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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Give peace a chance: support Iran deal

GEORGE TEMPLETON
       COMMENTARY      

 Science, Creationism and a Moral Iran Deal 
The Peacemaker
The deep bass goes boom, boom, and boom.  Then the lyrics start, “Take your guns to church, Bill, Don’t leave your guns at home”.  As the minister proceeds to the podium, he lays his sawed off riot squad shotgun at his side where it can be easily seen.  After all, everybody knows that guns save lives and the only way to be safe is to have a bigger, more powerful gun than any assailant.  It’s every man for himself these days.  It’s all right for good guys to use violence.  More freedom and less fear require guns everywhere.
I grew up in the fifties, where schools nearly closed on hunting season.  I used to belong to the NRA.  I remember when people were reluctant to allow police to have semi-automatic side arms for fear that they would blaze away and harm innocent people.  I own guns, reload, and shoot, but I don’t feel the need for high capacity weapons of war and thousand round boxes of ammo.
A man, made in the image of God, saw reality through a distorted ideological lens, came to church, and murdered black Christians.  He could not comprehend his insanity because he had only his mind, his logic, to judge himself.
Reinhold Niebuhr, in his book Moral Man and Immoral Society wrote that violence can be avoided when ethics involves individuals or small groups, but not when nations act.  Is a just war one that is “preventative”?  Is it “adult”, as Fox News says, to oppose the Iran nuclear deal because it does not subjugate and humiliate the Iranian leaders?  Is it childish to stop short of “righteousness” winning and “wickedness” losing?  Mahatma Gandhi showed otherwise by choosing the reconciliation of adversaries over winning.  Martin Luther King Jr. gave it national dimensions in the non-violent civil rights movement.  Nelson Mandela’s political magnanimity and restoration over retribution converted apartheid and changed the government of an entire nation without civil war.  The ethic of self-renunciation for the sake of the other has been demonstrated to bring people together and to change their ethos.  Conservatives hear a song that goes, “Barbara Ann, bomb Iran”.  It would unite Iranians behind an anti-American government.
Political Religion
The recent PBS program, The Abolitionists and movies such as The Butler, Amistad, and Amazing Grace chronicle the black man’s quest for freedom.  It is reminiscent of the Exodus.  President Lyndon Johnson said, “We shall overcome”, and students sang “God is on our side”, mixing religion and politics in ways that were only guidelines, not the minutiae of religious fundamentalism congruent with Republican ideology.  But moral behavior must be freely chosen.  It cannot be forced by coercion or laws that emphasize authority.
We agree with Arizona legislator Sylvia Allen that America needs education in comparative religion, the Bible as literature, the power of mythology, and moral philosophy.  Intellectual humility requires being willing to learn from others and sometimes give up what one holds dear. 
Scientific Religion
Religion sees a universe created, intimately directed, and maintained by a God who uses man’s disobedience for his own mysterious purposes.   It looks to the supernatural for the explanation of complex issues, expecting to find proof of God in nature and scientific uncertainty.  But why would God create a world that man can never know?  Perhaps it is because questions that can be answered with certainty and cannot be refuted are a sign of intellectual dishonesty.
Uncertainty could be necessary for free will, but is it more than ignorance?  Free will is inconsistent with predestination, but perhaps our choice to take the high road is not as consciously made as we think.
 Although our brains are amazingly complex, they are evolutionary biological machines.  How can free will come from any machine?  Our minds are more than just brain mechanisms though they cannot be separated from them.  They include our learning, past experiences and a subconscious inward witness that perhaps even makes our decisions.
Physics comes to the rescue when it finds uncertainty and probability at the root of everything, but it wrestles with the idea that observation creates instead of finding.  Likewise, the sociologist, Karl Mannheim, recognized that values fashion history as well as our actions shape culture. 
God’s will is a very simple theory that encompasses the framing, perception, and interpretation of the world, but it lacks a consensus.  It is not strong, because there is no copy of the intelligent design or verified predictions that come from it.
Science looks to the uncertain hoping to find patterns and regularities revealing God’s laws.  In the beginning there was cause and effect, but the mechanism connecting them cannot be seen.  What caused the cause?  The question goes on to infinity.
Scientific skepticism is the opposite to “just believe”.  For science, meaning requires explanation.  It is more than just definition and verification.  What is known has to be true, but what is believed could be false.  Truth is rarely complete.  It is approximated by the preponderance of evidence.
The dictionary defines information as knowledge about facts, but that involves human awareness, something that is complex and seems to be immaterial.  Seth Lloyd explained that information is concrete and measurable as physical order or structure that automatically grows in complexity throughout the universe.  It does not have to be correct, just organized.  We should ask, is there a difference in human and non-human reality?
A sequence of random numbers is subject to statistical fluctuations and can automatically show periods of structuring, but human rationality is inscrutable.  For example, “This statement cannot be proved to be true”.  If it is false, it must be true, but if one false statement can be true then all false statements could be true.  If it is true, then that cannot be proved, so proof is weaker than truth.  Douglass Hofstadter wrote, “As we cannot see our faces with our own eyes, we cannot understand our own mind”. 
