Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Wizard of Awes: Part #2

My last post’s title was “Ah, Yosemite Falling Again.”

Ah—as in pleasant surprise, relief, regret, amazement…

But, of course, the main side-traveler is the pun, ah and awe, and an allusion to The Wizard of Oz, the famous children’s book and award-winning movie.

And the matter which so many thinkers have brought up--astrophysicist Adam Frank most recently this week on a NPR blog--where does the human emotion of awe come from?

Is awe only a movement of brain chemistry?

Is awe only a religious illusion?

Frank’s answer on awe is “about attention not attribution.” Don’t worry about attributing the experience, but focus on the validity of the moment.

But I’m an onion peeler. How can we find value in “awe” if it’s only an illusion of brain chemistry?

Is awe no more than an evolutionary adaption, a “misfiring” of natural selection, no more than neurons, etc?

Keep in mind what I am worry-warting here is neuroscientist Sam Harris’s infamous statement that even our sense of “I” is an illusion.

According to some scientists such as Sam Harris, we conscious primates and everything in existence from the Big Bang to me typing this sentence—all of it is determined. If so, if the “I” who is clicking my keyboard doesn't exist, but is only an illusion, then, of course, a transcendent emotional experience of mine when standing below Yosemite Falls is even of less significance, of no significance.

In that case, like in the children’s book and movie, there is no wizard of awes.

The transcendent feeling we humans sometimes experience when encountering the gigantic depths of the Grand Canyon, the intense and vast expanse of the Milky Way Galaxy while on a camping trip far from light-dense cities, or standing entranced on the walking bridge drenched in the spray from Yosemite Falls which plunges down into the gorge of Yosemite Valley thousands of feet below...

It’s all just atoms functioning.

No god wizard of religion, but no ultimate reality of philosophers and some scientists either.

I’m somewhat sympathetic to the skeptical view of religion. At present, after battling against some of the horrific delusions of various religions for 52 years, I've become skeptical of the usual supernatural wizards who are trotted out as the source of our awe when we encounter scenes that take our breath away.

But I find most atheists, not only sharp at showing the false pretentions of religion, but too often dissing the wonder of awe as well, too often claiming to know far more about the cosmos and absolute reality than even the most erudite cosmologist, and so often insistent it's all meaningless and purposeless.

No doubt this is why Einstein emphasized that he wasn't an atheist; he said wonder was the real basis for all science: "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed..."

"A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity...I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence -- as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature."
From The World As I See It by Albert Einstein

My own view is that the sense of awe we experience when encountering incredible natural vistas is inherent in us the same way that reason, creativity, free will, human rights, and ethical standards such as honesty and compassion are.

In this dramatic vista that has overwhelmed us, we finite primates encounter a touch of the beautiful, the wondrous, the infinite.

In the LIGHT,

Daniel Wilcox

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ah, Yosemite Falling Again

First, a reflection from NPR:
"Earlier in the day, looking down the rim of a canyon [New York's Letchworth State Park] cut over thousands of years by the Genesee River, I felt a profound sense of awe that cut me to the quick."

"But in that sense of awe, was I communing with anything extending beyond just a particular state of my neurons? My joke about the gods aside, was there anything religious about the feeling I, an atheist, felt looking across that vast expanse of river, stone and still blue air?"

"It's about attention not attribution."
From "Is Atheist Awe a Religious Experience?"
by Adam Frank, Assistant Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Rochester, New York

Professor Frank's nature/human reflection is a refreshing experience. (Read the rest at NPR). His emphasis on wonder takes us in a different direction than the cold, dry comments by many other nontheists in recent years such as scientist Francis Crick's infamous statement: "You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” The Astonishing Hypothesis, 1994

Gee, thanks. No doubt Francis Crick would say a similar thing about the falls of Yosemite--'nothing more than atoms...'

I remember my own awe-filled experience half a dozen years back in Yosemite National Park. Usually, wonder doesn't lead to humor but in this case it did.

Yosemite Falling Again

Gallivanting through the Valley
Visually assaulted by
Avalanching froth,

The white water rush,
Cataract heaven
For the natural user;

Millions of gallons
Cascading from sheer gasping
Cliffs above
Gushing, Muirwonder-rushing Falls
Billions of liquid liters--
An awe-inspiring

God, what a jolt!
You forget to shut
Off the sky’s
Water Spigot?

Previously published in selah river,
a third collection of my poetry

In the Light-splashed,

Daniel Wilcox

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Determinism of Jerry Coyne, PhD.

One of the most incisive and informative science websites on the Internet is Jerry Coyne’s The nature photos he posts are worth daily visits alone, and Dr. Coyne’s articles are personal, intriguing, and reflective. He is Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago and has a PhD. from Harvard University.

But sometimes his views, such as his hard determinism, leave me scratching my brain. Of course, it seems Dr. Coyne would argue that my confusion, too, was determined by the points he was determined to make.

Consider this one by him about Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic star who murdered his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp;
Dr. Coyne states: “As someone who doesn’t think that Pistorius, or any other criminal, had any choice about their actions, and that the nature of any punishment should take that determinism into account, I need to think about whether premeditation makes such a huge difference. As I see it (and I know others will disagree), the laws of physics had already determined that Pistorius was going to murder his girlfriend that night. Would his plotting to kill her in advance be much worse than his having decided to do so on the spot?”


If everything and everyone is determined, no one has any alternative choice, then even Dr. Coyne’s question and the answers from various posters were already determined.

So what’s the point? (It was determined that I would ask that.)

This reflection, Dr. Coyne's article, the punishment of Pistorius are all being determined by the laws of physics as is everything else, on and on and on to the end of time. To misquote a famous bard, “A tale told by idiotic nature….”

That was also determined.

If so why does Dr. Coyne get so upset at religious thinkers, who he claims are irrational and dangerous?
Doesn't Dr. Coyne remember that he thinks no one has a choice?

So of course, not only do all crooks not have a choice, neither do religious individuals. Millions of them were determined by the laws of physics to be irrational and dangerous.

And Dr. Coyne was determined to oppose religious thinkers....

None of this computes in my mind, but then according to him, nature is doing this to me. It’s not my choice to think humans have choice.


Daniel Wilcox

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Are We Stardust?

Yes and no.

Often when various leaders say this, that we humans are “stardust,” it is meant in a sense of “how amazing!” A highly romanticized phrase giving validation to us as Homo sapiens.

Even the very informative science book on cosmology, The View from the Center of the Universe, speaks of how we humans are stardust. The physicist Joel R. Primack and co-writer Nancy Ellen Abrams explain:
“Stardust is thus part of our genealogy. Our bodies literally hold the entire history of the universe, witnessed and enacted by our atoms.”

Sounds impressive, especially since the claim is coming from a physicist, and the co-writers are professors at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

But wait, notice the personification in the sentence, “witnessed and enacted by our atoms.”

Think about it, atoms can’t “witness” anything. Only conscious, aware finite life can witness.

It’s true, if not for the cosmic creation and explosions of stars after the Big Bang, we wouldn't be here. The elements from which life—including us-- came were formed billions of years ago.

“The nitrogen in our DNA…the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star-stuff.
Carl Sagan, “The Cosmic Connection” and Cosmos


“the elements themselves (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, etc.) were synthesized, cooked up as it were, in the nuclear furnaces that are the deep interior of stars. These elements are then released at the end of a star's lifetime when it explodes, and subsequently incorporated into a new generation of stars -- and into the planets that form around the stars, and the life forms that originate on the planets.”
Michael Loewenstein and Amy Fredericks for "Ask an Astrophysicist"

Even classic rock singers wrote and sang of this: “We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon…” written and sung by Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock;” also crooned by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

But we aren't ‘stardust’ in the sense of consciousness, self-aware, reasoning, computing, creating, ethically choosing primates.

So saying we are stardust is like saying we are composed of atoms.

In a basic microscopic sense, yes.

It’s like saying the sentences of this article are squiggles of ink on a page, pixels on a computer screen…well, yes…but that’s a superficial observation, a basic surface statement of the means whereby we consciously communicate complex ideas, scientific observations, abstract reasonings, creative writing through a series of lines and dots.

Stardust made life possible on earth but that doesn't define what conscious life is. Except maybe for those who think our sense of “I,” our consciousness, is an illusionary quirk like the biologist Francis Crick states and the neuroscientist Sam Harris and other materialists claim.

If in contrast, we choose to think human beings are an aware, reasoning, mathematically computing, and an ethical-choosing species that has evolved into the image of Ultimate Reality, what then?

Do we think we know how consciousness exists within human beings?

Do we understand the nature of reality which "existed" before the "Big Bang," before time and space came into being?

I've no idea. I'm not a professional cosmologist. And, besides, the older I get the less I think I know;-)

But consciousness does seem to be inherent in existence, at least on this planet, not a cosmically accidental quirk. Not an absurdity in a meaningless, purposeless universe.

Probably, where ever life reaches a certain plateau of complexity, consciousness appears.

And that is the true wonder—our awareness and our ability to think, reason, question, mathematically compute, and create!

Not the interesting but basic fact that our unconscious bodies have chemical elements formed from exploding stars billions of years ago.

We are star-focused lovers of the universe...

Asking "How?" and "By what means?" and "Why?"

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Part #3: The Ocean of Darkness

So what of George Fox’s statement, from which I got the title of my blog, "but an infinite ocean of light and love flowed over..."?

(Check back to Part 1 "Between Our Ears" and 2 "Rethinking the Title," if you missed them.)

Is it true?

First consider this, Fox began his famous statement by saying,
“I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death…”

And he probably should have added “and damnation” since so many millions of Europeans at that time were theological determinists:-(, consigning multi-millions of others to eternal damnation from before the beginning of time.

During Fox’s young adult life, millions of people died because of the horrific wars—the English Civil War and the 30 Years War. In the English War almost a million died! And in the 30 Years War at least 3-4 million. Then there were the millions wounded, those shut up in prison, the impoverished, orphans, destruction of towns and country side. The hatreds between religions then were much, much worse than now, even with 9/11 and Islamic terrorism which includes Al Qaida, HAMAS, and the Islamic State.

So no wonder Fox speaks of “an ocean of darkness and death…”

At one point, he became so despairing that he lay in bed for days, having lost all hope.
then, Fox experienced the first of his spiritual “openings,” from which came hope--"When all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing upwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do, then, oh, then, I heard a voice which said, There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition…
“an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness...”

For many years, starting with a dramatic conversion experience as a young person, I also had deep faith in Christ Jesus. Then later came moments of mystical awareness of God. I thought these confirmed what Christianity taught.
Even in the worst of times, I lived in hope and shared that hope and Good News with others.

That is until last year when the encroaching darkness became overwhelming. After being a Christian for 59 years, the "ocean of darkness" drowned me--like so many others--in a theological tsunami. Last August I finally realized Christianity can’t be true. This happened primarily because of the darkness, despair, and foreordained damnation that is drowning Evangelical and creedal Christianity. But the source of all of this poison goes all the way back to Augustine of Hippo (353-430 C.E.). So the horror is only a huge return to sender, not anything new. What is new is the vast number of churches and individual Christians who are declaring Augustinianism the truth.

Since I’ve posted before about theological determinism, I’ll only give the briefest explanation: Many Christian leaders now claim that billions of us were predestined/foreordained/"passed over" to eternal damnation by God before the beginning of time. Then God willed for humans to sin and disobey him so he could damn them for his "own glory" and "good pleasure."

None of us have a choice; all infants are essentially evil at conception. And God has foreordained only a limited number of humans to be saved, but even they have no choice either.

Furthermore, God planned all the tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters which have killed hundreds of thousands of people in the last 10 years, multi-millions in the last 1,000 years, and so forth.

Even worse God planned the gassing and execution of 10 million people including 6 million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust, and God planned every rape and murder that ever happens, and worst of all, God did all this for his glory
and pleasure. :-(

Not only that but God deceives humans, has a hidden will which is contrary to his revealed will. And it gets worse.:-(

Any relationship between this “Christianity” and the Good News I heard, accepted so many years ago, and shared at revival meetings, youth camps, Bible studies, etc.
nonexistent! Zero!

So I battled against this ocean of darkness--the Augustinian-Aquinasian-Calvinist-Lutheran false version of Christianity--for 51 years. But finally realized that if Jesus were real and alive, he would never allow his most devout followers to devour the world with such a despairing “Gospel.”

Tragically, I finally came to wish I had never been born.

So last August, after another battle against this poison, I came to the hopeless conclusion there is no “infinite ocean of light and love.”

Such a despairing conclusion.

But at least it isn’t as horrific as the God of Calvinism. One Baptist theologian has said that such a God is indistinguishable from the devil and is a moral monster.

And John Wesley wrote he would rather be an atheist than believe in such a God.

Amen to that.

Daniel Wilcox

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Why Did Israel Deport "the Palestinian Gandhi"? And Inherit the Gazan Whirlwind of Death?

Why in the past did Israel deport a Palestinian leader dedicated to nonviolence, yet now negotiates with HAMAS leaders who are guilty of murder and allows them to live there!?

It makes NO sense.

Not only is HAMAS dedicated to lethal violence and the destruction of the state of Israel, but it admits it killed the 3 Israeli students on July. That despicable murder is called a "heroic operation" by HAMAS Spokesperson Saleh Arouri.

In contrast the Palestinian Mubarak Awad said that Palestinians should engage in peaceful protest, carry no gun, and plant olive trees on land, etc.

But he was deported though he was born in Jerusalem!

It makes no sense.

But then does anything in Palestine/Israel?

Only a few days after signing a truce with HAMAS leaders, "the Israeli government announced Sunday that it would appropriate almost 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank that could be used to build homes for Jewish settlers." The Washington Post, August 31, 2014

So Israel will steal land from Palestinians to give to Jewish people moving from other parts of the world. But deny Palestinians who were born there their own land!

Recently, the Israeli military bulldozed the orchard of the Palestinian Nassar family south of Bethlehem. The Nassar family are committed to nonviolence and promote reconciliation at their farm, Tent of Nations.


Please read this short article by Jeff Stein in Newsweek Magazine about Mubarak Awad,known as the "Palestinian Gandhi or Martin Luther King."

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Rethinking the Title of My Blog: Part #2

In the volatile, destructive 17th century, during the English Civil War when neighbor slaughtered neighbor, visionary social leveler George Fox wrote in 1646,
“I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death,
but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness…”

Do these words—“infinite ocean of light and love”--describe any aspect of existence?

Is there an “infinity of light and love” in the visible or invisible universe?

Probably not (but more on what Fox’s quote might mean further down in the reflection).

It seems fairly probable and scientifically observable that the biological world isn’t based in infinite love at all. Though many religionists from Young Earth Creationists to Intelligent Design Scientists, of course, claim otherwise. John Haught, a brilliant Roman Catholic thinker, who even accepts Darwinian evolution as fact has a different perspective yet.

According to Haught, God demonstrates his vulnerable self-emptying love toward all things and all beings because God doesn’t micromanage everything, doesn’t directly create and control life but instead lets evolution via natural selection proceed through various pathways over billions of years!

“The God of evolution humbly invites creatures to participate in the ongoing creation of the universe. This gracious invitation to share in the creation of the universe is consistent with the fundamental Christian belief that the ultimate ground of the universe and our own lives is the loving, vulnerable, defenseless, and self-emptying generosity of God.” John Haught, God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens

To many this sounds absurd.

The natural order shows Reality to be "Vulnerable? Defenseless? Self-emptying? Gracious? Generous? Loving?" Hardly!

Let’s consider again the actual facts of daily life among all sentient creatures, of the nature of biological evolution, natural selection! Face all of the pain and suffering that has gone on for at least 200 million years.
“Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw”
Alfred Tennyson

“…killer whales pluck newborn seals off the beach and viciously thrash them about…For more than 550 million years, trillions of animals — perhaps many more — have been preyed upon and parasitized, have had their offspring torn to shreds, and been abused and tortured by rapacious predators…"

"Evolution, a natural force of mutation and selection that is a powerful creative agent of design, is blind to any sense of right or wrong. Evolution is amoral. It is apathetic to a species’ quality of life, and callous towards the suffering of the life forms that it moulds…lionesses are ripping off the limbs of screaming gazelles out on the savannahs…wolves are…eating their prey alive or leaving them disembowelled to die.
Steven Hussey, PhD in genetics, University of Pretoria, South Africa

“What a book a Devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low & horridly cruel works of nature!”
Charles Darwin, Francis Darwin, ed., More Letters of Charles Darwin

And that doesn’t even begin to deal with the wreckage, savagery, intolerance and slaughter by humans since they came on the scene. Or the millions slaughtered in the wars of the last 500 years by Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, etc.

On the other hand, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Roman Catholic philosopher, was a famous paleontologist and geologist who wrote that all of cosmic history is moving toward a loving Omega Point at the end of Time. No doubt as a scientist he had reflected many times on the savage face of nature, and yet he held that ultimately nature will be glorified in love.

Were his scientifically and philosophically grounded observations and speculations, just—deluded specks, abstract delusions that have no actual identity in real time/space?

Yes, says millions of other scientists, especially atheistic ones such as Richard Dawkins, Jacques Monad, Daniel C. Dennett, and Sam Harris. According to Dennett, Darwinian evolutionary science is like an acid which eats through every view of humans contrary to materialism.

So, again, like so many difficult studies, it’s very hard to say; after all basic evolutionary biology, (let alone paleontology), is an incredibly complex study. But common sense would seem to rule out the Fox’s and de Chardin’s and Haught’s view that nature is infused and surrounded by God’s cosmic love.

Who knows in an objective sense?

Way beyond my pay grade.

Then there’s the science of cosmology--the study of the origin, nature, and end of the universe, a highly abstract scientific enterprise dealing with billions of light years, billions of galaxies, trillions of planets…and quantum mechanics at the opposite end of size, delving down into the microcosm…

Way beyond my pay grade, too.

I don’t “know.”

But here are the measured thoughts of one physicist and Nobel laureate, Arno Penzias:
“…maybe God always reveals Himself? Again I think as Psalm 19, ‘the heavens proclaim the glory of God,’ that is, God reveals Himself in all there is. All reality, to a greater or lesser extent, reveals the purpose of God. There is some connection to the purpose and order of the world in all aspects of human experience.”
Quoted in the book The God I Believe In, Joshua Haberman, editor

That sounds almost like George Fox
I wish I could ask a few hard questions of Penzias and Haught, and for that matter the contrary thinkers Hussey and Dennett.

So what of George Fox’s statement, the title of my blog?

Is it true?

Or completely fallacious, delusionary, and absurd?

To be continued…

Part #3 Next time:-)

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox