18 November 2011

Zeig Fail

Talking of the Nazis, I remember when Ratzi the Natzi came to the UK, he said...

"Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).

Deary deary me. You’d think the man had never read Mein Kampf or read any other of that deluded meglomaniacs speeches. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.

"I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator." [Adolph Hitler, _Mein Kampf_, pp. 46]

"I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord's work." [Adolph Hitler, Speech, Reichstag, 1936]

"What we have to fight for...is the freedom and independence of the fatherland, so that our people may be enabled to fulfill the mission assigned to it by the Creator."
[Adolph Hitler, _Mein Kampf_, pp. 125]

"This human world of ours would be inconceivable without the practical existence of a religious belief." [Adolph Hitler, _Mein Kampf_, pp.152]

I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so" [Adolph Hitler, to Gen. Gerhard Engel, 1941]

"The greatness of Christianity did not lie in attempted negotiations for compromise with any similar philosophical opinions in the ancient world, but in its inexorable fanaticism in preaching and fighting for its own doctrine."
[Adolf Hitler, "Mein Kampf" Vol. 1 Chapter 12]

"Thus inwardly armed with confidence in God and the unshakable stupidity of the voting citizenry, the politicians can begin the fight for the 'remaking' of the Reich as they call it." [Adolf Hitler, "Mein Kampf" Vol. 2 Chapter 1]

"Anyone who dares to lay hands on the highest image of the Lord commits sacrilege against the benevolent creator of this miracle and contributes to the expulsion from paradise." [Adolf Hitler, "Mein Kampf" Vol. 2 Chapter 1]

"For how shall we fill people with blind faith in the correctness of a doctrine, if we ourselves spread uncertainty and doubt by constant changes in its outward structure? ...Here, too, we can learn by the example of the Catholic Church. Though its doctrinal edifice, and in part quite superfluously, comes into collision with exact science and research, it is none the less unwilling to sacrifice so much as one little syllable of its dogmas... it is only such dogmas which lend to the whole body the character of a faith." [Adolf Hitler, "Mein Kampf" Vol. 2 Chapter 5]

"The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and cooperation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life...." [Adolf Hitler, Berlin, February 1, 1933]

"The folkish-minded man, in particular, has the sacred duty, each in his own denomination, of making people stop just talking superficially of God's will, and actually fulfill God's will, and not let God's word be desecrated. For God's will gave men their form, their essence and their abilities. Anyone who destroys His work is declaring war on the Lord's creation, the divine will." [Adolf Hitler Mein Kampf]

Well...alright, let's not. Ratzinger knew exactly what he was doing viz trying to put the frighteners on everyone by equating Nazism with secularism and atheism. The sad thing is, people will buy it because it's the Pope saying it...and he knows it.

Well, go read it for yourself and it quickly becomes apparant that Hitler was an out and out Creationist and white supremacist and anti-evolutionist, as well as being a Kit Kat short of a picnic.

The Pope should be ashamed of such intellectual duplicity..though one knows, he isn't.

17 November 2011

Panzie Tanks?

THE NAZIS CREATED NATURE RESERVES, championed sustainable forestry, curbed air pollution, and designed the autobahn highway network as a way of bringing Germans closer to nature.

A snip at £20.50 on Amazon...that's my crimbo sorted then.

The sound of creaking leather from their collective greatcoats broke the silence as the assembled Wehrmacht officers leaned forward to examine the huge table map of the Spreewald, the vast forest area standing between the XI SS Panzer Corps and the Red Army.

The problem was clear – vast stretches of gorse in the forest (Ulex europeus) were in flower and it was the nesting season of the rare inversely-spotted bark-spitter.

“Well, gentlemen” General Busse announced to his colleagues “there is no way we can attack them through the forest – the damage to the environment would be too great. Our panzer tanks still emit excessive CO2 and the electric hybrid version is still on the drawing-board.”

The other officers grunted in assent. There were those amongst them who could still recall the terrible Battle of the Somme in 1916 – how entire woods were destroyed, how the crash of the shells broke the noise abatement regulations as far away as Camden and how the noxious exhaust from the infernal English tanks caught the back of the men’s throats.

No, that was the carbon footprint to end all carbon footprints. Never again!

“However” the General continued, “I have developed a strategy that I believe you will find is sufficiently eco-friendly. The XI Panzer will move forward by bicycle on the left flank, the SS Mountain Corps will take the right flank using public transport – there is still a regular bus service from Lűbben after 10 o’clock – and we will sent a small diversionary unit through the forest. But I must spell out one important message for them: keep to the paths and no shooting!”

............................Tim Sanders

16 November 2011

losing the plotinus

Plotinus held that to wish for the absence of ‘evil’ was to wish that there be nothing at all. That if there is to be a world at all, that that world MUST contain the evil(s) it does simply because it is made out of matter. That there could be no essential, no ultimate essence of evil because it has no ‘Form’ (in the Platonic sense), so really there’s no such thing as evil qua evil.

So when we talk about evil, what we are really talking about is a perception of the absence of goodness - and the degree to which we perceive it to be evil is the ability to perceive how much goodness is missing.

Now Plotinus held that matter (everything) originates from a 'Source', which he termed ‘The One’ or ‘The Good’, and that it (the source) holds no will, no desire, no intention, not even any sentience. So nothing like the conventional theist interpretation of a creator God - a being that actively willed the universe into existence. It seems to be more like a light bulb - if it’s on, you get light, you just do. If it’s off, there’s nothing. So, insofar as things exist at all, they partake of the goodness but it is hardly the fault of a light bulb (goodness), say, if a dirty mirror does not reflect that light (goodness) perfectly.

I can’t argue with that. I don’t think we know what matter is, do we, or where it comes from, if it comes from anywhere? Einstein expresses some of that here:

“Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious.” Albert Einstein - Berlin 1927

Plotinus is side-stepping the logical and evidential problems of evil with which atheists love to plague theists so frequently. But insofar as this is a very deist interpretation of reality we can’t say much about it except to note that Plotinus thinks that the metaphysics of physical objects (humans included), means that they must be imperfect to some greater or lesser degree and that that movement towards a greater reflection of the good is our job and that it is a very rational one.

Or else, he was just trying to make The Matrix and hadn’t figured out who Neo was yet. :-)

15 November 2011

Haught 'n Jerry #2

John Haught’s paper ‘Does Evolution Rule Out Gods Existence’, has been published over at the American Association for the Advancement of Science website. The Association’s strap line is ‘Advancing Science, Serving Society’.

It’s part of an ongoing attempt to reconcile science and religion, but I’m left wondering just exactly how the above paper Advances Science or, indeed, Serves Society.

From the world view of a theist, science and religion MUST be reconcilable for the declared aim of both is to discover that which is true, that which is real.

Therefore, whatever science may discover MUST, eventually, if somewhat reluctantly and possibly painfully, be incorporated into the religious world view. How could it be otherwise?

The scientific ethos, moreover...”is the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which reflects one of the basic tenets of Christianity.” Benedict XVI – Sept 2006

Fair enough: let’s agree for now that science and religion are both seekers after truth. Is there a difference in how they go about it? I think so. I’m going to suggest that science is obedient to truth in that it will follow truth, by the nose, wherever it goes and that, on the contrary, religion has already staked out its truth claim, and is both obedient to that truth and to what it thinks that truth demands of everyone. Since, however, the truth claims of the various religions are mutually incompatible, we are left with the options of either declaring one of them to be true, none of them to be true, or to discover in some verifiable way of discerning the validity of such claims to truth.

Religion itself is characteristically highly resistant to ‘truth’ it does not like. (Rome only got round to apologising for the Galileo debacle in 1992), and of course the tussle over evolution runs and runs – the Catholics perhaps slightly ahead of the game here, in their acceptance of the theory, and with their current efforts to incorporate evolution into their theodicy.

If any such rapprochement between science and religion is to work, religion is going to have to radically refine its notions of what is acceptable as ‘evidence’.

In Haught’s earlier debate with Jerry Coyne, Haught seemed to be suggesting that personal experience fell into the category of ‘evidence’. Humans of all religious persuasions (and none) have, throughout history, had numinous and transcendental or peak experiences.

"There is no doubt that great insights and revelations are profoundly felt in mystic or peak-experiences, and certainly some of these are, ipso facto, intrinsically valid as experiences. " "The peak-experience is felt as a self-validating, self-justifying moment which carries its own intrinsic value with it" (Maslow, Religion, Values and Peak Experiences).

Alas, however peak your peak experience was, it simply will not do as reliable evidence: how will you distinguish between the one who experiences Christ from the one who experiences Vishnu from the one who experiences a Fuath?

The word of God as revealed through scripture is a similarly suspect candidate for ‘evidence.’

.As Haught says of the Creationists:

“….. [they] close their eyes to modern historical awareness of the time-sensitive nature of all human consciousness, including that expressed in the sacred texts of religion. They are unable to discern the different types of literary genre--symbolic, mythic, devotional, poetic, legendary, historical, creedal, confessional etc.--that make up the Bible. And so they fail to read the scriptures in their proper context.

The difficulty is to distinguish words that proceed from God from those that proceed from godly men. From, what is to be taken literally and what metaphorically; and who gets to decide, and when, (and on who’s authority?). What was to be taken as canonical truth and what apocryphal? Ancient sacred texts simply will not do as adequate evidence to establish the veracity of religious claims, however beautiful, inspiring or poetic the language may be.

