Freedom of Silence


Today, the front pages of the newspapers are covered with the news about the yesterday’s terrorist attack in Paris.  Two thugs associating themselves with Islam have entered the office of a French satirical magazine Charlie Hedbo and killed 11 people in the building.  Apparently, this was an act of “revenge” for a series of “blasphemous” cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammad and Islamic leaders.  The attackers later killed a policeman a few blocks away who wasn’t even confronting them, stole a car, and robbed a gas station.  I’m not sure how those acts are upholding the values of Islam.

Response in society worldwide was immediate.  This act is considered to be an attack on the freedom of speech — the “holy cow” of democratic society.  In western democracies, one can criticize anything, except the freedom of speech itself.  I do believe that freedom of speech is a cornerstone of a civilized society and needs to be protected as a basic human right.  People cannot be killed for expressing their opinions and beliefs.  But does it mean that we are free to say anything?

Rights come with responsibilities.  They are two ends of the same stick — you cannot have one without the other.  Words are powerful.  They can cause emotional reactions in other people and cause them to act.  The effect of public words is multiplied million times.  I think, in this age of Internet, freedom of speech is the right that is abused in the most irresponsible way.

After 19 years of marriage, I have learned that people may react to my words in most irrational ways.  However irrational, these reactions are often very predictable.  Certain words and certain images trigger very predictable responses.  Advertisers use this predictability.  Mass media and propaganda use this predictability.  Religions not only use this power, but also teach others, willing to learn, how to use it.

The book of James, my favorite book of the New Testament, says in chapter 3:

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

This is a mere statement of the power of the word.  This implies that the words, like any other power — weapons or fire — must be used with great care and responsibility.  Otherwise, they may cause great evil.  The passage also points out how difficult it is to “tame one’s tongue”.

Christianity was liberal by the 1st century standards.  In 1 Corinthians 10, Apostle Paul reflects on the liberties that Christians can take:

23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.“I have the right to do anything”— but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

This is the case with all “freedoms”.  “Freedom” to do anything is not freedom from consequences of our actions.  When someone mocks Prophet Mohammad in a cartoon or a video, it causes an outrage in some part of the world.  This reaction is so very predictable.  If you step on a viper, it is very likely to bite you.  If you disturb a bear with a cub, it is very likely to attack you.  So, why step on a viper or disturb a bear?  When a viper bites me, it’s silly to scream “I have the right to step wherever I want!”  And, speaking of consequences.  How does mocking of Islam free the world from Islamic terrorism? How is it even supposed to free the world from Islamic terrorism?

On the same note, how is a terrorist attack supposed to protect Islam?  Isn’t it, again, predictable that immediate reaction in society will be an outcry and, likely, violence against Islam?  Somebody has bombed a mosque in Paris already and there has been a surge of those cartoons on the Internet.  Why do people do something that is guaranteed to produce results exactly opposite to intentions?  Well, that’s a silly question.  Why do people ask silly questions? I don’t know, but they predictably do.

Later in the same chapter, Paul continues:

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

“Do not cause anyone to stumble.”  Do not drink wine in the presence of an alcoholic.  Do not show drugs to a drug addict.  Do not give a gun to a maniac in depression.  Do not publish cartoons mocking Islam.  Is it, really, such a great limitation of freedom?  Should we have censorship and legislation limiting such acts?  Definitely, not!  Who will judge what’s offensive to whom?

Merry Christmas! Again?


You may think that Christmas season is finished.  Not so fast.  January 7 is the Christmas day by the Eastern Orthodox Church calendar, so this is the high time for Christmas celebrations in Eastern Europe — Russia and Ukraine, in particular.  Ever wondered why?  Read on.

The story begins with the Solar System.  Most people know that Earth year is approximately 365 days.  By the age of 4 or 8 years, most people learn that the year is approximately 1/4 day longer than 365 years.  The accrued extra day is added as Februrary 29th every 4 years.  The “long” year is called leap year. Almost every year that can be divided by 4 is a leap year. The calendar accounting for the extra day every 4 years was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC and is, therefore, called Julian.

By the age of 100 or 200, most people learn that the year is approximately 0.008 days shorter than 365 and 1/4.  The accrued missing day is taken away by skipping 3 leap years every 400 years.  Each year that can be divided by 100 is not a leap year unless it can also be divided by 400.  Years 1900 and1800 are not leap years. Year 2000 is a leap year. Of course, most people do not live to the age of 100 or 200 and never learn that most centennial years are not leap.  The calendar accounting for the missing leap years was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 and is, therefore, called Gregorian.  They do have to know a thing or two about science, those Popes.

The “approximately” does not end there.  Of course, there are more decimal places in the length of the year calling for more adjustments, but most of the people do not live long enough to notice.

By 1582, the 0.008 days every year have accrued 11 days.  Gregorian calendar corrected Julian calendar by skipping 11 days in October 1582:

Calendar for October 1582 (Spain)

Atheists are not the only people who think that Pope is no authority to them.  Protestants and Americans have not adopted Gregorian calendar until September 1752.  By the time they decided to switch, they had to skip 12 days:

Calendar for September 1752 (United States)

(as if there were United States in 1752).  When I learned UNIX commands in college, I was surprised to find out that UNIX “cal 1752” command produces this:

Screenshot from 2015-01-06 13:34:10
Output of “cal 1752” Linux shell command.

You may be surprised to learn that Eastern Orthodox Church is still using Julian calendar for its holidays!  Now, the difference is 13 days!  So, Orthodox Christmas is on December 25, except that December 25 “old style” falls on January 7 “new style”.  For the same reason, the anniversary of The Great October Socialist Revolutiona major holiday in the Soviet Union, was celebrated on November 7.  When the revolution happened, it was October 25th, but when the Soviet Union converted to Gregorian calendar in 1929, the date moved to November 7th. Julian calendar was still in use until 1930 in the Soviet Union.  In year 2100, another leap year will be skipped adding to the schism separating Eastern Orthodox Christians from the rest of the world.  Starting from year 2101, Orthodox Christmas will move forward another day — to January 8th.  I wonder, how well this change will be received.

In case you wonder, yes, they celebrate the New Year “old style” on January 14 in Eastern Europe.  It’s called “the old new year“.

Created or Evolved?


Yet another post on the jaded topic of creation vs. evolution.  This time, however, I will not question whether humans evolved.  I’d like to consider what we mean when we say that things such as TV sets, computers, cars, pencils, and anything else created by humans have a creator.  And I would like to defend the following thesis:

Technogy does not have a creator. Technology evolved.

This thought occured to me when I watched the Matt Ridley’s TED talk “When Ideas Have Sex” where he draws an analogy between evolution of living beings and evolution of ideas.   What do we mean when we say that a TV set was “created”?  Perhaps, it was built by workers in a Chinese factory.  Have the workers created the TV set?  Perhaps, they have no idea how and why it works.  The workers, definitely, do not understand analog or digital signal processing, video codecs, or physics of radio transmission.  But people who understand those things, have no understanding of PCB assembly or plastics manufacturing.  Neither workers nor the TV designers understand the semiconductor device physics or the chemistry  involved in semiconductor processing.  So, who can be called a creator of a TV? Or, more specifically, a creator of your particular TV set?

This can be said not only about high technologies, but about anything “created” by human beings.  Matt Ridley uses a low-tech pencil as an example:

I am of course quoting from a famous essay by Leonard Read, the economist in the 1950s, called “I, Pencil” in which he wrote about how a pencil came to be made, and how nobody knows even how to make a pencil, because the people who assemble it don’t know how to mine graphite, and they don’t know how to fell trees and that kind of thing. And what we’ve done in human society, through exchange and specialization, is we’ve created the ability to do things that we don’t even understand. It’s not the same with language. With language we have to transfer ideas that we understand with each other. But with technology, we can actually do things that are beyond our capabilities.

This thought occured to me at work.  My task was to test reliability of a new integrated circuit designed by the company I work for.  I myself have a very vague understanding of how these tests are done.  We hire a subcontractor company to run these reliability tests.  But I need to tell the subcontractor how to turn on the chip.  I came to the designer for instructions.  The designer explained to me, which capacitors need to be attached to the device under test.  He also said that to turn on the analog portion of the chip, I need to send a command to the on-chip processor.  What command?  How to send it?  He had no idea.  He used a computer program to do that, and the program was written by software engineers.  What I carried out from this experience is that there is not a single person in the company who can tell me how the product works.  The chip does not have a creator.  But it does work!

It appears to me that when people talk about evolution and creation, they talk about the same damn thing, from a little different perspectives.

Any thoughts?

P.S.  Another thought occured to me.  In creation vs. evolution debates, evolutionists frequently say that evolution is supported by paleontology which proves that organisms historically appeared in a certain order.  They say that if creationism were true, we could, potentially, find fossils of dinosaurs predating any known fossils of mollusks.  But isn’t the same true of technology which is, undoubtedly, considered a human creation?  Technological advances happen in certain order.  E.g. a car cannot be invented before people discover a combustion engine, learn technology to process metals, obtain gasoline from oil, build roads, etc.

Moreover, when conditions are ripe for a certain technology to emerge, similar discoveries are often independently made by several people, often in different parts of the world.  This means that if one scientist does not make the discovery, another will.  And this seems inevitable.  So, the will or the talent of individual scientists are irrelevant.  Which also seem to support the idea that technological progress evolves independently from human will.

Those Who Have Identifiers, Let Them Identify


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I picked up my son from his school today.  He is a third-grader in a charter public school renting a part of a building that belongs to a church. We went to a bathroom which I visited, perhaps, a hundred times before. But today I noticed something that I have never seen before on a bathroom sign.  And I mean any bathroom sign, not just a bathroom sign in a church. I decided to take pictures of those signs and post them here. Perhaps, those pictures may help to break the stereotype that people who go to church are “closed-minded”.

Human Construct


The Human Construct

I have been told many times by atheists that “God is a human construct”.  Most recently, here:

GOD is just a myth, like every OTHER construct of man.

Well, not all “constructs of man” are myths.  Men (and women, to be politically correct) come up with many ideas, not just myths.  And I readily agree that God is one of such ideas.

People do not believe in things.  People believe in ideas.  And yes, ideas are immaterial, cannot be touched, seen, smelled, felt in any way.  Well, people can read an idea, but what they see are signs or images.  When people say they heard an idea, they actually heard sounds.  They could be words, music, or white noise.

So, it does not bother me at all that “God is a human construct”.  So is everything else for which we can find a word.

 

PZ Myers Disappointed… in Atheism


Atheist Disillusionment” is an outstanding article by one of the “militant atheists” PZ Myers.  For a change, PZ Myers expresses his  frustration with … atheism.

…what I’m fast learning is that tolerance isn’t automatically a property of abandoning the false tribe of religion, but is more a reflection of the greater culture it is embedded in. Atheists can still hold a “kill the wogs” mentality while babbling about the wonders of science; people who regard women as servile appliances for their gratification don’t seem to become suddenly enlightened once the scales of faith fall from their eyes.

There is the great disappointment. The movement, whose whole premise demands a sweeping change of the culture, has discovered that it is far easier to defend the status quo than to change it. We’re willing to ask other people to think long and hard about their beliefs, to question and change, but all that other stuff that our culture planted in our heads, like beliefs about the sexes and races, like the rigid gender binary, like the suitability of women to thinking critically, like the automatic conferral of status by wealth, like the dehumanization of people who look like they might have had different great-grandparents than us, like the utility of simply killing people who disagree with us…oh, no, don’t ask us to change. We’re just here to promote atheism! One thing at a time! Once we’ve cleared away the deadwood of religion, then maybe we can think about encouraging a rational world that will have those nice things you’re talking about. Atheism is only about separation of church and state issues, or only about science and naturalism, or only about scholarly discussion of the accuracy of ancient texts, or only about fighting the barbarous customs of non-Western peoples…it’s only about the non-existence of gods, we can’t possibly consider side issues, like the harassment of women or the oppression of black communities or the diminishing educational opportunities of the poor, to be part of our brief!

The great disappointment, as usual, comes from unrealistic expectations.  After all, atheism is only about disbelief in god.  Atheism has to do with dislodging racist, sexist, and other social stereotypes as much as religion has to do with instilling them because these sterotypes seem to flourish in the absence of religion just as well as in the presence of it.  This was the idea of my other post.  To hear confirmation of my own thoughts from one of the champions of atheism is encouraging.  Somehow, the teaching that one should remove the plank from his own eye before taking a speck out of the eye of his neibhbor did find its way home.  Hallelujah.

Update 1/13/2015.  Just came across this post http://nickbradbury.com/2015/01/13/atheism-is-not-a-silver-bullet/.  Heartwarming.

Saving Others


I think, Christianity is a great idea.  All people are inadequate in one sense or another.  All have imperfections.  All make mistakes.  All make bad decisions once in a while.  All are “sinners”, not in a sense “evil-doers”, but in a sense of lacking perfection in their thoughts, words, and deeds.  All need “salvation” from this inadequacy and imperfection.  I think, it’s important to realize this about myself. If I don’t realize and acknowledge my own mistakes, errors, and imperfections, I will persist in these errors with arrogance and pride.

Naturally, when we realize our own mistakes and errors, moved by love, we would also want to “save” our neighbor from repeating these mistakes…  And this is where the whole idea gets upside down.  Our neighbor is merrily going about his own business, enjoying life, and here I come as a “loving Christian”, bringing “the good news” that the wide road he is following is the high way to hell and that he needs to pick his cross and follow the narrow path.

But I am not my neighbor.  How do I know that the things that I consider “bad” for myself are “bad” for my neighbor?  Some like it hot, some like it cold, some like it in a pot nine days old.  If my grand-grand-grandfather died after eating a bad shellfish, and, forever since then, my tribal rule book says “shellfish is detestable”, should I really take this message to the other tribe that has been happily living on shellfish for generations?

All Christians want to “be like Jesus” who is perfect.  The problem with this aspiration is that, at some point, people start to believe that they have achieved some state of moral perfection and superiority and are in a position to go around and teach others, righteously turning over tables in other people’s temples and saying “woe to you, hypocrites!”, not seeing the plank in their own eye.

The situaion becomes even worse when this desire to “save” others is made into a state policy.  This is where the whole doctrine of “salvation” creates hell.  When one nation takes on a mission of “saving” other nations – “liberating” them from whatever is considered “oppression”, “sin”, “immorality” – this doctrine leads to rivers of blood.

These words are prompted by the current events in Ukraine, my home country.  Some Russian leaders somewhere got an idea that Russia represents a unique culture, “civilization”, if you will, somehow “distinct” from the rest of the world and has a “special” mission – to save other “brother” nations from corruption, immorality, and oppression of the West.  On the other side of the ocean, U.S.A. poses as a world policeman and believes that all countries should have “the right” form of government to be “happy” and “free”.  As a result, there is an unprecedented surge of hatred between people in Ukraine fueled by media.  People are kidnapped, tortured and killed, civilians die from bullets and shells.  Each side accuses the other in “state-sponsored terrorism”, “fascism”, “genocide”, and what not.  The same scenario is played in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria.

So, is it right to “save” my neighbor or is it right to watch my neighbor suffer what I consider to be oppression, depravity, pain, or sin? Should I not “do unto others as I would have others do unto me?”    Should I not fulfill what I consider to be my moral and, often, patriotic duty? But how do others know how I want to be treated and how do I know how they want to be treated? I may consider my suffering real.  But is my neighbor’s suffering real or is it only in my head?  These are not easy questions, are they?

Here is an interesting picture regarding “saving Muslim women”.

In this picture, both women think that the other needs to be “saved”. Do Muslim or Western women really need to be “saved”? Perhaps, Sam Harris can devise a clever science experiment and save me from facing this choice.  But, on the other hand, shall we tolerate beating, torturing and killing women in other countries for not complying with some tribal rule books and sexual discrimination in our own?

There are words of wisdom in the Bible:

“I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. — Romans 14:14”

Shakespeare adds:

“Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Go figure who thinks what.

To save or not to save? That is the question. This dilemma seems to be at the very heart of Christianity.  But I can see how this post may outrage some Christians as “unchristian”.  I can be accused of advocating moral relativism.  I will be pointed to the numerous commands in the NT to “go and spread the word”, to the quotes about “the lamp on a lamp stand”, etc.

It’s interesting that becoming an atheist and rejecting the whole idea of “salvation” will not rid me of this dilemma.  I see a lot of atheists going out of their way trying to save others from what they perceive to be opression of religion.

Is there a way of this “spiritual darkness” and blindness?

 

Hypocrisy of Tolerance


I was in search of a good illustration for my point when I found this As usual, Gandhi cuts it to the core.  I have a problem with the concept of tolerance because tolerance implies hate.  Without hate, tolerance is simply meaningless, there is nothing to “tolerate”.  Perhaps, instead of striving to be tolerant, we […]

So, what IS reality?


Where do the arrows point?

What does the glass have to do with it?

What does the water in the glass have to do with it?

And why did I see it in a Facebook post titled “On Propaganda, Media, Illusions, and Objective State of Things”?

And how is this related to philosophy, religion, and beliefs?

Does religion cause harm?


After choosing to believe in God for personal reasons, I had interesting conversations with people who passionately oppose religion and faith.   Their main argument is, of course, the lack of evidence for God which I’m going to address separately.  The other argument which is hard to dismiss is that religion causes harm because it makes humans […]