Friday, January 20, 2017

Guest Post by Johan Mauer: First Principles

In this dark troubled time, when so many humans are choosing extremism of all sorts,
and are majoring in invective, put-downs, and other forms of denigration,
here is a Friendly
voice of moderation, emphasizing
our need for principled peacemaking:

Can you believe?: First principles
by Johan Mauer

"Russian Army" store near
US embassy in Moscow,
Photo: Max Seddon

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Shocking Statements by Two Famous Writers, One an Atheist, One a Theist

Two Contrary Views of Two Famous Writers:

#1 "Union with Christ imparts an inner elevation, comfort in affliction, tranquil reliance,
and a heart which opens itself to everything noble and great not for the sake of ambition
or desire for fame, but for the sake of Christ.

Union with Christ produces a joy which the Epicurean seeks in vain in his shallow philosophy,
which the deeper thinker vainly pursues in the most hidden depths of knowledge.

It is a joy known only to the simple and childlike heart,
united with Christ and through Him with God, a joy which elevates life and makes it more beautiful."1


#2 "You know, I think, that I believe in no religion.

There is absolutely no proof for any of them,
and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.

All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man's invention--Christ as much as Loki.

Primitive man found himself surrounded by all sorts of terrible things he didn't understand--thunder,
pestilence, snakes, etc:what more natural then to suppose that these were animated by evil spirits trying to torture him.

These he kept off by cringing to them, singing songs and making sacrifices etc. Gradually from being mere
nature-spirits these supposed beings were elevated into more elaborate ideas,
such as the old gods: and when man became more refined he pretended that these spirits were good as well as powerful.

Thus religion, that is to say mythology grew up. Often too, great men
were regarded as gods after their death-such as Heracles or Odin:
thus after the death of a Hebrew philosopher Yeshua
(whose name we have corrupted into Jesus)
he became regarded as a god, a cult sprang up,
which was afterwards connected with the ancient Hebrew Jahweh-worship,
and so Christianity came into being-one mythology among many.

Of course, mind you, I am not laying down as a certainty that there is nothing outside
the material world; considering the discoveries that are always being made, this would be foolish. Anything MAY exist."2

Oops;-) I got the two photos backwards.

See the surprising footnotes:


1. The praise of the Christian religion was written by Karl Marx.
Pub. in "Karl Marx as a schoolboy" in the German volume
Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels Gesamtausgabe.
From "The Baptism of Karl Marx" by Eugene Kamenka, lecturer in philosophy, University of Malaya,
The Hibbert Journal, vol. 56, no. 3, April 1958, pp.345-46.


2. The skeptical dismissal of the Christian religion was written by C.S. Lewis
in a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves on October 12, 1916. They Stand Together, p.135).

This conundrum of opposites which reversed in their lives has intrigued me for years--
from devout theist to hard atheist: Karl Marx


from skeptical atheist to devout theist: C.S. Lewis--
especially now that I have also journeyed so very far philosophically from where I was at when a youth.

Are not these two shocking quotes intriguing hooks
to get us into doing biographical and historical
and philosophical research into how Karl Marx and C.S. Lewis so drastically
changed their views in a matter of 20-25 years?

Into inquiring why some humans greatly change
in their lifestances and worldviews,
others stay put in the place,
culture, and social outlook they were born into?

Search on.

Become seekers of truth.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Monday, January 16, 2017

Destroying 2,000 Olive Trees

Allegedly, the Israeli government has removed over 1,000,000 trees, taken from Palestinians, the latters' land confiscated, mostly to provide for illegal Israeli settlements, in violation of UN law.

"Pictures of despair this morning from Nabi Elias, West Bank:
The Civil Administration [of the Israeli Government] uprooted 2,000 olive trees,
the source of income of the area's residents, in favor of a new road for Israeli settlers. The area was declared a closed military zone and a few protesters were detained."

Also, "Just 2 days ago we joined the villagers near Qalqilya in protest against the plan to uproot 500 olive trees.

Yesterday they woke up to this ugly spectacle. The Civil Administration began to uproot the trees. The young man who was arrested is still in custody.

It's easy to uproot a tree. But to pull out our hope for a better future will be much more difficult.

