october 2007

flying close to the sun
Tuesday, October 16th, 2007
I am going to see my cousin Cathy Wilkerson on Friday. The title of this post is the name of her autobiography telling her story as a member of the SDS and the Weatherman faction of the SDS. I am particularly interested in the moral implications of her decisions and what they mean for action in our society. I don’t judge her actions, as if I had participated in them. But I am interested in her reflections about them. Being family, I am interested in her relationship with my aunt, Audrey Olena/Wilkerson/Logan, Cathy’s mother. It is obvious their relationship was strained and reading the book I can see why.

It is funny that Cathy was a favorite of my dad, a rebel in his own way. I don’t say I was a favorite of Aunt Audrey, but we got along happily. My dad, I think, understood Cathy’s world better than her mother did. As a conscientious objector in WWII, my dad faced a good bit of trouble and so understood Cathy’s alienation.

For my part, I found Jesus in the early ’70s. This was a terrible disappointment for my parents and I was in many respects treated like a bastard, an unwanted and disreputable member of the family. Becomming religious was something the gods of tolerance could tolerate least.

In this Cathy and I were kin. I found consolation in my aunt and she in my dad. We were still family, just not close family.

I joined the military to escape my parents’ home. It was the quickest way to leave. I didn’t care that my dad thought the military was evil. Well, yes, it was, but it was in service to the civilian authorities, to the monied interests Cathy so persistently rails against.

I never shot anyone, nor did I want to. I was a driver in the Air Force in California. I didn’t agree with the War in Vietnam. I knew our government was lying to us. Co-workers told me of the bombings of Cambodia while the federal government denied it.

I found Jesus. Radical change, radical transformation, rebuild my form from the ground up. Repent, rebuild, reform, reestablish. This was too much for my parents. Well Cathy’s journey is a mirror image. My journey was inward against the flow of our culture, hers was outward.

I look forward to seeing her on Friday.


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the problem
Friday, October 12th, 2007
As I see it, the problem with Creation Science is not that they have been dishonest researchers, (there is enough of that in scientific research as well: Piltdown Man, Cold Fusion, etc.,) but that they have commanded the imprimatur of Genesis. There is a vicious feedback loop between their ideology of Genesis, and their YEC. They plead the truthfulness of scripture to prove their version of scientific research, and plead the legitimacy of their scientific research as proof of scripture. To pull this trick off, they end up doing damage to both science and Genesis.

Not only do they perform research under the ideological geas of catastrophism, but they use every opportunity to take pot shots at legitimate science. A cursory reading of Davis Young’s Christianity & The Age Of The Earth will quickly dispel notions about a young earth with numerous examples of good scientific research in a historical framework (he hits the highlights) and an encyclopedic grasp of the Creation Science literature. It turns out that a large portion, though not all, of the people who observed and recorded evidence that the earth is very old were Christian people with legitimate scientific credentials.

Obviously the problem has gliomic tentacles in every lobe of our society.

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Friday, October 12th, 2007
It strikes me as very sad, reading some passages from Carol Gilligan’s The Birth of Pleasure, that introduction into our society, whether under the paternal gaze of religion, or the stoic gaze of scientism, the investment of character in patriarchy, or the rebellion of radical feminism, that we lose the wonder of our natural world so quickly, the art of spiritual formation being given over to the harsh masters of dogma. Yes, there is the issue of survival, the need to perform, the requirements of social order and the dislike of those who are different. The pressure to conform to one of dozens of hardwired types destroys our sense of self from the time of circumcision to the forced labor of suffering for years with the incurable, intractable invective of iatrogenic illness.

My interest in Lucretius is the interest born out of an adoption of the discipline of Epicurus, the adoption, in Ronald Latham’s words, of “salvation by common sense.” The subtitle of the project at hand, “Why Lucretius is More Advanced Than Creation Science,” precisely refers to this one point. Though Lucretius had none of the modern science at hand like we all do today, he developed a program that took into account the best common sense had to offer. His reflections, though not without some precedent, are nontheless well reasoned out, given, again, the lack of modern science. The travesty of Creation Science and its child Intelligent Design, is that the motives for their adoption are as ideologically tainted as those of the modern atheist. One cannot sense in any of these writings the innocence of an observer looking for the best explanation for the world the way it is, but always a subversive tone aimed at the destruction of some opposing ideology.

Lucretius’ writing though obviously in error scientifically, still for its age better typifies the innocence of an observer looking for the best explanation for the world the way it is. I am perfectly familiar with the fair criticisms of the failure of objectivity, but with Richard Feynman, I argue for a better connection to the real world. It is obvious the Creation Scientists do not have this. Their arguments to avoid the results of simple, sane, standard scientific strategies are like the noise of entropy in the symphony of nature. My argument is to turn us toward a more innocent approach, an attitude that permits the liberty of observation without the constraints of dogma. I argue that we should permit mistakes in favor of stumbling on a possible solution. We don’t have to fund those mistakes, but we don’t need to censure them either.

Kierkegaard suggests that the truth doesn’t need defense. I concur that eventually truth will win out (unless, of course, we bomb ourselves back to the stone age) and that we should allow ourselves to follow our best intuitions under the constraints of freedom and liberty of common sense.

I am not interested, per se in Lucretius’ views about the nature of the universe. It is interesting that his atomic theory found a revival in the seventeenth century. It is remarkable that he could, without the confirmation of modern scientific technique, discern some form of the character of the universe by common sense and natural deduction. One can trace his debt for insight on atomism to Epicurus and from there to Leucippus and Democritus, but that doesn’t minimize the value of his insight.

It is doubly remarkable that the Young Earth Creationists have ignored both common sense and legitimate scientific inquiry and defend a view that is both mistaken and counterproductive. I ask my classes, “Why is it that YECs believe the earth travels around the sun and deny the extreme old age of the earth when we have as much evidence that the earth is ~4.57 billion years old as we do that the earth travels around the sun?”

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machines and morals
Tuesday, October 9th, 2007
We like dealing with machines because they do not judge our moral culpabililty when we fail to pay a bill on time, or exercise our freedom in a way not approved by our society.

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api and programming
Tuesday, October 9th, 2007
To flesh out the analogy that the universe is code, God a programmer and the beings in it programs spawned by the system, an Application Programming Interface or API is needed. Informally an API is required if one wants to adjust the program in any way from outside the program. If one wants to connect one object (a container for both programming code and data) to another, or create a composite or nested object, one needs a way to manipulate the inputs and outputs, the relations, both formal and informal between the objects, etc. Before we go any further let me remind you that the programming metaphors used seem highly organic and suggestive. Before we learned to use and program objects, programming took place in linear steps with global, persistant data.

Let me draw a picture of coding using a simple example in order to tease out a relationship between the programmer and the data. Before Henry Ford each car was assembled piece by piece as a single unit. Obviously some sub-assemblies were preassembled before they arrived at the car in process. But each assembly person had to do a lot of things to finish the car. This is analogous to linear code. Bodies of code needed to do many things in a linear fashion before proceeding to the next step. Making cars was the slow tedious work of a few highly skilled craftsmen. Henry Ford’s assembly line broke down the few complex steps into many simple ones. The requirement for skilled craftsmen was reduced per car manufactured, and any one worker could be replaced by a minimally skilled individual. The speed of manufacturing a car increased while the cost decreased. The amount each worker needed to know decreased while simplifying the process. Each segment of the car was produced as a sub-assembly, and the final assembly of the car was fairly speedy.

The relatively simple programing steps together produced a viable form of life.

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