Some Late Links

We May Have Snakes To Thank For Our Acute Vision:

‘McGrew’s snake-encounter analysis in the paper Snakes as hazards: modelling risk by chasing chimpanzees is one test of what’s known as the snake-detection theory of primate origins, a set of hypotheses that suggest we (along with other primates) owe certain features of our evolution to the risks posed by death and injury from snakes.’

New flying reptile found in Transylvania:

‘Using the only fossil found of the new pterosaur, a neck vertebra, paleontologists have determined that it was much smaller than at least one of its fellow Transylvanian compatriots. It belonged to a family of pterosaurs called the azhdarchids which are known for their big bodies, incredibly long necks and overall gracile form so it was a slight departure from that general plan. These azhdarchid pterosaurs, along with myriad other animals, populated a subtropical ecosystem called Haţeg Island.’

Beetles beat out extinction:

‘The study explores beetles as far back as their origins in the Permian period, 284 million years ago. When compared to the fossil record of other animal groups such as clams, corals, and vertebrates, beetles have among the lowest family-level extinction rates ever calculated. In fact, no known families in the largest beetle subgroup, Polyphaga, go extinct in their evolutionary history. The negligible beetle extinction rate is likely caused by their flexible diets, particularly in the Polyphaga, which include algae, plants, and other animals.’

China’s wind farms produce more energy than America’s nuclear plants:
‘Just last year, the total amount of energy harvested from China’s wind farms went up an impressive 16 percent from the previous year, and was enough to power 110 million homes. That’s pretty incredible. Compared directly to their nuclear power output, the 115 gigawatts of wind power produced by China in 2014 dwarfed the 20,000 megawatts (a gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts) from its nuclear sector, as Richard Macauley points out at Quartz, and is more than the total output of power from all of the nuclear plants in the US.’

New Experiments in the Search for Quantum Gravity:
‘Yale University has received a grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation to fund experiments that researchers hope will provide new insights into quantum gravity. Jack Harris, associate professor of physics, will lead a Yale team that aims to address a long-standing question in physics — how the classical behavior of macroscopic objects emerges from microscopic constituents that obey the laws of quantum mechanics.’

Prehistoric crocodile discovered in Chatham County:
‘This specimen was about 9 feet long and was probably a top predator, feasting on armored reptiles and early mammals found at the time, about 231 million years ago. This is the beginning of what’s known as the late Triassic Period, when what is now Chatham County was near the equator in a warm, humid environment of ferns and conifers.

Scientists know the age of the creature not from its bones but from the age of the rocks in which it was found, in a quarry more than a decade ago.’

Stanley Jaki on Einstein’s Failure

‘The year of that Slovay Congress, was, it is well to recall, the year in which Heisenberg gave his derivation of the principle of indeterminacy concerning measurements in physics. One can therefore in a sense understand Einstein’s tactics in taking on the Copenhagen interpretation at its nerve center, which consisted in the insistence that measurements were inconceivable without someone doing them. Thus it would be argued that the act of measurement, which in one way or another implied pointer readings and therefore a reliance on light quanta, deprived the measurement of absolute precision. Such insistence when elevated into a first principle became equivalent to withdrawing into a citadel. Once confined to measurements within that citadel, one could declare that physical theory was limited to the measurable and therefore had no need of hidden variables. Withdrawal into that citadel also meant the the viewing of anything outside it as unreal. It was such a citadel that Einstein wanted to conquer from within, by trying to devise a thought experiment in which absolute precision was in principle possible. He was bound to fail for the very reason that no measurement is possible without observation. But it did not follow from this that knowledge of reality was equivalent to measuring it with absolute precision. Philosophically the citadel in question did not represent the full range of man’s knowing reality, and it certainly did not represent the full range of modern physics. Einstein’s own theory of relativity was a case in point, and all members of the Copenhagen school could have been forced to admit that it was a telling case.’ (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Road of Science and the Ways to God’, p. 209)

