Evolution and the Existence of God

        On Having No Religion

        Daylight Savings Time

        Swiss Guns

        Human Rights


F. M. Cornford in the introduction to his Thucydides Mythistoricus says:  In every age the common interpretation of the world of things is controlled by some scheme of unchallenged and unsuspected presuppositions; and the mind of every individual, however little he may think himself in sympathy with his contemporaries, is not an insulated compartment, but more like a pool in a continuous medium — the circumambient atmosphere of his time and place.

To this extent I agree with Jason that all research and opinion is biased.  However, I believe that if one is aware of the bias, as honest men and women should be, every effort is made to limit its effect.

Bill worries about the difference in perception, but I side with what I think Mike Ransom is saying:  that these differences are effectively limited by language.

Green is the color of grass because we agree to call the light reflected from the plant that we have agreed to call grass, green.

It is irrelevant exactly how we perceive the color individually, because we have agreed to use the label:  green.

Researchers on memory think that the brain conserves storage by recording differences rather than an entire image every time we look at something.

This would explain Sally’s barn:  her brain has everything else filled in from existing memory, so she notices cracks.  Someone else knows what barns look like so they remember trees.

From a survival standpoint this is very important.  The ability to focus on changes in your immediate environment would alert you to danger.

There was a bank robber in Rochester, NY, who stumbled across this ‘focus on the new’.  He was never identified by any of the tellers he robbed.  His total disguise was a strip of adhesive tape across his nose, as if it was broken.  The identification had to be made from the crummy surveillance film.

Because no two people are going to store exactly the same images in exactly the same order from exactly the same viewpoint, we each, essentially, have our own ‘reality’.  This is interesting, but has little, if any, practical effect, because of our agreements concerning language.

My ‘barn’ is all white with a field stone first floor, timber loft, capped with a shingled three-pitch roof.  It is built into a hillside and used for milking on the first floor and silage overhead.

For others, it’s all timber, plank sides, dark, flat red, and the roof is sheet metal.

That difference isn’t essential, because if we are using the word ‘barn’, we all assume that it is a large work and storage building on a farm.

Language allows us to move from the general to the specific, to emphasize or ignore some differences.  Language allows us to make the transition between and among ‘personal realities’.

How could we have creativity if we all thought exactly alike?  I had eight years of uniformity in the Air Force.  I prefer diversity.

Kepler saw some of Tycho’s reality and altered it, refined it so that it more closely conformed to the agreed standard.  The data didn’t fit the agreed standard for ‘circle’, but did fit the standard for ‘ellipse’.

NPR had a piece on cosmology tonight covering a convention at the University of Chicago.  According to the report:  there probably could have been a ‘Big Bang’, there are between one and an infinite number of universes, ‘inflation’ may or may not have taken place, and this universe will either begin to collapse inward at some point (‘Big Crunch’), or not (‘Big Chill’).

This was, of course, only the firm opinions of people with doctorates, endowed chairs, and massive funding.  They do all agree that all of the ‘heavy hitters’ (excepting themselves, of course) are too arrogant to admit they are mistaken.

To paraphrase Lincoln:  some of them must be, and all of them may be, wrong.

Bryan Dumka

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Evolution and the Existence of God

Many thanks, Jim, for your posting in #1237 which, IMHO, was well written.  Thanks also to Adrian, over the last few weeks, for his compelling counterarguments to your view of the world.  That last phrase may sound like a mild put-down so let me say, Jim, that if all Christians were as well-balanced, reasonable and committed as you appear to be, I would not distrust organised religion as I do.

I am an agnostic (small caps!).  Still, I would be delighted to discover that there is some sort of Guiding Power in the Universe.  The "Force" perhaps.  Such a Force need not even be the Creator.  In fact I don't much care whether or not there is a Creator.  I exist and the world I perceive around me exists.  What more do I need?

Of course if the God envisaged by Jim were one day to announce Himself in such a way as to convince the most adamant of atheists He would immediately become everyone's God.  I think that is unlikely, but the prospect does not disturb me nor would it change my life significantly.

It is clear that the issues on which you differ from Adrian, BrianJ et al. are simply not able to be resolved by argument (as one or more TIers have already observed) nor will one side ever convince the other.  Nevertheless these are interesting subjects and deserve a great deal of thought.

I have one tiny beef, Jim.  When commenting on moral relativists, you are fond of saying that their morality "is whatever (they) want it to be".  This is not so.  At least not for me.  The moral guidelines or rules that have come into being during my life are not flexible and they certainly do not suit themselves to my convenience.  Wrong is wrong and nothing can make it right.  In my opinion certain rules come to be shared by all humans living in social groups.  These common values are not malleable or expedient.  They must be respected across lines of race and creed.

Jim wrote:

<< But Occam's razor does not establish that the simplest explanation is the correct one >>

I agree.  It is seductive and convenient to take the simplest explanation and frequent use of "Occam" has somehow become a proof in itself.  It is like saying:  "Here I have two explanations for a certain phenomenon.  One is complex and the other is simple.  So we will reject the complex one because Occam's Razor stipulates that the simple one is preferable."  For "preferable" read "correct".

That is poor thinking, but I have heard that line of argument many times.

While looking for a definition of Occam's Razor somewhat fuller than that of the Concise OED, I found this in Brewer's:  "Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter neccessitatem", translated as:  "No more things should be presumed to exist than are absolutely necessary".

Well, there you have it.  Isn't Latin wonderful?  You can quote it to lend weight to an argument in the sure belief that no one will challenge 'coz they haven't a clue what it means.

Jason, I wonder if the word "Fideist" came from that time, because ... William of Ockham (Occam) became famous through being excommunicated (circa 1340) by the Pope for "dangerous teachings".  He was renowned as a rigorous logician who used logic to prove that many Christian beliefs, such as God being the Creator of all things and the immortality of the soul, could not be proved by reason but only by divine revelation.


I grew up in the Apartheid system so I feel qualified to say that I do not agree with Oprah as she was quoted on TI.  In my view, any person who has prejudices based on the belief that members of a different race are generally inferior is a racist.  It is very simple.  It matters not what colour either of them are.  Remember that a prejudice is a *preconceived* notion or opinion.  "All Jews are xxxx" or "All Arabs are yyyy" fits the bill.

Things are not always so simple.  Let's say that I believe that blacks are superior sprinters.  (Anyone doubting that need only watch the start of any world class 100 or 200 metre event.  If you see a white face, the beers are on me.)

Few people would class that remark as racist because it is obviously factual and a compliment to boot.  But there are dangers in the statement.  What if a black man says:  "I believe that whites are inferior sprinters."  Still acceptable?  What about that word "inferior"?  We are treading on dangerous ground here.

The mistake lies in the use of words like "superior" and "inferior" because they have taken on a social meaning evoking emotions.  If the sentences were:  "All the top-class sprinters are black", or "There are no top-class white sprinters", the whole loading of the statements is changed.

BTW, for those who feel I should be saying "African Americans" instead of "blacks", pause a moment and think:

1.  I strongly dislike the modern PC vocabulary.  (Anyone who describes me as physically challenged is liable to get a crutch up their fundamental orifice.)

2.  Saying "African African" is ludicrous.

3.  People in Botswana seem to have no problem with the word "black".

Africa is quite big so perhaps I should add that, in my book, anyone born in Africa is African.

Terry (the African)

Terry Cockburn

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On  Having NO Religion

After reading Cheryle's description of how she found God, I was reminded of my own search for God.  I looked for God a long time ago, and I think I have found what I was looking for.  I am now an atheist. 

I know people who truly believe they have a personal relationship with God.  When I was 20, a family friend had a religious experience.  I was so impressed by the power of whatever of it was that possessed him I looked for the same thing.  My family was/is religious, and raised me to respect the church.  Their religion is subdued and conventional.  What this man had was different. 

I went with him to a Pentecostal meeting.  At one point the whole congregation except for me was speaking in tongues.  It was a truly eerie and indescribable experience.  I tried to find what they had but couldn't.  For them the Bible had all the answers.  For me the Bible made little sense, except for some clear directives, such as the 10 commandments.  The rest of its meaning was hidden from me in flowery language, and stories that had little relevance to my life. 

My friend became truly possessed by his religion.  He quit his job and abandoned his family.  Later he tried to kidnap his own children to place them in a religious camp.  My father and I accompanied his wife one time to try and reason with him and release the kids.  Eventually he did.  He wandered the country, jobless, prevailing on fellow churchgoers wherever he landed for room and board.  He was adamant that God was giving him instructions.  Occasionally he would instruct God. 

Needless to say, what eventually happened to him tempered my desire to seek out God.  I called myself agnostic.  Studies led me to the scientific version of the creation myth that every culture seems to require.  It made perfect sense to me.  I engaged others in debate trying to "prove" that evolution, Darwin, Big Bang, etc. were true, and that the Bible was false, with the same results every time, each party more convinced they were right, neither convincing the other. 

I know many other people who are convinced they have felt the presence of God and also live decent, "normal" lives.  When my mother often tells me that God will reach out to me "someday", I am not convinced. I now consider myself an atheist, but keep it to myself, and avoid discussing religion.  I do not know what people who feel God feel.  There is no doubt in my mind that whatever it is, is as real to them as the sun and the moon are to me. 

It is frustrating because I do not feel what they feel.  Some would say I have not "opened my heart".  I say bullshit.  I believe that some people have an ability to feel things that I do not.  Maybe I am "blind" in that way. 

I have to be honest.  I have not experienced God, so I can not pretend that God exists.  Nor can I judge what others feel.  If I feel anything at all, it is as Michelle Herring proposed, that God is the universe, and the universe is God.  That works for me.  When I go out at night and see the stars, or the northern lights, I feel the power that surrounds me.  I reject a god who looks after and speaks to some people but not others. 

My Bible is everything I see, touch and hear.  By seeking to understand nature's ways, I think I begin to understand a way that has meaning for me.  My limited understanding allows me to order my own universe, and shows me purpose. 

Because I do not feel a personal God, my God (the universe) is impersonal, which how I justify calling myself an atheist while I speak of "God". 

My knowledge, as I derive it from the explorers of my universe, is fragmented and imperfect and infinitesimally small.  I don't believe that the current version of evolution is as correct as some here are saying, nor do I think it is as wrong as others are saying.  I think evolution is closer to what really happened than a "managed" creation.  I also believe that future generations will find both versions naive.  (Assuming that we continue to be explorers, seeking meaning in the world that surrounds us, instead of lawyers, searching for precedent in the writings of others.)

The gift that I have been given by my universe is that for a period of perhaps 70 years, a collection of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and few trace elements can be aware of itself and its creation, feel joy and pain, before returning to inanimate elements.  There is no heaven and there is no hell, only now.  That is what I believe, and that is why I call myself an atheist. 

I will not accept that without the guidance of a personal God who speaks to me through others, books, or even directly I have no moral foundation or absolute values, as some say is the natural consequence of my belief, because I have both. 

They come to me from my upbringing and from my reflections.  I can live a worthwhile, meaningful life without the promise of immortality.  I can free myself from what others would have me believe.  I must still be true to myself.  I can repay my gift by living my life in a way that ensures the gift of existence is respected and preserved for the future, so that others may enjoy what I once had.


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Daylight Savings Time

I have trouble understanding the great hues and cries over 'daylight savings time'.  It seems to me that, when people don't have something real to complain about, they have to 'find' something.

Time, or at least the designation of how we identify time, is totally arbitrary to begin with.  The length of a day is fixed - one spin of the planet.  Someone decided to divide the day into 24 hours - too bad they didn't patent the idea and collect fees on all clocks.  Someone else decided to split the 24 hours into 2 parts - the 12 hours before the meridian and the 12 hours after.  In those days, the meridian (the instant at which the sun reaches its highest point - local noon) was the only way of determining where in the spin cycle we were.  From that point it took sundials, hour glasses, even-burning candles, and finally clocks to keep track of where in the cycle we were at any given moment.

