Wild-camping Blog Followers…


Hi, this is just a quick note to followers who came to this blog (lettersquash.wordpress.com) for the wild-camping articles. Since I split the blog and moved that content (the camping posts) to a new blog (https://craftywildcamper.wordpress.com), you will now not get the usual email notification when I post there. There has been at least one new post recently there, which you may have missed. You will only get notified when I post here (hence this post!), which is now only about philosophy, science, religion, etc.

So, if you still want to follow my wild-camping posts, just go to that link and click the “Follow” button at the bottom right (it often only appears on the page if you scroll upwards for a moment). I’m still called “lettersquash” there, by the way.

If you want to unsubscribe from this blog, just up-scroll here to find the “Un-follow” or “Following” button (or via your email notification). Of course, if you want to follow both of my blogs, you’re very welcome!

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A Naturalistic Explanation of Suffering


Last time, I noted something of a gap in the results of internet searches on the origin of suffering. I didn’t see any naturalistic explanations, at least in the first page, just supernatural ones and the odd bit of anthropocentric philosophy. I suspect this is because suffering has traditionally been dealt with from a religious perspective, and perhaps materialists don’t usually deal with the subject in isolation. I thought I would engage brain (and do a bit more research) to see what I could contribute to the subject. I thought this would contrast neatly with Hawkes’ tortuous Christian explanation discussed in my last post. As always, I would be grateful for correction on any factual errors, and I invite comments to share any related views. 🙂 Continue reading

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The Scientific Christian, Part 4: Have You Stopped Torturing Dinosaurs Yet?


I promised myself that I’d finish my review of Nick Hawkes’ Who Ordered the Universe?, and, after a very long delay, I’m finally getting round to it! This will be the final part, I hope, my assessment of the third chapter, with a few final comments.

The question of why there is suffering has always been one of the most challenging for religions that invoke a loving Creator, such as Christianity. If God created the world and populated it with humans, whom He loves, and sentient animals who presumably can’t even choose their fate, why does life involve such a prevalence of suffering, almost ubiquitous, often hideous and inescapable?

Nick Hawkes says, “Nothing sorts out the validity of philosophies and religions like the issue of suffering,” and he boldly entitles the third chapter, “The Evidence of God in Suffering”, so, whether he sees suffering as a reason to question the existence of a loving creator, he certainly suggests that it is evidence for one.

He begins by acknowledging that it is, at least for others, a problem, citing a survey he himself conducted, in which 41% of 311 tertiary-trained people believed that suffering suggested “no loving God is in control”. Strangely, though, he makes no attempt to analyse why they might think that, simply moves on, and never returns.

He says:

If God exists, it will be almost impossible to believe that he has not left clues about himself and his purpose in this key area. Just as importantly, if it can be shown that the Bible’s teaching on suffering is unusable, simplistic, inadequate, or untrue, we can dismiss the idea of God. However, if biblical teaching on suffering gives the fullest and most satisfying answers possible, the signs are good that God exists.

There’s not much to argue with there, except maybe Hawkes’ preference for “clues” rather than evidence. We’ll see how well his thesis passes these tests.

He gives a brief statement of how Hindus, Buddhists and Humanists view suffering, dismisses atheism as requiring meaninglessness, and then tells a story:

Continue reading

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One Life


Okay, I’m on a mission. The missus is in the kitchen cooking the tea, and I’ve set myself the challenge of writing a blog post by the time it’s ready.

Sometimes you have to break a habit by going completely 180 on it, I reckon, and I waste a load of opportinuties for sharing my thoughts because I don’t strike while the iron’s hot, and then I spend another two weeks editing the damned thing once I start. As Mum used to say, this isn’t a rehearsal, you only get this one life.

Of course, in a sense, that’s what this blog is about, that, very likely, we only get this one life. It’s unlikely in the extreme that it’s a rehearsal or a veil of tears, or one in a vast or infinite series, however much we might love life and want it to happen again in some form, or go on forever, or until we’re bored, or whatever is our greatest fantasy.

Joy is singing along to Bach, and I’m enjoying the sound of baroque genius floating in from the kitchen (eh-hem, Bach’s). Bach has given me moments of the deepest pleasure, and of a strange kind of sensation, almost a pain that is simultaneously sweet, enchanting, excruciating, sending shivers down the spine and bringing tears to the eyes. Bach suffered greatly in his life, and his music is full of an almost tangible sense of unquenchable forebearance and faith. This, of course, also gives me reason to wonder, how to think about my intense emotional response to religious music.

Bach’s music, of course, is intensely religious – so much so that he’s often called the Fifth Evangelist (after Mathew, Mark, Luke and John) – and I am an atheist.

