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I was planning to do a blog on an entirely different topic.  Instead though, due to several conversations I have had recently,  I am doing a follow up on my last blog The Shame of the United States.

When talking to a person who is supporting the new Trump policy of separating families at the border, it is important to remember the facts.  Always.  Because you will have to reference them time after time after time.

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Fact 1:  There is no law requiring that those stopped for illegally crossing the border have to have their children taken from them.

Fact 2:  No President, going back at least as far as President Eisenhower, has ever promoted or tried to carry out a policy of separating families crossing the border illegally.

Fact 3: Not all crimes carry the same penalties.  Jaywalking and a mugging, for example, are both crimes, but not the same penalty.

Fact 4: Those crossing and then turning themselves in immediately to a border agent are not breaking the law.  They are instead following one of the procedures for asking for asylum.

  • Fact 4a. Yes, despite what the director of Homeland Security may have said, they are separating the children from their family for these asylum seekers too.

It is also important to remember the facts that some who are also outrages by this policy ignore.

Fact 5: The photo of children in orange prison jumpsuits is not of the immigrant children.  Instead, it first showed up as a photograph in an article about schools and prisons and was intended to make the point that more prisons are being built than schools in the United States.

Fact 6: None of the photos of children in wire cages are recent.  Or, at least none that I have found have been.  Most are from 2014. Now, we do have eyewitness accounts of the GettyImages_458329272conditions where many children are being held, and those eyewitnesses say that the 2014 pictures are accurate today too.  However, so far, none of these facilities have allowed photographs to be taken.

 

So, now we have our facts.  Facts that we will use to defend our view that this policy is immoral. The question becomes then, what argument are we defending it from?

 

From what I can see, all the arguments from those defending taking children from their parents are variations of “It is against the law” or “they broke the law”. Often these are used in conjunction with the observation that when we arrest American citizens and cart them off to jail their children are separated from their parents too.  So, the argument goes, why is it then immoral with illegal immigrants.

There are several possible responses that could be given.  One of them is to present Fact 4, that we have an asylum process in place in which immigrants seeking asylum immediately present themselves to a border patrol agent and claim asylum.  These people are not breaking the law.  They are following it. Yet they are still being separated from their children.

This can then be followed up with Fact 3, not all crimes carry the same penalties.  For example, you are not going to arrest and send someone to prison for speeding whereas you will for someone who commits armed robbery.  Both broke the law, but to give both the same punishment would be unjust.

In the case of illegally crossing the border, it is a misdemeanor in most cases. This then leads you to Fact 1, there is no law requiring that parents be separated from their children.  None. Zilch.  Legally it can be done, but it is not required by law.  In fact, historically it has not happened.

And this is where Fact 2, no president, no administration, going back to at least the time of President Eisenhower, and probably before, has ever carried out a deliberate policy of separating families who crossed the border illegally.    Now, suddenly we are.   Don’t give me legal requirement or historical precedent as justification because neither are.  Both are against this policy.

Also, there is a difference between separating a parent from child of  citizens with that of an illegal immigrant.  Those who are here usually have family and friends here who can take care of their children.  Illegals, not so much.  Those who live here are used to this culture, the food, the customs, the language.  With the illegal immigrants, their children are living among strangers in a land very strange to them. They are living among strangers speaking a different language, eating different foods, and dealing with  different customs. A scary place for anyone, but more so to a seven year old child without their parent.

Now, here are some tips on other strategies that will be employed in defending the indefensible.

They might try to bring up those pictures of children in cages and point out that these were taken during President Obama’s administration.  They then will try to ignore the moral problems of doing this today by saying “why didn’t you protest about these then, you are a hypocrite”.

Of course, whether I am a hypocrite or not really has no bearing on whether this is a moral policy or not.  It is a separate question. A separate issue. However, it is one that they love to employ to change the subject and divert attention.

However,  they are correct about when these pictures of children in cages were taken.  Yes, those pictures were taken during President Obama’s  watch.  However, they occurred because there was a flood of unaccompanied minors coming up from Central America. Minors with no family, no parent with them. So many that they totally overwhelmed the system.   In other words, it was not the result of a deliberate policy of separation.  And it was something Obama’s administration was working on to correct.

Along with this might be an attempt to show that some of President Obama’s immigration also resulted in separating families.  And that too would be true.  Again though, this separation was not the result of a deliberate policy but rather it was an unintended side effect in some cases.  And one that did not result in nearly as many separated families as what Trump’s policies are purposely creating.

And again, just like the hypocrite argument, how does what President Obama did or did not do effect whether this policy today is moral?  Does President Obama’s actions define morality and what is right?  No.  Again, separate issue.

5472Another important fact to be kept in mind is that our knowledge that the separation of the children of those crossing our borders from their families is what is immoral. Whether children are being put in these cages or not, whether they are being shipped in freight trains or not, whether they are being made to wear orange jumpsuits or not, is purely of secondary importance.  The main issue is that this policy of separating families needlessly like this is wrong and immoral.  This holds true whether the children are being detained in nice homes with nice people or whether they are being kept in cages.

Also, underlying this whole defense that these people were breaking the law is the assumption that all laws are moral. We are stating that this action is immoral. That holds true whether it is legal or not.

A final thought on this issue. We have not had a policy of separating children from their parents for those crossing our borders illegally or requesting asylum before, but there have been two times in our past when we did have a policy of separating children from their parents.

