Monday, August 14, 2017

V-J Day

72 years ago today, the bloodiest war in human history came to an end when Japan accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. The announcement of Japan's surrender set off celebraions around the globe, including the one in Times Square during which this iconic picture was taken.

After six years, during which more than 60 million people from 27 different countries were killed, World War II was finally over. In the United States, August 15th came to be known as V-J Day, for Victory in Japan Day, since our European enemies had surrendered three months earlier.

Despite the fact that America was brought into the war when it was bombed by Japan, and despite the fact that atomic weapons were used to hasten the war's end, and despite enormous cultural differences, the two countries became strong and lasting friends whose alliance is now one of the most dependable on earth.

That is a direct result of the respectful and helping way America dealt with Japan after the war ended. One of the reasons we are unique in world history is that as conflicts conclude, we always seek to befriend our antagonists and to better their lot as well as our own. That fact needs to be burned into the hearts and minds of those who believe America is always the aggessor.

In my younger days, V-J Day was noted on calendars. Today it is not. This is not how it should be.

The Greatest Generation is rapidly passing to the other side of eternity's veil. Before its members are gone, may the rest of us thank them for the freedom they transmitted to us. And may we resolve that their sacrifice shall never be forgotten, and that it shall not have been made in vain.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thoughts on Divinity: Part 3 of ?

This is the third post in a series about God and the evidence that He exists. The first two can be read here and here.

My previous installment argued that the meticulous workings of nature could not have resulted from random chance; in other words, that the facts of life on Earth, made possible by Earth's placement at this precise distance from the sun, furnishes overwhelming evidence of a Creator.

That premise is far from original.

Going back at least as far as Cicero (who died in 43 B.C.) many thinkers have expressed variations of the watchmaker analogy, which holds that the universe functions in ways that are as finely tuned as an always-accurate timepiece, and that it thus implies the existence of a divine watchmaker. Those thinkers include such scientific titans as Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes.

Thomas Paine was one of America's most brilliant founding fathers. He was also an opponent of organized religion, and his 1794 book The Age of Reason fiercely criticized many parts of the Bible itself. Yet, based on logic and deduction, even he was a firm believer in the Divine -- so much so that right there in The Age of Reason he stated "the creation we behold is the real and ever-existing word of God, in which we cannot be deceived. It proclaimeth his power, it demonstrates his wisdom, it manifests his goodness and beneficence."

The same year Thomas Paine died in New York, a baby was born in Shrewsbury, England, who would grow to up to become a leading man of science. At the age of 50, that man wrote a book and concluded it with a sentence in which he professed that life was "originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one." At the age of 64 he remarked that (emphasis mine) "the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God." Six years after that, in a private letter, he wrote the words "I have never been an Atheist." That man was Charles Darwin, and the book in which he talked of life being "breathed by the Creator" was On the Origin of Species, the very same one in which he posited the theory of evolution.

Three years before Darwin died, Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany. Einstein also lived to assert "I am not an atheist," and in 1936 he wrote that (emphasis mine) "in all the laws of the universe is manifest a spirit vastly superior to man, and to which we with our powers must be humble."

Francis Collins, who currently heads the Human Genome Project and is director of America's National Institutes of Health, wrote the following for CNN: "I have found that there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God's majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship."

The more we learn about science (whether the science be biology, astronomy, physics, or anything else) the more evidence we find that the world and universe were deliberately designed. Not only do we find more evidence, we find continuously stronger evidence, for we always learn that nature is even more complex and entwined than we thought the day before but that it continues to hum along no matter what -- like a flawless watch crafted by an infallible watchmaker, if you don't mind me going back to the old analogy.

But of course you would never know this by listening to the combined forces of our cultural vanguards and mainstream media, or as I have decided to start calling them, the CMC, for Culture-Media Complex.

The religion of choice for members of the CMC is atheism, though they often try to obscure that fact by calling themselves merely "agnostic" or "secular." And in order to advance and defend their religion, they wield the exact same tools they accuse preachers from other faiths of using: fervor and rigidity.

The CMC's fervor and rigidity are evident from the way its members start off by suggesting that they are smarter than those who believe in God, then use that suggestion to automatically dismiss the thought that there might be empirical evidence of God. With a figurative wave of their hand and implied roll of their eyes, all they need do is utter that "everyone knows" there's no evidence of God and that anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded, and their like-minded co-stars and co-hosts nod in agreement and start tsk-tsk'ing about Bible-thumping rubes in backwater hick towns. All the while, no one in the CMC ever gets asked to provide any support for what they say, and none of them ever get asked to comprehend or even acknowledge the many rational reasons for thinking differently than they do.

Unfortunately this same impulse (to wall one's self off from opposing thoughts and evidence) plagues the world of science as well. And the impulse is exponentially worse in the world of science, because even though scientists are supposed to evaluate all evidence and consider all possibilities before reaching any conclusions, many of them do the exact opposite when it comes to the central question facing humankind. They are humans, not robots, and just like poets and politicians and accountants and everyone else, scientists can be very guilty of the ancient sins of pride, arrogance, and pre-judgment; their job title does not erase their humanity, nor does their schooling prevent confirmation bias in their work.

Scientists, seemingly above all others, should grasp the enormity of the conundrum I mentioned in my previous post when talking about how life on Earth could have come to be after the big bang: "The number of things that had to happen just so and fall into place just so for all this to occur is so large that it is impossible to calculate. What are the odds that all these things could randomly happen precisely as they needed to, and in the exact order they needed to? The odds are so small they can not be measured or even conceived, which, mathematically speaking, means the odds are zero."

Of course there is no shortage of scientists who have looked at the conundrum and concluded that a deity exists. Their conclusions are also based on their evaluation of the bottomless intricacy of life's continued existence, for example the functioning of gills that allow fish to breathe underwater; the presence of hundreds of different kinds of wings that allow thousands of different kinds of creatures to take to the skies; the physiological slowdown that allows Siberian brown bears to survive the long foodless winter by hibernating until it's over; and the symbiotic relationship between Joshua trees and yucca moths that allows both species to survive in the harsh habitat of the Mojave uplands, where a disappearance of either species would cause the other to go extinct.

But of course there is also no shortage of scientists who reflexively ignore the conundrum without giving it a passing thought, who never bother to look at evidence of a deity because they reject out of hand the very notion of a deity. Their knee-jerk rejection of contrary input is decidedly unscientific and renders them extremely vulnerable to the second half of Keirkegaard's warning: There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.

Regrettably, the CMC automatically portrays scientists from the latter camp as credible and those from the former camp as nutty... and meanwhile, scientists from a third camp -- those who have yet to study the matter, or who have started to study it but have not yet drawn conclusions -- seem practically invisible because they aren't mentioned at all... and this state of affairs is shameful, because it leaves billions of us ordinary people misinformed about the topic that happens to be the most important one in each of our lives.

To be continued...