Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Last Night

Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics

 to bcc: me

Hi atheists, whats happening?
Meeting #21: Arguing Religion!
Given that this will be our last meeting of the year, we figured it's about time to disprove god.
Thus, we'll be talking about the best tactics/arguments against the existence of god.
Same old time: Monday, April 25th at 7pm
Same old room: 375 Van Hise Hall. 
Also, after the meeting, come join us for some beverages at The Rathskeller!

I decided to attend this "last meeting of the year" because I hadn't attended any yet and I had meant to at least check them out.  I wound up doing most of the talking.  They are all younger than me and I would say "in a place" where I no longer reside.  Kind of argumentative, like the whole purpose of "discussion" would be to defeat the "other side's" arguments and, as is referred to above, "disprove" God.
I don't think they quite knew how to take me.  One of them (there were about 15 others) would throw out an idea, what if I say this?  That'll settle things, right?  So I'd jump in with, well, I would say, if I was on their side, such and such.  And he'd be stymied, like, oh, I hadn't thought of that.  So I'd say, well then, you would probably say ... and then he'll say and then you'll say and in about two more moves you'll have reached the point where you both realize that he can't "prove" that there is a God and you can't prove there isn't, that he's willing to take it on faith and you are not and you're finished.
There was one guy who had some interesting and at least semi-original questions (that would supposedly stump a monotheist) but they were more philosophical "what ifs" than arguments in support of his position.   

And, there was one especially young guy, probably a freshman or something, who seemed a bit upset by some of my assumptions about the validity of the synoptic gospels as a reliable "source."  He thought I was just making it up as I went, I think, when I started talking about Mark being written first and then Matthew and Luke using some of Mark's sources, or even Mark himself, plus having their own sources, at least one in common with each other and why did only Matthew tell us about the slaughter of the innocents and why Bethlehem in the first place and yada yada yada.  I'm not sure why he was there, tagging along with a friend, or what.  Or maybe he's trying to hear the other side of things.
Anyway, I'm not sure if they'll want me back.  ;  )


Sizing a video

Here's my friend Steve Schad.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Trying Something


Sunday, April 10, 2011


This is due on the morrow:

Thesis Statement      

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is foundational to modern biology and pervasive in our society.  Still, it is only natural that some misconceptions have evolved.  One of these is that Darwin’s theory “vanquished” religion.  This is not something Darwin himself ever claimed.  This paper will explore the ideas surrounding that misconception and demonstrate that for all the effect that Darwin’s theory did have on religious thought and beliefs, it did not “vanquish religion,” nor did Darwin make any such claim. 

Definition of “Religion.”

            First, “religion” is a very broad term encompassing a very wide set of beliefs.  For this paper “religion” will mean the mainstream religion(s) practiced in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries: Judaism and Christianity.  It is possible, though not helpful for this paper, to further break down each religion.  Instead I will use their commonalities as a starting point. 

The Argument From Religion

            Each religion taught that there was/is a creator God who is omniscient and omnipotent.  This God created the universe and mankind for a reason and that the course of events ever since is in fulfillment of God’s master plan.  The position of religious authorities was that scientific study of the universe was for the purpose of better understanding God’s creation.[1]  Rene Descartes, in his Discourse on Method, in 1637, a work dedicated to praising the scientific method and the beauty of mathematics, asserted the existence of God.  According to Descartes there is perfection in the universe; he had observed it.  Perfection must have a source and that source can only be God.[2] 

Conflict Between Science and Religion

            Not all science dovetailed with religion.  Galileo’s examination of the night sky through a telescope and his reporting of what he saw brought him into direct conflict with Church doctrine of the 17th century.[3]  Still, the Bible didn’t explicitly say much about cosmology; one could believe Galileo and still believe in the Creation.  The age of the Earth was another matter.  Archbishop James Ussher, in the mid-17th century, published his calculation that, according to the Bible, the Earth was only about 5,650 years old.[4]  Not only was Ussher’s figure commonly accepted, geologists began their work with that figure in mind.  Eventually, however, Charles Lyell, among others, reasoned that the Earth had to be much older than several thousand years; more like one hundred million years, according to Lyell.[5] 


            Part of Lyell’s argument was that the geological changes evidenced in fossilization and stratification were explained more easily when one accepted a longer time frame.  Other geologists had theorized that geologic change resulted from sudden, catastrophic events.  Lyell suggested that slow, gradual change was better supported by evidence, that “Catastrophism” was only a means of trying to adhere to a much too short time frame.  Darwin, then, began his work in an environment which allowed him to consider a long timeline.  Darwin had studied medicine first, then began training for the ministry.  It was while a student that he first became interested in natural history.  A mentor of his recommended him as a fit companion for the Captain of H.M.S. Beagle, to serve as the ship’s naturalist and to provide the Captain with intellectual stimulation and conversation on the Beagle’s around the world voyage, from 1831 to 1836.  It was during this voyage that Darwin embraced “the wonderful superiority of Lyell’s manner of treating geology.”[6]  It was also during this voyage that Darwin began to consider the “species question.”  Why, for instance, were the finches of one island so different from the finches of a neighboring island?  Darwin pondered this question for more than twenty years, before publishing On the Origin of Species, in 1859.                         

On the Origin of Species, and its reception.

            Origin pulled together contemporary thought in a range of sciences.  It theorized that species did not exist as they were, just as God made them, but rather that all life descended from a common ancestor and gradually diverged as it adapted to particular environments.  The theory not only did not rely on a divine explanation, it seemed to preclude one.  If one accepted Darwinian evolution through adaptation, must one reject the idea of a God?  At the very least evolution seemed to disprove the belief that God created all living things.  Or even that he had created a world “perfect” for life.  And if there was no God and no “God’s plan,” what did that mean for society?  Had Darwin indeed vanquished religion?

Darwin on Darwinism

            In Origin, Darwin lays out a coldly rational case for speciation through adaptation.  At no point does he invoke a miracle to explain something.  He just lays out his evidence as he sees it.  Neither, however, does he insist that there can be no divine agency.  A reader could certainly draw the conclusion that there is no need, or even room, for divine agency in the origin of species.  But Darwin makes no claim.  He was actually a bit conflicted.  “I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws,” Darwin wrote in a letter to Asa Gray, “with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance.”[7]  Also, “ … I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force.”[8]
            Gray suggests to Darwin “We feel safe … in our profound conviction that there is order in the universe.  That order presupposes mind.  Design, will.  And mind or will, personality.”[9]  From Darwin, “The more I think, the more bewildered I become.”[10]  Also, from Gray, “If you import atheism into your conception of variation and natural selection, you can readily exhibit it in the result … “[11] From Darwin, “I had no intention to write atheistically.”[12]  
            Finally, from Darwin,
With respect to design, I feel more inclined to show a white flag than to fire my usual long-range shot.  I am in thick mud.  The orthodox would say in fetid abominable mud.  I believe I am in much the same frame of mind as an old gorilla would be in if set to learn the first book of Euclid.  The old gorilla would say it was of no manner of use … Yet I cannot keep out of the question.  As I say, I flounder hopelessly in the mud.[13]
Darwin did not believe he had proved the non-existence of a creator.  He had demonstrated a more elegant theory of how species came to be; nothing more, nothing less.


            Anyone reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species may feel that Darwin had showed how there was no need of a creator God explanation of how species had developed in different regions of the world.  Darwin himself believed that speciation had evolved through natural means, organisms adapting to their environments, with those that adapted best surviving and those that did not adapt well failing to survive.  This did not mean that religion had been “vanquished.”  Darwin still made room for the possibility of a divine force and others, Asa Gray in particular, accepted the “truth” of Darwinian evolution as merely the proximate cause of speciation, with “God” being the primary cause.  Religion, after all, is very adaptable.    



[1] Peter J. Bowler and Iwan Rhys Morus, Making Modern Science, A Historical Survey, Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press, 2005, pages 341-343.
[2] Rene Descartes, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking For Truth in the Sciences, edited by Ralph M. Eaton, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1927, pages 34-36.
[3] Bowler and Morus, pages 344-346.
[4] Ibid, pages 347, 348.
[5] Ibid, page 124.
[6] David Young, The Discovery of Evolution, second edition, Cambridge, 2007, Cambridge University Press, page 108.
[7] Charles Darwin, letter to Asa Gray, 22 May 1960. 
[8] Ibid.
[9] Asa Gray, review of Origin,
[10] Charles Darwin, letter to Asa Gray, 22 May 1860.
[11] Asa Gray, Atlantic Monthly for July, August and October 1860.
[12] Charles Darwin, letter to Asa Gray, 22 May 1860.
[13] Charles Darwin, letter to Asa Gray, 11 December 1861.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Erin Andrews

Erin is a big favorite on the UW campus.  This is at the Kohl Center (basketball game).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Five Favorite Movie Characters

This list will be of my five favorite characters, based in large part on the performance of the actor playing the character.

Number 5:  Col. Nathan R. Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson (A Few Good Men).  This is not the lead role in the movie, he's only on screen for like twenty minutes.  But it's Nicholson at his best.  He just exudes contempt for Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise).  Nicholson does anger better than anyone.  He creates an interesting character here, too, in his short time on screen.  Watching him testify we can understand why he has reached the position that he has.  While I find some elements of Col. Jessep's personality distasteful I would like to see more of him.  On screen.

Number 4:  Alex DeLarge, played by Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange).  This character is a real piece of work and McDowell nails him (I liked the book too).  Alex is young, smart, bored and he likes the old ultra-violence.  He is completely heartless, coldly cunning and absolutely self-absorbed.  When he is finally caught at the scene (Murder/Rape) and brought to justice he is filled with sorrow.  For himself.  (And I said he was heartless.  Shame on me.)  Alex's character changes completely halfway through the movie and McDowell doesn't miss a beat.  I would like to see more of his stuff.

Number 3:  Don Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando (The Godfather).  If ever a role and an actor were perfectly matched it is these two.  Can you even imagine someone else in this role?  Somehow he conveys all the gravity of the character (again, I read the book, too, several times) without appearing to do anything.  He never so much as raises his voice.  Well, maybe once.  "YOU CAN ACT LIKE A MAN!"  (To Johnny Fontane, his Godson.)  The only reason I don't put him at number one, I think, is he made it look too damn easy.

Number 2:  Norman Thayer, played by Henry Fonda (On Golden Pond).  I'm a big Fonda fan anyway; this was the role/performance that won him his only best actor Oscar, and deservedly so.  He plays such a great old man.  Crabby, forgetful, noble, fierce, scared.  He is his wife's "Knight in shining armor."  The scenes with him and Chelsea, played, of course, by his actual daughter Jane, are almost too personal to put on the screen.  Jane has said something to that effect herself.  For some reason this is one of my favorite movies.

Number 1:  Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino (The Godfather).  What can I say.  This might be the best movie ever.  Plus, I have to say the Godfather II is absolutely the best movie sequel ever.  I'm not going to tell you that Pacino does a better job than Brando, he was nominated for best actor for the second one but did not win.  Not that that necessarily matters.  But my two favorite scenes are Michael.  One when he "comes of age."  The other when he makes his power play in Las Vegas.  He delivers his lines so perfectly I could watch just those two scenes every day.

Sonny: Alright, we wait.
Michael: You can't wait.
Sonny: What?
Michael: You can't wait. I don't care what Sollozzo says about a deal he's gonna kill Pop. He has to. It's a key for him. You gotta get Sollozzo.
Clemenza: Mikey's right.
Sonny: Alright, Professor, what about McClusky. What do we do with this cop here?
Michael: They want to have a meeting with me, right? It will be me, McClusky and Sollozzo. Let's set the meeting. We get our informants to find out where it's going to be held. Now we insist that it be held in a public place, a bar or a restaurant where there'll be other people there so I'll feel safe. They're going to search me when I first meet them, right? So I can't have a weapon on me. But if Clemenza can figure a way to have a weapon planted for me, then I'll kill them both.
Sonny: [laughing] What are you gonna do? Nice college boy, didn't want to get mixed up in the family business. Now you want to gun down a police captain. Why? Because he slapped you in the face a little? What do you think this like the Army where you can shoot 'em from a mile away? No you gotta get up like this and, badda-bing, you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit. C'mere.
[Kisses Michael on the head]
Sonny: You're taking this very personal. Tom, this is business and this man is taking it very, very personal.
Michael Corleone: Where does it say that you can't kill a cop?
Tom Hagen: Come on, Mikey...
Michael Corleone: Tom, wait a minute. I'm talking about a cop that's mixed up in drugs. I'm talking about a - a - a dishonest cop - a crooked cop who got mixed up in the rackets and got what was coming to him. That's a terrific story. And we have newspaper people on the payroll, don't we, Tom?
[Tom nods]
Michael Corleone: And they might like a story like that.
Tom Hagen: They might, they just might.
Michael Corleone: [to Sonny] It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business.

The other one:

Michael: My credit good enough to buy you out?
Moe Greene: Buy me out?
[Fredo laughs nervously]
Michael: The hotel, the casino. The Corleone Family wants to buy you out.
Moe Greene: The Corleone Family wants to buy me out? No, I buy you out, you don't buy me out.
Michael: Your casino loses money, maybe we can do better.
Moe Greene: You think I'm skimmin off the top, Mike?
Michael: [Michael shakes his head] You're unlucky.
Moe Greene: You goddamn guineas you really make me laugh. I do you a favor and take Freddie in when you're having a bad time, and now you're gonna try and push me out!
Michael: You took Freddie in because the Corleone Family bankrolled your casino, and the Molinari Family on the Coast guaranteed his safety. Now we're talking business, let's talk business.
Moe Greene: Yeah, let's talk business, Mike. First of all, you're all done. The Corleone Family don't even have that kind of muscle anymore. The Godfather's sick, right? You're getting chased out of New York by Barzini and the other Families. What do you think is going on here? You think you can come to my hotel and take over? I talked to Barzini - I can make a deal with him, and still keep my hotel!
Michael: Is that why you slapped my brother around in public?
Fredo: Aw, now that, that was nothin', Mike. Moe didn't mean nothin' by that. Yeah, sure he flies off the handle every once in a while, but me and him, we're good friends, right Moe?
Moe Greene: I got a business to run. I gotta kick asses sometimes to make it run right. We had a little argument, Freddy and me, so I had to straighten him out.
Michael: You straightened my brother out?
Moe Greene: He was banging cocktail waitresses two at a time! Players couldn't get a drink at the table! What's the matter with you?
Michael: I leave for New York tomorrow, think about a price.
Moe Greene: Sonofabitch! Do you know who I am? I'm Moe Greene! I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders!
Fredo: Wait a minute, Moe, Moe, I got an idea. Tom, you're the Consiglieri and you can talk to the Don, you can explain...
Tom Hagen: Now hold it right there. The Don is semi-retired and Mike is in charge of the Family business now. If you have anything to say, say it to Michael.
Fredo: [Moe Greene leaves] Mike! You do not come to Las Vegas and talk to a man like Moe Greene like that!
Michael: Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.

Headin' off to watch it again.  ;  )        

Anna K.

She never won a tennis tournament, but ...