One of those times is with many of the Native American tribes. We would forcibly take children from their families and send them to “Indian Residential Schools” where they would be immersed in Euro-American culture, given normal haircuts, forbidden to speak their native language, and their name taken away and given a new normal name.  These schools were also known as American Indian Boarding Schools.  But, a rose by any other name…..

This black mark on our history started in the 1870s.  It did not end until the 1970s.  Looking back over the last two sentences, I hope those that read this consider this a black mark and stain upon our history.  If not, then you have a serious problem with your sense of morality and should start to work on that immediately in order to become a decent human being.

 

The other time when we have taken children from their parents was during the time of slavery.  This was done casually and without thought. Doing so was common.  A result of this can be seen in the nations newspapers after the Civil War. Those papers were flooded with ads from mothers, fathers, children seeking their loved ones.  Such as these one below.

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And now, today, we are adding to our history. In addition to the separation of children from families from the Native Americans, and from black slaves, we now get to add a new chapter in our history – taking children from those crossing our borders.  I believe that not only do most Americans now find it wrong and immoral and abhorrent, so too will history judge it to be so.

 

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

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Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

Yes, I know.  For this subject quoting this poem is something trite, something always done, and something common. However, that does not mean it shouldn’t be quoted.  In shutterstock_56386615these times we need to read and quote and consider these words more than ever, no dismiss them as being trite and overused.   After all, the reason that this poem from the Statue of Liberty is so trite is because it is an integral part of our history and, until recently, a part of who we were as a nation and a people.  It is one of our defining ideals, often fallen short of, but just as often clawed back to.

This time though we are starting to fall very, very short of this ideal.  Now we are not only turning away those  legitimately and justifiably seeking refuge in the United States, but area also separating families – taking children away from their parents, no matter the age of the child.  From what I have researched, we have never done that before.

With those crossing our borders illegally the excuse was that they broke the law and were trying to live in the United States illegally.  It is not a good excuse for such an inhumane policy, but it is something.  However, with asylum seekers, they do not even have that threadbare excuse. These are people who present themselves to officials requesting asylum.

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This, this is the threat to the United States?

While attention is on the ones coming to our southern border, this covers all asylum seekers.  For example, a Congolese woman presented herself to our border guards at the port of entry near San Diego.  Now she is being held in detention there.  Her seven year old daughter was taken from her and is being held in Chicago.  And it gets worse.  The Trump administration has cut funding for the program providing lawyers for migrant children.  So, now a seven year old, without benefit of parent or counsel, has to make decisions and navigate our labyrinthine immigration system.  Alone.

For an administration that, for some reason, is popular among a group that tout family values…well, this shows that the only families they value are their own.  For an administration that, for some reason,  is popular among a group that believe all humanity is related and brothers and sisters, who brag about missions to help the suffering in other countries…well, it seems that some  brothers and sisters are better loved and cared for than others.

Yes, we need to maintain our borders.  However, asylum seekers are not a threat to our borders (nor illegal aliens a threat to our country).  Instead, they are a testament to our nation and its ideals.  Ideals that are becoming more deeply tarnished by the day.

In our past anyone outside of our immediate community were considered “other”.  Often they were not even considered fully human within the community.  You could do things to “others’ that you could not do to those within your community.

It seems that we are moving back to those times, away from the recognition that no matter our nationality, no matter our race, no matter our religion we all share a common humanity and have a right to be treated as a human.   It seems that is no longer the case in the United States. Instead it seems we are in the process of blockading ourselves against the world; politically, economically and morally, and in doing so denying the humanity of those “others”

These families are not coming here on a whim.  They are not coming here just because they think the food is better.  Or even just solely for economic reasons.  They are fleeing.  Fleeing a danger to them and their loved ones.

Here is a link to a fact sheet about why they flee.

But, since I know most don’t click on links, and since it is short, rather than summarize it, let me copy and paste what it says here.

7 REASONS WHY FAMILIES FLEE:

  1. Northern Triangle countries are experiencing record levels of violence.
    El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are facing unparalleled levels of violent crime and all three countries continue to rank among the most violent in the world.
  2. Impunity rates for homicides in the Northern Triangle countries hover above 95 percent.
    This means that 19 out of every 20 murders remain unsolved, and the likelihood of being caught, prosecuted or convicted for murder is practically nil.
  3. Extortion is common, and the failure to pay can result in harassment, violence, or death.
    It has been estimated that Salvadorans pay more than US$390 million a year in extortion fees, while Hondurans pay around $200 million and Guatemalans an estimated $61 million.
  4. Lack of opportunity and poverty are serious problems.
    According to the World Bank, 60 percent of people living in rural areas in the Northern Triangle live in poverty. Honduras’ July 2017 national census showed that 64.3 percent of all households live in poverty.
  5. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence and sexual assault.
    El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are some of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman. In Honduras, 468 women were killed in 2016—one every 18 hours.
  6. Children and families under threat of violence and extortion often feel like they have nowhere to turn for protection.
    In all three countries, citizens do not feel that the police will protect them and often fear the authorities as much as criminals. According to a 2016 survey in Honduras, 83 percent of the population believes the police are corrupt.
  7. Being denied asylum or being deported can be a death sentence.
    Although the United States does not have a comprehensive database of migrants who were killed after being returned to their countries of origin, the Global Migration Group at Columbia University has created a record of over 60 people who had been deported to their deaths or to other harm.

Young girls are often raped  by gang members and forced into prostitution.  Boys are forced into drug gangs.  Many have seen family members killed.   Many have seen friends killed.  There is no law, no justice, no  protection.  It does not exist.  Only poverty, fear, pain, and loss.

This link provides some of those stories.  In this link you will read about:

2EDD631F00000578-3337589-image-m-30_1448745141324Two brothers, 13 and 7, found dead.  The seven year old, in addition to being shot as his brother was, was also tortured and beaten.

A grandfather with two granddaughters who fled the country with them.  Three of his four sons had already been killed by gangs.  He did not want to lose his granddaughters too.

A young woman who opened her door one day and found a plastic bag with body parts in it.  It was a warning of what would happen to her should she refuse to become the girlfriend of a gang member who liked her.

Nine children who refused to join gangs were found tortured and shot in the face numerous times.  Some of them had skin peeled from their faces.

So, these families do the sane thing. They flee for somewhere safer.  The United States.  And when they arrive and apply for asylum, they have their children, the children they are trying to protect, taken from them by our border agents, following a cold and cruel new policy.

Some may say that they should stay in their country and fight to make it a good country.  The ignorance displayed by this sort of argument is amazing.  Only someone who lives in a country that is safe and secure, that has a functional and responsive government could ever say such a thing.

Others argue that they should go somewhere else, that we are tired of holding that lamp up high.   And since we are tired, we are going to discourage them coming.  Idiocy.  Ignorance. Cowardice.

Some justify these actions as being necessary to discourage others from coming to our borders, seeking a better place, seeking refuge and safety not only for themselves but their children and families.  Safety from atrocity.  This justification not only betrays our ideals and humanity, it is also one that I do not think will work.

Ask yourself, if you lived in such a country, would this policy of being separated from your child really discourage you from fleeing and coming here?  It wouldn’t me.   However, instead of presenting myself at the border, I would be looking at ways to enter illegally and stay.  Further, as some of these parents are saying, it would be much better to be together, but even separated their child is still in a much safer and better place than back home.

And before you say – see, its not such a bad policy – ask yourself would you like to be separated from your child by thousands of miles, in a strange land, and have them live with strangers?  Would you like the thought of your child being alone among strangers uncertain and afraid? Do you think your child and you would not suffer from that separation?  It is only the direness of their situation that makes this a good option.  And only our labelling them as “other” and no longer worthy of being treated with the dignity and respect all humans should be till shown otherwise that makes this cruel choice a “good” one.

We talk about how terrible and like animals those of the MS 13 gangs are.  They are our ms13current bogeyman embodying the worst that humans can do to each other.  For that reason, to protect our selves and society we work to lock them up or deport them.  Now, imagine living in a country where the MS 13 gangs rule.  They cannot be deported.  They cannot be jailed.   And that is what we too often send these families back to.

As the saying goes “all fall short of glory”, and so we have. Badly. In fact, we have done so many times over the years since we were founded. But, the words and the humanity behind those words still remained as an ideal, though at times a badly defined one.  It is an ideal that we have worked towards living up to, towards making it real.  And though we never fully managed to do so, there were times when we approached glory.

Today though. Today, we are no long climbing for glory but, through our treatment of our fellow humans as other, as numbers, as the bogeyman, through our cold and hard laws and policies, we are reaching for hell. And hell is easier to obtain because gravity helps a fall.

I think it may be time to return the Statue of Liberty, The Mother of Exiles, to France, along with its plague bearing ideals we no longer seem to hold.  Maybe someday, soon I hope, we will deserve to have it gracing our shores again.

 

 

 

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Something that I see over and over again from conservatives, especially among the more extreme conservatives, is this idea that everyone should be treated equally regardless of race or gender.  This was brought to mind recently by a Facebook post by one of these individuals about Harvard having a separate graduation ceremony for blacks. Its caption read something along the lines of “Congratulations Harvard!  You have just brought segregation back”.

First, let me say that the story was inaccurate.  Harvard was not having a separate ceremony for blacks.  Instead, a private group had set this up and were holding it some days after the Harvard graduation to allow blacks to attend both, which I imagine all or most did.  In addition this was not a black only event, all races could attend.  Here is what the organization’s, Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance, president Michael Huggins had to say about why they did this.

“It isn’t meant to replace the existing ceremony, but rather to add something that was missing.

“We really wanted an opportunity to give voice to the voiceless at Harvard. So many students identify with the African diaspora but don’t necessarily feel welcome as part of the larger community, and they don’t feel like their stories are being shared.”

So no, no segregation being brought back.

What is interesting is that even when I pointed this out, the conservative who posted this and some of his like minded friends argued that this was still wrong.  That it somehow cheapens the graduation.  That all should be happy with the one graduation without need for another and that what doing this does is encourage division and discord.  We should all be equal and colorblind.

Now I know that many people are going to say, what’s the problem with that?  Why have a separate ceremony? Why not be color blind and treat all equally?  And, this seemingly plausible argument based upon the premise of equality is also applied to hiring and voting and other such institutions and laws.

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My answer – nothing at all in regards to it being a good goal.  But to actually live it and act as if it is true only creates and sustains the racism still within our system.  The problem with this fine idea is that society – our governments, justice system, educational system, financial institutions, and businesses are not color blind.  All people are not treated equally regardless of color.

Conservatives use this ideal of equality  to argue against programs that benefit minorities, women, and the LGBTQ.   They use this ideal against those who protest inequality – Black Lives Matter and #MeToo.  They even use it to argue that those organizations that are for one group and not all are not only racist but promote racism and sexism and so forth.  The Black Caucus, the NAACP, NOW, and so forth are all racist and sexist organizations.

Their argument is that if these people would quit stirring the pot and agitating then the waters would still and everything would be all right.  They believe that there is no real problem with racism and sexism  in our institutions and society today.  Or, at least, one large enough to create such a fuss..

Consider the following though in regards to race.

  • When blacks were freed from slavery they were not given any money, any land, any possessions of their own, despite the fruit of their work having gone to their owners. In effect, they were freed only to too often become economic slaves with little difference from before.
  • That was followed by many long years of Jim Crow and KKK and voting restrictions and laws promoting whites but keeping down blacks. Laws that in their most blatant form existed until the 1970s.
  • The result of this, and more, was blacks were not, on average, able to accumulate land and wealth. Which meant they could not afford good school districts, good healthcare, good anything.  In effect they were not at the same starting point as whites on average.
  • Further, racism is still present in our society. It often takes the form of implicit biases, and so often easily not seen and ignored.  But nonetheless real.  As blacks know well.  As a look at the numbers show; any number – economic, educational, property, incarceration and arrests, etc.
  • Blacks get pulled over for driving while black.
  • They get followed more often in stores.
  • They get tossed out of stores for being black.
  • Resumes with obvious black names on them are turned down more often than the same resume is with a white name attached. Discrimination exists in hiring and firing, in grades, in getting loans, and on and on and on.

And this is only a few of the many inequalities in our society, inequalities that are ingrained in our society.  We have done the easy changes, the obvious ones, the in your face racism.  So much so that, even though it still exists, it is no longer thought polite to display in public.   But the implicit biases and institutional racism still exists.  It is just quieter in its expression, although its effects are just as damaging.   And this quietness of it is why dealing with it and finishing the job of creating a more just and equal society is so difficult now,   it is easy to deny and ignore.

Consider this idea of treating  everyone equal now a conservative kumbaya belief. However, this kumbaya is not real.  Current reality is not kumbaya.

We do not live in a world wherein justice is dispensed equally, where all have equal access to education and educational opportunities, where hiring and  firing and promotions are based solely on qualifications and accomplishments.

If you cannot admit or acknowledge the very real problems plaguing our country then these problems will fester, harming the lives of millions of Americans, until they explode.  The conservatives shout of equality and of the need to treat all the same now ignores the problem and is why, despite its seductive sound, it should be resisted.  Far from ending racism, it promotes it.

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I hear a voice in my head.  It is mine, and I know it is.  Knowing this though does not mean I do not wonder about it.

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I wonder, can consciousness exist without words?  Yes, some animals have at least some level of consciousness.  Apes, dogs, elephants, dolphins and whales, and many others. However, is there a limit to how far consciousness can be developed without words?  I know that those born deaf also carry on internal conversations, but in sign and gestures, not with words created in sounds.  So, do animals have a consciousness that communicates with itself through smells, gestures of the trunk, jumps out of water?  And can such communication of the self to self be considered language?  I wonder if the development of this, our, level of consciousness, was dependent upon language?  Did language come first and then consciousness?  Or did one go this far and then the other hurried to catch up and then pushed the other further?

From there I wonder at this need to communicate with ourselves.  We are our body, we are our brain.  So, why the words as if in conversation with another?  Even to the extent that many of us of talk out loud to ourselves.  What does this mean?

And I wonder what it means when sometimes this inner voice wonders what decision I am about to make. I resolve to not get pizza to eat for lunch.  And then my voice sometimes wonders if I will have pizza or not, resolving the question with the words “We’ll see”.  This last wonder may be about something particular to me, this uncertainty about what I am going to do as if I were observing the behavior of another person and not myself.  But, I do not think so.  I think it applies to many.

Which then leads me to wonder, is this part of the reason why our ancestors believed in spirits and gods.  Every time I read the Iliad  I am struck by how often the gods take control of individuals.  Or consider the world wide practice of shamanism in which a special person can become possessed by a spirit, or can contact and talk with such.  Is did this conversation with ourselves, when combined with dreams, hallucinations, fear of not existing and desire to know and understand all, lead to the creation of the supernatural and gods?

And then I wonder, is this why religion came first?  Many atheists like to believe that if religion had not come about and a secular alternative had come about instead that humanity would be hundreds or even thousands of years ahead of where we are now.  Yet, to me, this seems just an empty what if.  Just as it is impossible for a group of light sensing cells to make a jump to the eye of an eagle in one generation, so too with developing secular socials structures before religious ones. Secular social structures that could do the job that religious ones did not and could not exist in our ancient history.  Such structures needed time to develop.  Instead, due to our evolved nature, religious structures came first.

Inevitably so I believe, for many reasons.  One of which is the voice in my head.

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The belief that religion, in this case Christianity, is responsible for slowing down the progress of science, and that if not for Christianity science would be hundreds of years further advanced than it is now, is almost an article of faith for many atheists.  Perhaps most.  However, like most articles of faith, it is wrong.

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The reality is something much more complicated with the evidence showing that Christianity (and for this blog I will stick to this religion) and Christian organizations being a strong net benefit to science rather than a net harm.  I have discussed this before, most notably in my blogs Religion vs Science Part 1: Its More Complicated Than That and Part 2: Copernicus and Galileo.  But, this is one of those subjects that is worth visiting again since it is still very actively believed among  atheists.

Let’s start with what I am not saying. I am not saying that the Church has always been supportive and has not at times suppressed science and knowledge.

I am not saying that the Church has not on many occasions muddled minds and society in regards to science and knowledge.

I am not saying that Christian culture has not at times pushed against and tried to shout down science.

They have.

I am also not saying that without Christianity there would be no science.  There would have been.  Although I think it likely science would have been slower to develop or been developed by another religious group if Christianity did not exist.

In other words, what I am saying is that the Church has done many things that have helped science. I am saying that overall, when you look at the pluses and minuses, the Church has provided a strong net gain in the development and promotion of science.

I am fully cognizant of Copernicus and Galileo and Darwin; the big three that are usually used to illustrate the “truth” of the above meme.  Along with that is a more theoretical argument that believing in a God shuts down science and doesn’t allow for questioning.  However, those who make this argument overlook three facts.

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First Fact: The Church as an organization, as well as its religious individuals, supported science and knowledge, and made significant contributions to science.  In fact, just looking at Catholic clergy who have made significant contributions to science is impressive.   Here are just a very few.

  • Roger Bacon: Considered one of the foundational people in the creation of the modern scientific method.  He also made significant contributions to optics and mathematics.
  • Georges Lemaître: Came up with the big bang theory. He was also the first to derive Hubble’s law and made the first estimate of the Hubble Constant.
  • Bonaventura Cavalieri: Worked on the precursors of infinitesimal calculus and in optics and motion.
  • Gregor Mendel: founder of modern genetics.

This is just four important contributors to science out of literally hundreds if not thousands among the Catholic clergy.  .

And let us not overlook the contributions of religious people other than Catholics to science.

  • Theodosius Dobzhansky: one of the creators of the modern evolutionary synthesis.
  • Lord Kelvin: Did important work in thermodynamics, electricity, and physics.
  • James Maxwell: Formulated the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation which for the first time brought together electricity, magnetism, and light.
  • Robert Boyle: Widely considered to be the first modern chemist.

Then there is the fact that the Catholic Church strongly supported science for centuries.  The American historian of science J. L. Heilbron, in his book The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories, wrote that “The Roman Catholic Church gave more financial aid and support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, than any other, and, probably, all other, institutions.”

In fact, it was the Catholic Church and other religious schools which provided education and supported learning and the libraries that were so necessary for the creation and furtherance of science

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Fact 2:  It was often not as simple as a religious disagreement with the findings of science.

Much of Catholic beliefs on science were taken from Greek thinkers such as Aristotle, and not the Bible.  It was the conflict between the Aristotelian tradition and the new findings there were often the issue, and not a conflict with the Bible per se.

Even more important is that many of these discoveries were not obvious and were not fully supported by the evidence available at the time.  Just as when new discoveries are made today, the available scientific evidence often does not fully support one side or the other.

For example, there were serious problems with  Galileo’s proposal that the earth revolved around the sun, some of which were not resolved until the 19th century.  “The Case Against Copernicus” by Christopher Graney and Dennis Danielson, published in a 2014 issue of Scientific American highlights what those problems were, and though focusing on Copernicus does discuss Galileo and applies to his work too.  One interesting item to note here is that there were not just two competing theories – the geocentric model and heliocentric model – but three.  The third one was a geoheliocentric model, or Tychonic model, put forth by Tycho Brahe.  While Galileo’s observations were a problem for the  geocentric model, they were fully consistent with the Tychonic model.

In 1674 Robert Hooke, curator of experiments for the British Royal Society admitted, “Whether the Earth move or stand still hath been a problem, that since Copernicus revived it, hath much exercised the wits of our best modern astronomers and philosophers, amongst which notwithstanding there hath not been any one who hath found out a certain manifestation either of one or the other.”

By Hook’s time a growing majority of scientists accepted Copernicanism, although, to a degree, they still did so in the face of scientific difficulties.

Or take Darwin and evolution.  Yes, many religious groups and people condemned it.  However, there were many who supported it.  In fact, in the United States, evolution’s strongest supporter was a very religious scientist, Asa Gray.  In fact, much of the arguments against evolution came from other scientists using the science of the day to argue against Darwin’s findings.  However, even with all of this, by the time of Darwin’s death, Cambridge University, a church run university, told its students to assume ‘the truth … that the existing species of plants and animals have been derived by generation from others widely different.”. Not to mention Darwin being honored by being interred in Westminster Abbey  near to John Herschel (another religious scientist) and Isaac Newton.  Religion did not seem to hinder evolution’s ascendancy in science here.

Let me also point out that there was a strong element of empiricism in the Church, even early in the Medieval period.  Scholasticism for example, believed in using empiricism, reason, and logic in their secular studies  and use such to support Catholic doctrine.   It is one reason why so much of modern science grew out of the work of priests.

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Fact 3:  Modern social structures are not the result of immaculate conception.  They have a history.

This meme seems to believe that without the church and religion secular thought and science would have taken root instead and we would be much more advanced.  However, just as in evolution where a new structure cannot just arrive in one step (say the eye), but instead must start with what is and be modified over time, so too with social structures.

It is noteworthy that every ancient civilization arose with organized religion being integral to its structure.  Many scientists have argued that organized religion was essential in the creation of social structures larger than tribes of family groups.  That organized religion was necessary to give the larger groups consisting of many different family groups a new identity beyond that of family that would help resolve conflicts without causing the collapse of that society, among other benefits.

Given this necessity, there was no chance of a secular origin for science and our modern day society.  Just as the eye of an eagle is not going to appear within a generation to a creature with nothing more than a patch of light sensitive skin, so too this idea of science having a virgin birth is wrong.

 

To close this blog let me say that, long as it is, it is much too short to provide a complete response to this meme.  Nowadays I am trying to keep my blogs around 1000 words (unsuccessfully so in this case).  That is one reason I added the two links to my blogs mentioned earlier – Religion vs Science Part 1 and 2 as well as a link to The Case Against Copernicus.  I also wrote another blog of relevance here, Some Thoughts on Religion.

If you are really interested in getting my full arguments I would suggest reading them in addition to this blog.  I am also including a link to two short articles, Science Owes Much to Both Christianity and the Middle Ages by  James Hannam, PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge and a short article from the  PBS series Faith and Reason.

Or, take the short cut and instead of reading ask questions and challenge what I have written and discuss with an open mind.  And for those who agree, would love to hear that too, especially since I have a feeling mine is a minority position among my fellow atheists and that I will be hearing a great deal from them.

 

 

 

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Wednesday, we were able to add another school shooting to the ever growing list of school shootings.  Wednesday, we were able to add another mass shooting to the ever growing list of mass shootings.

Wednesday’s child is full of woe.

However, increasingly, in America every day is becoming a Wednesday.  The number of mass shootings is increasing. The number of school shootings is increasing.  The number of dead children is quickly increasing.  The number of Americans dead, wounded, or mourning is quickly increasing.

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And so far, all we have gotten is thoughts and prayers.  There is a time and purpose for thoughts and prayers.  But, they are not enough to stem this bloody tide.  There needs to be policy and actions and laws too. But those seem in short supply, for many reasons.  Something that is not the purpose of this blog to explore.

In this blog I do not intend to present specific policies and actions.  I do not intend to wade into numbers and research.  I do not intend to provide a specific way forward.  While I do have some specific ideas in regards to policies and actions, and have some specific ideas on ways forward (none of them quick nor easy), I do not intend to present them here.

Instead, what I want  briefly present are a few  very broad ideas of what a true solution to our gun violence problem would have to include.

But, before doing that, I want to define what a solution to the gun problem is and is not.

First, it is not armed guards and metal detectors and training on what to do when the seemingly inevitable happens.  It is not passing out guns to all the teachers, all the students, all Americans to use for protection.  It is not good guys with guns. One of my nieces stated it very well when she wrote:

The issue is not the good guys with guns not being around, it’s the bad guys with guns posing a threat in the first place and our country’s failure to protect their subsequent victims by arming them.

A true solution is not reactive, as were all of the “solutions” I mentioned already. Instead, it is proactive. It strives to prevent the act from happening in the first place.

I guess I should now mention goals.  What is our goal here?  To have everyone living in fear and tension but protected somehow by guns and machinery and such?

Or is it to have every child be able to go to school without a nagging fear in their and their parents mind about whether they will come home again, alive and unscathed; to have families, couples, individuals, groups be able to go to restaurants, movies, and malls without a tinge of fear contaminating their enjoyment.

My goal is for the latter.

So, a solution to this problem needs to be proactive and to promote a sense of being able to live your life safely.

Now, for a reality caveat.  There is and will be no perfect solution. Perfection does not exist in human affairs. No matter how good or how thorough, there will still be some gun violence. However, if we reduce such violence by 80%, 90%, or more…well, that would be good indeed.  When our government first started studying car safety in the 1960s, they did not eliminate all car fatalities.  But, they greatly reduced it and made driving much safer now than it was 50 years ago. As a result many tens of  thousands of individuals are still enjoying their lives, and many more thousands of family and friends are visiting these living people instead of the cold earth of their graves.

Second reality check. There is no one solution.  Gun violence stems from a variety of causes and happens for a variety of reasons.  Instead of a single solution, there will need to be many changes, many “solutions”.  And that is the main purpose of this blog, to highlight, in broad stokes,  what areas need to be changed.

 

UNLEASH THE RESEARCH

Currently the CDC is hamstrung and effectively prohibited by Congress from conducting any research into gun violence, its causes and solutions.  For over 20 years Congress has kept any money from going to research into the causes of gun violence and possible solutions to such violence.

That must change.  If we want to quit spinning our wheels on this issue and to find new and real solutions, we need information.  Ignorance, in this case, literally kills.

 

UNLEASH OUR STARVED MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES 

Mental health is one of those things we love to give lip service to, but not money. It is usually one of those areas with the least amount of money allocated to it, but which, despite this, is still one of the first to feel cuts when the budget must be trimmed.

A caveat here though.  Most of the mass shooters were not mentally ill.  In fact, the great majority were not – for example, the Las Vegas shooter.  Also, the vast majority of mentally ill do not commit such acts of violence.  In fact, the great majority of persons who exhibit the exact same symptoms as the shooters  do not commit such acts.

However, this is still worth doing.  Further research and work may help us more accurately identify those at risk of engaging in mass shootings.  An even better goal though would be to create a system of mental health services where those who might have become so do not.

Consider vaccinations as an analogy. Even without a vaccination, not everyone would get sick.  Many would though. Yet with vaccinations most of those who would have become sick no longer will.

To make this a reality though is going to involve a great deal more money being spent in this area than there is now.  Money for the research necessary to understand better, both the conditions and its causes and its prevention.  Money to set up the structures and resources that can effectively deliver that knowledge in a timely manner.

In addition, the benefits resulting from the money spent on this research and for the resources to effectively use the findings of that research, would extend far beyond the effect it would have on reducing mass shootings and gun violence. It would improve the lives of millions and thereby help the nation.

 

UNLEASH OUT SOCIAL SERVICES 

We have too many cracks and gaping holes in our social services.  People do not get the resources and knowledge they need to deal effectively with what life has thrown at them.  Often this would work in tandem with the unleash mental health part of the solution.

The most recent school shooting in Florida is a good illustration of that.  Here is my one and only link in this blog, an article about how the shooter “escaped years of warning”.   It shows how the police and school and other services really had no way to effective deal with this young man.

This is something that happens all too frequently.  We should be looking at what can be developed and created to better serve our fellow citizens.  Again, like mental health, this would benefit not only individuals, but also our country as a whole.  But, it would cost money.

However, I strongly suspect that the costs of providing both better mental health services and better social services would, in the long term, not only pay for themselves but provide a net gain in terms of increased productivity, less crime, fewer people in jails and mental institutions, and so forth.  In other words, just as an industry will go into debt to purchase machinery  that it believes will result in better profits in the long term, so too should we consider the money spent for these two areas an investment in our human potential.  An investment that, truth to tell, even if it only benefited the individuals using those services and society, but not the economy, would still be well worth it.  However, as I said, I suspect that if done properly, this is not an either choice but an and choice.

A thought here too – new ideas will have to be found, created, and tried.  Some will work. Some will fail.  We must realize that failures are a part of the process and one of the ways in which we learn.  In other word, do not let the failure of one idea stop the exploration of others.  Or cause us to go back to the way we used to do things.   We already know how poorly those are working.

 

GUN CONTROL

Any solution to gun violence will have to include gun control.  In fact, I would imagine that this will be a large part of any such solution.  Let me now say though that gun control does not mean banning all or even most guns.

But it does mean creating better databases for background checks, and finding ways to make them more effective.

It does mean that it applies to all guns and all gun purchases.

It does mean that some guns may be banned (some already are), or that certain sizes of ammo clips, or types of ammo may be banned.

It does mean that other gun related items may have to have background checks, for example, ammunition.

It does mean all of these and more need a thorough look at and probably trial to see how well they work.

It does mean we do not give up when one law or approach does not work.  Instead, analyze why and see if only a modification is needed or is the whole idea bad.  As someone who has had to suffer through the installation and start up of new production equipment, and through the use of new computer programs, I know that initially there are always problems and issues.  Some of them major, all of them a major pain in the ass. However, to have stopped would have been a grave mistake in most cases, and after the issues had been worked out they proved themselves greatly beneficial.  We should not be making any grave mistakes of a similar nature here.

And let me quickly address the claims of many of those against all or most gun control laws that we already have hundreds or even thousands of laws on the books,  just enforce them.  The problem is that they are all local and inconsistent.  A city or state may have strong gun control laws, yet if their neighbors do not then they are not going to be effective.  Just drive across the city limits or state lines, buy your gun, and come back home again.   Instead of working together, these laws often work at cross purposes.

 

CONCLUDING REMARKS COMPLETE WITH A WARNING

I do not know if this covers everything that would need to happen for an effective solution to our gun violence crisis.  I do know though that these are the minimum.  And I do know that for most of those items listed above, the benefits to the people of the United States and to the economic and social health of this nation would extend beyond just controlling gun violence more effectively.

However, we do need to be sensitive to individual rights and work to ensure that we do not violate them in the name of safety.

I know that many will interpret this solely in terms of the second amendment.   I freely acknowledge that the second amendment does include the right of individuals to own guns.  This, by the way, is a change in my previous position due to numerous debates and discussions and readings and research.  However, that same research that changed my opinion on whether the second amendment applies to the individual also convinced me that gun controls, including the banning of some, and gun registration, does not violate that second amendment.

Which is my long winded way of saying the rights that I am most concerned about are not the second amendment rights.  My concerns are for the personal rights of the individual.

The right of the individual to be different, unique, eccentric without being labelled and treated as mentally ill.  The right of those who are mentally ill to be fully informed and to give informed consent to all treatments, to not be abused, and to live their lives freely.  The right of the individual to appeal any and all decisions made in regards to them.

Newtown Commemorates One Month Anniversary Of Elementary School MassacreIMG_7319_1507149137045_67979013_ver1.0_900_675

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Town Of Parkland In Mourning, After Shooting At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Kills 17

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Finally, it seems to me that the best memorial to the many lives lost and families shattered by gun violence are not flowers and candles, not poems and pictures, not services and statues, but seeing people live who might have died had we not changed how things are done.

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In the beginning, humanity hunted, humanity gathered, and they did so in family groups.  These groups were the earliest and most basic human social structure.

As time advanced, these groups grew larger through natural processes at work even today.  This natural increase was furthered and quickened by humanity’s growing knowledge and technology which allowed them to die less often and live longer.  And to support more people.

lepenskivirart2Larger groups had several advantages. With more people, some could be spared to become craftsmen or tradesmen – pottery, weaving, knapping, trade, etc.  This benefited the now enlarged family group.  Another important benefit is that having more people meant that it was harder for other, often competing, family groups to force you to move from favorable locations.  Or take away your resources and access to needed and important minerals and water.  Or, to just wipe you out.

And, being bigger meant that if felt it necessary, you could do that to them!

However, as primarily a hunting and gathering society, there were limits to how large your group could grow.  But, then along came agriculture.  Suddenly, those limits were gone.

But, as with most advances, there were problems too. Now a society could grow larger, but family groups could only grow so far and so fast. However, several family groups working together could grow quite quickly and with fewer limits.

But, you knew there was going to be another but, there was another problem.  How to hold these different family groups together when one family group became upset and mad at another. After all, their primary loyalty had been and was to their family.  Family feuds back then were often deadly.

The answer – Religion.  Well, really, the answer was to create a new identity that E0702 KLENZE 9463transcended  family loyalties so  that even when family groups got pissed at each other the society stayed whole and the conflict was largely worked out within the new, larger society instead of tearing it apart.  But, an essential part of that identity was religion.

This was a religion grown from the beliefs of these family groups but organized and made bigger.  And then used to create a new identity and to not only resolve potentially societal suicidal disputes, but to provide a means and motive to redistribute resources (even though abused, a necessity too – for example, irrigation).

For the most part I do not think this was consciously done, although at times I am sure that aspects of it were. But, rather, this was a natural growth.  Also, I would imagine that the attempt to create this new unity with religion failed often and the nascent society fell apart. But, some succeeded and when they did, well they were bigger with all the benefits mentioned above.  Further, they were more organized and able to have people do things not related to just providing food – arts, trades, trading, soldiers, etc

Religion was a success.  And nothing else worked as well.   It is why you never find an early civilization in which religion was not an essential part of its structure.  It had to be for such structures to exist.

Nothing human is static.  We change and grow and react in response to the non-static world around us. This holds true for religion too.  Religion started to move beyond largely societal commands and strictures and assume a more and more moral aspect to it. Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad and others are aspects of this changing nature.

One other aspect of this use of religion as national identity: those who were not of the same religion were then not a part of us, and thus dangerous and suspicious.  Reading the history of England as it switched from Church of England to Catholic and back again is an interesting read and an illustration of this truth.  It is why I say it is not so much religion that is the cause of so much violence, but its wedding to the state.

Which brings us to the gradual divorce of that married couple, once joined as one.  As Religious-Affiliationhumanity was more able to easily travel to other countries with other beliefs, and as humanity became better able to communicate about those other peoples – the printing press being the biggest boost to that – people within countries started to question their beliefs.  Which was a threat to the state – as mentioned earlier.

This warfare and violence though was abhorred by many good men, including some very religious believers.  And the idea started and grew and was developed that religion and state should be divorced, and then kept separated in order to control and lessen the violence and hatred.  Interestingly enough, the earliest proponent of a complete separation of religion and state was a Puritan theologian and founder of the Baptist Church in America, Roger Williams (he also founded the state of Rhode Island with that principle in mind).

A couple of hundred of years later a country was born in which the state and church were explicitly separate and forbidden to join together.   Note, by state I mean government.  And that is not the same as a society and culture.

Now, this was such a good idea that over the next two hundred years (a bit over actually) this idea spread and became the norm, or at least given lip service.  Secular non-religious institutions also grew that provided the same functions that only religion used to provide – education, healthcare, providing for the poor, etc. Abulcasis-blistering

However, a bit over two hundred years is a very short period of time. I imagine the transition from family groups to cities with religions took considerably longer.  Which is why we still see the remnants of the older attitude of identifying the state with a specific religion rise up.  It is why Buddhists in Myanmar are persecuting and committing genocide upon Muslims there.   Or why Muslims in many Islamic countries do not allow conversions.  Or why religious people in communist and officially atheistic countries were persecuted (what is the issue here is the identification of one religious view with the state, no matter what that view might be).

And why we still see it rear its head here in the United States.

Immediately after 9/11, the city of Fort Worth decided to hold a grand meeting of city employees to allow a sense of grief to be shared and supported by our shared unity. However, this meeting or ceremony was decidedly Christian, complete with the police Chaplain giving a prayer in the name of Jesus Christ amen.

My wife, who is an atheist, and a Buddhist friend of hers  were left with a sense of betrayal, of being left out. Were they not Americans too?  Did they not feel shock and grieve?   Instead of unifying all Americans, it divided.

It was just after this that God Bless America became a traditional 7th inning stretch song at baseball games.   A way to provide unity and show you were a true blue American. My wife and I, as atheist, refused to sing it, and even refused to stand for it because it came to symbolize the United States as a Christian nation.

Last Thursday was the National Day of Prayer, itself a relic of the old religion as national identity. Many presidents in the past have worked to offset that by trying to include other faiths in these prayers.  But, it still is a relic of the old identifying of the state with one religious view. 170x170bb

More recently our government has been more and more influenced and pandering to one specific religious group. Towards that end, they are working to make it easier to use religion as a justification for discrimination and injustice

I mentioned culture and society earlier and how they are different than governments.  But, while they are different, they do influence it.  This is especially true in a democracy and cannot be any other way.  It creates a bit of tension at times a lot of tensions at others, and it provides a challenge in regards to politicians and government workers at times.  For the most part though, the government has managed to stay secular and maintain that wall of separation. However, I believe that we are now undergoing one of those times when that wall will be attacked, and will be cracked.  Not destroyed, but cracked.

What this shows though is that the replacement of religion as a glue holding people together, as a way of providing a national identity and unity still exists and is still a powerful force.  However the difference between today and the past is that the population is diverse whereas in the past is was largely homogeneous.  That means instead providing a national identity and unifying us, it provides an identity for some and serves to divide us.

I do not think that religion will ever disappear (after all, the family has not disappeared, that primal beginning of all human societies) – nor should that be our goal (very far from it). But, I do think that our secular government with its secular institutions needs to be protected.  It is a necessity for the continued growth of a more peaceful and just world.

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