Could a computer become conscious?  Can a computer pick something wrong from a scene, for example a man floating in the air above a pastoral country meadow?  Children’s games sometimes require finding such a thing within an image, and they do it with ease, but it is difficult for a computer.  But computers will be the tool behind what Stephen Hawking warns is a growing threat from cheap autonomous weapons of war that are ideally suited  for genocide and assassination.  When human beings cannot agree on morality, how can we suppose that any machine can make ethical decisions?
Naturally Lawful
Laws that seem like divine decrees may be just regular patterns in our experiences, but we don’t experience everything.  Scientists who believe in nature’s regularity commit an act of faith, but they seek to falsify, not to confirm their hypothesis.  Some laws are not really true.  The best theories are the simplest.  The power of any explanation, including religion, depends on its relevance and ability to unify.
Like religious creeds and political platforms, science has its dogmas and periodic revolutions.  It is not clear that science progresses towards the truth, or that we can understand by using science alone.  Science imposes constraints on belief, but it does not change the fact that we are more than ourselves.  Truth only has meaning with the paradigm of the moment.  It is often obscured.
Authenticity
Can the powerful and timeless stories of religion, which are like poetry, only be understood when they are not taken literally?  Religions recognize an ethic of self-renunciation, detachment from material possessions, acceptance of suffering, and self-sacrifice for greater purpose.  Long term rewards can be greater than short-term self-gratifications.  There is a tension between the individual and collective.  Economies of scale and increased resources can come from cooperation and self-sacrifice. 
Can science help us find authenticity in ourselves as we travel through a life full of fake ideals?  Science fails to contemplate human nature and morality.  Neither can be understood without knowing individual and social consequences. 
The applied sciences:  psychology (free will), sociology (moral relativity), history (predestination), law (self-directed), economics (self-interest), and business (boat floating profit), have some sort of unavoidable moral premise.  But ethics, lacking a command from the almighty, is not a simple subject.
Nancy Murphy and George Ellis’s book, On the Moral Nature of the Universe, proposed an ethical hierarchy.  At the bottom they place self-interest and predatory activities.  Above that comes profit, but with the recognition that submission to regulations are necessary.  Still higher are the activities that emphasize craftsmanship, added value, and service.  At the top they placed non-profit welfare activities.  How we actualize these categories sets the tone of public life.
Discovery
We would like laws to be discovered, not made, but our perceptions and thinking are tied up within categories.  Scientific laws could be our own creation.  We try to make sense out of things and see cause and effect even when there is none.  The question is, "Can human reasoning overcome the limitations of the human mind"?
Is the truth out there, waiting to be realized, or something constructed to make sense of things, or just a gamble?  Our knowledge is incomplete.  It is a sample that carries two risks connected by a mathematical curve quantifying the likelihood that we deny the truth (disbelief in an existing God) and the chance that we accept a falsehood (belief that there is no God when one exists).  These two probabilities are equal only when we know everything.  In life, we have to decide which error we are more worried about.
Creation
The accepted scientific view of the creation is that everything, Including time itself, began 13.8 billion years ago from a simple point of zero size and infinite density which exploded into the complex universe that we see today leaving the forensic evidence of a remnant called the cosmic background microwave radiation.  In the beginning, the zero that was infinite was everything, not something else and it carried the theological connotations of the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient.  Free will leads to an unpredictable future and a vulnerable creator, but if physics is right, somewhere in space and time all things possible will play out.
There is no discipline called, “the speed of light is wrong and the universe is young”, but such negative arguments have been published by creationists.  Their positive assertions, that the universe seems to have been built for us, or that complexity suggests design are stronger, but they require discerning the difference between nature and the supernatural.
Are we built into the scheme of things instead of accidental?   Biological evolution is a “story” that is still being written, not just a theory.  It explains “how” but not “why”.  We make no sense without evolution, but a theory that cannot predict is in a poor position to explain.
Summary
Is our sense of moral obligation just an illusion, a cultural artifact, or built into the universe?   Can we learn to live together in a civilized manner?  Increasingly, man risks being the agent of his own demise.  If we wish peace, we should plan for it.  Preparation for war leads to conflict.  I urge you to support the Iran deal and let our senators and representatives know that you want to give peace a chance.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read your comments. And they are good. But there is one problem with that. It only works when everyone is on the same page. Unfortunately not all believe what you believe. Iran is bent on destroying what everyone else believes and bringing the whole world to heel. They are buying time to build their weapons and wage war. It's that plain. Just look at what they say it's all over the news. They blatantly come out and say they are seeking the destruction of Israel and the United States. How blind can you be?
War is a terrible thing. People die which is not good. Life is precious. Look at what happened in WW2. Total war was declared. no one was spared. At least in WW1 most died on the battle field. But in WW2 everyone died. Not just in the battle field but in the cities and elsewhere. Iran is an enemy that must be stopped , now before it becomes too late. And we face another war that will require another total declaration of war that will require the annihilation of millions of innocents.
Just look at what is happening in Syria , Iraq and all the middle east and tell me I'm wrong. All the I hear from Iran is death to Democracy . All they want is to install their Caliphate from the old days of the Persian Empire. that is sad to hear in the 21st Century.