Uncommon Sense

April 15, 2022

What American Conservatives See

Filed under: Culture,language,Politics,Race,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:18 am
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American conservatives are flocking to demagogues because of what they see happening to their country. They say:

  • Their religion is under attack! Atheists and secularists taking away their religion.
    • Politicians taking their tax monies and giving it away to the unworthy.
    • The American (aka Christian) family is under attack! What if you have a transgender kid and they can’t carry on the family name, etc.
    • Schools curricula emphasize the theory of evolution over the Bible, and CRT, slavery years over patriotic education.
    • The American (aka Christian) family is under attack! Gay marriages, etc.
    • Cancel culture is attacking the core institutions of our lives.
  • Liberals/Democrats stole the last presidential election!

And, well, they aren’t exactly wrong . . . but they are being played. Let’s unpack a few of these, shall we?

  • Their religion is under attack! Atheists and secularists taking away their religion. Unfortunately they are mistaking shooting themselves in the foot for unfriendly fire. The reasons they are losing meat in the seats is their corruption and unwelcoming nature which offends the young they so desperately are trying to attract.
  • Politicians taking their tax monies and giving it away to the unworthy. Welfare is destroying this country! Actually, the shrunken “welfare state” is still but a tiny fraction of the governmental expenditures on corporate welfare. Plus, when people use the phrase “the unworthy” in this context they usually mean Black and Brown people. The majority of welfare moneys in this country are spent upon white people (the bulk of SSA payments go to old white ladies, for example).
  • The American (aka Christian) family is under attack! What if you have a transgender kid and they can’t carry on the family name, etc. This is a classic fear born reaction to any social outcaste coming out of the closet. Predictions about the dire consequences if Black men were allowed to vote, women were allowed to vote, women to be members of the armed forces, gay people to be married, women to run marathons, etc. were numerous and . . . unfounded.
  • School curricula emphasize the theory of evolution over the Bible, and CRT, slavery years over patriotic education. As a matter of fact CRT is only taught in some law schools, so it is not being taught in “their schools,” but the theory of evolution is being taught in Biology classes, where it belongs. The Bible is taught in comparative religion classes, which many schools don’t have because parents haven’t asked for them. (Classes on strictly the Bible violate the First Amendment to the Constitution, so schools cannot offer those, unless they are a private, non tax-supported religious schools, then they are perfectly legal.)
  • The American (aka Christian) family is under attack! It is claimed that same sex marriage, pre-marital sex, and contraception are weapons being deployed against the American family. Actually, none of these are being forced upon families and most families are completely unaffected by such things. And one cannot help but notice that the Bible Belt states have the highest unwed mother birth rates in the country.

And, well, they aren’t exactly wrong . . . but they are being played.

  • Cancel culture is attacking the core institutions of our lives. (Unfortunately cancel culture was enshrined in the Bible and is one of the favorite weapons of the religious, They are objecting to it being used against them instead of by them. They are perfectly happy when their opponents get canceled and outraged when their supporters get canceled.
  • Liberals/Democrats stole the last presidential election! Some many dead people in Georgia voted for Biden to swing the state. And all of those phony votes change our congressional elections, too. Wait, they didn’t? So, they voted for Biden, but no other Democrats? Strange.

* * *

I remember, back when I was still watching TV news, a story about a bus accident in India in which some number of students were killed. I don’t remember the number. And then I was struck with the thought “Why is this news . . . here?” I could understand that it would be news, probably local news in India, but why here? The odds that any listener would have a relative or a friend on the bus had to be close to zero (very close). And I don’t think there was a school bus safety standards issue, since I can’t imagine their school bus standards and ours are aligned. The only thing I could figure was the propensity for “news organizations” to follow the rule “if it bleeds, it leads” when it comes to news. And if there isn’t any bleeding closer, then faraway bleeding will have to do.

Shortly thereafter, I stopped watching TV news. (I still watched TV political commentary, but MSNBC’s coverage of the 2016 presidential election cured me of that.) My point was “Why am I importing misery, negativity, etc? When I stopped watching TV news shows, I noticed, almost immediately, that I wasn’t seeing anything like the events they had been feeding me. For example, I now live in Chicago and while the news was raving on and on about the murder outbreak in my city, I hadn’t seen a single dead body, nor heard a single gun shot. (Oh, I did see one dead body, but it was washed up on our adjacent beach, it was someone who fell off of a boat and drowned.) Yes, I understand such things are concentrated in “certain neighborhoods,” neighborhoods in which gang activity is rampant, and I do know that there are such neighborhoods close by and I appreciate the fact that my partner volunteered in one of those, but the level of concern generated by the “news” programs was much greater than that generated by newspapers and neighborhood gossip.

The creators of the Fox News channel recognized this effect: that if properly staged, the news can be a powerful tool for generating fear and that fear can be turned into a political weapon.

And, as another example, would die hard Christians even notice that “atheists” were undermining American’s belief in God? How many of them actually have spoken with an acknowledged atheist? If you look at online sites, you can find sites devoted to atheism, but you have to look for them, they aren’t being pushed to the fore, that is they aren’t being promoted greatly. On one site, Quora, a question and answer site, I see a great many atheists responding to questions. Virtually all of those questions come from theists (in the U.S. that means mostly Christians) and they come in great numbers. If those Christians weren’t asking those questions (mostly “gotcha-type” questions, that have been answered decades if not centuries ago) there would be hundreds of thousands fewer atheist statements on that site. The zeal of those “Christians” is producing exactly the effect they do not want.

What Christians are actually noticing is that the number of people in the pews is diminishing. In many churches the “oldsters” and “youngsters” are so at odds that they are given separate Sunday services. The oldsters cannot stand that modern church music (Electric guitars, for Pete’s sake!) and the youngsters cannot stand the old folk’s boring services with droning music. One would think that this real, noticeable effect would generate some introspection and an attempt to bolster the desirability of church attendance. But the churches don’t stand a chance because the political hate machine which is Fox News was declared at top volume that there is a War on Christianity. They even took images from the Near East where there is actual religious warfare and used them to illustrate that here in the U.S. Christianity is under attack, from atheists! Right here in River City!

We need what used to be called a “voice of reason” right now to lower the temperature of our political and religious discourse, but Fox News and right-wing extremist organizations have waged a war upon reason. So, apparently what we need now is a “Voice of Sanity.” Any suggestions as to who could fill this void?

March 31, 2022

The Holy Bible Is the Word of God . . . Not

In my last post I argued that Jesus was not part of any godhead, if he was real or not. And I am prepared for all of the counter-arguments that might be offered, e.g. we cannot understand God’s will, our minds are too feeble. Answer: Why would an all-powerful entity create an entire species of sentient creatures which couldn’t understand it, at least on some fundamental level. What they would be worshiping would be a distortion of the actual god. Making a sentient species that could not understand the creator god or its plans is not the behavior of an all-knowing, all-powerful god. This is simply human excuse making.

In this post, I wish to also discredit the dogma that the holy Bible is the explicit word of this god. Let’s unpack that claim.

Since this god is capable of, should it desire to do so, placing the exact words it wants written into the mind of a scribe and then have that scribe write exactly what it wished, meat puppet style? Clearly the capability exists and clearly this did not happen. We know this did not happen because the Bible was written over centuries of time. Since this god is all-knowing, it would know what needed to be written instantly and would have had that done, so when those scriptures were needed by the puny humans, they would be at hand. In addition, we know the Bible had many authors. No, not because we have examined the original manuscripts and noticed all of the different handwritings. (This would be irrelevant if Yahweh were using the meat-puppet technique as I am sure he would use up quite a few scribes in the process. Plus you do know, do you not, that none of the original manuscripts have ever been found, yes? None.) We know that the Bible had many authors because of the styles of writing, the words employed, the sentence structures, etc. Just as you may have favorite authors, because you like their style, story telling techniques, etc. so these authors become fairly easily recognized, should you study them deeply enough.

Well, Yahweh didn’t use the meat-puppet technique then, you claim. Okay, let us say that that was not done, that the exact words were not dictated to the scribes doing the writing. So, those writers must have been “inspired” to write their bits. The word “inspire” means to “breathe in.” So, just as a fiction writer mulls over a story their head and then just starts writing, not quite sure how it will go (often enough the characters guide us, believe it or not). But what about quality control? What if the dividing lines between inspired story lines and scribal/priestly imagination are not all that sharp? That means that some of the words were inspired by Yahweh and some were inspired by the author’s imagination. How are we to tell the difference between scriptures that are truly inspired and scriptures that are merely invented? The simple answer is that we would not be able to.

And then, consequently when copies of documents were made and people, as is their want, forged some new documents, how could we tell? The answer is we cannot. But there is a simple test. Find a list of the 600+ commandments of Yahweh to his chosen people (You really didn’t think there were just ten, did you no?), pick one and ask yourself this question: “Is this something an all-knowing, all-powerful god would be interested in?” For example, there is a commandment to not create clothing in which two different kinds of material were woven together (e.g. linen and wool, Leviticus 19:19). This is obviously not a moral law, but more likely it “protects” the sacredness of the ephod of the high priest which was made of linen and dyed thread (Exodus 28:6–839:4–5). The dyed thread would have been made of wool. The ephod of the high priest was the only garment that could be woven of linen and wool. No one else was allowed to have such a garment. Now, does this sound like something an all-knowing, all-powerful god would be interested in legislating or is this something you think some priest made up? In many, many cases it is clear to see that some priest made up some rule and, to make sure it got followed, it was slipped into “holy scripture.” It is possible that the priests, who saw themselves as political leaders as well as religious leaders made up their stupid rules because that’s what leaders do and later on they became scriptures, which is kind of innocent on their part . . . or they may have inserted their rules into scripture just because they had the power to do so, which is not all that innocent. (I am reminded of the finding of the “document”–probably the book of Leviticus–after the “Return” by the high priest. This was “identified by the High Priest as a very holy book and it was read out loud to the populace of Jerusalem. Seems a bit suspicious to me, especially as it laid out priestly powers and responsibilities.)

How about “You are not to boil a young animal in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19)? Is this something an all-knowing, all-powerful god would be interested in? No? One suggestion for this prohibition was that the local gentiles in the area considered that a delicacy. By prohibiting that, the scribes/priests were trying to create laws to stop Jewish assimilation into those other cultures. It is not that these “commandments” do not have reasons, even some very good reasons, behind them, but are those reasons god sourced? Many, many people say they are. The brains god supposedly gave you say many aren’t.

The Bible is scripture for myriad religions and sects (even Mormons!) but the word of god? No one would come to that conclusion other than by taking someone else’s word for it. And, really, what do they know?

Addendum So, what would be the behavior of such an entity (all-powerful, all-knowing, all-etc.) at that time? Well, from scripture we know that Yahweh could create stone tablets with writing on them. (Because we know that Moses didn’t create them—Pop Quiz What was Moses’ occupation?) So, let’s say there is a fundamental message that Yahweh wanted to get to all people, maybe “The End is nigh.” In a prominent place (some voted for the Moon, but I think not), say a side of a mountain, a beam of immense power comes from “the Heavens” and slices off a mountainside creating a smooth surface. Then the beam plays back and forth over that surface, spelling out “I am the Lord God, and the End is nigh! Repent!” in immense letters readable from miles away. The beam then winks out. This takes some time, it doesn’t just pop up overnight and its creation is in plain view of many people, who see the words being formed. Miraculously the people reading the message say it is in Hebrew, others say, “No, it is Greek,” and still others say, “But it is Aramaic.” To get full coverage (the news is slower than gossip at this point in time), this action is repeated near every major population center world wide. Now that would be an action unmistakably attributable to an all-powerful, all-knowing god. There would still be skeptics (we are talking about human beings here) but they would be few in number.

March 24, 2022

Why Do So Many Kids Hate to Read?

Filed under: Culture,Education,language,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 10:55 am

There are, and have always been, people who do not like to read. From things I have read it seems that their numbers are increasing as a fraction of all of us.

There is a societal aspect to this. There are parents who read to their children all of the time and then acquire them “pablum” books to read themselves. There are also parents who have next to no books in their houses and do not read to their children. I presume this has an effect upon children raised in such households.

Sadly, many kids learn to hate reading for the simple fact that they were never given anything interesting to read. Most school books are painful to read and have been so mangled by reading level sweeps and censorship sweeps, as to be incoherent. (They may be “New” but they certainly aren’t “Improved.”)

I think another major factor is imagination. Before TV and video and the Internet, people told stores and, later read stories. As the words tumbled by our imaginations gave life to the dragons, and knights in shining armor, and brave princesses.

Most of you do not remember life before TV, but I was born in 1946 and we got our first TV in 1953, So, I was part of a household that listened to the radio. It was similar to being read to or a story being told and our imaginations did the heavy lifting. (Going to “the movies” was an infrequent thing at the time.) But soon came TV/video/Internet and our imaginations were required less and less.

My guess is that children raised with “handheld devices” constantly available will find reading laborious and somewhat colorless, compared to the whiz-bang visual extravaganzas available to them in vast quantities.

For those who eschew reading, a connection with the past is lost. You can read a writer’s thoughts directly and there is little translation. If you have to wait for the movie or mini-series to come out, you will be getting a treatment one or more steps removed from the original. (Anyone who loved J.R.R. Tolkien’s books was not entirely happy with the movie adaptations.) It is somewhat like reading something translated from another language. Some nuances will be lost. Scholars wishing to seriously study historical documents, for example, learn the languages they were written in so that such translating problems are minimized.

If you have a child who despises reading, a last gasp attempt to show the value to him/her may be as simple as when your child expresses a love for any topic (and I mean any) give them a gift of a good, easy to read book on that topic. It may encourage further explorations.

November 9, 2021

The Anti-Intellectual God

Filed under: language,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:56 am
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If you believe that the Christian god gave you brains, it seems clear that he doesn’t want you to use them.

Consider, for example, the story of the Tower of Babel. There are fundamental problems with this story. Again, for example, the Tower was built by Noah’s great-grandson. If you will recall, when Noah survived the Great Flood, there were exactly eight human beings alive. By the time of Noah’s great grandson, there could be at most a couple of hundred able-bodied men capable of doing hard manual labor (and that is being generous). Yet, Noah’s great-grandson is given credit for building several “great cities” as well as said Tower.

Setting aside those irregularities for a moment, let us consider Yahweh’s role in this story. The storyline is that the Tower was being built to be so high that it could reach the Heavens. The building techniques of the day hardly allowed for three or four story high buildings, let alone one hundreds or thousands of stories high. Even if well-dressed stone was being used, there is a limit to the height building you can build using stone walls. (Modern skyscrapers use most often steel framing with stone being used as a wall dressing, if at all.)

But Yahweh didn’t like his creations building in His neighborhood, so he confounded the builders by magically making them speak in different tongues, which meant they could no longer cooperate (translators hadn’t been developed yet, don’t you see) and the project stalled and fell apart. This, apparently, is the Biblical explanation for why so many languages exist.

Let’s take a step back, maybe more than one. (“Back, back, back. . . ,”  Thank you Mr. Berman.)

The Biblical view of the heavens (there are more than one, people, pay attention) is that they extend out as far as the Moon. Consequently, Yahweh’s concern that the Tower would be built to reach even the lowest Heaven, makes him an all-knowing idiot.

Now, as to stopping the project, what would you expect an all-powerful entity to do? Maybe, the clouds would part over the Tower and then trumpets would blow and a mighty voice would proclaim ‘Stop this project or suffer the consequences!” That should do the trick, don’t you think? Or maybe a Monty Python-esque hand could descend from the clouds and with a mighty finger flick destroy the tower already built. That people would pay attention to, no? But a confounding of people’s languages, so they could no longer cooperate, now that is a devastating blow against the entire very social species.

This was not the first indicator that this god didn’t want you to use the brains he supposedly gave you. Right in Genesis, Yahweh punishes Adam and Eve and, by extension, the entire human race, for learning the difference between right and wrong. First he forbade them learning about these things, then he righteously(?) punished them and their unborn children for learning this anyway. Then the churches built for this god have the audacity to claim that this god is the source of all ethics and morality! No, it is not. The damned Tree was. We learned from the Tree what was right and what was wrong. The rest is just window dressing.

Over and over in the Bible, people are punished for thinking on their own. Yahweh’s commandments, interpreted by Paul invents thought crimes, meaning you can actually disobey this god, and go to Hell, for thinking about doing something wrong. Should not an all-loving god distinguish between having thoughts and acting upon them? Didn’t this god understand how brains functioned, by providing thoughts in anticipation of events and the ability to decide which to act upon and which not to?

This should hardly come as a surprise as obedience to the will of this god is the primary subject of the scriptures considered holy in these religions. And Jesus didn’t change that at all. His #1 commandment was to love his god, and how does one show his love of that god? By obeying His commandments.

Poor Jesus’s message got hijacked, primarily by his “friend” Paul. Jesus wanted us to repent and become honest god-followers, obeying the rules laid down. (He and John the Baptist were related, don’t you know.) This was important, very important, because the “end was near” so to speak. Paul on the other hand decided that that was not the path to salvation (I mean, what did Jesus know, really?) and the real path was to accept Jesus into your heart as your lord and master. Paul was preaching a completely different sort of salvation, one still steeped in obedience, but one much easier to do. You don’t have to follow all of those pesky rules. What a bother, especially the male genital mutilation part. Just believe and you are saved, easy peasy.

Obedience is the watch word and all of that thinking, well just try to avoid it and all will be well. And there will be no question period at the end of sermons, because . . . just because.

October 19, 2021

Dollars to Donuts

Filed under: Culture,Economics,language — Steve Ruis @ 7:32 am

There is a phrase old people use . . . “I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that. . . .” Only old people use this phrase because it is a confidence statement, making a bet where on one one side you are putting up dollars and on the other they are putting up donuts. This was, of course, back in the day when a donut was 10¢ or less.

Now that donuts are close to a dollar a piece, this is not such a daring bet.

Who says inflation has no lasting effects?

July 4, 2021

The Word: One of a Kind

Filed under: language — Steve Ruis @ 11:04 am
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When I say to you “you are one of a kind” what do you think I am saying? Apparently most people think that I am telling you that you are unique. Actually, I am saying you are common. “I know your ilk” “You are one of those.”

The phrase people should be using when wanting to imply uniqueness is “only one of your kind.” This claims that you are singular, the only one of your kind in existence.

In English we have this regrettable habit of condensing phrases and sayings until they mean something quite the opposite.. One that comes to mind is “he fell head over heels.” Mostly, except when I am sleeping, my head is over my heels.

Know what I mean?

May 5, 2021

We Already Have a Word for It

Filed under: Culture,History,language — Steve Ruis @ 8:14 am
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Breaking News! Breaking News!

Napoleon had flaws!

The Guardian ran a recent article regarding the bicentennial anniversary of Napoleon’s death.

“France Still Split Over Napoleon As It Marks Bicentenary of Death, subtitled “President to tread fine line as he lays a wreath to ‘commemorate rather than celebrate’ anniversary.”

“Élisabeth Moreno, the equality minister, admitted Napoleon was “a great figure in French history” but added he was also “one of the great misogynists.”

Egad, mon dieu, say it is not so! Napoleon, a misogynist? Horreurs!

