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April 27th, 2015
Expectations (Message In A Bottle)
by Bruce |
I was at the NOM March for Marriage rally on the Mall last Saturday, and I should post some of my thoughts here rather than my Facebook page, along with the photos I will eventually upload to the photo gallery here, because that sort of thing is what I created this website for. Which I will do later this week. But there is another rally tomorrow (Tuesday) at the Supreme Court I will also be documenting so that’ll have to wait a bit. For now I’ll just say this about NOM: You simply cannot overstate the level of religious extremism and outright kookery that was on display at that rally. As I wandered the crowd with my camera I kept wishing H. L. Mencken was still alive to file a report on it for the Sun. Strange as The Hills of Zion were, they’re stranger still when transplanted to a patch of Mall directly in front of the U.S. Capital.
In the meantime…this came across my Facebook stream just now and I’m rolling it up and putting it into another bottle to toss into the sea for a certain someone to find eventually…maybe…
I did that to myself too, once upon a time. The bars were made of the low expectations placed on a kid being raised by a divorced single working mother. Family gave me those bars. And teachers. And well meaning members of the churches mom took me to. But I put them in place myself. I’m 61 years old now, and just celebrated the 25th anniversary of the launching of the Hubble Space Telescope with my co-workers here at The Space Telescope Science Institute…we got a group photo taken of ourselves and I’m there at the front with my camera and some of the astronauts and Matt Mountain who handed me a special service award last year…and I’m still trying to pry some of those bars down and free myself.
No matter I didn’t let them put me in the closet like other gay kids back in the day. That’s just one of many prisons people let themselves get talked into. There are all kinds of ways a kid can get talked out of believing in themselves. But ultimately we are the wardens of our own internal jails.
We have to learn how to let ourselves go, so we can become the people we were always meant to be. It’s a struggle…but a noble one…because you can’t be the best you can be for others, until you can be all that you can be.
April 10th, 2015
How To Laugh Until You Cry…
by Bruce |
A friend who’s been in the fight against ex-gay therapy with me since the Love In Action protests posted this Onion article to his Facebook page the other day…
“We’ve found that a combination of group interventions, narrative therapy, and cognitive-behavioral approaches fully eliminates homosexual urges before the individual takes his or her own life,” said program director Christian Weber, adding that many of their biggest success stories are even in stable, heterosexual relationships when they’re found lifeless in their own home or dredged from a nearby body of water.
Full Onion Article Here. You know the kind of laugh you get sometimes when it’s funny but painful at the same time…?
April 8th, 2015
Now Where Have I Heard This Before…
by Bruce |
In my newstream just now…
Tom Cotton: Bombing Iran Would Take “Several Days,” Be Nothing Like Iraq War
“It would be something more along the lines of what President Clinton did in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox. Several days air and naval bombing against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior. For interfering with weapons inspectors and for disobeying Security Council resolutions. All we’re asking is that the president simply be as tough as in the protection of America’s national security interest as Bill Clinton was.”
Yeah…yeah… But as I recall that wasn’t the end of it. And the next step was advertised as being another several days thing. If that. And…it wasn’t…
Time to repost this I reckon…
Flashback…Washington D.C…March 18, 2003
Tuesday afternoon. I am attending a conference on open source software in government being held at George Washington University. I am here because my project manager is investigating the possibility of moving the system I’ve been working on for the past several years to open source software. Work on the Hubble Space Telescope will go into maintenance mode shortly, and the thinking is that the Institute doesn’t want to spend a lot of money it won’t have on software upgrades, simply because a certain vendor has a business cycle that requires you to do that. At least with open source we would have the option of making any small fixes we absolutely needed to have before the end of the mission ourselves, without breaking our systems that depend on it. The alternative is to stick to the vendor’s upgrade cycle, and pray the new versions don’t break anything in our software, or introduce new bugs and security holes.
Between conference sessions, I wander around the Foggy Bottom area, and back and forth to my hotel, which I paid for out of my own pocket, rather then hassle with Washington traffic, which is a nightmare. The hotel has a nice little kitchenette, which allows me to eat reasonably well without further damaging my budget for the month. Around noon I begin the walk back to my hotel for lunch, stopping to examine a decrepit building right next to the conference hall, that I assume is one of the student dorms. It is, and I see by the bronze plaque by the door that this one is named Lafayette Hall. I read the inscription, which briefly describes the history of Marquis de Lafayette, who fought beside George Washington, taking a bullet in the process, for the freedom of a nation that was not his own, and who later attended the first commencement ceremonies of the university that bore his friend’s name, shaking the hand of each of those first graduates. While I am reading, a snarky voice in the back of my mind is saying Freedom Fries…Freedom Toast… An old friend of mine I’d had breakfast with that morning, told me a joke he’d heard about a man who, while visiting France recently, asked a random Frenchman, “Sir, can you speak German?” When the Frenchman replied that he couldn’t, the American said, “You’re welcome.” I told my friend the Frenchman could just as easily have asked the American, “Sir, do you have a king?”
My hotel is somewhat oldish. My room is on the sixth floor and the elevators are small and slow. I press the button and when one finally appears, I see that there are already two businessmen inside. It’s a tight fit for three. As we go up I feel the hair on the back of my neck rise. There are some who you would never know from the look of them, to be of the right wing thuggish persuasion, and there are others who hit you with it in waves, in the cut of the clothes, the bullying posture that is as second nature as breathing, and the coldness of the face, particularly when smiling at nothing in particular. I tune them both out, pulling out from a space within me I’d almost forgotten about, a “Yes I’m a longhair, yes I know you hate my guts, and no mister establishment person sir, I really don’t give a flying fuck” attitude, close my eyes, and listen to the elevator floor counter click off the floors to mine. I toy briefly about writing a book, “Everything I know about living under Bush II, I learned from Nixon”. The old elevator rises slowly. I hear one of my companions say, “I hope they don’t cancel our flight out Thursday.” The other chuckles and says, “The war will be over by then.”
April 7th, 2015
No You Are Not Being Forced To Participate In It. No, Not That Thing, The Other Thing…
by Bruce |
On my Facebook stream just now…
The complaining now is they’re objecting to being forced to participate in a gay wedding. Please respect our deeply held sincere religious belief that your wedding is a fraudulent parody of the genuine love and commitment between a man and a woman. Do not force us to accept your counterfeit relationship as real. We are not prejudiced against anybody. And so on…
Never mind for a moment the insult to same sex couples all wrapped in piety. What they’re being forced to participate in, against their will, isn’t same sex marriage, it’s The United States of America. You know…that place where on Main Street USA down at the corner store my money is just as good as yours.
Sure they could go somewhere else…somewhere the ruling government shares their sincerely held belief that homosexuals don’t love, they just have sex and that needs to be stamped out or civilization will fall and God will rain fire down upon us. But the problem is those places don’t have the nice perks you get from living in a civilized nation. Perks that come from having a diverse population whose individuals have the freedom to participate in the common marketplace regardless of their sex, race, creed or national origins. At least that’s the ideal anyway, and to the extent this country has lived up to that ideal it has prospered from the work and creative energy you get from allowing people from all walks of life, some of whom might think a little differently to…you know…think a little differently. So the cake bakers and their defenders would rather stay here and enjoy the benefits of other people’s hard work and creative talents without having to treat those people as neighbors, as fellow Americans.
Of course there are no homosexuals in the culinary arts. Of course they never contributed to the collective knowledge that is the artistic core of our business, let alone any of the other technology that supports it.
The concern trolls are out and about now, lecturing the gay community to not be so…well…militant in our struggle for equality. In the New York Times David Brooks reliably wags a finger and warns us we risk loosing our moral high ground by misusing our new found political clout. Well once upon a time in a different civil rights struggle the great political cartoonist Herblock had an answer to that…
But the fact is it isn’t our limited and disorganized political clout Indiana was feeling, but the disgust of heterosexuals who are getting really fed up seeing their friends and family being treated like dirt. Sure, blame the militant homosexual conspiracy, but it wasn’t just us who raised that massive stink when Pence signed that bill into law, and you can tell it wasn’t just us because this time the bigots had to back down, and they’ve never had a hard time sticking their thumbs in our eyes. But people are getting tired of it now. People with gay sons and daughters. People with gay neighbors and friends. People with functioning human hearts.
The Daily Beast had a really good article the other day concerning Anita Bryant and the Myth of the Militant Homosexual you should read…
The key to Bryant’s “discrimination” strategy was to portray equal rights advocates as anti-Christian oppressors. She warned of “militant homosexuals who are highly financed, highly organized.” Their true objective, she claimed, was not the right to hold jobs and buy houses. Since they were unable to reproduce biologically, their only hope of survival was “to recruit your children and teach them the virtue of becoming a homosexual.”
What makes the David Brooks column so offensive is he’s doing basically what Bryant did back in 1977, slyly riffing on that notion of a powerful gay cabal but without actually saying it. And of course we’re all militants unless we’re willing to stay in the closet and accept our pariah status among decent normal people.
If I’m remembered for anything I’ve ever said on this blog or elsewhere I hope at least it’s this one thing: A militant homosexual is a homosexual who doesn’t think there is anything wrong with being a homosexual. A militant homosexual activist is a homosexual who acts like they don’t think there is anything wrong with being a homosexual.
That’s it. That’s really all there is to it. You don’t have to march in Pride Day parades. You don’t have to wave the rainbow flag. You don’t have to stand in a protest line. All it takes to be regarded as a militant homosexual is you behave exactly like anyone else would when people who don’t know you from Adam spit in your face, call you names, and treat the garden of your life as if it was their household trashcan. You react to that like anyone else would and Presto, you’ve become a militant homosexual, and never mind that your life and your interest in politics is pretty much the same as anyone else.
My chances for marriage are pretty much done with by now. I’m 61 and never even came close to having a boyfriend, let alone someone to settle down with and begin a life together. My life is almost done at this stage. I am single and alone. What I have to look back on, is a lifetime of fighting against the hatred that doesn’t just spit in our faces, but which actively and with passion does its level best to destroy any possibility of love and joy the moment two people of the same sex take notice of each other and their hearts skip a beat. I’ve written elsewhere of how it’s taken chances, so many chances away from me. This is why I am still in the fight, even if the prize is lost forever to me. I know the damage it’s done to me, I’ll be goddamned if I let it keep on damaging young hearts in love. If you think this is just a struggle over wedding cakes you are sadly mistaken. If you think it is a fight over same-sex weddings you are still not getting it. The same bitter venomous contempt for gay couples about to get married will with gusto act to prevent them from even setting eyes on each other given a chance. Ask me how I know. The hated Other simply cannot be allowed to love and be loved. Because love stays the course. Because love endures. Because love can move mountains. Because the last thing you want the scapegoat to be able to do, is move mountains.
April 6th, 2015
(Message In A Bottle) So This Was Why You Warned Me Not To Send You Any Of Those!
by Bruce |
Just now on Facebook…
Relax. They probably have your colonoscopy photos on file too.
[Update…] I’m queer…I can’t stop myself…
…I’m so ashamed…
April 5th, 2015
Driving In The Nails For Easter (Message In A Bottle…)
by Bruce |
This came across my Facebook stream tonight…
This is actually pretty typical. If you are shocked by this I assure you I am not. The imagery here comes from a right wing Catholic group but don’t be paying much attention to that because the sentiment isn’t specific to any one religion or religion in particular and it’s not about how they see us so much as how they want us to be seen. This is the real thing. Most of your gay and lesbian neighbors, except the very lucky maybe, have felt this breathing down our necks all our adult lives.
When other kids start having their first crushes and start discovering love and desire, this is what the gay ones find themselves facing. This is what haunts what should have been one of this life’s most magical times. It cuts you deep. Some people never manage to love wholeheartedly their entire lives because of it.
And others search endlessly for one who can. I was looking at my Facebook stream just a moment ago and this graphic flashed on my screen and for an instant I saw certain someone’s face and relived the conversation I had with him just one week ago…
I need to stay in my comfort zone…
I know. And I’m so sorry…so very sorry. It is what it is. You stayed inside because you had to and I got the hell out because I had to but we are all damaged by it in one way or another. Easter they say is when Jesus of Nazareth died for their sins. So why did we have to die for their sins too?
April 2nd, 2015
Statements Of Fact
by Bruce |
“I’ve made my allegiances. I need to stay inside my comfort zone.”
A Broken Heart Often Has A Cranky Shell Around It
by Bruce |
The misery of a child is interesting to a mother, the misery of a young man is interesting to a young woman,
the misery of an old man is interesting to nobody. -Eric Hoffer
Eric Hoffer for the win again. I’m not cranky, just sad. Just very, very sad. And more alone in this life then anyone near me saying that Bruce has turned into a cranky old man could likely ever withstand.
You have no idea. When all you have left is a faint hope inside that however damaged you’ve become you still have some love within you to give to the world, if not to some specific someone, the last thing you need to hear is the people around you think you’ve become unpleasant and unapproachable. But I reckon even that was unavoidable. There is only so much you can do to mitigate the damage, and eventually it starts to show, and then of course it becomes a self inflicting ever growing wound.
I know where this ends. What I don’t know is how much further I have to go to get there. Reckon I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.
by Bruce |
Plan ‘B‘: Quit my job, sell the house and pay off all the bills, sell the car, sell as much of what’s in the house as I can and trash the rest, go find a low wage job somewhere that will just barely pay for a room in someone’s basement, and go back to the hopeless low income low expectations life I had before October 1991 and that programming job at Baltimore Gas & Electric, because at least that life wasn’t promising me happiness it could not deliver…
March 31st, 2015
Nothing To Worry About Here…Except…Well…Everything…
by Bruce |
Everyone blissfully saying that existing LGBT anti-discrimination laws would withstand a challenge under these new religious freedom laws is either not paying attention or not wanting you to pay attention. There are a few constitutional law experts out there busy telling the gay community not to be so hysterical over what amounts to Just A Tiny Little Enhancement to current federal law. Probably these same experts were shocked, shocked at the Hobby Lobby decision. I’ll bet they all did a double take at the Citizens United decision too.
You need to pay attention to the long game the religious right plays, and especially to their rhetoric. They’re flat-out saying that these laws are especially necessary given recent same-sex marriage decisions, to prevent gay citizens from asserting equal rights. Nothing stealthy about what is going on with them on this. Nothing. You need to take them at their word for that these laws are being enacted to accomplish.
March 29th, 2015
So…Who Are We Talking To Here? I Mean Besides Each Other…
by Bruce |
One of the oddest sensations in the world is having a conversation with someone and both parties knowing there is a silent third party always listening in to that conversation, but never chiming in. Oh…don’t mind me… So when you write back is it me you’re talking to or you-know-who that you’re talking to? The irony is not lost on me that you recommended The Lives of Others to me at one point. Eavesdropping? Me? You must be kidding.
You also told me not to be sending you any dick pictures because You-Know-Who. You must have meant these…
Okay. Fine. No dick for you! How about some ass photos instead?
Okay…that last one was from The Onion. But it’s hard to tell satire from reality these days isn’t it?
March 26th, 2015
Message In A Bottle
by Bruce |
Yes, you got an F-Bomb out of me. It was that “you think I deserve all this” crap. I was so flustered I couldn’t muster the words I needed just then. Well it made you smile anyway.
Firstly, you have a pretty good job, considering what might otherwise be. Ask someone who works at some other chain restaurant how good they’ve got it. You work for a big company that gets lots of traffic into its eateries and if cheerful friendly hard working and handsome you isn’t getting way better than average tips I’m surprised.
And as for what I think you deserve…damn you…you know how I feel. You saw the look on my face. Don’t you Know? I’ve always wished you the best, and all the happiness and contentment life could provide. Regardless of anything you could ever give back to me. It isn’t a transaction.
If you told me to go away I would still wish you that. Always.
…and I’d just keep tossing these little messages in a bottle out here, like I did for decades before I found you again. Except now you’ll know they’re here. It isn’t a transaction.
March 24th, 2015
by Bruce |
I respect your comfort zone. However, don’t be reducing anyone to “acquaintance” status that you ever did a mock strip tease for in the cafeteria during an SGA meeting where nobody else but me could see it. You’re better than that.
From the minutes of the October 1971 SGA Meeting…
And yes, you’re Still really good at flustering me. But that was classic.
March 7th, 2015
Your Evidence Does Not Reach The Conclusion You Think It Does
by Bruce |
You know that feeling when you start reading something and your almost instantaneous reaction just a sentence or two in is, Er…no…? Yeah. That. Just now.
Before I get into it let me say once again and for the record that my own atheism isn’t a reaction to the idea of religion or to any one particular religion or my experiences being raised as a Baptist or the crappy way fundamentalist Christianity treats gay people like me. I was raised in a Baptist household by a mother who loved me very much, and there is still much about the faith of my childhood I consider valuable and worthwhile and that I still hold dear…particularly that stuff about Soul Competency or Soul Liberty, which as I still understand it means we’re all capable of answering the Big Questions for ourselves, that is our right, it is our responsibility and also our obligation to Let The Other Person Do That For Themselves Too. But I am an atheist now. I became that when I finally admitted to myself that belief had stopped making sense to me. That’s really all there is to it.
I’m open to having my mind changed about it. I’m open to the possibility that I might one day find myself walking down Newton’s beach and finding one of those prettier than ordinary sea shells he spoke of, picking it up and finding God inside (oh there you were…). But honestly I doubt that’s going to happen. I need a reason to think there might be a greater intelligence behind the entire universe as we see it, and what is more, a reason to think that intelligence is the origin of the universe and all of creation, and that it always existed. Otherwise it’s Gods all the way down, and while I can appreciate a sublime mystery as much as the next person, basing my entire worldview on one makes the left side of my brain cranky.
I appreciate the sincerity of this man’s attempt to convince me. However, it isn’t working.
Here are four simple responses to those who say that science has either disproved God or has made belief in God unnecessary…
Er…no. Just…right out of the gate, no. Science can demonstrate that a lot of what is written down in the Bible isn’t factual, but those are testable things like The Great Flood or the evolution of humankind. Researchers can compare biblical accounts to other historical artifacts and written accounts from those same periods. Those are testable things, which are the sort of things science preoccupies itself with. But it is not the job of science to prove Odin, Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster don’t exist either. Make a testable claim concerning any of them and we’ll see.
As far as necessary goes, it simply isn’t necessary to believe the biblical account of creation. Belief in God isn’t necessary to cure cancer, though a lot of folks suffering it take great comfort in that belief all the same and I would not challenge that for the world, unless it was to deny someone, particularly a child (there’s a reason why Baptists don’t baptise the very young) factual science based medical care in favor of faith healing. Philosophers and theologians still argue fiercely as to whether belief in God is morally necessary. In his book Science and Human Values Jacob Bronowski makes an excellent case for the moral values the practice of science teaches…
Theory and experiment alike become meaningless unless the scientist brings to them, and his fellows can assume in him, the respect of a lucid honesty with himself. The mathematician and philosopher W. K. Clifford said this forcibly at the end of his short life, nearly a hundred years ago.
If I steal money from any person, there may be no harm done by the mere transfer of possession; he may not feel the loss, or it may even prevent him from using the money badly. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards Man, that I make myself dishonest. What hurts society is not that it should loose it’s property, but that it should become a den of thieves; for then it must cease to be a society. This is why we ought not to do evil that good may come; for at any rate this great evil has come, that we have done evil and are made wicked thereby.
This is the scientist’s moral: that there is no distinction between ends and means. Clifford goes on to put this in terms of the scientist’s practice:
In like manner, if I let myself believe anything on insufficient evidence, there may be no great harm done by the mere belief; it may be true after all, or I may never have occasion to exhibit it in outward acts. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards man, that I make myself credulous. The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous.
And the passion in Clifford’s tone shows that to him the word credulous had the same emotional force as ‘a den of thieves’
The fulcrum of Clifford’s ethic here, and mine, is the phrase ‘it may be true after all.’ Others may allow this to justify their conduct; the practice of science wholly rejects it. It does not admit the word ‘true’ can have this meaning. The test of truth is the known factual evidence, and no glib expediency nor reason of state can justify the smallest self-deception in that. Our work is of a piece, in the large and in the detail; so that if we silence one scruple about our means, we infect ourselves and our ends together.
-Jacob Bronowski “Science and Human Values” 1956
But this is different from the knowledge science reveals. Science may render dying from certain diseases unnecessary (get your shots), but to render belief in God unnecessary you need to explain what made it necessary in the first place. If you’re telling me that belief in God is necessary to prevent rabies I would question that. If you’re saying belief in God is necessary for moral behavior I would question that but we might never reach a mutual understanding let alone agreement because first we have to agree on what moral behavior is. Some arguments are like that. If you’re telling me belief in God is necessary for a job at Baylor University well then I would have to agree with you.
So… (if you’re still bearing with me…): Four simple responses…
1) We cannot know from science if science itself is the best source of knowledge.
The only way to definitively prove that science explains everything would be to have exhaustive knowledge of all reality, and then be able to explain (using only scientific data) what all reality is and what it means. Such a feat is impossible.
I think there’s another way of putting this: If medicine can’t cure every disease then faith healing is better. The mistake here, and you see it a lot, is that science doesn’t actually claim to know anything. What science claims to have is a way to discover what can be known. Richard Feynman said of science simply that it is a way of not fooling ourselves. But the mistake here goes further.
In the twentieth century science developed what is now called the Principle of Uncertainty. Speaking on that, in the chapter titled Knowledge or Certainty in his series The Ascent of Man, Bronowski pummels the concept of science as being a dry storehouse of knowledge gathered in the pursuit of absolute truths. That desire for absolute truth Bronowski insists, is outright poison to the human spirit, giving rise to endless examples of human atrocities. Science is not another secular kind of dogma, science and dogma are exact opposites. And where you see that clearly is in this one brief passage:
The symbol of the University [in Göttingen] is the iron statue outside the Rathskeller of a barefoot goosegirl that every student kisses at graduation. The University is a Mecca to which students come with something less than perfect faith. It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known but to question it.
I am unaware of any religious institution where questioning the revealed knowledge therein is tolerated, or tolerated for very long. In the end, authority must prevail. But in science it is nature, by way of experiment and test, that is the authority. Always it is nature which speaks for itself. Science is not a book of revelations about nature. It is a way of asking the questions and not fooling ourselves about the answers. That is why its answers are conditional: There may be facts we haven’t uncovered. There may be understanding we missed because we are human and we make mistakes. Think of how the proposition of continental drift was discarded because no one could see how it was possible that continents could move. It seemed absurd on its face. And then the deep ocean was more precisely mapped and the mid ocean ridges were discovered, and the realization came about that no, the continents did not move, but the plates they were sitting on did. When we make new discoveries our understanding changes. That is not a flaw in science, it is its profound and beautiful strength.
2) Scientific consensus can and frequently does change. This limits its epistemological authority.
This is the My Country Right Or Wrong model of authority, and the best retort to it was G. K. Chesterton’s that it was like saying My Mother Drunk Or Sober. Authority needs to be…well…authoritative. So when I was a kid the encyclopedia was the authority I consulted for my school projects. The yearly updates never made me question that authority…if anything they helped reinforce it by showing me it was a living growing thing not a dead Easter Island statue, correcting its mistakes, added fresh new things for me to learn as they became evident. But there’s something else going on here besides the idea of authority. Epistemological is it? Ah…you mean…Meaning. If knowledge changes how can we hope to glean and hold on to meaning from it?
And yet meaning and knowledge aren’t so separate from one another that the falsehood of one conveys nothing to the other. Ask the children of Marx and Lenin what happens to a society that broadly accepts a model of the human identity that is false. Ask the Germans who survived the war. Ask the tombstones in Gettysburg. The intellectual authority of science is right here:
“The state of mind, the state of society, is of a piece. When we discard the test of fact in what a star is, we discard in it what a man is.” -Jacob Bronowski, Science and Human Values
Which refers again to that quote from Clifford about society become credulous. It is precisely the case that the consensus of scientists change when new facts or new understandings become apparent that give the practice of science its authority over dogma that never changes and cannot be questioned. Or as the economist John Maynard Keynes once said: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Lots of people just close their eyes. There is meaning in that, but not one suitable for human societies to do anything except spiral into darkness. To survive and prosper, humanity must always ask itself What do we know, and how do we know it? There is meaning in the honest asking of those questions. There is meaning in the bravery with which we face the answers nature reveals to us. There is meaning in our willingness to acknowledge our mistakes, and move forward. There is meaning in our willingness to not fool ourselves. Meaning is not a stone you can carve into a face that never changes, never sees what its stone eyes behold.
3) Only supernatural theism provides a rational justification of scientific work.
I quote this one thing from his explanation of that because I think it’s the nugget…
There is little survival value in knowing, for example, the complicated workings of time–space theory, or the genus of certain insects, or the distance of Jupiter from Mars. All of these facts are pursued by scientists as being intrinsically valuable, yet they offer very little information that can help guarantee a species’ continued existence on the planet.
He offers this as a way of explaining that scientists pursue their lines of inquiry out of a supernaturally built-in innate desire to pursue truth, which he says cannot be justified on scientific principles alone. But simple human curiosity needs no supernatural explanations…we are evolved from predatory meat eating east African plains apes and the survival value of predator curiosity is not hard to understand. And if scientists know anything it’s that simple questions can have profound and unexpected ramifications when the answers come back. Science-Fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote this parable once concerning support for space exploration, but it could easily apply to any human endeavor that aspires to science…
The analogy I often use is this: if you had intelligent fish arguing about why they should go out on dry land, some bright young fish might have thought of many things but they would never have thought of fire…
To say that there is little survival value in knowing the workings of time and space or the genus of certain insects is basically to say there is little survival value in human curiosity. And it is true there are many authorities, both secular and religious, that like nothing more than stifling that most basic human of urges. Particularly when it comes to questioning Their authority, and all the dogmas it is built upon. The search for truth begins with a question, whereas a set of received answers serves only to suffocate it.
4) Only supernatural theism gives us assurance that real scientific knowledge is possible.
Here he reaches for a “philosopher” for some help (yes the scare quotes are deliberate)…
If human beings are a more evolved species of primate, then our cognitive faculties (ie, the parts of our body and mind that allow us to be rational creatures) have evolved out of lesser cognitive faculties. But, Plantinga says, if God does not exist, then the only factors that affected human evolution are time and chance. Based on time and chance alone, why should we be confident that our rational minds–which are merely the sum of lesser evolved minds plus time and chance–are actually rational at all?
Well speaking as a Cold War baby you could certainly argue that Mutually Assured Destruction makes a pretty strong case against humanity being more highly evolved and rational than the lesser evolved brains of howling tree monkeys. How rational is it to destroy nearly all life on earth as an act of self defense? On the other hand, howling tree monkeys don’t produce nuclear weapons either.
Yes there is as the “philosopher” he quotes says, “a tension” inherent in our evolutionary nature. And you not only see that tension in the headlines of your daily newspaper every day of the year, but also in the thousands of years of recorded human history that came before. Which would also include the Bible. Witch stonings anyone? But this is exactly what evolution would predict. Evolution doesn’t erase the old and replace it with the new, it builds the new right on top of the old. The lesser evolved is within us also. We bear within us every day of our lives, the living history of millions of years of life on Earth. It can lift the cities high. It can also burn them to the ground. Murderous religious extremists calling themselves ISIS are currently on a rampage destroying priceless ancient artifacts because the very existence of those ancient works of art and human culture challenges and offends them. There’s the lizard brain at work. But it was the more evolved human brain that made those artifacts in the first place. Along with the AK-47s the men of ISIS have slung over their shoulders.
Tension? Oh yes. But if the darkness was all there was to us, there wouldn’t Be civilization. We are not fallen angels, we are risen apes. There is hope for us. But only to the extent we keep asking that question so central to the practice of science, What do we know, and how do we know it, and by the courage with which we face the answers we discover.
He finishes by referring to Nagel, that “It makes no sense to assume that humans can really make sense of their world on a conceptual level if human consciousness arose out of the very world it responds to.” But that is what makes perfect sense. A being that evolved in an entirely different different universe with a different physical nature might find this one close to impossible to grasp. Think of that classic thought experiment of the two dimensional being trying to make sense of a three dimensional world. The fact that we’re capable of understanding this universe well enough to create the civilization we have is itself evidence that our evolutionary lineage is firmly rooted here not elsewhere.
You can wave your hands and say, but a supernatural force could have done that too, and I’d have to agree. But the simpler explanation is we were born here, we grew up here, and that’s why we fit in here.
March 3rd, 2015
Simple Is Only Better Conditionally
by Bruce |
This came across my Facebook stream just now…
In America, libertarian ideas are attractive to mostly young, white men with high ideals and no life experience that live off of the previous generation’s investments and sacrifice. I know this because as a young, white idiot, I subscribed to this system of discredited ideas: Selfishness is good, government is bad. Take what you want, when you want and however you can. Poor people deserve what they get, and the smartest, hardworking people always win.
I know this place…sort-of. I stayed for a time at the libertarian vacation resort myself, when I was mostly young, and yes I am a white guy, and yes I had high ideals. I like to think I still do. But what attracted me to it back in my early twenties wasn’t the idea of my own Galtish godhead and sticking it to all the lesser beings who were dragging me and my innate man-of-the-mind genius down. It was the nerdish appeal of its beautiful social simplicity. I was being raised by a single working mother, so it isn’t as if I was surrounded by family wealth exactly, and visiting Dad in prison is probably more life experience than a lot of kids my age had. Plus I was being raised by Baptists and the whole idea of selfishness as being good was anathema for a number of reasons; materialism, vanity, greed all being big deal sins. Harder for a rich man to enter heaven than a camel to pass through the eye of a needle was what I was told. The moral being that not only was wanting things bad but also that having them blinded you to the essential spiritual Truths. Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God…blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…and so on…
(Just try to find that attitude in the republican party of Jesus these days…)
No. What attracted me to Rand and eventually to the Libertarian party was the beautiful simplicity of its ideas: All human interaction is based on trade. To initiate violence is always wrong. A decent stable productive society will emerge from the free and unfettered marketplace. More Is Less! Make It Simple Stupid. Here at last, was the beautiful elegant answer to all our social ills!
What I failed to realize was something H.L. Mencken said many years before I was born:
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
I thank Ronald Reagan for showing me the error of my ways…
The shining city on the hill Reagan promised America…look, look…here it is:
The greatest examples of libertarianism in action are the hundreds of men, women and children standing alongside the roads all over Honduras. The government won’t fix the roads, so these desperate entrepreneurs fill in potholes with shovels of dirt or debris. They then stand next to the filled-in pothole soliciting tips from grateful motorists. That is the wet dream of libertarian private sector innovation.
On the mainland there are two kinds of neighborhoods, slums that seem to go on forever and middle-class neighborhoods where every house is its own citadel. In San Pedro Sula, most houses are surrounded by high stone walls topped with either concertina wire or electric fence at the top. As I strolled past these castle-like fortifications, all I could think about was how great this city would be during a zombie apocalypse…
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