We will continue our non-violent struggle against the occupation, so that one day we can all live here in peace and with equal rights."

"Combatants for Peace was formed by Israelis and Palestinians who went against the mainstream and decided to resist the occupation through nonviolent struggle...."

"We are a group of Palestinians and Israelis who have taken an active part in the cycle of violence in our region: Israeli soldiers serving in the IDF and Palestinians as combatants fighting to free their country, Palestine, from the Israeli occupation.

During the past three years, director Stephen Apkon accompanied our activists and heard their stories.

The result is the film Disturbing the Peace, that documents the process the members go through, from troops on the battlefield to peace activists seeking to end the violence between the two sides. There is another way.

We – serving our peoples, raised weapons which we aimed at each other and saw each other only through gun sights – have established Combatants for Peace on the basis of non-violence principles."

Honoring the witness of Martin Luther King Jr. today.

May more and more Palestinians and Israelis reject war, injustice, unethical actions, nationalism, and theft.

May they seek goodness reconciliation and justice.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Q.C.Humor #14: A Friend Looks at His 'Seer’s Cat-a-Log


Our Catnapper

Underbelly slurps juice from
Our empty crab can, lickety-split

Leisurely indulges in a paw n’ chops rinse
Then his forward paw,
Stretches to the feline limit--

Floodlighted by morning shine--
Contorts to nap my socked foot;

Lazing man-napper.

And me, his waiter and footman

--Daniel Wilcox

Cataclysmic—when other neighborhood cats come near your god’s food bowl

Catalyst--when your cat orders you to perform a list of actions, "without itself undergoing any permanent change"

Catastrophe—the result of leaving your cat alone in the house all day

Hunts Ketchup or catsup--what you try to do when your cat goes where he’s not supposed to and knocks Heinz off the pantry shelf

Catapults--watch out for cat a pulls.

Caterwaul—a cat’s wail when he runs into your house wall, escaping from the neighbor's pit bull

Catawampus—when your cat makes short work of the newly hung colorful bulbs and lights on your Christmas tree
or the new tissue paper on the roll in the bathroom

Catechist--your cat as teacher of how you must behave and serve him

cathexis--"defined as the investment of mental or emotional energy in" your cat

What is a series of cats in a row waiting to receive their due?


The Cat’s Scientist

Scratch, scratch, scratch;
Open the cubical.

I patter past his carbon-based legs,
Rushing, meowing all the way to my feeder
Already full, waiting to be lapped and crunched.

But I’m the droided prince of cats so I
Reverse, nose and chin his cyrexed shins,
Meow into his lowered hand;
Impatiently prowl around his space boots
Until he stumbles and almost falls.

Finally he sapiens up,
Grabs the half-empty receptacle
From the immaculate shelf,

Shakes it noisily in my puss’d face,
Then pretends to dump more pastel fare
Into my tempting container;

Smirking, I swiftly gobble it up
As if it was the last bowl on Mars.

What did he mumble about Pavlov?

Daniel Wilcox

First pub. in Abandoned Towers Magazine

And from Steven Wright,
“… a dog thinks he's a human…a cat wouldn't stoop that low."


‘Herd’ of cats who—“

No way!
In a cat dictionary, what is 12 in number?”

‘Dozen’ cats napping

Clammy Chops

I scooped in one huge mouthful of savory chowder
Swimming with succulent salmon on a reconnoiter

Wild from Alaska—my taste buds buzzed into singing,
But the stupid phone in the kitchen rang, yanking.

I dropped my creamy spoon and rushed through the open door--
Wrong number! Frustrated, I slammed down the white ringer,

Tended to nagging errands clanging for attention;
But then heard a loud slurp...slurping 'round the den corner.

Oh, no! I rushed back into the aromatic room of the computer
And there crouched Fizzy, our calico, her cream-rootbeer

Mugged head raised pleased, above the scent-wafted white saucer,
Just ‘fin-ished’--her pink tongue wiping those smiling choppers.

--Daniel Wilcox

First pub. at vox poetica

In the Light-hearted Life of Best Pet Friends,

Daniel Wilcox

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

again, the empty-bucket G- word!

Guest Post from Hemant Metha on the Dawkins Atheism-Theism Scale
and my extended reflections about the scale, and the G- question:

Thanks to Richard Dawkins for creating this scale, and to Hemant Metha for doing a lucid video on it. In The God Delusion, Dawkins wrote, "the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other."

Here’s the Dawkins Scale, again:
Richard Dawkins’ Belief Scale Scoring Rubric

1. Strong Theist: I do not question the existence of God, I KNOW he exists.
100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know."
2. De-facto Theist: Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. "I don't know for certain, but I strongly believe
in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."
3. Weak Theist: Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."
4. Pure Agnostic: Exactly 50%. "God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable."
5. Weak Atheist: Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. "I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical."
6. De-facto Atheist: I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable
and I live my life under the assumption that he is not there.
[Dawkins states that he is a 6, though in another interview, he said, a 6.9.]
7. Strong Atheist: I am 100% sure that there is no God. I know there is no God, with the same conviction
as Carl Jung knows there is one"

If it's a matter of creeds, such as creedal Christianity (Augustian-Calvinism), orthodox Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, I suppose I am about a 6, strongly against such concepts of God.

But, generally, I am an intellectually convinced theist, about a 2.3 (about 74%) if the definition of "God" is the first one of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
god "1 capitalized : the supreme or ultimate reality..."

I am a liberal Friend with UU-leanings.

Like so many of these tests/scales (Dawkins is the best though), the scale is affected by one's assumptions and presuppositions.

For instance, on a different website an atheist declares that Thomas Jefferson is a 4.2 even though many passages in Jefferson's works, including the Declaration of Independence opening, show his score is probably about 2.

When it comes to the particular gods of organized religion such as creedal Christianity, Jefferson was definitely on the atheistic side of the Belief Scale.

Take a look at another method of viewing atheism, theism, etc. There are many variations on the whole essential topic:

We are living in a universe about 27 billion light-years across, and about 13 billion years old and, according to cosmologists, the cosmos will last more billions of years. And there is also the possibility of a multiverse.

What is "ultimate reality":

#1 All reality came about by cosmic chance. Seemingly the view of the French biologist Jacques Monod in Chance and Necessity, a powerful book I read a few years back, and the view of the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould.

My take on this as an average person with a keen interest in science: I think this view is possible. I guess given cosmic time even the "laws" of nature, math, reason, life, ethics, consciousness could all blip into existence.

#2 All reality came about by a cosmic determinism of meaningless matter and energy which is eternal. Everything is lock step. There are no choices, not for what I supposedly ruminate on having for lunch or whether or not to commit murder or what to choose for my career.

Based on our studying this at university, and for many years since, and many times trying to imagine my "I" as an illusion who is only 'done to' by the cosmos, I think this is one of the least likely views of reality. But the view is very popular these days--sort of an atheistic version of Calvinism.

#3 All reality came about somehow by a temporary, finite, imperfect, even distorted, expression of the perfect eternal Ideal Forms of Platonism.
I've been influenced by Platonism.

#4 All reality came about by emergent possibilities in a quantum singularity vacuum or some unknown ultimate reality. But where did the quantum singularity vacuum come from? Here goes "turtles all the way down."

This view seems to posit an eternal physical reality with no "super" reality 'transcending' it.

Like in #1 humankind is a "fluke," an "accident," a "lucky" break.

#5 All reality came about by an impersonal ultimate reality of cosmic beauty. Scientists such as Albert Einstein stated this was his view, that he thought the impersonal god of Spinoza was true. But this seems similar to a combination of #3 and #4.

Unlike #2 and #4, the emergent-possibility cosmos isn't meaningless and purposeless, but filled with meaning.

Interesting, but I doubt it.

#6 All reality is coming about by the everlasting but limited cosmic reality that is becoming. This is the view of thinkers such as philosopher and mathematician Alfred Lord Whitehead, philosopher Charles Hartshorne, etc.

This cosmic but limited God, this limited ultimate reality, who is far beyond human understanding works toward changing matter and energy and conscious life such as homo sapiens into increasing patterns and forms of beauty, meaning, and purpose. This is also the view of some Reform Jews.

But where is the evidence for this?

Process thinkers explain that consciousness, reason, ethics, mathematics, natural law, creativity, aesthetics, life itself, etc. are the evidence.

This view is appealing, but most of the technical philosophical explanations are BEYOND me. I'm a relatively average literature teacher (who got born with a "why" in his throat;-)

#7 All reality came about as just one of an infinite number of universes of an infinite multi-verse, the view of some modern cosmologists. What is the ultimate of the multi-verse is unknown or maybe the multiverse itself is ultimate.

Intriguing, but seems too speculative for me. However, I'm not as skeptical as Martin Gardner, one of the co-founders of the modern skeptical movement who wrote a scathing dismissal of this view.

#8 All reality came about by the impersonal Brahma God of Hinduism and some modern New Age leaders such as Ken Wilber with his Integral Theory, and Deepak Chopra, etc. .

The impersonal God Brahma is conducting a cosmic dance in which it forgets its self and dreams into billions of separated forms including in one minor edge of the universes, thinking humans.

But all is illusion. And all events both good and evil are produced by Brahman. That is why Ken Wilber and other such leaders claim that Brahman caused 9//11, causes all murders, all rapes, etc.

Given that I am a human rights worker from way back, for about 55 years, obviously this isn't my cup of philosophical tea. Also, I still vividly remember as a Gandhi devotee being shocked when a Hindu priest in L.A. tried to persuade me to go to Vietnam to kill (when I was drafted), saying insects are killed all the time in reality.:-(

#9 All reality came about by unknowable factors. Everything beyond and before the Big Bang is such a complete unfathomable mystery that it will probably not ever be solved by finite humans at least not for a very long time.

Allegedly the view of the Mysterians such as skeptic Martin Gardner, physicist Roger Penrose, etc.

#10 All reality continually comes about by infinite impersonal reality which never had a beginning. No creator god exists. Some forms of Buddhism (though other forms are theistic).
At this point in my life, I lean toward some view of #3 and #6, though I am open to #1 as a real possibility.

Here's the main reason why I am a theist: Mathematics, natural law (as in the law of gravity and the theory of relativity, etc.) life, consciousness, reason, creativity, ethics, human rights, compassion, and aesthetics--ALL
are very meaningful and purposeful.

I don't think that existence/reality is "meaningless" and "purposeless," or that ethics are "subjective preferences," or "cultural constructs," or (to quote Dawkins on altruism) a "misfiring" of evolution.

But, maybe we finite humans don't have enough knowledge to even decide this question.

We choose one of many diametrically opposed mountain climbs.

And that makes all the difference, for good or bad, false or true, life or death.

In the Light,


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Review of God and the Reach of Reason

God and the Reach of Reason by atheist philosopher Erik J. Wielenberg

Lucidly written explanations of rational theism versus rational atheism.

A book-length, intriguing comparison and contrast of 3 thinkers' views:

#1 What one theist (Oxford professor and writer, C.S. Lewis)
has in common philosophically
--strange as it may seem--
with two very famous atheists
(the Scottish atheist philosopher, David Hume)
and the British skeptic and atheist Bertrand Russell).

#2 How all three disagree on vital points concerning the nature of reality.

This is a very good thinkers' book, written in balanced, measured, lucid, and well-explained prose, explicating difficult philosophical issues and controversies in a user-friendly way.

Wielenberg is respectful toward those with whom he strongly disagrees, which is a wonderful change from the usual, given the tendency of so many leaders to demonstrate intolerance, discourtesy, and even personal attacks. Consider all of the hateful, demeaning political and religious slander and verbal abuse of the recent past by many American leaders.

Only a few times does the philosophical book become obscurely
technical, dry, and boring.

One of the most insightful volumes I read in the last year.

I was also impressed because, unlike most nontheists, Erik J. Wielenberg thinks objective ethics exist, are real. He--contrary to the vast majority of atheists--is a strong moral realist. He is professor of philosophy at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.

From his website:
"[A]ll the teaching must still be done by concrete human individuals. The State has to use the men who exist. Nay, as long as we remain a democracy, it is men who give the State its powers. And over these men, until all freedom is extinguished, the free winds of opinion blow." - C.S. Lewis

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Amazing Reality of Genetic Life

The amazing, incredible reality of genetic life...

If I got to live, again, and was born with scientific ability, it would be difficult
for me to choose between the fields of astrophysics/astronomy
versus genetics/biology!

