Evolution Weekend Readings

For tonight’s study.  Feel free to answer in the comments.

Why is there variety among living things?

(nineteenth century C.E.)

When on board H.M.S. Beagle, as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts seemed to me to throw some light on the origin of species — that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. On my return home, it occurred to me, in 1837, that something might perhaps be made out on this question by patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on it. After five years’ work I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions, which then seemed to me probable: from that period to the present day I have steadily pursued the same object. I hope that I may be excused for entering on these personal details, as I give them to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision.
. . . .
No one ought to feel surprise at much remaining as yet unexplained in regard to the origin of species and varieties, if he makes due allowance for our profound ignorance in regard to the mutual relations of all the beings which live around us. Who can explain why one species ranges widely and is very numerous, and why another allied species has a narrow range and is rare? Yet these relations are of the highest importance, for they determine the present welfare, and, as I believe, the future success and modification of every inhabitant of this world. Still less do we know of the mutual relations of the innumerable inhabitants of the world during the many past geological epochs in its history. Although much remains obscure, and will long remain obscure, I can entertain no doubt, after the most deliberate study and dispassionate judgement of which I am capable, that the view which most naturalists entertain, and which I formerly entertained — namely, that each species has been independently created — is erroneous. I am fully convinced that species are not immutable; but that those belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendants of some other and generally extinct species, in the same manner as the acknowledged varieties of any one species are the descendants of that species. Furthermore, I am convinced that Natural Selection has been the main but not exclusive means of modification.

* * * *
(first century B.C.E.)

The whole of life but labors in the dark.
For just as children tremble and fear all
In the viewless dark, so even we at times
Dread in the light so many things that be
No whit more fearsome than what children feign,
Shuddering, will be upon them in the dark.
This terror then, this darkness of the mind,
Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,
Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse,
But only Nature’s aspect and her law. 
. . . .
You must not think
That all things can combine in every way,
Every conceivable pattern, for, if so,
You’d see such freaks as men-half-beasts, and boughs,
Instead of arms and legs, coming from torsos.
You’d see marine-terrestrial animals,
Chimaeras, for example, breathing fire
Out of their ugly faces, browsing over
All-mothering earth; but it is plain as day
This does not happen., since we see all things
Maintain the proper order of their kind,
Same kind of parenthood, same kind of seed
Definite causes, definite effects,
A fixed, assured procedure. In all things
The sustenance they take pervades the limbs,
The particles of nourishment combine
To set those limbs in motion. We can see
The opposite of this process also,–nature
Often casts out improper elements,
Rejects them; many elements are driven
Outward as if by blows, they cannot join
Within this frame, or that, can neither feel
Nor even feign the attributes of life.
Not only animals obey these laws,
The code applies to everything As all
Are different, so, in their origin/
They must derive from different shapes.
Of course I do not say that nothing ever looks
Like anything else, but that in general
Species are different, from different seed,
With different intervals, junctions, ways–weight, force,
Motion, and so on. Not animals alone
Are separate and distinct, one from the other,
But also land and sea, heaven and earth.

* * * *
(sixth century B.C.)

  In the beginning the Elohim made the sky and the earth, but the earth was shapeless and everything was dark. The Elohim said “Let there be light,” and there was the light that made day different from night. And that was the first day.
      The Elohim said, “Let there be a dome to separate the heavens from the waters below,” and there were the heavens. And that was the second day.
      The Elohim said, “Let the waters of the earth gather so that there are seas and there is dry land,” and so it was. The Elohim said, “Let there be vegetation on the land, with plants to yield seeds and fruits,” and so it was. And that was the third day.
      The Elohim said, “Let there be light in the heavens, and let them change with the seasons,” and so there were stars. Then the Elohim made a sun and a moon to rule over the day and to rule over the night. And that was the fourth day.
      The Elohim said, “Let there be creatures in the waters, and let there be birds in the skies,” and so there were sea monsters and sea creatures and birds. The Elohim blessed them, saying “Be fruitful and multiply”. And that was the fifth day.
      The Elohim said, “Let the earth have animals of various kinds”, and so it was. Then the Elohim said, “Let us make humans after our own likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle and creeping things of the land, and over all the earth.” The Elohim said to these humans, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, ruling over the fish and the birds and the animals of the land. We have given you every plant and tree yielding seed. To every beast and bird of the Earth we have given every green plant for food.” And that was the sixth day.
      And on the seventh day the making of the heavens and earth was finished, and the Elohim rested.

