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Friday, December 31, 2010

Winter on My Mind

Winter was on my mind when I got the idea of creating a few digital paintings of snow. Since the Pacific Northwest rarely, very very rarely, gets actual snow that lasts, I begin, around this time of the year, to get a fixation on the idea of snow. It's not that I particularly want the real thing-- at least not to last-- as it definitely gets in the way of anything else, not to mention can lead to power outages and floods when it melts. Still, I love the idea of snow in winter. Perhaps idea is where it belongs and should remain.

Before Christmas I began doing digital paintings of snow. It kept growing with one leading to another. In some ways, digital art is low key, no pressure and provides a distraction from any other pressures. For this project, I found previous photos and images that I had created earlier but now turned them to winter scenes. They represent places I had been or my imagination, They are my reality and my dreams.

Somewhere along the way I began to think about doing a slide show with music. If I had finished this before Christmas, that would have been easy. A lot of snow music revolves around Christmas. To make it easy wasn't going to happen as I didn't get really into creating these until the week after Christmas.

When I had finished the digitals, I tried a song which seemed okay but wasn't really what I wanted. It was a beautiful song but just okay for this concept. Then came a piece of music that would have been (note the tense) totally perfect-- Barenaked Ladies holiday album which I found in doing a search for the song I wanted. Their version was on Amazon. I bought the mp3... and only then discovered, despite saying it wasn't protected, it was.

I (Farm Boss too) spent way way too much time on it before giving up and accepting it wasn't going to work-- ever. If you've heard them singing it, just try to imagine it with the images. After looking for the CD, I realized it was a lost cause after Christmas and with so little time before New Year's Eve. So, the following is the only version that is going to exist at least for now.

The music and images are about the nostalgia we feel when one year ends, when we think of the ones who have been in our lives and no longer are, places we have been and loved, when we look back just for this moment before we turn our gaze and dreams forward.

[For anyone who doesn't have the speed to watch the video with music, I did put the images online-- Slide show of digital paintings for Winter on my Mind . It then dawned on me maybe I could add the song I wanted to my art blog. Lo and behold, it was on Project Playlist. I put a few of my digital images there and you can hear what I had intended to the above slide show and yet might manage someday-- Rain's Art Gallery

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wild Life

Sometimes I read a book that resonates inside me in a way that goes way beyond its words. Wild Life by Molly Gloss was such a book. My daughter had loaned it to me when we were at their home in October. She pulled it from a glass-doored bookshelf and said that was where she kept her favorite books. I always like to read books that she feels that way about; so I looked forward to time to open it.

When I began reading the novel, I felt a connection that only grew. Some is the heroine, Charlotte Bridger Drummond, who although living a very different life than mine in the early 1900s, had a personality that I understood on a personal level, who was living in the area around which are all my earliest memories, my stories, my words-- southwestern Washington, the foothills of the Cascades.

I grew up on a small farm, at the end of a dead-end road, that was almost as far into the mountains as somebody could get back then. Behind our house and land were miles and miles of wilderness where rumors of Big Foot were discussed but without much belief in them being real stories. Every so often some would claim a sighting but proof, solid proof, that was never found.

There were plenty of real wild animals to deal with anyway like the cougar that followed one of the neighbor women one day and ran across the gravel road as I walked down to meet the school bus about 1/2 mile from our farm. There were the black bears that avoided being seen as much as possible. Whenever the plum season was on, when we'd go back to pick from those trees at the back of our property, we would make lots of noise to alert the bears it was our turn. We would see the marks of their claws on the trees but they always left to give us our chance to forage.

In those mountains were plenty of peculiar people like the goat lady who raised a herd of goats with her sons. To a girl that seemed pretty strange but to me now as an old woman, not so much. There was the family that kept a baby bear chained to their front door with glass sprinkled over their driveway to further dissuade curious visitors. That's still strange.

I grew up freely roaming over my parents' land; and I remember it all as vividly as though I still I lived there. There were pastures in the midst of brush and logged over forests. In the early summer, the pastures would be filled the lavender flowers we called flags, like little irises. In the shadows would be the trillium that I was told never to pick or the plant would never bloom again. They were to be appreciated only where they were.

Back in those hills, still part of our property, was our family's spring. It was down in a little pocket with trees and ferns around it, boards over the pool from which a pipe would bring water to our home. Whenever the flow would stop, my father would go back to find what had knocked the pipes lose, often enough it was a deer. Why we didn't get giardia, I don't know or maybe we did and didn't know it.

Wild Life takes this all a step way beyond what I experienced. When Charlotte, successful writer of novels, goes off on a mission of mercy, heading into the wilderness to find a lost child but leaving behind her five sons in the care of others, it might instead be an attempt to have an adventure of her own.

She gets one and nearly loses her life in the process; but her adventure, the experiences she goes through and most of all what saves her life, that's what makes Wild Life not only very worth reading for anyone enamored of nature, anyone who loves good writing, but also gave me a trip back into my own childhood.

I feel so lucky to have grown up as I did, to know the wilderness that little by little has been replaced by man's encroachment. I'd like to think though some of it remains and within it still walk mysteries, where there are places man must or at least should leave be.

From Wild Life by Molly Gloss:
"What is happiness? Perhaps not a State, as we seem to think, but a Moment-- perhaps the moment when one stands from one's browsing and straightens into the sunlight, into the heady warmth of the scented air, and one's gaze rises-- oh!-- across the dazzling field of flowers to the white dome of a far-off mountain perfectly drawn above the dark mountain trees, luminously bright against the violet-blue of the sky."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Northwest winter scenes

In terms of weather, a typical Pacific Northwest Christmas is generally about interesting, constantly changing gray skies, rain, fog, with snow covered hills and tall mountains in the distance-- when you can see the distance. That's not to say we never get snow for Christmas, but at my elevation it's rare.

When a Christmas snowfall occurs, it is usually followed by boot deep mud with flooding rivers and streams. I am not complaining at the lack of white Christmaes, mind you (not much anyway). There is a wild beauty in what I do see when I walk up the road behind our farm as we did Christmas morning or go for a drive out into the main valley as we did the day after Christmas. I will never take what I see those times for granted.

The rainbow was the day after Christmas in the Willamette Valley-- not far from our farm. Click on the image to enlarge as it's one of the few times I've seen the violet color so intense. Usually with rainbows I see the other colors but violet blends into the gray sky. This time it stood out along with the shadow rainbow.

We had waited by this fence row hoping a Northern Harrier hawk, there when we first arrived, would return for what would have been a great photo of the white and black tipped wings with that rainbow. It did not cooperate but maybe you can just imagine it being there.

Friday, December 24, 2010


Someone asked me-- well if we don't have religion, what do we have?

This is the perfect time to consider that question when we are in religion overload (or super blessings depending on how you see it) beginning with the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, the ancient Roman one of Saturnalia, which although no longer exactly practiced has many similarities with Winter Solstice gatherings to bring back the sun. Immediately ahead is Christmas followed by the more recently created Kwanzaa. The big one though has to be Christmas with not only a lot of events but economic impact.

For me Christmas has meant different things at different times in my life. Some involved religion and some not. I grew up with pretty traditional Christmases which were not religious but involved Christmas trees that we cut ourselves from our own woods, always with missing branches so they had to be placed and decorated just so, lots of lights and decorations, Santa Claus, and going to Grandma's for Christmas Day dinners where all the family (cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts and uncles) would gather. There'd be more presents, tables loaded with delicious food, and lots of laughter.

Then there came years where it was about my own babies and children, about going to Christmas Eve Mass or a Christmas program at the local church, but it still involved family and friend dinners (always a stuffed turkey, pumpkin pie and usually apple pie too even if nobody had room for dessert after the main course), and of course, presents. Sometimes it meant taking new BB guns out into the barnyard to practice Christmas morning. Caring for the animals doesn't take a break for the holidays.

Those days have all passed and live now only in my memories, but I still decorate some for the season although much less than I did when I had children at home or even when they returned home for the holidays. Now it's more about some greens (artificial but they look real and don't give us allergies nor drop needles) and a few simple decorations (wooden angels and birds). I haven't put up a tree for years because I'd want a real one and it just doesn't make sense for just the two of us not to mention those allergies mentioned above.

Christmas Day at the farm will be Farm Boss, the cats, the sheep, the cows, me, a lot of birds we feed, a turkey dinner (smaller one and probably no pies), and two bushy tailed squirrels (we will visit one set of grandchildren Christmas Eve but the gift exchange and family Christmas will come later in January at a rental home in Sunriver).

Whether people celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, enjoy all its pagan symbols, or see it as a very special family time, the lead up can be beautiful or very tough, with all the expectations, the dark days, bad weather, colds, flu, expenses, so much pressure for what this season is supposed to be-- but often is not.

What I think Christmas can be is what also takes the place of religion if we don't have one. Christmas can then be about something that doesn't depend on someone else's vision of what it should be.

It can be a cozy time of the year with fires in the fireplace, lit candles (which provide a flame if there is no fireplace), movies to watch especially the old Christmas ones (I saw White Christmas on cable, first time ever to see it all and loved it), music to listen to (the Sting Winter album is lovely), cards to send (mine are not of a religious sort but of community, nature and farm living including a photo of us, our kids, and grandkids), and a plate of something sweet for the neighbors (which this year, with several diabetic neighbors and others with young children, meant two different kinds of plates and agave as the sweetener instead of sugar).

It can be walks in nature to appreciate the gift we have to be living in such a beautiful world-- and beauty can be found everywhere from a stormy sky to the smallest things beneath our feet.

It might be memories of other such seasons. Or dreams of what we wish it was, not with sadness, but an internal imaging that makes those dreams feel real. To me, memories and dreams are what make the time special, and I hope you all have a


However you celebrate Christmas, or whether you do, we have now passed the darkest time of the year and are on our way to more light. This year we had the added enjoyment of a full moon and a full lunar eclipse with Winter Solstice. How cool is that!

Always leave room for the mystical, the surprises, the awareness of what might be out there. A closed mind misses a lot...

(These mountain cabins in the snow are from my digital paintings. They represent a type of home I would love to have be part of my reality but is not. I live there only in dreams but that doesn't make it less real for knowing it's not likely to ever be mine. I think this is the season for such dreams. The snow in the bottom one is likely to be the only snow I'll see for Christmas which makes it special to me also.)

snowy cabin
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Debating religion

Even though my evolution and religion series ended with Collapse, I had read some things I liked regarding how others see religion and relationship to god and wanted to add them here as a kind of addendum.

The first is a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair. They are arguing whether religion helps mankind or hinders. Here is the link to a transcript of the three parts. There is also a video for those with fast enough systems and high enough usage limits.

What a loss it will be if Hitchens cannot overcome the cancer his body is battling. He is such a great thinker. I can't think of anyone like him and a debate like this, from two well known men, both of whom have really nothing to gain from doing it, is a treat. It was an example of discussing something logically and with faith all at the same time. And doing it without being mean or nasty.

A woman who did lose her battle with cancer was Elizabeth Edwards and I thought the link below was an interesting look at her spiritual beliefs at the end of her life.

We live in a culture where to not push Christianity onto others is suspect especially when it's someone in the public eye as she was. It seems to me she tried to live her life personally privately and responsibly as best she knew it. I don't know what she believed about god at the end but the article writes of a woman who was evolving in her ideas of what was truth. Her life had given her much reason to have been considering it with great depth.

Why Elizabeth Edwards left god out of her last good-bye.

Lighthouse at Yaquina Head, Oregon Coast photo December 2010.

Monday, December 20, 2010


One point with which both creationists and evolutionists will likely agree, albeit for different reasons, is that collapse of this world is inevitable.

The creationist will see this collapse as a part of God's plan and the renewing of the earth which God will accomplish after the total collapse of the existing world. They will see this as a result of sin and believe they will escape the worst of the coming disasters.

(You notice I didn't say mention a specific religion because I think not all religious people are involved in creationist thinking. Not all object to evolution being taught in public schools. Some believe in environmental laws, feeding the poor (shock of shocks) and wouldn't inherently believe there is an Antichrist among us or that the world has to be destroyed to rebuild it. They might think much like an evolutionist practically speaking.

My concern where it comes to American culture is about creationists. I do think it's about more than a religion but a worldview that is destructive to life on this planet, that would bring about its downfall sooner than nature alone would accomplish. While in our country, creationists do claim to be Christians, many of them espouse ideas totally opposed to what Christ taught; so it's not provable that they even know his teachings. They use for some of their evidence the Jewish Torah which they take as historic. This is a little different take on that -- The Political Intent of the Bible).

To believers in creationism, facts or discussions like that book must not get in the way of 'faith' which I guess wouldn't matter except there are some situations where faith can prove detrimental to survival. I think we are in such a time but there have been others in the past where religious views had to be thrust aside for practical scientific wisdom-- like doctors washing their hands between surgeries

The evolutionist also would expect collapse at some point based on what has always happened to species before us and then historically to cultures. It is part of life here. No empire lasts forever. No age of anything is forever.

The earth itself is on a change timetable involving the sun if nothing happens before that. NASA says polar shifts have occurred and might again. Climate changes occur and animals on earth must adjust to them if they can in time. In the case of man, that would be whether he had brought it about or just was here when it happened. We know man has made major climate changes in localized regions. Now that may end up being the whole world. If man's culture is too large when big changes come, a lot of people will die and those who remain will readjust or disappear as another earth footnote.

Collapse is part of the earth plan no matter what you believe, but the difference would be how each philosophy of life would respond to it. A creationist would believe pray, be ready for the Rapture, and figure it'll all be to the good as the earth is messed up anyway.

An evolutionist would be trying to devise plans for what they could do to either avoid the disaster or survive it if they couldn't avoid it. Evolutionism is practical. Creationism is idealistic.

Now an evolutionist might have no fear of immediate catastrophe because these changes are often millions of years apart; but then the age of the mammals did begin 60 million years ago; so maybe earth is due for something big. Maybe not. Looking at history can only tell us so much. Creationists though have always thought collapse is imminent and you see that throughout history-- the group who thought they were to be the last ones.

This following is for the evolutionists because creationists wouldn't believe it anyway.

is a documentary available on Netflix mostly involving an interview with Michael Ruppert where he discusses his belief, using statistics, regarding what is going to happen to our world in the relatively near future due to energy depletion and our own abuse of resources.

Some, mostly right wingers and corporations, making money from the current situation, say that we have plenty of fossil fuels. Our government doesn't want to spook us, but Ruppert makes the case that not only do we not have enough, but we are dependent on them for a lot more of our culture than we tend to think about.

Fossil fuels are at the core of the shipping network that enables us to feed people in areas where food could not be produced in sufficient quantities. It is what we have built our culture on-- not just this one in the United States but the world. When oil is no longer available to maintain those cultures, what will be the result?

His conclusion is chaos is inevitable. He discusses ways as individuals we can prepare for such a time. There are two approaches to seeing collapse is ahead. One is to try to change a large enough group of people's minds about what they must do to prepare.

Remember Aesop's Fable; The Grasshopper and the Ant. The Republicans, of course, have put out a new version to make their point [Right wing interpretation of Democratic policies to help the poor using the old fable with a modern twist]. I would suggest there might yet be a third with the ant having laid up stores that the grasshoppers attacked illustrating a time of possible world catastrophe which turned humans back into animals.

Basically if a lot of people haven't prepared for dire times and not everyone can, it could mean chaos at the least. There is no way one family can lay up enough stores to survive a nuclear winter without a community or government effort which would both protect and divide what they had stored and frankly even that might not be enough in some situations.

Ever seen the movie Ice Age, the first one? One of its funniest bits (it is the most sophisticated of that animated series for the humor) is the dodos when the heroes come into conflict with them over a melon they want for the baby they are protecting. The dodos say, "
This is our private stockpile for the Ice Age. Sub arctic temperatures will force us underground for a billion, billion years." Manfred, the mammoth replies with disbelief, "So you got three melons?" The dodos quickly change the subject to 'doom on you' and go into attack mode.

In life, there are things we cannot do anything about and we just will die; but what a practical culture does is prepare for what they can-- recognizing that cannot cover all eventualities. They try to learn from the past and apply the lessons to their current lives.

Jared Diamond wrote another book on what leads to collapse of cultures-- Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

Given the situation in our country with such a polarized populace, I don't think our culture can do much as a whole. We can't seem able to agree on anything. While there are a few religious groups that teach stockpiling, that kind of thing takes a lot of management and not many do it effectively.

What the DVD, Collapse, encouraged was forming communities where people will be mutually responsible for each other, especially since some will simply not be able to do the work required to learn basic survival skills, attain trade goods, or be able to store food. [He suggested acquiring gold, but I am not sure I see that it'd have much value in a time of real emergency and food producing tools would probably be more in demand.]

After a disaster is no time to learn survival skills like how to kill, skin, cut up and cook an animal to eat. It's no time to learn how to plant a garden that could be harvested in the future assuming you lived long enough. It's no time to have living seeds on hand that you can plant because a lot of the seeds you are buying today are hybrids and cannot be harvested from the plant to reproduce their own kind. It's no time to figure out a system to protect what you have acquired or develop the strength to recognize you have to do that.

I don't live in a panic just waiting for a collapse. I have found what works for me is doing whatever I can to be prepared for emergencies and then leaving the problem behind for when something actually arises.

I did grow up in a household that had seen the Great Depression and talked of how close we came to a total societal collapse back then. I am also aware of change and the potential of our current network being broken. I have thought of what I would have to do to protect my family if we ended up with such a time leaving us back in a prehistoric mode for how we had to survive.

The ideal thing would be to have a culture as a whole that is doing this kind of thinking for its citizens. I don't think we have such a culture, do you? That means it's up to communities, families and individuals to at least have a general plan in the eventuality we are the ones living when the next collapse comes.

(Ruins in Northern Arizona from an earlier culture, the Sinagua peoples.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Ice is Melting

The argument over global climate change has been very much a political one but it should not be. It is happening or it is not and the disrespecting of scientists, which I have been writing about, is part of what makes the right able to turn it into an issue of economics which means once again profit for somebody and no concerns greater than that.

When we discussed education earlier, one of the commenters mentioned that while the United States might be educating less scientists, we are educating more lawyers than anywhere else. That person could have added financial managers. We evidently have decided, as a people, that the profit is in moving money around instead of responsible manufacturing. This viewpoint puts aside anything that doesn't profit someone and puts it forth as all a culture needs. Is there something else coming to make that all moot?

When a rightie reads a headline like that, they too often dismiss it without looking at the details. They go to Fox news and get reassured by something that doesn't relate to the real questions like there were some emails exchanged that sounded like global warming was being hyped. What a relief, they say and ignore the possibility that some who hyped it did so out of concern for what was coming and a need to get people awake and that those who did that were few. They don't care because they heard what they wanted from someone who was reassuring them-- no problem.

If they live above a certain elevation, maybe it won't matter to them or then again when other people are displaced, maybe it will. Will it matter when weather patterns change and we end up with increasing violent storms or rain where it wasn't and not where it was?

If the warming leads to wind and ocean current changes, more people might realize that they live on this earth at its pleasure not at their own. That they must cooperate with it, not force it to fit their agenda.

Science that is oriented toward profits and is controlled is okay. Science that says something they don't want to hear-- not so much.

Something that many don't want to hear is global climate change, sometimes called global warming but that became too confusing to those who don't understand that global warming would impact winds, ocean currents, and weather which might lead to ice ages one place and droughts another.

With a look at the prehistory of this world, it's easy to see these changes impacting other species in the past. Are we prepared for another such time? If not, why not? It is possible that we can't really prepare for some events, but are we doing all we can to not be part of the problem?

You know, mankind's history on this earth is full of instances of completely wiping out other species, cutting down forests to create deserts, abusing the soil to the point it no longer could grow food. Some of that was in times we were more ignorant of consequences. What is our excuse today?

When we as a culture have downgraded the importance of education, ridiculed the intelligentsia, seen science as a threat to faith, where does that take us? Yes, it is possible, looking at earth's geologic and fossil record, that change might come no matter what we have done; but are we hastening it? Are we preparing for it?

I think the answers to those questions have a global perspective but also a personal one. What are we ourselves doing to be ready in case the relatively peaceful time most of us have known is going to come to an end during our lifetime?

(View from Yaquina Head looking south-- December 2010)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Study of evolution leads to...

In this look at how we, as humans, came to be where we are today, I have been writing about two life views, both of which want their theories taught in public schools under science. One believes that whether by a natural process or a dramatic six day event-- God (through Intelligent Design or personally forming everything) not only created this earth but continues to keep it humming along by his presence and tweaking. The proof of this is in holy texts.

The second looks at the known Universe, how creation is still happening, as well as what looks like ongoing destruction. It uses these observations to posit something referred to as the Big Bang. This group makes its case for man's evolution through bones, DNA and observations on how the earth operates today.

Where most religions teach you it's not okay to think for yourself, that reason and facts can only take you so far and can be threats if they go against the religion's primary teaching, studying the theory of evolution would teach exactly the opposite and demand that you must think for yourself and choose wisely because nobody is there to pick up your toys if you break them. If you destroy your entire food supply, you will starve as no sugar daddy is waiting to send manna from heaven.

The conflict of which way to teach in schools is a huge issue for how a whole culture will think and what they expect. On the one hand you don't have to worry about what you do because actions don't really have consequences-- not if you are a believer. Oh they might for a temporary time but it all can be fixed in the end because you're not in charge.

The other doesn't have you in charge either. You are part of a natural process of selection on an earth with its own set of operating rules-- some of which mankind is still unsure of how they work.

To teach children about evolution is to teach them about chemistry, about the human body, about how the choices people make does impact other choices but not at the whim of a god rather at a natural process that sometimes cannot be turned around. Evolution teaches to observe the world around and be alert to changes.

Some of mankind's choices have already led to the extinction of whole species of animals (man is the first animal with the potential to destroy all of life on earth by his technological advances). Yes, the same thing can (and eventually will) happen irrespective of man and through earth's natural forces. Nature gets the last vote.

Through the study of evolution, we can look at the Age of the Reptiles where their fossils tell of an earth that was totally controlled by reptilian animals who mostly disappeared. Then for over a million years came the Age of the Dinosaurs where they ruled until change came in such a catastrophic way that they appeared to disappear within almost the equivalent of another big bang.

The dinosaurs gave way to the Age of the Mammals. Sabre-tooth tigers and mammoths roamed America from around 65 to 10,000 AD. When we were up at John Day we saw many fossils from those eras of creatures we don't see today at all. (No dinosaurs fossils or bones in Oregon because at the time of the dinosaur Oregon was under the ocean.)

Sabre-tooths disappeared when the climate changed abruptly (at least that is scientists' best guess) about 10,000 years ago. Some think man, who had recently arrived on the continent we call North America, was responsible; but it's more probable that the food upon which they relied was dying off due to climate change and they were too big to survive. They could not adapt fast enough.

What studying evolution teaches students is what science can tell us about our own identity, from where we came and some of how we got here. It can't give us definitive answers, like religions would offer. They cannot tell us what enabled an early ancestor to separate from the chimpanzees, stand upright or later make the biggest lunge forward of all when he developed a language that allowed the transferring, one to another, of increasingly complex ideas. Change is the essence of this set of beliefs.

Evolution helps us understand what did happen, and how it benefited mankind in his development. Unfortunately it also shows a dark side, possibly our animal nature. The very technology that has given us better lives can destroy cultures that are weaker. It has happened time after time in prehistory and history. Is this a requirement for species success or something else, something darker in human makeup?

Evolution shows man as part of a process that is both wonderful and frightening; but one that he better be observative about and try to prepare for changes because they can come fast and without any lifting everybody up to heaven to be safe ahead of them. Our ancestors didn't understand the consequences of wiping out a whole species they depended on for food. We do-- or at least should.

I think it does something else. I think it teaches a possible view of God that is far more flattering to God and more likely to be the case. Seeing how life has evolved leaves you also free to not believe in a god at all.

Now I don't know if God has a distinct personality, whether God ever gets interested in us as individuals. I know some believe it empowers them to think that way. I believe it empowers people more to think of God as having set in place a benevolent universe (that's what my scientist husband, who I call Farm Boss but is also Chemistry Boss, has always called it) and we are lucky enough to be part of this whole experience-- a tiny part but a big one to us.

We were gifted with an opportunity to be part of an earthly experience that can be what we make of it. It's up to us what that will be. When we run into bad things, we can try to use them positively. We can continue to make those, who first walked upright and then developed a language, proud (figuratively speaking, of course) of what they accomplished by working to utilize what is here in a responsible way that keeps the power of Homo sapiens being not a bad thing for earth but a good one.

Here comes another personal note-- I am not an atheist and I believe in evolution. When I was asked if I'd call myself an agnostic, I thought actually, no, I would not. I am most likely a [deist], who believes in a god, a creative force, but not a god who zaps things on a seeming whim.

The problem with thinking God is involved in causing miracles is that it leaves you also, to be consistent, needing to see him involved in causing tragedies. Because I don't dismiss the possibility of the supernatural and things that I don't understand, I am content to leave this all in the realm of the mysterious and to me life is mystery-- beginning with that it exists at all.

We have been born into this Universe. We can learn about it in its totality and make the most of our knowledge. We don't have to be afraid of a god who destroys whatever that day has irritated him because I don't think that god, in any of the many religions that teach about him/her/it, exists. I think that was man's way of explaining the many things he saw from tragedies to miracles. Man wants life in boxes and I don't think the truth of the Universe fits into boxes.

Incidentally, my believing in a god, whose presence I have believed I have experienced since I was old enough to be aware of anything, doesn't mean I believe in some kind of spirit realm that we go to when we die. I don't know what happens after our body dies. Is this it? Do we come back in a new form? Is there a heaven and hell?

Well heaven and hell I really don't believe in as the religions describe them. No 70 virgins waiting, no angelic choirs constantly singing. I don't know it isn't that way, but my belief in god doesn't go that far. It's all about now, about what happens here on this earth and how we make the most of our wonderful opportunity to experience life if only once. If it goes on, well great (maybe) but this was a pretty special gift either way. I believe in a god who put in motion natural universes and when one collapses, another is born. We are just one teeny tiny part of that and how lucky we are to be that much.

What evolution teaches us is that while we are not in control as such, we can make the most of the ride. Our ancestors did and they didn't reap nearly the advantage for doing it that we see around us today.

Teaching that this universe is a product of Intelligent Design, as in where a god continually makes everything perfect (and man has to see it as perfect as he has to see that god as perfect) is believing in a capricious god who demands we say what we do not see around us, that we deny facts to satisfy him. That's what some want taught in the schools when they want taught Intelligent Design-- a perfectly created world that only man screws up or the devil. Some of them want this taught, as they want their prayers in schools, because they fear god's reaction if they don't.

Learning about the science of evolution which incorporates chemistry, biology, history, and even physics, and making sure it is wisely taught in our schools is one way we can teach future generations the lessons of earth. Philosophy, in terms of schools, should stay in sociology classes.

Looking at evolution, we see how early man was able to master his universe through technology and language skills. Is that any less necessary today? Ignoring the lessons of evolution is going backward.

Repeating, those lessons would be-- technology, communication skills, and one more-- listening to the wisdom of elders because when Cro-mangon man began to advance in what he could do, it was benefiting from a longer lifespan where there were several generations in a village, tribe or family and they could hear the wisdom from out of the past for the future. We have history books as well as the elders to our benefit today.

What happens when a culture ignores these lessons, ignores what science tells them, decides economics are all that really matter-- and economics are about money? Coming next a discussion on that.

Eagle Nebula at the top photo, a colorized version of the energy and chemical make up of a part of the Universe beyond us.

Oh and I have another book on evolution which I recommend but wasn't sure was still in print. It turns out Amazon has it-- 'The River that Flows Uphill-- A journey from the big bang to the big brain' by William H. Calvin. It's a story of rafting the Colorado River with a group of scientists and non-scientists as they explore the river while discussing history and natural history. It's a wonderful account of the river and the kind of thinking man is capable of doing when his mind is freed to go where it will. (I got a surprise when I looked at what I bought this book for-- $12.95 and now Amazon has it for $30,95! Counting on dollars for our security makes so much sense... not.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Evolution Matters

One thing a knowledge of evolution does is not require belief in a creator god who is either terrifying or demanding worship as a price of continuing to exist. Evolution neither demands a belief in a god, nor does it prove there is not one. The fact that this could all have happened with no creator does not mean there is no creator. As a corollary to that-- all religions being wrong does not prove there is no god.