I must write at greater length about this another time – this challenge is proving harder than I thought when I drank my pre-dinner wine (the aroma of cheese sauce tells me) – but for now I’ll just say that you don’t have to be religious to enjoy religious music, because it is largely the emotion inherent in our human reaction to music that is elicited, not any particular meaning: the Bach I love, ignoring musical style and any German or Latin I might know, could equally well be about Greek tragedies or Norse Sagas.

A strange thing has happened in how I think about my own response. Bach expresses a yearning: for God, for deliverance, and not just for himself, but for all, those who do not know of Jesus’ Resurrection. Strangely, I have begun to feel a similar yearning listening to beautiful music, but in almost the opposite direction, for enlightement, and not just for myself, but those lost in myths and superstitions of one kind or another.

And, as another favourite of mine, the band Genesis, said, ‘supper’s ready’. Hopefully not my last.


 

P.S. (Nearly succeeded!)…It’s hard to listen to this, especially reading a translation, and not feel a tiny inclination to convert. 🙂

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On the Origin of Morphic Resonance


Or The Preservation of Favoured Hypotheses

Have you ever wondered how Rupert Sheldrake came up with the idea of morphic resonance? No, I haven’t really either, but I happened across this interview with Joe Rogan, in which he explained it.

Interviewer: Is this your concept, the concept of Morphic Resonance?

Sheldrake:

Yes, I came up with this in 1973, a long time ago. I was doing research at Cambridge University on plant development, how plants grow, and I became convinced for a variety of reasons that the attempt to explain the whole thing just in terms of genes and molecules and proteins wouldn’t work. I was at the very leading edge of this. The main plant hormone is called auxin, and I figured out how it’s made and then I figured out how it’s transported round the plant. This was a massive advance, and this is kind of textbook stuff now in university textbooks, the mechanism of polar auxin transport. So, having figured all that out, I then realised this wasn’t enough to explain plants, because all plants have the same hormone, and it’s moved in the same way in every plant, and it’s moved the same way in petals and leaves and stems and roots, and it’s moved the same way in palms and cabbages and roses, and yet they’re all different. So I got interested in something in biology called morphogenetic fields, the idea of invisible fields that shape living organisms, so there’s like an invisible mold. As a flower grows, it’s a kind of an invisible mold that shapes the way the petals develop and the flower develops, or as a leaf grows there’s kind of an invisible field for that leaf called the morphogenetic field, like an invisible plan. This idea was not invented by me, it had been around in biology since the 1920s, but the key thing was to understand how these fields could be inherited, and I was sure it wouldn’t go through the genes, the genes just code for proteins, so there had to be some other kind of inheritance. How could it work? And I was wrestling with this idea in Cambridge, and then the idea of morphic resonance came to me. If you have a resonance across time between similar things, you can explain this inheritance of form and of instincts in animals in a non-genetic way, which would give a completely new way of understanding biology and inheritance.

So there you have it. That’s how it happened!

It’s great when scientists recount the inspiration for their new hypothesis, a moment when something didn’t quite fit, a puzzle, a challenge. This was Sheldrake’s: auxins are transported in the same way in every plant, and different parts of plants, “and yet they’re all different”. Amazing. Continue reading

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Blog Split


I’ve just streamlined the lettersquash blog. The current site will continue dealing with scepticism, science, pseudo-science, religion, and other areas of philosophy, without having to share the space with other stuff. Those followers who are interested in these subjects should find no change to their subscription, while those who were more interested in my wild-camping escapades may like to visit my Crafty Wildcamper blog, where those posts have been moved.

I think this will keep things a bit neater and easier for readers. I’ve got lots of ideas for up-coming posts here – on consciousness, free will (whether we have it), what makes Ruper Sheldrake tick…and, of course, the ridiculously postponed fourth and last part of my critique of Nick Hawkes’ Who Ordered the Universe?

I also intend to write a bit more from my personal experience, as someone who found their way out of Eastern Idealism into the light of materialism, still keeps an open mind, and lives with a committed Christian.

Thanks for reading, and to those who commented, and here’s wishing us all a very enlightening and happy 2018!

John

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The Scientific Christian, Part 3: The Spin Doctor


We have seen that Rev Dr Nick Hawkes, author of Who Ordered the Universe? is a master of the begged question, and we have seen that he is quite adept at quote-mining.

Looking at chapter 2, The Evidence of God in Nature, I again found Hawkes cherry-picking quotations to feign support where it does not exist.

Nudging and Fudging

He begins with a brief lesson on the Urey-Millar experiment, the discovery that amino acids naturally assemble themselves from nothing more than a flask of water, atmospheric gases and a bit of faux lightning. He rightly says that this is a long way from building proteins, but then, very wrongly, restates the creationist argument that the odds of such complex entities as proteins arising by chance are infinitesimal.

He describes the problem as like getting a particular result on 200 slot machines simultaneously (the number of amino acids in your average protein), each with 20 symbols (the number of relevant amino acid types). He says:

You don’t think that’s a big deal? Let me explain. It would require you to spin the wheels more times than there are atoms in the universe.1

Chasing up the little superscript ‘1’ in the notes, we find “Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, p.254″. That’s odd. I didn’t think Bill Bryson would proffer that argument in a positive light.

I found my copy and checked out page 254. Nope. Lots about meteorites; nothing about proteins or casinos. I began to scan back and forth, then checked the index. I eventually found the relevant passages, much as Hawkes put it, but leading up to this explanation, on page 354:

Take those amazingly improbable proteins. The wonder we see in their assembly comes in assuming that they arrived on the scene fully formed. But what if the protein chains didn’t assemble all at once? What if, in the great slot machine of creation, some of the wheels could be held, as a gambler might hold a number of promising cherries? What if, in other words, proteins didn’t suddenly burst into being, but evolved? – Bill Bryson

Did Hawkes miss this passage and the many supporting arguments surrounding it? Did he choose Bryson, rather than any number of creationists, to give the argument an air of comfortable scientific acceptance? Did he give the wrong page reference deliberately to throw people off the scent if they looked it up? That last question might seem unfair or cynical, but presenting such a puzzle and omitting the solution from the same few pages is so remiss as to make me wonder. Anyway, readers who take the inference at face value, and those who look up the reference but fail to find it, might assume that Bill Bryson shares Hawkes’ incredulity that proteins spontaneously self-assemble from primordial soups in one go (just as, in Chapter 1, we might think that Paul Davies is a fellow creationist and Professor Hawking believes in God!). Continue reading

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Brexit. Best of Three?


That’s what I usually say when I can’t believe I lost the first game of pool (which is usual): “Best of Three?”

Or two! – if we could just do it again and take the second answer, but everyone wake up this time.

Sometimes when the pros and cons of a binary choice seem fairly well balanced – Shall I mow the lawn first or wash up? – I used to toss a coin (having decided which side represents which decision), and then try to assess how I’d really feel if it wasn’t just a test. Continue reading

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The Scientific Christian, Part 2: Peanuts to Space


Oh no not again [1]

I’m reviewing Who Ordered the Universe? by Nick Hawkes. I must apologise to readers who prefer their book reviews short and pithy: the Reverend Doctor manages to cram an inordinate number of dubious statements into every paragraph, and I’m finding it hard not to respond to all of them. I’m in danger of writing more review than there is book, but hopefully I’ll find I have dealt with all the important issues soon, allowing a more concise treatment of the few outstanding points.

In Part 1, I examined the Introduction. Chapter One is entitled The Evidence of God in the Cosmos. It begins, like an unfortunate parody of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

The universe is big – I mean, really, really big. It blows your mind.

With an imagination somewhat less fertile than Douglas Adams’, Hawkes concludes the thought:

And I have a sneaking suspicion that it is meant to. … The more scientists understand the universe, the more mysterious and spectacular it becomes.

I find the idea that science makes the universe more mysterious quite odd. With it we have solved a large number of mysteries that puzzled the ancients. Where mystery has increased, this is usually from discovering abstruse facts that must replace transparent-seeming falsehoods. Some of these are extraordinarily counter-intuitive and difficult to understand, but in principle science can surely only make the world less mysterious, even if more awe-inspiring. Continue reading

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The Scientific Christian, Part 1: Begging the Question


I have been reading a book by Rev Dr Nick Hawkes, a pastor, writer and broadcaster living in Australia, who has four degrees, two in science and two in theology. The book is called Who Ordered the Universe?: Evidence for God in unexpected places.

I didn’t exactly choose it, but the book happened to come my way and I decided to read it, partly to challenge my current view, and partly because I thought it was about time I wrote a review or critique of Christian theology. It was just published in 2015, so it should, if Hawkes is worth his title of Reverend, represent the bleeding edge of Christian theology. It also claims that science and faith are compatible, which is one of the main contentions that I wish to address.

From the blurb:

Dr Nick Hawkes gathers evidence from science, history, and mathematics to seek out the signature of God. By surveying the various fields of study, he gathers a mass of evidence, concluding that faith in God is reasonable and that the evidence invites it. Addressing the big questions of origins and meaning, Hawkes considers the cosmos and the arguments for a Creator behind creation. He looks at biology, and the ideas of Darwin and Dr Richard Dawkins. He examines the significance of suffering and the phenomenon of mathematics – the code by which we understand how things work.

I very soon found that it would take a sizeable article to address the Introduction alone, so this post is confined just to that. Some of the chapters of the book will demand further posts in due course. Continue reading

Posted in Book Reviews, Philosophy, Religion, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments