgeoning co-creators. That role for which we were clearly designed.)

And if I find these five things taken from me, in whatever place that I've been sent?

Well, then that simply won't be me. It will be a sock puppet, created just to scream or moan for the pleasure of a sick mind. WTF. Enjoy. Again, though it will scream and repent realistically, it won't be me.


David Brin said...

Fortunately, I know none of that is going to happen. My God made a universe filled with trillions of trillions of stellar-thermonuclear fireworks. A cosmos thirteen billion years old, driven by the stunning beauty of quark symmetry, relativity, quantum probability and Maxwell's Equations. A metagalaxy so stunning and gorgeous that he could wrassle the petty, nasty ant of Revelations with a single follicle on the back of a asingle toe.

Oh,He's got plenty to answer for... and He may not exist at all (or yet). But there are scenarios that might be compatible with both a God and the universe of Einstein and Darwin and Franklin. Anyway, I am fascinated. As I was made/evolved/raised/propagandized/happened to be.

So? What'll you do, if the Twelve-horned Beast appears in the sky and all that bullshit actually starts coming down? (The fundies are mystified why Israeli Jews won't rebuild the Temple, an act which they say is a sure precursor to the BoR scenario being unleashed... and blood gushing from the eyes of any Jews who thereupon remain Jews... seriously, they are mystified!)


Now consider this. What if it turns out to be a test? What if the whole tung turns out to be a simulation, for your benefit, in order to see if you are the sort of person willing to go along with such a horrific, blatantly wrong-sick-evil crime, simply in order to guarantee yourself eternal bliss?

Oh, how I wish I could deliver that challenge to every pulpit, where sanctimony-addicts and hypocrites cast spells of ultimate shadenfreude-selfishness and incantations that should make any truly decent person feel shame.

Woozle said...

P.S. to Anonymous: soc's comment above (just before Brin's 3-parter) caused me to remember this idea, which I proposed the last time I had a good conversation with an intelligent person of faith (2007).

I never could get her to commit to it or to say what was wrong with it.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin said Sure Faith and Reason can be made compatible. The inherent friction is between Faith and SCIENCE...

You know, I've never thought of it from that perspective. I've always understood "reason" to include science. I can see from your description how they are different. I still think that I can honestly say that between faith and science there is no conflict. I mean, how can there be?

Dr. Brin said, Moreover, the realms overseen by faith and science have changed, as successive "permanent boundaries" shifted... The retreat to a new line in the sand has already taken place and life-creation from scratch is no longer seen as the sole province of God.

Interesting point. I think that theologians and catechists are in reactionary mode now; I think they would agree with you that they have in fact retreated. Many feel like science is herding them into obscurity and treats them with great disrespect.

I would suggest, though, that there isn't really a distinction in terms of realms. The disciplines of empirical science and theological science should have free reign across all aspects of reality. Theology looks at the creation of the cell in a specific context; it doesn't ever talk about the process by which it took place. It focuses on the who and why the cell was created. Why should it think that "province of God" means we can't understand the creation process? Or even duplicate it?

In fact, couldn't one argue that the mere accessibility of these things is an invitation to come closer to God by learning his techniques and understanding what he did? I mean, what kind of craftsman leaves his tools laying around, then yells at his kids for being curious?

I know this probably doesn't make sense given what the terms have come to mean, but I honestly see theology as one of the sciences. Like Aquinas said, I think it's the queen of the sciences. So from my perspective, it's all good.

Dr. Brin said, do not expect me not to heckle you and poke.

I really think CITOKATE is the only way to go, so I'd expect and hope for no less!

Anonymous said...

Soc said, Once it is acceptable, and even respectable, to believe in a god and scripture, you validate faith. So fundamentalists can't be taken to task for having faith. One weapon gone from our arsenal.

I think we may mean different things by "faith".

We all operate on faith. I have faith, for example, that my senses are accurately (relatively) relaying the world to me. I have faith that my friends are mostly honest with me. I have faith that the scientific community has done their homework, and that the theory of gravity is as close to a fact as we can get.

I also have faith that a good God created everything. My faith demands that I reject anything that's not good as not being consistent with God's will. "Not good" means hurtful to anyone. So bigotry, cruelty, racism -- and a host of other things I think most of this blog's readers would recognize as "not good" -- all of these things need to be fought. And healed, if possible.

I don't think faith's the problem. I think tagging it as the problem can blind you to possibilities to build alliances that can blunt the impact of fundamentalism.

Soc said, what response would moderates have, since those scriptures have been accepted as of divine origin and as sources of moral guidance.

This is an excellent question, and it's the one that we moderates in the faith community need to answer in a big way. The answer, in one sense, is obvious, at least from a Christian perspective: use scripture to point out the errors. And it can be done with one quote. According to scripture, Jesus said (paraphrasing), "I give you a new commandment. Love one another as I loved you." In the context of His life, this means, "Love one another enough to be ready to die for one another."

Not kill one another in His name. Be willing to die for one another. To disrupt the patterns of fury using the tactics Ghandi practiced; to go to any length to protect one another; to treat one another with kindness and love.

It is indeed up to moderate Christians to pound this home. I'm sure that the holy books of the other major world religions have similar passages.

What can moderates of other traditions (like atheists) do? Make it easy for religious moderates to make common cause. Make it clear that the tools of the Enlightenment are real and beneficial. Heck, make it clear that the Enlightenment was a return to the tenets of Christianity after unchecked human power in various church hierarchies screwed them up!

That's my take, anyway.

Woozle said...

...Okay, Brin's five-parter... :-)

If I understand Brin's Challenge to the Believers, I think I can say I agree -- and possibly even paraphrase it thusly:

If you felt that God was making bad moral decisions, would you meekly accept them as intrinsically right-by-definition? Or would you stand up and say "No, God is being immoral!"

Are you subservient to a force beyond all accountability -- or do you let your own innate moral sense call the shots?

My answer: Even if there turns out to be a God, I am not under it. (By the same token: if there was a Jesus, I didn't ask him to die for me and I don't owe him. Thanks for the thought, but ask first next time... and for Goshsake, leave better documentation.)

sociotard said...

Well, there was that bacteria they found recently that lives on uranium ore and bleach. And the radiodurans that live in barrels of nuclear waste are well known.

Ah, extremophiles, gotta love them.

I'm not sure about surviving entry inot the atmosphere. maybe.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin asked, In that case, what will you do? It is a fair question, since the BoR is right there, in your holy writ.

Depending on who you talk to, the Book of Revelation was written less to foretell the future as it was to describe, in colorful code, what was going on under Nero. I think a lot of it was reactionary; a group of people who were being murdered were longing for their enemies to be destroyed, so the images were heavy with eschatological (end times) images. So, the whole idea of the Rapture as a coming event is foreign to me.

But that's kinda avoiding your question.

There's a concept in Catholic theology called "Baptism by Desire." Yes, the Church teaches that unbaptized folks have a problem getting into heaven. But the theological community has always been uncomfortable with that. Would a loving God use a technicality to condemn people of good will to hell just because they never underwent a human ritual? No!

And what do you do to a person who's been subjected to something like fundamentalist preaching all his life, who rejects that Caricature of Jesus as false? When in fact that rejection is a Good Thing?

Baptism by Desire recognizes that when anyone does what is right because it's right, that counts. It is a good thing that brings the person closer to God.

So, if I live into a Rapture scenario and I see people of good will being condemned or turned into beast good, I hope and pray I have the courage to step forward and defend them.

I would expect God to approve, or He's not who I think He is.

Anonymous said...

Woozle said, I never could get her to commit to it or to say what was wrong with it.

Interesting read!

I like a lot of it. If I may be so bold as to offer some thoughts on how to improve it?

The treaty says, as the leaders generally have their own unspoken agendas and are far too intertwined with the survival of their core dogma to be able to think as independent individuals

Doesn't this sound fairly judgmental? Might it be better to leave the invitation open to everyone at any level of the organization?

The treaty says, Any claim that religious law is supreme over secular law, or that believers are entitled to violate secular law if their religion claims this is acceptable

I see where you're going with this, and I generally agree. For example, no matter what your scripture says, having a lot of wives is a bad thing because we recognize the inherent injustice to women of allowing such a subservient relationship.

However, consider a hypothetical situation like slavery in the 1800s. Isn't it incumbent on citizens to take some action against slavery? Many people of faith spoke out against slavery because of their faith. If a faith were to claim that slavery was evil and that slavery laws should be ignored, wouldn't that be a Good Thing?

I guess I'm just trying to get my head around how the point could better be made.

The treaty says, condemning all religiously-based violence and threats

I'd love to see this expanded to "all violence and threats." Why stop at religious threats?

Other than that, I think the treaty hits a lot of the important points.

Woozle said...

People are using the word "faith" in two similar but distinct ways, then using the virtues of the one to imply virtue in the other.

There is a difference between "faith in God" and faith "that my senses are accurately (relatively) relaying the world to me." The latter is a rational conclusion based on evidence -- indeed, I would hardly call it "faith"; perhaps you need "faith" to believe that this pattern will continue when all you have is "theories" to explain why it works in the first place... but that's still worlds more evidence than there is for God.

To paraphrase something I was trying to say earlier (the whole thing about idealism): You can believe in good without believing in God. (I firmly believe in good.)

Re the treaty: the "judgmental" part you quote was more by way of explanation of how I would expect the treaty to be used, and not part of the treaty as such. In practice, I would certainly offer religious leaders the chance to sign on, without prejudice -- and would not be surprised if many from the less authoritarian sects (Quakers, Unitarians, maybe even Episcopalians) were willing.

"Many people of faith spoke out against slavery because of their faith. If a faith were to claim that slavery was evil and that slavery laws should be ignored, wouldn't that be a Good Thing?"

(a) There are good rational reasons to oppose slavery, and few in support of it that are not also clearly selfish and callous. The "science" of the time offered as counterpoint was generally trumped-up BS, and I would like to think that in the Internet age it would be rapidly exposed and roundly savaged from all sides -- much as the "New Atheists" are now doing with religion's worst excesses.

(b) Many branches of Christianity used the Bible in defense of slavery. How strong a case can you make on the basis of X if you have other groups also using X to make the opposite case? ...especially since, if I've got my history right, the pro-slavery Christians tended to outnumber the abolitionists by a good bit.

"I'd love to see this expanded to "all violence and threats." Why stop at religious threats?"

(a) The concluding line does say 'where we define "attack" to mean any kind of physical violence or harm, or threat of same."'

(b) I should think that condemnation of non-religious violence went without saying, but perhaps in these post-9/11 days it no longer does (an alarming number of otherwise-sane people now rush to defend the US torture policy -- "they're really really bad people!!") -- so, yeah, okay... it just needs to be made clear that signatories are agreeing that religion does not in any way excuse or justify violence. (And that includes the Holy War on Terror.)

On the other hand, am I trying to say that going to war is (always) wrong? I'd certainly like to say that, but the case isn't as clear-cut... and who might I be "offending" by that generalization? Would I be needlessly excluding members of the military?

Whereas it seems pretty clear that going to war for religious reasons is always wrong... hence the inclusion of that criterion.

Maybe inserting a phrase allowing for violence in self-defense would make possible a more general condemnation of violence/threats, removing the need to determine whether or not religion is involved.

Acacia H. said...

One of the sad truths that I have noticed as a pagan is that we bring the roots of our old religion with us. It doesn't matter if the new religion is Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, or any of a number of the pagan faiths out there. Thus you can have fundamental and hateful pagans out there, you can have secular Muslims, you can have "Sunday-Morning Buddhists" who think one dose of spirituality a week is all it takes.

One area where I came into considerable conflict with other pagans in the pagan interest e-mail lists I used to belong to was the anti-Christian prejudice and fear that would rear its head whenever someone decided to troll the e-mail list and either tell us we were all damned and horrible people, or would try to prove us wrong in our beliefs. The result was unfortunately a tendency to hate and despise anything Christian, no matter how tolerant or accepting.

It is part of the reason I ended up leaving those lists. And it is something I fight in myself whenever I see the signs of that prejudice and fear starting to sprout. It is very easy to become irrational about something (to the point that you can easily become cynical about everything), especially if you grew up with it as a constant that you couldn't escape from.

Ironically, I've found that those people who have embraced science as their new religion likewise tend to have the same prejudices and fears. This is perhaps part of the reason behind the conflict between religion and reason/science. I've seen people who act quite disdainful of me (and others like me) who believe in magic and that it is possible to manipulate the energies around us to alter the world (and universe) in subtle or even not-so-subtle ways. This is the same disdain held toward the belief in the Resurrection and in miracles in general.

(Amusingly enough, my own attempts to prove science holds not all the answers and that just because current technology cannot detect magical phenomena doesn't mean it doesn't exist is laughed off. It is perfectly fine to believe in Dark Matter and Dark Energy and Dark Attractors... despite the fact we cannot directly observe these things and have no real knowledge of what they are. But believing that a person can manipulate energies in another person to affect healing or help (or harm!) them? Is insanity.)

