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On human nature

September 11, 2017 | apologetics | No Comments

In the realm of logic there is a principle known as the fallacy of the false dilemma. The rules of logic are violated when a complex question is restricted to an arbitrary number of answers, typically just two.
This occurs regularly in the public discourse and is a major contributor to polarization. Either global warming is a hoax, or global warming is the gravest threat to human existence. Either the complete neo-Darwinian paradigm is a fact or a total fabrication.  With both issues, there is a broad continuum of enlightened opinion that attracts little notice – because moderate people are boring. Recent insights from social psychology account for why we tend to gravitate toward extreme positions. It requires greater mental effort to parse complex issues, and we are naturally lazy. It enhances our ego when we can claim the mantle of moral superiority and vilify our opponents. That’s a lot less satisfying if your opponent might be even partially correct.
A recent columnist asserted that liberals think Wall Street is the source of moral decay, and conservatives believe the decay stems from Washington. Are we facing a false dilemma?
Let’s look a little closer. Taken at face value, the premise immediately leads to contradictions. The upper echelons of our federal government have been dominated by wealthy business types under both Republican and Democratic administrations, and for many a short career in government has been a Launchpad to success in business. Wall Street and Washington are more symbiotic than antagonistic.
If we pause to think but a second, both right and left harbor a list of villains that extends far beyond Wall Street and Washington. Liberal villains include pro-lifers, most Christians, white males, married white females, the military, Republicans, and pretty much anyone who hasn’t drunk the newest flavor of Kool-Aid. Conservative villains include Socialists, Communists, most of the media, sexual revisionists, Democrats, climate alarmists, and any liberals not otherwise listed. Clearly it is false that either side sees the “rot” as confined to a particular group.
Everyone with a pulse knows about the Holocaust. But the Holocaust was not the first genocide of the 20th century. That dishonor falls to the Turks, for their slaughter of over a million Armenian Christians starting in 1915. Nor was the Holocaust the largest mass slaughter. At least 20 million human souls perished at the hands of Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin between 1917 and 1953.
In the wake of the Holocaust, Western society was gripped with the question “what could drive normal people to such evil?” That concern prompted the famous Milgram experiments of the early 1960’s. In the initial experiment, 65% of participants willingly inflicted a fatal electric shock (fake, but they didn’t know) on a pretend “student” when instructed to do so by a man in a white coat. Shocking, indeed.
If you seek comfort in the belief that violence is mostly caused by radical ideologies or authoritarian regimes, forget it. Between 2001 and 2016, more Americans were killed in Chicago than the Middle East. Anthropologists have come to accept that murder has been a common cause of death throughout history and even prehistory. If anything, it has declined with more powerful states.
Psychologist David Buss of the University of Texas at Austin reported in 2005 – based on a survey of over 5000 people – that 91% of men and 84% of women have entertained at least one fantasy of committing murder. That most haven’t followed through has more to do with our personal comfort and fear of consequences than the strength of our character.
Of course, murder is merely the most dramatic manifestation of “rot”. Lesser manifestations – greed, deceit, infidelity, lust – permeate all of human society. All of history, science, reason, and experience lead to the inevitable conclusion that deep within every human spirit lies an inclination toward evil.
Few could have spoken with greater authority – or greater eloquence – than Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, survivor of the Soviet Gulag, who wrote: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” For two thousand years this principle has been known by a particular name. The theologically inclined may still recognize it as the doctrine of original sin.
This reality lead 17th century political philosopher Thomas Hobbs to argue for strong authoritarian central governments to keep the darker human impulses in check. Others saw a different path – if the population was religiously observant. (The founder of modern political science, Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote“Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”)
A century ago the London Times inquired“What’s wrong with the world today?” Noted Catholic writer and Christian apologist G. K. Chesterton responded:
“Dear Sir,
I am.

Yours, G. K. Chesterton.”

By the light of the beautiful moon

August 14, 2017 | apologetics | No Comments

Question: How does a procrastinating, crowd-averse father get his family from Edwards, CO into the path of totality for the 2017 total eclipse? Via Denver and I24? Heaven forbid! Back roads to Casper? No rooms or campsites for 50 miles in any direction.


Answer: By schlepping northward to Shoshone, WY and pitching camp in the ersatz “Bill’s RV Park”. A mere sheep pasture until two days earlier, it was now a sheep pasture…with a PortaPotty.

For our efforts we were rewarded with down-home hospitality and front row seating for one of nature’s most stunning spectacles: a total eclipse of the Sun.

Now, you may think the Moon is quite ordinary. From an astronomical standpoint, nothing could be further from the truth. For starters, our Moon is 50 times larger than any other moon in the solar system, compared to its host planet.

Even to have a perfect eclipse is quite remarkable  As luck would have it, the Sun is both 400 times larger in diameter than the Moon and 400 times farther, so that the Moon can perfectly occlude the Sun while allowing us to see and study its corona. Because the Moon is slowly pulling away from Earth, in about half a billion years there will be no more total eclipses. This may seem like a long time – it is, actually – but in geological terms we’re 90% there. 
 
Until quite recently the origin of the Moon was a complete mystery. The prevailing theories during my youth – capture of a floating celestial body, or simultaneous formation out of the same cosmic building blocks – were eventually proved impossible. Then came the moon landings. Between 1969 and 1973, the Apollo missions returned over 800 pounds of lunar material. The lunar crust exhibited chemistry virtually identical to Earth’s mantle, yet was strikingly different from other bodies in the solar system. Chemical analysis and computer modeling led to a startling conclusion: long ago, the infant Earth may have been struck by a celestial body about the size of Mars. For the physics to work, it had to be moving relatively slowly and strike the Earth at just the right angle. Too fast, and both are vaporized. Too steep, and it is completely absorbed. Too shallow, and it bounces off like a billiard ball. Most of the object had to be assimilated into the Earth. Our Moon would be formed by remnants ejected into space.
Within our solar system Earth is uniquely conducive to life, and much of that we owe to our silvery Moon. The Moon’s gravity exerts a stabilizing effect on the Earth’s spin. Otherwise, it would teeter like a top. So long as the Earth’s axis of spin is oriented to its orbit at an angle of 23 degrees, we have a stable four-season climate in temperate regions with ice confined to the poles, where it belongs. Without that stable axis life at all would be difficult; advanced intelligent life nearly impossible.
 
The planet closest to Earth in size and structure is Venus. Yet Venus is clothed in an incredibly dense atmosphere composed of CO2 and sulfur dioxide  The thick atmosphere traps the Sun’s energy resulting in a runaway greenhouse effect and surface temperatures of almost 900°F. As best as we can ascertain, the primitive Earth would have been similar. Something in Earth’s early history blew away most of the atmosphere, making life possible. An early collision event would have done exactly that.
 
Precise measurements reveal that the Earth’s rotation is gradually slowing down. Rewinding the clock tells us the early Earth was spinning much faster: one complete rotation every 6 hours or less, perhaps much less. At that rotation speed, the Earth’s surface water would amass around the equator,  completely submerging the temperate regions. Volcanoes and earthquakes would be far more frequent and severe. Advanced civilization would, again, be nearly impossible. We can thank the Moon for this. Gravitational friction from the Moon slowed the Earth’s rotation to a very comfortable 24 hour period.
 
We may even have to thank the Moon for the carbon that is the basis of all life. Under the conditions of the early Earth, most of the carbon should have evaporated into space or sunk to the core. A colliding object of similar composition to Earth may have replenished the mantle with enough carbon for life to exist. 
 
Since the theory took off in the mid-1970’s, the evidence for an ancient collision event has become increasingly compelling. There are details to be worked out and mysteries yet to solve, but there is no competing alternative in the astronomical community.
 
Based on all we have learned, human life and civilization would have been impossible without the benefits conferred by our lowly Moon. Still, some scientists are concerned that the sole surviving explanation demands far too many “cosmic coincidences”. Coincidences? Maybe, maybe not.