Saturday, May 16, 2015

Hate Mail

I have been accused of having an unreadable writing style.  It's a lie.  I have no writing style at all.  Despite the stereotype of gay men, I don't have any style of any kind. 

Update:  As Alfred Lunt is reported to have said,  "We can be bought but we can't be bored".  All I know about what is said by such folk is what I'm told in comments here.  Last time I looked in April lots of people couldn't be bored anymore. 

Three Penny Things - Bolcom & Morris

This is one of the funniest things I've ever heard.   Joan Morris does the best Lotte Lenya imitation anyone could possibly do.

I wish someone would post Bolcom's 4th Symphony.  Her singing of the Roethke poem The Rose is about the best example of singing English that I've ever heard. The clearest diction ever.

Hate Mail

Who cares if you don't read it? 

and if that's not enough, here's the theme song for this blog. 

Atheism Cannot Sustain Morality

There was whining about my post doubting the cultural endurance of such basic ideas as a moral obligation to equally observe the rights of all other people under atheism.  That atheism will not lead to behavior respecting the moral obligations you have to other people unassociated with you, including those you would never see and would never know about as well as those you could see and didn't like, under a cultural regime of atheism.  Well, I never had those doubts before reading lots and lots and lots of things said by atheists online, leading me to look at the writings of those atheists who were widely respected by other atheists.  I got my doubts about that from atheists, not from what religious folk said about atheists.

In the explosion of atheist discourse online and in current books and magazine articles I have seen an absorption into self-centered, self-interest widespread among them.  Instead of the current atheist fad being the result of science education, it is a result of the encouragement of narcissism and consumerism.   That's not atypical of the human population, there are plenty of people who profess religion who exhibit a massive amount of those vices.  Only atheism contains nothing to identify them as vices to be discouraged, to be resisted.   Every substitute for the traditional religious exposition of morality, in the west and much of the world that of the popularly detested "monotheistic faiths," fails in compelling adoption and overcoming selfish behavior, centered on the god of the idolatry we are all burdened by.  Any proposed break on that proposed to atheists by atheists is as liable to the same refusal as those proposed to them by religion,  "why should I" or merely said another way,  "why shouldn't I".  Atheism contains no adequate response or even one that works very well.

And that's not to mention the serious defects inherent in some of those proposed substitutes.  Utilitarianism, one of the older and perhaps more popular ones includes the possibility of killing many people, causing harm to many people if the calculations of the amount of happiness that results is held to be more widely distributed than the alternatives.   I've mentioned the frequently encountered encouragement to adopt infanticide made by utilitarian "ethicists".  It's fairly easy to talk one into asserting the morality of some enormity or other, sometimes posed as a possibly ethical act.   And one of the other large flaws in the theory is that it necessitates a belief in the ability of people to accurately predict the ultimate results of their acts when that is not possible to do.  Who knows what the ultimate results of their acts will be in time.   Things that seemed right or wrong ten years ago may seem to have quite a different character based on what resulted from it.  And who knows how some of our decisions will play out in future generations?   Who knows what the results of some utilitarian killing would be in the future.   That attempt at precognition is the result of some rather flawed thinking by some very clever people, and when you read Bentham or Mill and really think critically about what they're saying instead of on their own terms, they don't seem to make much sense.  The current crop don't approach their level of thinking that I've noticed.

I would like a list of times when the high lights of utilitarianism proposed beneficial actions be taken that would seriously impinge on their, their family and their friends' well being on behalf of the greater good.  I have a strong feeling that the utilitarians who have advocated considering killing other people have not frequently included themselves as among those whose slaughter would benefit the greater good.

There is simply nothing provided by atheism or, as Steven Weinberg demonstrated, in science that can compel someone to adopt moral behavior if they choose not to.   That religious assertions of morality fail quite often even with those reasons contained in their beliefs provides good reasons to believe that absent those reasons that moral behavior will happen significantly less often. And that's not mentioning the popularity of anti-moral systems among atheists, such as Ayn Rand's and Friedrich Nietzsche's and that derived from such scientific thinkers as Ernst Haeckel.  They have their champions and successors who promote self-centered amorality today, it is ubiquitious in popular culture, a good deal of it bleeding into and melding with the anti-Christianity of the far right without them even realizing that they are expounding the morality of atheists so depraved that some atheists reject them.

That many of the professorial atheists are rather more otiose and pacified than the fire breathers, such as the psychotic dormouse, Fredrich Nietzsche isn't very reassuring.  That Nietzsche has been a full fledged member of the canon as taught to the young in places of higher learning has been noted since  the early decades of the last century.   Such warnings as those given by Vernon Kellogg and William Jennings Bryan that the promotion of immorality, a certain outcome of promoting amorality, would lead to utter depravity was proven by the genocidal regimes of the 20th century.  Their writings in the nineteen teens and twenties, especially the ridiculed and derided warnings of Bryan proved quite accurate in the next three decades.  That a lot of the ridicule of Bryan came from one of the most serious students and promoters of Nietzsche, H. L. Mencken, is certainly significant.  It's no accident.

Mencken's continued popularity among the fashionably cynical should have never happened, considering the lessons that should have been learned about the application of their philosophy of nihilistic materialism which the world was treated to in the 1930s and 40s and even today.   But there was nothing in the acculturation and educations of so many of our elites in the media and culture that gave or took those lessons seriously.  In place of that there are the disincentives to take the only available force to counter that depravity effectively seriously, and that force, religious morality was presented as unfashionable and, on that basis discredited.  The Nazi era, fascism, Stalin, Mao and his successors, the regimes of the Eastern Bloc, Albania, Pol Pot, the Kim dynasty in North Korea comprise the test of time given to government and societies under a regime of materialism.   As the most mature and largest of those still standing, China, proves even socialism as an asserted national economic faith can't endure under materialism, as it now consists of the spectacle of Communism as a dictatorship of a party elite with an economy which eats up workers and peasants like Victorianism on steroids.

Given the various examples of what results from materialists with power I doubt that its diffusion in American or European countries will make retaining democracy possible.  Democracy is based in beliefs about people, about their inherent rights and moral obligations that everything in materialist discourse undermines, hollows out and denies.   Replacing an asserted substitute for morality based on natural selection, the baseless and most fashionable contestant, these days,  is as liable to any individual or collective assertion of indifference to future generations as any rabid millennial fundamentalist can be accused of having.  And it doesn't have to get that dramatic, most of the materialist refusal is based on that question mentioned above you may hear from any bratty four-year-old , "why should I".  Or, more to the point, "Who's going to make me?"  When there's no who to make you, you're not going to get better behavior than that of spoiled children, grown up.   In most cases.  That's what our popular culture produced by those who were acculturated that way, what has replaced boring, old, unfashionable moral education.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hate Mail

Into the water you have looked, 
And seen the Siren vision there, 
And lingering in languor rapt,
Narcissus on the Delaware. 

Ah, The Lost Radio Of My Relative Youth

I confess that I used to be a really, really heavy DXer.  That's someone who is addicted to listening to shortwave radio.  I used to listen for several hours a night. It was hereditary, I got it from my father.  As mentioned before, he was really hard core.  He was a ham.  That's a ham radio operator.  I'd tell you his call sign but someone else has it now, a quarter century after his death.  I checked I didn't know they reassigned numbers.

One of my biggest weaknesses was listening to radio plays and my favorites weren't from the hoary, august BBC, they were from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.   Many Saturdays in the 1990s and 2000s I would hope I'd get in Radio Canada International long enough to listen to The Mystery Project, after their incomparable news program, The World At Six, still my idea of the perfect half-hour news show.  I don't know what the ravages of the stinking Harper regime have done to it, I haven't had the heart to listen to it in years.  

So, "The Mystery Project" (that's pronounced PRO-ject in the original Canadian).   I loved the series of half-hour mysteries, few of them in the repulsive genera the cosy or the hard boiled detective type.  I loved "Midnight Cab" by James W. Nichols,  Clean Sweep by Alf Silver and other series.  A friend recently sent me a thumb drive with mp3s of what I thought was among the best written of the series, "The Old Guy" by Paul Ledoux.  I don't know how Ledoux does it but he seems to make so much happen in his short plays that a half hour seems at least twice as long.  Now I want to read or hear more of Ledoux's work, he is an unusually good playwright.  And he's written a lot of plays, none of which seem to be easily accessible in written or recorded form.

If you can find a way to listen to any of them you might really enjoy it.   If there's one thing I've concluded from it, the pictures are so much better on the radio, the writing and acting too.  Actors always look great, exactly like they're supposed to.  I've seen lots of great actors on TV and in the movies who were so much better than the eye-candy leads but who you knew were never going to get the leading roles based on their sex appeal to the eye.   But to the ear, to the mind, none of that matters.

I don't know how many aspiring playwrights, actors, directors, sound engineers have carried the form on into the internet, maybe I should look.  Anyone who falls into those categories who isn't trying should probably consider going into another line of work because it's so cheap and easy to try with a computer and a hundred dollar microphone.  Pictures cost so much more, in money and effort.   Working in music, you can do a lot with the free Audacity program you can get online as long as you've got a fairly good mic.  I use a Shure and it sounds pretty OK for making recordings for my students.     But I'm too busy listening to go searching for good audio plays that right now.  I will take recommendations.  There's nothing like being able to put on an hour and a half of plays while I'm working in the garden or around the house.   It's a relief from the lame radio fare we get around here, no matter which of the four American "public" stations I can get.  Radio has really gone to hell.  Not only here but we led the way down.

Fr. Richard McBrien on Fridays

In the popular imagination of so many, especially anti-Catholics, the Catholic church is an absolute monarchy with the Pope as some kind of Czar or Louis XIV or Henry VIII.  Actually, even at the height of the power of the papacy, the pope was frequently attacked, sometimes deposed if not imprisoned or killed by some Emperor or other, some King, some potentate, some rich aristocratic family, not even necessarily Roman or Italian, etc.   There is the infamous period of the Avignon papacies, where the Bishop of Rome was removed to France. The teachings of popes have certainly been laid aside by rulers and aristocrats from the beginning, especially those which were not to the financial benefit of the earthly kings.   The teachings against slavery in the Americas were certainly not followed and they were even opposed by other bishops and priests, even theologians.  Yet the English flavored myths about such things persist up till this week when I had an argument with some radicals-in-their-own-minds who sounded like they'd swallowed the basest of Brit antipopery  and finished with a serving of Chick publications for pudding.

Here's an article which didn't get Richard McBrien censored, or censured or called up on the carpet or threatened with firing from his job of teaching theology at one of the major Catholic Universities of the United States which questions some of the hottest issues in one of the most authoritarian of recent papacies.

Linking Sexual Abuse and the Ordination of Women

In mid-July the Vatican issued revisions to its internal laws making it easier to discipline predatory priests, but stating at the same time that ordaining women to the priesthood was as grave an offense as sexual abuse of minors by priests.

According to a front-page report in The New York Times (7/16/10), the decision to link the two issues appeared to reflect the determination of Vatican officials to oppose any suggestion that sexual abuse within the priesthood had anything at all to do with obligatory celibacy or with allowing women to become priests, as if having women in the priesthood would have prevented the sexual abuse problem from ever happening.

The linkage of the two matters left many observers stupefied. They simply could not believe that the Vatican would make such an incredible public relations blunder. And it certainly was that.

But the Vatican’s linkage between sexual abuse by priests and the ordination of women also had a more substantive side. It reflected yet again the Catholic Church’s scandalously negative attitude toward women.

Even those who viewed this latest Vatican initiative through the prism of the sexual abuse scandal alone were acutely unhappy that the Vatican still did not hold bishops accountable for sexual abuse by their own priests, nor did the Vatican require bishops to report such abuse to civil authorities.

But many more Catholics, especially (but certainly not only) Catholic women, were both astonished and outraged that the Vatican had included the attempt to ordain women to the priesthood on a list of the “more grave delicts,” or ecclesiastical crimes, to which there is attached a canonical penalty.

That list included not only pedophilia but also heresy, apostasy, and schism.

Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., called the document a “welcome statement” even as he took pains to praise the role of women in the Church.

At the same time, the archbishop insisted that the “long and constant teaching” of the Catholic Church has held that ordination to the priesthood has, “from the beginning,” been reserved to men, “a fact which cannot be changed despite changing times.”

Msgr. Charles Scicluna, a Vatican official who has long been involved with addressing the sexual abuse crisis in the priesthood, explained that sexual abuse by priests is a more grave delict than most others because it involves an egregious violation of the moral law, but that the ordination of women would constitute “a wound that is an attempt against the Catholic faith on the sacramental orders.”

However, few Catholic theologians would regard the ordination of women as a matter of Catholic faith, on par, for example, with various items mentioned explicitly in the historic creeds, such as the divinity of Christ and the resurrection of the body.

Indeed, the latest poll of U.S. Catholics done by The New York Times and CBS News disclosed that 59% now favor the ordination of women to the priesthood, while 33% are opposed.

At the news conference in which these latest changes in Vatican policy were announced, Msgr. Scicluna boasted that the new rules provided the Church with more effective tools in the fight against sexual abuse.

“This gives a signal,” he said, “that we are very, very serious in our commitment to promote safe environments and to offer an adequate response to abuse.”

But the announcement was severely, if not fatally, compromised by the Vatican’s linkage of sexual abuse by priests with attempts at ordaining women to the priesthood. 

Not only did this inexplicable linkage detract attention from the enormity of the sexual abuse scandal, but it also served to focus the klieg lights once again on the Church’s longstand-ing, negative attitudes toward women.

These attitudes are reflected not only in the women’s ordination issue, but also in the Vatican-directed “visitation” of U.S. communities of religious women and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s “doctrinal assessment” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents upward of 95% of all such communities.

Catholic women themselves (not all, by any means) are in a much better position than Catholic men, even those of us who are supportive of their concerns, to measure the everyday pain of frustration, rejection, and anger that these official attitudes and policies have generated over so many years.

In any case, the recent Vatican linkage of sexual abuse by priests and the ordination of women is not only a public relations disaster, but, what is far more important, it is yet another major affront to women in the Church. 

They are, on the contrary, among the Church’s greatest assets.

Richard C. McBrien

9 / 6 / 2010

Afterthought:   Some bible scholars speculate that the tone of accuastion against "the Jews" in the Gospel of John reflects the time in which it was written, when pointing out the responsibility of the Roman occupying government for the execution of Jesus was dangerous.  It was far safer, it is said by such scholars, to blame the relatively less powerful and so dangerous Jews than the Romans.

I wonder if that's not why the habit of blaming religion for literally all of the crimes committed by political rulers, gangsters, aristocrats, etc. is so widely practiced.  The churches are relatively powerless to do much of anything on a large scale by way of depravity and the mainstream religions in the West have a far less bad record than many entirely secular institutions in that regard.  While the churches are far from perfect and can be guilty of many things,  I think they are the target of a cowardly attempt to deflect blame where it really belongs in many cases.  That's certainly the case in the modern world in which the crimes and even alleged wrongs that can be attributed to religion are magnified a thousand times while those which corporations and governments commit are covered up in the frenzy.

There Is No Such Thing As Religion There Is No Such Thing As Science Making Universal Statements About Their Conflict Is Incoherent And Irrational

In the various pieces of babble about the latest Pew in the news story, I heard a lot of nonsense about what the Pew numbers were.  Of course the big claims are about how we are being de-religionized which is claimed as the great leap forward for atheism, though the numbers hardly show that.  One of my bigger conclusions is that despite the claim that the huge leap forward for atheism, going from 1.6% of the population in 2007's reporting to just barely breaking the 3% mark seven years later being due to increased science literacy, the claims of atheists show that a good number of the most ardent of those can't even read a survey report and get that right.

Everyone wants to be able to tie up all of these things in a tidy little package of slogans and aphorisms about which people can write things, say things in the media and online and make believe their tidy little factoids suffice to represent reality, when what those do is to distort reality which is not tidy, not reducible to aphorisms and slogans that can be moved around like Colorforms or building blocks to create a semblance of reality.  They aren't even like numbers you can put in in equations and come up with some hidden, inner reality.  But that will get me into the pseudo-scientific methods of sociology and polling and that's relevant but I don't have the time for it just now.  See, I can't do it either.

One of the things I heard was the Diane Rehm show on public radio, which, although it included some frustratingly wrong information, at least had representatives from Pew to report their report, along with other people.   I don't recall if it was some background to the Pew report or if it was from the NPR "poll" of its listeners which attributed a loss of religion to the contention that religion and science are incompatible.  If it was the NPR "data" that showed that, it was kind of a hoot since the NPR "poll" was a non-scientific, I'd say a totally anti-scientific "poll" of the type which is so often the target of organized trolling online.  As I recall the report of their "results" on the radio gave their response numbers of atheists at about ten times that of the Pew percentage of the general population.  Though I would never call any kind of opinion survey an application of science, I wondered what any kind of real life evidence there could be for that.

I wondered if there has ever been a comparison between the scores of standardized testing between religious schools and the general population and, as of this morning and a quick search, I found this National Center for Educational Statistics study of test scores which show that the results for all religious schools are not the same but that Catholic and Lutheran public schools have a significantly higher combined math score than the general public.

In the first set of analyses, all private schools were again compared to all public schools. The average private school mean mathematics score was 12.3 points higher than the average public school mean mathematics score, corresponding to an effect size of .38. After adjusting for selected student characteristics, the difference in means was nearly zero and not significant. In the second set, Catholic, Lutheran, and Conservative Christian schools were each compared to all public schools. While the results for Catholic schools, both with and without adjustments, were very similar to the corresponding results for all private schools, the results for the other two types differed.

The initial difference between Lutheran schools and all public schools was substantially larger (19.5 points) than was the case for all private schools. The average difference in adjusted mean mathematics scores between the two types of schools was 4.9 points and significantly different from zero. On the other hand, the initial difference between Conservative Christian schools and all public schools was substantially smaller (5.1 points) and not significant. The average difference in adjusted school means between Conservative Christian schools and all public schools was -7.6 points (i.e., a higher average school mean for public schools) and was significantly different from zero.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm only somewhat less skeptical about the use of standardized testing to measure actual competence than I am opinion polling to tell us anything, but if you're going to make assertions about the incompatibility of religion and science then you would expect there to be some indication of that incompatibility in such data.  I would guess that, while private schools are in varying ways not a representative sample of all students, some definitely selecting on the basis of behavior and perhaps intelligence, if that incompatibility were real it would tend to lessen the difference in that particular score.  If there would be a difference in scores of different topics in science might be interesting to know and I might get around to looking for those numbers, if they exist.

The undeniable fact is that a very large percentage of scientists are also real and at times active members of religions.   Some have written as much or more on religion as they have science, especially some of the greatest names of science in the past and even well into the allegedly atheist "Enlightenment" period.   Those people simply shouldn't have been able to exist, their religion would have had to damage the quality of their science if that kind of conflict were there.  Its obvious absence in the minds of those religious scientists must stand as definitive contradiction to the statement that "science refutes religion" or "religion conflicts with science".  The existence of those scientists and their science must stand as an absolute contradiction of those statements, science and religion exist in such proximity in no other place than in such minds, they would have to exhibit the war between the two in their lives.   Yet they don't.

But the commonly made assertion of atheists and others that "religion contradicts science" or "science refutes religion" is a statement that is too general to have any meaning.   In a very real sense, to talk generally about "science" as if it were a uniform, non-conflicting entity is clearly false.   Within any "branch of science" there are held theories that conflict and are incompatible.  The controversies, conflicts and intellectual wars within science disproves the idea that science at any given time is any one thing.  And what is true at any one time is even more true of "a science" in history as ideas that are held to be scientifically sound and true are over turned and abandoned or refuted.  So the statement "science conflicts with science" and "science refutes science" are indisputably true.

If you want to promote the idea that any intellectually respectable person will have to abandon religion because "science" and "religion" can be said to be in conflict and that "science refutes religion" anyone could use the conflict within science to denigrate and deny science.  Which, of course people do most dangerously in the denial of man made climate change, the destruction of the environment and even in the denial of the fact of evolution.  The motives of that denial are generally not honesty or a desire to know the truth but are economic and, especially in the United States,  the corporate media creating ideological and political divides through lying about science on behalf of rich people who are psychotically and pathologically more interested in amassing billions of dollars they can never spend on behalf of getting their own way even if it means the extinction of the human species and many if not all  of life on Earth.  And if you think that's an exaggeration, review how the freest of unrestrained media has done exactly what I just said it did as the plebs have been distracted by other diversions such as the war on religion, another phony and artificial conflict ginned up by ideologues more interested in getting their way than in pursuing the truth or accurate information.

What you can say about the falseness of  "science" as one thing about which you can make the most universal and firm statements is ever so much more false when you make firm and universal statements about "religion".   Religion is far more varied from top to bottom than science is.  Unlike science which is alleged to practice a uniform set of methods which are subject to rigorous review (an exaggerated ideal in practice) cannot be said of "religion" which is a word used to mash together "things" which conflict in every way.   The Roman Imperial, state religion certainly was not the same kind of "thing" as the religion of the Jews,  the material, all too human gods of Roman Imperialism, including actual, living people, were entirely different from the immaterial God worshiped by the Jews, their resulting moral teachings and practices were as different.  And they were different from the Greek religion with its gods far more similar and, in some cases, practically identical to the Roman gods.  And those religions were not like other religions.

 And what you can say about any one science having internal major differences is as true within any religion.   Even as theoretically unified a religion as Catholicism has major divisions within it and even among people who will insist that they are faithful members of the religion.  Today, as it can get you excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church for having anything to do with it, there are people who recognize the ordination of women as priests and bishops who refuse to  deny their Roman Catholicism.   While the comment thread at Youtubes will rail furiously against them, calling themselves Catholics, they're not going to stop doing so.  If the hierarchy of the all male clergy Catholic church will eventually come round to accepting the apostolic validity of their ordination is unknowable. The legitimacy of some popes in the past is still disputed and an open question, after all.

This post must seem rambling and messy and that is because the practice of assembling the universal entities "religion" and "science" in order to make generalized and often false statements about the two is a dishonest denial of massive complexity and frequently massive disparity.   To make the statements about the alleged conflict of science and religion is to practice a particularly false, vulgar and dishonest form of that reduction well past the point of absurdity. Yet that very practice is widely held to be a mark of sophistication and intellectual attainment.   Call it "sociology" or "theory", "modernism" "science", what it is is stupid, lazy, dishonest in both its practices and its motives and primitively and baldly based in ideological beliefs and preferences.   It is stupid and should be a mark of the stupidity of the people who do it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Thaw

I think I found why my computer was freezing, for some reason I activated a tool bar on Google that was put there by my malware protection software.   I took it off and, for now, things are working.   Apparently it's not an unknown reason for computer freezing.  And here I thought it was a virus I'd picked up in my researches when it was what was supposed to prevent that. 

We'll see if that was it. 

Pew's In the News

The Pew Research Center is getting itself in the news again and the reaction, mostly misrepresenting what the polling results say, is that claiming that Christianity is in a nose dive, falling 8% in the last seven years and the mighty atheist advance has gone from `1.6% of the population to just over 3%.  I don't have any idea why there might have been those results but I'd guess it might have something to do with two major pushes in pop culture over the past couple of decades, the nearly uniform presentation that defines Christianity as right-wing, fundamentalist or evangelical Christianity, disappearing liberal Christianity in the popular culture and a more recent push defining atheism as liberal and cool. That atheism has managed to increase so little with the effort  that has been building for about as long as the media's campaign to define Christianity as fundamentalism is, I'd think, not the good news for disbelief that is being reported and claimed all over.

While I'm a long standing skeptic of opinion polling and am entirely unimpressed with the reporting of the Pew results by those who claim their higher sciencyness - I am left with the conclusion that they often can't even read the reported percentages objectively or competently - I can think of a lot of reasons why membership in an organized religious denomination might be down.  One, which I actually heard speculated about by representatives of the Pew Research Center on the Diane Rehm show yestereday was the general decline in membership in many organizations, including secular ones.   People spend more of their time being entertained to death than in thinking seriously or doing important things.  I would like to see membership figures in atheist organizations as the atheist fad of the past decade declines.   While atheists have marketed the pious belief in their own intellectual superiority and a permission for atheists to have enhanced self-regard (something the born-again religious outlets also sell) that kind of thing gets old after a while.  It is also guaranteed to turn off most people, including anyone with a more realistic practice of self-reflection and self-questioning.

I think the idea that the atheist fad will take over from Christianity is unlikely, considering the situation in formerly atheist countries which had a far more extensive and aggressive campaign to wipe out religion for decades.  I will just about guarantee you that there are a lot more Christians in the Christian sections of the former Soviet Union than there are atheists.  Certainly more than are atheists and true believers in communism.  I believe it's Noam Chomsky who not long ago said the Communists didn't even believe in communism by the Brezhnev era.

One thing in the Pew report I found interesting is what it had to say about Catholics.

The new survey indicates there are about 51 million Catholic adults in the U.S. today, roughly 3 million fewer than in 2007. But taking margins of error into account, the decline in the number of Catholic adults could be as modest as 1 million.11 And, unlike Protestants, who have been decreasing as a share of the U.S. public for several decades, the Catholic share of the population has been relatively stable over the long term, according to a variety of other surveys.

That is the result a dozen years after one of the worst public relation disasters any religious denomination has suffered in the pedophile scandal and the drastic decline in numbers of parish priests, both resulting in the closing of large numbers of Catholic churches, often making it far harder for Catholics to go to mass at distant churches and a loss of a sense of local community.   I'd, frankly, have expected a far more drastic decline than that.  If, as I think the hierarchy will be forced to, the priesthood is opened to married men and the closings of parishes stops or is reversed, I'd expect some or all of that decline to end.

The extent to which liberal Protestantism has taken a hit is, I think, the extent to which liberalism has declined with the increase in secularism.  The decline of liberal Protestantism has occurred in a period in which the values and reforms which grew out of those traditions, especially the liberal Reform tradition have declined in politics and in society.  Which is catastrophic for the rights and lives of poor people and for others who will never have the economic power or media influence to change attitudes.  If gay men had not been perceived as being more white and affluent (neither of which is actually true) than the presented stereotype of poor people, the recent gains in civil rights for us would not have happened.   They also, and even more certainly, would not have happened without the active support and votes of liberal Protestants, not to mention liberal Catholics*.  I think that decline is a real sign of trouble for liberalism in the future.  If "liberalism" comes to mean the government not interfering in peoples sex lives and a prohibition on discrimination instead of an active, forceful societal and governmental program including economic justice it is effectively dead.  And there is nothing in the anti-religious "liberal" agenda that will do that effectively.

*  I got into an argument with a couple of anti-Catholic radicals-in-their-own-minds and asked them to name a leader of a major government in Europe or North America who was as economically radical as Pope Francis.  I can't think of one and neither of them could.  I dare to say that, at least in their pronouncements, both of the two recent arch conservative Popes were to the left of Barack Obama in economic issues.  Certainly to the left of the Prime Ministers of Canada and Britain (even to the left of Tony Blair, when it was him) and certainly to the left of Angela Merkel.   I wonder in the recent and ignominious defeat of Ed Miliband might not indicate that atheist liberalism lacks the energy to succeed even under favorable conditions.  I doubt atheism contains the force to power liberal political success.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Paul Elkins' Wonderful Inventions

I have got the opposite of wanderlust but once in a while I wish I could get used to sleeping where there is noise and bugs and not much between me and the thunder and lightening... OK, I'm scaring myself out of it.  

You might like watching Paul Elkins' great videos about his tiny, really, really tiny huts, small, vehicles and boats  and even his teeny-tiny survival kits much smaller than an Altoids tin. He's more the Burning Man type, not the prepper type.  But this one, a Coroplast (what they make campaign signs out of these days) streamlined bicycle camper is really tempting.

Even got the old campaign signs, saved up in case any of these guys run again. They don't know I took them from the ones they were sending to recycling so they won't be missed.  They'll probably change their campaign colors. .  I've even got the Reflextic aluminized bubble wrap insulation-light reflector.   I am really tempted to build one of these and take to the open road.  Or at least the tote road up to my garden in case I've got to discourage raccoon when my corn gets to the milk stage.  Maybe if I put a chicken wire fence around it to slow down bears.   I haven't seen the bears but I'm told there are some in the woods.  They come after my corn, they're welcome to it.

Hate Mail - Stupid and Dishonest

Actually, it was the blog atheists who blamed Dr. George Tiller for his murder by blaming his murder on Christians, indiscriminately.  That is his murder as he ushered at his Reformed Lutheran Church service.  

I gave up trying to figure if blog thread atheists were stupid or just entirely dishonest because people like you showed me that those weren't mutually exclusive but generally mutually reinforcing.  

Asserting that is relevant to my comments about Katha Pollitt's disgusting column praising those bigots who provoke murderous violence only adds weight to that observation.   Her column is like those websites that encouraged the atmosphere that led to deadly violence against Tiller and other abortion providers, only in Muslim majority countries, most likely and most predictably.  I'm sure she feels far safer sitting where she is than so many in so many other places. 
I'm having computer problems and may be out for a day or so or, in the mysterious ways of computers, maybe not.

I'm not dead.

Just in case anyone was getting their hopes up.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Harry Somers - String Quartet no. 3

Accordes String Quartet

Hate Mail 2: Redux

Leave it to my little off hand remark about the dear old commies of our childhood being liars to get the biggest reaction.  Well, they were lying about the Rosenbergs being innocent of trying to give Stalin the bomb.  What do you want me to do, pretend we don't know that now?    I don't care who else bought the lie back then, how otherwise admirable they were.  They were as duped as we all were or they were in on the lie.  The people who pushed that on us are a bunch of liars who never deserved our belief.  We know that now too.

Other than what you obviously consider the insignificant detail of the many tens of millions of people who were murdered under Communist governments, the hundreds of millions who were oppressed and at times enslaved by those governments, among the others damaged by them were those who could have benefited by reforms that were successfully prevented by those who created a false association with those and the red-fascist regimes.  Including many aspects of socialism.  Socialism, as an idea and a word is so damaged by that association that I don't think it can ever be used again.  Which is a genuine tragedy and a crime in itself.

You can leave that behind and go either the one baby-step from one form of despotism into  that advocated by the far right, as so many ardent Marxists have in the past, or you can leave it for a more genuine left that doesn't put a dictatorial, anti-democratic ideology before morality and democracy.  I exited to the left, buddy and am not at all sorry I did.  I only regret I wasted so much time on junk I should have seen through from the beginning.

"You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." William Randoph Hurst As The Model of Our Atheist Hatemongers

For someone who used to like reading her column in The Nation, I've got to say that Katha Pollitt has turned into a real asshole these days.  She's pushing the "blasphemy is good" line hard, no doubt hoping to raise her standing in organized atheism, clearly her planned retirement career as paid scribbling isn't as secure as it used to be.  She's pushing that in a couple of recent pieces, one last month and one this month that is behind a pay wall, its subtitle probably gives away her motives in all of this,

The Courage of ‘Charlie Hebdo’
The French magazine is blasphemous—and isn’t that an honorable thing to be?

I am sure in the bubble of the New York City scribbling class who are also prominent in anti-religious organizations, such as Pollitt, it is honored but considering the death toll of their publicity stunts you could only find it honorable if you truly didn't care about those people.  In the very apt analogy of Noam Chomsky, clearly for such writers as Katha Pollitt the people who die in the violence which is quite intentionally incited by such "honor" are like the ants you step on when you have to walk somewhere, only you can't help but having to walk and there is no need to intentionally incite murderous violence by drawing seriously unfunny cartoons to service the hate industry.

While her point that women in many Islamic countries are seriously oppressed is certainly valid in those countries - not nearly as true in all Islamic countries - I would really like to read the opinion of the majority of feminists in those countries as to whether or not what Pollitt is championing, such garbage as the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, are at all helpful in promoting rights of women in such countries.  I strongly suspect that such Western stunts by Western atheists is more likely to harden attitudes that will need to be softened to make any kind of progress for women.  Atheists who dream of weakening and overturning Islam are deluded, dreaming idiots.   Only I have come to see the effort that Pollitt is championing as more massively and coldly cynical, more like Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Midge Decter than Gloria Steinem and Shirley Chisholm.

If I were curious enough about her thinking I might go into her archive of columns and see if that kind of indifference to such lives wasn't evident in other ways, aside from the stupidly romantic view of Marxism well after body count from that ideology as lived in real life was in the tens of millions.   There was, actually, a big difference between those on the left who saw Marxism as honorable and good and desirable and those on the left who saw it as a fact of life which,  if we didn't want to be continually involved in ruinous wars and risking nuclear annihilation we had to live with, while being frequently appalled by the violence, the viciousness and the expansionist goals of communists.  It is rather telling that the post-communist atheist scribblers seem to be calling for policies not unlike those they opposed when it was the cold warriors promoting them in opposition to communism.  I will reserve the observations centered on the trust-fund Stalinist Corliss Lamont for now, though they are certainly apt and relevant.

It is telling that someone like Pollitt, who seems to consider herself as something of a red diaper baby, continued and perhaps continues to see communism as something to hope for in the future, even in the face of its massive violence, its inherently anti-democratic and oppressive features, whereas she is joining the atheist war on the billion and a half Muslims in the world, clearly praising the attempt of her fellow blasphemy fans to incite more violence so she can get more columns out of condemning it.   Whereas I wish I didn't have to talk about such stupid, puerile, corrupt and dishonorable scribblers at all, concentrating on problems that already exist instead of those which are invented by such folks so they can do what the commercial media does,  attract eyes so they can make money.

And at Salon, their resident exploding cesspool of hate, Jeffrey Tayler is doing his bit to fan the flames.  I won't give you a link, I have decided that I won't link to the really serious haters who clearly are deranged.   There is a level of irresponsibility that I won't encourage people to read.

Update:   Here's my response to Tayler's hate-feast at Salon.

If the more than a billion and a half people who are Muslims were reading those verses in the Quran in the way Jeffrey Tayler wants to pretend they must read them, the bloodshed would be thousands of times more than it is in the real world, outside of his febrile assertions.

Let me break this to you, Salon Hate Choir, a billion and a half Muslims don't care what you think but a sizable number of them will react if you intentionally insult Muhammad or depict Muhammad insultingly or kill their children or do any of a number of other acts.  AND YOU CAN'T MAKE THEM STOP DOING THAT BY DOING THAT.

It must feel really frustrating for you boys and girls that you can't just insist that they convert to atheism and have them go along with it, but that's never going to happen.  In the mean time it's for the adults among us to face reality and to try to repair the damage you insist on causing.

If you want to contain Islamic imperialism, a real problem caused by petro-billionaires wanting to impose their will on others - hardly a problem exclusive to Islam or other religions and almost always having an economic and egotistical motive - don't use so much oil.  Defund them. Though the atheists in places like China will be more than willing to make nice with the billionaires anywhere, absorbing a few inconveniences, such as funding for Islamic nationalist groups which they will put down in ways I imagine the Taylers and Mahers and Gellers here can only dream of.

The ideas in this piece are far more of a danger to egalitarian democracy here than mainstream Islam as practiced by most American Muslims who haven't been radicalized by being insulted and oppressed.

Update 2:  I should note that the overwhelming violence of the Islamic fundamentalist imperialism funded by petro-billionaires has been paid by Muslims in more moderate Muslim societies.  It is a mark of how cynical our foreign policy props up the elites that sponsor that imperialism based on business and economic interests.  There is some point to be made about us paying for the rope that is going to hang us, only it's more likley to hang people in less developed countries, many of them Muslims.   The extent to which Islamic fundamentalist killing is considered an acceptable price to do business can be seen in the Bush Crime Family invasion of Iraq when the enhancement of Islamist groups and movements resulting from it was one of the most certain costs of overturning Saddam Hussein.  The position of women in Iraq taking a drastic down turn was another of those predictable results.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Never worry about what people who won't read what you say think they're thinking about it.  

For People to Do Good Things, That Takes Religion

A while back I posed a problem for the materialistic model of the mind and our thoughts, how, unless an idea already was present in the brain, how would our brains know how to build whatever molecules or structures were required to comprise that idea as a physical structure in our brain.   That was only a shorthand version of the problem, it would still be there whatever the idea-structure proposed to comprise the material existence of an idea was.   How could the brain build exactly the right complex physical entity that would be the physical existence of a materialist idea without the idea actually being present in the brain to serve as a model or blueprint of the idea?   Though, if the statistics of my blog are correct I would guess several hundred people or more read that question but no one proposed an answer to the problem that would be consistent with a "brain-only" currently fashionable, materialist, "physicalist" or "naturalistic" explanation of our minds, our thoughts, our most basic and essentially experienced being and existence, the base from which we do every single thing we are capable of doing, including experiencing and observing the physical universe, thinking about it and coming up with any idea we might have, materialistic, idealistic, atheistic, religious, agnostically indifferent, frivolous or serious.

Our minds, the minds of other animals, consciousness, mental activity have always been the "hard problem" of materialism, I think, essentially for reasons like the one I posed, there is no way to make sense of our experience of thinking, especially in real time, in a material frame work.  The attempts of atheists to dispose of consciousness, other than being the supreme example of intellectual decadence, has had real life, political dangers because if you begin with a program of devaluing human minds, you inevitably start a program of devaluing human lives by turning people into objects.  Which does, actually, constitute a coherent universal explanation of the problem of evil as done by human beings to other human beings and, also, to all sentient creatures and life, in general.  There have never been a shortage of people who, no matter how fervently and readily they will firmly believe in some purportedly objective devaluation of other people, will exempt themselves and those they care about from their otherwise universal practice.  The practice of devaluing other people into less than human, less than deserving the full measure of our moral obligation is the origin of all human evil.


In reading around the web over my posts about Max Tegmark, I again came across a person who passes in sciency materialism today as an expert on issues of morality, "the question of evil", etc.  Steven Weinberg, who uses the existence of evil as one of the major planks in his personal war on religion.  In the first of the things I came across this weekend a Profile of Steven Weinberg from The End of Science, Scientific America's John Horgan says:

Weinberg was well aware that many people hungered for a different message from physics. In fact, earlier that day he had read in The New York Times that the physicist Paul Davies had received a million-dollar prize for work “advancing public understanding of God or spirituality.” Davies had written numerous books, notably The Mind of God, published in 1992, suggesting that the laws of physics reveal a plan underlying nature, a plan in which human consciousness may play a central role.

After telling me about Davies’s prize, Weinberg chuckled mirthlessly. “I was thinking of cabling Davies and saying, ‘Do you know of any organization that is willing to offer a million dollar prize for work showing that there is no divine plan?’”

In Dreams of a Final Theory, Weinberg had dealt rather harshly with all this talk of divine plans. He raised the embarrassing issue of human evil and suffering. What kind of plan is it that allows the Holocaust, and countless other evils, to happen? What kind of planner?

Many physicists, intoxicated by the power of their mathematical theories, have suggested that “God is a geometer.” Weinberg retorted, in effect, that if God is a geometer, then He is a cruel or callous geometer, and Weinberg wanted nothing to do with Him.

I asked Weinberg what gave him the fortitude to sustain such a bleak vision of the human condition. “I sort of enjoy my tragic view,” he replied with a little smile. “After all, which would you rather see, a tragedy or–” He hesitated, his smile fading. “Well, some people would prefer to see a comedy. But… I think the tragic view adds a certain dimension to life. Anyway, it’s the best we have.” He stared out his office window, brooding.

To the point, many atheist websites contain many quotes from Weinberg, some mentioning the Holocaust, for example there is this from the rather ironically named "Positive Atheism".

Religious people have grappled for millennia with the theodicy, the problem posed by the existence of suffering in a world that is supposed to be ruled by a good God. They have found ingenious solutions in terms of various supposed divine plans. I will not try to argue with these solutions, much less to add one of my own. Remembrance of the Holocaust leaves me unsympathetic to attempts to justify the ways of God to man. If there is a God that has special plans for humans, then He has taken very great pains to hide His concern for us. To me it would seem impolite if not impious to bother such a God with our prayers.
-- Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory

I have long thought that the physicist Steven Weinberg has been one of the more absurd figures to hold as an expert on questions of morality and to listen to on these issues, since his scientific specialty has done more than most to create weapons and to give people the potential to make the Holocaust look like a trial run for universal and instantaneous evil on a scale that would make every living being, with, perhaps a few exceptions, the victims of organized, scientific death.   He, in fact, while not mentioning, explicitly the role of his fellow scientists, many of them, in fact, atheists, in creating the nuclear threat to all of life on Earth, notes its existence in John Horgan's Scientific American interview with him.

But the money quote that atheists will ususally give, the obvious reason he is so beloved by atheists who otherwise know nothing about him, despite the obvious contradictions between his life, his science, and the line is, also from "Positive Atheism"

Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things -- that takes religion.

ell, obviously, in the case of nuclear weapons it took the work of a lot of atheists to do bad things.  Einstein, Oppenheimer, Teller, ...   In the case of the Soviet atomic and nuclear weapons system, it took the work of atheists giving one of the most massively evil regimes and men in history those weapons*, something which could also be said of Mao's weapons program and, I would imagine, that of the Kim regime in North Korea.  Though Kim had the help of a physicist who was prepared to sell the technology of mass murder for profit or to act as a broker, depending on who is explaining what happened. That is something I can't imagine the Muslim religion would countenance,  putting such weapons in the hands of atheists, leaving aside the disputed assertion that all nuclear weapons are banned by Islam.

But it is his comments linking the Holocaust to his arguments against God that are especially interesting to place beside Weinberg's more developed concept of morality.  In posts last year,  I went into what he said about morality during a session of Sean Carroll's "Moving Naturalism Forward" in which he stated that he was only really interested in the good of his family and his university department,  putting their welfare and even comfort before any moral obligation to others.  In short, Steven Weinberg's moral concern is related, entirely, to proximity of other people to himself, drawing a distinction between people close to him and all other people who he doesn't view as equally deserving his concern.

It may be unwelcomed or impolitic to say it but Weinberg's morality is exactly the same kind of moral frame that the Nazis gave for their policy of exterminating other, competing groups of people.   Jews, Poles, members of other minority groups, who were to be replaced by German People who required the space on Earth occupied by those competing people.   The policy of "Lebensraum,"  the policy of expanding the land base on which the German population could replace those who lived there, was central to the entire Nazi policy of mass murder of conquered people.  It was an extension of the circle of those who were close to the Nazi theorists and establishment based on national and ethnic identity, a wider circle than that which Weinberg explicitly states are the beneficiaries of his moral concern not based on universal equality and an equal right to the moral concern of others but based on personal identification with a group with superior claims on that moral concern.

In his explanation, on the video from Moving Naturalism, of how he adopted and give up different theories of morality, Weinberg notes that his final conclusions about radically restricted universes of moral concern are widely practiced in the human population.  I would agree that they are commonly, though not universally practiced.  Most people resist any impulse to extend their moral concern outside of their family circle and their larger circle with themselves at its center.  Which is among the most obvious reasons that people are treated unequally and exploited, used, used up and disposed of.

In fact, and in total contradiction of Steven Weinberg,  about the only reason that some people do try mightily to practice universal moral equality is, in fact, the religions that teach that.  As recently noted here, Marilynne Robinson identifies one of the major sources of that religious attempt at resisting human habits of selfishness in the Jewish Law as first given by Moses**.   It is certainly taught by Jesus as his universal moral concern, which is given in commandments, includes your enemies and those who persecute you, the hardest of his teachings include giving your money to those who won't give it back to you.  His very controversial teachings include the dissolution of familial obligations in favor of universalizing moral obligations, expressed in the most dramatic of terms, I suspect to emphasize just how radically different the morality Jesus taught was.   What is usually translated as a requirement to "hate" your closest family members (Luke 14:26) which, in a world saturated with exactly the kind of morality based in ego-centrism which Weinberg practices, must be about the most extreme opposite to it.

If Weinberg wants to know why the Holocaust could have happened if there is a God, he has his answer in his own moral discourse which is the same kind of morality as that which led to that mass murder.  He has the freedom to decide that for himself, other people had the same freedom to make the same kind of decision, that is why there was a Holocaust.  I don't hear him complaining about having that freedom of thought.  Anyone who through voluntary decisions of their own practiced the religious teachings of the two major prophets of Western religion, could not have produced mass murder such as the Holocaust.   Any society which practiced an unrestrained form of Weinberg's morality could, I think, hardly hope to avoid one.   I think that, given the ubiquity of Weinberg's morality, that it may have been due only to the inhibitions contained in the professed religions of people which prevented there from being more bloodshed.

The problem isn't that too many people are religious, it is that too few people are religious enough to overcome the natural tendencies of self-concern, self-interest and selfishness.  And, as even Weinberg says to his opponents in that circle of elite atheist thinkers, nothing in science will give you a durable reason for overcoming those.   The difference is that he rejects the one thing that can. Atheism has nothing in it that can do that.  For Weinberg to wallow in his dark vision of humanity is also his choice***.  It's not one that the human species can survive if too many people make it and actively work to dissuade people of the one thing that can, at times, resist it.   I am not one of those people who assert the moral equivalence of atheism, I suspect that any morality exhibited by atheists is a vestige of the moral teachings of religion retained by habit and mere inclination.  It's my observation of de-religionized families that you shouldn't expect it to persist more than a couple of generations, if that long.

*  I would suspect that the known nuclear spies who worked in the Manhattan Project were atheists, as all of them were, obviously,  Stalinists.   To be willing to give such weapons to someone whose record of mass murder was nothing to consider a minor detail apparently it didn't take religion.

**  The point which Robinson has been making, over and over again, in public for many years, that The Law of Moses included equal treatment for aliens living among the Israelites and an obvious concern for the lives and rights of other people, even Pagans, is in starkest contrast to the morality of those I'm examining here.

***   I asked Weinberg what gave him the fortitude to sustain such a bleak vision of the human condition. “I sort of enjoy my tragic view,” he replied with a little smile. “After all, which would you rather see, a tragedy or–” He hesitated, his smile fading. “Well, some people would prefer to see a comedy. But… I think the tragic view adds a certain dimension to life. Anyway, it’s the best we have.” He stared out his office window, brooding.

Update:  Hate Mail - No, we now know that the campaign to beatify Julius and Ethel Rosenberg was based on the lie that they were both innocent of trying to give Stalin the bomb years before he got it.   We now know that he certainly and she almost as certainly were, in fact, engaged in atomic espionage while he was employed by the government of the United States.   How that would differ from anyone who was trying to give Hitler the bomb is a matter of mere details.  And they were hardly the only Stalinists who were engaged in trying to give Stalin the bomb.

I know that's not what we were all told in the phony, pseudo-leftist folk lore we were brought up with but that happens to be only one of the many areas in which those dear old commies of our past lied to us, not what Woody would have alluded to in one of his movies.  Not that the fascists were telling the truth, ususally, but they did to the extent that they got the guilt of the Rosenbergs right.  They still shouldn't have been killed, THAT was a miscarriage of justice.  I know that's more nuanced than you're used to being but that's not my fault.

By the way, when I say "Hate Mail" most of it is actually in the form of rejected comments.  I stopped posting my e-mail address a long time ago, about the time I first started moderating comments.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Harry Somers - Symphony No.1

Canadian National Arts Centre Orchestra
Victor Fledbrill - Conductor

Harry Somers was a fine Canadian composer whose music should be played more often on this side of the border.

Tegmark Stubs a TOE

In thinking about, not the absurd ideas Max Tegmark is pushing about consciousness but about his idea that any form that can be mathematically calculated exists in the universe, that it is quite problematic for a lot of his fellow peddlers selling the line of naive materialism, some of them quite well known and working at similar academic institutions.

First is that I'd like to know, mathematics being at least effectively if not actually infinite, how that could achieve verification, there could always be a class of objects that could be calculated which could also not exist, especially in some as of yet unknown and unsuspected form of mathematical relationships.  It would seem to me that ultimate proof of such an idea would require a grand unified theory of mathematics and physics which would never be available.  Though I'd like an explanation of how you could get by that problem.  Even if, as I assume from reading various articles about Tegmark's ideas, he wants to get rid of the idea that mathematics is actually infinte, that still leaves the problem of it being effectively infinite as compared to the entire combined ability of human beings to reach the end of it, and not only us but, let me ask, if it surpasses the ability of all of the combined intelligence in the universe - which our full professors of physics and cosmology don't have and will certainly never have access to.*

The second problem is for that oh, so popular quest for a "theory of everything" within physics and cosmology if all something had to be to exist in the physical universe was to be calculable.  Doesn't the idea expand the problem of coming up with such a complete theory infinitely?   There would always be more forms, more relationships governing those forms, more aspects of those forms that would not be covered by existing theory, etc. ad infinitum.   I would think that the infinite vistas of complexity and detail that are implied by such a proposal would mean that the entirety of human knowledge about the physical universe is less than a drop in the bucket but also of negligible worth, if hankering after completeness is the Holy Grail being sought.   Yes, even that currently most popular item in the hazy reverence of the sci-rangers, the Higgs particle, and its epic of discovery is just  meh.

There is a story that after Thomas Aquinas finished his massive opus, the Summa Theologica  he had a mystical experience which led him to declare that all of his intellectual work was "as straw" compared to what he had experienced.   I, somehow, doubt that such questers as Sean Carroll and the such are going to be content to have their quest reduced to the same status.

*  Yesterday's posts were provoked by the exchange I had with some true believers (and I suspect employees of) the SETI hobby project and the study of "exo or astrobiology".   The blind and naive faith of the sci-rangers can be measured in direct proportion to the blind and naive denial that their faith is faith and, far more so than most of religion, based in wishful thinking.   I mean, there aren't any moral prohibitions on doing what you want to do and being selfish in the Church of Atheist Science.  Its prosperity gospel has less exigent demands than that of the most banal and repulsive TV peddler of the competing product.