Changing World Views (past and present)

I read Boom Bust & Echo in the 1990s where the author, Canadian economist David Foot, introduced readers to the ideas like this one: "economic ups and downs are cyclic; and often repeat at a lower amplitude which can be viewed as a diminishing bounce or echo". I was thinking along those lines on 2022-05-02 when I learned that a draft of a legal opinion by SCOTUS justice, Samuel Alito, had been leaked where Alito was seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade which could be viewed as a cultural echo from 400 years ago.
caveat: This is a work in progress (updated weekly - time permitting)
edit: 2022-10-29

Talking points

How could the SCOTUS ruling be considered an echo?

  1. At the end of the European Renaissance, Galileo Galilei was put on trial by the Catholic Church for promoting a different world view than that promoted by the church
    • the view of the church:
      • all celestial bodies were perfect obs that moved around a stationary Earth in circular orbits as laid out 1800 years earlier by Aristotle
    • the view of Galileo:
      • after using his telescope to observe four moons orbiting Jupiter, he knew that not everything orbited the Earth.
      • his observations of the Moon showed that it was not perfectly smooth
      • his observations of Venus showed that it was spherical and went through phases like the moon.
      • he came to the conclusion that he now had observational evidence to support the fact that the Earth moves around the sun as published by Nicolaus Copernicus in his heliocentric theory
    • comments:
      • from my point of view this is a clear case of a dogmatic religious world view at odds with a pragmatic scientific world view
      • Galileo was never advocating for an end to religion but the church saw it as an attack on their authority; they would have probably tortured Galileo to death by an inquisition had he not been so popular
      • In their defense, the Vatican brought up text from Joshua 10:13 where the bible says that god stopped the sun in the sky so the Israelites could continue to slaughter to the Amorites. At this point I suspect anyone not literally agreeing with the bible would find themselves on the wrong side of the inquisitor's tools so it was the Vatican that made it a religious thing (today the Vatican teaches to not take the old testament literally but only use it to provide context for the new testament)
  2. Prior to 1960, Catholicism had little effect on American politics which is one reason why presidential candidate, John F Kennedy, gave a speech to to Southern Baptist Convention where he asserted that his personal Catholic beliefs would not  interfere with his actions as President (if elected). After Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and Amy Coney Barrett in 2020, the Catholic justices now had a 5-to-9 majority and began to consider what to do with their new found powers
    comments: the trial of Galileo by the Vatican was 100% Catholic but this situation is a little different. From the time of the Protestant reformation until now, Christianity has splintered into 400 sects with Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism percolating to the top of the conservative Christianity in North America. These two groups seem to support the Alito position while many other religious sects (Christian and non-Christian) and non-religious people do not. Perhaps the United States is morphing into a Christian theocracy.

What is life and when does life begin?

No one knows but here are a few thoughts from science:

  • Viruses are a non-cellular collection of chemicals "not considered to be life" and yet they are able to replicate after hijacking the sub-cellular machinery of their hosts.
  • From a chemical point of view, mammalian sperm cells do not seem much more advanced than a virus (definitely no nucleus so not a Eukaryote).
  • Sperm and eggs each only contain half the number of necessary chromosomes (23 in the case of humans and Japanese deer, but not 23 pairs) so are each known as a haploids or gametes
  • Once two haploids cells join the resultant cell is known as a zygote which divide to become a blastomere which must divides numerous times before becoming an embryo which then develops (over time) into a fetus which then finally (over time) into a baby.
    comment: all blasts are immature precursor cells used to build-up (osteoblasts build up bone; neuroblasts build up never tissue; fibroblasts build up connective tissue) so while a human blastomere is technically a form of human life, it is not any more valuable than the skin cells you shed while reading this. It is definitely not a human being.
  • At any times during this transition the immune system of a young healthy female will spontaneously abort anything that does not appear to be healthy and/or viable. This process does not always work properly in females who are any combination of unhealthy or older. In fact, nature is the largest abortionist on the planet.
    comment: this recent program said that only one in four conceptions will result in birth (nature will spontaneously abort 3 in 4)
  • Anyone reading this will agree that a baby is a fully-formed human life. But when did human life begin?

No one knows but here are a few thoughts from religion and culture:

  • The Hebrew bible uses three different words which were translated into soul (Nephesh is one example) which literally means breath-of-life and usually implies creatures with lungs
  • The King James bible was translated into English During the time of the William Shakespeare when people of that time believed "in ghosts" and that the soul was some sort of spiritual energy.
    Original text from the creed: "I believe in the father son and holy ghost"
  • This mindset gave rise to philosophical debates as to when god inserted the soul (sometimes referred to as "in souling")
  • So the many religious people today "simply believe" that an invisible spirit is inserted at sometime by god when even though ancient Hebrews and Christians knew that soul really meant "the breath of life" (air)
  • Other religious people hedged their bets by claiming god inserted the soul at conception

Perhaps life is nothing more than system-level chemistry:

  • Science used to be know as Natural Philosophy because philosophers observed the natural world then attempted to come up with explanations. So let's observe something then think about what we saw.
  • the next time you are standing beside an open flame (fireplace or backyard BBQ), throw in a piece of paper which will ignite then quickly disappear in a puff of smoke in a second or two
    • the paper really didn't disappear, chemical energy was released in the form of light and heat while most of the carbon compounds were transformed (via chemistry) into carbon dioxide, water, smoke and ash.
  • now find a candle then set it alight.
    • observe that the flame can burn from hours to days
    • notice that the flame is balanced on the end of the wick
    • the flame melts a tiny amount of wax (the fuel) which is converted from solid to liquid then presented to the bottom of the flame in a very controlled fashion
    • the wick doesn't really burn until a small amount of wax has been consumed which results in the flame moving down a tiny bit which causes the wick to be exposed to the top of the flame and air
    • you will only see smoke if a tiny cross breeze causes the hot wick to not be evenly surrounded by evaporating wax
    • depending upon the length and diameter, a candle can burn from hours to days
    • the flame can easily be snuffed out by a small breeze
  • Whenever I see a candle I am reminded about the controlled chemical burn that takes place in everyone of our cells but also think about how fragile the chemical flame of life must be in all of us.
  • Question: does the start of life require that an active and observant god light a match? Or is there something built into the natural world that appears divine but may have a simpler explanation? Note that the religious minded are still welcome to believe that the natural world (including all the laws of chemistry and physics) is a divine creation. But I do not think science has anything to say about a soul or spirit.

Playing god?

  • Some people are certain that humans were made in god's image while others claim that humans made god in our image.
  • Is the bible literally true (dictated by god), figuratively true (the inspired word of god), or something else? No one knows which is the line where science stops and religion begins.
  • From Genesis 9:7 we read:
    "and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth"
  • The last line certainly makes me think we were instructed to manage the world in god's absence.
  • And whether god created us in his image or the other way around, it appears that we have been authorized by the bible to make the most thoughtful decisions about Earth in god's absence.
  • In the previous "what is life" section I mentioned that nature is the most frequent abortionist on the planet so perhaps the phrase "playing god" should changed to "playing nature"
  • Would nature spontaneously abort a healthy baby? Not normally
  • Should nature spontaneously abort any baby with any genetic or developmental errors? I think yes (IMHO it would be cruel to force any human life to term that would not have the potential to become fully human)
  • And what of the potential genetic defects associated with incest?
  • And what of the social issues associated with rape?

World Views (take 2)

Before the Age of Enlightenment

  • Almost nobody questioned anything in the bible and almost everyone thought the events of Genesis (Hebrew Torah  and Christian Old Testament) were literally true.
  • Genesis 1 (KJV):
    1. Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
    2. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
    3. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
    4. And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.
    5. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so.
    6. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
  • Many Christians have never read the bible so are surprise to learn that "Genesis-2 fills in the details" or "is the beginning of a second story" (perhaps the creation of modern mankind?)
  • Genesis 2(KJV)
    1. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
    2. The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed
    3. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Bible Criticism

  • This phrase always sounds worse than it really is. It only means "comparing the bible with original scrolls" and "documenting, errors, contradictions and translation errors".
  • The age of enlightenment does not have an official starting date but I like to think about three pivotal events in 1632
    • Galileo was tried, and found guilty, of heresy by the catholic Church
    • Baruch Spinoza was born in the Dutch Republic and was one of the first authors to write a criticism of the bible
    • John Locke was born in Somerset, England
  • Not every country embraced this enlightenment (now referred to as the Scottish enlightenment where it started or the European enlightenment where it ended up). Recall that at this time the so-called pilgrims who claimed they were escaping religious persecution in Europe were creating a strict religious culture in the new world which would culminate in the Salem Witch Trials (circa: 1692-1693). But all this had changed 50 years later when the founding fathers (all but 1 of 16 were enlightened deists) created the first founding document of a country that did not mention god.

the modern era begins (1950) and religion is back

  • Radio had always been a medium for American religion with one of the most notable broadcasters being Evangelist Billy Graham starting in 1950
  • Dwight Eisenhower was elected president in 1952 then took office in 1953. Eisenhower didn't attend very much church until is political advisors suggested should be seen doing so on a newly popular technology called television.
  • I'm not sure who reached out to whom, but Graham was reportedly close to Eisenhower
  • Also recall that the motto In God We Trust was adopted by the USA in 1956 so religion continued to sneak back in even though the founding fathers wanted to put an end to religion as a tool to legitimize the rule of kings and queens
  • Graham was also close to Johnson and Nixon which "I think" came close to violating the first amendment requirement of separation of church and state. I am not sure why Graham was not able to get as close to Kennedy, Ford or Carter.
  • Ronald Regan teamed up with Jerry Falwell to get elected in 1980 then seemed to abandon Falwell after taking office in 1981.
  • I don't recall hearing much about Evangelists in the white house from Regan to George H Bush to Bill Clinton, but it appeared to many that the Christian right was duped into believing that religion was the main reason for supporting George W Bush in 2000 with him talking office in 2001 (we now know this was a scam created by campaign manager, Karl Rove)
  • I don't recall much mentioning of religion during the Obama years except the conspiracy theories claiming he was a Muslim

Social Media begins (2008-2008)

  • the world-wide-web was invented in 1991 to share scientific documents at CERN but was ignored by most western people until 1995
  • it web increases in popularity every year until the mobile-phone revolution begin (circa: 2007) which is also the unofficial birth point of mobile social media (If you didn't have internet before, you do now via your smart phone)
  • around this time the world-wide-web seems to become an invaluable tool for passing along conspiracy theories. Here is one example which many Americans took seriously.
  • since then it appears that many people would rather take vaccine advice from a Hollywood actor than a scientist but I also noticed an increase in the amount of information relating to religious dogma
  • Consider this refresher:
    • the oldest Jewish texts were written in Hebrew
    • the oldest Christian texts were (for the most part) largely written in Greek (although experts inform that Hebrew and Aramaic texts exist for their respective cultures)
    • starting in 382, the Catholic Church publishes the first Vulgate (of many) which is a bible entirely translated into Latin (which means it could only be read by someone with a formal education which was very rare before the modern era)
    • almost everyone today will agree that Martin Luther's protest would have gone nowhere had it not been for the Gutenberg press which was used to print Protestant pamphlets then later a bible translated into colloquial German. At his point almost every literate German could read the bible and see it warts and all. It was not the perfect book which Catholic priests had been claiming for 1300 years.
    • so time for my own conspiracy (don't believe this because I just made it up): the Catholic church purposely translated the bible into Latin as a better way to control their world view while keeping the money flowing.
  • Every year since 1995 I have noticed an ever increasing volume of published material challenging religious dogma. IMHO the web, and social media, is the Gutenberg press of our time.
  • Much of this new material has caused me to put aside three years of religious instruction prior to an Evangelical Lutheran confirmation in 1965, replacing it with the Deism of Thomas Paine, Spinoza, David Hume and others.

Religious Views - Take 2

  • At the time of Marin Luther's Reformation, it appeared that the Western Catholic Church (headed in Rome) was much dogmatic than the breakaway Lutheran church in Germany
  • Boiling down Rome's Counter-Reformation into two major categories:
    1. POSITIVE: Rome corrected many of the things that the Protestant Reformation had criticized as either corrupt or not doctrinal
    2. NEGATIVE: Rome doubled down on its dogma around: miracles and the declaration of saints, the divinity of Mary, keeping the bible in Latin, continuing inquisitions (more emphasis on getting people to recant instead of torturing them to death)
  • Many Protestants only saw the negatives then assumed that Catholicism would always be more conservative than Protestantism, and they were wrong
  • Many Protestants today who do not believe the following:
    Protestant Official Position from the Vatican
    do not accept Darwin's theory of Evolution
    (many promote Creationism)
    accept Darwin's theory of Evolution
    (provided it is used to describe a process put in place by divine creator)
    do not accept the Big Bang
    (and believe the world is only 6000 years old)
    accept the Big Bang
    (provided it is used to describe a process put in place by divine creator)
    Evidence came from Belgium scientist-priest: Georges Lemaitre
    teach from the old and new testaments
    only teach from the new testament
    (the old testament is treated as a sketchy historical reference)
  • Some of the better popular science publications come from Catholic scientist-priests like one: Guy Consolmagno
  • Roman Catholic Church is the biggest single owner-operator of telescopic observatories in the world? They have come a long way since the trial of Galileo in 1632

Mixing Religion and Politics?

Even though the first amendment of the US constitution clearly sets a separation of church and state, many conservatives (usually white Christians) see themselves as the only protector of religion but this has produced some very strange (to me) contradictions like this one:

  • The right to life movement claims to value all human life so tells everyone that:
    • life begins at conception (a smaller subset believes that contraception is wrong)
    • any abortion at any time for any reason is wrong.
  • Meanwhile, many American conservatives:
    • want nothing to do with social programs that would take care of the poor children (or children with extreme congenital defects) especially if it raises taxes.
    • are "pro-death penalty"
    • block any new gun legislation (including background checks and minimum ages limits) which would put an end to school shootings which has already killed many dozens of children (or many adults in Las Vegas)

Summary: this means that the right to life movement really only cares about life from conception to birth





Video Lectures

  • (purchase DVDs)
  • (online video: $20 per month or $45 per quarter)
    • "From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity" (24 lectures by Bart Ehrman)
    • "Books That Matter: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (24 lectures by Leo Damrosch)
      • I find it amusing that Gibbon could see the decay in both empires while ignoring the decay that was creeping into the British Empire which he was part of before he relocated to the European continent.
      • books 1-3 deal with the decline and fall of the western empire (Rome then Ravenna)
      • books 4-6 deal with the decline and fall of the eastern empire (Constantinople)
        comments: just as Rome split into east and west, so did Islam. The Shiite capital was in Damascus (modern day Syria) while the Sunni capital was in Baghdad (modern day Iraq). American military activities have destroyed both places.
    • Christopher Hitchens (2007) at Google
    • Christopher Hitchens (2007) at Georgetown University
    • Christopher Hitchens (2008) at Grand Valley State

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Neil Rieck
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.