* * * *
(tenth century B.C.E.)

    On the day that Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the land was dry and barren until a mist came up from the earth and wetted the land. Then Yahweh took dust from the earth and shaped it into the form of a man, and he breathed life into that form, and it came to life.
      Yahweh created a garden in a place called Eden. In this garden Yahweh placed all the trees that bear fruit, including the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden and watered the garden, and there it divided to become four rivers that flow to the four corners of the world. Yahweh put the man there and instructed him to cultivate the garden and to eat of whatever fruit he liked, except for fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
      Then Yahweh decided that the man should not be alone, and that he should have a helper. Thus Yahweh made the beasts of the field and the birds of the air, and the man gave a name to each of them. However, none were fit to be his helper, so Yahweh made the man fall into a deep sleep and took one of the man’s ribs, and he made it into a woman. This man was Adam, and the woman’s name was Eve.
      In the garden was a snake, and the snake persuaded the woman that she could eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil without dying, and that eating the fruit would give her Yahweh’s knowledge of good and evil. She ate the fruit, and she gave some to the man too. For the first time they were ashamed of being naked, and so they made aprons for themselves.
      When the man and woman heard Yahweh in the garden, they hid from him, but Yahweh called them out and asked why they had hidden. The man explained that they hid because of their scanty clothing. Yahweh asked the man how they knew to be ashamed of nudity, and if they had eaten the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The man explained that the woman had eaten of the fruit and given him some too. When Yahweh asked the woman, she explained that the snake had beguiled her into eating the fruit.
      Yahweh said to the snake, “Because of what you have done, you are cursed more than any other animal, and you will have to crawl on your belly in the dust, and you will be beaten by the offspring of this woman”. To the woman Yahweh said, “You will be cursed with great pain in giving birth to children, yet you will have the desire to reproduce, and your husband will rule you.” Finally, to the man Yahweh said, “Because of what you have done, the ground is cursed and you will never eat of this fruit again. You will grow plants and fields and eat bread until you die, until you become the dust from which you were made.”
      Then Yahweh said, “This man has become like us, knowing good and evil – next he will seek the tree of life and try to live forever.” Therefore Yahweh made the man and woman clothing and drove them out of the Garden of Eden, and he placed a winged half-human, half-lion creature at the Garden’s gate to keep them out.


The Substance Matters

Some bearded celebrity wants to compare gay people to pedophiles and stay on television.  A company that wants to sell wedding cakes in the public space but ignore his state’s anti-descrimination laws.  A group of nuns want to run a hospital and prohibit their employees from getting contraception through health insurance related to, without perhaps being paid for by, the nuns.  All in the name of religious freedom.

There are many complex issues related to efficient market places and application of subtle legal doctrines.  Today, I want to make a simple right/wrong argument.  My radical position is that not all religious beliefs and practices are equal.

Churches need to stop resisting the march toward equality among those of minority gender identity and sexual orientation.  Churches need to stop opposing birth control.  When people maintain these positions in the name of faith, it pisses me off.  Not because I think positions cannot be maintained in the name of faith, but because these positions are wrong and stupid.

I think this deserves saying because we respond to “X is immoral” with “who cares what is moral” when we should often respond with “no it’s not.”  At least, that is my humble opinion.


The Goldwater Institute versus Jesus

The concept of this blog is to address how my faith informs my politics. Recently, I’ve focused more on classic literature and some more amature scholar interpretations of Scripture. But, let’s get back to basics.

