Preoccupied with writing up book notes this past week (and other things), I have a bunch of linked articles to note without making any of them separate posts.
From last Monday, two interesting op-eds in the New York Times.
Charles M. Blow: Religious Constriction. About the recent Gallup survey that indicates that 42% of Americans still believe “God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago”. And how Republicans pander to them. Blow concludes,
Religious fundamentalism at the expense of basic scientific facts threatens to obscure America’s beacon of light with a bank of fog.
And the ever-prescient Paul Krugman explores Interests, Ideology and Climate. He wonders if resistance of the evidence of climate change is simply a matter of vested interests (i.e. the coal industry, et al). No, he concludes,
Well, think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.
And the natural reaction is denial — angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.
The fact that climate concerns rest on scientific consensus makes things even worse, because it plays into the anti-intellectualism that has always been a powerful force in American life, mainly on the right. It’s not really surprising that so many right-wing politicians and pundits quickly turned to conspiracy theories, to accusations that thousands of researchers around the world were colluding in a gigantic hoax whose real purpose was to justify a big-government power grab. After all, right-wingers never liked or trusted scientists in the first place.
From Slate, Politics and Your DNA. How abortion absolutionists misunderstand biology.
We can hope that our legislative, judicial, and executive governmental branches will learn enough biology so that they do not even consider legislation that makes little sense. Understanding what embryos are and how they develop is not just a theoretical matter—being inaccurate has consequences. Knowing the biology will not tell us how to act or what is right and good, but it will inform decisions so that they are not inconsistent with biological reality.
This is the chief reason why allowing the major religions to jostle against one another in the public domain is extremely undesirable. The solution is to make the public domain wholly secular, leaving religion to the personal sphere, as a matter of private conviction and practice only. Society should be blind to religion both in the sense that it lets people believe and behave as they wish provided they do no harm to others, and in the sense that it acts as if religions do not exist, with public affairs being straightforwardly secular in character. The constitution of the USA provides exactly this, though the religious lobby is always trying to breach it, for example with prayers in schools. George W. Bush’s granting of public funds for ‘faith-based initiatives’ actually does so.
As liberalism has increasingly been aligned with the values of empiricism and reason, the incentives for conservatives to reject empiricism and reason multiply. To be a “conservative” increasingly means taking a contemptuous view of reality.
Slate, June 14th: Lev Grossman on Daughter Pressure, subtitled, “Fatherhood ruined my life plan — and made me the writer I am.”
I’ve started to think that the business of making new people is actually pretty important—important enough to go on a life plan, even. Because otherwise where would new people come from?
Salon, Solving the Genesis equation: Biblical creation as explained by modern science, an excerpt from a new book by British biologist Steve Jones, a book subtitled “The Bible Interpreted through Modern Science”
Via Gregory Benford on Facebook, this post on Centauri Dreams, a site about deep space exploration: Cultural Evolution: The View from Deep Space, quoting one Mark Lupisella:
If the universe didn’t have value and morality prior, it does now. If it didn’t have meaning and purpose prior, it may now. If it didn’t have intentional creativity prior, it does now. We may be a very small part of the universe that arose by chance, but nevertheless, strictly speaking, the universe now contains morality and a kind of intentional creativity it may not have had prior to the emergence of cultural beings like us. We cultural beings, in some nontrivial sense, make the universe a moral and increasingly creative entity, however limited that contribution may be for now. Increasingly, human culture is expanding its circle of creativity and moral consideration. Perhaps interstellar travel can help expand a circle of moral creativity to the whole of the universe.
And this Wired.com intro to a new episode of podcast Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy quotes physicist Lawrence Krauss and SF authors Tobias Buckell, on science denial, and James Morrow, on Proof of Heaven and Heaven Is for Real:
How does God feel about the fact that his cover has been blown? How does he feel about this unequivocal proof? Because there’s not one syllable of doubt in either [book]. Here God has been messing with our heads for thousands and thousands of years. You know, he’s been hiding himself, declining to answer our prayers—at least not doing so reliably—declining to intervene at Auschwitz or Hiroshima. Suddenly the game is up and God has been unequivocally unmasked. Did he really want this to play out in that fashion? I mean, did he really want the ultimate revelation to take the form of a New York Times bestseller?