As socialization progressed, it became important that people be at the same place at the same time to interact - thus we started to designate meeting times.  However, since local noon (meridian - the starting point of our time counting system) is a moving target which is different on every longitudinal great circle, someone arbitrarily divided the circumference of the globe into 24 sections of 15 degrees each and declared that it would be the same 'time' everywhere in that band.

This of course, separates our artificial time construct even further from actual sun time.  Picture a town on the time zone boundary with a street running north/south.  On the east side of the street the sun might set at 5 PM (for instance) while on the western side of the street it sets at 4 PM - and yet the difference between real local noon (sun time) on the 2 sides of the street is mere seconds.  Thus inhabitants of such a town deal with 'daylight savings time' or its equivalent all the time.

I won't even get into the international date line - needed to keep our artificial time designation from becoming time travel.

As businesses developed, it became necessary (perhaps?) for large numbers of people to convene at the same time - thus we developed standard office hours.  Typically these start at 9 AM in most places - although here in HI where we do not bother to change the clocks starting time is typically 8 AM (or even earlier).  Part of this is because of the later mainland time zones so our businesses operate longer while East Coast operations are still open.  Another part has to do with life-style - many here engage in outdoor activities all year round - surfing, sailing, or even mowing the lawn after work is commonplace. On the mainland, there is far more outdoor activity in the summer than in the winter.  Those wanting more daylight after work (for play or to cultivate crops) could just as readily move back their starting time during the summer.  But it would reduce efficiency if some companies (whose bosses liked to sail) started earlier and others didn't.  So it is easier to just 'adjust' the clock which is arbitrary anyway.

The next question is, why not leave it at daylight savings time always - just adjust the arbitrary standard once and for all.  Indeed this was done in the US during the 2nd world war.  My understanding is that the big complaint was that in the winter it was still dark while people were going to work and even worse while children were walking to school (as in my day, through huge snow drifts, barefooted, and uphill in both directions <g>).  Thus after the war we returned to the current format.

No doubt this is a compromise between those who might like to get out and exercise a bit before it gets dark and those who decry the difficulty of the sun shining on their TV screens as they try to watch their favorite sitcoms.  As with all compromises, it doesn't satisfy everybody.

I still fail to see the rancor that arises every 6 months when the clocks are changed.  Those of us who do not change actually have a harder time adjusting.  If I want to call my brother in Boston today, I have to remember that his time is 5 hours later than mine - although yesterday it was 6 hours later.


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Swiss Guns

The "Token Swiss" emerges from Lurkerdom at gunpoint.

Yes, Stu, Switzerland does indeed have a Militia in the old-fashioned sense of the word.  Since our sons and the guns have departed this house, I've checked with our late-thirties company comptroller, and a mid-fifties salesman of Household Articles made by the Handicapped.  It goes this way:

Every Swiss male, at about 19, generally the end of secondary school, perhaps in the first two years of apprenticeship, or out of his father's farm fields, is required to "present himself."  This is usually locally.  There he will be exhaustively medically examined .. physically and mentally.  No IQ tests .. just sound sense.  He will demonstrate his sporting ability:  .. throwing, running, climbing, simple gymnastics. Found hearty, if not hale, he will be issued a Service Book and assigned to a unit.  If he is trained in or learning a special skill, he may be assigned to an appropriate duty -- electrical mechanic, wheelwright, computer whiz.  However, it's most likely geographical.  Here from Central Switzerland, they're mostly Mountain Infantrymen.

A year later he goes to Recruit School, for 17 weeks at a stretch.  There he is issued his uniform, his kit, his knapsack, helmet and  g u n.  A repeating rifle, useful for a single shot or repeating 24 shots from a magazine.  At the end of this first service he takes everything including his   g u n  and 24 live shots, carefully accounted for in his Service Book, home.  There was a time when we had three  g u ns  in our cellar.  From the ages 20 to 30 he will be called up for Repeat Courses 7 times for 3 weeks.  Taking everything with him.  Up to the age of 40 he will go to Refresher courses 4 times for 2 weeks.  The day before is consumed in mad gun-cleaning, leather polishing and moth-ball airing.

