Saturday, November 19, 2016

The "Others" Aren't Crazy

Our country is deeply divided because people don't take the time to fully understand those who disagree with them. Too often the perspective of the "other" side is reduced to one-liners, memes, or the personification of a stereotypical Liberal or Conservative. This is because worldview-reduction is easy and safe. It doesn't require intellectual work, it makes you popular with the "sames," and it places the blame for anything that goes wrong in the world squarely on the shoulders of the "others."

Those crazy "others."

In this post I want to show that the "others" actually aren't crazy.

The "others" have a fundamentally different way of looking at the world. Both you and the "others" look at the world through a lens, and if that lens is different, you will likely come to different conclusions on important issues, such as abortion, evolution, climate change, or immigration.

Far too often, when "sames" and "others" discuss these issues, they talk past each other. Side A makes an argument, Side B makes a different, unrelated argument, and Side A fails to respond to that argument. Or Side A makes an argument that is valid if the world is seen through the perspective of lens A, but invalid if seen through lens B, and vice versa for Side B.

Both sides are making valid arguments on the surface, but the underlying difference in lenses in not addressed. This is what makes the "others" seem crazy. An argument made by Side B, seen through lens A, appears crazy.

Let's look at an example. (it will be helpful to take a quick glance at this short post on how I structure philosophies before reading on)

Read the table from the bottom up. Under the "Lens" column, you will see the perspective of each side built from the ground up. Roots are fundamental, core beliefs (note that Roots stand independent of one another; Root 1 and Root 2 are not sequential). Trunks are core beliefs that build on Roots. Branches are philosophies that build on Trunks. Twigs are philosophies that build on Branches. Leaves are applications. Leaves are what you actually see people doing.


Note that both Side A and Side B share a common root: "Cares about the lives of other people."

But if Side A only acknowledges the trunk, branch, twig, and leaf-level philosophy of Side B, it would appear to Side A that Side B does not, in fact, care about the lives of other people (from the perspective of Side A, Side B thinks that the inconvenience of pregnancy is worse than murder) (from the perspective of Side B, an early-stage fetus is not a human life, and a pregnancy would have a major, negative impact on the life of the mother).

I understand that there are many sides other than A and B when it comes to the topic of abortion, these are just two I picked out as an example of how to compare.

One more example. Again, read and compare sides starting from the bottom of the chart.

See how the difference in fundamental, core beliefs changes the way the two sides see the world? Each step along the way acts as a primer, and sways each one way or the other. Once they get out to the leaves, they completely disagree with one another.

And if the Fundamentalist cites the Bible to the atheist, the atheist will think that the Fundamentalist is crazy. If the atheist doesn't agree with the Bible, then the Fundamentalist will think that the atheist is crazy (or that the Holy Spirit is not guiding the atheist).

Once again, I'm only using these two perspectives as examples. I understand that there are many traditions of Christianity other than Fundamentalist Christianity, and that evolution is consistent with many of those traditions. I picked Fundamentalist Christianity in particular for this chart because it takes a hard line on evolution, and makes for a good contrast with atheism.

This is why it can be extraordinarily difficult for people with different fundamental worldviews to discuss incendiary issues with one another. It's not that the issues themselves are so incendiary, it's that the discussion forces each side to question their fundamental ways of looking at the world.

If they speak to one another on the level of leaves, they appear crazy to one another.

If they speak to one another on the level of twigs, branches, or trunks, they may again appear crazy to one another.

If they speak to one another on the level of roots, they will finally end up finding their real disagreement. But to do this is to open up one's most fundamental beliefs to scrutiny--it means admitting the possibility that one's most dearly held beliefs could be wrong.

Image what that would look like for a Christian. If Christianity is false, then that Christian would have to give up on God, lose his/her social circle, reformulate everything he/she thinks about the world, and possibly much, much more. It can be a truly terrible thing! (I know, because exactly that happened to me)

But it's not hard for only Christians to question their fundamental beliefs. It's hard for everyone. Atheists switching to Christianity also face social pressure. For some it can be directly life-threatening, as is the case for Muslims in certain countries. To question your worldview takes a tremendous amount of work and courage; the willingness to give up everything for the pursuit of truth.

There is, however, also a cost to a failure to be willing to question your own worldview. If our society fails to do this, our world will become more and more divided as people cower away from  understanding the "others." The groups of "others" will become more and more concrete, and further and further apart from the "sames." If no one is willing to question their own fundamental beliefs, we will all be fundamentally divided.

This is the real great wall, that has already been built. The wall that keeps us from understanding the "others." The wall that protects us from questioning our own fundamental beliefs. This is the wall that divides our world in a way that can't be crossed with ropes or ladders. It's the wall that truly keeps the "others" out.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I Was Wrong About Noah's Flood

Ever wondered if Noah's flood really could have happened? Could all the animals fit on the ark? How did the animals disperse back to their continents? How did Noah possibly capture so many animals? How could so many animals survive for a year on a boat without climate control? What about food?

Back in my days as a marine biologist, I wrote several posts about how Noah's flood couldn't have happened in the last 10,000 years. If it were a flood that covered "all the highest mountains" in the region, it would have definitely killed 100% of certain coral species--these coral species are around today (but wouldn't have had time to evolve), so the flood didn't happen.

I really thought it was an example of a definite error in the Bible, and one that had major theological significance due to it's proximity to the stories of Adam and Abraham.

It turns out I was wrong.

The translation of two key words in a single verse, Genesis 7:19, makes all the difference.

Here is the translation from NET Bible:
"The waters completely inundated the earth so that even all the high mountains under the entire sky were covered."

And here is the Hebrew:
"והמים גברו מאד מאד על הארץ ויכסו כל ההרים הגבהים אשר תחת כל השמים"

 The two words I highlighted are הארץ and ההרים, pronounced  "erets" and "har", which mean "earth" and "mountain".

But what do they really mean?

Well, "erets" almost certainly doesn't mean the entire globe. It is most frequently translated "land", as in "land of Israel" (as opposed to "planet of Israel"), and it can also mean ground, country, territory, region, and a smattering of other closely related words (from Strong's Lexicon). "Entire globe" almost definitely is NOT what the author had in mind--ancient Hebrews didn't understand the planet the way we do. It was probably closer to something like this:

At any rate, there simply isn't a good reason to think that the author of Genesis had "entire planet" in mind. I think the best translation is "region".

As for "har", it is most frequently translated "hill", although it can also mean mountain, hill country, or mount (from Strong's Lexicon). There is no context that suggests "mountain" is a better translation, but even if it were, what exactly qualifies as a mountain? Is the cutoff at 100 meters high? or 1,000 meters? Further, the author specifies that the water covered the mountains by 30 meters. If the flood covered Everest, there would only be one mountain that could have been covered at that depth, not multiple mountains.

Because of all this, the most reasonable interpretation of the verse is as follows:

"The waters completely inundated the region so that even all the high hills were covered."

This means that Noah only needed to get the animals that were already close to him, freeing up plenty of room to stretch on the ark. There would be no extinct coral, and land animals would have no problem making a local comeback. There would be no global distribution problem. It could have just been a record-setting flood that hit a single region, but had no global impact.

What's more, the last Meltwater Pulse at the tail-end of the last ice-age was within the time range that Noah's flood could have happened. Even without divine intervention, there probably were record-setting floods going off all around the globe (think Gilgamesh and other ancient flood stories).

In conclusion, I was wrong. I thought that Noah's Flood couldn't have happened the way the Bible describes it, but it definitely could have.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Med Chess Mantises

I'm starting an online chess team for kids and youth who are removed from school due to long-term illness. Being in the hospital for a long time can be lonely, boring, and pretty much an all around bummer. My thought was that basically anyone can play chess, no matter what kind of illness you have (even if you're paralyzed). The team will meet via Google Hangouts and, so location isn't an issue either. Hopefully this will be an opportunity for kids to make friends. Depending on the number of students & volunteers, it would be awesome to offer tutoring as well. I think these measures would improve patient outcomes and make hospital stays less of a bummer.

If you know of any kids who might like to join the team, send them this flyer! Also let me know if you would like to volunteer as a chess coach/tutor.