August 27, 2011

Celebrate Your Inner Mammal! - New Evidence and a Comment on American Fundamentalist Politics

Fossil Redefines Mammal History
Mammals' Large Brains Evolved for Smell
Dinosaur Demise Allowed Mammals to "Go Nuts"

The relationship between humans and other animals is too often ignored or downplayed.  Many focus on our species' accomplishments in art, music, literature, philosophy, and architecture and conclude that such feats are far beyond the capability of nonhuman animals.  Therefore, they say, these abilities make us very different from other animals - a difference of kind rather than degree.

Creationists, particularly those who follow the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, likewise claim we are very special and therefore must be of supernatural origins.  Contemporary American politicians such as Texas governor Rick Perry bolster their fundamentalist followers' supernatural beliefs by expressing the view that evolution is "only a theory with many gaps" and that "God put us here."  (See "Rick Perry, Evangelicals and Evolution As a 'Theory's That's Out There'." See also "Republicans Against Science." by Paul Krugman, The New York Times, Opinion Pages, August 28, 2011.)

What does Perry know about evolution, the foundation of biological science, and what convinces him that God put us here?  A. Apparently little and B. Faith in the two thousand-year-old beliefs of a Bronze Age, Middle Eastern sheep-herding tribe.

Either Perry is profoundly ignorant about science and has special knowledge of our origins from God, or he is knowledgeable about science, including the evolutionary history of our planet, and is nevertheless deceitfully pandering for votes among Christian fundamentalists.  More worrisome, maybe he really believes evolution to be unproven and that there is an all-powerful and all-knowing supernatural being (akin to a human-like male) who created all and is watching over us on this very, very tiny speck of matter we call Earth.  I am shocked that we would for an instant tolerate such a man asking the American people to allow him to occupy the most powerful office on Earth, and fear that we just might vote him in.

Scientists and scientific free-thinkers are often criticized as being arrogant for their evidence-based extrapolated postulate of the Big Bang origin of the Universe, and their evidence-based acceptance of the emergence and evolution of Life on Earth.  The truth is such thinkers go to great lengths to acknowledge the limits of their provisional knowledge.  Likewise, they almost never assume expertise in areas outside their evidence-based knowledge.  Skepticism and agnosticism are among their virtues.  Perry, in commenting on something he obviously knows very little about (evolution) and his refusal to acknowledge that he really has no way of knowing for certain if in fact God placed us here on earth, proves himself and his ilk to be those who are arrogant in these matters.

Scientific secularists, on the other hand look at human physical and behavioral characteristics and see great similarities between us and other living organisms on Earth, the mammals being the group with which we have the most in common.  These characteristics include: cellular makeup, tissues and organs, bilateral anatomical symmetry, four-limb body structure, homeothermy, body hair, nervous and skeletal systems, cardio-vascular blood system, the five senses, respiration, movement, and sexual reproduction via live birth by means a uterus and placenta, to mention only a few of the most basic traits.  There are many more characteristics we have in common with other mammals, including genetic material, chemical composition and physiological functioning.

August 16, 2011

Global Cultural Tectonics

Our use of language, symbols, beliefs and values is not changing.  What is changing is the scale and speed at which certain values and beliefs - democracy, equality, justice - are finding adherents in nations and societies that otherwise have little in common.  I have also included related links in this list.  See below.

We are "grinding" the cultural "plates" of Humankind - the values and beliefs within politics, economics, philosophy, etc. - against each other along ancient fault lines, with greater and greater intensity.

This is not a revisitation of early 20th century superorganic (mostly American anthropological) approaches to "culture."  Rather, it is a consideration of how certain ideas and values have found common ground and traction globally, how they are transforming societies, and how they are underscoring the emergence of a new world order that transcends nationality, politics and economics.  I do not believe that cultures have a life of their own.  However, current world events do provide examples of how "culture," especially beliefs and values about democracy, equality, freedom, wealth distribution, and humanism, are motivating individuals and groups to lash out at and, I think, demand a transformation in the structures and functions of the respective societies they live in.  More broadly yet equally importantly, these actions are furthering the ongoing emergence of a new global worldview, morality and civilization.

This clash between beliefs and values is exposing patterns of extreme and widespread discontent, especially among the world's young and poor, all focusing on the same issues - inequality, hopelessness, inhumanity. An indicator of the seriousness and the depth of this frustration is that it is more and more often being expressed violently throughout the world.

In 1919, Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, a non-theist, speculated that "The Second Coming" was at hand. He wrote not of Jesus's return rather asked "what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?" Elsewhere he explained the new impending 2000 year cycle as follows: "All our scientific, democratic, fact-accumulating heterogeneous civilisation belongs to the outward gyre (of history) and prepares not the continuance of itself but the revelation as in a lightning flash ... of the civilisation that must slowly take its place."