To paraphrase Sam Harris:

Can literature or testimony…..”even slightly increase the probability that the Book of Mormon was delivered on golden plates to Joseph Smith Jr. by the angel Moroni? Do all the good Muslims in the world lend credence to the claim that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse? Do all the good pagans throughout history suggest that Mt. Olympus was ever teeming with invisible gods?”

No, of course not. So what is left for us to call on in our endeavour to unite science and religion?

"Certainly, love’ transcends’ knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Ephesians 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is logos. Consequently, Christian worship is "logic latreía" -- worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason.” (cf. Romans 12:1). – Benedict XVI – Sept 2006

How do you crawl out from beneath this stultifying mountain of opaque theology to get at truth? Why certainly? Transcends knowledge how? Perceives what, exactly? And because of all that…. Christian worship harmonises Word with Reason? Eh….how?

[Cartesianism and Empiricism]…..”on the one hand it presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently: This basic premise is, so to speak, the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature. On the other hand, there is nature's capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield ultimate certainty. The weight between the two poles can, depending on the circumstances, shift from one side to the other. As strongly positivistic a thinker as J. Monod has declared himself a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity.

A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.

We shall return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology's claim to be "scientific" would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: It is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science" and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. [my emphasis]

The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective "conscience" becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.” - Benedict XVI – Sept 2006

The questions raised about the origin and the destiny of humanity, questions raised about morality, ethics and community are NOT solely in the purview of the church. There are many churches and only one humanity. The pope cannot hijack such questions from humanity and glibly claim that we haz failed to construct an adequate morality out of science, or the humanities, a scant couple of hundred years after the first electric light bulb was invented.

But that is what it wants to do. It wants to claim these for its domain and claim that it has parity with science because it has this logos based on its understanding of a divine. What it really believes is that it is far superior to science and would very much like to claw back some territory by hitching a ride on the coat-tail of sciences’ demonstrable success by re-integrating science and theology.

In his debate with Haught, I think Coyne unceremoniously pulled the threadbare rug of this reasoning apart and demonstrated that theology is actually content and knowledge free, while at the same time presenting evidence to show how religion convinces people that they have this ‘other’ knowledge together with the rationale and righteousness to act upon that knowledge... with disastrous and poisonous consequences for individuals, communities, cultures, societies, not to mention the entire world.

One simple and effective way of such hijacking and coat-tailing is to lay down a claim that genius is a form of divine inspiration and that significant scientific discoveries may be taken as yet further ‘evidence’ of the beneficence of the divine...beckoning us ever onwards and upwards towards our celestial destiny. I predict a lot more of that sort of thing.

...to be continuerated...sometime....eventually....possibly.

07 November 2011

On War and Morality

When Bush and Blair collaborated to invade Iraq they may both have been convinced that it was the right thing to do both morally and legally. The concept of a ‘just war’ is very old and can be traced back even before the likes of Aquinas and Grotius. Still, there are millions of people who differ and think that their action was neither moral nor legal. Clearly the legality was questionable and some would argue that both the legality and the morality were shoe-horned into place to justify the action that had already been agreed.

We don’t seem to have moved on all that much in our understanding of either the legality or the morality of war, (except perhaps in the formulation of international treaties, charters and conventions and the refinement of customary law between nations), and given the way war has changed in both practice and reason, it is perhaps time we tried to make things clearer.

It would help because to be asked to leave your home, travel to some distant land and be required to kill people is neither a trivial thing to do, nor to ask of someone. If you wanted me to do such a thing, I would want to question you very closely on your reasons and motives for asking it of me, even if I was in the armed services and you were a commander tasked, with handing out the orders.

In the case of Iraq, the reasons, the motives, the justifications, seemed to be a movable feast: a spectrum of imminent threat to us from WMD; Iraq’s possible connection with terrorist outfits like al-Qaida; getting rid of a brutal dictator who, when he wasn’t gassing his own people, was ruthlessly oppressing them. It depended when and of whom you asked the question. It all sounds as cobbled together as was the intelligence that supported the action. Why was that?

One answer seems to be that it all came about as a consequence of 9/11. After that, the concept of pre-emptive or preventative war moved much higher up the political agenda but without a corresponding refinement of either the legal framework or the moral considerations which frame such actions. It might be time to update both, but how?

The justification for both pre-emptive and preventative war seems to rely on a couple of premises: that the intelligence provided is accurate, reliable and complete and that the outcome is achievable and worth the expenditure of life, money and material it will entail. In the case of the Iraq war, both of these premises seem to me to be entirely questionable. One of the difficulties is that wars in olden times look to be much simpler, transparent and base in their motivations, though no less horrific for that; while modern war, seeming as it appears to be moving more towards more pre-emptive or preventive strategies, looks to be not only more complex, but also seems to go very much against notions of what a just war is.

Of current concern is the widely reported and disturbing news that Israel is seriously considering a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities near Tehran in the conviction that such facilities are for anything but civil and peaceful purposes. That may be so, I don’t know, but if they do strike, it takes us yet further down the road of normalising pre-emptive strike strategies setting yet another precedent that such actions are permissible.

Israel has form in this regard both with its preventative strike on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq in June ’81 and, arguably, with its pre-emptive strike in the ’67 Arab-Israeli war. Preventative in the first instance because there was no immediate threat to Israeli security and pre-emptive in the second because seven infantry divisions, several hundred tanks and jet fighters clustered on your border, coupled with Egyptian pacts with neighbouring Arab states to lend military support if required, could be construed to be a tad threatening. In the first instance the UN Security Council condemned the raid while in the second, they mounted no objection.

It could be that Iran is attempting to produce a nuclear weapon. It is conceivable that they are just crazy enough to use it against Israel. It could be, indeed, seems likely, that Israel will strike pre-emptively to prevent this. What is as difficult as figuring out the legality and morality of such action, is working out the second and third order consequences for the Middle East and the rest of the world.

War is always terrible, if not always immoral. If we are asking our young people to kill and be killed in our name, we should, at very least, be clear about the moral and legal frameworks we use to justify such action. It seems self evident to me that we are not.

05 November 2011

Haught n Jerry

Recently catholic theologian Prof John Haught debated biology Prof Jerry Coyne on the topic 'Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?'

The debate generated a bit of on line fuss, because Haught attempted to block the release of the video of the event, but it is now online and linked to above.

Anyway, it seems to me that Haught was persuing the NOMA (non overlapping magisteria) tack and concluding that science and religion are compatible and are just different ways of knowing stuff about the world. He said that there are different levels of understanding and gave some examples: a monkey looking at a book just sees black squiggles on a page, a todler recognises the odd word, an older child can understand the text, an experienced adult can recognise deeper meanings, understand metaphor and so forth. So, he's saying that your understanding can be transformed by experience and that if, say, you have a deep personal experience of Christ, then that can radically transform your understanding of the world.

The problem I have with that is that experience is conditioned and what is true is going to be true independent of what anyone believes is true. So, the hindu might experience brahma, the muslim, allah, the catholic, jesus and any of those experiences might be personally transformative but what can the experience reveal about what is actually true?

He uses another analogy which is to do with meaning and purpose. Imagine a pot of boiling water. Why is it boiling, what is its purpose? On one level, energy applied to the pot is causing the water molecules to bump into one another and heat up until it reaches the phase transition point where water turns to steam. On another level, he sais, the water is boiling because 'I want a cup of tea.' His idea is that the universe has purpose and that that purpose is supplied by an external higher intelligence - the 'I want a cup of tea' level.

The problem I find with that one is that he is conflating causation with purpose. Meaning and purpose seem to me to be human attributes. An aardvark is seldom heard asking itself 'what is the point of being an aardvark?' The purpose of being an aardvark is to be an aardvark. Humans, perhaps uniquely, I'm not sure, have brains capable of asking the question: for what reason do I exist? That does not mean that the question is a valid one: that just because we are capable of asking the question, that there therefore must be an answer to it over and above the brute fact that we exist. In asking the question one can supply the answer on as many levels as you can ask the question. Haught is saying that there is one 'true' answer to that question. I beg to differ. So did Prof Coyne, evidently to Prof Haught's considerable annoyance.

You can judge for yourself.

There is much more to be said, but today, I have a higher purpose... :-)

02 November 2011

the tent is nigh

On one level the protest outside St Pauls has distracted the debate away from throwing a spotlight on financial criminality and corporate greed and broadened it's beam to include the inner workings and moral integrity of both St Pauls and the wider Anglican church. I'm inclined to think that that is not necessarily a bad thing and probably even a good one: it forces a public response from sections of the community who might otherwise have chosen to stay more or less silent and let it all blow over. But the inequality, injustice and unfairness in the system we have now are not just matters of opinion, they are matters of observable and objective fact - and those who lay claim to be the harbingers of moral values in our society ought not to be trying to hide from these uncomfortable truths but should be tackling them head on. As some church person said somewhere...'just because the church is established doesn't mean it shouldn't challenge the establishment.'.....or something like that.

01 November 2011

Pell Hell

Oh...that Pell....right. What an idiot.

"Some of the hysteric and extreme claims about global warming are also a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear when confronted by the immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature. Belief in a benign God who is master of the universe has a steadying psychological effect, although it is no guarantee of Utopia, no guarantee that the continuing climate and geographic changes will be benign. In the past pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods. Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions." - Legatus Summit Speech 2006

Let me count, oh lord, the ways this is stupid.....nope....can't do it....too many....you have a bash.