Monday, August 1, 2016

Behind the Donald’s Attitude

During the past few days the GOP presidential candidate, Donald Trump, has been explaining why all the sacrifices he has made – creating thousands of jobs(?) – is on a par with that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan. Their son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed by a suicide car bomb in 2004. He was 27.
As a result, Trump’s stand on the issue has drawn almost universal condemnation, even from leaders of his own party, although none have actually withdrawn their support. Apparently he has not learned a fundamental rule of self-preservation: When you have dug yourself into a hole, stop digging.
This is not the first time that Trump has found himself at odds with the general sentiment; as a result, I have been inspired to look for an explanation for his apparent obliviousness to other people’s concerns and feelings. And I think I have found one.
According to the American Psychological Association's (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR), individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder have most or all of the following symptoms, typically without commensurate qualities or accomplishments:
  1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  4. Needing constant admiration from others
  5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  7. Unwilling to empathize with others' feelings, wishes, or needs
  8. Intensely jealous of others and the belief that others are equally jealous of them
  9. Pompous and arrogant demeanor
If the shoe fits,…
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Noah’s Ark in Kentucky

A Noah’s Ark Theme Park has opened in Kentucky, and according to those who have seen it, it’s a wonder to behold. Its sheer size and workmanship are obviously the work of modern day craftsmen, which raises the question of how unskilled artisans using the tools available at the time of Noah could have created such a massive structure.
Even its shape resembles that of a vessel of today, which also begs the question as to how Noah was able to create a craft four thousand years before its time. Of course, since it was designed merely to float, the problem of a propulsion system never came up; this greatly simplified the task.
As a theme park the ark indeed appears to be an interesting attraction, but the term appears to be designed to cover up the real intention of the founder, Ken Ham, and the organization for which he fronts: Answers in Genesis. This is an effort at mass indoctrination into the belief in Biblical inerrancy by the proponents of Creation Science.
I do not intend to drag out all the scientific rationale for disbelieving the ark story as historical fact – such things as there is no geological record of an epic flood, it would be impossible to gather specimens of all the animals in the world, etc.
But even in the Bible questions arise as to the historicity of certain events. For example, Noah was instructed to bring seven of the clean species of animals into the ark, but only two of the unclean species. According to the estimates of Bible scholars, the flood occurred c. 2300 BCE. However, the distinction between clean vs. unclean animals was given to the Israelites by Moses, who was born c. 1400 BCE, roughly 900 years later.
But there is one other seldom mentioned mathematical problem concerning the great flood: It is generally conceded that the Mount Ararat mentioned in the flood story does not refer to any actual mountain, but for the sake of simplicity, let us assume it to be a mountain 10,000 feet high. There are 960 hours in 40 days and 40 nights. Dividing 10,000 by 960 means that it would have to rain at a rate of over 10 feet per hour! The world’s mightiest modern battleship would be swamped at that rate!
In addition, there is not that much water in all the oceans of the world, so where did all the water come from? This was not a problem in the ancient world since it was assumed that all God had to do was to open up the firmament above the earth, thus allowing the celestial ocean to pour through. Since we now know that neither the firmament nor the celestial ocean exist, the question is legitimate.
Of course, all these things can be explained as being results of the mysterious ways in which God works.
I think the answer to these questions is simple: The early writers were creating a parable (to use the New Testament term) in order to illustrate a lesson to their followers. The lesson of the flood story is this: Although God could destroy his creation, humanity, at any time as retribution for our sins, he loves us too much to do so. It illustrates God’s love for mankind.
I get very discouraged when I think of all the good that could have been done with the $100 million that was poured into that monument to man’s stupidity in Kentucky.
 My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Solving the Public Rest Room Problem

     How about this for a wild idea?
     Dispense with urinals in public restrooms – most men don’t use them at home. Furnish all rest rooms with cubicles that have floor to ceiling walls. Each cubicle would have a door with a deadbolt that locks from the inside. A small sign on the outside of each cubicle would automatically display “Occupied” or “Vacant” as the occupant activates or deactivates the lock. Everyone would use any rest room because they would all be alike in providing privacy and protection for all.
     Wait a minute – perhaps it’s not so wild after all. The airlines have been doing this for years.
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

More Thoughts on God is a Question, Not an Answer

Previously I discussed the futility of arguing the existence or non-existence of God (April 4, 2016, Some Thoughts on God is a Question, Not an Answer). This is not the same as discussing the merits of a belief in God’s existence.
        When Voltaire wrote “If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him,” he was not saying that he doubted God’s existence; in fact, the statement was made as part of a piece that he wrote condemning and refuting an atheistic essay called The Three Imposters. He was concerned that the essay was an extremely dangerous work since it questioned a notion that was useful for society: the idea that criminals would be punished in the afterlife. I think Voltaire’s view was too small.
         Let me digress to discuss the concept of a worldview, which, according to Merriam-Webster, is a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint.
         Everyone has a private worldview. We begin to assemble it in infancy, and it undergoes continuous transformation throughout all of our experiences. As a spice transforms a dish and becomes a part of it, so does every experience transform one’s worldview and becomes part of it.
         Although one’s worldview is constantly changing, it is unique. Every new experience is filtered through our individual worldview before entering into it. Your worldview and mine may intersect through the sharing of experience, but each performs its own unique transformation.
         Our senses extract some outside events from the passing universe; our individual “reality” is what is left after the sensory impressions are filtered through our worldview.
         Because of the huge variety of experiences, it is obvious that some worldviews will reflect reality more correctly than others. For this reason, it is advantageous for each of us to experience life to the fullest extent possible. Worldviews theoretically can be brought into closer alignment with reality; it is probably wise to begin conflicting discussions of an event with something like, “It’s my impression that…” We might learn something.
         All worldviews contain a religious component, either sacred or secular, usually some combination of both. The sacred version includes a belief in some god, the secular one does not1.
         Regardless of whether our worldview contains a sacred or a secular religious component, the most we can hope for is to be satisfied and happy with it. (More on this later). As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their mind to be.”
            1.    The Oxford Dictionary defines a secular definition as “a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance,” and lists a few examples:
            a.     Consumerism is the new religion.
            b.    It's the backdrop because football is considered a religion worldwide and the most viewed game.
            c.     We've been told time and again that cricket is a religion in India.
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.


Friday, April 8, 2016

Some Thoughts on God is a Question, Not an Answer

William Irwin, professor of Philosophy at King’s College, posted an opinion piece in the New York Times (March 26, 2016) entitled God is a Question, Not an Answer. Professor Irwin contends, rightly I believe, that both the true believer and the avowed atheist “must admit that he has his doubts, that occasionally he thinks he might be wrong.”

Does God exist? Irwin goes on, “There is no easy answer: Indeed, the question may be fundamentally unanswerable.”

As a result, Irwin suggests that people should not be too dogmatic in their discussions of the question, but should be open to opinions from all areas of the spectrum. I should like to discuss how the question arose in the first place.

Both the believer and the non-believer eventually arrive at an answer which, although they may not realize it, turns out to be the same unfalsifiable hypothesis about which Bertrand Russell wrote so clearly in 1952.1 Or as Carl Sagan so succinctly put it, "Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true."2

Believers may bring up the argument that since every race, every tribe, every group, etc. ever discovered, be it extinct or completely isolated from civilization, has some belief in a mystical connection to the unknown, therefore there must be something causing such a belief. And I agree.

But that something is not God’s search for man, as believers suggest. In fact, it’s just the opposite, it is man’s search for God, and man thinks he has found Him.

I suggest that the earliest hominids, including Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons and Homo Sapiens were doing the same thing as the scientists of today, that is, trying to make sense of the surrounding universe, but with no tools other than sticks and stones, no standards of measurement and very limited language skills they faced a daunting task. They could feel the wind, hear the rustling of leaves and the songs of birds, experience the power of waterfalls and thunder, and see the movements of animals, but with no visible cause behind these phenomena they opted for the invisible. First it was gods, and after many generations it became God.
This situation prevailed until the Age of Enlightenment and the scientific revolution in the eighteenth century, at which time authority and legitimacy were based on reason rather than the fixed dogmas of the church. Until then the question of God’s existence was virtually unquestioned.

Several logical arguments have been proposed attempting to prove the existence of God – the most common one is that of first cause:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

          2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

This first cause is defined as God, but the question then arises as to what was the first cause of God. Similar objective logic negates similar proposals.

The literature is full of cases of people who were dying, but after prayers were offered they were miraculously cured. The non-believer warns against accepting the “sample of one,” and suggests that just because we do not understand an event does not necessarily prove the existence of God.

For example, suppose Benjamin Franklin were to come back into today’s civilization – what would be his reaction? What would he think of today’s science? I submit that to the good doctor it would be somewhat akin to Arthur C. Clarke’s 3rd law of predictions: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

I am not attempting to prove that God does not exist, since I cannot, any more than the believer can prove that He does. I am questioning the value of professor Irwin’s suggestion that we listen to all sides of the “Does God exist?” question.

We may as well argue how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

1.    Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

2.  The Demon-Haunted World (1995).


Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Hypothetical Situation

     Suppose there were a large group of U.S. citizens who followed a certain major religion. All of these followers appear to be good citizens. However, a very tiny minority have been performing egregious atrocities which have received worldwide condemnation. What would be your feelings toward this group as a whole? Here are a few scenarios from which to choose:

     1)   Do not allow any more followers of this religion to enter the United States. Normally we have not put up barriers to followers of a particular religion, but there is precedent for it. In 1939 the ship Saint Louis, carrying 937 Jewish passengers attempting to escape from Hitler’s Germany, was turned away. The ship returned to Europe, and 254 of the passengers became victims of Hitler’s final solution to “the Jewish problem.” The rest were allowed refuge by other European countries.
     2)   Sequester those followers who are already here into relocation camps, as was done to American citizens of Japanese ancestry during WWII.
       3)   Allow these people to immigrate to the United States provided they convert to an acceptable religion.
     4)   Do not allow followers of this religion access to areas where there is a high concentration of people, such as schools, churches, etc.
       5)   Change nothing. Continue as always.

     After you have carefully considered your feelings about this situation, scroll down to the last paragraph.










The hypothetical situation referred to is that of the Catholic religion and the egregious actions of a minute number of priests regarding young boys. Would you like to rethink your reactions?
     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Meteorologists and Climatologists

Recent letters to the editor indicate a common misunderstanding of the difference between meteorologists and climatologists. Without going into the argument for or against human-caused climate change, I should like to clarify this difference.

Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere using traditional tools: the thermometer, barometer, anemometer, and hygrometer, along with modern tools such as radar, earth-observing satellites and computer modeling. Because of their effect on weather forecasting, the study of certain specific conditions, such as El Niño, the North Atlantic Oscillation, etc., is also important. The focus is on short term weather phenomena and forecasting, normally several days or weeks.

Climatology is the study of climate, scientifically defined as weather conditions averaged over a period of time. Its tools are ice cores and tree rings, along with meteorological data accumulated over many years: rainfall, temperature, atmospheric composition, etc. The results are incorporated into computer models in an attempt to forecast changes in climate. A climatologist will attempt to forecast what the earth’s climate will be like 100 years from now, but his ability to predict next week’s weather is probably no better than a change in my arthritis pain.

The point is, if you want a forecast of the next week’s weather, ask a meteorologist – if you want a forecast of the next century’s climate, ask a climatologist.
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.