Firestorm Comet?

Scientists figure a comet started breaking up about 12,800 years back. Nothing unusual there. Many comets break up while they’re this close to our sun.

This time Earth got in the way before the fragments spread out much.

Fire rained from the sky, consuming forest and meadow alike.

Sounds a bit like Genesis 19:1, now that I think of it. Except we didn’t start building cities until a few millennia later. Or maybe we haven’t found our first cities yet. And that’s another topic or two. (March 30, 2017; August 26, 2016)

Anyway, scientists think they’ve found evidence of epic firestorms just shy of 13 millennia back. If they’re right, the event could have triggered a severe cold spell and killed off quite a few big critters.

A key word there is “if.” Scientists who published the recent papers think they’ve got evidence and sound analysis. Quite a few other scientists aren’t agreeing.

I’ll be talking about that, ideas old and new, and quite a bit else. Even by my standards, this post is a bit nonlinear.

You might want to skip ahead to Fire and Extinctions. That’s where I talk about why some scientists think they’ve found evidence of a big firestorm. And others aren’t convinced.

Then again, maybe you’d enjoy seeing what I think about “believing,” language, God, and the Minnesota Driver’s Manual. Also science, assumptions and evolution.


Meanings and a Driver’s Manual

I don’t believe in —

I’d better explain what I mean by that.

Language, the sort folks use every day, is generally precise.

And profoundly polysemous. “Polysemy” means that a word, phrase or symbol means different things, depending on context.

Different words sounding alike is homonymy. Like ‘bears bear fur: can you bear it?’ Which doesn’t have much to do with hominy grits.

Where was I?

Let’s see. Language. Regional cuisine. Ursine ferreter. Ferreter? That’s not correct. Metaphorically, maybe. But not in this context, and that’s yet another topic.

Got it! “I don’t believe in….”

I don’t “believe in” evolution, science, or the Minnesota Drivers Manual.

Not the way I believe in God. I’m a Christian, a Catholic. I see God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the source of my faith. And everything else. Everyone, for that matter. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 234, 279308)

But I “believe” that the Minnesota Drivers Manual tells me how I should drive. While in this state, anyway.

Studying God’s Universe

I “believe” that science is what we call studying this universe. But not the way artists or theologians do.

Science is pretty straightforward.

Scientists pay attention to something. Then they come up with a reasonable explanation of what they’ve noticed.

Next they see if the explanation actually works. Other scientist also test the explanation. (April 28, 2017)

I’d oppose science and all that — If I believed that God gave us brains and has a snit when we use them.

Or that the Almighty created this awesome universe so that a faithful few could get points for ignoring it. Maybe some folks believe that. I suspect it’s too blatantly illogical for any but the most muddled.

Another option is seeing this universe and everything in it as Satan’s creation — and God as Satan’s counterpart, striving to make everything immaterial.

It’s a bad idea on many levels. More about that later.

Beliefs and Babylon

I’m pretty sure at least a few Christians are convinced that our faith rests on Babylonian cosmology’s pillars.

But faith-based flat Earth societies seem to be on hiatus.

More accurately, I haven’t noticed any. And haven’t looked very hard.

On the other hand, it’s hard to not notice Christians who staunchly refuse to think evolution happens

My guess is that many of them also disapprove of this universe being more than a few millennia old.

Given their history, I can almost understand some Protestant groups defending the Ussher Chronology. Catholics who see a 17th century Calvinist’s timetable as vital to our faith, not so much. (November 5, 2017; November 3, 2017; March 24, 2017)

Beetles

I might be supporting ‘young Earth’ ideas and insisting that ‘let there be light’ happened in 4004 BC — if I lived in different reality.

One where scientists plotted world domination while chanting ‘there is no God but Darwin, and Haldane is his prophet.’

Some old-time ‘mad scientist’ movies were nearly that weird. Yet again another topic. (January 12, 2018; October 16, 2016)

I don’t agree with Haldane’s view that God’s not there.

But I like his observation that “God has an inordinate fondness for beetles.” That’s partly because I think it illustrates Isaiah 55:89. God’s thoughts aren’t ours. (January 19, 2018)

If Darwin really was widely regarded as a god, Huxley’d be a better pick for top prophet. Here in reality, Darwin’s research got scientists and quite a few other folks thinking. I see that as good news.

What happened when science and British politics mixed was not, I think, good news. On the other hand, it’s given me something to write about. (October 28, 2016)


Fire and Extinctions


(From University of Kansas News, used w/o permission.)

New research suggests toward end of Ice Age, human beings witnessed fires larger than dinosaur killer, thanks to a cosmic impact
News, The University of Kansas (February 1, 2018)

“On a ho-hum day some 12,800 years ago, the Earth had emerged from another ice age. Things were warming up, and the glaciers had retreated.

“Out of nowhere, the sky was lit with fireballs. This was followed by shock waves.

“Fires rushed across the landscape, and dust clogged the sky, cutting off the sunlight. As the climate rapidly cooled, plants died, food sources were snuffed out, and the glaciers advanced again. Ocean currents shifted, setting the climate into a colder, almost ‘ice age’ state that lasted an additional thousand years….”

It’s a good story, and may be true.

Quite a few scientists aren’t convinced. That doesn’t mean an impact event didn’t set off a recent cold spell. Or that it did.

Scientists, competent ones, don’t endorse the latest idea because it’s new and exciting.

They study it to see if it’s also reasonable and verifiable. That’s a long process.

We’re quite sure the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event happened, for example. But we’re still uncovering details. What set it off is another question.

We’ve had plenty of explanations, some plausible and some not so much. My guess is that the Chicxulub impact was a major factor. Maybe the most important. I also think the Deccan Traps eruptions helped. Or hurt, depending on viewpoint.

Scientists have started thinking that maybe the impact(s), eruptions, and other events made 66,000,000 years back a really bad time for dinosaurs.

And that’s still another topic.

Abstracts and Coffee

About the recent ‘comet impact’ research, I think it sounds reasonable.

I don’t know enough about the paper to have an informed opinion.

It’s not ‘open source’ research, which means that I’d have to pay a fee to read what they said. With my household’s budget, anything more expensive than “free” isn’t an option.

The cost isn’t unreasonable: $10. I suspect that’s barely enough to cover storage and database maintenance expenses.

Some Americans spend that much on a cup of coffee. The coffee: not the cup itself.

I don’t have a problem with fancy coffee. Many folks have more disposable income than I ever had. Many have less.

There’s no virtue in wealth or lack of it. What matters is what we do with what we’ve got. Finding balance and staying there isn’t easy. (July 9, 2017; September 25, 2016)

If the recently-published research sparks the discussions I think it will, some of that’ll most likely be open source. Meanwhile, happily, I can read the abstracts.1

Data, Analysis, and Healthy Skepticism

These scientists seem to have done a good job. They took data from over a hundred locations. Assuming that they picked a reasonably broad selection, it should be enough for analysis.

The data may be debatable, or not. Either way, I’ll be surprised if someone doesn’t say the analysis is skewed.

Bayesian inference is a valid way to get results from a data set with pieces missing. It’ll do until scientists fill in the gaps.

Right now we’re looking at a reasonable idea that may or may not be true.

Scientists will discuss the data and analysis, look for more evidence, and run what they’ve got through other analytic tools.

That happens pretty often in science. It was happening when science was natural philosophy. It’s one way we learn.

If the ‘firestorm’ idea is true, scientists will find evidence. Wildfires scorching something like a tenth of Earth’s land will have left traces.

Healthy skepticism about the idea is reasonable, I think. It’d be a recent event, about 12,800 years back. If it really happened, it’s a bit surprising that nobody noticed earlier.

On the other hand, we’d been walking around evidence of ice ages for millennia before some scientists put the pieces together.


Conniptions


(From Ray, N. and J. M. Adams/Internet Archaeology 11; via Wikimedia Commons)

I’m not sure why uptight Christians aren’t making ice age research their prime pick for pious pique

It’s no more “Biblical” than evolution.

Less, in ways that I’ll probably talk about when I’m feeling a trifle less like napping through each afternoon.

I’ve been dealing with “nothing serious” for over a week now. It’s not enough to warrant medical attention. That’s good news. But feeling this way isn’t. Oh, well. As we say here in Minnesota, ‘it could be worse.’ And that’s — you guessed it — another topic.

Where was I? Science. Ice ages. Folks having conniptions. Right.

I don’t know why evolution upsets so many brittle Christians. The idea is at least as old as thinking Earth is round, so novelty may not be a major irritant. I mentioned the political angle earlier. It sure didn’t help.

Maybe geography, geometry, and glacial cycles are too abstract to inspire righteous rage.

Or maybe some folks can’t stand the idea that we’re made from the stuff of this world.

I don’t mind having a body. Even now, when the physical part of me shows signs of long use.

My opinions don’t make much difference, as I said earlier. But I’ve got more than personal preference behind seeing physical reality as good.

I’ll get back to that, Zoroastrianism, and Genesis. Probably. Jekyll and Hyde, too.

Now, about evolution.

The idea’s been around for at least about 25 centuries. Anaximander suggested that animals, humans included, developed from fish. He was right about that, and how Earth and our sun move. But he didn’t have data to back up his speculations.

Other philosophers had pretty good ideas, too. Including Aristotle. He was right about some things. But not where Earth is in the universe. He didn’t have much more evidence than Anaximander. But his ideas got more fans. Lots more.

We’d collected a lot more data by the time Copernicus started thinking. He delayed publication of his analysis to avoid dealing with “babblers.” I don’t blame him.

Some folks had conniptions about the newfangled ideas, as usual. Pretty much the same thing had happened in 1277. (November 5, 2017)

We’ve been on a steep learning curve since then.

God’s Decision

ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM, OmegaCen/Astro-WISE/Kapteyn Institute; via Wikimedia Commons; used w/o permission.Data and analysis show that Anaximander and Copernicus were on the right track.

We’ve learned that stars are other suns, and that we’re in one of a great many galaxies.

In a universe with more galaxies than stars in our galaxy.

Some scientists say what we’re seeing makes more sense if we’re not in the only universe. There’s a wide range of ‘multiverse’ models, long on convincing argument and short on supporting data.

I like the ideas, myself. Some of them.

I probably won’t be around when we find solid evidence that other continua exist. Or demonstrate that they don’t. Either result wouldn’t threaten my faith.

I figure it’s God’s decision.

Even if I thought God shouldn’t make other continua, I’d be obliged to accept reality. As the Church said in 1277 — God’s God, Aristotle’s not.

Neither is Copernicus, Einstein, or me.

Evidence

Nicolas Steno helped launch paleontology as a science in the 1600s.

Thomas Molyneux studied Irish elk. They weren’t in Ireland any more.

But he figured they must be alive and living somewhere else.

Given what Europeans knew in the 1600s, that made sense.

Thomas Jefferson thought mammoths couldn’t be extinct. Or any other species. Jefferson wasn’t being stubborn or deliberately ignorant. Evidence of no-longer-living species was sparse in his day.

Most philosophers thought species couldn’t change. Their arguments made sense, based on available data.

Then we found evidence that didn’t support the ‘no change’ models. Lots of evidence. (January 19, 2018; May 19, 2017; April 14, 2017)

Attitudes

By the 1800s, folks who were paying attention knew about many extinct critters.

The data inspired scientific inquiry and ‘scientific’ flights of fancy.

Thomas Hawkins wrote about “…Dragon Pterodactyles flitting in the hot air with Vampire Wing….” His florid prose reminds me of Lovecraft’s work. (January 19, 2018; May 19, 2017; April 14, 2017)

Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” wasn’t nearly as colorful. But his analysis was reasonable. With verifiable results that other scientists could test. Which they did.

Some research supported Darwin’s model. Some didn’t. Scientists eventually learned how Mendelian and biometrician models work with population genetics. Over the last half-century or so molecular evolution and genetic studies have sparked lively discussions.

We’re still not sure exactly how evolution works: the mechanics. But we know it happens.

There may be someone with a science degree who still thinks Darwin’s model is accurate. As a viable scientific theory, though, Darwinian evolution is as dead as the last iguanodon. That doesn’t mean evolution is “wrong.” Just that we’ve learned a thing or two since 1859.2

Again, I don’t know why evolution upsets so many folks.

‘It’s not in the Bible’ may be a factor, but maybe not the main one. Quite a bit of what we know isn’t ‘Biblical.’ Electricity and lightning rods come to mind.

I suspect that many folks see philosophical problems with human evolution. Sort of.

A person can’t think about human evolution without also thinking that our bodies are made from the stuff of this world.

It doesn’t bother me. But it might offend persons of fastidious taste who feel that one must reject the physical to be spiritual. And that the physical is base. Ignoble. Despicable. Just plain icky.

Getting overly-immersed in physical pleasures or interests is a bad idea. But so is disrespecting what God called “very good.”

I’ll talk about that sort of thing, and then call it a day.


Truth

Shunning science might make sense to someone who thinks anything physical must be bad. It’s not my view, obviously.

I figure studying this universe is okay because I think God created what we see, and that truth matters.

Seeing this universe as good is in the first chapter of Genesis.

You know how it goes. God makes everything: the reality we live in, and all the creatures. God’s opinion is that it’s “very good.” That works for me.

Valuing truth is “Biblical” too, but not quite so localized.

Examples — Exodus 20:16 says that “false witness” is a bad idea, Psalms 85 laments a lack of truth, and 1 Corinthians 13:6 says love “rejoices with the truth.”

I’m a Christian and a Catholic, so I’d jolly well better think truth matters.

Faith, the Catholic sort, is a conscious acceptance of “the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Catechism, 150)

All truth.

Including what’s in the Bible and Tradition. About our Tradition — it’s not trying to live like it’s 1818. (Catechism, 7487, 142155)

There’s truth everywhere, ready for anyone willing to see. God makes everything, so studying this universe can tell us about God. (Catechism, 3135, 159, 279155)

Admiring and describing God’s work is a good idea. (Sirach 17:114; Catechism, 283, 341)

That’s pretty much the opposite of believing that physical is bad and spiritual is good.

Dramatic Appeal

Seeing darkness and light, chaos and order, evil and good as equal opposites is possible.

I see dramatic appeal in imagining a reality where there’s a half-almighty evil god opposing a half-almighty good deity.

That arrangement can be internally consistent, certainly on a ‘good enough for a story’ level.

What I know of Zoroastrian beliefs look like equal but opposite good and evil. Almost equal, that is. Ahura Mazda’s ultimate victory is apparently a forgone conclusion. But Ahura Mazda made good spirits while Angra Mainyu created bad spirits.

Folks have been practicing Zoroastrianism/Mazdayasna for millennia. I can’t see that happening if the faith didn’t make sense at some level.

But I don’t see how someone can believe that good and evil are two sides of reality’s coin and accept Christianity’s basics.

That hasn’t stopped folks from trying.

Having a Great Time

I don’t know how many times someone’s repackaged ‘dualism for Christians’ in the last two millennia.

I haven’t had personal contact with full-bore dualism with a Christian paint job.

But I’ve run into close approximations. Assorted Protestants and Catholics offer different options but the same main idea.

As I see it, they agree that physical reality is basically bad. Or at least something to be shunned by “spiritual” folks. Again, I don’t agree. (January 14, 2018; July 10, 2016)

Recognizing that evil isn’t good makes sense. Seeing good and evil as separate but equal, not so much. (Catechism, 285, 386387)

And feeling that God made a horrible mistake by seeing this universe as “very good” is simply daft. Particularly coming from folks who insist that the Bible is literally true. By their standards.

Oddly enough, Genesis 1:12:3 and Genesis 2:425 not quite matching doesn’t seem to bother them.

‘Not matching’ — again assuming that both were written by someone with today’s Western mindset and no sense of poetry and metaphor.

I like data and analysis. I also like poetry and metaphor.

I’m having a great time, living in this vast and beautiful universe.

And, as Tennyson put it, following “knowledge like a sinking star” — finding nuggets of truth along the way:


1 Abstracts:

  • Extraordinary Biomass-Burning Episode and Impact Winter Triggered by the Younger Dryas Cosmic Impact ∼12,800 Years Ago. 1. Ice Cores and Glaciers
    Wendy S. Wolbach, Joanne P. Ballard, Paul A. Mayewski, Victor Adedeji, Ted E. Bunch, Richard B. Firestone, Timothy A. French, George A. Howard, Isabel Israde-Alcántara, John R. Johnson, David Kimbel, Charles R. Kinzie, Andrei Kurbatov, Gunther Kletetschka, Malcolm A. LeCompte, William C. Mahaney, Adrian L. Melott, Abigail Maiorana-Boutilier, Siddhartha Mitra, Christopher R. Moore, William M. Napier, Jennifer Parlier, Kenneth B. Tankersley, Brian C. Thomas, James H. Wittke, Allen West, d James P. Kennett; The Journal of Geology, The University of Chicago Press Journals (Received Sept 11, 2017; Accepted Sept 14, 2017; Online Feb 01, 2018)
  • Extraordinary Biomass-Burning Episode and Impact Winter Triggered by the Younger Dryas Cosmic Impact ∼12,800 Years Ago. 1. Ice Cores and Glaciers
    Wendy S. Wolbach, Joanne P. Ballard, Paul A. Mayewski, Andrew C. Parnell, Niamh Cahill, Victor Adedeji, Ted E. Bunch, Gabriela Domínguez-Vázquez, Jon M. Erlandson, Richard B. Firestone, Timothy A. French, George Howard, Isabel Israde-Alcántara, John R. Johnson, David Kimbel, Charles R. Kinzie, Andrei Kurbatov, Gunther Kletetschka, Malcolm A. LeCompte, William C. Mahaney, Adrian L. Melott, Siddhartha Mitra, Abigail Maiorana-Boutilier, Christopher R. Moore, William M. Napier, Jennifer Parlier, Kenneth B. Tankersley, Brian C. Thomas, James H. Wittke, Allen West,21,, James P. Kennett; The Journal of Geology, The University of Chicago Press Journals (Received Sept 11, 2017; Accepted Sept 14, 2017; Online Feb 01, 2018)

2 Accepting reality and other options:

Posted in science news | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Changing Rules

Today’s tech and social norms aren’t what they were in my youth. It’s exciting. Or bewildering. Or unstable. Or dynamic. or any of a myriad other options.

Change happens, even if I don’t approve. What matters is making good choices. More about that later.

These are the ‘Good Old Days’

I’ll indulge in nostalgia. Occasionally. Parts of my past are nice places to visit. But I wouldn’t like living there.

Taking a stroll down memory lane lets me revisit the best times, places, people and experiences. It’s a ‘best-of’ selection.

I certainly don’t yearn for the days before social media, smart appliances, and online search software.

Maybe it’s hereditary.

Or an attitude that’s been in the family for several generations.

One of my ancestors, Arba Zeri Campbell, was the first man in his part of Illinois to have a telephone. I’ve been told that he waited quite a while before a neighbor got one, too.

Folks don’t always use today’s tech wisely. I don’t blame the tech. I remember folks bewailing newfangled gadgets like the telephone and television.

Simpler times and the ‘good old days’ weren’t.

Nostalgia is fine, within reason. But I don’t miss epidemics of days gone by: polio, cholera, and otherwise. (October 22, 2017; August 11, 2017; July 21, 2017)

They still happen, but are more avoidable now. Or should be. And that’s another topic.

Isaiah, Uriah Heep and Living in the Future

I’ve been living in ‘the future’ for quite a while now. It’s nowhere near as nifty or bleak as some imagined.

I like it, on the whole.

Today’s tech makes doing just about anything easier.

That’s good when we’re doing something that makes sense. When we’re not, it’s not the tech’s fault. Folks, some of us, were misusing technology long before the Web.

I ran into venom-spitting Christians in my youth, and still do. ‘Christian’ radio’s screwball version of faith sent me on a search that led me to become a Catholic. Eventually. Along the way I met vehemently non-Christian folks with similar attitudes.

That was in the 1960s. I’m pretty sure we don’t have more folks spouting nonsense today. Or fewer. Not by much, either way. They’re easier to find now, thanks to information tech.

My guess is that folks like Holy Willie and Uriah Heep pop up in every era. One’s real, the other isn’t, and that’s yet another topic. (January 8, 2018; October 23, 2016)

Pillars of rectitude oozing “malignant virtue” most likely infest everyone’s circle of friends, family, and neighbors. Except for hermits, and that’s yet again another topic.

I’m not sure who coined the phrase “malignant virtue.” It goes back at least to the 1860s:

“There are times, Charles, when even the unimaginative decency of my brother and the malignant virtue of his wife appear to me admirable.”
(Lord Peter Wimsey, in “Murder Must Advertise,” Dorothy L. Sayers (1933))

“…counting every thing which the most malignant virtue could shrink from, I have culled eighty lines. Eighty lines out of nine thousand!…”
(“The Good Gray Poet. A Vindication,” William Douglas O’Connor (1866))

The attitude is ancient. So are misbehaving VIPs. Ordinary folks who misbehave and claim virtue aren’t particularly prominent in the Bible. I’m not sure why. I found both in Isaiah:

“Your princes are rebels and comrades of thieves; Each one of them loves a bribe and looks for gifts. The fatherless they do not defend, the widow’s plea does not reach them.”
(Isaiah 1:23)

“The Lord said: Since this people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me, And fear of me has become mere precept of human teaching….”
(Isiah 29:13)

‘Fear of God’ isn’t being scared of the Almighty. It’s more like respect. (March 26, 2017)

‘That Still Small Voice….’

I could compose screeds against “…scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith….” (May 7, 2017)

Or denounce wackadoo environmentalists. Or folks whose chief offense is liking music I don’t. That last might be hard to find. As one of my kids said, ‘your opinion doesn’t count, Dad. You like everything.‘ She had a point. As usual.

There’s no shortage of offensive attitudes and beliefs, now or in any age. I might enjoy impersonating an incensed Old Testament prophet. While the performance lasted. But my heart wouldn’t be in it.

Besides, I’ve got my particular judgment to think of. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 10211022)

My rap sheet is long enough without adding to the list.

Ignoring trouble isn’t an option either. Not a good one.

Deciding whether my actions are good or bad is a good idea. Preferably before I do them. Choosing depends on having some notion of what “good” and “bad” are.

We all start with what Jiminy Cricket called ‘that still small voice nobody listens to.’

Deciding to ignore it is an option. I can’t recommend it. (Catechism, 17901791)

So is sliding through life without adding to the starter pack. I wouldn’t say that’s wrong, but can’t say it’s the best choice.

Avoiding chances to learn more, choosing ignorance or substitutes for an informed conscience? That’s a bad idea. (Catechism, 17761794)

One of the cardinal virtues is justice, so part of my job is noticing what other folks do. That’s the easy part. Deciding whether actions are good or bad gets tricky. So does deciding how to respond. (Catechism, 17761804, 19051917, 24012449)

Developing good judgment is nearly the opposite of being judgmental. Justice is important. So is mercy. (Catechism, 1805, 1807, 1829, 1861, 19912011, 2478)

The idea is hating the sin and loving the sinner. Judging persons is God’s jurisdiction. (Catechism, 1861)

The basics are simple.

I should God and my neighbor, and see everyone as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2537; Catechism, 1706, 1776, 1825, 18491851, 1955)

Remembering those simple principles and acting like they matter? That’s hard.

Dealing With Difference

Behaving myself is a good idea, but my job doesn’t end there.

I’m part of a society, like everyone else. Benefits are part of the package. So are duties. One of those is paying attention what others need. How I respond depends on what’s needed, and what I can do. (Catechism, 18781885, 19281942, 2199, 22382243)

In a society where justice and mercy were perfectly balanced and love abounded — we haven’t managed that yet. But we keep trying. I see our efforts as a good thing.

As I see it, one of the tricky parts is dealing with differences. And recognizing our equality. That’ll take explaining.

Every one of us is ‘equal.’ We all have a share of humanity’s “transcendent dignity.” But we’re not all alike. We’re not supposed to be. (Catechism, 1929, 1937)

That should be a good thing. (Catechism, 19341938, 2334)

Some efforts to make a good society turned out better than others.

It took Napoleon to sort out the French Revolution’s mess. I don’t know what historians will make of assorted 20th century debacles. (November 19, 2017; November 10, 2017; November 6, 2016)

America’s experiment started a few years before the French one.

We’ve survived a major internal war since then and eventually corrected some problems. I like being an American, mostly. But we don’t have a perfect society today.

If I thought we lived in a Golden Age before 1965, 1954, 1933, or 1848 ruined everything, I’d be trying to drag us back. If I thought today’s America was perfect, I’d be striving to uphold the status quo. It’s not. It’s never been.

Like I keep saying, there’s not much I can do to change America. Much less the world.

But I can suggest that we can do better. And that working with all people of good will makes sense.

Reflecting Love

There’s no idyllic era in our past, or anyone else’s. Nobody’s perfect now. That leaves one direction: forward.

It won’t be easy. Particularly since even folks who think change is needed don’t all agree on details.

And some apparently simply don’t like change. They’re not all Christian curmudgeons. Or Catholics yearning for yesteryear.

Despite how some Catholics act, our faith isn’t all about grimly clinging to antique habits.

And it sure isn’t about imposing one culture on everyone. That includes how we worship. The sacraments are universal. How we celebrate them reflects our many cultures. (Catechism, 12001206)

There isn’t one ‘correct’ culture. Or political system. We can eat with or without forks. Our leaders can be queens, emperors, presidents or whatever.

What matters is having rules that respect the “legitimate good of the communities” and “fundamental rights of persons.” (Catechism, 24, 814, 1901, 1957)

That hasn’t changed, and won’t. The idea of universal and unchanging natural law was ancient when St. Thomas Aquinas discussed it. Rules we use to get along keep changing as our circumstances change. (Catechism, 19521960)

Loving God and neighbors, and seeing everyone as a neighbor: that’ll always be important.

Our rules are good or bad to the extent that they reflect that love. That’s what the Catholic view of social justice is about. (Catechism, 19281942)

And that’s — still another topic:

Posted in being a citizen, being Catholic | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Smoke and Monkeys

Folks in the United Kingdom may be changing their rules for wood and coal fires. Or maybe not. It depends on whether their rules match Europe’s.

Volkswagen paid researchers to mistreat monkeys and people. Or maybe not. We know the research happened. It’s complicated, a bunch of folks are upset, and I’ll get back to that.

Fireplaces, outdoor grills, and coal-burning furnaces aren’t basically bad. Neither is learning how stuff in the air affects animals. And us.

But having smoky fires upwind of our neighbors isn’t a good idea. Neither is mistreating critters. Or people.


News and Options

I’d wax eloquently on the virtues running rampant in my youth, when all was right with the world. Except it’s “wax eloquent,” and I’ve got a pretty good memory.

Like I keep saying, we’ve never had a Golden Age. (November 5, 2017; October 30, 2017; June 18, 2017)

Network television’s nightly news threatened the very foundations of civilization in my salad days. Before that it was the telephone, or the steam engine, or whatever else was new. (February 5, 2017)

Odd — we’ve got “salad days,” but not “soup days.” And that’s another topic.

I don’t hear the ‘kids these days don’t communicate, they spend hours a day on the telephone’ lament these days. Today’s it’s social media that’s a crisis among youth.

If dejection over youthful follies didn’t appeal. we had other options.

A connoisseur of angst might choose among assorted secular apocalyptic prognostications. For those with more traditional preferences, there were the usual ‘End Times prophecies.’ Forward-looking fussers had a wide selection of secular doomsday forecasts.