But look, we already have a term for this behavior and all of the others  we “discover” in our histories; they are called “normal.” The word normal has a certain connotation, so here is a definition: “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” So, if we look at the antebellum South in the U.S. we would expect to find racist bias against black people because that was normal for that time. All around the world, women have been amongst the last “minorities” to receive the right to vote. So, gosh, do you think misogyny was not normal prior to and during those efforts?

Some positively faint to discover that Mark Twain used the “N-word” in his writing, as if that were not normal and Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, was crusading for the use of that word.

If we purge history of all of these flaws, what would be left? I think what you have would be akin to the “redacted” government documents that the government did not want to release in all current entertainments: a document that is black bars and almost nothing but black bars obscuring the text beneath.

Don’t you think that people, reading books set in older times, would discover the N-word, and recognize that word is no longer in use and that there is a reason it is no longer in use? Don’t we think that will be instructive? Or would it be preferable that the entire history surrounding the use of that word be blocked off so that no one would or even could be acquainted with it?

I think we all recognize that common sense is not at all common, but I think we need to create a new category to place some of this past washing efforts into: common stupidity.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

May 3, 2021

The “New” Left

Filed under: Culture,History,language,Politics,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 11:03 am
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In today’s post on the Dead Wild Roses blog, The Arborist, wrote:

“When I came back to Canada in 2014 . . . I left a culture that was steeped in a sentiment that could be summed up as, ‘I may disagree with what you say, but I respect your right to say it.’ I returned to a culture summarized by, ‘I disagree with what you say, so shut up.’ (Obaid Omer)”

“Quashing debate and argument seems to be the name of the game these days, as certain opinions have been designated as unapproachable or ‘settled’ topics. In a society that values the free exchange of ideas almost everything has to be on the table. Odious free-speech must be protected along with the prosaically milquetoast free speech.”

You do follow Arb’s blog, no? If not, you are missing some very good stuff.

Back to my main topic: I have seen comments about how intolerant the left has become and yada, yada, yada and I wondered what the source of these comments were. (I suspect they are from conservative spinmeisters.) Liberal dogma throughout my life has defended the right of those we abhor to speak, but is this changing? Certainly there isn’t much person-to-person public discourse going on during this pandemic, so much of this must be second hand.

I tend to think the anonymity of the Internet is a player once again. Back when discussions were face-to-face, if one said something despicable, there were immediate responses, most unpleasant. We had got to the point that outright racist comments were rare as the consequences were too dire.

But now, if you read something you disagree with, you can flame the author using language you would not get away with out in the open. And the discourse level is often set by the most vociferous.

I think we are still adjusting to social changes such as Internet communication. I remember when “cancel culture” was a feature of the right: book burnings, rock ‘n’ roll record burnings, boycotts against celebrities who took unpopular political stands (Jane Fonda, perhaps, is a good example), etc. The left didn’t do this so much. Now that some of the more liberal bent are using the same tool as the right previously used, the professional whiny bitch conservatives are decrying the “cancel culture” as if it were just invented. (They hate a level playing field, so when a field is leveled, they pivot ninety degrees.)

So, “cancel culture” is not even a thing, certainly not a new thing. It is just us expressing our opinion about another’s speech. In the old days, you got to direct it face-to-face and then through gossip. Today you can marshal many thousands of people’s efforts almost instantaneously.

What we will come up with to rein in this overly exuberant behavior I do not foresee but there will be something. There always is.

It Says So Right on the Label

Filed under: History,language,Medicine,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:00 am
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I was reading the label of an over the counter (OTC) medicine and right on the front it said “No Artificial Sweeteners” and “Contains 44% Xylitol.” Not being a chemist, you might not be confused here.

Xylitol is produced from xylose, a naturally occurring sugar, by both chemical and biological methods. In the chemical process, catalytic hydrogenation of xylose produces the sugar substitute xylitol. In the biological process, quite a few chemical “pretreatments” are needed before biological action (via bacteria or yeast) creates the desired product.

The distinction here between “artificial sweetener” and “xylitol” is “wafer thin” (“Waffer thin” as pronounced by John Cleese in the Monty Python masterpiece “The Meaning of Life.”)

The difficulty is due only to advertising, which is a form of propaganda (which it was called pre-WW2, then propaganda became a “dirty” word). In advertiser lingo there are “bad” words and “good” words. Only “good” words are to be used with one’s own products and only “bad” words are to be used with other products.

For example, here are some “good” words: natural and all-natural, fresh, wholesome, etc. And here are some “bad” words: artificial, synthetic, chemical, etc.

In the above instance xylitol can be found in nature, but it is hard to harvest, so it is synthesized chemically or biologically. Yep, xylitol (chemical names are not capitalized, btw) is artificial (the xylitol they put in that bottle certainly was anyway).

Now, before you go bonkers on me, do realize that butter is artificial. What? Butter isn’t natural? Nope, butter is not natural, certainly not “all-natural.” You can not go pick a pat or two off of a butter bush out back, you know. The word artificial means made through man’s arts. Many things you think are natural aren’t really. For example, you go out into your backyard and pick an apple off of your tree and take a bite. Hmm, natural goodness, right? It seems so (and I have fond memories of doing just that as a child; I can still recall the taste of those apples). But most often it is not. Most fruit trees have been artificially selected to produce “non-natural” fruit, hybrids. Almost all of the plants we eat were never part of nature. We created them though artifice. Artichokes were thistles, corn was this spindly little plant with inedible seeds, sugar beets were tiny little things, not the football-sized things we grow today, and all bananas and grapes had seeds. The change process is called artificial selection to distinguish our efforts from nature’s.

Take the case of aspirin. Aspirin, by far, is the most successful drug ever devised. It’s century plus history began from the recognition that a tea made from willow bark had analgesic properties (the Egyptians knew this). But the tea was bitter as hell and if you used a bit too much it gave you a very upset stomach. Much later, it was discovered that the active ingredient in the willow bark tea was salicylic acid. An effort was made to find a chemical variant of salicylic acid that was still potent by which didn’t have those side effects. Since salicylic acid is a carboxylic acid, one attempt was to turn it into an ester, a much less irritating class of compounds. Aspirin is the ester formed from salicylic acid and acetic acid, the active ingredient in vinegar, and a star was born. Aspirin is artificial and I am happy about that.

Just being “natural” is not a sign of “good” or “safe.” Rattlesnake venom, arsenic, and monkey dung are all natural but I don’t want any of them in my body. In foods and pharmaceuticals, if a natural substance shows some promise, it is studied to see if modifications could make it better. In the case of pharmaceuticals, if they are strictly chemical we look to see if we can synthesize it as a lower cost/higher volume process of creating it. Instead of extracting rare colored dyes from clams, we can synthesize what we want and have more variety and permanence. This is what we do.

Problems arise when what we synthesize isn’t recognized by the biological process responsible for the breakdown and recycling of our wastes (they are not natural you see). We are currently experiencing these problems with oceanic plastic waste and microfiber residues in all natural waters.

A Side Note Question—What kills more fish: chemical pollutants or plastic waste? The answer is: commercial fishing. We kill via this method orders of magnitude more fish than all of the sources of pollution put together. I mention this because we have blind spots and advertisers take advantage of them.

April 9, 2021

Now I See Where He Was Going (C.S. Lewis on Moral Laws)

I have been re-reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and in my first post on that topic (The Moral Law of Right and Wrong) I addressed his claim that our sense of right and wrong was something other than a set of socially transmitted compact rules. Now that I have finished three chapters I see where he is going. In Chapter 4 (What Lies Behind the Law) Lewis writes “When you say that nature is governed by certain laws, this may only mean that nature does, in fact, behave in a certain way. The so-called laws may not be anything real—anything above and beyond the actual facts that we observe. But in the case of Man, we saw that this will not do. The Law of Human Nature, or of Right and Wrong, must be something above and beyond the actual facts of human behavior. In this case, besides the actual facts, you have something else—a real law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey.”

Lewis, here, is using a bit of legerdemain as well as dishonest language, mixed in with a bit of ignorance. His statement “The so-called laws may not be anything real—anything above and beyond the actual facts that we observe.” confuses man-made laws (e.g. traffic laws,. tax laws, etc.) with natural laws which are indeed “the actual facts we do observe.” When people started looking for the “rules” behind natural behavior, they observed behaviors which were dependable without fail, for example, unsupported objects fall (straight down). These were and still are, only a set of dependable behaviors we can observe in nature and use to make predictions. It is not the case “that nature is governed by certain laws,” there is no governor, and the “laws” aren’t obeyed. Instead of the “laws” of nature, we might well have said the “behaviors” of nature.

Also Lewis’s use of the phrase “above and beyond” as a source for such laws is disingenuous. He is making a case for his god being the source of the law to which he refers and where does this god reside? Above and beyond our experience, is commonly used to describe his location (yet it is everywhere at the same time, hmm).

And why might dependable behaviors in nature “not be anything real”? In order to be observed, they have to be real, no? Again, language is being used to undermine natural laws as possibly not being real, a criticism used against Lewis’s god, but rarely about observable nature. If observations of nature are not real, then what is? Lewis apparently wants to have his cake and eat it too, as he went to great lengths to paint “The Law of Right and Wrong” as a “natural” law, yet he argues that the law comes not from nature. (Is great puzzlement.)

Lewis is contrasting physical laws (law of gravity, etc.) with the moral law of right and wrong. His argument is that a rock dropped from a height has no choice to “obey” the law of gravity, it just drops. But a man, contemplating an action can consider a rule such as “Do not steal other people’s things!” and can choose to follow the law or not. He is building the case that moral laws have an existence separate from whether or not people obey them, which means they weren’t constructed by nature or even those people, otherwise they would follow their own advice. Rocks are affected by gravity, always, no exceptions. They have no choice. But we do. Natural laws are always exhibited. If a “law” is not, then you know you are dealing with a man-made law, not a natural law.

I think there is a fundamental mistake Professor Lewis is making here and strangely enough, it involves language, which is his field of expertise. Professor Lewis is looking at only the short versions of these moral laws, which appear to be commands, and therefore like man-made laws (being full of “shalls” and “shalt nots”), rather than agreed upon observable behaviors.

When these moral “laws” were negotiated, they were in some sort of form like “we will all be better off if we, as individuals, all pledge to not steal the possessions of others.” (Imagine this stated by a wizened elder when a tribe was in convocation, with the heads of all of the others bobbing in agreement.) But for the simple-minded and the very young, longwinded rules don’t stick in their tiny brains, so we shorten the rules. “If I have told you once, I’ve told you twice, don’t steal!” Parents turn an agreed upon behavior into a command for their children to obey. Why? “Because I am the Mom, that’s why!”

To Lewis, moral laws sound like parentally-shortened rules. So, instead of “Don’t be late for supper, son, it really irritates me and makes extra work for me besides” they get “Don’t be late!” And since these moral laws are universal, which parent model is available to all? Why God, of course. Of course, Lewis doesn’t explain why all of the different gods provide very similar sets of rules, almost as if there were just one source, but there is not such a source. There is absolutely no reason Shiva would create the same moral laws as Huitzilopochtli. But human beings are quite the same the world around so the rules they would come up with would be similar, no? Same source: human beings, same result: common moral precepts.

And were Lewis to argue that there is only one set of rules because all of the others are false gods; there is only one true god, then he would have to explain the differences. The Aztecs tore out the beating hearts of human captives and allowed their blood to run down the sides of their temples as a form of worship, but the Hebrews were told (eventually) that human sacrifice was immoral. If there were only one god, why the variations?

Clearly, even sincere apologists use dishonest language and argumentations because of their beliefs. Assuming ones beliefs to prove ones beliefs is circular reasoning, but also a surefire way to get an outcome you desire. An axiom of argumentation is that the surest way to get a particular conclusion is to get its existence stated as one of the premises. Faith can lead one into making such errors.

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