Just Wiggly with Wampum

Have you noticed that talking to a GOPer is pretty much the same as conversing with a psychotic or paranoid schizophrenic? I have. Actually, I think I prefer the latter. At least their theories are more interesting. With GOPers, one continually tries to make sense of their words. This is a mistake, but one we continue to make. With the insane, we expect exactly what we get. It’s not so confusing.

I could give you examples but you undoubtedly have examples of your own.

Me, I like a world that has room for foil-capped flying-saucer nuts. Everyone knows the guv’ment is prone to lie, is it so outrageous to think that they lie about alien visitation? See? You can have a good time with these conspiracy theorists, and only realize that something is not quite right when you find an alarm clock in the freezer. You make allowances.

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I’m not buying the “explanations” about what is going on in Arkansas. Plain and simple, I put this down as a guv’ment cover-up, no matter what they have induced its residents to claim. Proof is in the pudding as they say, or in the Arkansas Family Council which is hosting a 2-day seminar starring the pseudo-historian David Barton. This is all for the benefit of the state’s legislature, to teach ‘em about how our country was founded on “Christian principles.” Oh, and while they are at it, bein’ Christian and all, would they mind making sure no gays are allowed to pollute the environs with any of that equal rights crap?

The obsessiveness with which the far religious right attacks homosexuality, suggests that for some reason closet homophobes tend to gravitate to such organizations in droves. “NO, NOT ME. NO, I’M STRAIGHT AS AN ARROW!” Yeah tell us.

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I’m beginning to think that Sarah Palin’s troubles with “what books do you read” is pretty indicative of the GOP in general. Jon Stewart mentioned that the candidates for the GOP leadership were asked this and Michael Steele, said “War and Peace,” and then quoted from it: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Tolstoy and Dickens exchanged graves at this point. Another lady chairperson wanna be, said, “the kitchen table.”

Now we learn the Michele Bachmann, that bastion of educational superiority, notes that she was a Democrat but was so incensed by Gore Vidal’s hatred of the founding fathers in Burr that she instantly became a Republican. Make any sense? Of course not. We said Michele Bachmann didn’t we?

The full article at Salon is actually very good, and well worth your link up.

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Atheists believe,  but cannot prove that empiricism is the only basis for discovering truth. Hawking claims that philosophy is dead, fallen to the god, science. Now I revere science as much as the next gal, but I think First Things (a publication I normally don’t much cotton to) makes a very excellent point. Hawking in the end just “kicks the can” further down the street, by positing an empiricism that is subjective to the model used. Sorta like multiple realities emanating from rationally generated multiple models. Or, philosophy?

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Of all the new teabuggers in Congress, Alan West (R-FL) may be the wackiest. Now he’s claiming that sharia law is just infesting our systems! Yikes, get out the bug spray. I am guessing that most of those fine Florida voters must have been ironing the wrinkles from their skin every time West opened his mouth, and missed just how insane the man is. Or perhaps they misheard–Adam West? Thought they were electing Batman?

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Biologos does a great review of Conor Cunningham’s book, Darwin’s Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and the Creationists Both Get it Wrong. In the end, we learn what many of us, most of us perhaps, have always known. There is no “issue” between Darwin and faith. From the review it seems like a most worthwhile book to pick up. Eerdmans is the publisher if that helps your assessment.

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John McCain is getting to be a bore. Mr. Walnuts as he is called by some is just a crotchety old man who can’t get over being rejected twice for the job that he feels America owes him–the Presidency. Everything he now does is explained by that fact.

Sarah Palin is getting to be a bore. Everybody, even boring people can come up with Palin jokes. I mean you don’t have to even be witty. She’s such a huge target. Will she? Won’t she? Palin is just a woman from nowhere in particular, stuck in a backwater state, doing nothing in particular. She wanted to be rich, and she wanted to be famous. Everything she now does is explained by that fact.

I’ve decided that my new idiot par excellence is (drum roll) LINDSAY GRAHAM. The perpetual bachelor whom everyone knows is gay. He hitched his sled to Johnny, who failed. He couldn’t hide behind Johnny’s pant leg any more, so he extracted his nose from the Walnutz ass and decided to become a full-fledged wacko all by his self.

He’s a weasel, he whines, he snivels, he moans that it’s just so hard being a senator that the Democrats like to wore him out asking him to put in full days of reading and thinking during that lame ducky thing. He’s pouty. And me thinks he is running scared, since he did that whole Mavericky thing with Johnny, and now the teabuggers are none too happy with him, so he’s swung to the opposite pole, and is getting his tips from Bachmann and King, and DeMint.

Lindsay has hitched up his pants and said he will vote NO!!!! dammit to raising the debt ceiling. He is gonna play the game of brinksmanship. No statesmanlike status for him. Oh no, he prefers the buffoonery approach.

I say, let us stare the fools down. Do they really want to do that? I suspect even they will blink. Otherwise we, Obama, that is, might as well back and leave Washington and give them the entire ship of state.

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What’s on the Stove: Venison Stroganoff, with noodles and salad with blue cheese, and rolls.

Creation and the God of Abraham

I am deeply indebted to Cambridge University Press for their kindness in sending me a copy of Creation and the God of Abraham, edited by David B. Burrell, et al.

This is an amazing book, to put it quite simply. It is a difficult book, especially if you are not learned in science, philosophy and theology. But I promise you, if you take the time to explore and read carefully, you will come away with a wealth of new understanding and knowledge.

The question is posited: Is there a place for the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, and with it a logical explanation of the God of Abraham that is consistent with modern philosophy, science, and theology?

Quite a question. A group of scholars, spanning all three “People of the Book” religions, and  including philosophers, scientists, historians, and theologians, set out to ponder together this foundational issue at the Vatican Observatory. Each of the participants then wrote a chapter in their area of expertise, and this book is the collection of that conference.

Editor David Burrell, calls it a “feast prepared” for the reader. And I concur.

Creatio ex nihilo is the concept of God creating out of nothing, and it has come to be foundational to all three Abrahamic faiths. Early chapters explore the history of the development of the concept. It was not self-evident from Scripture, since  it is arguable that the Bible speaks to an initial watery chaos. But it too speaks of an all-powerful deity, and over a period of one thousand years, the doctrine was fleshed out and refined.

Authors Ernan McMullin and Janet M. Soskice take us through the scriptures and philosophical development from Aristotle through Augustine, Philo and Plotinus  in the search for a fully formed theology of creation, one that comported with our understanding of a God that was both omnipotent and intensely involved with creation.

Of course, for Christianity, Aquinas becomes the standard for the theological underpinning of creatio ex nihilo. David Burrell explores this aspect. Others then look at Aquinas in the light of the Enlightenment philosophers, and from the great Jewish minds, Maimonides and Crescas.

At times, it is easy to get lost in the language used. Philosophy always has its unique definitions of words we know and think we understand. Most assuredly we must be careful. I can state that I no doubt understood a good less than was conveyed, yet I can unequivocally say with patience, I came away understanding Aristotle, Scotus, Hume and Kant better than before I started.

Jewish and especially Islamic philosophy was quite new to me, and I had more difficulty with explanations from the authors covering them. Daniel Davies section on Maimonides and Crescas was difficult but highly enlightening.

The second half series of chapters moves into the scientific realm, and cosmology. This is an area that I have some lay familiarity with, and I could follow the arguments and evidence much easier here.

One of the more interesting chapters is that by Simon Oliver, who as a theologian, explores the idea of the Trinity and motion and emanation. He continues  through to Newton and cosmology. Again, hard going, but worth the effort.

Perhaps the chapter by William R. Stoeger, S.J. was the most useful for me. His explanation of the Big Bang and cosmology was the best synopsis I’ve encountered. I am reasonably well-versed in this area yet, he explained the early Planck era in a way that truly cleared up a lot of fuzzy thinking on my part. His conclusion that creation ex nihilo and the current quantum cosmological models of creation are not alternatives creations but complementary was well shown.

His discussions of time was particularly useful and illuminating to the lay mind. Science can only take you through successive regressions in time, and this is never-ending, whereas creatio ex nihilo does posit  a God who is self-evident, self-sustaining, and  is the basic ground for all existence.

“. . .God, instead enables and empowers creation to be what it is–and both ultimately endows and supports all the processes, regularities and processes of nature with their autonomous properties and capacities for activity. Thus God as Creator does not substitute for, interfere with, countermand or micro-manage the laws of nature. They possess their own integrity and adequacy, which God establishes and respects.”¹

For me this was thrilling, for it stated what I had deduced in some manner myself. It has been my journey to examine the God defined to me with the world that exists, as I see it, and then to mesh these two things. Stoeger comes closest to voicing my conclusion, certainly with greater eloquence.

One minor error was located in Simon Conway Morris’s chapter, What is Written into Creation? He pointed out that certain elements were “essential to life.” Phosphorus was one of them. As we learned a few days ago, that is no longer true. A bacterium in a lake in California replaces phosphorus with arsenic in its DNA sequencing. Obviously this is no fault on Mr. Morris’s part.

James Pambrun’s discussion about free will and sin were deeply important and I thought well explained and convincing. I found Thomas E. Tracy’s contribution wonderfully beautiful in its concepts. God’s act of creating is at once but never-ending, since he continually acts “through” his creation, under the concept of double agency.

Of course, I am only setting out the barest of understanding of these issues. All these authors are experts in the field they are addressing. Finally we circle back to Aquinas:

In the life of Christ, God learns as a human being in order to grant human beings divine sight. In the grace of the Spirit, human beings receive the sight of God through learning to see themselves as God sees them.²

For Aquinas, God is the ultimate scientist.

This is an expensive book. It is a difficult book for those unschooled in these disciplines. But, it is a beautiful, rich feast for those willing to explore. You will learn many things I promise you, and if you too desire to know God, much will be found here to ponder.

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¹ pg. 173

² pg.  242

Piercing the Light

I seem to be revisiting the Genesis stories of creation a lot lately. And that’s a good thing I think, because they always temptingly (pun!) offer us new and deeper insight.

Megan McKenna, world renown storyteller, author, peace activist, and some say prophet, tells a wonderful story about the opening of Genesis, the story coming from the Priestly tradition, compiled into written form during the Babylonian exile in the 580’s BCE.

She relates the first verses of Genesis 1 in dramatic style, bringing forth a evocative quiet as one listens with breathless awe at the scene.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “let there be LIGHT”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (NRSV)

McKenna claims that Jewish tradition has it that in that moment God created every soul that was ever  to be for all eternity. Think of that. Now transport yourself for a moment to that ever repeated visual seen so often on every program about the universe and its beginnings–the explosion of matter into existence during the Big Bang. Combine the two, and you have a most powerful and elegant metaphor for God’s creation. Now add the beautiful mystical words of John 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the LIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE.

The second Genesis story is the older of two probably. Both of course originated as oral tradition handed down from times hazy in distant memory, changed and added to as needed to reflect meaning to each generation. The second story, found at Genesis 2-4, was put into written form during the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem.

It reflects a quite different story, a God much the less Godly if you will, portrayed as more human, who walks and talks much like the humans he creates. He creates the male first, yet the woman will take center stage in this story.

It is the story of the Fall of mankind, brought upon humanity through the act of faithlessness of the woman and acquiesced in by the man. It is all about sin and human failing. We are introduced to Satan, the fallen angel.

Yet, read properly, (I would say, not literally, but then I would be giving an opinion–NOT me!), it tells the tale of failure to take responsibility for one’s own actions. God, being all patriarchal and such, asks the man what he has done, and the man blames the woman, and when asked, the woman blames the serpent.

Some have suggested that what God punishes here is not human failing. If one accepts that God formed humans exactly as he wished, then he apparently gave them the ability to fail in doing right. It would make God rather unfair and unjust to then punish mankind for all time with some mark of sin just because it actually exercised what was in its very nature.

No, the issue here is not the disobedience in eating of the tree of good and evil. The issue here, the failing that God cannot excuse is the failure to take personal responsibility for one’s own actions. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the snake, and the snake shrugs and wonders, “what did they expect  of me, being a mere reptile?”

God drives out the two from the Garden to live lives of toil and trouble. And so it goes. And we, are born into sin and live as sinful creatures all our lives. While I have no quarrel with the idea that we are all sinful, for indeed we are, I have always been troubled at the idea that a mere child would carry this burden. It seems both unnatural and unjust. (If you hadn’t figured it out, I take a dim view of my God being unjust.)

So it makes sense to me that God’s punishment was for the irresponsibility of the two. It was a harsh lesson to be sure. But the alternative, rather literal interpretation, seems fraught with problems.

Next: Satan
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What Hath God Wrought?

Ardipithecus-ramidus-live-009A few weeks ago, I made mention of Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus), a female hominid who was found in the early 90’s in Ethiopia.

Almost immediately, I received links to various creationist sites poo pooing the whole thing and claiming that scientists were having to scramble to rethink everything in light of her. It was like, to them, some major evolutionary catastrophe.