Details have changed since the 1960s, but I see little difference in the basics. That doesn’t strike me as a bad thing. It’s more a reflection that humans still act like people.

I’ve got options, too.

I can focus on what’s wrong. If I can help make it right, that might make sense. Dwelling on the dreadful doesn’t make a difference, more often than not.

Focusing on what’s right may not make much difference, either. But I’ve found that it feels better. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

TDNN: “Your 24-Hour Source for Angst”

I think there’s hope in the way doomsayers market their services.

The ones I notice often present themselves as purveyors of truth, offering humanity hope for survival. Or at least something that’ll give Noah wannabes something to spend money on.

Seeking truth and wanting to help others seem reasonable. Feeling that every silver cloud has a dark lining, or is some sort of conspiracy? Not so much.

I’d be more concerned if I saw fear and anxiety more openly used as selling points. Maybe there’s a real-world equivalent of TDNN, the Totally Depressing News Network. Marketing strategy included. But I haven’t seen it. And don’t mind.

I’ve known folks who seem convinced that gloominess is next to Godliness. Or involvement. Or whatever. But even they don’t seem willing to openly prefer bad news. Not many, anyway.

Seeing “truth” as mostly bad news isn’t, I think, reasonable. But wanting truth? That makes sense.

Truth

The way I see it, truth points toward God. All truth, not just the parts I like. Or what we knew before Abraham’s day. Or the Renaissance, or Darwin’s. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 27, 3135, 41, 74, 2500)

Valuing truth isn’t new, or a uniquely Catholic view:

“They who know the truth are not equal to those who love it, and they who love it are not equal to those who delight in it.”
(“Analects,” Chapter VI, attr. 孔夫子/Kong Fu Zi/Confucius (ca. 400 BC))

“Piety requires us to honor truth above our friends.”
(Aristotle, “Nicomachean_Ethics” (349 BC))

“Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss.
“Truth will spring from the earth; justice will look down from heaven.”
(Psalms 85:1112)

“Never gainsay the truth, and struggle not against the rushing stream.
“Be not ashamed to acknowledge your guilt, but of your ignorance rather be ashamed.”
(Sirach 4:2526)

“The Heavenly City outshines Rome, beyond comparison. There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of peace, felicity; instead of life, eternity.”
(St. Augustine of Hippo, “The City of God,” (early 5th century))

“The inclination to seek the truth is safer than the presumption which regards unknown things as known.”
(St. Augustine of Hippo, “De Trinitate,” (417))

Wanting truth is one thing.

Learning to tell what’s fact, opinion, plausible but incorrect explanation, or stuff we though was true before we learned better?

That’s another. Particularly in eras like today. A fair number of things we thought were true a century back, or figured were plausible explanations, aren’t.

I think St. Augustine of Hippo is right. “The inclination to seek truth is safer….” I also think it’s more work than sticking with presumptions or ‘what everybody knows.’

But it’s still a good idea.


Home Fires


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Scrutiny over wood and coal fires in UK homes
Roger Harrabin, BBC News (January 30, 2018)

Burning wood and coal in people’s homes will come under scrutiny as part of a government drive to improve air pollution.

“Ministers are calling for evidence to help improve air quality in cities.

“They want people to ensure that wood is dry before burning, and that solid fuels are as clean as possible.

“But the UK is being given a final warning by the European Commission today for breaching laws on NOx emissions.

“The government is being told it will face court action in Europe unless its planned Clean Air Strategy does what it’s supposed to….”

“NOx emissions” sounds — noxious. That’s not quite what it means. NOx is chemist’s shorthand for nitrogen oxides.

Nitrous oxide, laughing gas, didn’t cure tuberculosis. But it’s been a popular upper-crust party drug and anesthetic. It’s also potentially addictive. (July 7, 2017)

We’ve learned a bit since the early 1800s.

I figure that’s one reason we don’t have ‘stamp out laughing gas’ and ‘legalize laughing gas’ societies. Besides, we’ve developed better anesthetics and have different addiction issues.

Our tech and cultures change. What we’re like, basically? I think it’s like Job 5:7 says — “Human beings beget mischief as sparks fly upward.”

That hasn’t changed, and won’t. Not any time soon.

But we’re basically good. (January 8, 2018)

Rules

Nitrogen dioxide gets in the news pretty often. NO2 produced by bacteria, volcanoes, and lightning. It’s is a natural part of Earth’s atmosphere.

Maybe that’s why few if any environmentalists are trying to ban thunderstorms. Or maybe even the wackiest activists realize that everything isn’t humanity’s fault.

We have been pouring more nitrogen dioxide into the air lately. Quite a few industrial processes produce it. That’s why we’re seeing high concentrations in North America, Europe, and east Asia.

I figure most of the stuff doesn’t come from English fireplaces. Or America’s barbecue grills. I’m also no great fan of regulations. Stupid regulations, that is. But I won’t rage against the European Union, or anyone else.

I don’t know how reasonable or loopy the European Commission’s NOx emissions laws are.

I’m pretty sure Europeans need some regional rules for how much stuff gets dumped into the air and water.

The United Kingdom may not be “European” the way France or Germany are. From an American viewpoint, that is. But the islands are just off the northwestern European coast. Their air mixes with the rest pretty easily. European interest in British air makes sense.

Nitrogen oxides are natural, but unhealthy when we produce them faster than they get processed. Folks living in pre-industrial eras didn’t have our tech, so they didn’t need NOx emission rules.

More folks are living closer to each other than the ‘good old days.’ I figure that’s one reason why California state regulations say what sort of outdoor cooking is okay for apartment-dwellers, and what’s not.1

We’ve got rules like that here in central Minnesota too. Not that we’re the penultimate paragons of good sense. Our rules aren’t like the EU’s. Or California’s. That’s partly, probably mostly, because we’re nowhere near as tightly-packed as folks living there.

Lots of folks living close together get problems, and benefits. And need rules that folks living in tiny communities don’t.


Volkswagen Trouble, Again: Monkeys This Time


(From EPA, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“German carmakers have already been hit by a damaging scandal over cheating in emissions tests”
(BBC News))

German shock at car exhaust tests on humans and monkeys
BBC News (January 29, 2018)

The German government has denounced experiments funded by German carmakers in which humans and monkeys reportedly inhaled diesel exhaust fumes.

“German media say the health impact research was done by EUGT, a body funded by Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW.

“Such tests could not be justified, the government said, demanding details. A minister called them ‘abominable’.

“Daimler also condemned them. VW is embroiled in a scandal over software that gave false diesel exhaust data….”

Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW financed a research outfit. The scientists may or may not have followed rules about exposing animals and people to unreasonable risks.

They say they did. Some German politicos say they didn’t. Apparently quite a few Germans assume Volkswagen is guilty. I don’t know enough have an opinion about that.

I do think that the auto makers were daft if they paid the scientists to get results showing their emissions were fine.

If the idea was to learn whether or not their cars were legal, it’s still daft. Unless they could prove that they were paying for facts, not something lobbyists could use. Even then, I think the decision had bad publicity written all over it.

