Thursday, November 29, 2012
I follow internet memes with interest, which brought me to one concerning Insane Clown Posse's "Miracles". I'm not sure whether this is the worst thing they ever did, but if you've had the misfortune to catch their movie on cable, that's an open question.
Leaving aside the unlikely (though I think probably sincere) explanation that all their bloody, sex-filled, and otherwise nasty songs are just morality tales in disguise (It helps if you tell people first.), the problem many had with "Miracles" was its view on science.
It's not merely a matter of disagreement on controversial matters, they're relitigating a lot that science explains, saying they're miracles. It's a forceful kind of stuffing of the genie back in the bottle, and I don't think it works well, or does much good for people of faith.
Science works. It makes valid predictions about how the world behaves. It's conclusions are moderated by its methods, which keep it, and the people engaged in it, honest.
But what science says doesn't sit well with people. That's kind of inevitable, I'd think. First, there are truths in the world which don't accord with what we'd prefer to be, and second, it's the point of science to get us past our personal and social mental blocks to figure out the things whose nature doesn't lend itself to intuitive understanding. If everybody liked what science had to say, something would be wrong, because the truth is never absolutely popular.
However, the truth, while not as malleable to public opinion as other explanations and facts, is a much better guide to productive, functional choices, at least as far as the material world is concerned. You cannot ignore the way a material really functions under heat and stress, for example, and properly engineer, design, and understand the behavior of a jet engine.
Too many people live with the benefits of science, without the benefit of direct experience of how much work must be done to do science and engineering right. They assume it to be a static depository of knowledge, or some kind of social game of competing theories with no more validity than the choice of church you go to.
Let's go back to that jet engine, though. If you don't design that machine right, people die. Fan blades in the compressor break or soften under the heat and stress. Not just any theory will do, only one that yields a proper conclusion. There's more at work in the sciences than some sort of scientific popularity contest.
The tentativeness of results has been misrepresented by the press and by the theologists of the right wing as a sign of science's unreliability. In all actuality, it is a sign of the process that makes it reliable. A theory or result that cannot be questioned isn't scientific. Science is a dynamic process, so we must embrace a process of paradoxical trust in results that may turn out to be false later. How is that different from faith? It's different because there are processes there to improve the results. As human beings we start from imperfect knowledge and understanding, so we'll never start a scientific research effort with anything or everything absolutely right, but we have the substantive means in our grasp to improve our understanding.
Faith, though, requires that we admit that proof in this world will not suffice, will never suffice, to allow us any kind of certainty based on the evidence. Even in the world of Ancient Palestine, Jesus of Nazareth and Paul of Tarsus had to counsel their followers on the need to trust in things unseen. He acknowledged Thomas's literal good faith response when he saw and believed (He could have doubted still!), but Jesus emphasized that you were more blessed for having not seen, yet still believed.
Religion is not about testable conclusions. Some parts of it deal in the cosmos, and those put religion, in terms of modern science, in a tight spot. The world is demonstrably different from what those myths and legends allege, and since these schemas are often important to the worldview that builds the other parts of the religion, there's a bit of a problem there.
If we proceed from the conclusion that the authors of our scriptures were omniscient, or being patched directly into the omniscience of God, if we proceed from the assumption that the ancients knew better, then this is a deal-breaker for any and all scientific inquiry.
What if they didn't, though? I would much rather believe that the authors of the books of the bible were ignorant or limited in their understanding than believe that of God.
The uncomfortable place this puts me is that I end up having to use my judgment on what parts are from God, and what parts aren't, and I wouldn't pretend this is an easy kind of call to make.
Others would counsel that every word be taken at face value. That's their right. The problem it presents is that such a view pits religion against science where science has the advantage, and where religion must reject even the most plainly provable statements of scientific fact. What comes of that rejection, in a practical sense? My thing is, I don't see a way for religion to escape the eventual consequences of that rejection, to avoid losing credibility on account of false and ridiculous beliefs about the way the world works. Science does a better job of defending it's premises in the long run. If people see people happier and healthier without God, that will do much to undermine the promotion of the faith.
Fundamentalism, the main philosophy behind this approach, grew out of a desire to have religion be every bit as rigorously argued as science, only done on the basis of scripture rather than the principles of material science. It has its charms, as it quells a lot of the queasy problems that the discrepancies between the bible and science produce, and you can believe as strongly as you would like, the stronger the better.
But science has independent verifiability, and that will eventually persuade more people, especially as the men and women who promote religion let them down, prove that even their belief and understanding is flawed. The problem with modern fundamentalism and religious conservatism is that they have no room for human error. The authorities, who insist they are not mistaken, don't even fully buy into their own principles, don't even fully express their own laws. When the Catholic Church is seen protecting pedophile priests, whether they like it or not, they lose some of their credibility with the population on sexual morality. How can they claim to be good shepherds when they sent the wolves elsewhere, where they could act as predators among a new flock?
The doubts of a new generation have been sown deep. They don't trust the scribes and authorities of this day. Some have even lost faith in God and other things entirely. Believe me, being agnostic or atheist is an easier and more relaxed existence. If people are lead to believe God is intolerant and unforgiving, if it seems like He is less enlightened than modern society and its triumphs over bigotry, they will choose to view the world through that lens, and be happier.
I would say, and some might disagree with this, that they are happier because they are rejecting a false God, or a false representation of Him, one built on the authority of those who are afraid of change, and want to use the scripture to that end. In the process of trying to halt what they see as dangerous developments in society, these folks have neglected a whole host of principles and discussions that didn't pertain to hot-button issues like Abortion and Homosexuality. They took sides in a political battle and got caught up in worldly matters where what was important was what tore people apart, not brought them together.
As the Republicans, political conservatives, and religious conservatives found out in the recent election, Democrats, liberals, and secularists are not the only ones vulnerable to wedges. Divisive tactics are a double edged sword, and the blade can cut the wielder even as it wounds its victim.
What would I say? Humbly offered, I'd say we need to reconcile both worlds. Religion isn't primarily about explaining the world, it's primarily about dealing with human behavior, and our relationship to the universe. It's not a club for the well, it's a clinic for those with the common human condition: we are ignorant, we are emotional creatures that do not always make wise or rational choices, we can celebrate our own wealth and full bellies while others starve in poverty. Religion's best use is not in self-glorification, or reinforcing one's impressions about the world or oneself.
More and more, it's evolved into being about facing the uncomfortable truths about ourselves and transcending them. And there it seems to have something in common with Science. Religion is one way in which we deal with our flawed human chraracter, our flawed relationships with each other, science is another. Stephen Gould's term was non-overlapping magisterium, but I'd simply say that mankind needs all the help it can get.
What we need to look out for, to oversimplify a great, big complicated problem of religion, is when and how that help stops being any help at all, or where science can't advise us on what choice to make in the new world it creates, only what our choices are.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Even if its not the most popular film, you'll be doing yourself a favor. You'll be like one of those people who saw Blade Runner when it first came out, rather than waiting until critical opinion or pop culture began recalling it on the merits, rather than simply reporting the financial underperformance. I have my doubts that John Carter won't break even. Even the worst crap eventually breaks even under the financial system Hollywood runs. Let me tell you, though, this film will have a long time to go before it's ever forgotten.
Monday, March 05, 2012
I sort of agree here. To me, the Metro desktop and setup looks fine, and the idea of integrating OSes for both devices seems like a good idea, but I think on desktop PCs, people should have the option to tune their experience- that is, more towards a desktop-like set up if they've got a more traditional set up, more towards the tablet style when they have touch interfaces.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Here's the thing I notice here: look how much time is spent distracting you from actually directly interacting with him. You might have some nice little AI tricks regarding him noticing or taking interests with things you do, but you only get real interaction after having been narratively tunnelled into a certain conversation that has certain social expectations attached to it
But I do have to say it's a neat trick. But is it going to seem all that neat as others develop this kind of interaction more extensively?
Or does the blogwriter program just screw things up when it deals with embedded video?
Friday, June 17, 2011
Just trying to see how this works on my blog, You know how it goes. The same old story with all the fun and glory. This could make it easier for me to just sit down and write more of these entries. There’s a lot that’s interesting in the world.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
What strikes me about this story is that despite the prestige in the media about it, the means by which it were done were not especially exotic, and the vulnerabilities it exploited were not especially unknown. In fact, they were pretty basic!
If there's a comment to be made from my end of subject, it's a cognitive one. The thing about passwords is that the truly unpredictable ones, the ones that are all surprise information, which can't be guessed from the other side from other info, are also the most difficult to remember. Meaningful information is both memorable and recoverable by others by logic and detective work for the same reasons.