Saturday, June 17, 2017

Self Promotion

This is me, on a podcast. It's a guy in Duluth who invited me via the Lake Superior Freethinkers facebook page. His "topic of the month" was "The Meaning of Life". I give a couple answers, one from Dan Fincke, one from Dan Barker that the question is backwards. Aidin does some good probing in to my own journey. It's actually not that bad.

Topic a Month Podcast

I didn't quite get to an expression of my main theme, so added this in the comments afterward:

To tie this all together, the reason for caring for others is that others cared for us. As we expand who we help, who we educate, more people will be able to use their skills effectively and find their best fit in the world. As we have done this, for example, women have become more empowered, giving them the right to control their own reproductive choices. So, counter-intuitively, helping people who are having lots of babies results in decreasing population.
As people see a world of hope, where their children will survive and help each other, they don't see the need to have lots of children. Educating each other, empowering each other, leads to people making better choices for leadership, instead of feeling the need to join a paramilitary group and tear down governments.
We can do this on the world scale, bringing appropriate technology where it is needed, as well as across the table from each other, listening intently, and teaching instead of fighting.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Accidental Courtesy

http://accidentalcourtesy.com/

Available on Netflix and elsewhere. To say this movie is controversial or provocative would be an understatement. A jazz musician, and would-be diplomat is the star. You see his successes; a couple dozen KKK robes that men have given to him when they quit the Klan. Later, you see how difficult it is when he sits down with a couple of young men from Black Lives Matter.

Unfortunately, whatever it is he does, is not easily taught. He does speak publicly, we'll see if his ideas grow in the future. I like his basic premise, that sitting in a room full of people who agree with your point of view and discussing how to be more "diverse", is not going to solve anything. We need to sit down at tables with the people with whom we disagree.

There are a few of those conversations throughout the movie. I suspect they are like nothing you've ever seen.

I've tried to have these myself. I've tried to understand the racist mind or the libertarian ideas. I do some of the things I see Daryl doing. I ask why they think government should not provide services to all people equally. If they think services are provided unequally, I ask why they think that. I ask what it takes to create a free and open society at all. To me it means accepting, even embracing ideas from other cultures while finding common ground. To them there is something dangerous about that. They cite failures in the past when cultures were mixed. But if I cite historical precedents of success, they say they don't apply.

I try to talk about values, because "free and open" does not mean anything goes. Some libertarians will actually say anarchy is possible, as long anyone is free to leave a given boundary. Within the defined boundaries, the rules can be that there are no rules, except for the rule that if you want to leave you can. Somehow, that rule has to apply to everyone. If this sounds like a science fiction premise, I think you're right. There are too many problems with it for me to even begin.

If it's not anything goes, then what should everyone agree to? Fire departments? Police? Libraries? Defending of borders? Food safety? This leads to a discussion of legal agreements, which leads to a need for agreements about what a law is and how they can be enforced. Things break down around that time because they are starting to define governments, not agreements between individuals, but they still think they are talking about a system where if they want to say white people rule, it can work.

I like to talk about when the modern idea of nations was created. I know, I'm using that history that doesn't count as evidence, and in conversation, you usually don't get to do this. In 1638 in Westphalia, the treaty called The Peace of Westphalia was signed, ending decades of religious war. A few years later, Isaac Newton was born and the science that was used to get us to the moon was created. I kind of see those two things as related. When we can stop arguing about how our cultural beliefs are more important than some other culture's belief's and start looking at the problems of survival themselves, we can begin to work together and build that peaceful world we all say we want. When I try to talk about love, that's when things really tend to get out of control.

They tell me that their opinion is sharing of their views and my opinions indicate I am closed minded and that I am not listening. That the values that the government supports that they agree with are the right ones, and the ones they don't agree with are the equivalent of them being forced to do something at gun point. They tell me their evidence, even if they can't show it to me is correct, and my scientific studies are the fallacy of an argument from authority. Eventually, we get to where there is no way to demonstrate truth, no one can prove anything, we don't know if we exist and it's just everyone for themselves. Basically a return to the stone age.

People observing these conversations tend to focus on the emotional argument. The person getting upset often gets the benefit of the doubt that the upset was caused by how the argument was presented. This ignores anything about the logic or reasoning of the argument itself. There is no excuse for presenting an argument poorly or for shaming someone who lacks background information or berating them for failing to understand. But someone's failure to understand is not always the fault of the person making the argument. It's good to remember Bertrand Russel's rule of allowing others time to absorb new information when these conflicts arise.

Some of this is basic ignorance. Not stupidity, just not knowing. In the documentary, Daryl goes to the Lincoln Memorial, with the big statue of Lincoln in a chair. He walks around and asks a couple people to please take a step or two from where they are standing, because that is where Martin Luther King Jr. stood when he gave his famous speech. He knows it's the spot because it is engraved in the marble they are standing on. That's it. No statue, No plaque. It's not even in color. If it's not pointed out to you, you miss it. A lot of history of non-white European men in America is like that. Daryl calls this "standing on the dream". We do it all the time, without thinking about, without knowing what we are missing.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

No One Will Buy My Book

First off, I won't write a book about my approach to the Bible, so my prophecy in the title of this blog post will be fulfilled due to my own inaction. The reason I won't write it is I see what kinds of books people buy about the Bible. Most of them confirm what has been being said for hundreds of years. A few of them say they have something new to say, then they say how amazing it is and how you will discover God and Jesus by looking at it this way. I don't want you to discover anything that isn't true. Most people find reality pretty boring. Too bad, they don't know what they are missing.

In Rob Bell's latest book, he manages to both give this message to the church and tell you that he knows what God thinks and knows how you can know that too. He has the advantage of once having preached at a mega-church and he's studied the ancient languages and been seminary school. But I don't think you need to do all that to understand what he gets right and what he gets wrong.

Most organizations that say they are teaching something about reality that you can only find by following their ideas, their practices, will tell you anything except that you can find it on your own. John Prine may be one of the few people who could tell you that and still sell albums. Churches and fortune tellers and gurus and snake oil salesmen and politicians have a goal of self preservation.

The Bible does not teach you to hang on to one way of thinking. It teaches you to give things up. It teaches you that your tradition is corrupt. It teaches you that your leaders have an agenda that does not further the needs of the community. Sometimes, while doing that, it recommends fixing it by returning to the tradition, but in some more pious or more devout or more self-sacrificing way. This is one of the more commonly ridiculed flaws, but focusing on those just becomes a mask for the major theme, found throughout, that to make progress, you have to leave where you are.

Being a slave may be comfortable, but it's not who you are. Your family is great, but it needs to spread itself out over the land and maybe not get together as much. And later, you may find visiting that long last relative and reconciling old wounds may be just the ticket. Whatever it might be, getting together every Sunday with the same people and singing from the same hymnal is probably not it. Celebrating the glory of what someone said thousands of years of ago is not progress.

Rob's sub-title is about transformation, mine would be something like, "An ancient library that has some useless and wrong history and some stories that changed things in important ways a long time ago and just a few stories that can still inspire some people today." Probably not a blurb that is going to sell anything.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Critical Thinking

This is just some notes I threw together. I might spice it up.

I’ve gathered facts and I’ve determined that I have most of the information available on this topic.
                Great, you’re done.

I have some information, but I don’t have all of it. Acquiring more data would require months or years of study.

                Decide if you want to do that study. Or, use the listed items below.

The issue may not be settled. The people who are the best minds on this issue do not agree. They might even say they don’t know enough to make a judgment.
1)     
How do you know who the experts are?
a.       Degrees from accredited institutions
b.      Honors, awards
c.       Appearances to the public, intended to help the uneducated understand the issue
d.      Participation in setting public policies that can be evaluated
e.      Publications that provide real world, understandable examples and illustrations
f.        Historical precedence

2)      When those experts disagree, do they do it respectfully, or are they claiming bad motivations or hidden agendas?
a.       Do both sides have a body of evidence they refer to, or does one concentrate mostly on pointing the flaws in the other?
b.      Can you at least follow a logical flow to the arguments?
c.       Are the two sides willing to debate?

3)      Can you identify any other facts behind those motivations or agendas?
a.       Are they pointing to anything written or recorded, can you verify their data?
b.      Are they using words like “some” or “always” or “stupid” or “commie”?

In the best case, you have a friend or acquaintance in the field in question. Someone you can trust to clarify anything specific.

Second best is to attend a public lecture and ask your question face to face. Sometimes you can find very intimate settings for these types of discussions. For example, a farmer might be willing to show you their operations, a lab worker might take you on a tour, or someone good with numbers could show you where to find data and how to interpret it.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Unsealed documents

I haven’t written a Monsanto blog in a while, but it seems things are heating up, and this article came through my feed. I’ve heard people being accused of being paid trolls in online discussions and unscientific sites like Natural News, but this site has an appearance of being a legitimate news site. They accuse people of being tools of the pesticide industry, and specifically mention the Genetic Literacy Project.

I had a little trouble identifying the source of the article, but Quora did not have answers that settled me at all. https://www.quora.com/Journalistic-Ethics-and-Norms-How-legitimate-is-The-Centre-for-Global-Research Other debunking type websites did not give it nice reviews either. http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Globalresearch . http://fakenewswatch.com/ lists it as a “Clickbait Website”.

Here’s the article. Please limit your clicks on it, it just encourages them.

May 3, 2017
http://www.globalresearch.ca/monsanto-accused-of-hiring-army-of-trolls-to-silence-online-dissent-court-papers/5588396

This article is almost devoid of facts, except the ones presented by the Monsanto quotes. It almost seems like someone disguised a pro-Monsanto article as an anti. It uses a facebook quote as evidence and notes that earlier evidence says a “single comment” was taken out of context, but now they have more. I couldn't find that much "more".

It linked to a website of court documents that were recently unsealed.
https://usrtk.org/pesticides/mdl-monsanto-glyphosate-cancer-case-key-documents-analysis/

Clicking on it gives a long list that looks impressive. This is a tactic of using a bibliography as if it is evidence itself. Many people will see that and accept it as legit and move on.

The first one I looked at (4th in the list) was “Order denying Monsanto motion to increase page limit”. It was 4 sentences long, saying “FURTHER ORDERED that Monsanto Company shall be permitted …. in opposition of up to 25 pages in response to Plaintiff’s Rem..” I couldn’t read it all because there was a big “DENIED” stamp over it.

So, I started going through them. The first was a motion to keep some notes sealed, saying, “Compelling reasons and good cause exist to redact portions the Motion to Compel and the Rowland Rough Transcript”. There was no scientific information and no specific evidence of anything.

The next was a lengthy answer from Monsanto of allegations and amounts to nothing more than a legal denial. Studies are cited, but the document could not be used to determine truth of either side.

The third is about a 1996 case of false advertising. You can look that history up anywhere.

The 5th one says they can question a guy. I skipped a couple because they looked like more of same.

Then “Monsanto’s motion to strike plaintiffs’ reply exhibit 1…” is interesting. They are accusing their accusers of making a frivolous and illegal filing of an irrelevant document. It would be interesting to see how that one turns out.

I skipped the back and forth about Rowland.

In the request for the production of all original re-cut slides in study BDN-77-420, something is redacted. I don’t know if the request is reasonable or not, so I’ll withhold judgment on that one.

“Monsanto discovery dispute” is a long discussion about the IARC ruling on cancer risk. That could be interesting if you haven’t already read up on it.

I thought maybe I finally found the evidence discussed in the article at “Jess Rowland documents unsealed”, but this was 100 pages about the review by IARC that led to the cancer ruling, and other studies that conclude glyphosate is not carcinogenic.

Documents “unsealed” (227 pages) looks like a general declaration of what the IARC is about. That entry also says “key documents on pp. 203-4”. The words “involving experts” and “ghost-write” are used in that memo. That was the only remark I found that was relevant to the article.

I found nothing to indicate Monsanto concealed anything, or any evidence of pseudo-science. The article correctly states that “plaintiffs allege”, but I didn’t see the links to their studies. There were over a thousand pages, so I might have missed something. It seemed a bit misleading to me to mention 50 lawsuits, and that court documents have been unsealed, but then find those documents are mostly very common legal wrangling. The article states the papers are “being gathered” on a whistleblower website, but that site is run by RTK, which is affiliated with this globalresearch.ca, which looks shady. This is “guilt by association”; create an accusation, create a group that documents accusations, document it there. The documents themselves don’t contain much as far as I can tell.

None of this helps me make any decisions about what I should eat or what I should buy, or who I should believe. My opinion; eat whatever you want, but don’t use articles like this to help you decide. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Doubt

From the book, Doubt by Jennifer Michael Hecht, her closing statement:

Cicero ended his study, “The Nature of the Gods”, by picking a winner among the doubters and the tradition is worth keeping up. The contest I want to judge however is not between various doubters but between the great doubting tradition and all the other traditions of religious thought. Theistic religions all have in them an amazing human ability; belief. Belief is one of the best human muscles. It can be very good. The religions are all beautiful and horrible, filled with feasts, sacrifices, miracles, wars, songs, lamentations, stained glass, onion matzahs and intense communal joy. Everyone kneeling, everyone rocking, everyone silent, everyone nose to the floor.

The religions have also been the energy behind much generosity, compassion and bravery. The story of doubt however has all this too, it also has a relationship to truth that is rigorous, sober and when necessary, resigned. And it prizes this rigorous approach to truth above the delights of belief. Doubt has its own version of comforts and challenges. From doubt’s beginnings it has advised that if you create your own desires and model them after what you actually experience, you can be happy. Accept that we are animals, but ones with special problems. And that the world is natural, but “natural” is just an idea that we animals have in our heads. Devote yourself to wisdom, self-knowledge, friends, family, and give some attention to community, money, politics and pleasure.

Know that none of it brings happiness all that consistently. It’s best to stay agile, to keep an open mind. Anyway, if you live long enough you’d likely find yourself believing something that you’d never believe today, or disbelieving. In a funny way, the one thing you can really count on is doubt. Expect change, accept death, enjoy life. As Marcus Aurelius explained, “the brains that got you through the trouble’s you have had so far, will get you through any troubles yet to come”.

Throughout history many great thinkers have argued that the study of these questions could give life meaning, grace and happiness. Many heartily suggest, indeed insist that doubters should do some practices, some therapy, some art to tune themselves to a manageable relationship with a universe that very possibly has no humanness at all. Doubters in the modern world have all sorts of philosophies and communal experiences in which to engage and participate. And it is not uncommon for doubters to compose a sacred but secular for themselves out of reading philosophy of some sort, taking part in psychotherapy, art and poetry, meditation, dance, secular solemnities and festivals.

The only things such doubters really need that believers have is a sense that people like themselves have always been around, that they are part of a grand history. I hope it is clear now that doubt has such a history of its own and to be a doubter is a great old allegiance deserving quiet respect and open pride for its longevity, its productivity, its pluck, its warmth, its service to friend and foe and its sometimes ruthless commitment to demonstrative truth. I give the palm to the story of doubt.

Monday, March 27, 2017

My Bibliography

In case you're wondering where I get my ideas. This is about 20 years of reading.

             Christian days
Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time – Dominic Crossan
Something by Marcus Borg
The Doors of Perception  -
Religious America, Secular Europe? Peter Berger and Grace Davie. 2007
Iron John – Robert Bly
The Gospel of Inclusion – Carlton Pearson
The Great Emergence- Phyllis Tickle
Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
Abraham: A Journey to the – Bruce Feller – Well researched look at how the 3 monotheisms draw from one tradition.
Jesus for the Non-religious John Shelby Spong
                Not so Christian days
Blessed Unrest Paul Hawken – about organizations working for peace and justice
Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
The Imitation of Christ Thomas Kempis
Dante's Divine Comedy – actually, I couldn't finish it
Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
The Meaning of Life A Short Introduction – Terry Eagleton
The Story of Philosophy Will Durant – excellent complete coverage
Reason, Faith, and Revolution – Reflections on the God Debate by Terry Eagleton, 2009
Spinoza on Ethics - Surprisingly strong emphasis on god and the impossibility of uncaused events.
50 Voices of Doubt
                Definitely not Christian days
If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him – Sheldon B Kopp
The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follet – fiction, but paints a picture of the time when there were two Popes
Siddhartha -
What's So Great About Christianity – Dinesh D'Souza – Terrible, complete cherry picking of history, ignores anything bad about it. It was recommended by a liberal Methodist Bishop so I include only as an example of something that a Christian could be fooled by.
The Daily Show and Philosophy – not that great
Fire, Water, Spirit – Malidoma Some. A biographical story, not theology, some history, mainly mythology.
Banned Questions from the Bible – mostly for teens, a few high points.
Compassion – Karen Armstrong (I think I read her History of God)
Critical Thinking books recommended by Russell of ACA
                Demon Haunted World – Carl Sagan (read parts of it)
                Innumerncy –John Allen Paulos (ways people are fooled with math)
Who Wrote the Bible - Friedman
Mistakes were Made but not by Me – About psychology of belief
Not the Impossible Faith – Richard Carrier. Why Christianity flourished.
Tony Jones A New Atonement
The Jesuit and the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin – Amir D Azcel – this was more history of the man and his political problems and not much about this religious philosophy.
How the Irish Saved Civilization – Thomas Cahill – fills in a few gaps in history
The Liberation of Theology – Leonardo Boff – religion is politics
The Botany of Desire – Michael Pollan – has a great bit on the Genesis creation story as a metaphor for the dangers of pagan rituals involving hallucinogenic drugs
Sir Gwain and The Green Knight
Bertrand Russell History of Philosophy – Comprehensive, reviewers have said it contains inaccuracies
God’s Philosophers – James Hannam – A rare look at early science in the Middle Ages, but it has some historical errors and leaves a lot out.
Everything Must Change – Brian McClaren
Thomas Sheehan, The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity
Quest for Jerusalem – about recent histiography on Columbus
Free Will – Sam Harris
Infidel  Ayaan Hirsi Ali amazing story of a woman escaping Islam
I am Malala – the girl who was shot in Afghanistan for going to school
Wittgenstein’s Poker – A fun history of 20th century philosophy, including Karl Popper
Sense and Goodness Without God – Richard Carrier – rare idea for philosophy incorporating all modern knowledge
Wild – Cheryl Strayed – Not about religion, but a about a journey of healing.
And God Said Billy – Frank Schaeffer – bizarre, but a look into the fundamentalist mind
Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God – Frank Schaeffer. Cherry picking, but at least he admits it.
Snowy Tower – Martin Shaw
Branch from the Lightning Tree – Martin Shaw – these are about myth, they are essential
American Gods – fiction, but a fun play on mythology and how the European gods followed people to the US
Think – Simon Blackburn Descartes to modern era
A.D. 381 Charles Freeman – covers the history of the theology of the 4th century. Amazing.
In Faith and In Doubt – Dale McGowan – for mixed secular/religious relationships, but also has some interesting data on belief and how it doesn’t match the given identified denomination
The Brothers Karamzov – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Man's Search for Meaning – Viktor E Frankl. Totally amazing.
Why I am Not a Christian – Richard Carrier
Hitler Homer Bible Christ – Richard Carrier
The Tao of the Dude – Oliver Benjamin – fun, just sayings mostly
The Christian Delusion – John Loftus, a collection, got it for the Carrier chapter mostly
Eve – William Paul Young (Author of The Shack), fiction. Uses Genesis creation narrative to tell the story
The Way of the Heathen – Greta Christina
Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World – Miroslav Volf, disagree with it, but it's still interesting
Islam and the Future of Tolerance – Sam Harris, Maajid Nawwaz
How to Defend the Christian Faith, Advice from an Atheist – John F Loftus, very sarcastic
Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower – Tom Krattenmaker. Disappointing, very religious.
On the Historicity of Jesus – Richard Carrier
A Christian and an Atheist Walk Into a Bar – Shieber and Rauser.
Doubt – Jennifer Michael Hecht
Why I Left, Why I Stayed – Tony Campolo, Bart Campolo
What Is the Bible - Rob Bell
War on Science - Shawn Otto