Monday, September 30, 2019

Guest Blog from Professor Roger Olson: "What if humanity could be saved only by torturing children to death?"

from An Ethical Dilemma Posed in a Stephen King Novel

"What if…the world, humanity, could only be saved from total obliteration by torturing children to death?

"Spoiler alert! If you intend to read King’s latest novel The Institute you may not want to read this as it contains some details about the plot. I will not, however, give away the ending.

The Institute is not your typical King novel if there is such a thing. It’s not exactly a horror story although it is a horrifying story. It contains some sci-fi elements and some violence but it’s nothing like “It” or “The Shining” or “Pet Sematary.” I would compare it more with “Mister Mercedes” or even “The Stand” in terms of tone.

"Like most of King’s novels and short stories it carries within it an ethical dilemma. What’s the right thing to do in a grievous situation where there does not seem to be a right thing to do?

"Of course, there’s often the hero who intuitively knows the right thing and does it.

"But here is the intriguing question embedded in The Institute: If the world, humanity, the whole of nature on earth, could only be saved by kidnapping and torturing children with the inevitable result that they die, would doing that be ethically justified?"


In the Light of Moral Realism,

Dan Wilcox

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Spectrum of Probabilities: Theism versus Atheism

From Richard Dawkins:
1. Strong theist. 100% probability of God. In the words of Carl Jung: "I do not believe, I know."

2. De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100%. "I don't know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."

3. Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50% but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."

4. Completely impartial. Exactly 50%. "God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable."

5. Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50% but not very low. "I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical."

6. De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. "I don't know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there."

7. Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one."
The God Delusion, pages 50-51

from the thinker J.J.C. Smart at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
“Let us consider the appropriateness or otherwise of someone (call him 'Philo') describing himself as a theist, atheist or agnostic. I would suggest that if Philo estimates the various plausibilities to be such that on the evidence before him the probability of theism comes out near to one he should describe himself as a theist and if it comes out near zero he should call himself an atheist, and if it comes out somewhere in the middle he should call himself an agnostic."

"There are no strict rules about this classification because the borderlines are vague. If need be, like a middle-aged man who is not sure whether to call himself bald or not bald, he should explain himself more fully."
J.J.C. Smart, “Atheism and Agnosticism” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

My central observation of all of this:
I am baffled by both atheist thinkers such as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins who has stated that he is a 6.9 and by contrary theists such as the famous psychiatrist and thinker Carl Jung who was a 1! And, of course, many Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders who claim to be 1’s.

In my own case, I can't imagine such certainty!

How could either famous theists or famous atheists, finite humans who don’t even know the nature of such scientific things as dark matter, possibly know for certain the ultimate nature of all of reality?!

In my many years, I've read a lot of books on biology, cosmology, philosophy, etc. and all of that learning
(from The Ancestor's Tale by biologist Richard Dawkins, the best of the bunch,
to The Elegant Universe by theoretical physicist Brian Greene)
has helped me to become
far more aware of how little I actually know
about the incredible vastness and depth of existence.

But even in my most devout Christian days of 55 years, when I was more ignorant,
I never, if look back at those years impartially, probably got closer to certainty than a 3, about 77-74% convinced of theism.

And, though an ex-Christian now, I am probably not much higher toward atheism than a 3 either, but I am more tentative, probably.

When it comes to cosmology, I tend to think in possibilities, and probabilities based upon what is explained by cosmologists, astrophysicists, biologists, etc. than by either those so committed to atheism or theism.

Many humans in-between the chasmic divide of theism versus atheism turn toward agnosticism.

Hmm...agnosticism… IF that is a not-knowing SEEKING for what is true, good, and just that could be a wise way of living human.

The caps on seeking are the key. BECAUSE for millions, 'agnosticism' as a life stance is dangerous and almost always harmful. To them not-knowing as a life stance, means not only not "KNOWING" the Ultimate Nature of Reality, but also having a severe skepticism about anything except hard facts and matter and energy:-(.

To them, morality is merely subjective preferences, not moral realism. Heck, many of them have claimed that even slavery, rape, molestation, dishonesty, and slaughter aren’t wrong! Only subjective views of humans!

is to start with our day-to-day moral encounters and decisions. Even if we humans don't or can't discern the ultimate nature of existence and the cosmos, every moment we live, we need to make moral decisions based upon what we think is true about existence.

We need to make decisions about whether or not to drive carefully, hold to meticulous honesty, show generosity and caring for those not of our own family and nation, work for equality and justice for all humans, etc.

SO Start with what is probably true:
1. Moral realism is true.
2. All humans have inherent worth and are equal in value.
3. All humans are morally responsible and capable of making creative choices among alternatives.
4. Human rights exist.
5. At the very least, compassion is far better than cruelty, generosity than selfishness, viewing one's nation as a humble ideal, not putting it FIRST, etc.

From that practical day-to-day moral foundation, then one can make tentative, educated guesses as to ultimate questions.

Check out Oxford professor Keith Ward's books such as The Big Questions in Science and Religion and Steven Pinker’s book, Enlightenment Now.

Though an atheist, Steven Pinker thinks Enlightenment values are real, that human progress is possible, that such values have brought about amazing accomplishments for the good in the last couple hundred years.

He admits in the book, that humankind could regress--as we did in the 20th century with the mass slaughters, dictatorships, destruction, etc.

But, Pinker thinks that if we continue to support Enlightenment values, then humans can continue to progress.

According to him, Enlightenment values can change even doctrinaire Muslim societies and other oppressive ones gradually. He states this has already started to happen. Current terrorism, as horrific as it is, is only an aberration, not the future.

Enlightenment Now is one of the best studies I have read on humankind and the influence of moral realism such as human rights, equality, concern for the impoverished, democracy, etc.

In the LIGHT of real moral values,

Dan Wilcox

Friday, September 20, 2019

Afghan Drone Attack--The Road to Elsewhere

Are you feeling like Vonnegut after the debacle'd news of the last few months?
Here's a poem by me to chew on:

The Road to Elsewhere

The highway to ‘hail,
Hail Afghans all here,’

(“Give me your ears…”)
Is paved with good intentions and ‘IUO’s.’
On that yellow ‘book’ road, quran
Tell tales-where-banned
Men of lairs acclaim allah’s offense…

Come out of your pious lores, you liars.
But over here, we’re First,
We’re all so right, “god’s man”
Of the west wind

Our shocked awe amazes
18 years of twistered god-centered war
“only a little more…”
every precedence tells,
rankly wrong
(“You, too …’brutal’?”)

We’re not in Kansas
No more, morals, nor never were. Was?
A last ‘stand’ stammering
In that season—us dogs of Mars and a sheep’s head,
Let’s make pieces with the Muslims,
More mothers slump to that deserted bleeding ground.*
Balmed for All...

Can't we humans get a heart?

Work for peace,
Dan Wilcox
First pub. Fish Food magazine

Thursday, September 19, 2019

TEETER-TOTTER with supposed enemies of the U.S. Use the WALL of DIVISION as a way of sharing and fun!

Governments seek to divide, to separate, to propagandize, to lie, to tragic. EVERY SINGLE KID, EVERY SINGLE HUMAN IS EQUAL AND OF INHERENT WORTH!

Look at this creative overcoming of that disheartening wall of dividing. TEETER-TOTTERING

"Regardless of which president is in power, San Fratello said that the pop-up "Teeter Totter Wall," was created to "expose the ridiculous-ness" of separating people.

"The artful play structure, which was set up temporarily for 30 minutes on Sunday at the border of Colonia Anapra, a community on the western side of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico, was supposed to represent whimsy and joy...
"SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico (KTVU) - The unusual sight of children and families laughing and bouncing up and down on neon pink seesaws straddling a steel fence dividing the United States and Mexico appeared to be a direct visual and artistic attack on the Trump Administration's anti-immigration mandates and directives.

"But Virginia San Fratello, an assistant professor of art and design at San Jose State University who lives in Oakland, said the idea for the whimsical teeter-totter was born as a result of the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

"People near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico bounce on pink seesaws created by Ronald Rael and Viginia San Fratello. June 28, 2019 Photo: Rael San Fratello
People near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico bounce on pink seesaws created by Ronald Rael and Viginia San Fratello. June 28, 2019 Photo: Rael San Fratello
The act authorized and partially funded nearly 700 miles of fencing along the border. According to government figures, U.S. Customers and Border Protection has spent about $2.4 billion on fencing, gates, roads and infrastructure along the nearly 2,000-mile southwest border from 2007 to 2015.

"This idea came long before Trump," San Frateloo said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Mauricio Martínez

Artists installed seesaws at the border wall so that kids in the U.S. and Mexico could play together. It was designed by architect Ronald Rael. ⁣

"Beautiful reminder that we are connected: what happens on one side impacts the other.
🇲🇽 ❤️ 🇺🇸

"Regardless of which president is in power, San Fratello said that the pop-up "Teeter Totter Wall," was created to "expose the ridiculous-ness" of separating people.

"The artful play structure, which was set up temporarily for 30 minutes on Sunday at the border of Colonia Anapra, a community on the western side of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico, was supposed to represent whimsy and joy, she said.

"But it also represented the ramifications of political yin and yang.

"What happens to someone on one side of the border, affects someone on the other," she said.

"The seesaws, which she co-designed with UC Berkeley architecture professor Ronald Rael -- who is also her husband -- were purposely painted hot pink. That's the color that represents the hundreds of women and girls who have been killed near Ciudad Juarez during a rash of robberies and gang wars since the 1990s.

"Pictures from the scene on Sunday show a girl in pigtails laughing while riding high on the seesaw, a mother smiling and taking selfies with her baby and crowds chatting along the sandy road to watch people from different homelands connect with each other through a fence, fashioned from steel and concrete.