The Driving Forces Of Human Evolution - A Reading List

The following is a selection of readings on the key events and circumstances that have influenced the origin and evolution of Homo sapiens.  It is an incomplete and non-comprehensive list.  However, it nevertheless covers many of the topics having to do with the emergence of the human lineage from mammalian primate origins, and that distinguish the evolutionary history of our species in terms of our social and cultural abilities and material and technological achievements.  I will be adding to it from time to time and drawing from it while writing my book From the Unknown Into Uncertainty:  The Origin, Evolution and Future of Humankind.  I hope you find the readings useful and I welcome any comments you may have on them.

August 12, 2011

The "Seven Mountains of Culture" - In Need of Reclamation or Secular Protection?

Rick Perry, Conduit to a Radical Overthrow of the US Government?
Reclaiming the 7 Mountains of Culture:  "The seven mountains of culture are business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion."
New Apostolic Reformation Movement

Clearly, the New Apostolic Reformation movement has found its man - Rick Perry.  The first link above, especially the tone and tenor of the rally speakers, strengthens my belief that secular-religious polarization is increasing exponentially, in the US and globally.  "People of faith," or mainstream believers are finding it more and more difficult to hold their moderate, middle ground.  It is being quickly eroded from under them from both sides.  Many are becoming secularists based on a careful, personal consideration of scientific evidence and reason.  Many others are becoming fundamentalists, based on their willful ignorance and/or laziness and the fear that is fomented by the likes of those that spoke at Perry's gathering.

A country led by unscrupulous, lying secularists is bad enough.  Remember Nixon?.  Fortunately, we can fairly easily identify, expose and purge them under the law based on the evidence of their own misdeeds.  But leaders who believe and "trade" in the supernatural command a following that cares less for evidence and reason than they do for an imaginary "higher" absolute truth of a single bronze age, sheep herding people from the Middle East.  For them efforts at purging such leaders is a blasphemy.

Supernaturally motivated leaders and their deeds are far harder to purge from the hearts and minds of the people and the government "of the people, by the people and for the people."  A political perversion is one thing, it comes with the job. But perversions of the values and beliefs of a society such as the separation of church and state, and subversions that undermine the ability of a society's people to think freely and value evidence and reason are both crimes against humanity.

A sane, thinking, patriotic person will vote against supernaturally deluded candidates, and speak out against them and their supporters' and followers' intrusions into public education and governance, every time. I will.

August 11, 2011

From The Unknown Into Uncertainty

From The Unknown Into Uncertainty

The wading great blue heron is ignorant.
So are the lake's fish, frogs,
Its turtles, kingfishers, sparrows.

Arrogant domination, greed, supernaturalism
Infest our politics, economics, our truths.
A crippling, deadly concoction, served cold.

Our political process implodes,
The global economy collapses.
Religions keep most in tribal warfare,
Absolute delusion, willful open-eyed darkness.

A secular global morality and civilization?
Earth stewardship?  All urgently required.
If achieved, they may succeed,
Or fail, from within or without.

The heron stands in the island shallows,
Facing the breeze, the setting sun.
The fish, frogs, turtles forage.
The kingfishers and swallows hunt.
Night falls, day breaks.

From the unknown we create the known,
Ever into uncertainty.
With or without us,
Ever the evolving All.

August 1, 2011

Onward Christian Soldiers - After Two Decades, God No Longer a Foundation of USAF Nuke Launch Ethics Training

Top Air Force Official Issues Neutrality Policy in Wake of Truthout's "Jesus Loves Nukes" Expose by Jason Leopold, Truthout, September 14, 2011

Air Force Pulls Christian-Themed Ethics Training for Nuclear Missile Officers After Publication of Truthout Report by Jason Leopold, Truthout, July 30, 2011
Air Force Cites New Testament, Ex-Nazi, to Train Officers on Ethics of Launching Nuclear Weapons by Jason Leopold, Truthout, July 27, 2011

This is good news. When in the USAF years and years ago I served in a "launch" role. That was before the AF started the Christian-centric ethics training discussed in the above links. I'm amazed it's taken so long to review and hopefully purge this guidance from their training on ethics. Launching nukes is never good especially under MAD theory. But I'd rather have our men and women with their hands on the buttons/keys thinking about it (and they do think about it, I did) patriotically, neutrally or humanistically rather than religiously. God's approval, hastening their rapture, and eternal life might be too much temptation to push the button or turn the key for those already deluded by Abrahamic supernaturalism. Having the AF condone Christian ethics might be all it takes to tip the thinking of a "two-person control team" and launch a preemptive strike.  I wonder what ethics the AF will now turn to to justify the job and bolster the nerve of our men and women in blue....

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