Saturday, October 25, 2008

Growing Conflict Between Science and Fundamentalist Religion

There may be little or no conflict between science and some religions. I'm a member of a local Unitarian Universalists congregation and I personally don't see any conflict between the teaching of that religion and science. However, there are some real and undeniable conflicts between science and some of the more fundamentalist religions. The conflict over accepting the facts of evolution is one of the more well known examples. But this is just a warm-up to the new conflicts starting to surface regarding the mind and morals.

Before Darwin, the existence of complex living things was one of the best arguments for the existence of a supernatural creator that directly intervened in the world. Once evolution was understood, we now know that complex life can be explained without the need of such a supernatural creator. This argument has been replaced by the existence of the conscious intelligent human mind in general, and our moral system in particular, as the remaining best argument for the existence of a supernatural creator. As we understand more and more about the physical basis for how the mind operates, this has generated a growing backlash by religious fundamentalists who assert that the mind is some sort supernatural thing separate from the physical brain. A good summary of this movement was recently provided in an article in New Scientist Magazine titled Creationists declare war over the brain

Going beyond the basis for consciousness, there is a large amount of progress being made in the last few decades understanding how human morals can naturally arise and how many of our moral "feelings" actually have their basis in our physical brains and were produced by evolutionary processes. Progressive religions will be able to deal with this just as they came to terms with evolution. But it is even more damaging to the claims of fundamentalist religions than evolution itself, and they would probably be fighting against this even stronger than evolution if they fully understood the scientific progress being made in this area. I expect that it will be only a mater of time before the science vs. fundamentalist religion conflicts shifts to focus on the natural basis of consciousness and morals.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

$700B Bailout Doesn't Solve Our Real Problems

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about the current economic turmoil. I’ve stated in several past appends that the economy was in deep trouble in the near future, and we are as a nation technically bankrupt by any reasonable accounting standard. Now it appears that this view was not far off the mark.

The $700 billion bailout package passed by Congress last week was certainly much better than the original plan which actually prohibited any oversight on how that money was to be spent. Given some time, I expect an even better plan could have been created than the one that was passed. How much better, and would the delay have caused more harm than good? These are questions I am not qualified to answer. But there is a key concern that I do have about the package – namely that it won’t fix the problem.

The fundamental basis for the current problem is that too many people have mortgages larger than they can afford. The package does nothing to resolve that problem in any way. We also have a major problem with the federal deficit. Not only is that not resolved, but it is potentially made much worse. We have a global military operation that is vastly overstretched and financially unsustainable. Again, nothing is done to address that portion of the problem. But given that this is the middle of a heated election campaign season, that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

The one bright spot is that the economic tax incentives for some renewable energy will be renewed by the new plan. They were set to expire at the end of this year. This is a really important issue for our long term economic health, so it’s at least a small bright spot in a plan that otherwise falls far short of addressing the real problems in the economy.