"The teeter-totters were fabricated in Mexico by local craftspeople and installed by a collective called Colectivo Chopeke. On the Mexican side, the gathering of people was mostly spontaneous. A residential neighborhood is located a stone's throw from the fence and families simply walked up to it and started riding.

"Her husband wrote on Instagram: "The wall became a literal fulcrum for U.S. - Mexico relations."

"She and Rael sent up a drone to take video of their efforts, which was tweeted by Mexican actor Mauricio Martinez, bringing international attention to their work. They each posted the video on their Instagram accounts and the story spread far and wide.

"Martinez tweeted that the seesaws were a "beautiful reminder that we are connected."
In a Ted Talk that he gave, Rael, who teaches a class on "design and activism," described that the architecture as a political statement should be seen as both "satirical" and "serious."

"San Fratello and Rael conceived the idea for the seasaws as far back as 2009, which Rael documented in a book, "Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary." But the seesaw was just one of the many ideas they had. The pair pictured building swings on to the fence "so you could literally swing over it," San Fratello said.

"They pictured a library and a burrito shop, with a portion of each building on one side of each country so people could meet halfway inside. They also drew up plans of turning the fence into a massive xylophone, where people on both sides could take turns hitting the metal and making music.
READ the rest at:

Let us think creatively of ways to artistically use the immoral and unjust acts of government to create the opposite--sharing and connecting of ALL HUMANS WHO HAVE EQUAL WORTH AND VALUE.

In the Light,
Dan Wilcox

Saturday, September 7, 2019

My Life-Long Philosophical Journey

I've been on a long philosophical journey for about 68 years, so it could take many pages:-), but I will try and give you the dehydrated, non-fat version:
1. I appear to have been born with a 'why' caught in my throat, unlike my family or anyone else in a Nebraska village; always asking 'why' beginning at about 4, driving my parents tired.

2. Early on beginning about 10, I felt a deep keen moral concern. So I was troubled by the ethical horrors and inconsistencies in our Baptist Christian religion such as when our Sunday school teacher claimed that God had sent bears to maul kids making fun of the prophet Elisha. I countered God would never do such an evil action.

3. I presume that you are interested, mainly, in my philosophical journey so I won't share my own personal experiences related to that.

4. As Baptists, we weren't creedal; we strongly opposed Augustine, infant sin, Original Sin, and his other horrific beliefs and dogmas.
BUT then I discovered that most Christian churches did believe those dogmas. As a teen, I read a book from the library on the Creeds and was flabbergasted that anyone would believe such convoluted superstition.

5. As a thinking teen and through my adult years, I never believed Jesus was God, so over the years I've learned that most Christians leaders think I was never a Christian, not even when I was a Baptist youth minister, Bible teacher, later an elder, missions volunteer, etc.

6. At 18-20 I went to the University of Nebraska and Long Beach State, where most of our professors were agnostics, declared atheists or Marxist, almost no Christians. We formally studied philosophy and culture anthropology, philosophy, comparative literature. The ex-moderate fundamentalist encounters the secular world; from no-movies-or-dances religion to hanging out with philosophical beatniks and early hippies. Then I moved to Haight-Ashbury:-)

7. My adult life has been one life long search for what is true.

10 PHILOSOPHICAL VIEWS OF REALITY with my own views at the end:
These are the views of reality that I understand from the views of reality that I've read about from many well-known cosmologists, philosophers, biologists, etc.
Keep in mind that I do think ethics are what define intelligent, self-aware, ethical species. It's my view that all rational, aware, ethical species would oppose dishonesty, rape, slaughter, inequality, etc. and support meticulous honesty, compassion, altruism, bio-concern, etc.

Ethical realities aren't just labels that we place on behavior.
We are living in a universe about 27 billion light-years across, and about 13.7 billion years old. According to cosmologists, the cosmos will last many more billions of years.

What is the inherent or ultimate meaning of this cosmos?

Some human leaders claim it's meaningless, others that they know for sure its exact nature.

#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: 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 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. Or even whether to read about various views and to post this.

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/Augustinianism.

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

I find it intriguing that a minority of thinkers who identify as atheists do think that the Good exists! They are also moral realists.

#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.

However, unlike #2 and #4, the emergent-possibility cosmos isn't meaningless and purposeless, but is filled with meaning.
Interesting, but I doubt it.

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

This cosmic but limited ultimate reality--God--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 coffee. 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 Gardner, 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.

However, maybe, as some famous scientists have emphasized, we finite human primates don't have enough knowledge to even decide this question.

I certainly don't know even how to do calculations to send a rocket into space, let alone know the nature of reality in its astrophysical/cosmological ultimate sense.

However, each moment I exist, I am face with learning, making choices, etc, so by the very nature of being a human primate, I have to live out of one life stance. Even though I have no conclusive "proof," as I've said, ethical truths are a good start.

In the Light,
Dan Wilcox