This isn’t a good for time for Volkswagen employees or folks selling Volkswagens.

Perks and Problems

Doing your job well doesn’t help much if the employer stops using your skills. Or goes out of business.

I figure Volkswagen owners aren’t having a good time either.

Paying for Volkswagen’s good performance and “safe” emissions made sense.

Until owners learned that the Volkswagen engineering responsible was in a “defeat device.” And now Volkswagen’s test data may be bogus? Not good news.

The Volkswagen emissions scandal didn’t affect me directly. Apart from needing to dial back the anger I felt.

I don’t like deliberate attempts to break reasonable rules. I like them less when they’re so obviously going to fail. Incompetence annoys me. A lot. I don’t see my attitude as a problem, unless I let it grow into unreasonable anger. And that’s yet another topic.

That said, I don’t envy executives. Or managers. It’s no virtue.

The nice office, high income, and social status might be nice. But not, for me, nice enough to warrant the stress and responsibilities.

Higher-ups who do their jobs earn those perks. Those who don’t? They make it hard for everyone. Including folks like me, who think authority is a good idea.

Thinking About Authority

My attitude toward authority is pretty much what it was in the 1960s. How I see my attitude changed when my wife told me that I have no problem with authority.

Legitimate authority.

Folks with power, position, and delusions of competent authority are something else. (October 30, 2016)

My attitude toward authority changed from a preference to an obligation when I became a Catholic.

But it didn’t change all that much, aside from some fine-tuning.

I see authority as necessary for any society.

Real authority, not ‘I’m bigger so you do what I say.’ Or ‘we’ve always done it this way’ or any other imitation. I must respect and obey legitimate authority. But ‘I was following orders’ isn’t an excuse. Not a valid one. (Catechism, 18971951, 2155, 22422243, 2267)

Rational respect for authority is a good idea. But thinking takes work. And saying ‘no’ to a ruler can have lethal results. Thomas More and John Fisher come to mind. (July 28, 2017)

Outlooks and Origins

I don’t know why so many folks seem so upset over the latest Volkswagen news.

Maybe it’s leftover anger from the “defeat device.” Or rooted in feelings about animal testing. Or human testing.

My guess is that it’s all of the above, boosted by Germany’s recent history.

Folks in Europe had their hands full after World War I, rebuilding pretty much everything in some places.

Germany had the same challenges, plus debatably-reasonable punishments for losing. (November 10, 2017)

Germans had a new road network in the 1930s, but not many affordable cars. The country’s new leader said that Germany needed a people’s car, a “Volkswagen.” He told engineers it should be cheap, simple and mass-produced.

They developed the Volkswagen Type 1.

It met the requirements, and became the world’s most-manufactured sort of car.

It also looked — funny. Germans called it Käfer, beetle.

So do Americans, but we speak English so here it’s the Volkswagen Beetle.2

Germany, and Volkswagen, survived World War II. Adolph Hitler didn’t.

He did, however, earn lasting fame as one the 20th century’s outstandingly regrettable leaders. Considering the competition, it’s quite an accomplishment.

One of these days I’ll talk about the Armenian genocide, but not today.

Volkswagen marketing, understandably, didn’t stress their product’s connection to the regime that made Dachau and Auschwitz famous. Or infamous. And gave Germany a very unpleasant reputation.

The comic-relief German who kept shouting “I am not a Nazi” was still a stock character in my early years. Sadly, quite a few folks apparently had trouble understanding that not all Germans were Nazis. And still do, likely enough.

That’s anything but funny. I think it helps explain why so many Germans are so eager to show that they aren’t like the folks who ran Hitler’s regime.


Science

German scientists weren’t the only ones using people for dangerous and sometimes lethal experiments.

“It’s for science” doesn’t make bad behavior okay. And scientists behaving badly don’t make science wrong.

Learning how reality works and using that knowledge are part of being human. Science and technology, like anything else, are fine. If we remember that ethics matter. (Catechism, 22922296)

Science, art, and family are good things. But putting them where God should be in my heart would be a very bad idea. (Catechism, 21122114)

About science, I don’t see a problem with interest in God’s creation and taking God seriously. (Catechism, 282289, 293294, 1723, 2294)

I do see problems when researchers mistreat test subjects.

Animals

I don’t know why so many folks get so upset about seeing humans as animals.

I suspect it’s partly a distaste for physical realities. Maybe that seems “spiritual.” But it doesn’t make sense. (January 14, 2018)

Disapproving of God’s creation is possible. It doesn’t strike me as particularly useful. Or prudent. Acting like I think God goofed would seem impolite. At best.

Not that I think God will smite me for being daft. More like seeing no percentage in rejecting reality.

Even the wildest flights of fantasy arguably recognize some facet of truth. And that’s yet again another topic.

As it is, I like what I see. It’s just as well, since my preferences won’t change reality. Except on a very local and limited scale. And that gets me to what I am. I’m a human.

Like every other human, I’m an animal: made from the stuff of this world. I’m also filled with God’s ‘breath.’ Each of us is matter and spirit, body and soul. I’m a person. Someone, not something. (Genesis 2:7; Catechism, 355, 357, 362368, 1951)

Each of us is make “in the divine image.” We are rational animals who can control our actions. (Genesis 1:2627; Catechism, 355361, 1730, 1951)

We’re animals, but not ‘just animals.’ Like it or not, we’ve got dominion over this world. There’s wisdom in remembering our job, and responsibilities. (January 21, 2018)

Hubris

“The Man with the X-Ray Eyes” probably won’t be remembered the way Oedipus Rex is. Or as long.

But they dramatize the same flaw:

Dr. James Xavier: “I’m blind to all but a tenth of the universe.”

Dr. Sam Brant: “My dear friend, only the gods see everything.”

Dr. James Xavier: “My dear doctor, I’m closing in on the gods.”
(“X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes” (1963), via IMDB.com)

Hubris, self-esteem run amok, was a problem when Babylonian astrologers and Greek philosophers studied this universe. It’s inspired dramatists from Sophocles to Robert Dillon and Ray Russell. It’s a problem today.

And I’m quite sure we’ll be dealing with it when most folks see Aristotle, Einstein, and famous folks of the fifth millennium as roughly contemporary.

But like I said, science is okay. Ignoring ethics isn’t. Neither is forgetting who we are, and who God is:

“Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.”
(Genesis 1:3)

“What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them?
“Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor.”
(Psalms 8:56)

“Our God is in heaven and does whatever he wills.”
(Psalms 115:3)

“Indeed, before you the whole universe is like a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.”
(Wisdom 11:22)

We’re pretty hot stuff: “little less than a god.” but God’s God, we’re not.

Human Dignity

We learned quite a bit during the 20th century. Including why the Hippocratic Oath was a good idea.

Medial ethics sometimes sounds like an oxymoron, but I think efforts like the Nurmeburg code are hopeful.3

Scientific experiments, including those with human test subjects, aren’t always bad.

Trouble starts when we forget human dignity, or expose subjects to unreasonable risk. That’s a bad idea even if the folks volunteer. If they don’t know they’re being used like lab rats, it’s worse. (Catechism, 2295)

I don’t think lab rats have “rights” the way people do. But they’re God’s creatures and warrant humane treatment. Loving animals is fine. Treating them as if they’re people isn’t. (Catechism, 24152418)

And all that is still another topic. One that will wait for another day.

A seriously light look at the reality we’re in:

How I see science, animals, and being human:


1 Science and barbecues:

2 The Beetle and beyond:

3 Rules and why we have them:

Posted in science news | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Robots and Being Catholic

I’ll talk about artificial intelligence, robots, self-awareness, Turing tests, and all that. Someday. Probably. Not today.

Robots in factories are getting smarter.

We’ve already got ‘robots’ driving cars and trucks. And doing it well enough for folks to be looking at commercial applications.

That hasn’t made a big impact yet. But I’m about as sure as I can be that it will. Soon. It’ll make a huge difference.

I don’t see it as all good or all bad. But anyone who’s a truck driver, cabbie, or delivery driver should probably start learning new skills. Or finding off-the-road ways of earning a living with what they already know.

Learning new skills for a new-to-me job is what I’ve done most of my life. It’s easier for me than job-hunting.

More fun, too.

Besides being fun, I’ve learned a lot besides new skills. I’ve been a delivery guy, computer operator, radio DJ, beet chopper, ‘office girl’ — light clerical & answering phones — and graphic designer. Among other things.

That’s helped me as I try understanding how others see this world.

And appreciate that some see retraining as a threat, not a change of pace.

The ‘robot drivers’ thing will wait.

This post is what happened when I picked the ‘robots’ topic and started writing. It’s ‘organized’ in the sense that I added headings.

I had fun writing it. Your experience may vary:


Family time and Robots

I’m still enjoying having #1 daughter around. The good news is that we like to talk. The bad news — it’s not bad, actually, just different.

We really like to talk, so I’ve been and will be spending more time doing that. Also less time researching and writing these posts. (January 26, 2018)

The ‘up’ side is that Friday’s was shorter than usual. Post, that is.

And maybe more of how I see things, less of what I found while rummaging around humanity’s virtual archives. That could be a ‘down’ side, too. Depends on viewpoint.

Now, about robots that look and act like humans. More or less. We’re getting closer to making bots that talk, act, and occasionally look like humans.

What I’ve seen to date is occasionally useful. Chatbots, for example, sometimes. And about as convincing as someone doing a robot dance: a human imitating a robot.

Beware the Robot Menace

I think robots do a better job of imitating humans imitating robots. That could start an — interesting??? — discussion.

Or maybe not.

Either way, I think we’ll be seeing scary headlines and earnest editorials about the growing robot menace. Maybe later this year.

They’ll be based on actual events. Some may have moments of clarity. Maybe even useful insights or proposals.

The reality behind those scary headlines and sedulous editorials — Oddly enough “sedulous” and “seditious” don’t have much in common. On the other hand, they’re both from Latin words with slightly-related meanings.

Etymology, which isn’t studying insects. That’s entomology, an “ology,” but not — this isn’t what I was talking about, is it?

Let’s see: robots, humans, Latin, insects. right.

I’m pretty sure that folks living in America, at least, will see a big change in how we earn a living. That’s nothing new. Some of us will change gears without much trouble. Others, maybe not so much.

But I don’t think robots will take over, or that we’re doomed.

We’re NOT Doomed?

I’ve got my own views about robots and what’s ahead for humanity.

Basically, I think today’s world isn’t what it was in 1818 or 1918.

I’m about as sure as I can be that it’ll be different in 2118. America included.

Even how many of us see change changes.

From at least 1818 to the early 1900s, quite a few folks in America, and elsewhere, figured that the future looked spiffy.

They had a point. We were learning how to not die quite so often from disease. Or famine, or disease caused by famine.

I keep saying this: the “good old days” weren’t. The late 19th century wasn’t perfect. We’ll be cleaning up some of the mess it left for centuries.

But folks had pretty good reason to think that we could keep making life better. I think they were right. Partly. Overly-optimistic, but basically on the right track.

Some also assumed that stamping out ignorance and superstition would be a vital step in building a better world. I think pretty much the same thing.

The ‘stamp out’ assumption’s down side was that many thought religion and superstition were the same thing. Some still do. I don’t. (October 30, 2016)

I’ll grant that some self-described religious folks, including some Catholics, include a hearty helping of superstition in their beliefs.

That’s a bad idea and we shouldn’t do it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 21102111)

The 19th century’s optimistic outlook and dedication to Progress lasted until around the mid-20th century. I miss the optimism, but not the unreasoning belief.

Quite a few folks breathed a sigh of relief when 1918 saw the end of the “war to end war.” America got the Roaring Twenties next, followed by a global depression and the next global war.

That time around we weren’t calling it the “war to end war.” (November 10, 2017; February 17, 2017; December 16, 2016)

Quite a few folks survived. Both times. Many, digging out of the rubble, thought enough was enough. I think they were right.

We’re currently trying a new approach to conflict resolution. It’s lasted well over a half-century, and isn’t perfect. But I think it’s better than many alternatives.

And we can do better. But it’ll do for now. (November 10, 2017; May 28, 2017)

The End of Civilization as We Know It

I quoted Yeats “the centre cannot hold” poem Friday. Like many folks at the time, he had some cause for feeling apprehensive.

That chap with the facial tentacles is Cthulhu. I’ll get back to the author who imagined him. Or it. I’m not really sure.

Lovecraft lived and wrote around the same time as Yeats. Both had reasons for feeling apprehensive, like I said.

The same goes for folks living today. Or in any other era.

Particularly those times when folks are dealing with a solution that’s become a problem. I think that’s happening now.

I also think it’s the end of civilization as we know it. And think it’s a good thing.

New ways replacing old isn’t new. What’s remarkable are those eras when not much changes. For a few centuries, anyway. Then — you guessed it — things change

If I thought post-1967 America was a golden age, I’d probably be angsty about current events. I’d be more apprehensive if I thought it really was the best humanity can do.

I think today’s ‘business as usual’ must change. And will. But I don’t hanker for Happy Days America. I remember what came before the 1960s, and why we made changes.

I really wouldn’t want those “good old days” back. The trick will be working for changes that make sense. (December 3, 2017; February 5, 2017)

God, Truth, and Lovecraft’s “Placid Island of Ignorance”

I don’t know how seriously Lovecraft took his “placid island of ignorance” attitude.

It certainly works well in his tales of cosmic horror. But seeing our only hope as either fleeing into “the peace and safety of a new dark age” — or madness?

That seems unreasonable. But the attitude helped put Lovecraft on the map.

“…The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. … The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age….”
(“The Call of Cthulhu,” H. P. Lovecraft (1929); via WikiQuote)

I’ve met folks who don’t seem comfortable with what we’ve learned in the last few decades.

Some are Christians who feel that science and religion get along like cobra and mongoose. Others seem convinced that we can have either technology or clean air. “Technology” defined as whatever’s been developed since some arbitrary date. I don’t agree with either.

Treating science as a religion or faith as science doesn’t make sense. Neither does blaming our tools for what we do. (January 12, 2018; October 29, 2017; February 10, 2017)

My lively interest in our expanding knowledge of God’s creation isn’t, I think, vital to being Catholic.

But it sure doesn’t hurt.

Studying natural processes is a good idea. It’s one way we can learn more about God. (Catechism, 3135)

I can learn about God by paying attention as I read the Bible, too.

I’d better. It’s an important part of being Catholic. (Catechism, 101133)

I think faith is willingly and consciously embracing “the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Catechism, 142150)

That’s the whole truth. All of it. Not just the parts I like, or what we’d uncovered by 1543. Or 1859. Or knew when Hammurabi wrote his law code.

I think God creates everything we can see or will ever be able to observe.

Being scared of studying God’s work doesn’t make sense. Pursuing truth does. It’s part of being human. Or should be. (November 5, 2017; March 26, 2017; October 28, 2016)

Using the brains God gave us doesn’t offend God. We’re supposed to be curious. Truth cannot contradict truth. Scientific discoveries? They’re opportunities for greater admiration of God’s creation. (Catechism, 159, 214217, 283, 294, 341)

We’re surrounded by beauty and wonders. Paying attention makes sense:

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Exodus 33:18; Palms 27:89; 63:23; John 14:8; 1 John 3:2)….”
(“Fides et Ratio,” Pope Saint John Paul II (September 14, 1998) [emphasis mine])

“…if methodical investigation within every branch of learning is carried out in a genuinely scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, it never truly conflicts with faith, for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God. … we cannot but deplore certain habits of mind, which are sometimes found too among Christians, which do not sufficiently attend to the rightful independence of science and which, from the arguments and controversies they spark, lead many minds to conclude that faith and science are mutually opposed….”
(“Gaudium et Spes,” Pope Bl. Paul VI (December 7, 1965) [emphasis mine])

“…God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures – and that therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures. … Even if the difficulty is after all not cleared up and the discrepancy seems to remain, the contest must not be abandoned; truth cannot contradict truth….”
(“Providentissimus Deus,” Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893) [emphasis mine])

“Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air…. They all answer you, ‘Here we are, look; we’re beautiful.’…
“…So in this way they arrived at a knowledge of the god who made things, through the things which he made.”
(Sermon 241, St. Augustine of Hippo (ca. 411))

Letting our appreciation of this universe get out of hand is a bad idea. But the reality we’re in isn’t bad. Like God said, it’s “very good:”

“Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these; for the original source of beauty fashioned them.”
(Wisdom 13:3)

“You adorn the year with your bounty; your paths drip with fruitful rain.
“The meadows of the wilderness also drip; the hills are robed with joy.”
(Psalms 65:1213)

“God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day.”
(Genesis 1:31)

Using our Brains

I think “The Phantom Creeps” showed a slightly more plausible scenario than many tales of cybernetic menaces.

Rampaging robots weren’t the only tool Dr. Zorka developed.

The point is that they were tools. Assorted humans used them. Or tried.

I’m quite sure that blaming tools for the movie’s disasters doesn’t make sense. It’s the same way in real life.

Tools make it easier for us to help, or hurt, others. And ourselves.

We’re the ones in control. Not the tools. Our track record suggests that many of us don’t think about likely outcomes. Not well enough, anyway. Then there’s the issue of choices based on feelings, not reason.

Emotions are part of being human. So is thinking. Or should be. (February 10, 2017; October 5, 2016; August 21, 2016)

Artificial intelligence, AI, in the movies occasionally runs amok on its own. I think that’s more a testimony to human imagination and fears than a likely threat. Some of the stories are well-crafted, though. And fun, if the reader remembers that they’re tall tales.

Or, occasionally, satire. Or a semi-serious look at what might happen. Maybe.

Daniel Wilson had fun with fear in his 2005 “How to Survive a Robot Uprising.”

So did XKCD’s Randall Munroe:

“…Here are a few snapshots of what an actual robot apocalypse might look like:
“In labs everywhere, experimental robots would leap up from lab benches in a murderous rage, locate the door, and—with a tremendous crash—plow into it and fall over.
“Those robots lucky enough to have limbs that can operate a doorknob, or to have the door left open for them, would have to contend with deceptively tricky rubber thresholds before they could get into the hallway.
“Hours later, most of them would be found in nearby bathrooms, trying desperately to exterminate what they have identified as a human overlord but is actually a paper towel dispenser….”
(“Robot Apocalypse,” What If? XKCD.com)

AI, robotic and otherwise, has gotten smarter. Better at some tasks than humans. Seeing the tech as a threat to humanity doesn’t make sense. As a threat to some of our jobs, that’s another story. John Henry comes to mind. (July 7, 2017)

Machines can do some jobs better than humans. And sometimes using machines is a good idea for other reasons.

Before today’s crash test dummies came along, researchers used animals, human cadavers, and the occasional volunteer for vehicle testing.

Getting a Grip About Crash Test Dummies

Tests on human subjects gave researchers useful information. But I don’t think crashing a car with an infant, two kids and an adult couple into a wall is prudent.

Mad scientists can be entertaining in stories. Their real-life counterparts are anything but fun. (January 12, 2018; November 11, 2016)

Medical or scientific experiments with human test subjects “can contribute to healing the sick and the advancement of public health.” (Catechism, 2292)

Learning how we and this universe work is part of being human. That’s a good thing. Taking “disproportionate or avoidable risks” with someone’s health or sanity isn’t, or shouldn’t be. Doing it without informed consent is worse. (Catechism, 22922295)

Like I said, sometimes using machines for a human’s job makes sense. Medical simulators help folks learn medical procedures and resuscitation techniques without putting patients or volunteers at risk.

Crash test dummies and the like can be a bit creepy. But I see them as tools. Not threats. And I’m pretty sure that God doesn’t mind if we use tools to help other folks.

Being Human

Some Christians may still think vaccines and lightning rods offend an irascible Almighty. Vaccines, anyway. (July 21, 2017; October 16, 2016)

I think vaccines, lightning rods, robots, stone knives, or any other tech can help us help each other. Or not.

That doesn’t mean they’re fool-proof “safe.”

Folks still get burned by inadequately controlled fires. I’m quite sure that happens because humans got careless: not that God smites those who dare cook or grill.

Georg Wilhelm Richmann’s spectacular demise encouraged development of today’s safety procedures.

And we still get hurt. Knowing how something’s done doesn’t help when we don’t use our knowledge. (July 28, 2017; October 16, 2016)

Our tools aren’t the problem. It’s us. We have freedom, “the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act….” (Catechism, 1731)

Deciding that we’d rather act against reason, truth, and right conscience is an option: and a very bad idea. (Catechism, 311, 396, 1704, 1730, 1739, 1849)

Studying this universe and developing new technology with what we learn, is part of being human. Or should be. (Catechism, 22932296)

More, mostly about paying attention and using our brains:

Posted in being Catholic | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments