Volunteer to Pack Toys for Food Shelf-Dec. 17th (morning)

One of our favorite volunteer activities is the annual toy packing event supporting the Second Harvest Itasca Holiday Program. Our group is signed up to participate again this year. If you plan to come, please mark your calendar for Saturday, Dec.17th–location: Zion Lutheran Church. Last year packing began at 9:00am so we arrived at approx. 8:50am. If I receive word that the start time is any different, I’ll change the time on our Meetup site. So please check there to confirm the start time shortly before the event, or call me. Otherwise we’ll plan to arrive around 8:45am. The work should be completed before noon.

Our task that day is to select gifts for children ages 0-12 from big piles of new items, donated by our community, that have already been sorted by age and gender. The process is quite orderly and will be explained by the program coordinator before we begin. A few people also will be asked to work at the “battery station” or at tables where they check selected items to make sure they are an appropriate choice for the child identified on the gift tag (for example, we wouldn’t want to give a complicated board game to a toddler). After every child has been “shopped for” in this way, the bags are loaded up to be delivered with food boxes to families in communities throughout Itasca County.

In the past we’ve enjoyed gathering afterwards for lunch, but since this is on the same day as our (much-anticipated!) annual Winter Solstice party, I’m proposing a change in plans. Would anyone be interested in meeting for coffee beforehand, instead? I’m suggesting 8:00am at Caribou since it’s close to the church. Will put that on the Meetup site as well. Please feel free to join us at Caribou even if you can’t help with the toy packing, friends. All are welcome. 🙂

I hope many of you can make it to this fun and rewarding volunteer activity. It helps make the holidays a lot brighter for these kids and their families. Please call me if you have questions-Amy (#259-1476)

Facts vs. Faith — Which Will Win?

I came across this quote in a column written by Charles Blow for the New York Times, but he was quoting Joe Keohane of the Boston Globe, so that is the original provenance:

“Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”

Blow was writing about Donald Trump supporters.  But if this is true with respect to “ploitical partisans,” why would it be any different when it comes to dogmatic religious believers?

This is disappointing, because it suggests that our favored tools, logic and reason, will not avail against belief.  In other words — excuse the awful pun — faith trumps facts.

Of course, we can hope that even if this is true in the short term, in the long run, ideas based on reason will permeate the public consciousness, and for pragamatic reasons (such as the efficacy of medical science — all but the most deluded believers go to doctors rather than faith healers because they are more likely to find effecive treatment with the latter than with the impotent and ineffective layer on of hands), change will come in the future as it has in the past.

Still, it is depressing to think that our best arguments and the most effective presentation of evidence may be likely to fall on deaf ears.

Blog Issues

The blog experienced some problems last week when I attempted to install some routine updates to the themes, various plugins and the basic WordPress program. The updates failed because the system was unable to remove the older versions that the updates would replace. There wasn’t any explanation of why the old versions couldn’t be removed and the consequences weren’t immediately obvious. Later the content of the public blog website went completely blank and this made it impossible to see any of the content or make any changes.

I contacted technical support and they worked with the site to restore the ability to see and edit the content. I’m not sure what the problem was, but it took more than a day for them to figure it out. This work was completed as of Thursday, April 21st.

When the blog was restored, some of the settings were not preserved and the main security plugin had to be reinstalled. So far this appears to have worked, but the appearance of the blog has been changed to a different theme and header image. I haven’t restored the original theme, but will try to do this soon. In the meantime, if you post a comment or create new content, things should work okay. If you find things are still malfunctioning in some fashion, let me know.

Make plans to see “Spotlight”

I didn’t watch the Oscars this year and I haven’t watched them much for several years. But this year a picture I wanted to see won the Oscar for best picture. I hadn’t seen it because it never played in Grand Rapids during its initial release. Now, all of a sudden after the Oscar win, it shows up in town. So Carolyn and I made a very rare middle of the week trip to see it on Tuesday night. I was concerned that it would be gone before the weekend and didn’t want to miss our chance. It was well worth taking the time. I’m still puzzled as to why it was so delayed in coming to Grand Rapids. I suspect the Catholic church is very unhappy with it, but I don’t know that they would have raised a stink in town that the theater operator would care about.

The movie documents in a dramatic format the pursuit by the Boston Globe newspaper of a story about the abuse of children by pedophile priests in the Boston area. This occurred in the early 2000’s and involved an investigative reporting team name Spotlight. A team of four journalists who are asked to take on the story by a new editor who has just taken over the news operation. He is responding to some information he noticed in the paper about a single case of abuse that seems to point to a larger problem and wonders why the paper didn’t pursue the story further. The answer is that no one thought it would amount to anything – just a single bad apple priest. The editor challenges them to find out if that is true.

Eventually the team realizes that the problem is massive involving more than 80 priests in the Boston area, hundreds of victims and a community wide effort to suppress the story involving not just the Catholic Church, but government attorneys, the police, a host of public figures and, most disturbing, Cardinal Law and others in the upper reaches of the church hierarchy. Also embarrassing, the Spotlight team realizes that some of them also contributed to suppressing the story when they were in other positions at the paper. They had followed everyone else in deciding it was a limited problem and the church shouldn’t be subjected to further embarrassment for the “good of the community”.

This story is compelling and the dramatization of it is straight forward and feels completely honest. No one comes off as a unblemished hero, but the willingness of the Spotlight team to follow the story to its end regardless is admirable. Almost all of them are portrayed as lapsed Catholics, but we are left to wonder if this story put the nail in the coffin of their faith for good. I also wondered how badly the church in Boston was hurt by this story. The level of disgust and disappointment with the church seems intense at the end of the film. It would be nice if some details on the impact for the church were easily available. Maybe they are, I just haven’t looked hard enough I suppose.

In the end, Cardinal Law is pulled out of Boston and hidden away in the Vatican where he remains. As I recall, the whole scandal fueled the flames of investigation all over the world and we now know that the Catholic Church has been complicit in thousands of abuse cases with hundreds of abusive priests and nuns. It is now suspected that the retired Pope Benedict was up to his ears in the cover up of the problem and resigned to avoid further problems for himself. I’m not sure that the current Pope, Francis, isn’t also guilty at some level. The Vatican is clearly a criminal organization at this point.

If you haven’t seen the film, it is intense and compelling. I don’t know how long it will be in town. Go see it if you can.

Brian Dalton – Our monthly meeting for February 23, 2016

Brian Dalton has been a person of interest from the beginning of our group. First as Mr.Deity and then as the Ray Comfort spoof The Way of the Mister. Now he has created a third “channel” called The God Distraction.This is a series of talks about his serious dissatisfaction with the notion of g*d. The general theme is “I don’t care if God exists and neither should you.”. I don’t know how many presentations he will create on this topic, but there are now 3 episodes. We skipped the first, introduction segment which is short and moved on to the second one called Arguments. In this episode he critiques the whole idea of debating g*d’s existence using nothing but arguments (aplogetics). What he considers essential at the start is some evidence. If there is no evidence, who cares what the arguments are or how strong they are. If you can’t establish the existence of this entity via evidence, you are wasting your time with arguments unless you just like arguing for arguing’s sake.

For the sake of being complete, I’ve embedded both the introductory talk and the first “chapter” regarding arguments.

This stuff is a bit more serious than Dalton’s earlier stuff although if you watch carefully, you will catch phrases and images that reflect his quick wit. Post your thoughts and comments below.

In which I take a stab at returning to the blog

It has been a long time since I added anything to the blog other than links to videos we have watched at our monthly meeting. I’m not entirely sure why I found it less appealing. Perhaps it was feeling overwhelmed with the ability of people like Jerry Coyne to produce a mammoth volume of well written and interesting posts on a daily basis while I struggled to do any kind of post more than once a week. Guess I should approach it more the way I do learning to play the guitar. I’ll never be all that great, it’s just fun to be able to do it at all.

So what is happening now? Well, next week I will meet with a guy named Jerry Nagel who is involved in a project with the Blandin Foundation in which some people (I don’t know who), will receive training (I don’t know what) to be influential in leading groups to achieve a broader understanding of their world views and how those views act as a lens through which they perceive the world…or something. It was suggested that he meet with me as a “leader” of a group with a “world view” and as someone who had entered into a discussion with others holding different world views, i.e. the CPC group now known as World Views Uniting.

My initial response after agreeing to meet was to take a look at the website for his consulting business which is WorldViewIntelligence.com. It seemed the best place to gain an understanding of whether this was mostly woo or something more substantive. It looked like woo through much of what I read. Lots of stuff about world views driving us hither and thither via an unconscious channel. While I suppose you can demonstrate an unconscious channel in various situations, I’ve never been overly fond of the idea that we are walking around clueless to our real thoughts, emotions, brain events, etc. I’ve known plenty of clueless people, but I’m not sure they were clueless because they were unconscious. I think they were clueless because they lacked an interest in developing and nurturing a self-examined life. I for one don’t really think I stumbled into a secular/humanist perspective and remain unaware of how it colors my view of the world. I spend the better part of my life examining and evaluating that perspective.

So what will I discuss with Nagel? I’m actually supposing that he will take responsibility for aiming the conversation in one way or another, but have been making guesses as is my style. So here are some thoughts.

GRAF as a group does represent a world view of sorts, but what we share is mostly discomfort with the idea of a g*d and after that things get a bit messy. A fair number of us value a scientific view of the nature of reality and how to learn more about it, but that isn’t a dominant feature of the thinking process of everyone in the group. We also have a pretty strong skeptical orientation and avoid buying into other ideologies without evidence or reason and logic, but there again, we have different levels of skepticism in the group. The list of differences that exist within our group and between members is substantial after you get through the shared stuff.

So what I think is that I will have less to say about our world view and more about how the larger community is clueless about us, assigns qualities to us that aren’t accurate and often views us a threatening presence. I am reminded of that almost daily as I read the scary stories being presented by the religious announcing that the coming election may be the last one if they don’t shove a g*dly candidate down our throats (an image they seem overly fond of for some reason). Cruz will save the world by finally bringing the theocracy into being. Or maybe it will be Rubio or even Jeb!. Trump won’t save us at all even though he now claims to be as g*dly as anyone else. They don’t seem to realize he is a religious pretender. He certainly isn’t one of us. Just a sociopath who says whatever he thinks might make the con work. The “take our country back” meme is prominent in this political season, but I wonder if it reflects a dim awareness that religion is losing on a lot of fronts.

With these thoughts in mind, I returned to the World Views Intelligence website and then did a short search for videos to get a bit less of the woo and more of an explanation of what they are up to. It seems to come down to helping people overcome their prejudices, the use of stereotypes and other sorts of clouded thinking. Could such problems exist in this community?

If that works to include us along with all the other loathed, hated, despised and feared minority groups, maybe that is a good thing. I suspect that as we have found in our conversations with the CPC group, it may be a revelation of sorts to him to discover that atheists actually exist in rural America and can be the object of unconscious or conscious fear. He may also be surprised that there are enough of us to raise a stink with the help of the FFRF in a tiny town like Grand Rapids. Might be fun shaking his World View. More to come after next week….

Presumptions

I was watching a show the other night called “Monster Quest,” wherein an impersonal team conducts searches for various cryptozoological creatures such as Champ, the yeti, or the Mongolian death worm.  This particular episode focused on the Ropen.

The Ropen is supposedly a large, leathery flying predator native to Papua New Guinea which sets itself apart from other creatures through a twenty-foot wingspan and bioluminescence.  Supposedly it greatly resembles a glow-in-the-dark pterosaur.

Part of the expedition was a representative of “Genesis Park,” a creationist organization that seeks to prove dragon-like creatures of mythology as proof that humans and dinosaurs lived alongside one another, a la The Flintstones.  In order to help push the asinine notion theory that pterosaurs still live in Papua New Guinea, something that was mentioned when someone pointed out that there’s no evidence that pterosaurs were bioluminescent, this particular man claimed that fossils don’t tell us the whole story and so we can’t possibly know that.

That claim is highly presumptuous.  It’s true, fossils simply can’t tell us everything, however, given what they can tell us–how the skeletons were put together, diet (teeth), muscle size and arrangement (imprints on the bones)–we simply can’t make wild guesses just because the fossils don’t specifically say “no.”  As I pointed out at Florio’s, I can claim that the fossil T.rex “Sue” was a devout Shinto, there’s nothing specific in her fossils that says otherwise, but I don’t get to complain when people point and laugh at me.

In case you’re curious, the Ropen is most likely a combination of folklore, hysteria, and misidentified hornbills, which are massive birds that have been compared to pterosaurs before.