What's more, this cold logic of science has even led to a division in science itself; Islam, a religion that at one point helped preserve scientific knowledge, is now starting to drift into the belief there are two different types of science: Western Secular Science, and the Science that Allah approves of. From the journals I've read (in abstracting for my job), it appears that in an effort to distance itself from the at-times disdainful and anti-Divine aspects some Sciences seem to promote, some nations that are primarily Islamic are considering Western Science to be suspect, and only those sciences approved by the Islamic priests (and those discoveries by Islamic scientists in Islamic nations) are "true" to Allah.

The sad fact is, truth is relative. This includes scientific truths. If someone decides to write up a scientific discovery so that it "disproves" the Divine (no matter what form it takes), then it risks not only driving the more spiritual among us away from the sciences... but even dividing science itself to become a tool of those who want to divide people so they remain in power.

And if this prejudice against others can appear in even the most educated of people... then I don't know what we can do to try and stop it.

Rob H.

Rob Perkins said...

Did I read right up there somewhere, David, that someone has experimentally produced a living cell from raw materials?

If so, my only response could be, "how godlike!"

David, have you heard of Kurt Goedel? No mathematical system as complex or more complex than integers is provably self-consistent. (Euclidian geometry is an example of something less complex than this)

Math is on shakier ground than you've implied. Though it is very very easy to overstate this, it appears to follow that any reasoning from a combination of a very few premises would have unprovable consistency.

For what it's worth, I define faith in such a way that there is no difference between it and observing the world, advancing a hypothesis, submitting it all to a falsifiable test...

Yes; I just made the claim that my religous faith is indistinguishable from modern scientific method, fully aware that there are those among you who a) will reject this as absurd, out of hand, b) will cite anachronistic instances of abuses I've never performed, from my religious tradition, or c) will commit ad hominem and simply malign my character, or perhaps even d) malign my tradition for practices which are not currently popular in the wider culture.

Woozle, our current American system defends slavery quite handily without an appeal to a book of scripture, and many, if not most Americans are thus enslaved. What else could unmanageable consumer debt possibly be, if it can rob you of your home and reduce your effective wages to below poverty level?

In any case, in defense of my own religious tradition, our response to the possibility of apocalypse is to be physically prepared, so that our neighbors all have something to eat when the Beast arrives. Our attitude about governments and when to overthrow them has been published and unchanged for almost 150 years.

And this cannot be understated: At the most authoritative levels, my religious leaders unequivocally acknowledge that human sexuality is complex and ill-researched, take no stance on the causes of statistically deviant attraction patterns, take no stance on stem cell research, have declared contraceptive use a matter of personal conscience, and well, I could go on, but I'd have to shrug; would you (that generic "you" constantly knee-jerk-equivocating all religious sensibility with the Palin-paleocons) even pay attention?

Rob Perkins said...

In other words, how can you take on fundamentalists without attacking their premises, which also happened to be shared by moderates?

"Fundamentalists" are not aligned with their traditions' premises. For any Christian, for example, the key idea is, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."

Another possible meme would be, "The whole have no need of a physician," referring to a Jesus who touched lepers, befriended tax collectors, and didn't push anyone out of his discussion circles.

For other traditions, I'm not sure what would be appropriate, but I think that the effort would pretty much always involve showing that a wider context validly exists under the same premises.

Unknown said...

@Rob: Yes; I just made the claim that my religous faith is indistinguishable from modern scientific method

I can't wrap my head around this!

Could you give us an example of something you believe by faith which you suspect atheists (e.g.) would reject on a "scientific" basis, and explain how the scientific method permits this belief?

(For example, literal 7-day creation could be taken on faith, though everything known about physics & biology tells a very different story. (Though I wouldn't know how to reconcile this using the modern scientific method.))

A few years ago, I read a book by the Dalai Lama on science, and he finished the foreword (viewable on Amazon) with this surprising quote:

"spirituality must be tempered by the insights and discoveries of science. If as spiritual practitioners we ignore the discoveries of science, our practice is also impoverished, as this mind-set can lead to fundamentalism."

soc said...

Let me restate this: If you believe that the Bible or the Quran is God's comunication to humankind, but your values are essentially in line with modern values, what do you say to the guy who says "my scripture calls for adulterers to be stoned to death" or "thieves should have their hands cut off."?

It seems to me that moderates are guilty of a selective reading of scripture. They tend to highlight those verses that most people today would agree with (be kind, charitable, generous, compasionate, forgiving etc.) but ignore or delibrately overlook the other more wrathful stuff.

Look, God is saying both things, if you're honest shouldn't you accept both? And if you do, how does that balance out with your modern sensibilities?

Robert: there is good reason to believe in dark matter even though it cannot be directly observed. I'm no physicist (but I think there's one around here :) ) but I gather that dark matter is vaguely defined. There is more gravitional force in the universe than can be accounted for by observable matter, therefore this dark matter is brought in to account for that "excess" gravity. I hope I got that right...anyhow the point is there is good reason to believe in that stuff. What good reason is there to believe in magic?

And I've never heard any scientist say that science knows everything. If it did there'd be no point in continuing to do science.

anonymous: Science is a way of knowing about the world, and it has a pretty good track record. What exactly is the track record of theology? How much useful, verifiable knowledge has theology produced? In what way can theology be considered a science unless it follows the scientific method?

Acacia H. said...

The thing is, and it's funny how much the more fundamentalist types refuse this belief, the first day is not the first day of the Earth. It's the first day of the Universe itself. So who is to say what constituted a day?

If you accept that the word "day" is a period of time for the Creator of everything... then why is this Creator confined to the time as dictated by the Creator's own creation? This is a form of arrogance on the behalf of the fundamentalists. Why would the Creator need to conform to the time-period of the creation itself?

Thus the First Day could be considered metaphoric. It could be billions of years long. It could be a mere microsecond, the instant of the Big Bang itself (and in many ways, does it not describe the Big Bang? "And then there was light." (Though scientific theories on the Big Bang often suggest it was almost a million years before the Big Bang cooled enough for true darkness... and a hundred million years before light returned to the universe in the form of the first stars.)

So then, how long was the first day? And why is it so important to put it in metaphysical terms of precisely 24 hours in the Christian Creationism Mythos? Is there a fear that if you accept that the "time" as mentioned in Genesis is metaphoric in nature that the rest of the Bible could likewise be seen in metaphoric terms and that the "history" of Christianity itself turns into a lie?

And if the Creation Mythos itself is a lie, then perhaps the Cake is a lie as well. ;) The Cake, in this case, being God itself.

Sometimes at my more cynical moments I wonder how many priests and ministers truly believe... and how many claim to believe so to keep the power they have accumulated through the collective acceptance of hundreds of millions of followers who need to believe in something greater than themselves. Don't get me wrong; I likewise believe in something greater. I believe I actually encountered it (probably a similar occurrence to the "Born Again" movement, but with an encounter that was distinctly... female). Yet the cynic in me suggests it could have been all in my head; a brief blip of insanity, inherent in mankind's instinctive need for something higher than itself.

I am not alone with having an inner cynic saying such things. Might not these words, spoken in the inner thoughts of the fundamentalists, perhaps drive their fear-driven antics to control the world, because if all that they believed is a lie, then if this lie gets out, they risk losing everything.

Rob H., spouting philosophical musings far too early in the morning....

Rob Perkins said...

@atomicsmith -- Of course you can't wrap your head around it, if you think my beliefs are based in inerrant scripture. Scripture's value to me is as a collection of well-preserved eyewitness accounts of things. Along with other older things with different levels of value.

So I don't know if I can help you. Nothing in my religion requires me to believe in a literal 7-day creation, especially since we explicitly reject an interpretation which equates "day" with "period of Earth's rotation", to cite your example.

Could you give us an example of something you believe by faith which you suspect atheists (e.g.) would reject on a "scientific" basis, and explain how the scientific method permits this belief?

I don't think I can help you with that in general, since something which atheists accept on a scientific basis would, by the tenets of my own faith, be something I'd be required to either also consider true, or hold in abeyance until rigorously not disproved by experiment.

Thirteen billion year old cosmos? Looks that way. Why would I deny what the redshift clearly shows.

(Though, I will admit to trusting men like David Brin with telling me the truth about that, since I have no access to a radiotelescope array. To their credit, they flood us with the data. But that, too, is faith.)

Species evolution by natural selection? There are strong evidences that this stuff works both at the cellular mutation level *and* as an adaptive mechanism for the most complex of earthbound species. Can't deny that, either, and I wouldn't want to. God is more amazing if the life systems He created are self-adapting and interdependent. Inserting humans compatibly into that is more impressive than ex nihilo creation.

Quark symmetry? relativity? quantum probability? I can't use the machine I'm using to communicate with y'all and not take those ideas seriously.

(String theory is still out there for me, though; my readings appear to show that it's still too much math and not enough experimental science.)

David Brin said...

"I think that theologians and catechists are in reactionary mode now; I think they would agree with you that they have in fact retreated. Many feel like science is herding them into obscurity and treats them with great disrespect."

In my novel KILN PEOPLE I portray this continuing, as the ascience and craft called "soulistics" allows people to imprint copies of their memories and soul into clay golems.

But your statement seems VERY odd to me. Science keeps herding religion back, with disrespect? Yes, I can see that it is seen that way... and let me tell you how churlish that is.

It is like a father, slamming daoors in the path of his bright child, every step of the way, refusing to let him go first to elementary school, then high school, trade school and the navy, then college... and with every accomplishment grumbling "You think THAT's important? Huh. Well, maybe to a tradesman of tinkerer. But it's nothing compared to ____ and he names whatever it is the kid hasn't yet mastered.

That is PRECISELY the way religion has treated science... after being forced, kicking and screaming, to allow science to exist -- at all!!

Never, ever, ever do theologians, who keep erecting these barriers -- and signs that say "this realm you'll never understand" -- never do they admit the incredibly obvious fact --

-- that science has proved that it is revelation. Absolutely equivalent to any and everything in the Bible. And yes, THAT important. As important as Moses and Isaiah and Jesus and all the others.

Well? Didn't they add wisdom to wisdom? Weren't we MADE to build upon and improve upon what previous generations knew? Isn't it part of our design? Don't the best fathers want their children to be better, then better still? What is so freaking hard to understand about this? Why is this interpretation never, ever mentioned?

Einstein said the laws of nature did not have to be so beautifully clear and easy (with generations of effort) to understand. It is as if our brains were designed for this art, this exploration, this quest... to sneak into the workshop of creation, where the door was left unlocked and the lights were left on -- and begin studying how it was done... and yes... WHY does come along with all that. As does greater understanding of empathy and justice and every other topic that is found in the revered kindergarten text... the Bible.

In fact, all this is even IN the Bible! Adam and Eve weren't punished for eating of the fruit of knowledge! They were expelled and told to work, but there's no rancor in the passage, as there would be over actual sins, later on. Likewise, the Tower of babel. READ that passage! It makes clear that humans CAN achieve Godlike powers, of every kind. Stymieing us with multiple languages only delayed this, and it was done without the slightest anger -- as if the delay was just part of the process, not anything permanent at all.

(Hey, this is all gonna be in EXISTENCE! ;-)


David Brin said...

No, I will defend sincere religious faith that accepts the paramountcy of the Enlightenment we fought so hard to achieve. Some religions find that compatibility easier than others. But I must still hold up a hand and say "Hold! Until you open your eyes and accept how important science is... that the kindergarten text may still have things to say to us, but it cannot over-rule our graduate studies!... then don't expect us to completely get along.

"So, if I live into a Rapture scenario and I see people of good will being condemned or turned into beast good, I hope and pray I have the courage to step forward and defend them."

You are one of us, then. The more so because you'd be turning from the offered easy path. Don't worry. Have faith. It'll only be a simulation. A test. And you'll pass.

Oh, there were/

"(Amusingly enough, my own attempts to prove science holds not all the answers and that just because current technology cannot detect magical phenomena doesn't mean it doesn't exist is laughed off. It is perfectly fine to believe in Dark Matter and Dark Energy and Dark Attractors... despite the fact we cannot directly observe these things and have no real knowledge of what they are. But believing that a person can manipulate energies in another person to affect healing or help (or harm!) them? Is insanity.)"

Actually, this shows a lack of understanding that seems surficially logical, but it is not. I wish SKEPTIC would post my essay on PSI. I wish I had time to explain. Basically, we know about dark matter etc because of the continuity equation. We can measure the effect of something that enters or leaves a box, leaving the box heavier or lighter. etc. Magic NEVER has verifiable/repeatable effects.

Also, if it did exist, as touted by its believers, it is flat-out unfair, catering itself to egomaniac/secretive magicians who never turn it into widely distributed tools, skills, good, cures that can repeatably be given to the masses in their millions. Sorry, but even if it is real, I don't like it.

"The sad fact is, truth is relative. This includes scientific truths. "

Sorry, this is post-modernism and silliness. Yes, science routinely gets polluted by the subjectivity of its practitioners. It recognizes that danger, and keeps trying, relentlessly, to find better ways to deal with it.

And the effort is rewarded.

Acacia H. said...

@soc said: Robert: there is good reason to believe in dark matter even though it cannot be directly observed. I'm no physicist (but I think there's one around here :) ) but I gather that dark matter is vaguely defined. There is more gravitional force in the universe than can be accounted for by observable matter, therefore this dark matter is brought in to account for that "excess" gravity. I hope I got that right...anyhow the point is there is good reason to believe in that stuff. What good reason is there to believe in magic?


Because scientists are working on faith here. All we know is that astronomers state that galaxies appear more massive than the visible matter in them should account for. Yet we have only seen galaxies for a mere second of their lifespans. We make assumptions as to their rotation and what makes them up, and each day, each new observation reveals more and more that we don't know, and that alters just how we understand the functioning of the universe.

We cannot directly measure dark matter or dark energy. This means that our technology is unable to directly observe these phenomena. And yet, scientists are sure they exist. But the same level of faith is denied for the spiritual phenomena of miracles, magic, and spirituality. There are instances that happen that make entirely no sense whatsoever (such as premonitions and their ilk) scientifically. Yet they exist.

My suspicion is this: the human mind is in many ways more powerful than we've realized, and does in fact have the ability to manipulate reality itself. However, the collective belief of humanity is such that we ourselves are forcing the world to behave in a predictable manner. You have some psychics and their ilk who truly believe in what they can do... and yet when tested by scientists who truly disbelieve in these abilities, the psychics end up not being statistically significant. Any variations are blips that can be explained away with enough testing from people who believe that psychics aren't real.

In short, disbelief is a form of power which can affect reality itself and force conformity of such things as miracles and magic. Or in other words, magic works on you only if you believe it can. And while this can be explained away psychologically by some, this is just another form of disbelief used to try and force reality itself to conform to predictions and beliefs.

Whether or not this belief of mine is real or just a philosophical musing remains to be seen. But is it any less real than "I think, therefore I am?" After all, if all of creation is a massive simulation as occasionally (and only partly jokingly) mentioned by Dr. Brin, then we aren't. And thinking that we are does not mean we are, because when the simulation ends, we all vanish with it.

Unless belief itself can keep the simulation alive.

(Mind you, I believe in science, astronomy, dark matter, black holes, and in the mathematical nature of the universe from which everything else is created, including chemistry and physics. But my belief can accept that there are more things in heaven and earth than our sciences can account for.)

Rob H., who really shouldn't be waxing philosophic at 2 a.m.

Rob Perkins said...

I've thought of dark matter and dark energy as placeholders in the equations, kind of like constants that make the thing balance in the first place. It's not really a troubling thing to hear a scientist say, "We don't know that part yet."

Rob Perkins said...

do you say to the guy who says "my scripture calls for adulterers to be stoned to death" or "thieves should have their hands cut off."?

They're applying the exigencies of ancient times to a modern context, and not paying attention to the rest of their own documents or the context the documents reside in.

Woozle said...

Robert/Rob H. and also Rob: Science is only a religion for certain definitions of "science" and "religion"; in general, they are more different than similar. Here is a comparison matrix -- please let me know if you have anything to add, or see any errors.

I have often made the same case that you made about magic: just because we haven't pinned something down scientifically doesn't mean it can't be real. A quote sticks in my head: "I would prefer to believe that a couple of Yankee professors had lied than that rocks fell from the sky." (...which actually illustrates the flip-side: scientists saying "X exists!" and laypeople saying "yo mama.") More recently, I was listening to a story on NPR about US National Parks -- apparently when hot springs and boiling mudflads were reported by the first explorers out West, nobody believed them -- scientists included. (...but as soon as funding was available, they investigated.)

That said... before anyone starts believing in something, even tentatively, I would expect them to (a) have at least the first bit of evidence to go on, however inconclusive, and (b) treat their belief as a hypothesis to be studied further -- gather data, including data which goes against the hypothesis; look for more conclusive evidence -- rather than a foregone conclusion. Seek not to prove your rightness, but rather to find the truth.

My answer to you with regard to "anti-Christian prejudice" and tolerant Christians is the same thing I said to Anonymous: if it came down to a disagreement between dogma and evidence, what would these tolerant Christians do?

I would also add Brin's challenge: if it seemed clear that some part of their doctrine was manifesting itself in the real world, in such a way as to pose a conflict between doctrinal mores and the secular mores they claim to really believe in (the simplest example being "God punishing people unfairly"), what would they do?

I don't have any trust, as yet, that they would do the right thing -- but maybe such challenges would make a good "IFF" when dealing with those who claim to be both religious and tolerant.

When you say "truth is relative", are you implying that there is no objective reality?

Just Rob, now: I agree with you about modern slavery, at least as a tentative hypothesis supported by a good deal of informal evidence.

However, saying that "X still exists" in no way counters my claim that "Religion defended X more than it attacked it, and is generally useless towards providing a convincing argument against it". Do I need to enumerate the reasons why this is so?

Here's another point to chew on: I have no problem with people studying the Bible (or the Quran, or Bhagavad-Gita, or the Kalevala), as long as it is understood to be a work of mythology. Parts of it may be factual, but it should not be taken as inerrant or -- most importantly -- as any kind of moral guide.

Can we all agree on this?

Tim H. said...

A problem with Judeo-christian scripture, there's something in it for nearly everyone, especially if one squints just so, and ignores context. Much of fundie dogma fits in that category. From here it's easy to sympathize with SF novels where seedships are sent out with all mention of religion scoured from their memory (Voyage from yesteryear, James P. Hogan and The songs of distant earth, Arthur C. Clarke), but there is enough good that people of good will can wring a benevolent religion from it, unfortunately, sociopaths can find plenty of material also. Religion should not be abolished, but reformed, in their own words, "Go, and sin no more".

Tony Fisk said...

Wow! Things have been fizzing here in the last day or two!
(Must be Grand Final weekend! ;-)

'How dost thou know that thou art naked?'
'I ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge..'
'..And what did I tell you to do?'
'Er, not eat the fruit of..'
'No, before that?'
'...Count the beasts?'
'Yes. Go and count the beasts. For yourself. *NOT* divine their number from a bloody apple core!!!'

The way the discussion has been going reminds me of an interesting/infuriating novel I read a while back called 'The Book of Joby' It's about God and the Devil making that same 'stupid old wager' concerning the fallibility of humanity (Devil: pick anyone you like and I'll guarantee I can turn them against you. God: OK, try him! And I promise not to interfere!) The first part is a little over-long in the setup, and makes for some pretty sickening reading (I mean philosophically rather than viscerally.. what compassionate God would agree to this vindictive crap!?) I very nearly gave up in disgust.
Then events started going off in unexpected directions... and, to cut a long story short, it turns out that the wager was agreed to for reasons very like David's riff on BoR being a test.
(Not that I'd let a God that does this sort of thing off the hook! Don't you know gamblin's a sin, Sir?)

dining: let us prey
(to anon: in case you haven't been lurking long, we have a little game inspired by Adams 'Meaning of Liff' wherein we assign meanings to the utterances of blogger's word verification oracle.)

soc said...

Robert: oh boy. Magic exists but those of us who don't believe in it, don't see it because we use our magical abilities to alter reality around us in such a way so that we can't see it?

I suppose this is another way of saying all reality is subjective, and strikes me as solipsistic.

I happen to believe that there is an objective reality. I know this from experience. No matter how much I tried to believe the world to be a certain way it wouldn't cooperate. It kept following its' own rules and I had to adapt to it-not the other way around.

You also say that no experiment can show the existence of magic if the experimenters don't believe in magic first. In other words, experiments merely confirm what we already believe. (I hope I've properly understood what you said).

If this were true then we would never agree on any scientific theories since opposing sides would carry out experiments that would confirm their own side.

This doesn't happen. Big Bang won out against Steady State for a reason, even though both had passionate advocates.

Rob: the "day" thing strikes me as slippery. If you can just redefine the word based on contemporary knowledge what good is it? Why use the word day if you don't mean day? And if God is communicating with us why not use units that make sense to us? Just say 7 earth days or 7 billion earth years.

With regard to stoning etc. are you saying that that stuff was okay in a certain time period but not appropriate in our time? Why? And is moral relativism at work?

Anonymous said...

Soc said, what do you say to the guy who says "my scripture calls for adulterers to be stoned to death" or "thieves should have their hands cut off."?

I had written an answer for that -- about helping folks understand that scripture presents an evolving portrait of a people developing into a nation, wavering, falling away, and being redeemed; and how our understanding of what it means to be a child of God evolved -- but it occurred to me that this is getting way off topic.

I get that you don't understand how I can maintain my integrity (or intelligence!) and believe that scripture is divinely inspired. I get that it makes no sense to you.

Does it really need to?

For us to cooperate in the fight push an enlightened agenda forward, for us to forge an alliance to defeat challenges to the very principles of the American civilization, do you really need to understand every position I take?

Do you really have a litmus test?

Don't you think that it should be enough that we have common cause and want to adopt a similar set of reasonable and adult tactics?

Anonymous said...

Dr Brin said, That is PRECISELY the way religion has treated science... after being forced, kicking and screaming, to allow science to exist -- at all!!

You're right. That's a matter of history, and I'm sorry if I seemed to imply otherwise.

I suspect you were being charitable by not pointing out that many who called themselves religious employed tactics far more harsh than some on the science community employ today. So, thanks for that.

In my previous post, I was trying to build empathy for how some fundamentalists feel based on how they view the world. The hope was that this understanding might lead to a change in our tactics. If we don't need to alienate someone, let's not.

It's so hard to break the cycle of violence! Slights and injustices reverberate through history. It makes it so hard to work together now!

Dr. Brin said, -- that science has proved that it is revelation.

No disagreement here. I readily admit it. Any addition to our understanding of any aspect of reality is a Good Thing. If I think that God made the universe and made it in such a way that knowing it is coming to know Him, then any information about that universe is necessarily revelation.

(Hey, this is all gonna be in EXISTENCE! ;-)

I'm looking forward to reading it!

Anonymous said...

Tony Fisk said, to anon: in case you haven't been lurking long, we have a little game inspired by Adams 'Meaning of Liff' wherein we assign meanings to the utterances of blogger's word verification oracle.

I've been lurking here forever, but I missed that! Thanks for pointing it out!

I generally don't have nearly enough time to ponder the posts here, so I guess I'll have to offer that as my excuse.

I've posted before, also anonymously, using TC as my nic. I would have this time, but I forgot, and, well, I just went with it.

Not sure I'm witty enough to assign meanings yet, so I'll pass this time.

Acacia H. said...

@soc: Actually, are we so sure there was a single Big Bang? Considering some portions of the universe are expanding faster than others (being attracted by something beyond the universe), might it be that there were multiple big bangs? Or that the big bang encompassed a larger space than just a point that was infinitesimally small and dense, and thus the reason certain regions are expanding "faster" than others is not due to a "dark attractor" but because that was a section of the big bang further away from our section of the big bang during the initial blast?

There is the occasional theory banded that a black hole itself is a new "big bang" in its own dimensional section of space. After all, a singularity is "infinitely small" and "infinitely dense" which meets the criteria behind the start of the Big Bang. Yet from what we know behind the physics of a singularity, spin will alter the form of a singularity from a point to a ring. If the Big Bang was in fact a ring that exploded... might this explain some of the discrepancies that are now being realized about cosmology?

As for my belief in magic and all of that... I know what I've seen. Five years ago I and a friend both saw the same thing (referred to in Wikipedia as Shadow beings). Considering neither of us were drunk, drugged, and encountered this phenomena consistently over a period of several months before it finally subsided, the possibility of it being a hallucination is not as likely, especially as both of us would see the same things at the same time.

Likewise, you can watch on cable a show called TAPS where several people are trying to document spiritual phenomena. Yet ghosts do not exist according to science. The fact that some fleeting evidence is captured via digital technology only shows that the technology does not yet exist to accurately measure this phenomena.

@Dr. Brin: "Also, if [magic] did exist, as touted by its believers, it is flat-out unfair, catering itself to egomaniac/secretive magicians who never turn it into widely distributed tools, skills, good, cures that can repeatably be given to the masses in their millions."

I think this is more due to people than the effect itself. And it also depends on what "magic" truly is. If it is a manipulation of energies similar to Reiki, then its use depends on the practitioner, not on the energy itself. Much like a gun can be used for selfish purposes... or to protect or to bring fresh food to a table, or even to alleviate suffering of an animal that is beyond aid on the side of the road. There are plenty of people out there who are selfish and use technology for their own ends. There are people out there who are decent and kind and will use a cell phone to call aid for a stranded motorist, or give someone a ride from the side of the street, or any of a million other applications of technology. Is technology itself good or bad? It depends on what use it is put to. If magic exists, then the inherent "selfishness" exists only with certain people... while others would undoubtedly be likewise altruistic with it.

And if magic is in fact an aspect of psychology, allowing people to affect their personal reality through will itself (perhaps encouraging a weakened immune system to fight off a disease or to give someone the confidence to do what they need to, be it to get a job or leave an abusive relationship), then it may be yet another opiate of the masses... but one that can be put to good use. (And yet, as I've seen things that cannot be explained except through the oddest of coincidences, I cannot fully buy this theory.)


Acacia H. said...

(continued from above)

@Rob: I like that. Placeholders in the science. ^^

There's two troubling things I've noticed in the Scientific community of late. First, there is a tendency to resist new ideas if they are contrary to existing ideas. This is actually viewable on a historical scale, to the point that evolution and continental drift are still debated by some. The second is a tendency to ignore research that fails to prove a viewpoint. This is especially true if it disproves a favored old theory while not bringing up anything new. Peer Reviewed research publications often don't publish findings that fail to confirm other findings that are accepted as a norm by the scientific community.

Yet is this not also important? If you have research that finds flaws in an existing theory, then should this not be printed so to allow further testing of those theories to determine if there are flaws, or if the contrary research itself was lacking in some way? I'm afraid I can't quote specific journals, as this is a subject I read about (and abstracted) in a couple of journals I read for my job several months ago, but it is still a valid complaint, and a problem with science itself.

Science is slowly becoming its own religion. Not in terms of worshiping science itself or the like, but in the behavioral aspects of fundamentalism that can be found both in religion and politics, which resists change and insists that keeping things as-is is the best approach to life. Though that might make for an interesting research article itself: the behavioral aspects of scientists and researchers in comparison with the organizational structures of polar religious groups and polar political groups.

(And this, undoubtedly, proves why I use the internet handle of "Tangent" ^^)

Rob H.

Rob Perkins said...

@Woozle -- I won't sign on to your matrix; I think it presumes a false dichotomy.

That may be the reason that your friend wouldn't sign on to your manifesto.

Your position vis a vis slavery (as one "X" in your sweeping generalization) is, I think, ignorant of of the historical record. We don't have abolition or other 19th century progressive ideas without records of deeply religious people thumping their bibles to promote the progressive ideas.

@soc -- The Creation story in Genesis is certainly structured as myth, but you've got it backwards: *We* redefined the word "day" in the *modern scientific age* to mean only the span of time equalling one rotation of the earth about its axis. It's a heliocentric, Copernican notion, which didn't have a precise technical application when Israeli sheep herders were telling each other their stories, millennia ago.

What we commit when we apply our definitions and contexts to ancient documents is called "presentism", and it warps the meaning of the documents.

By now you should be getting the notion that I'd never claim that the Bible (or Quran, or whatever) is inerrant text, and that I have little or no real respect for interpretive positions which insist on inerrancy. But I will not agree that a (correctly translated, historically positioned) is useless for moral teaching. The human experience is more universal than that.

soc said...

@Robert: We can agree that science doesn't have the whole story about the universe, but surely we can also agree that science does give us real knowledge about the universe better than anything else. (If you don't agree, would you suggest an alternative?)

And I wonder how you define magic? I get the impression that magic is merely a stand in for stuff we don't know or understand.

@Rob: I suppose my confusion stems from my ignorance of how you personally understand scripture. As far as I can gather you see scripture as of divine inspiration, but not inerrant, and as existing within a certain historical context.

I hope I'm close.

That would mean we have to understand "day" as it was understood by Israeli shephards millenia ago. Or, understand it as a metaphor rather then a definite period of time.

@anonymous: I don't question your goodwill or your intelligence. I know quite a few bright, intelligent types who believe in the kind of stuff you do, to my complete and utter bewilderment.
But if we're all on the same side when it comes to the Enlightenment, we have every reason to work together. Even if we occasionally, gently chide each other.

BTW I'm not an American. Just a friendly neighbour from the north.

David Brin said...

Soc. even if we enlightenment guys ARE using magic to defeat magic, and create the semblance of a world that follows natural law, that is a political act, then. An act of rebellion against the horrific wizards and chosen ones and kings and mages who infested human life and oppressed all of us for ages.
Disbelief as a weapon against mystical beings or events? See how I portray this in THOSE EYES. at:

See Yudkowsky go at this entertainingly:

The Dilbert author claims that wishing can make dreams come true because "I wished to be a famous cartoonist and now you're reading my book!"

"I had written an answer for that -- about helping folks understand that scripture presents an evolving portrait of a people developing into a nation, wavering, falling away, and being redeemed; and how our understanding of what it means to be a child of God evolved -- but it occurred to me that this is getting way off topic."

No it is one topic. First, you avow that scripture is metaphorical and based upon the knowledge and conditions of the times in which fallible human authors lived. They might have been "inspired" but it isn't literal fact-truth. Moreover, even the moral emphasis shifted as we matured.

If this paraphrases your perspective, then your worldview is compatible with science and the notion of progress... and incompatible with BoR set-in-stone, petty/insane jibberish (which, of course, did have to do with hatred of Nero, at the time.)

This is the position of many thoughtful religious folk, and it is fine, up to a point. And yet, I repeat, there is still this obstinate refusal to recognize that science has very profound theological implications, fully equal to all previous revelation or scripture. That it is grad school to the Bible's Dr. Seuss.

BTW... the word "inspired" is terribly vague and subject to hours, days, months of discussion. It relates to the moral position of a deity who wants us to behave in a certain way, but refuses to simply open up the sky and TELL us what he wants - Monty Python style! After all, didn't HE divide us into nations, with countless tongues and cultures and beliefs?

Oh, I can credit (for discussion) the notion that He "inspired" many passages and concepts and events. But doesn't that imply that He's communicating to us through a narrow, noisy, imperfect channel? Almost as if from someplace far away? Also, would that not let him off the hook, for many theological problems, like theodicy or the Question of Evil?

Frankly, omniscience and omnipotence seem terribly unlikely and incompatible with a God who's admirable in any way. Though I have worked out a few possible scenarios. The top one that allows omnipotence AND lets him off, morally, for all the vagueness?

SImple. The species is important. Us. Not me. Not the individual. WE have work to do, a destiny as co-creators. Once we mature enough. In contrast, the Christian obsession with selfish salvation of MY (!!!!) individual soul is just so much egocentrism and short perspective and utter selfishness.
So much for the "saints."

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

I'm a long-time reader who has posted only a few times, since I hate to act like I belong in a club of people who don't know me yet.

I have read all your novels, though, and eagerly await a new one. This blog has been a breath of fresh air since the 2006 election run-up. Anyway, just de-lurking to say that I had to clap until my hands were raw after reading your multi-post essay on how one should be a good human being in the face of Armageddon. I'd like to think I would also be the sort of person who could say to God, "Waitaminute, this doesn't make any sense", and I can only hope that courage wouldn't fail me when the time comes. Thank you so much for putting such things into words publicly.

I had to de-lurk

David Brin said...

Larry, you are a welcome member, even if we hear from you only occasionally.


Woozle said...

Rob said: "I won't sign on to your matrix; I think it presumes a false dichotomy."

I wasn't asking anyone to "sign on" to it; I was asking for criticism of it. If you don't like it -- if you believe it presents a false dichotomy -- then do please list which details you believe are wrong. I laid out my understanding in that degree of detail precisely so you could see where we agree and disagree; dismissing the whole of it, given that opportunity, is a total cop-out.

You also seem to be completely misreading what I said about slavery. Anonymous already brought up the point that many Christians opposed slavery; I brought up the counterpoint that many Christians supported it -- and, to the best of my knowledge, more supported than opposed it, making this subject not a win for Christianity. If the same set of premises (I wouldn't go so far as to call them facts) can be used to reach two completely opposite conclusions, what good is it as a moral guide?

Also, you describe one or both of my "X" sentences as a "sweeping generalization", implying that I was over-generalizing. How so? I was simply stating logical facts. Here those sentences are again (the first X stands in for slavery, the second refers to Christian doctrine):

1. Saying that "X still exists" in no way counters my claim that "Religion defended X more than it attacked it, and is generally useless towards providing a convincing argument against it."

2. How strong a case can you make on the basis of X if you have other groups also using X to make the opposite case?

Robert said: "evolution and continental drift are still debated by some."

...but not anybody that is taken seriously by real scientists, and their arguments are so transparent that even a non-scientist can easily understand the rebuttals. Yet they persist in making the same arguments, as if completely unaware of any substantial objections to their claims, much less the massive catalogues of complete and utter refutations that exist. Their arguments have been demolished, set on fire, shoved into a huge pit, and staked out with engraved concrete signs saying "DANGER: STUPID IDEAS -- DO NOT TAKE SERIOUSLY!" -- and yet they continue to present those ideas as perfectly valid, wherever they can find suckers who don't read so good.

Those people are denialists and ideological protectionists, not scientists; they believe what they believe because, deep down, it's what they believe -- not because of any of that icky liberal materialistic "evidence" stuff.

Rob Perkins said...

@Woozle -- You're fair, but a CITOKATE of your matrix will involve some deeper thinking than I have time for today.

tacitus2 said...

I am reminded of a quote from a rather whimsical history of the late Roman Empire:

"Because they were Germans, they probably argued philosophy. And because they were Germans they probably got it all wrong."

The nature of God is not definable.

This leaves you with the ethical precepts of religions, which so far as I am concerned are your own business. Anything short of Cthulu worship involving human sacrifice is fine with me.

My own faith is my concern.


Acacia H. said...

@Woozle: It doesn't matter that there are nutjobs that refuse to believe in evolution and continental drift. What matters is that this basic mindset, refusing to accept that time-honored beliefs may in fact be wrong and using the peer-review system to torpedo contrary research that threatens to reveal that favored beliefs may in fact be incorrect, exists and is used to direct scientific research away from areas that may require more research.

One such aspect can be found with old research about spinach. It seems that beliefs on the iron content of spinach (or some mineral content at least) was incorrect. But for decades that incorrect data was accepted as fact and no one bothered to check it.

How many other errors exist in science that are glossed over or ignored because added research into those fields with more sensitive instruments may in fact prove these beliefs need further refinement... or might be wrong?

Here's another example: we recently found that the amount of water ice on Mars is far greater than we previously believed. For decades we assumed Mars was barren due to the Viking space probe... and the realization that if the probe had dug just four inches deeper, water ice might have been uncovered. Scientists have no idea how knowledge of that water would have affected research and investigations of Mars... but I'm willing to bet that if we'd known of the extent of water ice on Mars twenty years earlier, we may have very well sent a manned mission to Mars by now.

Rob H.

Woozle said...

Robert: I'm not sure what point you're trying to make about science; the examples you cite seem to me like part of its natural progression, as hindered by our human tendency to resist new ideas -- which is a large part of why the scientific method is necessary in the first place.

Eventually, with enough repetition of old experiments re-asking questions long thought "settled", we do eventually get it right. Scientific progress is a process of successive approximation, not something you can look up in a book.

David Brin said...

Very facile and pat, Tacitus. But I know plenty about God, if He's the guy who wrote Maxwell's Equations... or even if (as the Mormons believe) he looked them up in the Gods Library and chose them for their beauty.

I know that there are many god images and scenarios that portray a fellow ho might have seemed normal in ages past, but who today seems petty and puerile and unworthy of respect or obedience, even if he can punish the $@# out of me. I've changed. So has the image of a deity worthy of respect.

As I said, there are scenarios that might work... I can think of only a few, and so, in my arrogance and hubris, I imagine that I have thought of them all!

Of course I haven't. There my ben many that I cannot imagine. And yet --

-- and yet, no one, not even Him, can tell me not to try, assured that I DO know more about this subject than Plato or Aquinus or so many others could know. But, like them, I WANT to know. That counts for a lot. Or it should, to One worthy of respect.

Acacia H. said...

@Woozle: My comments are not all necessarily interconnected with one primary theme. I have a tendency to let my conversations "drift" (or go off on tangents). Thus my commentary about the failures inherent in peer review have little to do with my previous discussions. What I was stating was that there is a tendency with printed research to avoid either articles that fail to prove something or that attempt to disprove a time-honored and favored theory.

The thing to remember is this: failure is not a bad thing. When you fail to do something, it presents an opportunity to learn from that failure. Without failure, there is no true learning because the learner has no reason to examine the specifics of the failure and on what is needed to improve upon it.

In short, peer review and scientific research needs to examine in detail the research that does not find an expected result or that ends up finding flaws in an existing theory that is considered a cornerstone of scientific theory. Here's an example from "Songs of a Distant Earth" - a new propulsion system was designed that allows much of humanity to flee a doomed Earth because scientists discover a mathematical mistake concerning some level of quantum theory which would allow quantum energy used as a propulsion source for a massive starship. Yet if peer review worked in that novel as it tends to in real life, that discovery would have been squashed because it refutes an accepted scientific principal.

Peer review is an important part of ensuring scientific publications maintain a certain level of professionalism and quality. But this same mechanism can be used to squash scientific research that runs counter to beliefs that the peer reviewers may consider sacred or even that they disagree about despite the research findings. Add in a tendency to not publish research that fails to prove a scientist's beliefs... and there is a whole line of research that gets little examination and yet should be considered seriously.

Rob H.

Rob Perkins said...

@Woozle, to move the needle away from an indictment of "religion" as a cultural poison, I merely need to show (as in the example of 19 century abolitionists or 20th century civil rights activists) that people have used their religion for good ends with good means. Ghandi comes to mind, of course.

@David, I've never heard of this "Gods Library" doctrine among Mormons, but then again I haven't talked to "all Mormons" so I assume you've had a conversation with a theorizer. We don't really have theologians, yet.

tacitus2 said...


I suppose I should take offense at an apparent characterization of my religious beliefs as "facile and pat". But I am in a serene state of mind and do not have it in me.
Especially since your own self analysis of your quest for a deity worthy of you is spot on ("hubris").
Eventually, after a long and interesting life* you can take the matter up with Management.


*and may we spend the declining decades of same sparring long distance, sputtering Ensure on our respective screens, shaking our aluminum canes at each other.

Acacia H. said...

Pshah. The latter years of life need not be "declining" unless you wish them to be, or are unlucky enough to have a medical condition related to aging that has too adverse an effect. Through a decent diet and regular exercising, the "later years" can be quite productive, healthy, and happy. Without any real "decline" at all.

Rob H.

Woozle said...

Rob said: "to move the needle away from an indictment of "religion" as a cultural poison, I merely need to show (as in the example of 19 century abolitionists or 20th century civil rights activists) that people have used their religion for good ends with good means."

If by "move the needle away" you mean "nudge it slightly, to show that there are other factors at work", then yeah, sure... so? I wasn't arguing that religion was to blame for slavery, but rather that you couldn't give it credit for going against slavery since it was at least as much for as against.

If by "move the needle away" you mean "show how religion is in no way culpable", then no. The classic example would be Hitler making the trains run on time (which is apparently not true, but you get the point): just because an entity accomplishes some number of good things does not automatically cancel out all the bad it does. You have to weigh the good against the bad.

Religious arguments were used in support of slavery as well as against it.

Scientific arguments were also used in support of slavery, as well as against it.

So, science is no better than religion? No again. The difference is that science must present evidence and a coherent argument, or it loses by default. All it takes is one person saying "look, your claim of negro racial inferiority is based on tests which presume they have had equal access to education" or "your claim that the negro species was clearly designed for servitude only sounds scientific because you use the word "species"; there's not a shred of evidence in support".

It's also true that the "reputable scientists" making those claims would probably have scoffed at such rebuttals -- but they would not have been able to refute them to the satisfaction of a disinterested observer, and so a small but significant push begins to mount until the paradigm is finally overturned.

What we need in order to help that process along is for more people to have a better understanding of this basic truth: a claim without a rational argument behind it should not be used as a basis for public policy, no matter how august or reputable the source.

Religion fights against that understanding tooth and nail -- of necessity, since religion's main premise is that there are undetectable forces at work in the universe which we should nonetheless believe in, even though they're undetectable -- and that is my primary problem with it.

Jumper said...

There's a dirty not-so-secret that lots of people who wish to consider themselves "scientists" are not that well trained at logic. I worked with a very competent electrical engineer - who was a Christian fundamentalist - who was convinced the core of mathematics was fluid because of the old "1 = 2" silliness. When I pointed out that those things ALWAYS depended on hiding a division by zero, he was dumfounded that he had never realized this.

I'm not sure this story proves anything. I just thought I would tell it.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, MY cane will be made of Unobtanium.

Rob Perkins said...

Ooo, watch out; this will make David stronger than you. Unobtanium is incomprehensibly heavy!

Tim H. said...

Leaning on an unobtanium cane? Sounds like an early Chevy Chase physical comedy thing.

Woozle said...

I'll take a cane of Thiotimoline -- it pushes you back upright before you start leaning on it.

Tim H. said...

Seriously, considering the things that ceased to be "unobtanium" in my lifetime, how do people think that our current difficulties won't have solutions? Imperfect and not as soon as we might wish, but solutions.

David Brin said...

That's the spirit!

Ah, but now let me turn and offer apologies, all around. In my habit of poking in all directions, I certainly did so, with vigor, during this session.

My intent was not to offend anyone's faith. Especially the varieties of faith doubtless held by members of this community, where eclecticism and humor and wonder and curiosity and fairness are all traits we expect are likely paramount, in any Creator worthy of respect.

Indeed, HUMOR would seem paramount, every time I look in the mirror and ask :who the heck made THAT?" (And, mind you, I'm fairly buff. Even so... yipe!")

There's a lot of vile poison, infesting many of those who use dogma to rationalize their monstrous wrath. Some of that same poison infests the New Atheists. I've tried to make clear that neither version of the sickness is necessary, let alone in any conceivable way sacred. (Or even scientific!)

When I aim volleys of derision at certain offensive or crazy tracts and incantations, please note that I am focused. I believe there are ways to disassociate God from those more loathsome -- and obviously human -- inventions. Though it may require tossing out a lot of familiar stuff -- like omnipotence... or else rewards-and-punishment... or else the paramount importance of individual souls vs the general Human Project... there are some islands of possibility. It can be done.

Perhaps the answer lies among the dozen or so islands of possibility that I have thought of...

...or among a myriad others that I haven't or cannot, imagine.

What I do know is that -- in the off chance that He does exist, He won't mind my saying "in the off chance that He does exist."

Because ambiguity is His greatest sermon, preached from the silent sky every day. A more powerful sermon than any shouting from a Monty Python bearded sky thunderer.

To me, it says one of two things:

1) "Hear this silence? It's because I don't exist. So? Get on with it."

2) "Hear this silence? It means go hence and improve and solve your problems and get more worthy by yourselves, by the sweat of your brow and the labor of your minds and the illumination of your hearts. And if you succeed at this, then I expect you'll have some questions when you finally corner me. Perhaps even hard questions!

"But then, you've been wresting answers from me for some time now, as children, growing into adults, often do... as you'll keep doing, before joining me in the Great Work that needs to be done in repairing the world."

Tony Fisk said...

3) Hear this silence? It means there are no women here!

(Sorry. Irresistible given the references to Monty Python sky thunderers.
Sorry to any women who *are* here!
And sorry to any who aren't!! Three sorries seemed to do for Kevin Rudd.)

On a more serious note, I have heard it said that humour (its lack) is a defining trait of any extreme believer.

('then I saw her I'm a believer' - preferably not sung while shaving)

anessent: fragrant oil obtained from donkeys.

Acacia H. said...

Science is much like technology in my above argument: It is neither good nor evil. It just is. What matters is the use to which it is put to.

For instance: scientific research under the Nazis could at times be an evil and horrible thing, and yet important research was discovered with those evil horrible methods. The knowledge was gained at a horrific cost... but the knowledge itself is not evil. Just the methods that were used to acquire it.

Another instance: We use animal models in many forms of research. There are people who consider this to be a horrific and terrible thing and that should be stopped. But the truth is, much knowledge has been learned through the use of animals in research. Dentistry, for one, would not be nearly as far along as it is without the use of animal models.

A third instance: Nuclear science can be used in the creation of safe and efficient power sources, or of bombs of immense destructive power. Yet nuclear power is not evil, and it can be put to good and decent uses.

The same could be said for religion, mind you; religion can be an affirming sociological tool that builds communities, brings diverse peoples together, and helps those in times of need. It can also be misused to divide and turn man against man in the name of the Divine. But it is not religion that is evil. Its use is neither good nor evil; instead, it is the intent of the user that determines the effect.

Pretty much anything can be described as such: guns, drugs, "magic," psychology, politics...

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Robert, on this one point, you could not possibly be more wrong.


Sure, they had fine technicians and practical engineers, who could tinker like crazy and tweak a tod and/or cam to make a great tank. (Though their tanks had twice as many parts and broke down a LOT. Shermans won by being trivial to repair and keep in action, in vast numbers. HUGE numbers of panzers and tigers were simply abandoned.)

Technicians, sure. But they drove away most of their best scientists and intimidated the rest, and imposed ridiculous mystical precepts upon everything. People used to worry about the moral quandary of learning anything from the horrid concentration camp experiments. But that moral quandary was solved the easiest way, by realizing -- there was nothing at all to learn. Nothing. It was all stoooopid. Gross, evil, and microcephalically stupid.

Likewise animal models. PETA types were dismissed as cranks 30 years ago for decrying experiments on chimps etc. Well, the whole biology establishment went ahead and developed a cascading set of processes where you don't do anything to insects that can be discovered with microbes. You don't do anything to fish that can't be discovered with insects... and so on... and the result? The committees that monitor this are no real problem. And almost no research is done on chinps anymore... at all. It's almost never necessary.

Are some PETA folk kooks? Sure? Would I end all tests on mice? Naw.

But it is the job of every generation to TRY to be better than it was a decade before. Better than their parents? If we stop trying, then we've earned whatever sneers our descendants cast, for doing what they won't do.

(I eat meat, though I've cut way down and avoid animals whose descendants might sue our descendants. Still, I hope every years for a breakthrough in meat tissue culture. Few advances would simultaneously do more to advance us economically, nutritionally and morally.)

None of this invalidates the statement "science can be used for good or ill." But it does add to a LOT of strong reasons to believe that SCIENCE DOES NOT READILY LEND ITSELF TOWARD INCREASING EVIL. When it does... the science starts deteriorating and gets very bad, very quick.

Alas, the same does NOT apply to religion. Indeed, as religion takes a greater role in national and personal life, the good that it does first peaks.... and then all-too often starts to plunge in the other direction.

rr8004 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, you're being blinded by history. Is religion to blame for the actions that certain individuals use it for in increasing their political and personal power? Or are the people responsible for their own actions that utilizes the power structures that religion built up for their own selfish gain?

As for Nazi scientists and research... if Nazi science was idiocy and sophism, how is it they created such weapons as the first jets and rockets, which would later be utilized by both the Soviet Union and the West in the arms race and the race to reach the Moon first?

Last, the use of animal models is sometimes necessary, if not exactly pleasant. Bacteria lack teeth (and often infect teeth in fact), so research into the processes of dental caries and in treating them requires test subjects. Mind you, people are also used as test subjects and have been for decades; I suppose that the option of free (or reduced cost) dental care to provide teeth that work is worth the possible side effects that sometimes result with implant denture technology.

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

Robert, you may be confusing NAZI science with German engineering, German jets and rockets were more intellectual property theft from Frank Whittle and Robert Goddard, at the beginning. Bat-shagging NAZI philosophy couldn't run off all the good engineering talent, so some competent development did happen. The drivetrain on the Sherman tank used automobile engines, with the bugs already worked out (Dual Cadillac or five Chrysler sixes are the configurations I've heard of.) rather than made for the purpose Diesels, so there was a very good chance that somebody in a tank's crew would know how to deal with the powerplant if it gave any trouble. So, we have accelerated liquid fueled rocket and turbojet development, swept wings, ejector seats and human performance under extreme conditions data. We would have had most of that, eventually, without NAZIs, getting it sooner does nearly nothing against their evil.

sociotard said...

For a good time listen to an Autotuned Carl Sagan.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Totally unrelated to any discussion at hand, but I instantly thought of Dr. Brin when I saw this, and thought he would enjoy it:

David Brin said...

Rob, are you deliberately ignoring my points?

1 - I spoke of the germans’ technical abilities in engineering, during WWII... yet this was NOT science... their science utterly stangnated. And indeed, their “wonder weapons” were stunningly intricate, costly and of HUGE benfit... to the allies! Each V2 rocket, when it worked at all, delivered one ton of explosives, at the cost of perhaps fifty badly needed fighter planes.

But there was no science. Almost none at all.

2- I carefully explained that the bio committees at universities demand the lowest RELEVANT life for me used. Nobody suggested insects for studying dental caries. That’s just being silly.

3- As for utilizing power structures to do evil, well, if the shoe fits and if the same thing happens, time and again, then it doesn’t matter whther we rationalize that the sock, and not the shoe, was evil.

Star Trek Meets Monty Python

Tim H. said...

Dr. Brin, you've reminded me of a bit of trivia from Churchill's WWII history, he claimed the estimated cost of a V2 was comparable to the cost of a DeHaviland Mosquito, and both carried a comparable load of explosive, but the Mosquitos averaged twelve missions vs one shot from the V2.

Acacia H. said...

Yes, but there was an added cost involved in bombers vs. missiles: bombers required trained pilots, which I believe ended up being a problem for the Germans.

And my point still stands: How were the Germans able to field these weapons except through scientific research (and theft)? While a number of gifted scientists left Germany before the War, there were still plenty of scientists left in the nation afterward, and after the war, the Allies divided up those scientists for use in their space programs and other projects.

Which is still moving far off my original point: it is not science, technology, religion, or belief that is good or evil, it is the uses these things are put to that is. And even that is subjective: what one person considers a just and noble cause, another can consider evil and vile (or even just contrary to their own personal goals).

You are arguing trees, while I'm mentioning their collective presence as the forest.

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

Robert, this may be a nomenclature issue, an admittedly awesome development program for an existing concept, I'm not calling science. Between bizarre philosophy and the pressures of war, there wasn't much room for original research. The physical nature of the universe is there for anyone with the wit and persistence to figure it out, and in a few instances, new science happened in spite of that. NAZI party approved science was still "doo doo" (Thanks for the Brooks reference, Dr. B).

David Brin said...

Rob, you truly do seem to be confused between science and technology. Real science CANNOT be done under conditions like Nazi Germany. Indeed, Soviet science - while propelled a bit by huge investment - was also crippled by ideology.

Yopu are simply wrong -- and not listening -- when I point out that there was no Nazi science. Even Von Braun was a gifted engineer. and an engineer only. Period.

Likewise, you entirely ignore my point. In an atmosphere of free enquiry -- the only atmosphere in which science thrives -- science tends to push tolerance and approaches that are non-evil. It is NOT "neutral" or readily swung either way. It can be perverted. But only with serious effort.

Rob Perkins said...

@David, I know I'm not the Rob you addressed in your last comment.

Even so, when you encounter this "atmosphere of free enquiry" among any group of scientists in any branch of science, do be sure and let us all know?

Or have you? Has the unmanned mission been planned to probe Sol's "Crystal Sphere" yet? I recall in your foreword for that story that it was an idea you weren't comfortable proposing such an idea among fellow astronomers?

After all, it's really no worse an idea than any string theory...

Rob Perkins said...

Dangit. Another mangled sentence. Must be my religion mangling clear thought.


Meant to write: "I recall in your foreword for that story that you weren't comfortable proposing such an idea among fellow astronomers?

David Brin said...

Never claimed scientists were perfect. I claim their process teaches the first clade of elites, ever, to admit "I might be wrong." And "argument is good."

Woozle said...

The key difference between religion and science may be the fact that science is accountable, and religion is not.

Just one example, from current headlines: the Catholic church goes on spreading lies in Uganda about how evil contraceptives are, despite the AIDS epidemic there and the huge outcry for them to stop promoting information that is both inaccurate and harmful.

If a scientific experiment began yielding results even remotely like that of the Catholic program in Uganda, every scientist in the team running it would be disgraced if they didn't immediately cease... if they weren't already disgraced for the ethical violation of giving unarguably inaccurate information to the participants.

Are bishops required to publish their theories in peer-reviewed journals before they become doctrine? Do priests have their funding taken away if they don't produce the results predicted by theological theory? Are churches censured for ethical violations?

The more I hear that "science is just another religion", the more I think that it would be appropriate to start treating religion like science -- hold it to the same level of accountability.

Oh, wait... that's what those awful New Atheists are doing. Guess we can't have that.

Tony Fisk said...

If you follow traditional satanic practices, and reverse the assertion to say 'Oh! That religion is just another science', it becomes much clearer what a silly notion it is.

David made the point earlier about science not being the same thing as reason.

Science is a construct of observation, whereas reason is a construct of logic. It is a tool that can and has been put to good use by both religion and science in making sense of what is observed or believed.

I would suggest that, while a religion could be described as just another form of reasoning, science is not.

What do you do when your choice of reasoning must be reconciled with reality? It is all too easy for humans to be lulled by the self-evident (and naturally complete) logic of your mindset into ignoring the irritating and inconvenient truths thrown up by observation.

Religion will enforce this by giving its model of reasoning the stamp of divine authority. Inconvenient truths then become tests of faith.

If science has any theological bent, it is externalised into the real world: any stamp of divine authority lies in what the universe actually does, *NOT* what the written word says it ought to do.

Rob Perkins said...

Our Catholic friends will recognize this line of thinking:

"Sacred doctrine is a science. We must bear in mind that there are two kinds of sciences. There are some which proceed from a principle known by the natural light of intelligence, such as arithmetic and geometry and the like. There are some which proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science: thus the science of perspective proceeds from principles established by geometry, and music from principles established by arithmetic. So it is that sacred doctrine is a science because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and the blessed. Hence, just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God."

If you want to hold traditional Christian religious notions to the standards of a science, here's your permission to do it.

David Brin said...

Acceptance of earlier authority is not science. It is scholasticism.

You'll find both kinds of professors on University campuses... they share committees and both kinds have PhDs.

Indeed, Science emerged out of scholastic traditions of the early universities and Talmudic disputation. Indeed, scientists do sometimes "appeal to authority" by citing Newton (as opposed to citing Newtonian physics).

But in fact, from the modern perspective, appeal to authority is one of the WORST aspects of scholasticism, even worse than circular reasoning. The better scientists recognize it and leap all over each other, when they see it being used.

Tim H. said...

Some scientists can show behaviors more commonly associated with religion, usually when it's a subject close to their heart. When climate doubters comment over at the response is "HERESY!", or a bit like the first bodysnatchers remake, point and scream. To be fair, the blogger in question sounds quite intelligent, as long as "green" subjects aren't in any way questioned.

David Brin said...

"Science" is very different than "scientists."

Scientists - while trained in many of the more mature mental practices, like collegiality, peer-review, curiosity, contingency, joy in argument and repetition of "I-might-be-wrong" - are nevertheless human beings and thus prone to all the plagues of wrath, indignation, ego, and delusion.

Science is a process and tradition by which these things are largely neutralized through reciprocal accountability.

There ARE a few religions that have practiced RA. The Talmudic scholars, for example, practice joy in disputation and argument and contend that God loves it. Even so, there are walls separating what may be disputed from what may not, as Spinoza discovered with great pain. (The disputational HABIT, however, did unleash some large pools of scientists.)

The jesuits are another example, though even more tightly constrained and always under deep suspicion from other branches of Catholicism. Under modern influences, the Dalai Lama appears to have introduced some of this into his system.

Nevertheless, religion and scholasticism are both inherently unlikely to engage in this process to any truly meaningful degree. A pity, since a truly exploratory theology IS theoretically possible.

As for climate change reactions, well... it is one thing to welcome Reciprocal Accountability. It is quite another to become understandably short-tempered, after the nine hundredth time that utter morons put forward the same obdurate, unsupported, and dismally STUPID rationalizations for why the current scientific consensus is all wrong.

Dig it... scientific "consensus" is not sacred. But it puts a legitimate burden of proof upon those who assail it, while calling all the best and most knowledgeable minds in a given people either troglodytes or conspirators.

I do not deny that Climate Change has some small holes in it. What interests me far more is that passionate monomania of the deniers, leaping and cavorting from one rationalization or slender straw to the next, first claiming "it's a hoax!" and then "NATURE is doing it!" and so on...

...without even asking "WHY am I screaming so loud?"

What are the possible bad consequences of delayed action on climate change, assuming the consensus is RIGHT? -- why, nothing less than calamity.

What are the possible bad consequences of hurried action on climate change, assuming the consensus is WRONG? -- why, jeez... we will have spent a bit too much on achieving greater efficiency.

Why (sputter, gasp) that's TERRIBLE!!!

THAT is why the climate-change-deniers are complete assholes. Because they are partly responsible for delaying actions that any prudent civilization would do anyway, under these circumstances

With the sole beneficiaries being the S'aude Royal House.

Tim H. said...

Not as I have a problem with increased efficiency, but most of the screaming I've heard is not from the deniers. It would have been reassuring if the response at scienceblogs had anything pertinent to the question embedded in the invective. My problem with AGW is the methods for dealing with it, I don't trust the rosy scenario about cap & trade costs, and if it's burdensome at all, it will be repudiated by future generations and someone down the line will have to go through all this again. Incremental change, with each step having little downside is more likely to be retained after the enthusiasms of the moment have waned.

JuhnDonn said...

Thomas L. Friedman gets it: Where Did 'We' Go?

The American political system was, as the saying goes, “designed by geniuses so it could be run by idiots.” But a cocktail of political and technological trends have converged in the last decade that are making it possible for the idiots of all political stripes to overwhelm and paralyze the genius of our system.

Those factors are: the wild excess of money in politics; the gerrymandering of political districts, making them permanently Republican or Democratic and erasing the political middle; a 24/7 cable news cycle that makes all politics a daily battle of tactics that overwhelm strategic thinking; and a blogosphere that at its best enriches our debates, adding new checks on the establishment, and at its worst coarsens our debates to a whole new level, giving a new power to anonymous slanderers to send lies around the world. Finally, on top of it all, we now have a permanent presidential campaign that encourages all partisanship, all the time among our leading politicians.

I would argue that together these changes add up to a difference of degree that is a difference in kind — a different kind of American political scene that makes me wonder whether we can seriously discuss serious issues any longer and make decisions on the basis of the national interest.
[emphasis mine]

Tony Fisk said...

...also summed up in the bromide: 'Nothing can be made fool-proof, because fools are too ingenious'

To which one might claim that 'the cost of freedom is eternal vigilance'

Nothing can be made cliche-proof, because cliches are too... original.

soplu: a person who believes their sophistry is self-critical.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin said, What are the possible bad consequences of delayed action on climate change, assuming the consensus is RIGHT? -- why, nothing less than calamity.

What are the possible bad consequences of hurried action on climate change, assuming the consensus is WRONG? -- why, jeez... we will have spent a bit too much on achieving greater efficiency.

If there's nothing else that makes me shake my head and wonder where the Republicans are heading, it's something that's closely related to this question.

If the consensus is wrong and there's no human element in global warming, what's the worst that can happen?

We will, as a nation, be more secure.

Didn't the Republicans say there were for national security?

Wouldn't becoming completely energy self sufficient improve our national security?

And I'm saying this as a Republican! I haven't left yet because I feel bad for leaving an insane party if there's anything I can do to help it. Though I have a terrible feeling that it's the 1850s again and I'm on the wrong side...

David Brin said...

Malarkey, Tim

First... everyone thinks the other side is "screaming." Why don't you take that into account.

What is NOT subjective is the fact that nearly every atmospheric scientist on the planet agrees about the climate change consensus. When nearly all of the human beings who know the most about a subject agree about the facts, guys like you face a steep burden of proof... making it really absurd that you regularly and routinely and blithely simply shrug away the word of those who know vastly more, instead seizing little snippets of anecdote the cling to as reasons to deride the experts.

Experts aren't always right. But this is ridiculous to the point of outrageous effrontery.

Second... You utterly ignore my core point. If you are wrong, your slow approach will be derided by future generations as the equivalent of those who said "wait and see" about Adolf Hitler. Millions, maybe billions may die!

And if the doubters turn out to be right* and we pushed toward efficiency a bit to hard? So the F$#$! what???

Cap & Trade is stupid. What's called for is a classic vice tax. These taxes are tried and true. They raise revenue while diverting consumption by changing the free market ground zero so that the free market naturally adjusts, migrating toward new opportunities and away from discouraged behavior. Those who decry this are hypocrites, because they already live in such a world, where farm subsidies and sugar tariffs and alcohol and tobacco taxes and government expenditures on R&D have all shifted the playing field... whereupon the smart and agile do just fine catering to the new market zero point.

Indeed, it is what should be happening with many of our drug laws.

But put all that aside... you would risk my grandchildren and go with the oilco's propaganda campaign to delay our civilization's shift to efficiency, because of some rationalization that some oilcos might find it "burdensome"....?

Hear that whirring sound? It is Barry Goldwater, spinning in his grave, over the steep decline of conservatism from its high intellectual plane, into plane silliness (at best).

Tim, you are welcome here. But I'd like to hear better arguments, not pablum straight from Fox, Limbaugh, Crichton and the Exxon dept of public distraction.

Yeah anonymous. It goes on and on. Bush says "we MUST get independent from foreign oil producers who don't like us!" And proceeds to make us MORE dependent.

It would be one thing if that were a one-case happenstance. But EVERY SINGLE SUCH PROMISE WAS REVERSED.

Conservatives are simply unable to grasp that every measure of national health by conservative standards plummeted under their misrule. That is THE salient fact, for which they should be contrite, ashamed and willing re-evaluate.

But they won't.

*BTW, let's not forget this. The doubters are NOT right. These are not equal either-ors of the kind that Fox/Murdoch love to pose. The odds of the doubters being right are extremely small. This whole situation is damn close to crazy.

Tony Fisk said...

Is it an appropriate time to point to Blog Action Day on October 15? (This year's topic of conversation: climate change)

This is followed up by the International Day of Climate Action on October 24. Check out what's on near you.

I rather like the City of Copenhagen's response to the UN climate conference it is hosting in December: changing its name to 'Hopenhagen'

Oh, I know! It's all gesture! Probably to be ignored by the movers and shakers. The only thing might impel me is that not doing anything *will* be ignored.

Tim H. said...

I'm guessing the odds of a straightforwards carbon tax getting through this congress is somewhere between slim and none and wall $treet will oppose anything that doesn't include cap & trade. And a massive bureaucracy to go with it. What I'm suggesting isn't necessarily slow, every increment should have an upside, demonstrable to people who don't trust climate simulations (If they could start with 1900 conditions and reasonably simulate the last century it would increase confidence in their ability to simulate this one.). Yes the worst case scenario would be terrible, OTOH, I fear cold and poverty for my grandchildren. Just because I dissent on climate doesn't mean I listen to Faux news ;>.

David Brin said...

Sorry I interpolated too much, Tim. You're probably just poking at us, much in the spirit of this place.

Sure, carbon tax won't pass. But remember the reason. It is because 30% of the nation has gone stark jibbering insane. And climate change denial is just one part of the insane catechism.

Under those circumstances, I am in no mood to gently ease such folks along. Get this... the reds NEVER COMPROMISE! The Blue Dog democrats keep throwing them bones, re health care, and not one lockstep member of the ultra disciplines GOP congressional contingent has changed a single vote.

Oh yeah, I am the one who said "do health care incrementally!" Sure. But that was all about doing political jiu jitsu.

It is precisely what BHO should do... as soon as a half-ass health care insurance bill passes... you know what I think/hope he'll do next...

Anonymous said...

The problems of legislating our way out of climate change are akin to those of reforming our health care mess.

The failure of our political class.

Profiles in "Cur"-age.

Regards climate change:

There will be a cost to average Americans. You can argue about the amount, but lets have an honest debate on that rather important point. But the current Administration, who on paper have the votes to pass almost anything they want, consider any such speech anathema. Frankly, such costs (heating oil, electricity, manufactured goods, etc) will be borne disproportionately by those of lesser means. Only so much can be done with things like laws against winter utility turn offs.

If I am reading the house bill aright, it has some lame provision for encouraging the rest of the world to follow our lead. By that I mean China and India, who have explicity said "no dice, Western Running Dog Exploiters". Of Russia's energy sins we must not speak. People who bother to even consider eventual tariffs against non cooperating nations can be forgiven for assumming that future Congresses will weasle out on such measures, when jobs in their own districts are on the line. That is the default mode of career pols.

Sure its trivial to scold Pelosi for her Gulfstream, Gore for having all his mansion lights ablaze on New Year's eve, etc. But the President at least should lead by example. To whit: is it really necessary to fire up Air Force One for a quick trip to Copenhagen to pitch for the Olympics? Populist ire is fed by such hypocricy.

I do not disagree with your sentiments on energy efficiency. But on this, as on so many issues, we will not make much progress until we have a class of leaders willing to look potentially career ending issues straight in the eye and vote for right as they see it. Sure, some will be sent packing, but they could, and for the good of future generations, should, ride out of town with heads held high.


Tim H.: welcome. Keep poking gently. Its good for the majority opinion to be challenged.

Tim H. said...

Obama may be in thrall to Wall $treet, so I'm expecting any solution that makes it through congress will look to the $treet's desire for a vibrant, new commodity market first. Wile all this is going on, there seems to be a lot of low-hanging fruit in energy and conservation. Why not dust off Jimmy Carter's energy plans? They would be a good start. BTW, the GOP will learn to deal, again, if only because the abyss awaits them if they don't.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Regarding Dr. Brin's test, as a pagan who does not believe in the existence of any deity or any salvation or damnation after death, nor any set of incantations that could lead to such, I would already be among the damned cursed to much gnashing of teeth in the fires of hell.

But that caveat aside, should I find myself in a BoR scenario where I was saved by my specific beliefs/incantation system while even a minority of people were cast into damnation and eternal torment by whatever godlike deity's decree for salvation I had followed, I would most certainly stand up and not only question this, but present active challenge and opposition to it.

Part of that is because I personally despise the very concept of any such deity, and would consider any such being to be sadistically abhorrent and evil (in fact, that is a significant part of what drove me away from my Lutheran theological roots, into my current spiritual but non-religious beliefs). Part of that would also come from the fact that I would not be able to just sit idly by in the face of such great injustice and cruelty, and would not be able to live with myself if I did (and thus would be damned to hell anyway, as I would be haunted mercilessly by my own conscience throughout whatever form of eternal afterlife that deity had waiting for its chosen few).

In some ways, I have a lot of respect for religion, but... I have been finding it harder and harder to maintain that respect. Oh, I still respect a person's right to believe in a religion, etc. and will defend it with my dying breath, but my respect for for religion has been steadily declining since I was about 12, and possibly even before that.

The last bastions of respect I have for religion are its ability to give people comfort, and purpose for a higher calling above themselves. However, even those two points have deeply troubled foundations, because religion has allowed, encouraged, or been used to justify all manner of suffering and oppression, and often times the 'purpose' and direction it gives people are not for the better and greater good, and it can easily be turned into a tool to control the masses.

Science and religion are definitely not two sides of the same coin. An interesting example of that is a comparison of the parables and stories of both, and how often warning is given of the dangers of the practitioners becoming corrupted. Science fiction, for example, is rife with failed/corrupted practitioner or leader, the 'mad scientist' archetype, yet the real-life occurrences of this archetype are very few and far-between. Religion, on the other hand, gives very few examples of failed/corrupted practitioners or leaders (especially leaders) in its related stories and parables, yet the real-life occurrence of such failure and corruption is relatively high.

The very nature of religion discourages accountability, because by their very nature, they must operate on faith, which struggles and declines when subjected to the burden of proof, and if even the highest priests and shamans cannot keep the faith or walk the path necessary for salvation, what hope do the common masses have?

Continued below

Ilithi Dragon said...

Science, on the other hand, not only encourages but requires accountability, both individual and reciprocal. The very nature of science, and its foundation in hard, provable fact and being held accountable to those facts by being required to demonstrate proof and evidence necessitates high levels of accountability and responsibility, and encourages not only the 'leadership' to hold their peers accountable, but also for those outside that leadership, the common masses, to hold them, and each other, accountable as well.

I think that's why science tends to lead to increased morality, because it forces transparency and accountability, and when you don't have a veil of incantations and religious decrees to cover your actions and their implications from others, and yourself, it becomes very hard to hide from or avoid questions of ethics and morality, both from others and from yourself.

That's not to say that Science eliminates men and women of no conscience; three certainly have been such scientists in our history, and will certainly be more in the future. However, Science makes it harder for us to hide from our consciences, and the consciences of everyone else, thus reducing the influence and power of those unconscionable men and women. Religion, on the other hand, does the exact opposite.

P.S. I hate character limits...

Tom Crowl said...

A couple of random comments:

On governance...

I'd be interested in opinions on the potentials of Sortition in some form as an alternative (or partial modification) for what we've got currently falling apart as a decision system.

I became interested in it when a friend suggested that we might be better off if we just chose our Representatives at random like we do juries. Not sure it's that easy but would certainly shake up oligarchies!

Also for techies... is up and I'm trying to get an invite to check it out if anyone knows anyone.

(I also believe Google's Wave may be a more conducive vehicle for Holocene tools development.

Tim H. said...

Ilithi, have you read Niven & Pournelle's Inferno and Escape from hell?, just as reality-based as the version a fundie would give you and much more fun. Better yet, it's an escapable hell. Heinlein's Job, a comedy of justice had a fairly amusing hell also.

Tony Fisk said...

@cultural: I'd be interested in seeing how Wave operates as well.

I am putting together a small holocene like app. using PHP, javascript and AJAX binding twine, which I will present for public scrutiny in due course (it will be ver 0.01, so don't expect much from it!)

Ilithi Dragon said...


No, I haven't, though I'll probably keep an eye out for them.

Personally, to me, 'Hell' is nothing but a human construct, created out of various attempts to understand death and what happens after death, and out of a desire to see justice served in an often cruel and unjust world, and as a means to control people through fear.

Tim H. said...

Ilithi, I put them in the same category as Tolkien's Ainulindale, literary art. Personally, I expect oblivion on the other side, though I see how the threat of hell (With very scant scriptural underpinnings.) would be useful in restraining sociopaths.

Tony Fisk said...

... it doesn't appear to, given the number of hellfire preachers caught doing those things which they ought not.

I would say it holds the sociopaths' prospective prey in check.

(No, I am not saying *everyone* with a dog collar is a wolf)

ozopest: a flyspray that wrecks the ozone layer.

Tim H. said...

Good point Tony, Could it be that there are more atheists around than P. Z. Myers suspects? Would they act like that if they really believed? Are the oligarchs trying to reshape the world to please cthulu?, I ask, non-seriously.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Personally, I know that more than just oblivion lies beyond death; either reincarnation in this or another world/time, or temporary or permanent transition to alternate planes of existence (which is what I view death to be). I have no real evidence for that beyond my own witness and testimony, though, so I don't push it as scientific fact or anything, but it is what I not only believe, but know to be true.

I agree with Tony on how fiery concepts of 'hell' are used to keep the sociopaths' prey in check, and it was that general method and purpose of control to which I was referring to.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Disclaimer: Any statements made describing certain knowledge of the metaphysical and spiritual realities of existence are made with the caveat that I am quite likely stark raving insane. } ; = 8 P

David Brin said...

But UR fun!

Seriously... look at the Hellfire dogma itself. One can get out of it NOT by making restitution and erasing the effects of the sin... that would be logical, but difficult...

...but simply by sobbing just the right incantations and repentant appeals to special exception.

How can the threat truly restrain sociopaths -- even those who believe -- when they have that easy/convenient get out of jail free card?

Tim H. said...

True enough, but some dogmas find that interpretation heretical. Another thing, the concept of hell looks suspiciously like the pagan underworld, and there are christians who who believe the sinner's reward is oblivion.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Nobody ever said that being nuts was boring.
} ; = 8 P

As for the hellfire dogma, yeah, it serves only as a tool to control people for power with the get-out-of-jail-free cards. Not all religious denominations hold such views, but you can find denominations that do in pretty much any religion, and disputing the interpretation can often be rather difficult.

As for the origins of the hell myth; that comes from a lot of different things, and origins of various parts of the myth can be traced to pagan and Judaic roots, as well as periods in early Christian history.

One of my best friends tells me that religion is a beautiful thing, but I am having trouble finding that beauty that she sees.

Besides, what can be more beautiful and miraculous than a universe that spawned itself, and all its complexity and diversity, from nothing, with no creating hand? Existence from nothing, with no creating purpose or design or intent, is more beautiful and wondrous a miracle to me than anything any deity could will to be.

David Brin said...

Tim, the latest solution to theodicy... or why Evil was permitted - or damnation is enforced - by a merciful God... is to take the responsibility away from Him.

"He would like to forgive and erase sin and welcome everybody, but it's out of His hands! Damnation isn't punishment, as such. It is a PHYSICAL LAW that the sinner drifts away from bliss, toward oblivion, as a direct, cause-and-effect result of his own choices. Especially the deliberate choice not to take the lifeline (Jesus incantations) that is thrown toward him."

Of course, the strict narrowness and incantatory specificity of that lifeline might seem rather unfair, especially since it was (purportedly) God Himself who scattered us into innumerable languages and cultures, after the Tower of Babel. It seems a bit churlish for Him not to simply split open the sky and TELL everybody "This is the precise incantation. There. That levels the playing field and you all get the same chance."

You can combine "physical law theodicy" with continued cultural discrepancy in only one way that I can think of... reduced omnipotence. He really CAN'T override the cause-effect... and He CAN'T open the sky and give a Monty Python style clarification. That could work.

Well, no, but it reduces the magnitude of the outrageous unfairness. Not the basic qualitative silliness of any incantation-based system.

Fake_William_Shatner said...

I was a very wise child.

I'd originally rejected religion along with Santa Claus. I reasoned that Santa could not fit down the chimney, nor visit more than a million homes in one night.

If there actually were a Hell, and eternity (a long time), and people who live lives of confusion, of con men trying to steal a loaf of bread through the benefit of a story -- were actually going to decide how they would exist for ever and ever. Then a responsible creator would have etched it on every tree, or in our DNA so that we knew the rules we were rejecting.

If there were a permanent Hell that the creator left us destined for, without the benefit of an obvious path out of it -- then it's first occupant should be that Creator. I wouldn't put Hitler in Hell forever. We are so ignorant, so driven by primitive needs and genetics.

If you were unfortunate enough to be born in a family, that does not provide security, food, and love -- you, no matter what you read in holy books later in life, will always be a person ready to fight, who can never love, and who will never develop any thing beyond your survival instincts -- as was well proven by Maslov in his "Hierarchy of Needs."

Now there were some theories about "the innocent who don't get G-ds words will be reborn" or get graded on a curve.

>> In the Gospel of Mary Magdallen -- who was listed as one of the apostles, she asked Jesus if Hell was fair. He replied that eventually, he would let everyone into heaven after a long sleep in purgatory. If someone had included that particular gospel instead of Luke or Corinthians, or that dreadful Revelations -- well, they might have gotten my attention.

>> But now I know the whole thing about JC was borrowed from the Egyptians. So I'm not going to worship Santa or other such myths any time soon.

Fake_William_Shatner said...

The only rationale as i see it for "sin" is that it is necessary for life.

If God is omnipotent and encompasses all things, then Evil is a part of God. WE are essentially, all a part of that whole.

But there is absolutely no way I could imagine you can absolve a creator. It's easier to imagine that sin is an arbitrary social value system and tries to keep people doing what the status quo wants.

In nature, animals do have correct and incorrect behaviors and it's been proven that "generous chimps" get more females. Some animals are more compassionate than others.

There are a lot of notions of "sin" that get handed out for this and that -- things like Drugs or Healthcare that didn't seem to be specific topics.

And Atheists are told we've got our own religion of denial, as if we need to convince ourselves every day of what we were going to ignore, or have to reaffirm our belief in Gravity.

I just figure, if you are willing to believe something on Faith (which is an abuse of "having Faith in others" -- you are primed to believe in anything. In my book; ignorance does more damage than evil.
I leave with a great quote from Thomas Jefferson; "Question with boldness even the existence of a God, because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than of blind-folded fear."

That really encapsulates my relationship with a Deity; I figure there is nothing I can do to hurt the all powerful beings feelings -- it's really for my benefit that I come to know such a being. So all I need to do is keep my eyes open and my intentions pure. That's it; be as good as you can be to others and make the world a better place. Question what you are doing and why.

My own theory is based upon evolution and reading a lot of sci-fi books; Evolution and science will eventually give us mastery over more and more -- until one day we will be equivalent to Gods. It's a big universe and there has been more than a few cycles of it -- so likely, we aren't the first.

So eventually we all, if we don't destroy ourselves, get to a point where our own dreams have dreams. Our simulations may question us. The Universe is fractal and the patterns infinitely expand so that nothing can truly encompass all of it, but the patterns repeat and echo each other.

As soon as we achieve mastery of everything -- we will turn our attention to playing with more life and watching it develop -- a young godling might respond when it's play thing curses it.

The purpose of life, is to muddle along, and be an interesting experience. If we were all perfectly aware of the true nature of things -- it would ruin the story. With no competition for resources and no conflict -- well, nothing changes.

I always imagined those depictions of heaven, of being locked in bliss and never having strife and singing the praises of the deity forever as being only slightly more bleak than Hell. I'd have to take a video game with me and blast some alien zombies to pass the time, and hope for reincarnation.

When your life becomes a struggle, just imagine how bored some of the advanced races are that have no death and taxes to rail against.

David Brin said...

“Evolution and science will eventually give us mastery over more and more -- until one day we will be equivalent to Gods.”

I’ve been fascinated lately by Babel and how the story explicitly says we CAN be as gods. The confusion and dispersal prevented it from happening for a while but (1) there was NO wrath or anger (2) language is no longer a barrier. Hence, Either we’re about to be confused again… it could happen!... or else Babel was only a delay of something that was inevitable.

“I always imagined those depictions of heaven, of being locked in bliss and never having strife and singing the praises of the deity forever as being only slightly more bleak than Hell. I'd have to take a video game with me and blast some alien zombies to pass the time, and hope for reincarnation.”


Acacia H. said...

And to go off on a tangent (as is my wont), I'm curious as to reactions to videos showing conservative groups cheering the fact that Chicago won't host the 2016 Olympic Games. I have to wonder two things. First, would there be this level of vitriol from the Republican people (because they're not Americans any longer; they see themselves as separate and as "better" than Americans apparently, from this level of behavior) if instead of Barack Obama, that Barry O'Baily, a White Protestant Irish Democrat had been elected President. Second, do these idiots realize how it looks to mainstream Americans, be they moderate, conservative, or liberal, that this group of Republicans cheered the fact the United States of America lost big in their efforts to host the Olympic Games?

Oh sure, they can complain about the expenditure of taxpayer dollars to host the Olympics... except that the amount of money spent in tourism during the Olympics helps pay for a good portion of that, and there were no complaints from conservatives concerning hosting the Olympics when the Shrug was in office.

I've seen one reasonable conservative voice speak out about this, and no doubt Limbaugh and the other conservative commentators will lambaste Scarborough for saying these reasonable and polite words!

I am allied with the Democratic Party right now because the alternative is madness. I don't like the Democrats. I feel their policies are often wrong! But the alternative... is worse. And the Republican Party still hasn't realized (except for a few people who are constantly shouted down) that they are burning the bridges in front of them and behind them.

Literally... it's my hope that in 2010 we see the Republicans lose another seat or two in the Senate and another half dozen or so in the House. Maybe then the Republican Party would learn a lesson... but I kind of doubt it.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

When the South hosted, in Atlanta, a moderate amount of money was lost... though the rest of the country cheered for Atlanta and wished them well... and rallied when they suffered tragedy.

But the other modern Olympics in the US... LA in 1984 ... was the only games in all of history that actually turned a profit, by unbiased accounting.

Sure, LA did it by scattering the athletes to university dorms instead of a "village" and by using existing facilities. There was grumbling. But all such methods were available to Chicago.

Frankly, it was South America's turn. Everybody knew it. And so Obama took a trip to Denmark? Big deal. Doesn't change the fact that demo prexies work hard and gopper prezes take huge vacations.

Tim H. said...

Speculation: GOP looks like they're on the road to irrelevancy, unless they take instruction from their past. The democrats seem content with something that's a bit like pre-FDR. Niche may open for new, progressive party. And olympics?, if I'm still on this side of the grass I'll be reading a book.

David Brin said...

The GOP is absolutely confident that 1993 and 1994 are repeating themselves -- that Obama will impale himself on an over-eager health plan and open the door for a rip-snorting Gingrich style counter revolution.

ALL their efforts are bent on denying him any accomplishments whatsoever.

Rob Perkins said...

It seems to me that the best-managed olympics break even or turn a small profit... if you don't include all the infrastructure improvement benefits realized over the long term.

I travel I-15 through Utah twice a year; the difference between pre-olympic roads and post-olympic roads is really impressive. Salt Lake City may now have the best HOV lane formula I've ever heard of. The olympics catalyzed that.

Tim H. said...

The GOP have been the Nattering Nabobs of Negativism for the last 30 years, Obama will have an opportunity to borrow a page from HST, if he's willing to do unto the blue dogs.

tacitus2 said...

After eight years of largely ineffective leadership I should think all parties concerned would want a hard working, smoothly oiled, efficient Administration.

Instead we get a guy who takes a break from the issues at hand to go make a personal appearance on behalf of a glitzy, mostly faux TV extravaganza. Or who thinks it usefull to appear on Letterman (hope he was not sitting close enough to get cooties).

I am not wishing Obama to fail. I have in fact said repeatedly that the last thing we need after a failed Churchill would be a failed FDR. But a few smart electoral and PR raps would do him good, and perhaps remind him that the world may not be entirely as he thinks/feels/wishes it to be.

He still has a chance to recover, but his first almost year in office has not impressed me. You'all?


David Brin said...

The hurrow over his Denmark trip is a symptom of the very problem at hand. Demoprexies work hard. Republicans are in no position to shake fingers, since their prezzies spend all their time relaxing. W spent more vacation time than any TWO others.

This extends after office. A demo ex prex scurries around the world on do-gooder frenzies for the rest of their lives, hobnobbing with nobelists and meddling. They never go senile and never die. Gopper former POTUSes vanish into golf courses. That even included the good one -- Ike.

Dig it. It was Rio's turn! S.America deserves it and Brazil is the era's young lion. If America's renaissance goes belly-up, Brazil and Australia may have to haul humanity forward.

I got nothing against Chi-town. My parents came from there, where my dad was a 1930s gangland news reporter, I swear! I figure Chicago will be "capital of the north"! But it never stood a prayer.

Obama took a chance and saw Denmark briefly BFD.

What I am interested in is whether the Baucus health care bill is a case of jiu jitsu politics. It contains structural reforms but no public option. Liberals are furious and fuckem, They gave us the 1993-4 fiasco and thus invited in Gingrich/Bush.

What interests me if whether BHO has a swift judo move lined up, after BAUCUS passes. I have already suggested one. Demand that all kids be put under Medicare, at once! He could shove a bill like that through, in no time.

The healthcos would be outmaneuvered, cornered, and HAVE TO negotiate. And everyone would see that there already is a "public option."

Oh, I don't mind Blue Dogs! They are proof that the Democratic Party is not a monolithic-partisan-lockstep dogma machine, but in fact the deliberative body of the United States of America and the last refuge of genuine, thoughtful, sincere and constructive conservatism in this country.

Well? what did you expect? There ARE genuine, thoughtful, sincere and constructive conservatives left, in America! They are attracted to the last place where actual negotiations over future policy happens AT ALL!

The Democratic Party. Do not despise them. LOVE 'EM! Be glad they exist from states like South Dakota and such. Recruit MORE of em -- former military officers with ramrod backs and prim, old-fashioned manners and a rifle over the fireplace... along with advanced degrees and a belief in science and a genuine eagerness for both rights and the future. Hurl them against gopper fanatics in every district in America.

Pound a stake through the heart of that undead were-elephant (Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt will help you, in spirit.) Because the only way we'll ever see a decent conservatism revived in America (surely not via the ditzo-loony libertarians) is gonna be through the vast, disorganized, lively and undisciplined melange that is the Democratic Party.

tacitus2 said...

"they never go senile"

I am not so sure about Jimmy Carter.


Acacia H. said...

Okay. Let us assume for a minute that the Republican Party is on the path of self-destruction... which to be honest, I doubt. I believe that they will become a minority power but one that will drag a number of citizens down with it, until there is a sizable portion of the American populace who truly believes in spirit the rhetoric of the Limbaughs and Becks and Coulters, and who will undoubtedly eventually try some sort of armed uprising to force their "true" beliefs against the American people who don't know any better. (Sorry, the cynic in me got out again.)

Anyway... let's assume the Republicans do self-destruct. What's next? Do you see a growth of the Blue Dog Democrats and an eventual schism in the Democratic party between Blue Dogs and Progressives? Or do you see the more Liberal contingent getting tired of making deals with the Blue Dogs and striking off on their own to create a Liberal Party that strives for progressive legislature without having to bargain constantly with their own conservative element?

Because if there is one truism about American politics, it is this: we have a tendency toward a duopoly in political power parties rather than the more diverse fragmented segments found in many Parliamentary systems.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

@Tacitus2: I don't think Jimmy Carter is going senile. Instead, I think he is a product of his generation and his environment. Thus he sees prejudice because he grew up surrounded by it, and doesn't realize that while prejudice still exists... it has become far more nuanced as time has gone by.

(Which actually, the TV show Alien Nation showed with an African American woman telling one of the female aliens how just a generation ago, the prejudice was against Blacks... and that this is generational, "us" vs. "them" until a couple generations grow up and the new immigrants are acclimated into American society.)

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

In fairness, I remember Jerry Ford as a class act, I saw him when he came to Independence, Missouri to dedicate a statue of Harry S Truman. No black helicopters, no loyalty oaths, those were different times, before old ladies in pants took over.

"I'm not a member of an organized party, I'm a democrat" , Will Rogers.

tacitus2 said...


Jimmy seems to be unable to bite his tongue, and says things that makes life difficult for his fellow Democrats. Disinhibition can be a sign of dementia.

Of course, he may just be fully in posession of his faculties and totally fed up with things.

He did have a commendable post presidential career.


Fake_William_Shatner said...

David Brin said...
The GOP is absolutely confident that 1993 and 1994 are repeating themselves -- that Obama will impale himself on an over-eager health plan and open the door for a rip-snorting Gingrich style counter revolution.

ALL their efforts are bent on denying him any accomplishments whatsoever.

Well that is Plan B.

Plan A is to not have anyone question the coincidences and investigate crimes.

David Brin said...

I met Jerry Ford. A prime example of a "decent conservative" and a generally good man. Nevertheless, he fit the pattern. Upon leaving office, he mostly kicked back.

Look, the left-right axis sucks. The real model is manic-depression. Dems are driven to scurry like mad, eager to personally save the world! Gops see manic scurrying as THE threat to the world and see nothing better than rolling back time to whatever halcyon condition existed when they were young.

Yes, that troglodytism has turned frenetic lately. Duh. The changes pending for humanity are ultimately transformative. That's horrifying to sentimentalists and retro-depressives. It is turning them militant.

Read Clarke's CHILDHOOD's END.

But the core point I've always made is that PERSONALITY explains a lot!

Acacia H. said...

Oh dear Goddess, I despised that book! Not only does it take free choice away from mankind, it also steals the potential destiny of mankind and turns our future into part of an existing uber-being that is gathering these "children" (ie, sentient species who have this potential) to prevent them from becoming a threat to its dominance!

You know, all of my friends who've been into science fiction likewise hated that book. Probably the only other science fiction story that earned such derision was that short story where the pilot had to toss a teenaged girl out the airlock because her extra mass would keep the ship from safely reaching the planet. And from what I understand, that was a matter of editorial bastardship and that originally the writer intended on having the pilot and girl having removed everything possible to reduce weight, including their clothes, and managing to make it by the barest margins.

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

I enjoyed Childhood's End, and didn't see the story as stolen destiny, humans were moving in that direction anyway. One of the more apt remarks I've heard was "Conservatives want a past that never was, and liberals want a future that can never be." , though the federation might be easier to achieve than "Gimme' one fifties, hold the Jim Crow, hold the cold war, hold the pollution.".

tacitus2 said...

I found Childhood's End to be thought provoking, inspired, but intensely sad. With the title and topic, it had to be.
But greatness is not, or at least once was not, dependent on a Hollywood happy ending.
I wonder if the Uplift aspect of it inspired Dr. Brin on any level?

Tony Fisk said...

I didn't like Childhood's End either. For much the same reasons as Rob.

FWIW, I took the opportunity to work through my thoughts on it when Clarke died last year. Here's my take:

Ever the optimist, Clarke was no pollyanna. He was able to explore darker fates as well as lighter. One novel of Clarke's that will never be a favourite of mine is 'Childhood's End'. Reading the commentaries accompanying the tribues I have referred to above I would appear to be in the minority here, as many consider it one of his greatest works. It is certainly powerful, and I can appreciate the prose and vision, great as always. Nevertheless, I found the ultimate premise of a galactic overmind guiding humanity to a form of apotheosis not at all uplifting, indeed strangely repellent.

Is the idea so different from that of 2001? Clarke was seldom sentimental about his characters, and often killed them off near the end of the story. After all, it was a useful device to allow the conclusion to take on a much wider scope than a single point of view. So, why not apply the device on a much larger scale?

I suppose my problem was, in part, one of expectation. Some people who had read the book described it to me in hushed tones as 'just beautiful'. This recommendation did not prepare me for what is, in effect, one of the first 'left behind' novels. For that is the crux of my distaste: the depiction of the fruit of the younger generation being 'harvested' away from the vine of the older, which is then left to wither and perish, taking all its achievements with it.

The sum of all histories: worthless dust? No! I do not consider such a fate to be beautiful (and I don't know that Clarke ever described it as such either). It concerns me that many people do.