Regardless of his mother-tongue he will be sent to service in any corner of Switzerland.  (Which sometimes makes sweet-talking the local beauties just a touch touchy.)  After each tour of duty he takes everything, including the  g u n,  home.  In the years he does not do Repeat Duty he is required to pass an obligatory shooting test.  He may use his gun for shooting sport .. almost every village has a rifle and pistol team with a target area and a "Schutzenhaus".  Army guns are not used for hunting.  They're "not adapted".

After 40, it used to be after 50, he will turn in his kit .. including the three steel pins useful for replacing buttons .. to the assigned Armory.  He may buy his gun if he wishes.  He will then be required for duty in Civil Defense.  This is the drill for simple private.  Commissioned officers and non-coms have to do a lot more Refreshing knowledge and practice.  (Our busy CEO has to budget four or more weeks every year.)

Despite this plethora of weapons, their use in aggressive violence against others is extremely rare.  However their use in suicide is lamentably often.  Whether the former and the latter are a result of overall discipline is another quandary.

A personal note:  Our elder son, mountain infantry, was in the Ski Troops.  Everything white:  uniform, skis, head covering and  g u n.  Gorgeous.  However, the white gun was left on the glacier.  He toted his old black thing home.  Another thought.  A Swiss mother does not only sigh with regret when "Her Boy" marries .. she sighs with relief that damned uniform and all those mothballs are in his bride's cellar.  However, she does miss the gun-oil.  It's great for sewing machines.

Greetings from your armed hedgehog and your peaceful Suzanne.

Suzanne Felchlin

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Human Rights

Some time ago, I chanced upon the web page of Amnesty International and found what they, and the UN, consider to be human rights. I was disappointed. I found thirty some "rights," many of which were socialist ideas, both good and bad. Others were special privileges, set up for political dissidents. While I can admire, and respect, the ideas presented by AI and the UN, I would hardly call them human rights.

Therefore, I propose the following human rights. There are no capital letters on these. These are "rights" of the individual. Something that many governments fear.
1.  Thinking - You have the right to think your own thoughts. No explanation is necessary. The concept of "thought police" is the highest crime known against humanity.

2.  Emotion - You have a right to like, dislike, hate, or love whom, and what, you wish. Once again, neither rationalization nor justification is necessary.

3.  Life Support - Your body is your most important possession. It is a life support system for your mind. You may do with it as you wish. You do not have to accept unwelcome guests, whether fetal or parasitic. Neither do you have to preserve it.

4.  Health - You have the right to avoid physical pain, injury, disability, and death. You are allowed to resist these using the most effective means necessary. This right does not prohibit the use of lethal force to preserve the self.

5.  Communications - you have the right to exchange ideas and information with anyone you wish.

6.  Knowledge - There is no knowledge that you may not learn, or ignore, as you please.

7.  Mobility - You may go where, and when, you wish without restriction as long as this does not threaten another individual.

8.  Dignity - You may excrete, urinate, sleep, and eat with dignity. Bodily functions need not be made public, or conditional, without consent.

9.  Extortion - No individual should have to sacrifice these rights to save loved ones, or friends, from threats or harm.

10.  Necessities - You have the right to pursue the necessities of life. Food, clothing, and shelter may be obtained in the most practicable manner without government interference.

11.  Associations - You may marry, bond and generally socialize with whom you wish. This is the right of assembly.
You will note that, the eight hour day, social security, free education, etc. are not included. These are the benefits of organization. Socialism, if you please. And, while they are very important to society, I would hardly call them human rights.

A "human" right is something that is inherent in the individual. Similar to religion, it is something that even a great Caesar can not take away. The individual will always have these rights no matter what.

Social contracts like marriage, union membership, religious affiliation, and other associations may be formed and broken. Sad, but true. I think I have defined most of those that are permanent rights of the individual. If I have missed any, please suggest them to me.

My disqualifying test for a human right is the ability to reject or deny it so that it no longer applies to the individual. Thus marriage is not a right, but a social contract. And, love is a right.

Paul Bruce

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