Stanley Jaki on the Copenhagen Theory

‘Whatever the distance of human passions from atomic physics, the real question was whether one’s epistemological attitude was truly general, that is, consistent or not. The impression Bohr gave was that one was to have two kinds of epistemology, one for atomic phenomena, another for everything else, but it was still to be explained whether the understanding, or episteme, could be split in two. On this decisive point Bohr gave at best an impression which was vague and superficial. Staying with superficial impressions means staying on the surface, and this in turn implies the avoidance of deep questions. Typically enough, Bohr completed the final review of his epistemological conflict with Einstein with the remark that “through a singularly fruitful cooperation of a whole generation of physicists we are nearing the goal wheere logical order to a large extent allows us to avoid deep truth.” The most obvious of such deep truths should have been for Bohr the truth of the complementarity of matter and light, waves and particles, atomic stability and indeterminacy. The truth that they were complementary to one another was not a matter of observation, but an inference, and a genuinely metaphysical one, which had no justification in the Copenhagen theory. The truth in question was about the truth of a reality which had complementary aspects. These aspects could really complement one another only if they inhered in a deeper reality, about which Bohr could only be agnostic. A harmony of relations or aspects, complementing one another, such was Bohr’s epistemological message, a message void of reference to the ontological reality of anything harmonious. About the entity which embodied the harmony of relations he was not permitted by his own premises to make any claim and he carefully avoided doing so. In a truly pragmatist way, which he learned from Hoffding, a forerunner of William James, Bohr could speak of fruits, though not of their harmny (which is never a matter of direct observation) and certainly not of the tree which produced the fruits, to say nothing of the soil which supported and nourished the tree. For Bohr the deepest aspect of existence was pragmatic fruitfulness, the rather shallow perspective in which he saw physics itself: “Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of the present position of physics is that almost all the ideas which have ever proved to be fruitful in the investigating of nature have found their right place in a common harmony without thereby having diminished their fruitfulness.”

As will be seen shortly, this was not even true of quantum mechanics, a fact which should surprise no one. The really creative elements of quantum mechanics are not the data observed by physicists bu the marvelous ideas formed in their heads. Of those heads few were as impressive as that of Bohr, who for many was a twentieth-century Moses with two flaming horns on his forehead. The horns were the horns of complementarity, but as interpreted by Bohr they could not secure reality to the atomic realm, to say nothing of Moses or Bohr himself. Bohr’s pairs of complementarity resembled pairs of horns from which one could not even infer unambiguously that they were rooted in the same head and thereby truly complementary or that the head itself was real, and even more fundamentally real than the horns themselves.’ (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Road of Science and he Ways to God’, p. 205-206)

Notes on Divine Conceptualism as Modal Metaphysics

- Suppose we think of possible worlds (PW) as God’s knowledge of his potential creative acts.

– PW are then real – they really may have been. There is real possibility.

– They are not, however, concrete – this isn’t a divinely inspired David Lewis scheme.

– This account of modality is built on a notion of God’s freedom – and hence, modality is built-in to the world, as it were.

– A challenge may come from divine simplicity – how can we avoid a composition of thought in God on this account? An answer comes from Aquinas (I’m paraphrasing here): God knows/understands thru his nature, which is simple – there is no composition in God on account of his knowledge/understanding.

– Perhaps we could tie this in to an account of God’s self-knowledge.

A Few Thoughts On My Neighbor

This post is also a comment, in reply to Alastair Roberts take on the prophet Oded and the Good Samaritan (there remains a lot of work to be done here, as this is a very rough sketch):

Immediately preceeding Levitucs 19:18, which Jesus quotes in the parable (as you noted) is a series of injunctions of Israel’s practice of justice – treating the poor fairly, no injustice in judgement, no stealing, no swearing, fairly well-known moral teachings. These sayings/teachings/whatever have a fairly universal quality – I have a hard time seeing these commands to properly execute justice as pertaining to *only* Israelites/covenant people.

Having said that, I fully agree that the background question relates to the question of membership in the people of God. I don’t think it follows, though, that the status of ‘neighbor’ is restricted to those who are alienated (sp?) covenant members.

Following from that (my Barthianism is about to show – take that, Wright!) I think that all people are, in a sense, the people of God by virtue of God’s election of humanity in Christ. What follows from that is that while all people are elect, not all people accept said election, and hence resist (I strongly agree with Lewis when he says that hell is locked from the inside out) the grace of the covenant, and are hence alienated from the covenant. So I see there being a distinction between the people of God who are in the Messiah, and the people of God more broadly as those who are elected by God in his election of Christ. The former are charged with, as you said, restoring the alienated and wounded, who are the latter.