Today, the Goldwater Institute issued a called for consolidated elections. The first benefit of this plan is “that taxpayers throughout the state would save millions of dollars every election cycle if HB 2826 became law.” Interesting. I know that for similar reasons other folks have suggested ending the Presidential Preference Election–why should the state foot the bill for conducting elections for the political parties? But I wonder if this anti-worker organization has an ulterior motive for consolidating these elections. Oh, let’s look at the next paragraph.

“With more taxpayers participating in elections, taxpayers will have a better opportunity to reject bonds and other spending initiatives, which are typically sought by special interest groups who dominate the current off-cycle elections.” So, more difficult for special interest groups. They’re obviously bad. But, what does Goldwater consider a special interest group? They’ve worked pretty hard to allow corporations to dominate elections and to suppress the speech of union members and political candidates of average means. I wonder if they are talking about children as a special interest group. Oh, let’s look at the next paragraph.

“This will help prevent fiscal fiascos, such as occurred in March 2006 when fewer than 16 percent of Phoenix voters approved $900 million in new taxpayer spending during an off-cycle special bond election.” In case you’re keeping score at home, the fiasco is a 1% sales tax for education. Yes, the group that fights for the rights of corporations to buy elections and to silence the participation of working men and women in elections, believes that educating children is a “special interest.” Now, I disagree with them. But if only I had some historical figure on which to hang my point of view.

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 19:13-14. So, to be fair, Goldwater is not so bad in thinking that children are a nuisance and a special interest group; the disciples thought the same thing.

Of course, this passage isn’t about funding. True, Jesus did actually say that we are judged explicitly on how we treat the least of these. But did Jesus ever specifically suggest that rich people should have to give their money to poor people? Oh, let’s look at the next paragraph.

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’[c] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth

Matthew 19:16-22.

Moral of the story: Barry Goldwater is not the only figure that the Goldwater Institute’s policies are at odds with.


The Illiad and Independent Expenditures

So, Zeus was a fan of the Acheans, but especially Achilles. Since Achilles was mad at Agamemnon for taking from Achilles the woman he had captured as his slave, Zeus was helping the Trojans win battles against the Acheans, led by Agamemnon. Posiedon, on the other hand, couldn’t stand to watch the Acheans get slaughter, but because Zeus had commanded that there be no interference, he could not coordinate with the Acheans openly. Put another way:

Then two mighty sons of Cronos, at cross purposes,
made painful trouble for those mortal warriors.
Zeus wanted victory for Hector and his Trojans,
to give swift Achilles glory—not that he wished
Achaea’s army to be totally destroyed
in front of Troy, but he did want to honour Thetis,
and her great-hearted son, as well, Achilles.
But Poseidon moved around among the Argives,
urging action, coming out in secret from the sea,
angry that Trojans were destroying Achaeans,
and incensed at Zeus. Both gods had a common father—
the same family, too—but Zeus was older and more wise.
So Poseidon avoided giving any overt help.
He did his work in secret through the army,
in human form, rousing men to fight. So these two
looped the cords of powerful war and deadly strife
around both contending armies, then pulled them taut,
a knot no one could undo or slip away from,
a knot that broke the limbs of many fighting men.

The Illiad, Book XIII.

As a campaign finance lawyer, this strikes me as similar to our current system for funding campaigns. The “sons of Cronos” in the political arena would be well funded corporations, labor organizations, and ideological political organizations. By removing any regulations associated with independent expenditures, we’ve created a peculiar environment where the vast majority of money spent directly advocating for the election or defeat of a candidate will be spent by groups who by law cannot coordinate with the candidate himself or herself. These groups can obviously have as complex and seemingly contradictory motivations as Zeus did in wanting the Acheans to win, but only if with Achilles.

Of course, if one is interested in influencing the political landscape, I suppose working within one of these sons of Cronos would not be a bad idea.


Faith & Politics

This post is based on reactions I received to being happy that President Obama revealed that helping the poor was a manifestation of his faith. Here’s the AZ Central article.

First ground rules, I accept that there is an American value to separate church and state. And, I believe that this value is not limited to the strict legal confines of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. In other words, there are steps that a person can take that would violate our national value in keeping religion separate from governing that do not necessarily give rise to a judicial cause of action under the First Amendment.

Second, just to be clear, there is no Christian value that parallels this. Liberal Christians sometimes like take the Give unto Caesar passage as Jesus advocating that faith is separate from government. Not so. If you read the passage you will realize the Jesus uses to quote as an indirect way of saying that we, who bear the image of God, should be given to God; thus, dodging the trap set by his detractor.

So, let’s imagine that I am a liberal Christian who is a member of my city council. It would be wrong for me to use my governmental power to promote my church. I should not use council meetings as a forum to encourage people to attend my church. I should not push for city contracts with church members, or members of similarly aligned churches. It would also be wrong for me to use my church affiliation to gain more political power. So, I should not say vote for me because I’m a real Christian. Nor should my pastor encourage people from the church to vote for me.

By contrast, it is entirely appropriate for my faith to influence the decisions that I make as city council member. Indeed, it would be impossible for it to be otherwise. As a Christian, I believe that all people are a creation of God, thus I believe in equality. I believe that our salvation is based on how we care for the poor. Thus, I want to ensure there is a social safety net. Likewise, if my faith is going to be worth anything, it needs to address how we live which necessarily includes so-called political issues.

The result is that I can become frustrated by the conduct of people if (1) they misuse their official power to promote their faith, or (2) if their faith properly influences the way they conduct themselves in office, but I find their faith inspired values to be repulsive.

Examples of (1) include printing “In God We Trust” on our money, having a national day of prayer, holding a giant campaign event about prayer, or pastors supporting specific candidates from the pulpit. Examples of (2) include opposing requirements that pharmacists fill birth control prescriptions and opposing gay rights. I actually think (2) is more of a problem in recent politics.

One that sits on the edge for me is teaching creationism. On the one hand, it promotes the creationist’s religious views, based on themes similar to those presented in some parts of the Bible. On the other hand, it is an expression of their world view–which is appropriate–but it just happens that their world view is a nonsensical perversion of the faith. Maybe it is wrong on both principles.

Does this distinction work?


Live Encounters

Pat & I went to see some live music tonight at the Rhythm Room . It was really fun even though the music was rockabilly, which neither one of us, and especially Pat, would never listen to on the radio. I don’t know exactly why that is, but tonight I wondered if it was because you could sense the joy of the artist or the others in the room.

Last weekend I attended a retreat of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)’s GLAD Alliance leadership council. During the retreat we watched a lecture that evaluated different techniques of addressing prejudice. Sadly for me, research shows that the worst way to move someone from a bigoted position is education. I say sadly because education, or debating, or mocking, is my favorite response to prejudice.

Turns out that what works is contact. While serving on the GLAD council and while working at Chalice Christian Church, and on several occasions in my professional life, I’ve had many opportunities to work with members of the LGBT community. As a result, it is hard for me to even understand how there are people who can claim that the love these people I know so well is sinful. It seems ludicrous to hold such a belief.

I wonder if there is something similar between the thrill of live music and the intensity of working together with someone that changes your experience to such a degree that your emotion must follow.

The nice thing is that this study suggests there is more knowing contact with gay people than ever before in this country. Maybe this will be a non-issue sooner than we think.


Is Newt Gingrich a Liar

Newt Gingrich says that there were no Palestinians until 1977. The article points out that “[t]he Palestine Liberation Organization was in fact founded in 1964, capping off years of Palestinian cultural development from both before and after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.” Also there is this from two hundred years before 1977.

The Jews of Palestine, who had fondly expected a temporal deliverer, gave so cold a reception to the miracles of the divine prophet, that it was found unnecessary to publish, or at least to preserve, any Hebrew gospel. Edward Gibbon, Ch. 15, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (circa 1776).

(Emphasis added)(Footnote omitted).

I think I just answered my own question.


Greed is Bad

I have just finished Michel de Montaigne’s essay That the taste of good and evil depends in large part on the opinion we have of them. (clunky Google Books version here.) Montaigne sets out to show that “what we call evil is not evil in itself–or at least, whatever it is, that it depends on us to give it a different savor and a different complexion.” He examines three topics in the essay. The first is death. He notes that many people are willing accept death, writing, “Most philosophers have either deliberately anticipated or hastened and abetted their own death.” He also provides some examples of literally gallows humor, to show commoners are also capable of not fearing or respecting looming death. Next, he turns to pain and provides a similar list of people famously enduring pain. For example, he explains that “[a] simple Spartan boy, after stealing a fox and putting it under his cape, endured its gnawing his stomach rather that betray himself [as a thief].” After this we get what is the primary thesis, I think.

That our opinion gives value to things is seen by many things that we do not think about even to appraise them, preferring to think about ourselves instead. We consider neither their qualities nor their uses, but only the cost to us of getting them, as if it were some part of their substance; and we call value in them not what they bring, but what we bring to them. At which point I note that we are great economizers of our expenditure. According as it weights, it serves by the fact that it weighs. Our opinion never lets it run at a false valuation. Purchase gives value to the diamond, and difficulty to virtue, and pain to piety, and harshness to medicine.

Montaigne then concludes his point by examining should be a positive, wealth. Ironically, he explains, just as pain does not always lead to suffering, wealth does not always lead to pleasure. Or as he writes, “In truth, it is not want, but rather abundance, that breeds avarice.” Or as Paul writes in his letter to Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Tim. 6:10. Or as Jesus told his disciples after the rich man could not give up his wealth, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Or, as Robert Reich explains in this video, greed is killing the American economy.


Remembering the Fallen

Reflecting on those who died while serving our country in uniform reminded me of something I saw on CNN about President Obama considering a change in policy for those who killed themselves. Apparently, it has been the policy for some time for the President to not send condolence letter to the family of those who service members who kill themselves. Then I found this opinion piece. The author concludes, “I think by changing the policy, President Obama would send a powerful message that we cannot tolerate what is happening to our troops.”

First, a condolence letter is not an honor. It isn’t a posthumous award for valor. It is an expression of compassion to those who have lost a family member. Is the loss suffered by the family members of those who kill themselves less than that of those who are killed in a car accident or an IED?

Second, do we seriously believe that suicides are an unpredictable result of sending young men and women off to kill people? Is a soldier exposed to the horrors of war, and dies as a result of PTSD less a combat casualty than my dad who was exposed to agent orange and died of cancer?

This policy needs to be changed.


Modern Problems in Ancient Rome

Plutarch’s exposition of Caesar’s life touches on a couple of problems that are near and dear to me in my practice. First, he discusses a method used by Roman judges to avoid the problem of Clodius, a wealthy man, who was on the one hand clearly guilty of serious crimes, but on the other hand a favorite of the masses. The solution was that Clodius escaped punishment, because “most of the judges giving their opinions so written as to be illegible that they might not be in danger from the people by condemning him, nor in disgrace with the nobility by acquitting him.” When I read a judicial opinion that ducks the real issues of the day by appeal to procedural difficiency created by the judges, or worse yet, by the creation of a legal fiction, it seems they are employing a modern version of this technique.

Next is a discussion of Caesar’s practice of paying bribes to get his friends into office, and then having those same friends appropriate large sums of money to Caesar. As Plutarch explained, “It seemed very extravagant to all thinking men that those very persons who had received so much money from Caesar should persuade the senate to grant him more, as if he were in want.”

These two came together when the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United claimed that the lack of coordination between corporations who sponsor ad campaigns and the beneficiary of those campaigns means that it is impossible that at some time in the future the corporation could demand a political favor as repayment for that expenditure. This time delayed quid pro quo is either ignored, or even endorsed, by the justices in the majority in recent campaign finance cases.

I fear that the result of preventing regulators, or in the case of Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett the citizens of a state, from deterring corruption, the Court will doom us to the same extravagances observed prior to the fall of the Roman republic.