In comments earlier, someone mentioned that rather than us being created in God's image, we created God in ours. That pretty well says it all and we see it in diverse cultures how they interpret what they think God must be and those interpretations differ with their life experiences. As another commenter mentioned the concepts of what God must be change with time.

Man has seemingly always sought answers for why we are here, and sought to control the environment which at the first mostly was through rituals although there were other environmental tricks, like forest fires or gravity to secure food and increase productivity. Sometimes what was done had no concern at all for the long term... mostly it had no concern for the long term.

From the time mankind had the ability to communicate with each other, there were signs he also wanted to communicate with a possible deity. Most cultures have a belief in some kind of deity with suggestions or demands on how to please that supernatural power. If there was a bigger guy out there, man was going to try and make peace with him/her/it.

The same traits are in modern man albeit with more possibilities for how. Some seek answers through religions and some through scientific explorations. [Science] as a tool has been with man a long while.

Man has always had a mix of reasons for using science. Some was to explore the mysteries of life but other reasons included improving technology to make physical life better. I think there has always been though some pure science without the need to make a profit from the information. What is this all about? What can we learn about it? Those kinds of questions aren't necessarily leading to a profit materially anyway. Too often, it seems today, the goal is exploitation. If we can't use it, why bother doing it? Universities, where much research has always been done, depend often on corporations for donations and corporations want them researching what they can utilize.

Back to why evolution matters. What are the lessons from evolution?

When I began researching evolution, the first thing that seemed to be important is, contrary to how some talk about it, the theory of evolution didn't begin with Darwin nor did it end with him. He simply laid out, through observation, evidence for the process by using animals living today that had been isolated from each other noting their differences. He used those observations to propose that this was also how human life evolved, and of course, lit an explosion from the religious.

Darwin began with a belief in natural selection as the primary reason for what we might see today in species. He came to see it was possibly more about sexual selection (wrote a book on that too) but he's forever stuck with being identified by natural selection and survival of the fittest. Instead it's quite possible that a lot of our changes came about through the same thing that happens today-- Marilyn Monroe types for one generation and Angelina Jolie for another-- figuratively speaking, of course.

To come up with his theories, Darwin couldn't do the DNA testing we can today and the missing links for mankind weren't yet found. Frankly finding bones from a million years ago isn't all that easy and fossils can often be equally destroyed even for bigger animals than 'protohumans.' Remember the earliest development of Homo sapiens came from Africa and by the time it spread out into the rest of the world, some of the initial changes had already occurred.

Proof positive has not stopped man from wondering. Early Greek philosophers posited questions of mankind having evolved. It wasn't even really controversial until religious revivals made it heresy to even question the account of creation in Genesis. It was not okay to say we weren't the center of the Universe (which some still want to believe even if they have given up on the sun revolving around the earth).

For a period of time scientists who dared explore any alternative were threatened with death or at least exile. During that period to talk about what I am here could have meant torture and death (still could in some cultures today). It was a threat to their religion and religion is about power. Some of this was because if the earth wasn't at the center of the Universe, was man the center of a god's interest? Were we really the most important things here? Heresy to suggest otherwise. If God isn't constantly tweaking things, how do we explain what happens?

Science and religion seemed to often be on a collision course. Some see it that way still today which is why science and the intelligentsia are condemned so heartily by a certain group-- knowledge threatens a certain type of faith.

Darwinism is not the same as evolution nor does evolution depend on his theories and observations. There is way more evidence by now to show missing links, to better understand the anthropological record and DNA to let us see the path even more clearly that life has taken to get to where we are, which is not where we will stay.

This whole subject of evolution naturally leads to spiritual questions which is why it so upset religious types.

Evolution's study does matter but I think it's more where it leads than simply whether we and apes descended from a common ancestor. The bigger question is are we free to think or not? Do we dare explore evidence or is that eating from the forbidden apple? If we believe in a dictatorial god who is threatened by our thinking, than free-thinking is a danger. Exploration of new ideas is heresy and puts at risk the whole culture because who knows where this god might decide to show displeasure.

Denying evolution denies science and impacts our whole culture and its advances. To be honest, I wouldn't vote for a president who said he didn't believe in evolution. What else would that mean about what that person? Where would that mean they put science? Were they free to think or had they already figured out everything and were going to defend those answers no matter what proofs came along? Can they assimilate new ideas? I'd assume not.

Evolution is about a process not a religion. There are no rituals, no special words one must say. Belief in it doesn't deny or prove the existence of a deity.It does though posit a very exciting possibility-- that god is a scientist, a being who is fascinated by life itself. It also indicates a planet that is very old and would require a very patient god to set this in motion and then, if he pays any attention to it, sit back and let it play itself out-- the things that worked so well or didn't. (Yes, I know, we are the ones who define time by earth standards and this all is assuming one believes in a god which an evolutionist might not).

What if instead of looking for control, we accept the earth is in flux and we are along for the ride doing the best we can with it? What if we try to work with it rather than against it? To me, those are the lessons, among many others, of evolution.

Studying evolution, learning about it, matters because it means we aren't afraid to explore truth. We don't have to force that truth to go places it doesn't naturally go.

Truth is my idea of how we cooperate in making this earth and our own lives all that they can be. To fear reasoning is to put god in a position that religion might have put him but I don't see any proof of it in nature. It does no justice to the possible creative genius behind this Universe and many others.

Oh, and I am most definitely not done... :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Third Chimpanzee

Evolution does not prove there is no god. It does not prove there is. I really consider it an explanation of a process by which there is no need for a creator who is constantly intervening and that's the upsetting part to some people. It leaves earth as part of a natural set of consequences where one thing leads to another which fits well with another of my core beliefs-- actions have consequences.

What are the evidences for evolution? Plenty but if you want a simple book that helps you get the basics in a way laymen can grasp, I suggest The Third Chimpanzee (that would be us) by Jared Diamond. It helps lay out the evidence today for how mankind may have come to be although there are plenty of unanswered questions along the way. There are long periods of not much change and then great leaps in development. There are debates over what has led to this or that aspect of mankind. It's really quite the story.

For the basics, here's the theory of evolution based on fossils, bones, DNA, and observation. For those who have studied this more extensively, it might seem too simplistic and I'd be fine with comments that add to it where I might have skimmed over something important.

The earth is basically 4.5 billion years old. Scientists have determined this as approximately when our Solar System came into being [Geologic Time: Age of Earth]. By radiometric dating of rocks, they have an approximation of the oldest earth rocks but that's less reliable than determining when this Solar System began. That doesn't mean living beings were on this earth as it was anything but habitable even by bacteria for a considerable span of time as it cooled. It was also bombarded constantly by space debris; so it was in transition a long while.

Skipping down earth's history to about 3.4 billion years ago, we come to when the first living organisms arose from inanimate matter: [Origin of Life on Earth]. Or another theory is the seeds of life arrived on space debris. One way or another this was more organisms than beings with personality.

The photo at the top is from the Yellowstone geyser basin where they have found living bacteria even within these boiling pools. These basins look much like the earth must have appeared for a long while, a burning sun in the sky and a very hot earth below. There is a quote from Jurassic Park that fits what happened next-- 'Life will find a way.'

Earth went through many stages of life, the age of the reptiles, age of the dinosaurs and finally 60 million years ago began the age of mammals which is where man will eventually enter the picture.

All mammals share a lot of DNA in common but for man there is none closer than the pygmy and common chimpanzees where we share all but 1.6% of the same DNA. Just think-- that tiny bit of DNA explains our human physical characteristics, the ones that identify us as a human and not an ape.

Chart scanned from page 35 The Third Chimpanzee

The interesting question is how and why did modern man emerge from this as a distinct species. For many many years life didn't change a lot. The tools these ancestors used to kill animals and satisfy their other needs for survival didn't change much from what the apes used. Our early ancestors didn't look at all like us. Six million years ago they stood up and from then on humans separated from chimpanzees physically-- even if our DNA can't be fooled.

How do we prove this happened? Human remains aren't very large and the likelihood of many bones surviving from 6 million years ago is slim. Not surprisingly the remnants are few and partial but there are some and anybody interested can research the available evidence. An interesting place to start would be Homo habilis.

Anthropologists find tools these 'protohuman's used back then but it took a long time before they would be considered firmly human. The more sophisticated tools start showing up 1.7 million years ago with Homo erectus, who had a larger brain. He could eat plants and animals, and by virtue of his tools, he was beginning to dominate the life around him to the point of extinction of the other competitors.

About a million years ago, Homo erectus, who was at that time the only protohuman on the African continent, began to expand his territory. That's when stone tools and bones showed up in the Middle East, Far East (Peking Man and Java man), and Europe.

Half a million years ago there were [Homo sapiens] who looked like men but with thicker skulls and brow ridges. The progress of man to dominate his world didn't happen instantly even from there. Man's ancestors did spread across the continents but it took time. He evidently either killed or forced Neanderthals to be unable to survive as this is when they disappear in most places where they had been. Homo sapiens produced art, sophisticated tools, and if you can call it progress were able to eliminate whole species of animals by their hunting techniques.

40,000 years ago is when Homo sapiens made what is called The Great Leap Forward as his technology began to improve. He could now kill mammoths and secure his food supply. These people, who looked much like modern man, have been named Cro-Magnons from the French site where their bones were first discovered. The tools found were ones enabling a kill from a distance, bone and antler tools, needles for making clothing, nets and rope. By this time artifacts found included not just those needed for survival, but ornaments, cave paintings, the Venus figurines of women which are probably religious in purpose, and even musical instruments. Life was changing fast.

Cro-magnon men were living longer and some of their skeletons indicated some lived into their 60s which was a big survival advantage over Neanderthals, who lived much shorter lives. It enabled them to have those in their community who remembered earlier events and could use that knowledge for current problems.

Although most recently there has been DNA evidence to indicate Neanderthals and Cro-Mangon man may have inter-mated, they were different in form and at the time of Cro-Magnon coming into their territory, there were Neanderthals and then none. This happened at different periods of time depending on the geographic area but always when the Cro-Mangons improved their technology-- especially where it came to killing.

So briefly, two million years ago there were several protohuman lineages in the world until something happened to leave only one standing. What enabled that one to conquer and basically either exterminate or out compete the rest?

The likely quality that enabled one group to excel over the others was language skills. It doesn't show up in DNA though. It's not in the bones, but what else could explain the ability to work together for higher purposes? Just making sounds doesn't do it. It takes being able to explain complex ideas and argue through superior paths to take.

Many other species of animals on earth today can communicate to a limited degree but none like man who has only increased this ability to transfer ideas from one person and group to another. It goes way beyond a few sounds to a language and with that language comes advancement sometimes at a startling rate.

At a certain point a group of those on the ancestral tree of man today were born with something in their DNA enabling them to use their tongues, larynx and the muscles required to speak words. When that happened, everything changed. Words and language freed Homo sapiens to develop in ways the other animals couldn't even imagine.

When we look at the reason it matters to study evolution, it's not all about history. It is also about lessons learned to get man to where he is today-- in a position to destroy all of life on earth through the very thing that got us where we are-- our technology. As there are lessons in the theory of creationism, there are lessons from evolution and those come next.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Creationism-- two possible versions?

If someone wants to approach teaching how human life began on this earth from a Christian perspective, I think there have been two viewpoints. Both originate with the words at the beginning of the Jewish Torah also called the Christian Old Testament:
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and the darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light."
The stories go on to explain a simple beginning to human life with a creator god forming man out of the dust of the ground and woman out of the man. The beginning of Genesis actually presents two stories of creation with a different order to what happened when. One would have to be allegory even though some believers claim both are exactly accurate. The essential common denominator in these two versions is that man first stepped onto this earth as man.

The probable allegory of Adam and Eve is much more personal. The couple were to live in a garden where everything was theirs to use except one-- fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and if they ate that, they'd die. God did not explain why this knowledge would be bad. What could they have understood of death?

We are starting this story of man and god with a claim about this god's personality that will be seen again and again. He never gives all the facts to man-- ever. He sets up little possible
traps tests without explaining what they are.

Man, of course, yielded to temptation, was thrown from the garden although he said it was the woman's fault. Great start to relationships between the sexes. It was not enough though for God to toss man and woman out, he makes the snake, who had been the initial tempter, slither on its belly, something it apparently never did before, and there were placed curses on the man, woman and their descendants.

The stories of the people who sprang from their loins continue and show often a perverse nature to this perfect God. He rejects one son's offering while he accepts another; but again was this explained to them beforehand? Apparently not but a blood offering was superior to one of grain? I do not know how Jews see it but Christians justify this by saying it cost Abel more to kill a first born than it did Cain to offer some of the grain he raised. That is more justification than understanding, and it sets a pattern in these stories for how difficult it can be for man to figure out what this God is wanting.

So while Scriptures describe God is the ultimate in loving, he is also shown as being very good at destroying. In other words, man better watch out. Touch that ark and you're a dead man. Men start to work together and they get dispersed. Jonah resisted God's will and found himself in the belly of a whale. Job, who was doing nothing wrong by God's own words, was put through increasing tortures with his children killed to satisfy a test that God and Satan rigged up. The Bible is full of such stories, some where God intervenes and saves and some where He does not.

Finally we come to the story of Jesus where the Jewish story is left behind and we have a new side of God as he comes to earth, born in Bethlehem, growing up to teach men what he wants them to know, and then the goal of it all-- His sacrifice for what Adam did long ago. This becomes another test for the believer because by accepting this sacrifice, by believing Jesus is God, man can be resurrected himself, have crowns in heaven, if he has earned them, and live in a renewed earth happily ever after singing with the angels. And if he doesn't, well that leads to more than the death promised Adam, now it means eternal torture in hell.