Genetics is a fascinating field of endeavor which has greatly altered how thinkers view Life and reality.

Consider this measured reflection from a science website:

"One of the surprises that came out of the Human Genome Project was how few genes (protein coding stretches of DNA) humans
have — around 23,000,
not that different compared to the fruit fly with 14,000,
and quite a bit less than rice, with 51,000."

So we human beings, homo sapiens, are situated between
a fruit fly
and a grain of rice!
We have more genes than a fruit fly, but less than a grain of rice!

Sounds hilariously bizarre, like some sort of slapstick movie comedy.

What sense does all of this make?

Read on:
"Traditionally the metaphor for genes was something more akin
to a blueprint, — the “standard dogma” of Francis Crick: each gene codes for
one mRNA which codes for one protein — but now we realize that many are better viewed as switches or volume knobs.

Moreover, one gene can have multiple effects. Complexity arises not so much from
the genes themselves as from the connections between them.

These network properties are currently an enormously rich topic of research. For example, the way the network is connected can dramatically affect the interplay between robustness to mutation and evolvability (the ability of a system to generate heritable phenotypic novelty).

The same gene often turns out to be used throughout the animal kingdom:
you can take the pax-6 gene that controls eye development from a human and put
it into the part of a fly that controls wings formation and the fly will make a (malformed) eye on its wing.

The same gene that controls the formation of human arms also controls the formation
of wings on birds, fins on fish, and legs on centipedes!

Modifying the way these genes are “wired together” can lead to massive changes
in an organism.

The burgeoning new field of evodevo (evolutionary developmental biology) studies how evolution exploits these “toolbox genes”
to help generate the endless forms most beautiful we see around us.

Much remains to be understood, but adjectives
like remarkable, elegant, and awe-inspiring are apt.
Clay or Lego blocks?

In a fascinating book proposing a “theory of facilitated variation” biologists Marc Kirschner and John Gehrard point out that while
the Modern Synthesis implicitly used the metaphor of clay -- evolution could produce variation in almost any direction,
but in very tiny steps--
modern biology would be better served by the metaphor of Lego blocks:
reusable connectable units are more constrained in what they can do, but you can generate useful new variation in much larger steps.

Selfish genes, or control on many levels? The field of systems biology is challenging
the reductionist bottom-up primacy that has dominated biological explanation over the last few decades.

In a beautiful book, The Music of Life: Biology beyond the Genome (OUP 2006),
Denis Noble, a remarkable polymath and one of the fathers of systems biology, takes the gene-centric view of his Oxford colleague Richard Dawkins to task.

He asserts that we must look beyond the “selfish gene."

A better metaphor for understanding life is music, “a symphonic interplay between genes, cells, organs, body, and environment."
from the BioLogos Website

And this:
On the reality of evolution--
"One way to view the dogmatic nature of neo-darwinism as it is often presented in public is to see it as a reaction to the dogmatism of the creationists. The ‘uncertain’ (in the sense of lacking reason) faith in creationism is replaced by the ‘certainties’ of science.

But there is a conflation here of very different degrees of certainty in science. There can’t be much doubt about the fact that life on earth has evolved.

There is much less certainty about the mechanisms. Unlike Darwinism (Darwin knew nothing of mechanisms, genes were not known), neo-darwinism proposes the exclusion of many mechanisms that have in fact now been found to occur in nature.

Adopting the ‘certainty’ of evolution to clothe the ‘uncertainty’ of particular theories about mechanisms has been the cause of many problems in public debate on evolution.

It is perfectly possible to defend the virtual certainty that life has evolved while debating in the usual argumentative scientific way the uncertainties surrounding the question of mechanisms.

The truth is that amongst the many mechanisms now known we know very little about which were prevalent in evolution. The answer is likely to be that different mechanisms were dominant at different stages.

Evolution itself evolves."


By biologist and evolutionist Denis Noble
from Wikipedia: "Denis Noble is a British biologist who held the Burdon Sanderson Chair of Cardiovascular Physiology at the University of Oxford from 1984 to 2004... He is one of the pioneers of Systems Biology and developed the first viable mathematical model of the working heart in 1960."

How amazing, incredible, and wonderful is Life and Reality!

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox