Thursday, February 14, 2013

Vacant Pope

No, this is not Francis Bacon, just a straight photograph.


"They deserve a vote!"

BagNews has a moment-by-moment breakdown in screenshots of Obama's call for a vote on gun violence legislation during his State of The Union address on Tuesday. Here's the climax, when Speaker John Boehner finally drags himself to his feet along with all the other listeners in the House chamber:
Congratulate the Speaker on his implicit pledge to schedule a vote: call 202-225-6205.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What is fundamentalism?

I'm not sure what to make of this capsule bio from a user on a Spanish-language learning site:


Hola! Me llamo William. Soy de Florida de Los Estados Unidos. Me gusta aprender español. Religious Beliefs: I believe the Bible. Period. I believe the Earth and universe were created in 7 literal days not too many thousands of years ago. I consider the fossil record to be a result of Noah's Flood, not billions of years of evolution. I reject outright ideas that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, that life arose from non-life, or that all living things evolved from a common ancestor. In establishing rock ages, scientists don't have facts. They have facts + assumptions = guesses. All they can do is measure the current amounts of various isotopes in a rock. They can never know how much of each isotope the sample STARTED with. Nor can they know how much of the isotopes in question entered or left the rock after formation. Without that information, all they can do is guess at the age of the rock. Fossilization is a process that requires rapid burial. If an animal or part of an animal is not buried rapidly, it cannot fossilize as it will be eaten or it will decompose. Yet, evolution would have us believe the very rock layers that contain the fossils developed slowly. I do accept that species can experience variation within their species (also called micro-evolution) to a point but will reach certain limits. For example, all the different finches Darwin discovered in the Galapagos had a common ancestor...a finch! I don't believe the DNA information storage-retrieval-blueprint-maintenance system, which is responsible for encoding all kinds of amazing things including the human brain, could have arisen by pure chance. DNA ENCODES an organism. The only encoding systems whose origins we know of were all designed. (The alphabets, computer languages, jpeg encoding, mpeg encoding, etc.) I don't believe the human vision system, which, at the eye, focuses and separates light into intensity, blue, red, and green components, converts those components to electro-chemical impulses (data) and then sends them to the visual cortex to be recombined -- bearing in mind, too, that the visual cortex receives input from two 2D devices (each eye) and from that input assembles a single 3D, high-definition, color image. When scientists try to prove that the eye was not designed, they always gloss over the retina saying utter nonsense like "First you get a row of light sensitive cells" like a retina is no big deal. But, that's like proving that flat screen monitors weren't designed by saying, "First you get an LCD matrix." The only thing analogous to the eye, whose origin we know, is the modern digital camera (coverts light to electrical impulses and sends those impulses to a computer for further processing), and it was designed.

Obviously, this fellow is a lot more complicated--and intelligent--than the stereotype of the fundamentalist. It's worth thinking about what makes William tick--and what it is that we believe, "period."

"The Enlightenment’s ‘Race’ Problem, and Ours"

Justin E.H. Smith gets it.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Could Garfield have been a great president?

I think it might have been possible. From James A. Garfield's inaugural address:

  "The will of the nation, speaking with the voice of battle and through the amended Constitution, has fulfilled the great promise of 1776 by proclaiming 'liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.'

James Abram Garfield, 1831-1881
  "The elevation of the negro race from slavery to the full rights of citizenship is the most important political change we have known since the adoption of the Constitution of 1787. No thoughtful man can fail to appreciate its beneficent effect upon our institutions and people. It has freed us from the perpetual danger of war and dissolution. It has added immensely to the moral and industrial forces of our people. It has liberated the master as well as the slave from a relation which wronged and enfeebled both. It has surrendered to their own guardianship the manhood of more than 5,000,000 people, and has opened to each one of them a career of freedom and usefulness. It has given new inspiration to the power of self-help in both races by making labor more honorable to the one and more necessary to the other. The influence of this force will grow greater and bear richer fruit with the coming years."
Tragically, the nation never got the chance to find out if Garfield had what it took to lead the country out of the disaster of "Redemption," since an unbalanced madman (Charles G. Guiteau was not just a "disgruntled office seeker"!) took his life (he was shot just four months after taking office, though he lingered for two and a half months). Two opportunities to get Reconstruction right were thwarted by assassins' bullets. 

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Did man create God or vice-versa? Does it matter?

The argument over whether God exists is frequently a stale and fruitless exercise in dueling talking points, sound bites, and idées fixes, that begin and end with the certitude that the opposing side is made up of idiots who are incapable of understanding self-evident truths. In this vein, "samearl" writes, in response to a Huffington Post piece on the Prime Mover argument for the existence of God, "Jehovah was created a few thousand years ago by a tribe of bronze age sheepherders as one of their gods. He started to grow in prominence when certain sects began to give him more importance and had him say "Ye shall have no other gods before me.'"

I would like to posit that it actually makes no difference whether God created mankind, or mankind created God. The whole "creation" bit, while  interesting ontologically, is pretty much irrelevant theologically.


One cam make a very good case that humans created the multiple deities of the ancient world. Many of these are functional gods: you pray to Demeter to bring the harvest, to Tlaloc to make rain, to Hapi to cause the Nile to flood. (This is an oversimplification but gets to the essential point.) 

So we can see why humans would find it useful to invent these gods, and pray to them. 

What about God, singular, the God of the Hebrew scriptures and their offshoots? Let us stipulate, for the sake of argument, that Man invented God.