Whether a Christian accepts the literal interpretation of the scriptures for the story of Adam and Eve or the exact creation of man, they all start with that opening phrase that God created man in his own image. Even if they take the creation story less than literally, allow for some evolution in there, a Christian will mostly go on with the rest of the beliefs.

Which is where the second view of creationism, called Intelligent Design, comes in where God created everything on earth perfectly to work without a problem. When it doesn't, it's the fault of sin. This belief is that none of what we see around us could have happened without a creator god. These creationists do not accept evolution as a natural process but rather a guided one. Their perspective on man's dominion over earth usually remains the same-- although would not have to.

Those who are not going along with a 6000 year old earth, to deal with the age of the Universe, explain there was a pre-created earth (hence its age in geologic terms) which was destroyed in an epic battle between good angels and God against bad angels putting down a rebellion and ending up with Satan having quite a bit of power on earth as a tester of man. This idea comes out of the Prophets in the Old Testament and is mostly put together as supposition and a way to still have God creating man literally as though a sculptor.

Repeating-- some would say that God did it but he used evolution as his tool. They would also add that a day didn't necessarily mean a day as we consider time. I am not sure where that leaves them on say the Bible version of Daniel and the lion's den or Noah in the whale or so many other stories?

Accepting the story of Creationism for a Christian leads to the requirement of a proper baptism (form of which Christians don't always agree), saying the right words, correct approach to sin, confession, marriage, you name it; and some today believe as they did back then that to go against that god can lead to cities being flooded and disaster raining down on earth. Forget whether the ones being killed did anything or not.

To me, both of these versions of creationism are taking that version of God in the Old Testament and bringing it to today. Look at this god's actions and you see a lot of questions but man is not allowed to question.

This also leads to a belief that man has a right to use anything he wishes upon the face of the earth. It's all his. Abuse it and don't worry because there will be a new beginning after a really rough ending but which will not impact true believers who will be raptured to heaven before the end comes.

This version of life on earth and of God's personality ends with the ultimate revenge on all but the chosen few described in Revelations-- and they might have been chosen before they were born if someone believes in predestination which would mean some might be doomed before they started. That's another of those issues about which Bible scholars disagree.

Anyway if we follow the story of creationism, using the Bible, we see the earth recreated one last time not to be destroyed again because apparently these humans left in perfected bodies have learned their lesson and they can serve God forever in peace.

Creationism and the Biblical stories are philosophy, depict powerful images (even with a Creation museum in Kentucky and soon to be a Noah's Ark theme park); but about zero science other than trying to put down evolutionary ideas. The order they have for how things appeared on earth does not fit what science has found-- but then they don't believe science anyway. There is then no wonder there would be a conflict between science and this way of thinking.

Evolution tells a story and has its own set of lessons. That's coming next.

On a personal note, I should mention I spent over twenty years of my life letting one of those creation versions be mine. I wanted to believe it and I was very much a Biblical fundamentalist who would dismiss anything that got in the way of that viewpoint. I was not only in a group that thought that way but felt that you had to just let go of reason. It was about faith and nothing else. You ignore what doesn't fit or you make it fit.

To be clear, I was never a political religious conservative, always saw that as contradictory to Christian teaching (like I hate any program of help for the poor but love Jesus who said to feed the poor). I also always believed in protecting the environment which doesn't have to be contradictory to the Scriptures. For me, it was a literal belief in what the Bible said. When that changed, it led to leaving organized religion.

I know a lot of very nice Christians who are still fundamentalists and some who describe themselves as potluck Christians which enables them to stay. I liked being part of a church community (both of the churches I belonged to over that twenty some years). I can relate to how that might be easier than leaving, but for me it was all or nothing. When I came to see this just didn't fit with what I saw around me, in humans and in nature, nor what I believed about God from my own experiential experiences (I am not an atheist), personally I had no choice but to leave religions.

I live in a culture where Christianity is very important to many people. This is a culture that still mostly espouses a belief in Christianity as essential to not only live a moral life but to be 'saved'. It is one where running for president necessitates being a Christian and it's more than okay for a leader to not believe in evolution.

Oh and one more point, I didn't leave religion because of what is called backsliding or desiring to live a wild life full of freedom to sin. I know plenty who are comfortable 'sinning' in churches (thanks to forgiveness and the old saw we are all sinners). I think it can be just as easy sinning in the church, maybe more so as outside there is no easy forgiveness at an altar or in a confessional. You have to find that forgiveness inside yourself with no platitudes to comfort you.

So coming next will be what is evolution.

Photo is the Oregon coast, looking toward Whale Cove, December 2010.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Life is about change

I have a couple of key philosophies to life. They might seem so basic as to wonder why I'd mention them but both apply to this series. The first is that change is inevitable and constant. Sometimes we welcome that change and sometimes find it threatening-- but it will always come.

So I understand things don't stay the same not even those things I like. Sometimes we fight change and that is how I feel when I see a certain group in the United States trying to end our public education system. It's not Constitutional, dontchaknow.

This attack on public education is partisan because the proponents almost always identify themselves as Republicans or maybe now Tea Partiers (who knows for sure what tea partiers stand for as a group) Basically, whatever political label the naysayers about education claim, to them, public education is of no value, costs money, and worse threatens their beliefs.

If education, in any culture, is downgraded to an option, downgraded to something that even becomes threatening, where does that leave the populace? Try uneducated, easily led, incapable of applying history and science to their decision making. It can lead to a group who vote for elected officials as they would on a reality television show and put more thought and emotion into the reality show.

What happens when people live in a world where they are seemingly removed from nature's absolutes, a world where they believe they have the right to teach their children anything and there are no facts, no basic truths to learn beyond what the parents want taught. What if the parental truth denies the physical world for a spiritual one that cannot be seen, where does that lead the culture in which they live-- especially if those people vote?

This dismissal of facts and logic is showing up in a part of our culture where we have a whole group of people who cannot spell, write a sentence, or communicate beyond a few letters strung together that are supposed to be just as good as learning to parse a sentence. Yes, I mean Sarah Palin with her missives from Facebook and Twitter that cable (both sides) throw at us as something worthy to read... if we can... Whatever she says, a whole bunch of people hang on it as they do Glenn Beck's revisionist history lessons.

What happens when this also occurs in science. When science's value is argued as though it doesn't matter what the facts are (except maybe with the Law of Gravity) and their god can overrule any mistakes they might make, when they want religious lessons to be taught alongside the facts of scientific evidence, tell me where that ends?

This is why even though one might not think so, the study of evolution is important. Understanding evolution is understanding that life is about change. It is about more than the past and it impacts many other areas of life.

When I drive south in Oregon, along the freeway is a big billboard showing photos of men and then after several of those, a photo of a chimpanzee and it says don't let them make a monkey out of you with a website to apparently avoid that risk of turning into monkeys.

If you do any research online regarding creationism, you will find websites putting down all the various fossils or bones that have been used to prove evolution, denying DNA has any meaning, claiming the earth is really quite young, and always with the end statements witnessing to that particular religion and how to be saved. When you read one of those sites, they always claim that anybody believing in evolution wants to do bad things or is a fool. They use their own holy texts to make their points.

The essence of physical life on earth is change. That's the most basic part of what we see everywhere but for religious reasons a lot of people deny that and not based on facts but on needing to prove their own truths can be trusted. There is no freedom to use logic, reason or even facts, if you have already made up your mind what you believe.

Because man doesn't live very long, he doesn't often see change in the rocks, the landscape, not often the other species of animals living near him; but he can see it in his own life if he's willing to look. We start out a baby, work our way through various stages of growth until we reach old age and the end of our days. Is that threatening? Well it is because then most in religions have had to come up with an alternative to death-- they don't really die. They get resurrected. Their god was resurrected bodily which I guess means he got trapped in a human type body until a future date to release him or is that trapped forever?

What some religious people perceive as fact regarding their physical bodies actually isn't because with faith they will be coming back with a perfected body... or end up in heaven with 70 virgins. Logic and facts are not only no part of this but they are threats to it. The teaching of evolution is a threat to it and there is a reason for that.

The photo at the top is me at 12 years old when I was geeky and not really ready for the changes coming in my life but they were coming anyway. Within a few years I had figured out a lot of it or so I thought...

Monday, December 06, 2010

Thinking? or just rearranging prejudices?

Words from others on the subject of logic, science, and reason.
'Man has been endowed with reason, with the power to create, so that he can add to what he’s been given.’ ~Anton Chekhov

'First, study the present construction. Second, ask for all past experiences …study and read everything you can on the subject.’ ~Thomas Alva Edison

'The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.’ ~Albert Einstein

'If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?’ ~Albert Einstein

'Science is simply common sense at its best-- that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.' ~Thomas Huxley

'Keep your eyes on the stars but keep your feet on the ground.' ~Theodore Roosevelt

'So few of us really think. What we do is rearrange our prejudices.' ~George Vincent

'NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!' ~Charles Dickens

'No one should approach the temple of science with the soul of a money changer.' ~Thomas Browne

'The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny..."' ~Isaac Asimov

'The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.' ~William Lawrence Bragg

'Science is built up of facts, as a house is built of stones; but an accumulation of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house.' ~Henri Poincaré, Science and Hypothesis, 1905

'A science is any discipline in which the fool of this generation can go beyond the point reached by the genius of the last generation.' ~Max Gluckman, Politics, Law and Ritual, 1965

'The radical novelty of modern science lies precisely in the rejection of the belief, which is at the heart of all popular religion, that the forces which move the stars and atoms are contingent upon the preferences of the human heart.' ~Walter Lippmann

'Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science.' ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

'The greatest discoveries of science have always been those that forced us to rethink our beliefs about the universe and our place in it.' ~Robert L. Park, in The New York Times, 7 December 1999

'Louise: "How did you get here?"
Johnny: "Well, basically, there was this little dot, right? And the dot went bang and the bang expanded. Energy formed into matter, matter cooled, matter lived, the amoeba to fish, to fish to fowl, to fowl to frog, to frog to mammal, the mammal to monkey, to monkey to man, amo amas amat, quid pro quo, memento mori, ad infinitum, sprinkle on a little bit of grated cheese and leave under the grill till Doomsday."' ~From the movie Naked

'Science, like life, feeds on its own decay. New facts burst old rules; then newly divined conceptions bind old and new together into a reconciling law.' ~William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy, 1910

Raven photo from our trip to Bryce in May of this year. Some believe ravens are the holders and givers of wisdom-- A Bit about the Raven. I know they are the guardians of the forest, the first to cry an alarm if they see intruders.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Faith vs. reason. Does it have to be in conflict?

For the next few blogs, I want to explore something that has a great deal of interest to me. It's about science, logic and what makes something a fact. (I understand that for some people, facts do not exist and it's all relative. They believe this until they fall off a cliff and the fact of gravity makes itself felt). What I want to explore is how science, logic, reasoning and facts play into our current culture wars (and they are wars although fortunately for now wars of words and ideas). This will be about education in particular and how these cultural ideas are impacting it.

You could look at this as all about education in our public schools; but it's not. I care a lot about public education in the United States. I, my children and now my grandchildren have all benefited greatly from a time of valuing quality education for all citizens as a strong value of our culture. Where I do think some of that is threatened, this is about more than public schools.

No education should end with walking out of school. The real point of education is to teach us how to educate ourselves, how to make our entire lifetime about education. It should inspire us to always want to learn, to be open to new ideas and information. That's what it should do.

It can do this by helping us discern facts from fantasy, teaching us tools of logic, and giving us a basic understanding of the physical world in which we live which involves communication skills, history, science and mathematics. No matter how far we went in school, school should be only the beginning of this learning.

Some don't live their lives this way. They operate on emotional whims. They ignore what has happened and think they can just take a flyer on what they wish would happen. Anything that pushes them to think deeply is a threat. Even more damaging some think there is a big daddy in the sky who will overrule any mistakes they make and keep things humming along.

There is another bunch who think their religion will teach them all they need to know. Oh they go on learning but it's what they are told to learn and they don't question its truth.

There has always been this division in how humans see the world where some look for a religious answer and some a scientific one. I don't know that there has to be a war between these two views; but sometimes there does end up one. If someone puts faith and reason on opposite ends of the scale, with faith overbalancing reason, they aren't much interested in learning facts which they will dismiss as not true anyway or a test of their faith. What they want is a faith based society and it will be their faith. The idea that man should think for himself, well that is dangerous.

It might seem with the Christmas season straight ahead, this is an odd time to explore such weighty subjects. Isn't this the time for pretty songs and spending a lot of money? Well I disagree with that and think it's the perfect time. What is more important to discuss as we are a approaching a season about conspicuous consumption, where a certain religious mindset believes it has been set aside to celebrate the birth and life of a god-man, who was not remotely about conspicuous consumption-- in fact the exact opposite? Is there any logic in that?

So the next week or two or three will be anything but light. It will be about something I think is important in our country today. I'd like to say it's not partisan, but it does seem, when I hear a Republican defend extending the top bracket's tax cuts for people who don't need that money for basic needs (remember they'd be getting the cuts under income earned up to $250,000) while Republicans fight any extension of unemployment benefits for people who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, that it is a partisan and cultural divide and I don't mind at all pointing that out as I go along.

I am not thrilled with Democrats on this either while they try to tell me that they can't do a thing about the tax cuts or hikes because they can't overturn a filibuster. They conveniently ignore something called reconciliation which is how we got these unbudgeted tax cuts anyway.

IF this kind of thinking is upsetting to you, or if it disturbs you to work through such things as human origins, global climate changes, religious values, you might want to come back and see me again after Christmas.

The photo at the top is the Calapooia River east of where I live, flowing out of the Cascade Mountains. I had never seen it this high in the hills and it's rather amazing how it changes its personality as it flows toward the Willamette River where it will become part of many rivers.

Downstream The Calapooia is flat, sluggish and seemingly without all the power I saw in the foothills where it's really moving. Even different fish tend to live in these waters depending on its flow. It's how cultures can be, starting out with power and energy and ending up losing all of that. I believe a wise approach to education is one way to avoid that in any culture. It is the basis of making wise choices when it comes time to vote. I am going to make my case over the next few weeks.

I will start though with what some other, greater minds have said on the topics, and that comes next.