Archive for November, 2014

November 25, 2014

On Ferguson, Missouri

by Neil Rickert

I’ll just quote a little from Fred Clark (the slacktivist), who says it so well:

In a sane universe, or a moral one, it would not be not reasonable to claim that the mere presence of an unarmed dark-skinned person was a basis to fear for one’s life. In a sane world, such fear would be regarded, rather, as the very definition of racial prejudice.

The argument that the presence of an unarmed black man prompted a lethal response out of existential fear would not be possible as a defense against the accusation of racial prejudice in a sane world, because it would be rightly understood as a confirmation of such prejudice — as a confession of it.

Now go read Fred’s complete post.

November 20, 2014

From a fundamentalist blog

by Neil Rickert

[posted as humor]

From here:

Not only did our traitor Congress have an imam as “guest chaplain” yesterday, which ought to be impeachable as treason, but the Pope they invited some time back has now confirmed that he plans to visit the country next year, and Congress is on his itinerary. According to the Constitution Congress decides the punishment for treason, apparently not anticipating that Congress itself would be guilty of it. I’m quite serious. This should be a treasonable offense, both these violations of our governing body, because it puts the nation under God’s wrath.

You can’t make this stuff up.

November 18, 2014

Teaching creationism

by Neil Rickert

In spite of the title, this post really isn’t about teaching creationism.  It is about the responsibilities of a teacher.  I use creationism only as an example.

Adam Laats raised the issue in a recent blog post “Firing Creationist Scientists“.  Laats mentions the case of Mark Armitage at CalState.  As to exactly why Armitage lost his job, I do not know.  Presumably that’s a personnel matter at CalState Northridge, and full details are not usually made public though they might come out at a later court hearing.  Laats surmises that Armitage probably lost his job because he was teaching creationism.

The responsibilities of a teacher

To me, this raises the question of what a responsible teacher should present to his/her students.  So let’s suppose, hypothetically, that a scientist comes up with his own theory X in his discipline, and strongly believes that his theory is true.  How should that affect what he teaches?

My view is that the students are there to learn the consensus science.  So the scientist has a responsibility to his students to teach them what is that consensus science, even if he disagrees with that consensus.

read more »

November 9, 2014

All the world’s a stage

by Neil Rickert

The title is a famous line from Shakespeare’s “As you like it.”  It seems apt for this post, where I comment on a question raised by Frank Schaeffer.  In a recent post, Schaeffer asks:

If we’re nothing, why bother to convince us of our nothingness? Who cares? I would like to have asked Sagan why he bothered to write with such poetic skill and beauty about the meaninglessness of writing, given our transitory and diminutive place in the universe.

Multiple worlds

The answer to Schaeffer’s question, I think, is that we live in multiple worlds.

We live in a material or physical world.  And that world is a vast cosmos.  We exist on a tiny planet in a tiny corner of that cosmos.  Relative to that cosmos, we are insignificant.  The cosmos will go on with or without us, and we have no significant effect on it.

We live in a biological world, which is exists within that material world.  Within that biological world, there is a different range of values.  Our biology requires that we sustain ourselves with food and other requirements, so those requirements set some values which serve to motivate us.  We are very significant to that biological world, if only because of the devastation that our species has caused to the habitats of other species.

We live in a cultural world, which results from our belonging to a social species.  And we are very significant within our cultures which are centered around humans and human activity.  We may actually belong to many overlapping cultures.  I consider myself part of western culture, but also part of scientific culture.

Schaeffer mentions Carl Sagan and Dan Dennett.  But I doubt that either of those see (or saw) themselves a part of the material world alone.  Sagan, in discussing the vastness of our cosmos, was addressing our cultural worlds and painting a picture of where we fit within the material world.  But, at the same time, he was appealing to what we value within our cultural worlds.