Posts Tagged ‘Authority figures’

About Philosophy, Religion, and Faith

January 20, 2015

From a conversation on a Facebook group dealing with why religious belief persists:
I understand your comment, my friend, but I can’t agree. I understand that there are many things unseen, but attributing them to a deity doesn’t work for me. Too often, that explanation has been simply wrong.
The more we learn, the more concepts that have persisted because of ‘faith’ are debunked. Why, then, should we have faith that things in future will be different, not understandable?
Consider for a moment the concept of believing that some entity organized the universe.
When people knew nothing other than the ‘Earth’ and ‘the Heavens’, one could accept that perhaps magic was involved. Magic, defined in this context as not being bound by what we call natural laws, e.g. the laws of nature as we understand them. But we now know there’s much more to the picture than that. The sources of current religious belief, faith, come from a society that knew little to nothing of our true place in the universe. Whether Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, all of them are rooted in the writings, the codified beliefs, of thinkers whose background was herding, farming, fishing, and handicrafts. Of a people who simply ignored what didn’t fit, who claimed that such things were the will of the deity, hence not to be understood by humans even though, basic to that belief, is the concept that humans are the image of the deity.
If that’s your philosophy, that all this order has to be by design, I can’t argue with that. But…
If we disagree, why should we stoop to some level that’s not based on philosophy? Why should we enslave, murder, torture because someone believed differently?
Nothing in that basic belief requires that. Nothing in that system excuses murder, torture, rape, slavery.
But those things have been with us since first we climbed down out of the trees. Why?
THAT I attribute not to belief, but to systems of organized religion. Systems with a few ordering the many how to believe, how to think. And inevitably profiting thereby. For every starving philosopher of religious thought, there are a dozen priests of some ilk profiting. Living well, even as the ones who provide that good living are impoverished.
Little by little the evidence builds.
You’ve had dinner with us before, my friend. Enjoyed the turkey, did you?
That turkey, presumably, is different. We benefited from someone who slaughtered the beast so we could have Thanksgiving dinner. Cows, pigs, fish…
We’re supposed to be superior. We think, we feel.
Yet we now know how similar we are to those other organisms. We know that animals can even catch ‘human’ diseases, that humans can catch ‘animal’ diseases. We share genes.
We’re all part of a huge biosphere, a mix of genes that sometimes we share, sometimes we don’t share. Just a few genes more or less changes us from chimp to human or gorilla. Or pig.
If a pig is slaughtered, is he transported to heaven? If a dog dies, does it go to heaven? Dogs think, dogs feel, dogs communicate.
But we’re told that only humans have a soul. That the soul embodies those things, the ability to reason, to feel, to make choices.
That we can treat other animals as we do because they lack this soul.
Really?
Do we not see evidence, clear and indisputable evidence, that those lesser animals grieve when a close associate/family member dies? Do whales not grieve, do they not understand the concept of death and regret when it comes? Do they not sacrifice themselves to save their offspring?
They do.
Only faith insists those things aren’t so.
Its why faith is not enough for me.
I DO have faith of a sort, except it doesn’t depend on organized religion.
I’m a part of a greater whole, humankind. I share genes from the human gene pool. My genes are not unique, but the combination I currently possess is unique.
When I pass, those genes will still be there in the human genome. My particular combination will go on, at least in part. Children, grandchildren, descendants, they’ll possess a tiny bit of what made me what I am.
I hope that greater whole persists for a long time, but I understand that ALL species before humans have gone extinct or at least branches of those species/particular genomes have vanished. Yet their genes persist, even today. That turkey had genes that once, reshuffled, were part of dinosauria.
Of humans, H. sapiens sapiens.
Me.

Opinions and Authority Figures

February 25, 2013

About education, and thinking, and opinions:

“There are almost as many routes to a Thomas Edison degree as there are students. In a way, that is the whole point of the college, a fully accredited, largely online public institution in Trenton founded in 1972 to provide a flexible way for adults to further their education.

“We don’t care how or where the student learned, whether it was from spending three years in a monastery,” said George A. Pruitt, the college’s president, “as long as that learning is documented by some reliable assessment technique.”

“Learning takes place continuously throughout our lives,” he said. “If you’re a success in the insurance industry, and you’re in the million-dollar round table, what difference does it make if you learned your skills at Prudential or at Wharton?” ”

The above clip from the NY Times caused me to reflect on some of the writing I’ve done and the occasional arguments that have arisen because of that. For too many, I think, academic credentials count for more than the thought behind a concept, even when a brief examination should indicate that there is no relationship between those credentials and what’s being discussed.

In many disciplines, there are schools of thought that emphasize a certain approach. In economics, you were likely to examine trends as a monetarist or as someone who favored taxation as a tool to examine and manage a national economy (at least, when I took economics, that’s changed now in a number of ways, as economics progresses as a science). By favoring one or the other school of thought in a discipline, education forces the student to adopt a viewpoint of what he’s studying and often this viewpoint reflects that of the teacher. As a result, well educated people may often disagree profoundly with other well educated people based on differences in schools of thought.

And for those who have educated themselves outside of mainstream thinking, those same well-educated types might reject any ideas put forward. For those outside the thinking, they rely on those magical letters (PhD) to provide legitimacy…even when the degree was achieved in a field that doesn’t relate precisely to what’s being discussed, as for example someone trained as a tax attorney who’s now going to have to focus on monetary policy because he’s been appointed to the Federal Reserve.

Not that the above has happened; it’s just an illustration. Another illustration might deal with medicine; orthodox medicine, oriental medicine, holistic approaches via herbs….

But I also comment on things like global warming, and the discussion got quite heated (:-)) in one venue. Most people now accept that the planet is warming up, and that human activity is at least partially at fault for this. And so we turn to accepted authority for answers and policy guidance, and never question whether their opinions are really relevant because they were educated and have since done their research before global warming was accepted fact. And we also find that politics and greed enter the discussion, because those PhD’s are readily sold to politicians or industrialists who use them for their own selfish purposes. Confusion is easily exploited for profit by the shortsighted and greedy.

Another area I comment on has to do with dark matter. I thought the mathematics was at fault for a time, but I’ve since changed my mind. It’s the interpretation, not the math, and the assignment of mathematical symbols to real-world data and then manipulation of those symbols without sufficient regard to just how descriptive they are of the data they’re supposed to represent. And there are any number of ‘authorities’ on dark matter out there, PhD’s and academic degrees in plenty, professorships barely behind that…and yet, no one has actually DETECTED anything that could be dark matter. Undeterred, the ‘authorities’ on dark matter soldier on, spending enormous amounts of money and much time down in dark holes in the ground. Somehow, investigation of dark matter apparently is best done down in the guts of old mines. Even when the investigation has so far failed to find anything of significance.

There is no authority on global warming. There is no authority on dark matter. Whatever authorities there are who deal with economics, they tend to disagree with each other to the point where one must question their standing as an ‘authority’. There are just people with opinions, and some of them have advanced degrees. Just not degrees in the topic they’re so certain of. Meantime, it’s up to all of us to actually think about the topics we discuss before we decide to believe, or how much belief we’re going to invest in opinions.

One day there may be true authorities on these subjects. But not yet. As a final illustration, Linus Pauling published an essay regarding the structure of the DNA molecule. He had already received a Nobel for chemistry…and his model was wrong. After Watson and Crick, the discipline began to really take off, and now there are real geneticists and even something undreamed of back then, epigeneticists. But UNTIL Watson and Crick published their hypothesis, there were only people with wrong opinions.

Even if they did have advanced degrees.