Sunday, January 23, 2005

Cultural Redoubts

It usually seems that once people latch onto a good idea they ignore the consequences that are associated with it. In education, it seems like the move to a business model is following this trend. In religion, I wonder if many people's attempts at cultural sequestering ignore some of the consequences that seem to go with it.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Darwinic Irony

I thought another quote from Bill Bryson was in order.

A life in a rural vicarage seemed to await him [Darwin] when from out of the blue there came a more tempting offer. Darwin was invited to sail on the naval survey ship HMS Beagle, essentially as dinner company for the campatin, Robert FitzRoy, who was very odd, chose Darwin in part because he like the shape of Darwin's nose. (It betokened depth of character, he believed). Darwin was not FitzRoy's first choice, but got the nod when FitzRoy's preferred companion dropped out. From a twenty-first century perspective the two men's most striking joint features was their extreme youthfulness. At the time of sialing, FitzRoy was only twenty-three, Darwin just twenty-two.

FitzRoy's formal assignment was to chart coastal water, but his hobby-passion realy-was to seek out evidence for a literal, biblical interpretation of creation. That Darwin was trained for the ministry was central to FitzRoy's decesion to have him aboard. That Darwin subsequently proved to be not only liberal of view but less than wholeheartedly devoted to Christian fundamentals became a source of lasting friction between them.

Now one shouldn’t go overboard thinking that Darwin’s thoughts on evolution are as clean, concise and obvious as they appear today, especially since the topic really wasn’t at the forefront of his mind during the Beagle trip. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the irony of the situation. I also wonder how much of that same irony occurs today?

In this situation, a relatively religious person proposed an eventually sound idea that many people took as a direct attack on God. Now I don’t think God changed during the eventual, and seemingly never ending, turmoil on the issue. And yet clearly the results of the idea were incompatible with many conceptions of God. Like the characterization of FitzRoy portrays, some people take any weakening from their pre-conceived conceptions of God as a personal attack on divinity. This even if their ideas, though well intentioned, be tenuously creditable.

The irony of a religious person fighting to diminish God against a fundamentalist’s fantastical beliefs of superlative though impossible God is interesting. Is this what Joseph Smith faced? Does this belie the friction between the mormon and evangelical communities? Is this what Jesus faced? Was he in the ironic position where he was perceived as blaspheming and denying a God that he was attempting to accurately portray?

Personally I get nervous when things I present may be perceived as limiting God. With so many conceptions tied together, what one person views as a simple limitation, another may view as a tangled attack on the essence of religion. When the rallying focus of one side is excitement, is anything less acceptable?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Want to help a student

In my grade 10 English class, we have been working on getting the students to write for a directed audience. To do this they have made their own blogs. Some of them have put quite a bit of effort into this. If you really want to make a student's day, drop by their sites and drop them a quick comment. They have been hard at it generating posts on various short stories to elicit comments.

I'll even let you know how excited they get about receiving a positive comment from someone they have never met, epsecially if it happens to be from someone more qualified to teach english than a physics major like myself.

Out of the closet

I finally decided to tidy things up and publish a site feed (thanks kzion) Part of this process means that each post will have an easier to find, linkable page. To make it easier to reference past posts, I am also going back to re-title old posts. This should enable linking to archives. This should clean up the feed titles, and let me put my recent post link back up on the side bar. Luckily I only post about once a week (usually Sunday afternoons), so this shouldn't be too hard.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Creating Autonomy

I thought I was about done discussing some consequences of a “slowed down” God, but I think I may mention one last point. If travel isn’t instantaneous, it is impossible to control things that are happening far away. In practical terms, what does this mean for divinity?

As I mentioned before, I think it sets up an effective limit for any, well lets call it “supervising”. The realm that an individual may have direct control over is limited. While check ups are of course possible, there must be a level at which time delays limit involvement. In this sense, there is most likely a threshold as it were for divinity. In other words, once a group is sufficiently separated from its head, it must become relatively autonomous. (I don’t think this autonomy in any way denies the existence of God, or the language one would use to describe his influence. It would just mean that many of the things we assume happen directly may be indirect, or due to forms that exist, or previous experiences that have been taught).

So what events would cause this autonomy to occur? According to my reasoning, the prime reason seems to be distance. Now what would cause this separation? Well if one looks at the size of the Galaxy, and the proportion of habitable planets, it would seem that habitable planets (or at least ones that have gotten screened for a closer look according to occur optimistically every 3ly in our neck of the woods or evenly distributing every 1 x 10^3 ly or so according to a simplistic Drakeapproximation (the difference is probably due to thegalactic habitable zone we are in, and different “n’s”). So separation caused by a need to be around a hospitable planet may have required an increase in autonomy. This seems to fit with the mormon belief that pre-mortal spirits , with Christ at the head were the active agents of creation. It may also help to make sense some of the confusion that usually exists with Christ’s role as creator and the old testament Jehovah.

Now of course, this is just speculation. However, it seems to me that for things to function properly, with the constraints of slow communication, each planet really needs its own supervising entity. Of course, with long time frames, it is unlikely that many earth like experiences will be going on simultaneously. However, I think the limiting principle will, to some extent, still apply.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Mixing Memories

Mixing Memories has an interesting post, that I just picked up on, concerning Religious Schemas.

The two examples of similarities between religious concepts and nonreligious concepts illustrate one of the most striking types of similarity: the athropomorphization of God concepts. People seem to have a strong tendency to attribute anthropomorphic attributes to God in religious contexts that are inconsistent with their theological representations of God.

The post also has a link to an interesting table from a study by Barret & Kell. Yikes! Most of my answers would be in the 0.0% of respondents quite a bit.

Life is like a lichen

Most of us think that lichens are, well rather boring. I am sure that unless you are or have done a graduate dissertation on them, they probably are. Instead I think I will try to liken them to our existence. Well, that’s not quite right. Perhaps instead I will read some things unto you which are written in the books of Bill Byson, and then do the, well you know the pun.

Lichens [are] more interesting than magical. They are in fact a partnership between fungi and algae. The fungi excrete acids that dissolve the surface of the rock, freeing minerals that the algae convert into food sufficient to sustain both. It is not a very exciting arrangement, but it is a conspicuously successful one. The world has more than twenty thousand species of lichens.

But enough background information.

Like most things that thrive in harsh environments, lichens are slow growing. It may take a lichen more than half a century to attain the dimensions of a shirt button. Those the size of dinner plates, writes David Attenborough, are therefore “likely to be hundreds if not thousands of years old.” It would be hard to imagine a less fulfilling existence. “They simply exist,” Attenborough adds, “testifying to the moving fact that life even at its simplest level occurs, apparently, just for its own sake.”

It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of all the intoxicating existence we’ve been endowed with. But what’s life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours-arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don’t. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment’s additional existence. Life, in short, just wants to be. But-and here’s the an interesting point-for the most part it doesn’t want to be much.

I think it is in our natures to assume that life leads to a naturally fulfilling existence. The usual Mormon rationale is that life of every kind has a purpose. Everything was, more or less, specifically created to help us return to God’s presence (or at least had a role to play in that journey). While I certainly won’t disagree with that view, I wonder if there isn’t more than one paradigm that incorporates the motivations for the preceding train thought?

Perhaps another quote from Bryerson will help to start things out.

There is one other extremely pertinent quality about life on Earth: it goes extinct. Quite regularly. For all the trouble they take to assemble and preserve themselves, species crumple and dire remarkably routinely. And the more complex they get, the more quickly the appear to go extinct. Which is perhaps one reason why so much of life isn’t terribly ambitious.”

On a long time scale, complex life is unstable. The more exotic a species is, the more likely it is to go extinct. We can see it today. Plants or animals that become adapted to a very special niche lose out because conditions, and hence the niche, continually change. However, I wonder if many of our goals for this life are setting us up for existence in a specialized rather than generalized niche?

Perhpas the undermat of this idea comes from power ascribed to God’s protective canopy. In these terms, our existence is like an epiphyte. The only difference is that the world is a niche that doesn’t quite fit our spiritual side. It is as if there is evolutionary pressure forcing us into extinction. In effect, some viewpoints can be seen as supporting a spiritual reliance on God that enables us to survive in a niche that doesn’t fit. Under these conditions, many people continue to specialize.

Some may run with specific doctrinal ideologies. They set themselves up for a life that is continually at odds with the natural world around them. By doing this, they force more and more action from God to sustain them. In this way they may feel that they are making God more a part of their life. Now obviously, reliance on God is not a bad thing. It is much better to rely on him than on ourselves. However, what if our existence on earth is meant to be more harmonic than confrontational?

From this perspective, many miraculous things, like the origin of life, may be seen as a wise use of available resources rather than the heavy hand of conventional creation. Find a stable planet at the right conditions and bingo, amino acids, then proteins., etc. What if our move from spiritual to temporal being is part of a long process that takes advantage of situations that are naturally available within our realm of existence? In this sense, part of creation may involve finding and taking advantage of natural events that presumably spring up millions of times within our galaxy. In these terms many of the lessons we should be learning may not be how to force our environment into a mold that we like, instead, it may involve learning how to deal with the type of mold that we may find.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Sacrilegious to Laugh?

I am sure this page has been making the rounds so far. If not, it is good for a laugh. While they might not be hummel standard, I think it would require a certain unique personality to take them seriously.

As for the motivations for making such a figurine, well perhaps there is a point where one needs to take a step back and look at things from a different perspective.

Friday, January 07, 2005

A Fantastical God

Historically there have been lots of heresies. Perhaps I am off base, but it seems like most heresies seem to be associated with a perceived attempt to deny God’s power. It rarely seems like attributing more perceive positives to God is a bad thing. If this is a general human trend, does this mean we have evolved a conception of God that, while making us feel good, may not be entirely accurate?

Now, no one ever wants to be accused of denying God’s power. One of the big worries is probably the consequence of leading others astray. Just as you are better filling up the car just before it runs out of gas rather than after, it is usually safer to be a little bit over cautious about the divine. This type of thought pattern tends to arise when there is a threshold that must be crossed. Many people talk about salvation in these terms. Perhaps because of this, many issues about divinity also receive this type of reverence. However it may be a bit assiduous to assume that beliefs that exaggerate God are fine, but those that diminish him are wrong. Personally, I think anything that doesn’t lead too a correct view are pretty much equally useless. The side of the fence you are on is probably more a function of social pressure and cultural ethics than anything else. It’s just that most people assume that, in this case, conservatism is a better choice (and I think for most people it probably is the safest choice to make).

The main concern I have with ascribing too much to God is that it sets us up for a fantasy world. While perhaps a Zionist like separation of believers and non believers may increase spiritual manifestations, is that a possibility that should exclude dealing with the here and now? For me, the failure of Zionism in Utah in the 1800’s answers this question. Fantastical belief doesn’t make God any more God. It may facilitate belief and trust in him, but it may also blind us to the simplicity of reality.

The reality may be that God is a real person, similar to you and me. He may be limited by many of the same universal laws that limit us. And yet, despite it all, he still overcomes, and directs all the miracles that happen, all the answers that are given, and all the guidance we need. Perhaps while expounding the profound depths of his personality traits we unwittingly carry the more physical attributes of God’s reality into a world of fantasy.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Slowing down God

With the Universe being such a big place, I think we always assume that a corporeal God can still get around pretty quickly. I think many people also assume that spirits should be able to travel pretty fast as well. As I have been reading A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, I have been wondering, rather tangentially, how mormon theology would change if God was, well more limited in this regard?

On one hand, it is easy to see why angelic visitation and such would be rather rare. Unless there were hanging out rather close by, it could take quite some time to make an appearance. Not to trivialize things, but it would also make it rather un-economical for God to show up very often. This is especially true if he had other worlds or creations to take care of.

In fact the limitations this causes, makes it the role of a traditional fundamental styled God rather hard to fill. If information is limited by the speed of light, instantaneous knowledge is rather hard to come by. Now I am sure some people feel that God’s omnipotence and omniscience mean that these rules don’t quite apply, at least in a conventional sense. Of course that is possible. However, to me, it seems like many attempted reconciliations seem to be reaching for something. Either that, or they are caught up on consequences of open theism.

If it does take God significant time to move around and communicate, the role Christ played as Jehovah in the Old Testament seems to make more sense. The eternal generations of Divinity also seem to make more sense. It also avoids some of the reaching that occurs as one imagines creations correlating with bubble universes.

I think it also emphasizes the role of faith in our growth. Faith becomes less blind belief in God’s direct involvement in our lives, and more belief that what we have previously learned will keep us the correct path in our desired progression. In this sense, the light of Christ really can be seen as a base level of ingrained knowledge that we rely on. The influence of the Holy Ghost may be access to more of our previous knowledge and awareness.

Now of course, just like many of my musings, this has many problems. Nonetheless, it is interesting to think through the necessary organizational structures and situations that are required by this travel and communication limitation. God’s existence is still as real as ever, but his involvement may be quite different than we imagine.