Such happens when people who know very little start trying to find information to support a conclusion they very much want to be the case. It makes for horrid science.

So it was with excitement, that the Contrarian and I sat down to actually watch the Discovery special on her discovery and the immense scientific inquiry that has followed.

Ardi was located in Ethiopia, in the general area where Lucy had been found and where many hominid types have been discovered. Her age was and is pegged at 4.4 million years ago.

The process is argon dating. Argon, like uranium has a known half life. (We are pretty good at this stuff since we build bombs that work based in part on the half life of uranium.) The surrounding rock is melted down, in minute quantities, and the argon gas emitted, is measured, giving very accurate time readings. So Ardi is 4.4 (+ or – 50,000 ) years old.

africasites

Her skeleton, what was found at least, was in quite poor shape. It took more than three years just to clean the pieces, which were numerous. Through two different processes, one conducted in Tokyo and the other in California, the skull was reconstructed. Both models were near identical, giving efficacy to the correctness of the model.

Of course, as is always the case today, experts from many far flung disciplines are brought to bear on different aspects of the find, and testing begins. As far as I can tell, no adverse or anomalous results have occurred which contradict other conclusions.

Scientists are jumping for glee at the find as you might expect, for Ardi presents them with something utterly unexpected. She is far older than Lucy, yet she doesn’t exhibit much in the way of chimpanzee structure as they expected. As one expedition leader suggested, “you can’t predict what you could have no way of knowing might exist.”

Ardi does what all good discoveries do, it sets the scientific community awhirl in excitement. Things have come up that were not expected, and an explosion of new ideas and testing is being called for.

What scientists know at this point is this: That Ardi was bipedal. Contrary to the idiot sites (all starting from the premise that evolution is bogus, then searching for anything they can manipulate unscientifically to support their already arrived at conclusion and buffalo their rather dull and uneducated readers), this seems well established through normal examination of pelvic bones.

Yet, her feet are decidedly ape-like, having an extremely large toe suitable for wrapping around small limbs. Her hands are human, and there are not the proper bones one would expect in a knuckle walking ape. Her teeth are also human, the canine having shrunk to the size appropriate to humanoid types.

Since she is so old, and is far back but still before the common ancestor of both apes and humans, the question raging at this point is what evolutionary good was served by bipedalism, which brought this characteristic to the fore so very early on in the development of what would become homo sapiens?

Scientists historically have favored a savanna approach. As the graces overcame the forests as the climate changed, scavenging for food often required “standing” up to look around above the grasses. Now we know that no such savanna existed then. Ardi, by examination of the flora of her time, lived in woods.

Present theories are that Ardi and her kind were bipedal because it allowed use of the hands to carry food longer distances. This freed up females to raise more children ( supported by the  record of increase), while males foraged farther afield for food and could return with sufficient quantities for the wife and kids. (Of course it was also safer that the females and young need not expose themselves to predators on the ground.)

Today, scientists are defining hominids from other ape like creatures simply on the basis of bipedalism. It was the big change, unheard of otherwise in the animal kingdom.

Where Ardi belongs on the family tree, make take a long time to decide. As those of us who dabble in this field know, the tree has been altered more than once over the last couple of hundred years. New discoveries are like that. They often upset the apple cart, and send scientists off to rethink everything again. No doubt, this will not be the last time; it certainly is not the first.

When I look at Ardi, and what specialists who create the “faces” of these creatures, show me of her life, I am given pause. I can imagine God watching little Ardi and her group, laughing with glee at their triumphs and play. One wonders if God stopped and smiled, wondering whether this creature would one day grow to a point where it would look upward and wonder “why, who, what?” God must have been excited to contemplate that moment in time when “first contact” would be made.

The wonder of evolution, the result of God’s (I believe) declaring by his Word, the start of creation, speak eloquently to us. We can imagine in all it’s glory the intricate melding of physical laws, the swirling interplay of matter and law that resulted over time in increasingly complex and more sentient creatures. We have before us today the result of that fine work. Amazing and making us tremble with awe. That through such a process, so elegant and surreal, tens of thousands of fly species could be created, different in minute aspects, of no consequence to anyone, but simply the way things play out in nature. Such a cornucopia of life explodes forth from the simple words, “let there be. . . ” And it was, and God said it was good.

See this site for general information and further links to actual science sites! Although I am aware of the limitations of Wikipedia, the information contained in this article is substantially the same as presented in the Discovery special.

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