Some Bonhoeffer Thoughts

These are my comments on Kevin Davis’ outstanding 2-post series on Bonhoeffer’s religionless Christianity – do give them a read here. At the risk of self-advertising, here are some more of my thoughts on Bonhoeffer

‘We really don’t know what Bonhoeffer meant by “metaphysics,” and that is a big part of the problem with interpreting him here — but it is clear that he wants to secularize Christian concepts in some sense.’

There is definitely a problem there – I suspect, based on his reference to 12th-13th century as being when man ‘came of age’ that he has *some* form of scholastic metaphysics in his sights, but as you note, none of these things are carefully defined or discussed. The safe route would be to take him as simply trying to say how we can be Christians and have something to say to the world when God isn’t a given – stop trying to plug up apologetic/existential ‘gaps’ with God, stop trying to make man feel guilty when he’s oblivious to it, and simply live in faith in the world. That seems to be the safest option. But, again (again) this may not be the case – he speaks of Bultmann ‘not going far enough’ but then he also writes about how the mythology ‘is the thing’ of Christianity. Does he want us to return to the God of the Bible – revealed in weakness, operating in ways that are foolish to the world because of that weakness – or does he (as he almost seems to hint at) want us to do away with god-talk altogether and simply live in the world in faith?

Part of this also turns on the issue of the ‘secular’. You see that a lot, in guys like Charles Taylor, James KA Smith, etc – but who has pronounced us to be residents of a ‘secular’ age? No doubt our everyday experience may reflect a deepening secular-ity, but so what? Experience may be (and often is) wrong – why do we need to make the faith fit into our experience of the world as secular? There’s a lot of baggage here that needs to be opened and subjected to scrutiny when it is all too often simply taken to be truth.

The critique of Bonhoeffer’s uncritical acceptance of modernity or nonreligious man is right and could probably be extended to most modern theology. What’s interesting is that there still is a ‘given’ – only it’s no longer God’s existence but man’s non-religiousness. It’s not enough to just say that man has come of age – to paraphrase Plantinga, you don’t call something into question by simply saying (even loudly and passionately), ‘I hereby call this into question’ – you have to so why such and such is the case. Simply saying that man has learned to live without God as a working hypothesis won’t do it.

‘But I would caution ourselves. For example, the “Hellenization thesis” where Greek and Hebrew thought forms are strictly contrasted, which dominated 20th century theology, is not entirely without merit, even if we now know its over-simplifications.’

I agree completely – one shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater in any case. The ‘problem space’ that we’ve been given by your example of the Hellenization thesis (though I more or less ocnsider the thesis *as a whole* to be wrong) has given us a good deal worth thinking about. Let’s not write off the good that can come from any problem space, even if we see what caused it as quite mistaken (as I think)!

I almost get the feeling that Bonhoeffer really didn’t know *how* to be modern in a way that is recognizably Christian but also not merely an apologetic religion. I think a good deal can be gleaned from his earlier writing – his christology lectures show how he was willing to affirm orthodox doctrines (virgin birth etc) while also affirming that they can’t be verified as an object of strictly historical study. His point being that things like the VB etc aren’t historical in the sense that their truth is contingent upon correct historical methodology. This does away with the need to base faith on ‘evidence’ as apologetics would have us do without relegating it to the realm of ‘myth’.

This can, I believe, be tied in with a remark he made about Bultmann in which he states that he doesn’t believe that Bultmann went far enough – and that remark really puzzled me. I think we can reasonably assume that he meant that, as a matter of consistency, Bultmann should have also demythologised God instead of rather arbitrarily stopping with him. So Bonhoeffer is perhaps caught between the affirmation of orthodoxy and his rebellion against apologetic religion – one of which leads to demythologization (which, as you noted, he saw as ‘the thing itself’) and one of which leads to a form of historical rationalism.

Sunday Links

The Legacies of Idealism:

‘We’re coming into a different state of materialism and pessimism right now. Philosophical topics about agency, animals, thinking machines, the hard problem of consciousness, and the ethics of just about everything look like they are up for grabs. We are living in a philosophical age, and it is not exactly clear if professionalized philosophy is up to the challenge. It’s maybe no wonder that people are looking back to modern philosophy’s heroic period, when Kant, Reinhold, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel et al. took on modern life in all its complexity and tried to fit it all together in a fully rigorous fashion. After all, Kant said that in the darkness of pure reason, it’s philosophy that gives us orientation, and that’s what people by and large seek from it. In large parts of the world outside of the USA and Europe, big chunks of everyday life are lived out in terms of philosophical questions such as “What would it mean for me to be leading my own life,” or even “What is it to be modern? Do I have to stop being me to be modern?” When people ask those questions, it’s not long thereafter that they start turning to the idealists to see what they had to say. The idealists believed that we had to look at things in a big holistic way, to ask our questions in terms of what Heidegger later called the “meaning of being.” We are always orienting ourselves in terms of the “whole,” even if much of it necessarily has to remain the background and defies full explicitation.’

Breaking News: Aramark Goes All-In on Cage Free, Marking More Progress for Hens:

‘Aramark is the largest U.S.-based food service company, running dining operations at thousands of locations across the country, including healthcare institutions, universities and school districts, stadiums and arenas, and businesses. Today, I’m proud the company is announcing that it will switch all 20 million pounds of liquid eggs it uses each year in the United States to cage-free by 2020, after working with us. This decision will improve the lives of roughly 750,000 chickens per year and it reinforces the larger food industry trajectory on this issue: cage confinement has no place in the future of the egg industry. I wrote recently that Sodexo had made a similar announcement, so now two of the largest food service providers have partnered with us to the benefit of an extraordinary number of birds.’

No, You Cannot Catch An Individual Photon Acting Simultaneously As A Pure Particle And Wave

‘Technically, the headlines are not incorrect. Yet, to me and others, they imply something more radical than what was actually observed. To cut to the chase, an individual photon cannot be observed acting as both a pure particle and wave at the same time. But if you assemble a group of many different photons, you can observe some acting like particles and others acting like waves. Many stories did not make this clear.’

Big Bang for Birds:

‘On the heels of one of the greatest findings in the field of ornithology, announced last month, bird researchers are now entering a new frontier in the study of what makes birds tick. A multinational project involving 200 scientists from 20 countries revealed that the bird species we know today in fact originated right after the dinosaurs became extinct. Science Magazine declared the news as one of the 10 biggest discoveries of 2014.’

Car-Size Stingray May Be World’s Largest Freshwater Fish:

‘Scientists working in Thailand’s Mae Klong River made a big find last week: an enormous stingray that they think is a contender for the largest freshwater fish ever documented by researchers.

The ray was caught and released in about 65 feet (20 meters) of water in the Amphawa District, about an hour outside Bangkok.

Nantarika Chansue, a veterinarian and professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, helped catch and measure what she calls the “big one.” The ray (Himantura polylepis or H. chaophraya) was 7.9 feet (2.4 meters) across and 14 feet (4.3 meters) long and weighed an estimated 700 to 800 pounds (318 to 363 kilograms), she said via e-mail.’

Torture as the Norm (WARNING: GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF TORTURE CONTAINED IN LINK):

‘These questions rarely appear in the work of those analyzing torture through the lens of a state of exception. Instead, these scholars operate a level of abstraction that ignores U.S. history and contemporary punishment. After September 11th, the United States didn’t suddenly enact entirely new torture policies and radically depart from American practices (an assertion found in countless essays on torture and September 11th). Instead, the Senate report revealed variations on practices that have existed in U.S. history stretching back centuries. In some cases, U.S. torturers operated in a state of exception, but in others they received legal sanction. Today, torture occurs in a complex milieu that mixes law and untrammeled exercises of power. Most Americans will never confront the possibility that they will be tortured, but this is hardly true for many who are poor, mentally-ill or in some way marginalized from society. To understand and alleviate their plight, we receive no guidance from those adopting the work of Agamben and Schmidt to talk about states of exception. Perhaps it’s time to abandon such uninformed and one-dimensional approaches to torture.’