**spoiler alert** He begins the book with an analysis of one of the most well-known books on war: Clausewitz's "On War" written in the 1800s by the Pr**spoiler alert** He begins the book with an analysis of one of the most well-known books on war: Clausewitz's "On War" written in the 1800s by the Prussian officer. It gave the definition of war as the "continuation of policy by other means" and used the regiment as the basis for all military organization. He, along with Marx, used ideological descriptions to explain society, and specifically, war. He described "real war", which is how it was typically fought, to "true war", which is how he thought war should be fought. Specifically, he called for the development of political and social identity of soldiers in a regiment in order to continually motivate soldiers to willingly give their lives for their country, unit, etc. (instead of just leaving service as soon as possible). It was his ideas that led to the development of huge peacetime stockpiling of troops and weapons and the eventual destruction of WWI (because all of the wealth of Europe was used to create huge motivated armies). Keegan argues that Clausewitz failed in his definition/explanation of war because he failed to distinguish between all of the cultural differences in how war is carried out and to what purpose.
*** Japan was a unique situation in the history of war because they had the technology of gunpowder but declined to use it in favor of a culture of the sword. It was essentially a severe gun-control culture because gunpowder was not needed in order to ensure national security. The shogunate governed every detail of the peoples' lives and maintained the "natural" form of the sword instead of the chemical energy of gunpowder. It helped maintain the class and political system by preventing a quick overthrow of the government through military force (only the ruling class were even allowed to own swords). The swords of that time period were the best edged weapons ever constructed. There is a film of a sword made by a 15th century maker slicing through a machine-gun barrel. Some of these swords were hammered and rehammered so much they contained more than 4 million layers of finely forged steel.
*** The Arabs of Islam created a new type of warfare, one that was clearly based on religious principles. It taught the necessity of submission to its revealed teachings and the right of its believers to take arms against those who opposed them. Muhammad taught that Muslims were brethren and should not fight each other, but they should fight all other men until they confessed in the one true God. There were no problems with territoriality and kinship because Islam transcended those categories. There was also no conflict between material wealth and Islam so they could conquer as much land and wealth as possible (as did Muhammad himself). With the death of Muhammad, however, Islam was split, although its armies were still successful in uniting a vast section of the world because they traversed so many demographic boundaries (and the relatively weak status of most major empires at that time contributed as well).
*** Another interesting section explained the success of the horse people's (such as Ghenghis Khan, but others as well). Because they were essentially a highly mobile army in an age of slow movement, they were able to attack across vast distances with lightning speed. On the other hand, they could never be a truly occupying force, only a plundering one, because of the vast supplies required to maintain the hundreds of thousands of horses they traveled with. So they were great conquerers, but unable to maintain any kind of empire and usually fell apart in a relatively short period of time (other than in their native grassland areas where they could support a large amount of horses). ...more
One of the other reviews really hit the nail on the head with this book. Great aspirations and some interesting segments, but the author fails to captOne of the other reviews really hit the nail on the head with this book. Great aspirations and some interesting segments, but the author fails to capture the essence of what makes us fall in love with libraries in the first place: a good story. On the other hand, maybe he does capture reality better than I think. I mean, aren’t most avid readers just aspiring writers who are better at absorbing the stories of others than telling our own? If I were a librarian with a good knowledge of the history of repositories of the written word, I would be bursting to tell the story to others. Unfortunately, I would probably do far worse than the somewhat haphazard and at times arrogant approach taken by the author. But bravo for tackling a truly noble subject, and thanks for the priceless knowledge concerning the relative durability of clay tablets compared to those highly flammable papyrus scrolls. Would recommend to all librarians who aspire to work at the Harvard library. ...more
I really enjoyed reading this book for a number of reasons, but primarily because it seems to fit the level of many of the conversations I've had withI really enjoyed reading this book for a number of reasons, but primarily because it seems to fit the level of many of the conversations I've had with non-Christians. Although it is obviously written at a somewhat general level because it covers so many topics, I find it much more useful than books like Strobel's "Case for Christ" because it does a better job of acknowledging competing worldviews and philosophical viewpoints. That being said, this book is definitely not for everyone. Keller's congregation consists of many well-educated young urbanites who probably know a reasonable amount about philosophy without being experts in the subject. If you are an expert, this book is going to seem to gloss over too many important distinctions, or if you haven't read any philosophy and C.S. Lewis doesn't appeal to you in the slightest, then skip this one. But as I said, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to nearly all of my Christian and non-Christian friends.
My notes and quotes:
Keller points out that both skepticism and religion are on the rise (so neither side is disappearing any time soon).
*** He reminds believers that faith without doubt is like a body without any antibodies in it. Without practice and experience handling doubt, any severe crisis could completely destroy one's faith.
*** He begins by addressing the idea of there not being one true religion (i.e., it is close-minded to say so). He points out that outlawing, condemning, or privatizing religion would all fail to solve this problem because relativism is still a religion. It statest that no other religion is correct, so it is up to everyone to choose the best religious set of beliefs.
*** The next question he addresses concerns how God allows suffering. He points out that the question is even harder for nonbelievers because they have to answer why we perceive "just" and "unjust" in the first place. If there is no God, these seem to be innate moral arguments that have no basis in an atheistic world. He also points out the very nature of suffering, which is separation from God (which explains why Jesus suffered so much, when he died he was separated from God for the first time). He also points out how because of Jesus' sacrifice, none of our suffering is in vain, we will all be restored to perfection in heaven and turn every agony into a glory.
*** His next point concerns Christianity being a "straightjacket" that prevents us from living life. First he points out that Christianity is incredibly culturally flexible. It has taken many forms over time with the same confessions at the heart of it. It doesn't make everyone conform to the same culture, but rather tries to restore everyone's relationship with God. He also points out that arguments for increased freedom fail because all positive human experiences (like love) require that we give up freedom in order to experience them. So to settle for nothing less than true freedom is more of a prison than any religion. He also points out that no community can be completely inclusive because it will have to exclude people that exclude others. He points out that we do not live for God in a one-sided relationship, but rather God has already given an incredible amount to change for us by sending his son to die for us.
*** He next addresses how so many atrocities have been perpetrated by the church and by Christians. He addresses many aspects of historical events, but it can be summed up by understanding that the church is "Not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners." He also points out that violence and bloodshed occurs with or without Christianity.
*** His next chapter is on the issue of God sending people to hell. First he points out the fact that our idea of a God of love accepting everyone regardless of behavior is culturally bound. We immediately accept a God of forgiveness, but not of punishment because of our cultural ideas. He also points out that God's anger is at the cancer of sin, just as we get angry when our children engage in some behavior that is going to harm themselves or others. He also describes hell as a place we create for ourselves by focusing more and more on the self until we are unable to experiencing anything more than complete self absorbtion. *** His next two chapters on are science and faith (he is a theistic evolutionist) and on taking the Bible literally. He argues for the historical Christ and the reasonableness of believing in the historical accounts.
*** His second section of the book concerns "clues for God", which is his way of saying that we can't prove God, but there are many points of evidence that favor His existence. In this section he addresses evolutionary psychology.
###Quotes from book: "But you cannot go on "explaining away" for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on "seeing through" things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? ... a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To "see through" all things is the same as not to see." - C.S. Lewis
*** "Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. - C.S. Lewis
*** "One has only the choice between God and idolatry. If one denies God . . . one is worhsiping some things of this world in the belief that one sees them only as such, but in fact, though unknown to oneself imagining the attributes of Divinity in them." - Simone Weil
*** If I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with "rights" - I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by sheer grace - then there's nothing he cannot ask of me. - woman at Keller's church...more
Although I initially judged this book rather harshly after the first hundred or so pages of juvenile debauchery, I think it really grew on me after IAlthough I initially judged this book rather harshly after the first hundred or so pages of juvenile debauchery, I think it really grew on me after I began to consider its many religious undertones. The literal experiences of the characters take up so much of the actual text, but what makes the narrative so powerful is the intensity and depth of confusion the characters embody. Although their specific search for meaning and purpose takes place in the context of 40's and 50's Beat America, I think this book meant a lot more to me when I adapted the story to all the wanderers I know in our present cultural context. Oh, and of course it would be way cool to hitchhike across the U.S. on a flatbed truck. ...more
Jews, Arabs, Turks, Russians, Finns, Swedes, Czechs, Uzbeks, Macedonians, Estonians, Malayans, Cathayans, Japane**spoiler alert** My notes and quotes:
Jews, Arabs, Turks, Russians, Finns, Swedes, Czechs, Uzbeks, Macedonians, Estonians, Malayans, Cathayans, Japanese, Sinhalese – one and all planetwide – have a nurturing access to the fullness of their myriad histories, histories that often seem as old as time. African Americans must spiritually survive from the meager basket of a few mean yesterdays. No chance for significant group progress there. None. For we have been largely overwhelmed by a majority culture that wronged us dramatically, emptied our memories, underminded our self-esteem, implanted us with palatable voices, and stripped us along the way of the sheerest corona of self-definition. We alone are presumed pastless, left to cobble self-esteem from a vacuum of stolen history. By default, we must define ourselves by our ongoing tribulations and those who mete them out to us. Otherwise, we have little in the way of a long-held interior idea of who we are. (p. 28).
I will not belabor the point here. Talk of the International Monetary Fund tends to induce sleep quickly. But certainly were it not for the blindness occasioned by Africa’s damaged self-confidence, Africa’s leaders would know from painful historical experience that money’s Western sorcerers can quickly change costumes when there’s money to be made, pawns to be fleeced. The Western strategy for five hundred years has always been to exploit until understanding dawns and economic circumstances alter, or sufficient public revulsion gathers to force a retreat. Thus, slavery was caused to morph into colonialism, and colonialism into the Cold War and the Cold War into the African Growth and Opportunity Act. (p. 183).
There is, I think, a useful lesson in this story. Those – nations, individuals, whites as a racial entity – who enjoy the privileges of disproportionate power and wealth will seldom voluntarily do more than render to the disadvantaged an appearance of helpfulness. It is not in their interests to school the disadvantaged on the origins of their dilemma. Nor would they ever be likely to take unforced measures that would tend to level the playing field, if you’ll forgive the tired metaphor. Never, in the march of human relations, has power behaved thus. Intrinsic to advantage is the drive to maintain itself. Aah, the advantaged. Careful, now, not to deify them. For such undeserved admiration, in and of itself, is for the disadvantaged a debilitating condition. (p. 198).
Perhaps it would help her place herself in context if she could read a letter I came upon in the wonderful book Strong Men Keep Coming by Tonya Bolden. The letter is dated August 7, 1865, and was written by Jourdon Anderson, once a slave in Big Spring, Tennessee, to his former owner, Colonel P.H. Anderson, who had written to the ex-slave in Dayton, Ohio, where he had resettled with his wife and children. The colonel had written to persuade Anderson to return to Big Spring and work for him as a free man: Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdan, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can … I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mnady, - the folks call her Mrs. Anderson, - and the children – Milly Jane, and Grundy – go to school and are learning well … Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again. As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my freedom papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshall-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-give dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to … Please send the money by Adam’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for our faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises for the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense … Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire … Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
Colonel Anderson never paid Jourdon Anderson what he owed him for his labor, nor had any of the other slaveholders (including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson) who had stolen the labor of tens of millions of blacks and, by so doing robbed the futures of all who would descend from them. (p. 241)....more
He saw businessmen trading, princes going to the hunt, mourners weeping over their dead, prostitutes offering th**spoiler alert** My notes and quotes:
He saw businessmen trading, princes going to the hunt, mourners weeping over their dead, prostitutes offering themselves, doctors attending the sick, priests deciding the day for sowing, lovers making love, mothers soothing their children – and all were not worth a passing glance, everything lied, stank of lies; they were all illusions of sense, happiness and beauty. All were doomed to decay. The world tasted bitter. Life was pain. Siddhartha had one single goal – to become empty, to become empty of thirst, desire, dreams, pleasure and sorrow – to let the Self die. (p. 14).
Listen, Kamala, when you throw a stone into the water, it finds the quickest way to the bottom of the water. It is the same when Siddhartha has an aim, a goal. Siddhartha does nothing; he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he goes through the affairs of the world like the stone through the water, without doing anything, without bestirring himself; he is drawn and lets himself fall. He is drawn by his goal, for he does not allow anything to enter his mind which opposes his goal. (p. 60).
He envied them the one thing that he lacked and that they had: the sense of importance with which they lived their lives, the depth of their pleasures and sorrows, the anxious but sweet happiness of their continual power to love. These people were always in love with themselves, with their children, with honor or money, with plans or hope. (p. 78).
Siddhartha now also realized why he had struggled in vain with this Self when he was a Brahmin and an ascetic. Too much knowledge had hindered him; too many holy verses, too many sacrificial rites, too much mortification of the flesh, too much doing and striving. He had been full of arrogance; he had always been the cleverest, the most eager – always a step ahead of the others, always the learned and intellectual one, always the priest or the sage. His Self had drawled into this priesthood, into this arrogance, into this intellectuality. It sat there tightly and grew, while he thought he was destroying it by fasting and penitence. (p. 99).
“Wisdom is not communicable. The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sounds foolish.” (p. 142)....more
Interesting ancient tale about about the limits of humanity and the folly and nobility of man. The story had definite Homeric elements, but I wouldn'tInteresting ancient tale about about the limits of humanity and the folly and nobility of man. The story had definite Homeric elements, but I wouldn't even begin to compare it with the quality of the Iliad. Of course it was also harder to follow because I'm not really familiar with all of those zany Sumerian gods. The account of the "deluge" was interesting, although not really what I was expecting. It's an interesting example of how various cultures would have integrated mythological stories with tales from their ancestors about a world-wide flood. I can't say I really liked the character of Gilgamesh, but in the context of it being the oldest known piece of literary fiction, it was a pretty good yarn. ...more
What we did when we came to South Africa was permissible. It was permissible to develop our great resources wit**spoiler alert** My notes and quotes:
What we did when we came to South Africa was permissible. It was permissible to develop our great resources with the aid of what labour we could find. It was permissible to use unskilled men for unskilled work. But it is not permissible to keep men unskilled for the sake of unskilled work. It was permissible when we discovered gold to bring labour to the mines. It was permissible to build compounds and to keep women and children away from the towns. It was permissible as an experiment, in the light of what we knew. But in the light of what we know now, with certain exceptions, it is no longer permissible. It is not permissible for us to go on destroying family life when we know that we are destroying it. It is permissible to develop any resources if the labour is forthcoming. But it is not permissible to develop any resources if they can be developed only at the cost of the labour. It is not permissible to mine any gold, or manufacture any product, or cultivate any land, if such mining and manufacture and cultivation depend for their success on a policy of keeping labour poor. It is not permissible to add to one’s possessions if these things can only be done at the cost of other men. Such development has only one true name, and that is exploitation. It might have been permissible in the early days of our country, before we became aware of its cost, in the disintegration of native community life, in the deterioration of native family life, in poverty, slums and crime. But now that the cost is known, it is no longer permissible. It was permissible to leave native education to those who wanted to develop it. It was permissible to doubt its benefits. But it is no longer permissible in the light of what we know. Partly because it made possible industrial development, and partly because it happened in spite of us, there is now a large urbanized native population. Now society has always, for reasons of self-interest if for no other, educated its children so that they grow up law-abiding, with socialized aims and purposes. There is no other way that it can be done. Yet we continue to leave the education of our native urban society to those few Europeans who feel strongly about it, and to deny opportunities and money of its expansion. That is not permissible. For reasons of self-interest alone, it is dangerous. It was permissible to allow the destruction of a tribal system that impeded the growth of the country. It was permissible to believe that its destruction was inevitable. But it is not permissible to watch its destruction, and to replace it by nothing, or by so little, that a whole people deteriorates, physically and morally. The old tribal system was, for all its violence and savagery, for all its superstition and witchcraft, a moral system. Our natives today produce criminals and prostitutes and drunkards, not because it is their nature to do so, but because their simple system of order and tradition and convention has been destroyed. It was destroyed by the impact of our own civilization. Our civilization has therefore an inescapable duty to set up another system of order and tradition and convention. It is true that we hoped to preserve the tribal system by a policy of segregation. That was permissible. But we never did it thoroughly or honestly. We set aside one-tenth of the land for four-fifths of the people. Thus we made it inevitable, and some say we did it knowingly, that labour would come to the towns. We are caught in the toils of our own selfishness. No one wishes to make the problem seem smaller than it is. No one wishes to make its solution seem easy. No one wishes to make light of the fears that beset us. But whether we be fearful or no, we shall never, because we are a Christian people, be able to evade the moral issues. (p. 178-179).
The truth is that our Christian civilization is riddled through and through with dilemma. We believe in the brotherhood of man, but we do not want it in South Africa. We believe that God endows men with diverse gifts, and that human life depends for its fullness on their employment and enjoyment, but we are afraid to explore this belief too deeply. We believe in help for the underdog, but we want him to stay under. And we are therefore compelled, in order to preserve our belief that we are Christian, to ascribe to Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, our own human interventions, and to say that because He created white and black, He gives the Divine Approval to any human action that is designed to keep black men from advancement. We go so far as to credit Almighty God with having created black men to hew wood and draw water for white men. We go so far as to assume that He blesses any action that is designed to prevent black men from the full employment of the gifts He gave them. Alongside of these very arguments we use others totally inconsistent, so that the accusation of repression may be refuted. We say we withhold education because black child has not the intelligence to profit by it; we withhold opportunity to develop gifts because black people have no gifts; we justify our action by saying that it took us thousands of years to achieve our own advancement, and it would be foolish to suppose that it will take the black man any lesser time, and that therefore there is no need for hurry. We shift our ground again when a black man does achieve something remarkable, and feel deep pity for a man who is condemned to the loneliness of being remarkable, and decide that it is a Christian kindness not to let black men become remarkable. Thus even our God become a confused and inconsistent creature, giving gifts and denying them employment. Is it strange then that our civilization is riddled through and though with dilemma? The truth is that our civilization is not Christian; it is a tragic compound of great ideal and fearful practice, of high assurance and desperate anxiety, of loving charity and fearful clutching of possessions. (p. 187-188).
I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering, umfundisi. For our Lord suffered. And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering. (p. 261)....more
“There is more information in one thimble of reality than can be understood by a galaxy of human brains. It is b**spoiler alert** My notes and quotes:
“There is more information in one thimble of reality than can be understood by a galaxy of human brains. It is beyond the human brain to understand the world and its environment, so the brain compensates by creating simplified illusions that act as a replacement for understanding. When the illusions work well and the human who subscribes to the illusion survives, those illusions are passed to new generations. -“The human brain is a delusion generator. The delusions are fueled by arrogance – the arrogance that humans are the center of the world, that we alone are endowed with the magical properties of souls and morality and free will and love. We presume that an omnipotent God has a unique interest in our progress and activities while providing all the rest of creation for our playground. We believe that God – because he thinks the same way we do – must be more interested in our lives than in the rocks and trees and plants and animals.” (p. 34).
“Practicality rules our perceptions. To survive, our tiny brains need to tame the blizzard of information that threatens to overwhelm us. Our perceptions are wondrously flexible, transforming our worldview automatically and continuously until we find safe harbor in a comfortable delusion.” (p. 36).
“Let’s get back to evolution,” I said. “With all your talk about God, do you think he caused evolution? Or did it all happen in a few thousand years like the creationists believe?” The theory of evolution is not so much wrong as it is incomplete and useless.” “How can you say it’s useless?” “The theory of evolution leads to no practical invention. It is a concept that has no application.” “Yeah, I hear what you’re saying,” I said. “But you have to agree that the fossil evidence of earlier species is pretty compelling. There’s an obvious change over time from the earlier creatures to the newer ones. How can you ignore that?” “Imagine that an asteroid lands on Earth and brings with it an exotic bacteria that kills all organic matter on Earth and then dissolves without a trace. A million years later, intelligent aliens discover Earth and study our bones and our possessions, trying to piece together our history. They might notice that all of our cookware – the pots and pans and plates and bowls – all seemed to be related somehow. And the older ones were quite different from the newer ones. The earliest among them were crude bowls, all somewhat similar, generally made of clay or stone. Over time, the bowls evolved into plates and coffee cups and stainless-steel frying pans. “The aliens would create compelling charts showing how the dishes evolved. The teacup family would look like its own species, related closely to the beer mug and the water glass. An observer who looked at the charts would clearly see a pattern that could not be coincidence. The cause of this dishware evolution would be debated, just as we debate the underlying cause of human evolution, but the observed fact of dishware evolution would not be challenged by the alien scientists. The facts would be clear. Some scientists would be bothered by the lack of intermediate dishware species – say, a frying pan with a beer mug handle – but they would assume it to exist somewhere undiscovered.” “That might be the worst analogy ever made,” I said. “You’re comparing people to dishes.” The old man laughed out loud for the first time since we began talking. He was genuinely amused. “It’s not an analogy,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “It’s a point of view. Evolution is compelling not because of the quality of the evidence but because of the quantity and variety of it. The aliens would have the same dilemma. There would be so much evidence for their theory of dishware evolution that opponents would be mocked. The alien scientists would theorize that forks evolved from spoons, which evolved from knives. Pots evolved from bowls. Dinner plates evolved from cutting boards. The sheer quantity and variety of the data would be overwhelming. Eventually they would sop calling it a theory and consider it a fact. Only a lunatic could publicly doubt the mountain of evidence.” “There’s a big difference between dishes and animals,” I said. “With dishes, there’s no way they can evolve. Logic would tell the aliens that there was no way that a nonliving dish could produce offspring, much less mutant offspring.” “That’s not exactly true,” he countered. “It could be said that the dishes used human beings in a symbiotic relationship, convincing us through their usefulness to make new dishes. In that way these dishes succeeded in reproducing and evolving. Every species takes advantage of other living things to ensure its survival. That is the normal way living things reproduce. You believe, without foundation, that the alien scientists would see a distinction between the living creatures and the nonliving dishes, and classify the dishes as mere tools. But that is a human-centric view of the world. Humans believe that organic things are more important than inorganic things because we are organic. The aliens would have no such bias. To them, the dishes would look like a hardy species that found a way to evolve and reproduce and thrive despite having no organic parts.” “But the dishes have no personalities, no thoughts or emotions or desires,” I said. “Neither does a clam.” “The why do people say they’re happy as a clam?” I joked. He ignored me. “Does it strike you as odd that there isn’t more evidence today of the mutations that drive evolution?” he asked. “Like what?” “Shouldn’t we be seeing in today’s living creatures the preview of the next million years of evolution? Where are the two-headed humans who will become overlords of the one-headed people, the fish with unidentified organs that will evolve to something useful over the next million years, the cats who are developing gills? We see some evidence of mutations today, but mostly trivial ones, not the sort of radical ones there must have been in the past, the sort that became precursors of brains, eyes, wings, and internal organs. “And why does evolution seem to move in one direction, from simpler to more complex? Why aren’t there any higher life forms evolving into simpler, hardier creatures? If mutations happen randomly, you would expect evolution to work in both directions. But it only works in one, from simple to complex.” He continued. “And why has the number of species on earth declined for the past million years? The rate of the formation of new species was once faster than the rate of extinction, but that has reversed. Why? Can it all be explained by meteors and human intervention? “And how does the first member of a new species find someone to breed with? Being a new species means you can no longer breed with the members of your parents’ species. If mutations are the trigger for evolution, the mutations must happen regularly and in such similar ways that the mutants can find each other to breed. You would think we would notice more mutations if it happens that easily.” “I have the same problem with religion,” I said. “It seemed like there were all sorts of miracles a long time ago but now we never see them. With evolution, it looks like most the mutating is petering out just when we get smart enough to study it. It does seem a bit suspicious, as if there was a point to it all and we’re nearing it.” “Come back to the coin for a moment,” he beckoned. “If by chance you flip a balanced coin and it comes up heads a hundred times in a row, what is the probability that it will come up heads again on the next toss?” “I know this one. The odds are fifty-fifty, even though it seems like the coin is overdue for a tails. It doesn’t make sense to me, but that’s what I learned in school.” “That’s right,” he said. “Or to put it another way, the coin’s past has no impact on its future. There is no connection between the outcomes of the prior coin flips and the likelihood of the future ones. “The rest of the universe is like the coin. The events of the past appear to cause the present, but every time we pop back into existence we are subject to a new set of probabilities. Literally anything can happen.” He shifted in his chair and began again. “Every creature has a tiny probability of becoming a different species with each beat of the universe. A duck can be replaced in whole by a woodchuck. The odds of this happening are so small that it probably never has and never will happen, but it is not precluded by the nature of the universe. It is simply unlikely. “A more likely result is that a creature’s DNA experiences a tiny variation because two bits of God-dust tried to reappear in the same location and had to make an adjustment. That adjustment set in motion a chain reaction of probabilities that affected the fate of the creature. “When you flip the coin, it almost always lands either head or tails, even though it could possibly balance on its edge. If we did not have experience with flipping coins we might think coins regularly land and stay on their edges. The edge of a coin has perhaps ten percent as much surface area as either of its sides, so you might expect that coins come up ‘edge’ routinely. “But probability avoids in-between conditions. It favors heads or tails. Evolution also avoids in-between conditions. Something in the nature of the God-dust made growing two eyes likely and growing two heads unlikely. More to the point, there is something about eyes that supports God’s inevitable reassembly.” (p. 72).
“If you are proven to be right a hundred times in a row, no amount of evidence will convince you that you are mistaken in the hundred-and-first case. You will be seduced by your own apparent infallibility. Remember that all scientific experiments are performed by human beings and the results are subject to human interpretation. The human mind is a delusion generator, no a window to truth. Everyone, including skeptics, will generate delusions that match their views. That is how a normal and healthy brain works. Skeptics are not exempt from self-delusion.” “Skeptics know that human perceptions are faulty,” I argued. “That’s why they have a scientific process and they insist on repeating experiments to see if results are consistent. Their scientific method virtually eliminates subjectivity.” “The scientific approach also makes people think and act in groups,” he countered. “They form skeptical societies and create skeptical publications. They breathe each other’s fumes and they demonize those who do not share their scientific methods. Because skeptics’ views are at odds with the majority of the world, they become emotionally and intellectually isolated. That sort of environment is a recipe for cult thinking and behavior. Skeptics are not exempt from normal human brain functions. It is a human tendency to become what you attack. Skeptics attack irrational thinkers and in the process become irrational.” (p. 74).
“What about sharing my opinions on important things?” I asked. “I’m always getting into debates with people. It seems like I always have a more thought-out view of things and I feel like I have a responsibility to set people straight. Sometimes, though, I wish I could just shut up. But when you hear the crazy views that some people have – actually, most people – how can you just let it slide?” (p. 109).
“Awareness is about unlearning. It is the recognition that you don’t know as much as you thought you knew.” (p. 124).
He explained, “The great leaders in this world are always the least rational among us. They exist at the second level of awareness. Charismatic leaders have a natural ability to bring people into their delusion. They convince people to act against self-interest and pursue the leaders’ visions of the greater good. Leaders make citizens go to war to seize land they will never live on and to kill people who have different religions.” “Not all leaders are irrational,” I argued. “The most effective ones are. You don’t often see math geniuses or logic professors become great leaders. Logic is a detriment to leadership.” (p. 127)....more
I felt a kinship with him. It was my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith,**spoiler alert** My notes and quotes:
I felt a kinship with him. It was my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them – and then they leap. I’ll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation. (p. 28).
I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. The fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy. Doubt meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out. But disbelief is a poorly armed foot soldier. Doubt does away with it with little trouble. You become anxious. Reason comes to do battle for you. You are reassured. Reason is fully equipped with the latest weapons technology. But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread. . . Fear next turns fully to your body, which is already aware that something terribly wrong is going on. Already your lungs have flown away like a bird and your guts have slithered away like a snake. Now your tongue drops dead like an opossum, while your jaw begins to gallop on the spot. Your ears go deaf. Your muscles begin to shiver as if they had malaria and your knees to shake as though they were dancing. Your heart strains too hard, while you sphincter relaxes too much. And so with the rest of your body. Every part of you, in the manner most suited to it, falls apart. Only your eyes work well. They always pay proper attention to fear. . . Quickly you make rash decisions. You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust. There, you’ve defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you. . . The matter is difficult to put into words. For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation, such as you feel when you are brought face to face with your mortal end, nestles in your memory like a gangrene: it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it. So you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of the words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you. (p. 162)....more