On Racial Divides

Ernest,

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I am a white person.  That is an indelible facet of my human identity.  I carry my whiteness with me wherever I go, and it invades every corner of my life: not only my appearance, but also the way I talk and act, the sensibilities I have for style, even the subconscious decisions I make about how to move my body and what kind of physical bearing to use as I walk through my life from day to day.  Race is a deeply entrenched element of human culture, and it isn’t going away.  The influence that ethnic heritage and racial identity has on an individual is even a good thing; it affirms the capacity of peoples to affect meaningfully the lives of future generations.  But the disconcertion that comes with racial identity is how something so natural and right could ever become so perverted.

Ernest, as you know, many bright minds have wrestled with this question lately, and in the wake of recent events, plenty of folks more clever than I have expressed a frustrated and profound confoundedness over the issue, which seems to escape the reaches of reason itself.  But it is because I sincerely believe that the philosopher’s duty lies not only in quiet condolence, but also in speaking to the sufferings of the world, that I write to you now on this question, which has most often silenced the voice and immobilized the pen of the discerning.

how something so natural and right could ever become so perverted

I believe, Ernest, that the answer has a lot to do with the way our society makes sense of the reality around it.  The primary tool we use to do this is language.  Language lets us render incoherent information into intelligible meaning, and it does this by means of opposition.  Perhaps when you were only a couple months old you felt a wet and slimy something on your cheek and saw that it belonged to a brown and furry something else.  It wasn’t until you learned the word ‘dog’ that you were truly able to make sense of that experience.  As your vocabulary expanded, your words enabled you to give a meaningful opinion about the creature; it was a ‘good’ dog precisely insofar as it was not a ‘bad’ dog, because ‘good’ is the opposite of ‘bad’.  By means of linguistic opposition, you found meaning in your environment and were able to assign distinct identities to yourself and everything around you.  As it turned out linguistic opposition was a very powerful tool, and there’s no telling what great (or not so great) things might come of this new discovery.

Maybe when you were still very young you searched for new words only when you absolutely needed them—like when you later encountered a ‘cat’.  Eventually, though, you grew out of that childish habit and came to appreciate words also for their own sake, even if they didn’t correspond to anything you had ever yet experienced.  Language is in fact useful not only to communicate existing realities but also to express potential alternatives.  You can use language to tell fictional stories, to express intangible emotions, or to describe objects that do not exist.  As you grew up you came to value this impractical use of language, because you saw how it could enrich your life and make everything more meaningful.  When you fibbed to your mom about the fate of a missing cookie, the immoral deed carried meaning because language could surmise in your mind the perilous state of a society governed by falsehood. When you got married, it was the best day of your life in part because you knew the word ‘love’, which you had bothered to learn even though it didn’t correspond to any tangible reality in your environment.  And when you lost someone very dear to you, it meant so much more because the bereavement was wrapped in the symbolism of a thousand losses that you had found in the literature of novelists and poets, all of whom now shared in your present suffering.  Each of these experiences carried identifiable meaning due to the opposition not of two existing realities but of something actual and something potential or hypothetical.  Today, Ernest, as the intelligent man you have grown to be, you are capable of identifying a ‘good dog’ without relying on any actual experience with a real ‘bad dog’—a hypothetical bad dog would suffice just as well.

But when man falls back on childish habits, his concept of identity becomes perverted.  In this scientific age of ours, knowledge comes only from empirical data, not from the wisdom of fairy tales or even the predictions of hypothetical reasoning.  It is this epistemological stupidity that is responsible for racial divides.  Racial divides exist because we cannot identify ours as a ‘good race’ in its own right without there also existing an empirical ‘bad race’.  If there exists an ‘us’ then there must equally exist a ‘them’, and that them must be observable to us via our five senses.  But while this rudimentary use of language was sufficient to identify a ‘good dog’ or a ‘bad dog’, it is not sufficient for creating human identities.  When we identify ourselves only in opposition to empirical others, we deny that aspect of our humanity which transcends empirical measurement.  The human soul is not in fact fungible.  If one human dies, we can’t simply replace them with another human of equal or greater value.  A materialist understanding of human identity will not do.

Ernest, I confess that this is less a scholarly opinion than a personal apprehension, but it appears to me that man and science today are in a kind of metaphysical arms race with each other.  Science continually tries to codify and categorize the human experience in terms of quantifiable data, while man repeatedly shows himself to be more complicated than any concrete measurement can communicate.  If only we could fit people into square simple boxes that compare neatly through standardized tests.  But our whole undefinable nature is repulsed by the proposal.    These are troubling times, and the human spirit is aching for a change of heart.

Your servant,

TWM

Why I am not an Evolutionist

Unlike many, I see no incompatibility between Christian doctrines and the Theory of Evolution.  I don’t think that Christianity is meant to explain all of science for us; instead, I am quite compelled to think the opposite.  The Holy Bible uses the language it uses not to explain the laws of physics to us or tell us how old the earth is, but to explain that which lies beyond the capacity of human finding.  Turning once more to the model presented in “La cima del purgatorio,” one might say that the Bible was written to explain to us all the things that Virgil is incapable of discovering for himself.

