Saturday, October 22, 2005

Photo Update

I have new photos up. A few of my classes under school photos, many of my hike today. Those are under People and Places; click on that set to see them in the right order.

Photos page

Monday, October 17, 2005

Forest Paths

I suppose I have some 'splaining to do, and I might as well start from the begining. I also might as well steal one of Martin Heidegger's favourite metaphors for my post title.

I've been wondering how to go about explaining my recent reidentification. I've decided the best way is to trace a path through my thinking of the last little while. I thought about citing sources and crediting authors and influences for this, but I don't think anyone will care where exactly my ideas come from. If you want to know, just ask.

A lot of my thinking revolves around theories of subjectivity. Basically, ideas about how we come to know ourselves as subjects rather than objects. How do we form an image of ourselves and then our surrounding worlds? How do we interact with our surroundings?

There's a concept called "rational action theory." The idea is that we make all our choices based on benefit/cost calculations. We all act rationally, insofar as we percieve the potential costs and benefits of particular choices. I think economists tend to like this idea; I personally thing there's something valuable to be had, but you have to wade through some crap to get to it.

I do think that everyone acts rationally in that they have reasons for their choices, but I don't think it is about a benefit/cost calculation. I think our choices - and everything else about us - revolve around the creation of two things.

1) (This is first arbitrarily) We seek to create a personal centre. I think a personal centre breaks down to two things. First, our imago. Our image. We all have an image of ourselves that began developing in late infancy; the problem is that we can never quite achieve this image. People spend incredible amounts of time and money trying to fit into certain images; be it a model or a an academic, we're all chasing an image of what we want to be.

The other aspect of a personal centre is the framework used to justify that image. We all want our imago to be intelligible and justifiable. We jump on studies that show our way of life is especially healthy; we criticize statements that threaten our imago's framework. We develop philosophies that prove that our personal quirks are virtues. Often times, we believe our personal image is the ideal for humanity - "If only everyone thought/worshipped/reared their children/voted like me, then everything would be great."

So we all chase after an image, and we build some kind of intellectual framework to make that image intelligible and justifiable.

2) We seek to recreate the external world in our own image, or in other words, we seek to objectify our personal centre. There are many ways this is done. We create art that expresses either our imago or our framework. Tradesmen do something very similar - when a carpenter finishes a chair, he has objectified a piece of himself. You'll probably recognize that as a Marxist idea, and I think it's an elegant one.

We also seek to impose our imago on others; we want to shape others like we shape clay or paint on a canvas. We want to see ourselves in other people - and sometimes that requires force. Anarchy, as a movement, is geared towards rejecting this kind of imposition. Totalitarianism is this imposition run amok - a full scale annexation of one's personal centre by another. Democracy is about regulating these clashes, and since these attempts are inevitable, democracy is a powerful form of organization.

Of course, we don't need to impose our imagos on others in order to see ourselves in them; this is what empathy is about. When another is present before us, we cannot help but identify with them. We can't help but empathize with their pain, even if only on a shallow level. There's a goldmine of ethical thought here,but that's not my purpose.

And what is our primary tool in performing all these tasks? Power. That's what it comes down to, I guess; power over ourselves, over others, and over our enviroment. It sounds sinister, but power itself is neutral. Power is the way we get things done; we exercise power to create and maintain our personal centre, and it is what we use to remake the world in our own image.

There are two basic flavours of power - weak and strong. One is upfront and direct, the other is sickly and sneaky. That's another topic, though.

And how does any of this relate to Christianity? That is also another topic!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

This post interupted by laziness

I came home tonight in the mood to write a post about war. I've never actually explained to anyone the fundemental reasons why I think 99.9% of wars have been unjustifiable crap. I've also never actually explained why I think people who hold positive opinions of any particular wars are murderously hypocritical idiots. Strong language for a reprehensible position. There is a qualifier I should add to that sentence... but I like the way it looks, the way it is.

But now that I sit down to write about it... I realize that in order to properly explain myself, I'll have to list and talk about maybe a dozen examples of wars. Their historical contexts, methods, and related myths. Then I'd have to talk about ethics... individuals and the state... the moral responsibility of individual soldiers... and so on.

And I'm just too lazy to do all that.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Gradual Evolution or Punctured Equilibrium?

One of the oddities in the fossil record is referred to as the "Cambrian explosion." It is a brief period of time - if 10 million years can be called brief - in which an unusually number of new species appeared. It is a difficult to explain when you think that evolution happens in a very slow way, over geological eras.

So Stephen J. Gould came up with the idea of punctured equilibrium, the idea that sometimes, Evolution takes a short cut. Sometimes, species just leap into another stage. It explains the gaps in the fossil record, and the Cambrien Explosion. This started a controversy; is evolution always a matter of small steps, or is it spiced with big leaps? Are species that appear seperate taxonomically actually related to each other on the evolutionary chain?

Before your eyes glaze over, let me say one thing: this isn't another post about Evolution. Bear* with me.

Similar things can happen with people. Someone can believe X one day, and the next day, it appears as if they believe non-X. How to explain this apparent disjuncture? Was the person's change in views a barely perceptable, gradution evolution, or did they make a leap from one view to another totally disparate view?

Once you are finished reading this post, you'll have to answer that question for yourself.

Here's the mystery, my Cambrien Explosion. One month ago, if you had asked me if I was a Christian, I would have said no. If you had asked if God exists, I would have said no.

Today, if you ask me if I am a Christian, I will say yes.

Interesting, yes? Is this change a matter of gradual evolution, or is it a leap from one system of thought into another?

Here's a clue: If you should ask me today if I believe God exists, I will say "no."

Ah-ha! Curiouser and curiouser. A self-identified Christian saying that God does not exist? What up with that?

Well, it is about the nature of statements. Positive statements like "God exists" are necassarily made in language. Language is necassarily limited and finite; the finite cannot convey adequate information about the infinite. So positive statements about God are inevitably tinged with ultimate failure. They may express facts about God's acts within our world, but they can never properly express facts about God's nature.

So instead of saying what God is, it is better to say what God isn't. This practice is known as negative theology. Clicky to learn everything I know about it.

Now, rather than discuss the nature of negative theology, I am going to talk about my attraction to it.

Actually, there's an essay on that explains it well. Apophaticism, Idolotry and the Claims of Reason by Denys Turner. Pay attention to his description of atheism as nothing more than a rejection of a specific theology.

Which is totally true. The atheism I espoused could only ever be a reaction to particular doctrines. I've known this for as long as I can remember; I just never knew about an alternative.

Philosophical atheism (as opposed to the "my mommy died of cancer so therefore God doesn't exist" brand of causal atheism) can only ever be a parasitical position. It is ultimately shallow and half-assed. I knew this; I just didn't know an alternative.

Here's the alternative. Instead of rejecting some positive claims about God, reject them all. Outflank Nietzsche. Head Michael Martin off at the pass. If a philosophical atheist finds nothing to object to... then they can't be a philosophical atheist anymore.

Yeah, I know you're all confused. I would be too. Consider this an incomplete post. But sit tight. I've got some learning to do, and you might as well come with me.

*Thanks to Joel for telling me if this word should be spelled "bare" or "bear."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Origins and Education

So everything that I've said so far about the SYEC/ID/Evolution issue is theory, philosophy. One of the real world issues - and the most interesting one in my mind - is the question of choosing content of elementary/high school science classes.

A topic was brought up in the previous posts' comments section. Shona said the parents should have more say than "the state."

Sigh. Exactly what the "state" is is a year's worth of blogging in itself. But to cut to the conclusion, I have never thought that this issue was a polar split between parents and the state. I'm not even sure what the state has to do with this question; textbook publishers are private organizations.

Here's the standard chain of events in getting content to the classroom. A private publisher checks the demographics. Which markets are the biggest? Because textbooks are about selling to markets. How many textbooks would a particular district buy, and what material would be of interest to that district? For example, in the US, the publisher checks how many presidents came from the biggest and wealthiest district - and then they discuss those presidents far more in their textbook.

And guess what? Districts with smaller markets get to use the same textbooks. If your area only buys a small number of textbooks, don't expect to see any local content. Textbooks aren't a matter of state indoctrination, they are a matter of business and markets. Hence Of Pandas and People's little stunt.

That reality aside, is there an ideal? If I was a parent, what would I want to see in the public schools? Which textbooks should be bought?

A little story. Several groups of Native Canadians believe that they have inhabited this continent since the beginning of time. They reject the Bering Straits idea, basically. A variation on this is found among the Inuit people; they have their own myths.

Currently, in some schools dominated by Inuit, children are taught Inuit myths in their history classes. They aren't taught about Confederation or WWI or about the Bering land bridge.

The parents are certainly happy. And really now, who's to say that the Inuit haven't been in North America all along? Archeology is is an imprecise science. And the dates for the introduction of humans to North America keep moving farther and farther back!

If you happened to live in an Inuit community, would you be annoyed that your child was learning Inuit myth rather than history?

Or would you prefer that the schools use textbooks developed with the aid of mainstream archeologists?

In Dover, Of Pandas and People is an extremely popular local choice. Readers, raise your hand if you want that textbook used to teach your kids.

Contra all this concern, there is a simple reality here. Whatever is taught in elementary and high schools is almost inconsequential. Usually it is taught in a half assed way and learned in a one quarter ass way. University professors know their incoming students are basically ignorant, in all fields.

Still, if a student spends his early years learning about how Noah's flood could really have happened, he will be even more unequipped than the average student for a university level geology course.

If I was a parent, I would want my children learning material that has filtered down from a mainstream university. I would want to know that my child was being prepared for a university education, as much as is practically possible. I wouldn't want my child's education to be dominated by local eccentricities. Buy textbooks published by a reputable company, developed with the close aid of the relevant experts. Mainstream experts.

And by the way, the reason I started this whole series was President Bush saying that he thinks ID should be taught in schools. Does that make ID state indoctrination?

The primary legal issue here is that of church and state. In the US, this has been the major sticking issue for the Origins debate in schools. In case after case through the 20th century, attempts to censure Evolution have been struck down becuase of their clearly religious nature. At this stage in the theory's development, ID is unmistakably religious - especially since so many SYECers are willing to paint their beliefs with a thin coat of "irreducible complexity."

Teaching SYEC or ID in a science class is equivelent to teaching Inuit myth in a history class. It is also equivilant to teaching about Thor's lightening bolts in a climate class.

And with that.. I close this chapter of Open Texture. Hopefully I'll remember to update the contents page soon.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Intelligent Design: Strange Bedfellows

*cracks knuckles*

Ok, Intelligent Design. Known hereafter as ID.

There are two important aspects to ID. One, the actual idea. Strictly speaking, it is a seperate and distinct idea from SYEC. It makes specific claims about specific characteristics of specific species. All well and good. The problem with this idea is that it insistantly weds metaphysical ideas to the scientific aspect. Which is a no no.

The second important aspect is practical. Political and legal, even. I don't know if I'll get to it in this post, but here's the gist. IDers say they want to be considered apart from religious concerns. They say ID is a purely scientific theory. The problem is, IDers and SYECers are happily in bed together. Organizationally and financially, they have each others back. Both groups are brazenly dishonest about their relationship and mutual intent. So, while ID and SYEC might be different ideas, in practice, a vote for ID is just cracking the door open to SYEC.

Anyways, back to the theory. Here's an excerpt from my brilliant and groundbreaking essay on the subject:

"In 1992, a Berkeley law professor named Philip Johnson helped organize a conference at Southern Methodist University (SMU) that brought together a group of scientists and philosophers to discuss the seeds of what some have called neo-Creationism: Intelligent Design. At the SMU conference, an Associate Professor of Biology at Lehigh University named Michael Behe first presented his idea of irreducible complexity. Irreducible complexity would represent a major effort to divorce Intelligent Design (usually known as ID) from religious concerns, especially Scientific Creationism.

In 1996, Behe published his ideas in the book Darwin’s Black Box. Behe quickly distances his ideas from Creationism; on page five, he says that he finds “the idea of common descent. . . fairly convincing” and that he “has no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is.” His aversion to Darwin lies in his scientifically oriented objection to the idea that natural selection can account for the diversity of life. Behe argues that scientific study requires a close examination of details; the more detailed our knowledge of biology becomes, the less adequate current theories of Evolution are. The most detailed level of biological study - the molecular level - presents the most difficult problems for Evolution. Behe argues that at this molecular level, systems prove themselves to be irreducibly complex. Behe defines irreducibly complex as “a single system composed of several. . . parts. . . wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to cease functioning.” Irreducible systems could not have evolved piece by piece, since the absence of any one piece would have rendered the system useless and inert."

So there you have it, Michael Behe's ID in a nutshell. There may be other variations on the theory, but as I understand it, Behe is one of the big guns. There are some important points that need to be reiterated. First, ID does not make claims about astronomy. It does not say that "the universe is so complicated, it must have had a designer!" Secondly, Behe's ID accepts an ancient universe. In other words, he agrees with 99% of geologists from the 19th century onwards, both Christian and non-Christian. Behe also accepts common decent.

His claim is very specific. Some animals show signs of irreducible complexity (IC). Now, there have been many rebuttals to Behe's work. It's not my purpose to say who is right; I can't say. But I will say this. Behe's work, to my understanding, is scientific. He seems to follow MethN to his conclusions.

His error is identitical to that of Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins. He jumps from the seemingly scientific statement of "natural selection and genetic drift cannot account for characteristic X" to "so a Designer did it." Behe is a Catholic, by the way. It is not hard to surmise exactly what he means by a designer.

If Behe was rigorously scientific, he would stop with the simple statement "natural selection and genetic drift cannot account for characteristic X." It is Behe's confusion on the line between MethN and metaphysics that creates the current bureaucratic and legal conundrums before the courts in the United States.

As I said, IDers want to be considered seperately from SYEC. Hypothetically, this is possible. It is also possible that a non-metaphysical version of Behe's ideas can be taught in a science class.

In practice, such distinctions do not exist. I'm going to be making contentious claims here, and unfortunately my study notes and citations are 2000 miles away. So take me at my word, or don't, whatever.

In 2004, Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross wrote a scathing examination of the ID movement, entitled Creationism’s Trojan Horse in which they argued that IDers and SYECers are in bed together - politically, financially, organizationally, and scientifically. ID is just SYEC with a new coat of paint. I would dispute the latter claim, but the former seems very solid. Money and support changes hands between IDers and SYECers on a regular basis.

ID's biggest support comes not from the scientific community, but rather laymen - Christians. Christians that also tend to be SYECers, or just plain YECers. IDers like Behe say they want a distinction, but they are happy to cultivate this support.

Who cares if IDers and SYECers work together? It's a free world, right? Well, there are two problems. The first is what I've started to call the "Calculating God" syndrome. Oi, I wish I had that book on hand. Jamie or Joel, if you read this, feel free to quote the relevant portion in the comments section.

Anyways, Calculating God is a novel that discussions the origins debate. At one point, a character faced with overwhelming evidence of a higher power's intervention in Evolution, comments on the garrison mentality of scientists. He says that scientists fear unlocking the way to opponents of Evolution because once that pandora's box is opened, it will never be closed; not only will Johnny not know how to read, he won't know any real science either. So scientists have a knee jerk reaction against open assaults on Evolution - for valid reasons. That is the Calculating God syndrome.

And I think that is accurate. It is also good reason to keep ID far, far away from classrooms. If ID is allowed into science classrooms - especially elementary and high school classrooms - then the floodgates will open and they will never be closed. ID is simply too tied to SYEC to be trusted with the credibility it would recieve from a science classroom.

An excellent example of this comes out of the current Dover trial. The local schoolboard wants to use the textbook Of Pandas and People, a book that claims to be strictly ID. The problem is, it isn't. That's a giant load of horse shit. In the course of the trial, it was revealed that the current published edition is not the original text. The original text spoke of "creationism." When the publishers realized that they couldn't get a "creationist" text into high schools, they cut and paste the words "intelligent design" over every occurance of "creation."

IDers need to distance themselves from SYECers. No more joint conferences. No more testifying at trials. No more money changing hands, no more donations. They need to go cold turkey. And they need to drop the metaphysical claims. Stop saying "designer." Give the scientific community time to get over the Calculating God syndrome. Just say "here are instances where natural selection and genetic drift do not account for the facts."

Of course... there is yet another issue. Exactly who should decide what gets taught in classrooms? Parents? Local school boards? Publishers? Universities? The supreme court? That's a whole other topic... so that's next time.

Lost in Incheon

It's Monday morning here - another day off. This is the last stat holiday until January, apparently.

I'd go for a hike, but I'm kind of sore from yesterday. See, the hiking trail I use runs south to north across three hill tops. I start on the north hill and walk from there. When I get to the southern hiill top, I usually sit a while then retrace my steps.

Yesterday,I walked the trail across all three hilltops, but instead of going back home - north east - I took a trail from the north hill and went south east. I thought I could easily find my way home like that; I asume I would just walk north east along the foot of the hills to get home.

I was wrong. The southern side of the hills don't have roads that run along side the hills. I ended up walking through the city for about an hour and a half, keeping careful track of land marks and exactly where I turned. Eventually, I gave up. I didn't want to get a taxi cab, being short on money. So I retraced my steps, which thankfully weren't too complicated. I eventually found the new path I had taken and started back.

The southern end of the hiking trail is pretty amazing to look at - 3 streams, big jungle trees. You'll like the pictures I send in two weeks' time. And the trees will be turning colour, as well. There are also a handful of strange landmarks along the southern trail; there is a pile of stones maybe a story high, with a plaque in Korean.

I saw a bird I have never seen before. It was maybe crow sized; black, except for the wings which had a white pattern. I can't find a pic of it on the net.

Anyways, by the time I made it back home, I had been walking steadily for five and a half hours. I think I'm just going to sit around today.

Violence and Falsehood

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, an author I was introduced to in my Fascism course, explains my disgust with the case for the Iraq war better than I ever could. This was part of his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972.

Violence, less and less embarrassed by the limits imposed by centuries of lawfulness, is brazenly and victoriously striding across the whole world, unconcerned that its infertility has been demonstrated and proved many times in history. What is more, it is not simply crude power that triumphs abroad, but its exultant justification. The world is being inundated by the brazen conviction that power can do anything, justice nothing. . . .

But let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose falsehood as his PRINCIPLE. At its birth violence acts openly and even with pride. But no sooner does it become strong, firmly established, than it senses the rarefaction of the air around it and it cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk. It does not always, not necessarily, openly throttle the throat, more often it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only complicity in falsehood.

Rest in peace, Mr. Solzhenitsyn.