Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Critical Reflections on Why Truth Matters - Part 1 of 3

This book...is dry. It's not nearly as interesting as the other books for this class. It's the last one.
Honestly? We're running out of steam and it's hard to focus, and it's probably going to be obvious in the three reflections for this book (though next week's one, while shorter, is a lot better).


When you put it into the hands of "professional" philosopher...well.
Holy fuck if nearly everything you put into the hands of a philosopher isn't turned to nonsense.

This class, about truth, reality and knowledge, isn't solely a philosophy class. It's a humanities class. It has been a great class. Inspiring, even. But now the professor has hit the philosophy portion. Ten years ago or so when attempting to take an intro to philosophy class, when faced with having to drop a class for personal reasons, it was the first to go. Even then it just seemed...there's really no word for it. Utterly ridiculous? Nonsense? Irrelevant? (hey, there's a whole series of blog entries about the philosophy of philosophy, if we wanted to write them)
So you can imagine the feelings now. Despite desperately wanting to understand and appreciate much of it, it has always been illusive. We could say more. But you get the point. Reading it makes the head spin...and it's so dry...one almost becomes lost, parched in a desert just reading it.

So, what follows are attempts at trying to muddle through concepts in the first section, broken down into headings like:
- Truisms about Truth
- Is the Truth Attainable?
- Is Truth Relative?
- The Truth Hurts
LOADS of concepts and differing opinions based on many, almost endless, fields of philosophy...on the topic of truth.

[Past essays, papers and other University related content can be found here, the essays and papers are from the last year - the other stuff is personal historical stories: http://just-call-me-frank.blogspot.com/p/university.html]

Part I: Cynical Myths

The prospect of approaching the premise of truth, at first, seems very agreeable. Cut and dry, truth is good – all of it. To really break down truth into segments of facts and beliefs, and how they work together while being influenced by bias and perceptions, is to realize that there are many kinds of truths.

In Lynch’s first section, Cynical Myths of truth, he outlines the four “truism of truth” well enough. Starting with objective truth, in that something true is true for all people, whereby truth is something that exists whether or not anybody believes it to be so (11). He makes sure to adequately explains that believing something is true does not make that belief intrinsically true - meaning the world is not always, or necessarily, the way we believe or wish it to be. “Wishful thinking leads to believing falsehoods” (13), according the Lynch, and falsehoods are not truth.

Even mere objects themselves become subject to truth and reality through phenomenalism where objects, seen to be nonexistent without the observer, become suspect of being true. Taking the thought experiment of George Berkeley, ‘if a tree falls in the woods and nobody is near enough to hear it, does it make a noise’ and asking “if nobody is there to see it, does the tree even exist?” never mind make a sound. So many philosophies and so many different kinds of truths: physical, moral, spiritual, knowledge, cultural. Not everything has one truth, while at the same time one truth has to exist for some things, an opinion which, according to Lynch, may be viewed as a cynical myth. In acceptance of the worth and importance of truth Lynch makes sure to present his underlying rejection of negative myths associated with attainment of truth, such as the belief that there is only one truth. He also rejects the ideas that only “pure” reason can access the truth, that truth is a mystery that only some people can know, and that we should pursue the truth at all costs (20). At first the notion that we should not pursue truth at all costs was shocking, but upon further study, it seemed to me that Lynch was equating the attainment of truth with attainment of knowledge, whereby all manner of atrocities have been carried out through unethical practices. Lynch presented examples, one where Nazi scientists who, in trying to attain knowledge of the resilience of the human body in various temperatures of water before freezing to death, used Jewish prisoners from the concentration camps. This was not so much a pursuit of truth, as it was of information. It is true that humans will freeze to death in cold water. How long it takes them at different temperatures is not a truth, because with each person it will vary due to body size, weight, age, physical fortitude – information attained can be viewed as knowledge. In Lynch’s other example I also found it to be a faulty by my own beliefs of the separate natures of truth and knowledge; however, that does not mean my belief on the matter is true. Going further into the section in views towards relativism, I found that there is a case to be made for the subjective nature of some truths, as opposed to objective, but not for relativism itself. Where individual relativism is concerned, the radical reductionism involved seems at once arrogant or egotistical.

Lynch asserts that truth is fundamentally good and that the best most authentic truth is based on good evidence, and further, that beliefs not based on good evidence should be subject to criticism. The pursuit of truth is a worthy goal, and to pursue the truth requires inquiry, the ability to cast off the assertion of correctness while understanding no person can believe on demand, and so must be presented with evidence. Lynch claims that belief is not something that can be controlled, yet it can be indirectly controlled through pursuit. By changing of perceptions, open-mindedness, entertaining curiosity, and an understanding that “absolute certainty is impractically and probably impossible” (29) truth becomes a worthy quest if simply for the properties of self-improvement.

Most people want the ugly truth, according to Lynch, over beautiful illusions, even if the truth has no practical value. However, a similar claim about people not wanting the truth can also be made, particularly of religious peoples; as Friedrich Nietzsche said of faith, faith is people “not wanting to know what the truth is.” Yet many people strive for truth for the sake of truth because they understand to live under an illusion is impractical and to do so offers no value, and in truth, there are realities, while sometimes painful, that are worth the pursuit which leads to practical ends.

The most interesting assertion that Lynch made was that the mere fear or discomfort in being wrong is proof that someone has a preference for truth. However, it could be said that they have a fear of their personal truths being wrong, and are not necessarily concerned with truth itself, but rather the loss of identity structured about what they believe to be true, and not, as Lynch says a concern for their intellectual integrity, but rather reputation. Bottom line, it is right to accept truth, even if it creates uncomfortable realities.

Some truth is unattainable, but not all truth is unattainable, because as previously stated, some truths are subjective, as with much of life, truth is not black and white. However, when beliefs are created through bias and false perceptions, as Kant claimed they are, beliefs that lead to things such as sexism, racism, and stigmas surrounding disabled and mentally ill, persist. People see what fits their paradigm, and are blind by things that threaten it and by prejudices based on habits of thought, employed concepts which are modified by the structures and habits of mind. Conceptual choices based on whim, or constructed around race, gender, etc., determines what we believe but not whether those beliefs are true. (Lynch, 42)

Beliefs are often wrapped in standards of certainty because “we want certainty because we want safety […] if certainty is dead, everything is permitted” (29), if everything is permitted that there is chaos. According to Lynch, evidence and sound reason lead to certainty of truth and in not caring about truth a person is not caring about justifying their beliefs and in so their beliefs do not truly exist. Further “not having true beliefs is bad […] because pursuing truth is good” (29), but it is important to recognize when a belief is false, because having false beliefs is equally as bad as having no beliefs at all. As the commonly used phrase attributed to so many people says, “If you don’t believe [or stand] for something, you’ll fall for anything”, but that is not to say that what you stand for or believe in should not meet standards of truth. Anything presented at truth should be subject to skepticism. Important lesson in skepticism: “The most dangerous man is he who is certain, absolutely sure, that his way is the right way” (29) causing him/her to feel justified in not listening to questions or considering alternate views. The frightening awareness is that we may never be able to be absolutely certain of anything, but that doesn't mean we should stop striving to be as close to the truth as possible.

As stated earlier, I do not buy the idea of pure relativism, that “truth is in the eye of the beholder” (31) and in so personal truth is the only truth and all other truth is inaccurate, which essentially creates a personal illusion that one can never make mistakes or be wrong. Further, people who back up their relativist views with the assertion that “everybody is entitled to their own opinions”, as Lynch says, simply prevents “reasoned discussions” and is a stumbling block to the attainment of truth. Surely, everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but that does not make their opinion factual or true.

Lynch’s own objective truth that “stealing is wrong and also illegal” is the key to how I see the subjective nature in some truths, and this is probably where I use the term subjective because I reject the narcissistic quality that lies in pure relativism. For example, there is a subjective nature to right and wrong, and truth and untruth. If a parent for whatever reason has fallen on hard times and has a hungry or starving child, unable to attain resources through public services, steals some bread to feed the child, then stealing, while it remains illegal, is not wrong. Similarly, companies swindling money from customers is wrong though often not illegal by business practices. While surely there are many examples of how truth can be subjective, this appears to be a worthy illustration.

When considering whether or not politics hold sway over what we think is true, Lynch asserts that political power and systems of power produce and sustain it truth. (37) However, as an alternative view, Gandhi said to the sustaining of truth through power, “An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.” [1] When truth takes a turn at being a political and cultural issue (40), Lynch’s “acceptable truths” in the community at the time are not so much truth as they are views and beliefs that cause people to believe something is true, and as Lynch says, are rooted in power structures which change over time.

Finally, truth hurts, but it is a good hurt.

However, Lynch made a very interesting case for why some self-deception, such as in unrealistic “positive thinking”, can be a good thing. Perhaps in this he presents the only case in which I would view untruth to be beneficial. According to Lynch, some self-deception can lead to positive self-fulfilling prophecy – for example thinking too highly of your skills or abilities so that you actively perform up to those standards. It was also interesting that he noted, that in studies, people who were depressed had a more realistic view of themselves as opposed to these practicing in self-deception (48). Pursuit of truth are cognitively and morally good (49), because truth about ones’ own psychological aspects construct the reality of personal identity (53-54), but thinking more highly of yourself, lying to yourself, somehow is beneficial…if you can believe yourself.

Belief about truth are at the base of who people are, whether or not they realize it. It might be a generalization, but I do not think most people think about truth very often. By this I mean, people are quick to point out lies, or untruths, but rarely do they inspect for the truth in the untruth. To look at all things presented in life with a bit of skepticism, whether it be towards acclaimed truths, or bald-faced lies, and to inspect them with curiosity is imaginative. In skepticism, there can be curiosity, in curiosity there is the creative. In all of this, there is the pursuit of truth. As Picasso once said, “Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.”

Skepticism → Curiosity → Creativity →Truth

“I must continue to bear testimony to truth even if I am forsaken by all.” 
– Mahatma Gandhi

Lynch, Michael P. True to Life: Why Truth Matters. Cambridge: MIT, 2005. Print.
[1] Mahatma Gandhi, Young India 1924-1926 (1927), p. 1285

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Best Time of the Year

Too much reading and too much writing leads to too much drinking.

The day of the week-and-and-a-half "push" is upon us.

With two 10-page papers, and a media convergence assignment (in which a roughly 1800 words of text are required), all due on the 7th of May, the first day of work starting tomorrow, panic is simmering. We're going back to work, this time permanently, instead of seasonally. Hurrah! It will be relieving one aspect of stress (financial), but adding another (loss of time). The amount of final projects for this semester are astounding, the amount of reading and writing is, and was, absurd. If the pages written were compiled, it would be book length, easy.

Today was spend reading the second section of David P. Lynch's True to Life: Why Truth Matters. And boy, is that a dry bone. Meanwhile we managed too eek out 4 pages of reflection (last week's section garnered six). It's been hard to stay on focus, so much reading and writing - and it's all different subjects: from political science to journalism pieces [on a local event/happening] to philosophy to interpersonal communications. From one to another to another and by the end...it feels impossible that we could have absorbed as much as we should have. But the end of the semester is so close, we can almost touch it with out tongue...for the next couple of weeks we just need to bare down and plow through and hold tight to sanity.

The stretcher strips are waiting to be draped in canvas (we have a planned series of paintings for the summer); tomorrow the potato seeds arrive, which means it's almost time for planting, and the dark inviting soil of the garden will be bearing produce in no time. Inventive recipes from what is pulled from her will be part and parcel of this summers blog postings (you're thrilled, surely) just to get the value out of the culinary degree laying waste in our brain. Soon it will be time to hit the lakes and rivers and catch some fish. There are books to read (some in preparation for next semester) and things to write. And of course work.

And let's not forget summer guests and the Toronto Tweetup in June.

Summer is the best time of year, obviously, we are at our most creative and energetic. Hopefully we arrive in it with sanity intact and ready to suck the marrow, because before we know it, next Semester will baring its ugly head. I hate to be prideful, but I'm pretty proud that we've made it through the last two semesters with very few major mental health issues, it wasn't always easy, but hopefully it will continue to trend.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Story Of Worth

Standing against the wall in the back of the banquet room, in my black, blue and grey gingham-esque cotton dress over-top a pair of black stretch pants with a rip in the inner thigh, grey knit boot length socks peering over the top of slightly dirty black pleather boots, I watched as all of the students, donors and faculty, dressed "Midwest fancy", ate a nice catered meal.

It was an awards banquet to celebrate the distribution of the department's scholarships, and because I had a class up until the last minute I didn't think I would make it in time to eat, and I couldn't go home to change or freshen up, so I didn't buy the $7 ticket for dinner. Even if I could have went home to change, what I was wearing was about as nice of an outfit as I had for such as occasion, partially due to the weather, it's still a bit chilly you know, and partially due to not having clothes that fit properly right now.

I find a stack of chairs against the wall of the small room, pick one up, and grab a seat in the back near a corner. I could have went home, my being there wasn't going to affect my getting the scholarship(s), but I felt that it was a duty to at least show up. After all, they were giving me free money.

Watching the students in particular, most of them girls, I imagined what it must be like to be their age, be as pretty as them, which most of them were; to come from families like theirs, with parents who cultivated their confidence, urged them to participate in school activities, drove them, but probably not too harshly, to succeed; parents who saved up money so they could go to college because they knew they were worth the investment. What it must be like to have nothing but the world at your feet after such an upbringing.

Of course I only imagine them to be this way because one of the girls that was at the event is in one of my classes, and I recently had to do two assignments that involved writing about her life. A litany of sports, coaching a shooting team, regular AND Spanish Honors student. She just got accepted to represent the school in a summer abroad program. Her parents are well-to-do farmers, avid church goers. You get the picture. Perfection. And most students in this area that go to college are from families that can afford to send their kids to college. Nice middle-class agricultural-based communities.

How the hell am I supposed to stack up against kids with that kind of potential anyway.

So, they announced all of the awards, one by one the young girls in pretty dresses and high heels, and strapping farm boys in slacks and dress shirts, walked to the front, received their award letter, smiled for the camera, and went back to their seats where the girls picked at the dessert of white cake with yellow filling and all of them fiddled with their cell phones, pausing to clap politely as their peers received their monetary awards.

To be honest, I was shocked that I was awarded anything. I applied on a lark, after urging from a female instructor for one of my classes, who can't be more than six years older than me. I had told myself, that whatever we got was good enough. Every little bit helped.

But then something unexpected happened.

After taking the big group picture, I walked out of the building, two big envelopes in hand, each with a letter and a certificate of congratulations, and I actually felt...ungrateful. The awards were half of what I was hoping for and expecting, given the amount the department had to distribute. It was far less than half of what I needed to cover some of the giant cost of gasoline to get to school, plus books and parking. While I've been cutting back on my drinking to save money, it still remains that I don't spend any money on "going out" to bars, or nice dinners, or clothes for that matter. I just purchased a new pair of shoes that were much needed, but outside of that I have bras that are pushing four years old and in tatters and socks that just won't grow thicker skins. James pays for a date every month or so, but as for "splurging"...we're saving up to go on a trip to Toronto this summer to a Tweetup (the last one we plan to attend), which is doubling as a sort of honeymoon, two years after the fact.

I had no right to be ungrateful. No damn right at all.

It was a rather disgusting feeling.

I couldn't shake it. I got into the car, mind in a bend, gripped the steering wheel tight, and began to drive home. "What the hell is the problem?" I thought as I passed by a gas station. "If we'd won the lottery for the same amount we'd be thrilled."

But then it hit me.

I actually felt like I had little value. That these two small awards, that will cover gas for just about two months of the eight months I have left, were based on my worth to the people who read my scholarship letter. Value based on the accomplishments, peppered with pretty words of self-accolade, that I scraped together...seventeen years after being in a position to compete with the likes of kids who were in academic and sports clubs, who were in positions of leadership and part of student organizations, who were in honors clubs. Value based on my potential and my achievements (sure, I graduated with honors from culinary school...but it's culinary school) as as adult, as someone old enough to be the parent of the very kids I was "competing" against.

To be honest, even in primary education, that is first through twelfth grade, I didn't have that many accomplishments. A funny thing happens to kids from broken homes, that even at the time that they weren't broken were never encouraged to be better than average, that never got pushed or even nudged to be better. That never knew the feeling of confidence.

What follows is by no means at attempt to slag off my parents, what is past is past; but that past is important. Any rational human being who understands child psychological and social development and family interpersonal communication can attest to this. The nurturing and upbringing of a child can have long lasting effects on their personal development and sense of self. Which, as an aside, is a large factor in the personal decision not to have children. There is no part of me that wants to be held responsible for that kind of thing. The margin for error is too large.

My parents were selfish - which is likely a product of having children at a young age, and partially due to the types of people they are personally, and the upbringings they had. They weren't selfish in the way that parents who pressure their children to succeed because they want to live vicariously through them and have them accomplish the things they couldn't. No. They were selfish in the way that, while they surely loved me and my brothers, they did not think to encourage us to participate in things (though in the 6th or 7th grade I did get to play basketball on the weekends). They had their own things going on. Clubs and activities require a devotion of time, as any suburban soccer mom can attest to. As poor farmers, time means chores or field work, and in the mid-80's, those second jobs to scrape by. Even moving past that, when dad moved the kids to the "big city", the mindset remained.

If I picked up an instrument, I could put it down and walk away without any urging to try harder, without anybody saying "I know you can do it". I did it with the clarinet, I did it with the drums. Reading wasn't a promoted activity around the house, though dad read Little House on the Prairie several winters in a row, reading too much wasn't useful. 4-H was the exception, but that club is meant to foster good farm values, and patriotism/nationalism, not to mention homemaking skills, which, I guess, was expected to be the lot in my life. At the very least 4-H was meant as a way of promoting doing barn chores, picking weeds and the various other things kids have to do on a farm, to make them "more fun". 4-H was, and is, a club based in utility. It's useful. Not like those academic, art and sports clubs.

As I often do when I spiral in a rant. I digress. It's the past. It cannot be undone.

But driving the forty minutes home tonight this is what I thought about. How different my life would have been with confidence and worth fostered in me when it should have been. How different things would have been if I had been urged, or pushed to succeed because someone knew I could do it, and could be better; because their confidence is what would have helped mine grow. How different it would have been without the various abuses that broke and shaped my brain at young ages.

So I came to understand that I was not actually ungrateful for the honor of the awards. I was angry because I felt like the awards represented my potential's value, and my potential was based on my achievements, and I feel like I never had the proper opportunity every child deserves, and that that had an affect on everything that came after it. And had those things been different, I wouldn't be a nearly thirty-five year old woman crying about what could have been while driving on the dark backroads somewhere in the Midwest still wondering what to do with her life.

Then I remembered. I have done good things and I get very good grades, and I apply myself. I try my hardest. Trying to be confident in yourself, when few people ever genuinely have been, is a really hard thing to do as an adult. I don't have as much potential as those kids, because I'm twice their age, and they simply have more time for their potential potential to be realized. I can work with what I've got though.

So as I sit here now, on my sofa, with my glass of Gin getting warm from neglect, still wearing the ripped black stretch pants from a long day of classes, I'm thankful for the people who thought I was worth even a small investment. Even if what I received was basically akin to a participation trophy, and I know that I'm worth more.

Thank you for reading.

[P.S. I love you, mom and dad]

~ Frankie

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Critical Reflections on When Science Meets Religion - Part 5 of 5

What follows is the final reflection on the book we've been reading for six weeks now (a chapter a week) for a class. The reflection papers are required (and have all gotten high marks from the professor).

Overall When Science Meets Religion was an intense read, that, if you did more than just read it without contemplating or challenging the ideas presented, most would probably not enjoy it. Additionally, it would be easy to get completely lost without savoring the words. This is not a book made for speed reading, to be sure.

You can get the gist of the book by reading the chapter by chapter reflection papers, though they by no means cover every topic and issue in each chapter, they can serve as a sort of "Cliff's notes" to the book.

It will be two weeks before the first of the next series is posted, and the series will consist of three reflections on a book about the philosophy of truth.

As always, constructive comments and sound debate are welcome.

- Critical Reflections on When Science Meets Religion -
Part 1 of 5 - Four Views of Science and Religion & Astronomy and Creation
Part 2 of 5 - The Implications of Quantum Physics
Part 3 of 5 - Evolution and Continuing Creation
Part 4 of 5 - Genetics, Neuroscience, and Human Nature

Critical Reflection on ‘When Science Meets Religion’ by Ian G. Barbour
Chapter 6: God and Nature

Here we are, finally at the center of religion…with God, and how he does or does not “act”, with or against, “lawful natural processes” (152) while trying to define his role in humanity and nature.

The six objections to God as an omnipresent ruler, in sum, are enough to support objections to the very existence of God wherein, the universe is ever changing and not placed in a fixed order by God, as described in Genesis. This is a modern world in which Biblical tales and any evidence of supernatural intervention of the divine is absent, of which much of the “mystical” and “paranormal” occurrences from 2000 years ago can now be explained using science. There exists a reality where the concepts of predestination by God clearly negate free will, whereby the idea of “genuine alternatives in human choice” (152) become incompatible situations. In the mass of societies where wanton evil and suffering persist, even among the “innocent”, the omnipresent must take responsibility for the evil either through an admission of a clear lack of authority and ability, or through acknowledging responsibility the conscious self-limitation to exercising said authority and ability. Finally, from the perceived patriarchal throne, justification in male dominated societies act out “persecution, crusades, holy wars, and colonial imperialism in God’s name” (153), again, without intervention in these atrocities carried out in his very name.

In the conflict of religion and science, of God and nature, Barbour first turns to the naturalistic criticisms of religion in which, according to Atkins, and to a lesser degree, Freud, religious beliefs become a product of “sentimental wishful thinking” and “intellectually dishonest emotion” (154). It is hard to argue against such claims, as faith, being a non-evidence based belief, leaves nothing but wishes and hopes rooted in the absence of anything remotely tangible and verifiable in which rules have been built in to prevent the “faithful” from even the option of questioning without perceived punishment. In attempting to align itself with evidence-based fields, which is founded on asking questions and attaining verifiable answers, as if it is on the same playing field, religion fails. The more religious leaders and practitioners press upon the educated public that they are answering similar questions as science does, the more glaring the holes become and the weaker they become in the eyes of the public as a result.

Barbour recounts Wilson’s explanation of the “evolutionary account of religious beliefs”, in which the same “hierarchies of dominance and submission that have contributed to the survival of animal species” (156) are also seen in the social structures of past and present society. I argue that these social structures, demonstrated through the dominance found with civil and political authority, and religious leaders, speaks more to evolutionary naturalism, as opposed to religious naturalism.

In religious naturalism, Burhoe asserts that religion, “by set[s] of values transmitted by religious myths and rituals […] has been the major force fostering altruism [selfless regard and devotion towards others] extending beyond genetic kin” (157). However, “all mammals, including humans, share the same structures and neurochemicals in the limbic system that are important in processing and expressing what they're feeling” says Mark Beckoff, former Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a PhD in Animal Behavior and writer for Psychology Today. He argues that “joy, love, empathy, compassion, kindness, and grief can readily be shared by improbable friends including predators and prey”1.

As Drees says, religion and “religious traditions are adaptions to local historical environments, and as such they provide no grounds for universal claims about reality” (158). Once again, in the study of natural sciences such as in animal behavior, an image of humanity is formed out of the animal world, and when juxtaposed with the “persecution, crusades, holy wars, and colonial imperialism in God’s name” (153), the failures of religion in “fostering altruism” are illuminated. In this, not religious naturalism, evolutionary naturalism is used to answer very basic questions in natural science that religion thinks it can answer.

Evolutionary naturalism, on the other hand, when coupled with aspects of humanism ironically becomes a more perfect religious philosophy. In evolutionary naturalism, nature, as opposed to God, becomes “the object of our worship and obedience” (157), while in humanism, all humans have value, are to be treated with dignity and respect, and humanity is approached with an underlying ethical philosophy based in “reason and science, democracy and human compassion” 2 and a for quest knowledge. In the evolutionary naturalism, nature becomes the self-governing power to which all are dependent. This philosophy aligns with basic scientific understandings of the dependence of everything on well-balanced ecosystems in order to maintain survival; within those ecosystems, through principles of humanism, additional balances are maintained in order to sustain healthy societies. In the “worship and obedience” to nature, the environment is cared for with reverence, and in the valuing and respect of fellow humans beings, social welfare becomes equally paramount.

Noticeable in this chapter was the propensity of the potential for sections to overlap. For example, naturalism in the conflict “box” could almost transition into the integration, if only there was a removal of God from religion. In the independence and dialogue “boxes”, concepts of God as an agent of causality, and God as designer, along with the differing limitations, play with the same ideas of deistic intervention. In this way, the God-center of religion is clear and becomes the major barrier in how religion and science can or can’t get along.

According to Barbour, neo-orthodox writers such as Karl Barth claim, “God controls. orders, and determines” everything and “nothing can be done except the will of God” for he “predetermines and foreordains” (160). Barbour states that in this “all causality in the world is completely subordinate to God” (161) where the “intentions of an agent [and of God]” cannot be seen or supposed “in a limited span of time” (163), so God’s intentions can never be realized. In this theory of complimentary language, Barbour claims that “language of divine action” becomes “an alternative to scientific language, not as a competitor with it” (163). However, the very nature of a creating alternative gives birth to competition between the practitioners of the two alternatives to become the most accepted alternative. Watts’ supposes that complementary language, the natural versus the theological/spiritual, “describe[s] inherently related things from different points of view”. I would dispute that they are not related things, but they are unrelated things, one in which the point of view stems from the evidence-based, and the other of which the point of view is based in faith, a blind non-evidence based belief, where they are only made relatable by obligation and imagination.

It gets sticky when people reject the classical (original) teaching of the Bible. Where God is in control, dialogue presents God as “designer of self-organizing processes” (164) in which chance becomes a mechanism or an agent, even though, according to Barbour, “chance is the [logical] antithesis of design” (165). The non-acceptance of “the clock-maker God who designed every detail of a determined mechanism” (165) completely alters the traditional teachings of the bible and religion, in which “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3, ESV) where “he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17, ESV). These, and many other verses, along with the declaration by God that everything created in Genesis One was “good”, are not congruent with redefining God’s role. The rejection of the completeness of God’s “intelligent design” therefore renders all the teachings incorrect and in so renders religion obsolete. For if you can simply redesign the core of God’s role in religion at will, then deconstruction is never ending, and if it is never ending then God and religion become a hollow reed which bends to the needs of sentimental clinging, and is no longer the sustainable thing it was created to be. For instance, the continuously creative God of Gregerson (165) is not the “omnipotent sovereign [God] of the classical tradition” (166) and the danger then becomes f

Through personal analogies of God in areas such as dialogue and integration, sweeping contradictory ideas of what God and his role is in science and religion becomes problematic. For instance, in religion, when cast as a loving creator seeking an intimate active relationship with his creations, who is then vengeful if you do not love him back in the way he wants, God becomes weak in the eyes of those who understand that pure love is not jealous or vengeful…as taught by the Bible itself. In science, when trying to attach responsibility of causality to the role of the creator, and designing him as distant and inactive in attempt to integrate him into science, the purpose of his creations falls to pieces and acts of worship such as prayer are negated and pointless. It becomes hard to maintain the ideal that mankind was created to seek a close personal relationship with a creator who is actively and intimately involved in order for you to desire to carry out his will, which is how the Bible frames Him, after casting Him as a dispassionate uninvolved. Meanwhile, Ward’s asserts that God’s power and knowledge is subject to “voluntary self-limitation” […] “because God at any time could destroy or modify the world” (168) casting him as an active practitioner in nature and humanity means he is the responsible for all manner of atrocities toward the innocent that persist.

Even worse, when trying to fit God into science through the eye of religion as a loving yet passive master who respects your freedom, yet owns your soul, that according to Biblical text [“the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4), for one] punishes you for exercising that freedom contradicts Murphy and Ellis’ claim that God “does not coerce our obedience” (169) and therefore can fit into science. Fiddes then claims that “god has freely chosen and accepted self-limitation for the sake of human freedom. (168) A God who gives you the choice to love him, but if you don’t you face “everlasting punishment”, speaks to nothing but tyranny. These subjective natures of religion, in which lack of congruence and sustainability is revealed, once again showing the distinctions between the congruence of science and ambiguousness of religion that keeps them on separate grounds.

Crazy attempts of integration to cast God as Determiner in theology of nature fails, whereby “God providentially controls the events that appear to us by chance” through the actualization of “one of the many potentialities already present”. The claim is that preserved through this is “the traditional idea of predestination” where “nothing happens by chance”. However, loss of freedom lies with use of terms such as “control”, “foreseen” and “predetermined”, and contradicts the assumption of the authors of the theory that “God as Determiner” is being framed “in such a way that human freedom is not violated”. (170-171)

Process Theology is just a reinvention of religion, a “Reformulating the classical view of God’s relation to the world” (174). Like with evolutionary naturalism, in pantheism, where god is with world as opposed to theism where god is separate and transcendent, the mind/body connection situates God in the world, making him a part of it, and according to Jantzen, would “lead us to respect nature and would encourage ecological responsibility” (173-174).

After several chapters, my mind remains relatively unchanged about the potential for science and Western religion to be much more than conflicting theories that cause argument. On a personal level, after really thinking about the nature of things and the concept of God, I have come to the conclusion even if there was actual proof of a God, I would not “fall to my knees” for him. Additionally, the very nature of God is contradictory, petty, jealous, controlling, insecure, and narcissistic, which if anything, is enough to determine that perhaps we are not created in God’s image, but rather God is created in ours.

- Ian, Barbour G. When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners. N.p.: HarperCollins, 2000. N. pag. Print.
- "Bible Gateway." BibleGateway.com: A Searchable Online Bible in over 100 Versions and 50 Languages. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2014. <http://www.biblegateway.com/>.

[1] Bekoff, Marc. "Odd Couples: Compassion Doesn't Know Species Lines." Web log post. Animal Emotions: Do Animals Think and Feel. Psychology Today, 28 Oct. 2012. Web. 08 Apr. 2014. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201210/odd-couples-compassion-doesnt-know-species-lines>.
[2] "American Humanist Association." American Humanist Association. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://americanhumanist.org/>

...More From This Class:

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Best Day This Year

We got rehired for the seasonal part-time job from last summer but they've made it a permanent position and it comes with $1/hour pay raise.

This marks this first time a company has made us feel valuable. They like our work, as menial as the job may be. But more importantly, they like who we are when we come to work - flirty, mouthy, bitchy, opinionated, sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, sensitive, funny, moody...even more, they don't even bat an eye at the inconsistency.

We're totally employable! They like us. They really like us!

In addition, we received word today that we have been awarded not one, but two scholarships from the University, from the department in which we're majoring, for the next two semesters (our last year). No word on the amount, but every little bit helps. This is the first time in our 6+ years of higher education we have ever applied for a scholarship, and we have one of our favorite (female)  instructors to thank for the last minute urging to at least try. (We weren't going to because the "popular vote" was that it felt too much like "begging" by writing a letter saying why "I" deserved free money).

So now the last two weeks of classes (which is when the first day of work starts) will be a total crunch, what with work and all the final projects and exams, but it will be worth it because we can finally stop living off of the savings account for good, which will relieve some major underlying stress that is causing some strange/unusual reactions - waking up feeling strangely hollow and empty, having a hard time moving, feeling like nobody is operating this body and it's just on auto-pilot. At least we think it might be related to that stress.

So, all in all this is probably the best day this year. Have to say, waking up this morning, it didn't feel like it would be.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Untitled...2014...Part 1

Sometimes you can't share a lot of personal feelings and events that happen in your life, after meeting your spouse online through social media and your blog...

It just causes extra problems.

Especially if it's complicated.

Sometimes there's nowhere to put things.

If we've learned anything...it's that.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Critical Reflections on When Science Meets Religion - Part 4 of 5

With a mere month left of classes things are about to start heating up. Two ten page term papers due within a month (one in Political Science, one in Interpersonal Communications), a final big multimedia convergence project, not to mention final exams and the mountains of reading assignments and studying in between.

We're heading into the final chapter today, and it's pretty exciting to be close to the finish line on this one. Only one more book left to read for this particular class (Next on the docket is True To Life: Why Truth Matters by Michael P. Lynch) and it's kind of unfortunate. This class is pretty much the highlight of the week.

Next week the final entry for this book will be posted. So far nobody has had any negative comments on any of them, so one can only assume that the handful of people who have been reading this series of reflection papers agrees with everything. Implicit agreement by silence. 

Maybe we just want an argument.

This chapter got a little hairy, since it involved multiple scientific disciplines, but it was no less fun to play around with.

Here ya go.

Critical Reflection on ‘When Science Meets Religion’ by Ian G. Barbour
Chapter 5: Genetics, Neuroscience, and Human Nature

Overall, this chapter presented more vague and varied concepts that previous chapters. This made it difficult to hold onto a common thread in the theme of scientific versus religious views on human nature and the evolution of morality. This can probably be explained by the general infancy of the fields of genetics and neuroscience when compared to the much older history of study in the fields of astronomy, quantum physics, and evolution.

In the study of consciousness, understanding becomes influenced by the observer, or as Crick says, interpretation of what is observed depends on “symbolism by each conscious organism” (122), so meaning of the observer is applied to the outcome. Past that, further theories of reductive materialism in relation to consciousness appear ridiculous. The way in which Dennett describes self and consciousness, disembodied from each other, leaves an image of a floating brain that is simply generating environments, events, images, and “multiple draft scenarios” in which we are entirely unaware. This almost makes it appear as if the brain has intention, which Dennett then goes on to reject in his theory of the intentional stance of human action. Once again, the brain becomes the master, and we are merely a blindfolded puppet - or, worse, as Dennett proposes, “robots made of robots”. (123)

Curiously, in the summary of a Times story by Wright, supporting the sociobiology and human morality stance, Wright claims that there are genetic basis for both infidelity and criminality, and that they are part of all human genetics. Barbour posits that according to Wright, the belief in free will leads to “deterrents to criminal behavior”, deterrents such as an understanding of “responsibility and punishment”, but conveniently leaves out how that same belief in free will can deter infidelity. (125) It seems completely overlooked in that brief section that much of what maintains order in society, in overcoming (or expressing) genetic base-animal instincts and behavior, is done through reward/punishment systems, not just infidelity and criminal behavior, but also violence, compassion and altruism, and love. Even further, similar systems exist in “low-level” organisms of nature, both in the wild and in domesticated animals and house pets. So then, the responsibility felt through free will does not necessarily account for the suppression of the genetic drive, but rather becomes determined by the perceivable reward systems of nature1 and/or culture.

In arguments for behavioral genetics, Barbour recognizes that studies such as reports that “the percent of Afro-Americans in prison is nine times that of the white population” (127) which conclude that it’s due to genetic differences, are erroneous. Interpretation of these reports are subject to cultural bias and views, and the ignoring of other aspects involved (such as various social factors) are perpetuated by media preference for publicizing incomplete reports, in lieu of publicizing later reports that contradict the social bias paradigm. This is a good illustration of how concepts of human behavior, perceived as genetically determined, can be historically influenced by persistent culturally constructed archetypes.

Humans are not machines, or “passive stimulus-response mechanisms”, but beings capable of creativity, deliberation, choice (even if choice is limited by laws of nature) and responsibility. The influence of environment and experience on human freedom creates symbiotic environments, which influences human behavior; but within that influence lies freedom over determinism. The sum of experiences influence behavior, it is true that “we cannot choose the cards we have been dealt, but we can to some extent choose what we do with them”. Freedom is the “result of our motives, intentions, and choices and are not externally coerced” and therefore “freedom is self-determination at the level of the person.” (127) Science says that we are animals with genetically wired behaviors, many of which work in congruence with maintaining balance; culturally constructed religion says that we are sinful and must be controlled through religious ideology. There is much conflict between the concept of freedom within the dichotomy of natural science and religion, in which one acts as a clear cohort in behavioral choices, and the other allows for natural expressions.

In the move to the independence of religion and science in human nature, Barbour looks to the various body/soul dualisms in religion. This section wasn’t as clear about the independence between the concepts, and I was left with the opinion that there is no more a disconnect between the body and soul that there is a disconnect from body and mind. They become the same thing. Consciousness, then, is your soul – your mind is your soul. Consciousness is what is gone when you die, the “light” that some may call a soul.

It was interesting to learn that many Catholics’ recognize primate and proto-human hominid evolution as legitimate, but what was more interesting was their theory of evolution of the human soul - that at some point between proto-human hominids and homo sapiens souls began to develop (131). If you consider the soul as a religious concept of human consciousness, this actually works - but in this there is integration, not independence, of science and religion.

Complimentary perspectives in body and soul dualism assert that humans are biological organisms with the obligation to treat other people with dignity and respect. In this perspective, there is no original sin, rather “we are born into a sinful social structure […] that perpetuates racism, oppression, and violence” (134). Ideally then, in this view, matters of the soul requires that there be an element of God. This supports biblical (human created) concepts of sin and redemption. Watts claims, in this dualism “we need to see science and religion as potentially complementary perspectives on the world.” (133). To which I disagree, as demonstrated thus far, perspectives of the world, particularly in the case of human nature, can easily be attained through understanding natural science.

In dialogue, Barbour turns to neuroscience, anthropology and computer science to seek the harmony between religion and science in aspects of human behavior. He speaks of emotions in cognition, which brings to mind a marriage of genetics and environment, nature and nurture, in human nature and behavior. In the embodied self, Arbib says, “actions are guided by perceptions, expectations, and goals” (136) – these expectations and goals are simply a refined understanding of punishments and rewards. If you act in this way, you can expect this outcome, which is the goal. This concept can be demonstrated in simple behavioral studies with lab animals.

The evolutionary role of emotions, such as adoration and fear, are important survival traits, such as when a mother animal protects its young, a lion protects its pride, or any animal senses danger and acts upon it to maintain survival. When created through a cultural (religious) social construction, human created emotions, such as guilt and shame, become an important role in social control (138) and control of behaviors which are perceived outside of normal bounds of cultural manufactured expectations – those emotions are not significant in survival, outside of social constructs.

To touch briefly on Barbour’s assessment of computer science and human nature, there is much development in Artificial Intelligence, in the last fourteen plus years, in which robots with “developmentally acquired capacities” programmed to learn have been created. I respect that there are vast differences between computers (robot brains) and (human) brains, but focusing on the similarities seems far more constructive. The main point I want to address, not having a vast understanding of robotic computer science, is related Barbour’s query as to whether or not it is possible to create a robot with the capacity to love, or to feel other emotions. If you look to the brain as a process computer, and acknowledge that love in humans is a chemical reaction, a response in the circuits, it is not beyond possibility to create a robot, already able to learn, that is capable of love. Even if their feelings of love were fundamentally different from ours, which Barbour supposes, I would argue that it would not make those feeling any less real. (142) For instance, emotions are subjective, you can only know how emotions feel in yourself, and cannot judge the legitimacy of that same emotion, felt differently by another person, based on your personal experience.

Finally, the way in which religion and science is presented to integrate in human nature/behavior is at odds with the general understanding of the role of God of creation. Phillip Hefner purposes that humans are evolutionary co-creators with God in forming “a new level of creation”. This is at odds with almost all biblical teachings, in which God created everything and it was “good”. The only part entirely agreeable is the claims of this section was that “we have a responsibility not only for our own future but also for the rest of the creatures on our planet” (143). There is an underlying responsibility in being a conscious human being. That responsibility comes from an understanding and awareness of the effects of our behaviors, whether genetically or culturally driven, on people and the environment, and that makes humans accountable for the health and well-being of the planet and all things on it.

Ian, Barbour G. When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners. N.p.: HarperCollins, 2000. N. pag. Print.

1. Barron, Andrew B., Eirik Søvik, and Jennifer L. Cornish. "The Roles of Dopamine and Related Compounds in Reward-Seeking Behavior Across Animal Phyla." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 Oct. 2010. Web. 01 Apr. 2014.

...More From This Class:
- Critical Reflections on When Science Meets Religion
     Part 1 of 5 (http://just-call-me-frank.blogspot.com/2014/03/critical-reflections-on-when-science.html)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Drinking Death's Door

**please note, this is not a paid advertisement**

Tonight, "flush with cash" from getting a new cell phone package that will save $30 a month, we decided maybe we ought to stray from our usual weekly bottle of Beefeater (well, we got a bottle of that too anyway...) and start exploring some other fine distiller's of Gin.

Thinking "locally", at least in the same geographical realm, as it were, we picked up several new bottles from the shelf and inspected them. Seems the local liquor store has started expanding its line of Gins. (maybe there is a God?)

When it comes to Gin, 45% alcohol by volume is a preferred - no need for that wimpy 40% and below crap. Other than that, we'd prefer it not taste too heavy, which was the case with the New Amsterdam Gin we tested just over a year ago.

Turns out we don't know much about Gin, other than it's supposed to have some element of Juniper Berry to the flavor, and is made with a wide range of botanical herbs and spices.
An obvious neutral grain spirit, also known as ethanol/ethyl alcohol/grain alcohol (generally made with corn). A neutral spirit is optimal in order to bring out the delicate flavors of each distinct brand, and it's certainly what we're used to with Beefeater, Tanqueray, Bombay Saphire, Hendrick's, and New Amsterdam. We wondered what flavor a more specific grain might bring to the palette. Certainly if the bottle is specific on the type of grain used then it should mean something to the flavor of said spirit.

Death's Door, chosen for price point, but mostly for the name of the bottle, is made with hard red winter wheat (organic)...from an island in Wisconsin - Washington Island, to be exact (the island even has a webcam).
 It's got a pretty good story behind it too, all about tenacious revival of farmland with a heavy pointed nod towards sustainable agriculture and production, years after the death of the local potato industry in the 70's - reading through the lines of the story one gets the feeling that the death was due to the beginning of the rolling gears of corporate overhaul in the independent farming industry during that time. 

Okay, so how does it taste, you ask?

The guy at the liquor store said it has citrus undertones. Personally, *I* didn't detect that at all. It tasted more like sweet anise, very subtle. Kind of like a mild black jellybean. And it's not because we ate a handful of jellybeans hours before. But it could be off. Every person has a different palette, perhaps it would taste more citrus-like to you. And maybe what we're picking up on is a mix of citrus and anise.

All in all is definitely worth the $32 (for 750 mL), and far better than the gin by New Amsterdam.

Death's Door also makes Vodka and White Whiskey, so if you're into that you can check them out on their website: http://deathsdoorspirits.com/ and find their products using a really snazzy locator map.
Or Follow them on Twitter: https://twitter.com/deathsdoor

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Based On Real Life

Allowing a bad day to happen is what makes tomorrow a better day.
Fighting it only makes it stronger, until it can control you completely.
If you accept it, instead of fight against it, you can move past it instead of letting it slowly take you over; and then you can start tomorrow fresh and prepare for the next struggle.
It's the only way to fight for the light, lest the darkness gets too strong.

Today was a bad day.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Critical Reflections on When Science Meets Religion - Part 3 of 5

This is part of a series of writings for a class. (More info from the start here: http://just-call-me-frank.blogspot.com/2014/03/critical-reflections-on-when-science.html).

You should probably start from the first chapter review in order to have some context. It's worth it. But if you're lazy, you can just read this.

Sorry there hasn't been anything really "interesting" lately, outside of studying...Netflix has stolen our soul...again.

Critical Reflection on ‘When Science Meets Religion’ by Ian G. Barbour
Chapter 4: Evolution and Continuing Creation

The assertion by Barbour in relation to evolutionary continuance, whereby “internal drives of organisms” (92) leads them to “purposive action [which] can eventually lead to physiological changes” (93) and these “novel actions may create new evolutionary possibilities” (116) directly conflicts with Biblical creationism as well as creation theory itself. The primary issue with this is in the refusal of religious institutions to recognize evolutionary theory as legitimate, in any way, is that they take “their God” and hold him wholly responsible for creation. He, who made the world “whole” or complete with a divine and predestined plan, which then renders “chance and human freedom […] ultimately illusionary” (103) then subjects humanity and all things created with it, to pain and chance at will, for unknown perverse purpose. In addition, they don’t account for the evolving of creation over time, now or in the future.

The “blind pitiless indifference” (94) of life displayed by the lack of tangible “rhymes reason or justice” in the universe at large, as expressed by Dawkins, and Dennett’s “mindless, purposeless process” (95) of the environment, speaks directly to the conflict of “intelligent design” in evolution and continuing creation. In intelligent design, there is no element of chance. For example, in the basic construction of a building the professional architect does not leave out structural beams in the plan and leave it up to chance to see what might happen. That is not intelligent, or ethically responsible.

Ideas that God intervenes in evolutionary events, so called God-gaps does not hold logically in any form when consistency is considered. Rather, the element of chance embedded in concepts of evolution free of a God echoes the reality in which “an organism of any sort is a highly integrated and dynamic pattern of interdependent events” (116), events determined by chance, by choice and by environment.

To speak again of the independence of theological and scientific theory on creation, as I have previously, and now supported by Gould, though he has been known to muddle them, religion and science are different domains, and as Toulman states, are “illegitimate mixture of languages” (101). While Gould claims that sociobiology adaptive behavior and moral ethics based from scientific perspective are illegitimate practices in the separation of science and religion, I would argue that the base instincts and ethics of humans are based, as animals, in the primitive realm of the animal kingdom. As animal behavioral science can help realize many types of animals - from elephants to lion, turtles and penguins - display characteristics of moral behavior [1] based in evolutionary instincts, such as various forms of social bonding, both long-term and short-term, and formation of communities. In this realization, it becomes apparent that independence is an incompatible relationship, because down to the very foundation religion then becomes a basic form of social control, not a true source of forming moral aptitude.

Dialogue between the two does not seem to be any more promising that does a relationship of independence, and continues to create conflict in interpretation.

In integration, there is no purpose for a God to propagate evolution of species through a design based on “a subtle interplay of chance and law” (112) in the “potentialities of nature” (102) at all, let alone continually. The creation story, the only basis of “where we come from” in religious belief, completely derails the entire concept of an evolving species of any sort. After all God created each thing and declared it “good” (Genesis 1:20-25), so what would the purpose be of “repurposing those good things”. If His design was truly intelligent, that it should not require alterations, instead intelligent design would indicate a linear direction of “sameness”. As Barbour states, when studied even “over short periods” evolutionary processes display “many directions of change, rather than a progress in one direction” (111). These directions of change indicate that there “seems to be too many blind alleys and extinct species and too much suffering and waste to attribute every event to God’s specific action” (112). Even if you attribute only some of events to God’s action, the element of chance remains, along with an impotent God. “Design is what one would expect with an intelligent and purposeful God […] the presence of chance, evil, and human freedom should lead us to modify classical ideas of omnipotence” (114). The alternative is the recognition of the “self-limitation of God” (115) and of “a distant and inactive God” (114. However, recognition should lead the rational person to question why anyone would want to develop a close personal relationship, as is God’s desired relationship with humans vis-à-vis the claims of Biblical text, with a dispassionate and cruel ruler.

To conclude, Peacocke’s idea that “God designed a system of law and chance through which higher forms of life would slowly come into being” (115) again is highly disproved by the teachings of Genesis in which God created all things whole and in “good” form. Any further interpretations outside of what the text of the Bible provides becomes even more illegitimate than the hearsay already existing in man-made text itself.

Sources and Citation:
Ian, Barbour G. When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners. N.p.: HarperCollins, 2000. N. pag. Print.

"Bible Gateway." Bible Gateway. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2014. <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1>.

1. Ghose, Tia. "Animals Are Moral Creatures, Scientist Argues." LiveScience. TechMedia
Network, 15 Nov. 2012. Web. 25 Mar. 2014. <http://www.livescience.com/24802-animals-have-morals-book.html>

...More From This Class:
- Critical Reflections on When Science Meets Religion - Part 1 of 5 (http://just-call-me-frank.blogspot.com/2014/03/critical-reflections-on-when-science.html)
- Critical Reflections on When Science Meets Religion - Part 2 of 5 (http://just-call-me-frank.blogspot.com/2014/03/critical-reflections-on-when-science_25.html)
- On Being Certain: A Critical Reflection in Four Parts (http://just-call-me-frank.blogspot.com/2014/02/on-being-certain-critical-reflection-in.html)
- A Critical Reflection on 'Free Will' by Sam Harris (http://just-call-me-frank.blogspot.com/2014/02/a-critical-reflection-on-free-will-by.html)