Thursday, November 20, 2008

Archive, on the Enlightenment

…so what would you accept as true about the intellectual, artistic, and political movements of the 17th through 19th centuries…

I would accept many things as true but you tend to weave a mythology of Progress around things which are true that actually isn’t true. That’s the main issue.

For example you seem to imagine it likely that polytheism gave rise to theism which ultimately turns into deism and perhaps that turns into atheism at the end of this scenario of imaginary Progress.

That seems to be what you’re imagining here:….from ancient Greek polytheism to modern Christian theism/Enlightenment deism…

But the Darwinian tendency to project Progress onto everything by imagining things has been widely undermined by historical and anthropological evidence, so the views of someone like Edward Tylor carry about the same weight as the hypothetical goo typical to Darwinism in general.

It’s far more likely that polytheism is a corruption or falling away from monotheism than that theism arose out of polytheism. The most ancient traditional knowledge of many cultures is monotheistic.* In fact if one were to draw a line of progression based on the evidence it would more likely go from theism to polytheism to secularism and nihilism.

*E.g. Hananim (Korean, the Great One), Shang Ti (Chinese, the Lord of Heaven), Koro (Bantu, the Creator) Magano (Ethopian, the ultimate Creator again, as contrasted to the malevolent Sheit’an), the Great Spirit (American Indian), Deos (Greek, perhaps corrupted to Zeus and drawn down into a corrupted anthropromorphic focus, later reformed back by the philosophers under the new name Theos) and so on and on.

You said of the Enlightenment: Our commitment to scientific methods (doctrines being, quite frankly, irrelevant) and to the Constitution are both aspects of the Enlightenment legacy.

But the development of science as we know it had little to do with the Enlightenment and the mythology that tends to surround it. Take the work of Newton as an example to compare the imagery and mythology typical to “enlightenment” with the historical reality of what Newton himself actually wrote:

One of the first actions of those who proclaimed the ‘Enlightenment’ was the ‘deification of Newton.’ Voltaire set the example by calling him the greatest man who ever lived. Thus began an unexcelled outpouring of worshipful prose and extravagant poetry. David Hume wrote that Newton was ‘the greatest and rarest genius that ever rose for the ornament and instruction of the species.’ As Gay noted, ‘the adjectives ‘divine’ and ‘immortal’ became practically compulsory.’ [...] In 1802 the French philosophe Claude-Henri de Sain-Simon (1760-1825) founded a Godless religion to be led by scientist-priests and called it the Religion of Newton (his pupil Auguste Comte renamed it ’sociology’).
However, as the ‘Enlightenment’ became more outspokenly atheistic and more determined to establish the incompatibility of science and religion, a pressing matter arose: what was to be done about Newton’s religion? Trouble was that Newton’s religious views were not a matter of hearsay or repute. He had, after all, in 1713 added a concluding section to the second editions of his monumental Principia, the ‘General Scholium’ (or proposition), which was devoted entirely to his ideas about God. In it, Newton undertook to demonstrate the existence of God, concluding that:
‘…the true God is a living, intelligent, powerful Being….’
‘…he governs all things, and knows all things that are done or can be done.’
‘….He endures forever, and is everywhere present.’
‘…As a blind man has no ideas of colors, so have we no idea of the manner by which the all-wise God perceives and understands all things.’
Worse yet, Newton had written four letters during 1692-1693 explaining his theology to Richard Bentley. In the ‘Bentley Letters’ Newton ridiculed the idea that the world could be explained in impersonal, mechanical terms. Above all, having discovered the elegant lawfulness of things, Newton believed that he had, once and for all, demonstrated the certainty that behind all existence there is an intelligent, aware, omnipotent God. Any other assumption is ‘inconsistent with my system.’
(For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch Hunts and the End of Slavery by Rodney Stark :167-168)

Monotheism is associated with science as we know it as well as Progress traditionally understood as Providence but it leads to a different attitude about knowledge/scientia. This caused Newton to comment:

I don’t know what I may seem to the world, but as to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then in finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. cf. (Newton’s Gift: How Sir Isaac Newton Unlocked the System of the World by David Berlinksi :167)

If you are arguing that the Constitution and the founding of the American Republic is an aspect of the Enlightenment legacy then what explains the vast difference between the French Revolution and the American Revolution? I’m not sure what may be imagined about history but here is some of what the Founders said about the French Revolution:

And what was their Phylosophy? Atheism; pure unadulterated Atheism . . . . The Univer[s]e was Matter only and eternal; Spirit was a Word Without a meaning; Liberty was a Word Without a Meaning. There was no Liberty in the Universe; Liberty was a Word void of Sense. Every thought Word Passion Sentiment Feeling, all Motion and Action was necessary. All Beings and Attributes were of eternal Necessity. Conscience, Morality, were all nothing but Fate. (Letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson (Mar. 2, 1816), in The Adams-Jefferson Letters)
Original comment

Friday, November 14, 2008

Democracy and the Decline of Civilization

A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.
From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.
The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, those nations always progressed through the following sequence:
1. from bondage to spiritual faith;
2. from spiritual faith to great courage:
3. from courage to liberty:
4. from liberty to abundance
5. from abundance to complacency;
6. from complacency to apathy:
7. from apathy to dependence;
8. from dependence back into bondage.
--Alexander Tyler, 1787

Earlier scholars noted how Republics tend to decline:
Plato says that from the exaggerated license which people call liberty, tyrants spring up as from a root…and that at last such liberty reduces a nation to slavery. Everything in excess is changed into its opposite…For out of such an ungoverned populace one is usually chosen as a leader…someone bold and unscrupulous…who curries favor with the people by giving them other men’s property. To such a man…the protection of public office is given, and continually renewed. He…emerges as a tyrant over the very people who raised him to power. –Cicero (De Republica, i, 2.)
Money is language, a statement of value and cost and so on. Civilization is rooted in language, when it declines then its monetary systems follow necessarily. Fiscal conservatives try to separate moral language from economic forms of language and so on but a separation between fiscal and social conservativism typically undermines both because it all has to do with language spoken by the same people stating their values in different ways.

Financial credit is no different than credibility in general, a nation of decadent liars cannot create or support a sound monetary system through the application of intelligence or better policies and economic management.* There is no way to manipulate an economic system in order to overcome the corruption of individuals and the decline of a civilization in general. So on we go, put more copper in the coin!

*Poor Obama, naive and ignorant people seem to view him as some sort of savior in this respect.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

I didn't know that Micahel Crichton died.

Here he is making a point I have sometimes made:
I studied anthropology in college, and one of the things I learned was that certain human social structures always reappear. They can’t be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people—the best people, the most enlightened people—do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.

Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths. cf. Uncommon Descent

He's right but I wouldn't lump all religion together. I would at least classify some as more transcendent and some as more immanent. Environmentalism is an immanence based religion which matches patterns in other immanence based religions. For example, Catholics worship the mother of God while environmentalists tend to worship Mother Earth. Catholics used to sell indulgences so that one could pay for their sins while environmentalists sell carbon credits so that one can pay for their sins against the environment. And so on. You can't simply lump all religion together though, there are transcendent (Islam/Allah, Jews/Jehovah, Christians/Father God) and immanent patterns to them. It seems to me that there is only one which reconciles patterns of transcendence and immanence, as it is claimed in Christianity that the transcendent God was immanently incarnated, etc. It's even claimed that this is not a mythic, philosophic or symbolic way of unifying the mental patterns typical to us into One, it's a historical claim about what really happened. Despite the details in the end either it did or it didn't. As odd as it is I think it happened, so I'm a Christian. I'm not sure from what perspective it seems odd to me that God would do things in such a bloody, messy or dirty way because if it is odd then we're very odd creatures of blood, mess and excrement ourselves. If the gardening God wants to get His hands dirty or to create evil then I'm not in a position to object on "moral" grounds and neither is anyone else that I know. And in order to think things odd I must be imagining some other "normal," "clean" or "logical" way for the same ends to come about, yet the simple fact is that for all I know there may be no other means to achieve the same ends.

I know that logic may not help people experiencing evil in the moment but if an infinite God is totally good and a greater good can come about by creating, using or allowing for evil to exist then vast amounts of evil must necessarily exist. If messy forms of redemption are "more perfect" than law-like forms of perfection then evil must necessarily exist to the same extent that all the "more than perfect" things like redemption, mercy, forgiveness and so on exist.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Archive, on Chimps and Humans

…to say that humans are over one-third daffodil [based on their DNA] is more ludicrous than profound. There are hardly any comparisons you can make to a daffodil in which humans are 33% similar. DNA comparisons thus overestimate similarity at the low end of the scale (because 25% is actually the zero-mark of a DNA comparison) and underestimate comparisons at the high end.
The problem is that in being told about these data without a context in which to interpret them, we are left to our own cultural devices. Here, we are generally expected to infer that genetic comparisons reflect deep biological structure, and that 98% is an overwhelming amount of similarity. Thus “the DNA of a human is 98% identical to the DNA of a chimpanzee” becomes casually interpreted as “deep down inside, humans are overwhelmingly chimpanzee. Like 98% chimpanzee.” ….
…whatever the number is, it shouldn’t be any more impressive than the anatomical similarity; all we need to do is to put that old-fashioned comparison into a zoological context.
The paradox is not that we are so genetically similar to the chimpanzee; the paradox is why we now find the genetic similarity to be so much more striking than the anatomical similarity. Scholars of the eighteenth century were overwhelmed by the similarities between humans and chimpanzees. Chimpanzees were as novel then as DNA is now; and the apparent contrast between our bodies and our genes is simply an artifact of having two centuries’ familiarity with chimpanzees and scarcely two decades’ familiarity with DNA sequences. (What It Means to be 98% Chimpanzee by Johnathan Marks :28-31)


The primates confirm the predictions of message theory. There are large gaps, and there is no clear-cut phylogeny.
The apes thwart any attempt to separate man from nature: they unify man with nature. The apes possess innumerable similarities to us. The apes show that we are a part of this unified collection of objects. We are a part of the biotic message, so we must draw the same conclusions about our origins. The apes make it abundantly clear-The designer of earth’s diverse life forms and the designer of man are the same. Our designer authored the biotic message.
Kenneth Miller writes:
‘The big emotional issue among creationists is human evolution. It might be safe to say that all their previous arguments exist only to support the notion that humans are in no way linked to the other animals.’ (Miller, K., 1982, p 9-10, my italics)

Miller is mistaken. Creationists are not saying that humans are “in no way linked” to other animals. On the contrary. All organisms are linked by design, not descent. This has been part of the creationist thinking from the beginning. Because of this, the discovery of the apes in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries did not frighten them.

‘Now you would have thought that the discovery of these half-animal, half-men [apes] would have most profoundly scared and upset people-this evidence of a link between animals and man. And yet the literature of that period contains no evidence of any such frightened references.’ (Medawar, 1982 p 106)
(The Biotic Message: Evolution Versus Message Theory by Walter ReMine :323-324)

Dawkins on the same topic, perhaps citing his own imagination and mythology as the equivalent of evidence as he sometimes does:

The rise of Darwinism in the nineteenth century polarised attitudes towards the apes. Opponents who might have stomached evolution itself balked with visceral horror at cousinship with what they perceived as low and revolting brutes, and desperately tried to inflate our differences from them. This was nowhere more true than with gorillas. Apes were ‘animals’; we were set apart. (The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins :108) (He cites the “distinquished philosopher” Peter Singer approvingly in a footnote in the same chapter, yet as I recall Singer approves of infanticide.)

In another section he argues rather ignorantly:

Many of our legal and ethical principles depend on the separation between Homo Sapiens and all other species. Of the people who regard abortion as a sin, including the minority who go to the lengths of assassinating doctors and blowing up abortion clinics, many are unthinking meat-eaters, and have no worries about chimpanzees being imprisoned in zoos and sacrificed in laboratories. Would they think again, if we could lay out a living continuum of intermediates between ourselves and chimpanzees, linked in an unbroken chain of interbreeders like the California salamanders? Surely they would. Yet it is the merest accident that the intermediates all happen to be dead. It is only because of this accident that we can comfortably and easily imagine a huge gulf between our two species-or between any two species, for that matter.
(Ib. :303)

Note the way that the Darwinian mind constantly works towards citing imaginary evidence, so by the end of his paragraph he’s treating his imaginary ancestors and imaginary events in the past as if they are a reality which must be “imagined” away by others. Ah well, it bears repeating that he’s the one imagining things! It's a "huge gulf" as he puts it which can be observed empirically. That is simply a fact. And if one does away with the mental illusions typical to Darwinian reasoning (in which the imagination is somehow transmuted into “evidence” while the actual evidence that we can observe empirically and verify now is lost), it’s invariably the case that the Darwinist is relying on imagining things and passing it off as "science." That’s been my experience, at any rate. Also note his ignorance, he should know that if there were actual evidence for his imaginary ancestors it wouldn’t make a huge difference. Does genocide happen among humans? Of course. Do people who know that they have the same ancestors still kill each other? Of course. Is common ancestry among humans or chimps any safeguard if the Darwinian creation myth is true? Of course not, Jews were experimented on by Nazis who firmly believed in Darwinism and the Nazis advanced anti-vivisection laws at the same time that they performed experiments on Jews. There is no reason to become a vegetarian or to stop experiments on animals if the Darwinian creation myth is true, he seems to be playing pretend again by imagining that Jewish ethics are linked to Nature based paganism or the merging of basic natural categories but they aren't.