With that in place, it quickly becomes clear that any references to “science” that we find in the Bible are not the ultimate intent of their associated rhetoric, but are themselves rhetorical devices being used for the communication of something much more important.  To differentiate between the makeup of a rhetorical strategy and the intention of the rhetoric, consider the case of Larry the Cucumber’s infamous water buffalo song.  Here we have a vacuous vegetable going on with a rather silly song only to be interrupted by some scrupulous other who objects to a discrepancy of complete irrelevance.  The situation is almost comical.  Actually, I think it is comical, maybe even silly.  But I hold it as no less silly to object to a passage in the Bible because it makes allusion to the earth being flat (or something of that sort).  Indeed, at the time the Bible was written, the earth was thought to be flat, and we should hardly expect the text to have gone so far out of its way as to first explain all of science to its readers before making any allusion to the physical universe–that’s just silly!  Instead, the best rhetorical strategy God could have chosen would be to speak of the world in the vernacular of the people he was working through, which happened to include some irrelevant misunderstandings about the physical universe.  This indeed seems to be the strategy He has taken.

For those of you Christians who do not agree with me on this, consider 1 Kings 7:23 which reads, “And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and its height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about” (KJV).  If we do some algebra:

d = 10 cubits

r = 5 cubits

c = 30 cubits = 2 π r

2 * 5 cubits * π = 30

π = 3

We get a mathematical statement that I have disproven more times than I can possibly count.  But I do not hold the exact value of π as being any more relevant to the salvation of souls than the ownership of water buffaloes is to the enjoyment of a humorous little song.  And so it seems to me to be of equally little importance whether or not God created humanity through a long, many-yeared process or a six-day one.  All I care, with regard to the literal facts, is that He created us and did so according to the normative principles that have elsewhere been established as necessary prerequisites to our existence.

One brief side note before I turn directly to the science of evolution: All the inaccuracies that have hitherto been mentioned are perhaps not even as dramatic or detrimental to the purely literal bible as we might make them out to be.  Consider the following points:

  • Three is less than five percent different from π, which actually makes it an accurate estimate of the irrational number when we account for significant figures.
  • The earth cannot be proven to revolve around the sun, and we indeed have no conclusive evidence that it does.
  • The earth, being roughly egg-shaped, does not really form any exact geometric shape at all, and therefore, to say whether it is flat or round is somewhat subjective.  Parts of it are flat, and other parts are round, but no part of it is perfectly flat or perfectly round.†
  • The order of the creation of species described in Genesis is roughly the same order science is uncovering, and the word that is translated to “day” could also be translated to “period.”  Therefore, the book might be saying that God created the universe in six time periods which are in the same order as science supposes them to be.

However, as I have said, I find all this argument about the physical universe to be largely irrelevant.  Now to evolution:

I find no theoretical inconsistency with the theory of evolution, but I find it hard to accept as a respectable scientific theory on the grounds of plausibility.  Having relatively little knowledge of biology, I will find it useful to comment on the theory from a statistical perspective rather than an empirical one.

Your DNA is made up of approximately six billion (6,000,000,000) genetic base pairs, each of which are in one of four possible arrangements (assuming that mismatches of nucleotides are negligible).  This means that according to Carl Haub’s estimate for the total number of people that have ever lived, there is less than a one in 3 * 10 ^ 1,800,000,000 chance that you would exist right now, assuming that there cannot be two people with exactly identical DNA, which would further decrease the probability.˚  This number completely excludes the probability of the human race existing, which is dependent on all physical factors that were necessary for its genesis–if there are such identifiable factors–as well as all those which are necessary for its continued prosperity.*

Furthermore, in the world of statistics, if we suppose that apes have DNA that is different from humans by two percent, and humans and apes together have an average of four point two billion base pairs (still using that six billion from earlier, and averaging it with the two point four billion ape base pairs), then forty-two million base pairs had to randomly mutate in order for either species to evolve from their ideal common ancestor (this being one percent of the aforementioned average), and twice that number in order for the whole process to occur.  Hence, the chance of the human race evolving from a common ancestor to apes is less than one in roughly 2 * 10 ^ 25200001 for every four point two billion mutations that occur.  We do not currently have any conclusive figure describing the mutation rate of humans or apes (that I know of), but it is thought to be very low.  Hence, if I were to take a single atom off the tip of your nose and throw it randomly into the universe, this single evolutionary step in what is thought to be an immense chain reaction of similar processes is less probable than you finding your missing nose piece without searching for it (based on the current estimates of the number of atoms in the universe).

It is imperative that you understand that these numbers are incomprehensible (uh … yes … that’s supposed to be funny).

Of course all this work is very rough and dependent much more on statistics than science, but the math certainly shows that biologists have some serious explaining to do, if nothing more.  I fear that because many believe that evolution is so relevant arguments against theism, they have shaded the public’s view of the theory.  Indeed, public perception is so misguided on this matter that people who know nothing about the subject hold it as solid fact.  In reality, it seems that it is very shaky theory, and if the evolutionist don’t have some clever reason that statistics are irrelevant to the plausibility of the theory, then we will all be compelled to call the Theory of Macroevolution “pseudoscience.”  I do, of course, understand that it is a very useful model that can be stimulating to research and organisation of data, and for that reason would not propose to throw it out all together, but would suggest to stop preaching it so religiously as fact–because it is clearly not true.

What bothers me about this situation, and has led me to blog about it, is a concern not with theistic and atheistic argument, but with academic honesty and sincere truth-seeking.  It seems that the voice of those who would point out that the emperor has no cloths has been buried in the overpowering assertiveness of those who would not.  Science has effectively lied to us, and that bothers me for science’s sake as well as for the sake of all academia.

POST WORD:

Here is a program that shows how a geocentric theory of the solar system is just as plausible (but less practical perhaps) as the current heliocentric theory.

And here is a “Super Calculator” that I created with the hope of using it to compute those ridiculous figures I’ve included in this post.  Much to my chagrin, I found that, even as efficient as it is, the program would take many years to arrive at those numbers (that’s how absurd they are!), and was compelled instead to turn to more theoretical methods of “Discrete Mathematics.”  But if you think that a super calculator is the sort of thing you’d like to have floating around on your hard drive, click the link.

(Technically, every word in this article is a “post” word.)

________________________

† As the currant theory stands, it is a fractal.  Of course I have stepped outside the scope of the question once I turn to such a theory, but so have the people who proposed the question in the first place.

˚ We shall ignore the negligible probability of two individuals having the same DNA by chance or in the case of identical twins.  This makes the math easier and has little effect on the estimate.

* I realize that this statistic is not all that relevant to evolution, but consider it an interesting prelude to the more relevant information found in the subsequent paragraph.

The Necessity of Reason

And so in these last two posts, we have arrived at the necessity of an omnipotent being within the scope of reason.  I here intend to address the question that I have hitherto answered only in part: Why reason?  Of course, it is ultimately impossible to give a reasonable answer to such a question because it questions the very scope in which such an answer would have to exist, but the question itself may nonetheless arise within the scope of reason.  That is, even a reasonable man may ask the question at some point, but to answer it, we must turn to the unreasonable.

It is here that I will, as I mentioned at the beginning of the first of these posts, venture into a less functional scope.  This argument will indubitably seem circular–it is–but it is not circular reasoning because it is not reasoning at all.  I am merely trying to identify the qualities and ramifications of the scope of reason, and then allow the reader to decide where he or she stands on the matter or identify the position that he or she has already taken.  The unreasonable is no matter of logic, but of rhetoric.

First of all, lets consider the functionality of our reason on a simple level: on the level of natural science.  We see patterns in nature all the time and consequentially draw the conclusion that these patterns will most likely continue to exist.  And after drawing that conclusion for which there is no evidence, we run “scientific experiments” in which we identify these patterns and come up with some sort of model that can be used to predict the physical outcome of a system assuming the identified patterns repeat themselves.  So far, to my knowledge, we have observed the patterns to hold true one hundred percent of the time.  “We have no reason to believe the sun will rise tomorrow,” but it always has.  In my mind, the remarkable thing about this is not so much the fact that the patterns exist (in fact, I could hardly say I’d be all that surprised if the patterns were disrupted one of these days; they are not absolute truths) but rather that humanity has been able to come up with working models of them.  The conclusion, then, from all this is that human reasoning is valid, at lest to some extent, if used properly.

Notice the circular quality of such a conclusion.  I am using some evidence that only has value within the scope of reason (i.e. beyond reason, it might not mean anything at all that humanity is able to create working models of patterns; a “pattern” is, as the naturalists would say, a human invented concept) and then applying it within the scope of reason (i.e. reaching a conclusion based on evidence). Therefore, I have, in reality, not proved anything here, but I have rhetorically identified the scope of reason relative to itself.  This is about all that can be done with a scope–it can be identified relative to other scopes.  But reason is the mother of all scopes, it is the “Omnipotent” scope, if you will.  It parallels in scopes what the omnipotent is in reality.  It exists relative only to itself; to be believed in or not.  For that matter, the omnipotent and the scope of reason are very much like an inseparable package: one must either believe in both or neither as he or she feels is best, but it makes no sense (admittedly within the scope of reason) to believe in one and not the other.

No one comes into philosophy disbelieving in reason just as no one comes into the world disbelieving in God or ethics, but hell has its reasons, and many would sooner deny that which is most naturally within them–their very heart–then bend their stubborn knees to an all powerful creator that would make himself to rule over them and take away their precious freedom.

Oh that precious freedom, some would sacrifice anything for it–even freedom.