“The On Being Project is located on Dakota Land”

May 22, 2022 • 12:15 pm

I may have written on this topic a while back, but it came to mind again today. I do my grocery shopping a little after 7 a.m. on Sundays, as the stoe opens at 6 and they’ve had time to restock before I shop. The downside of this habit is that Krista Tippett‘s NPR show, “On Being”—formerly called “On Faith” until “faith” was no longer such a virtue—starts at 7 a.m.  Ergo, I have to listen to Tippett and her numinous/spiritual guests blather on, often with the host verging on tears, about, well, “being”.

Fortunately, my drive back and forth to the store takes about 15 minutes total, so I’m not tortured too much. But as I was coming back, I heard the very last words of Tippett’s broadcast, “The ‘On Being’ Proect is located on Dakota land.” That was it.

Searching a bit online, I found that there’s a whole page on Tippett’s land acknowledgment.

The Dakota people comprise largely what were called the Sioux people, who actually include both Dakota and Lakota. But never mind, just remember that these were Native Americans.

Here’s most of the acknowledgment:

About 12 miles away from The On Being Project’s central office, the Minnesota River joins the Mississippi River at a place called Bdote.

In Dakota, one translation of “bdote” is “where two waters come together,” and the bdote where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers concur is an especially sacred site — the center of the world to the Dakota.

Bdote is a place that carries a complicated and layered history, in the thousands of years the Dakota people have been in relationship and kinship with the land here, and in the several hundred years since European settlers colonized the land that the state of Minnesota now occupies. The United States’ land seizures were a project of spiritual destruction that denied the Dakota free and unhindered access to the land that fundamentally shapes their identity and spirituality.

Today, 11 reservations are located within the state of Minnesota: four Dakota communities in the southern portion of the state and seven Ojibwe communities in the north. The On Being Project pays tribute to the Dakota and Ojibwe.

We invite you to consider the land on which you live and the confluence of legacies that bring you to stand where you are — particularly through critical reflection and conversation with your own community. We encourage you to use the resources below to assist in your exploration.

They then give a list of “resources” for investigating history, including “Honor Native Land: A Guide — a step-by-step guide for writing a land acknowledgment.”

We all know that there are some issues with land acknowledgments: some lands changed hands many times over history, “ownership” was not always considered the same thing as it is today, and so on. But we also know that Native Americans were pretty much the victims of settler displacement and generally got a raw deal.

Yet I hear a land acknowledgment like Tippett’s, I hear this:

“Our people stole land from the Dakota, and that’s where our business is located. But aren’t I a good person for saying this?”

Somehow I think that the Dakota, if their land was indeed stolen, would prefer to get the damn land back, or some monetary reparations. Do you think that they care whether Tippett’s upper-class listeners “critcially reflect and explore”? They don’t want to be paid “tribute”; they want to be paid MONEY.

To me, “land acknowledgments” are the height of wokeness. They are addressed not to Native Americans, but to well-fed academics; they accomplish nothing save trumpeting the virtues of the acknowledgers, and they don’t offer any reparations for the theft that is explicitly acknowledged. (I couldn’t find anything in the “On Being” page about giving reparations to the Dakota.)

If “wokeness” is in some sense equivalent to “making useless performative gestures that at the same time show what a good person you are,” then land acknowledgments are its apogee. They are performances not for Native Americans, but for others who were also complicit in the theft.

Put up or shut up. And if you really think you’re responsible for stealing land, give it back—or pay for it.

Debate: Francis Collins vs. Richard Dawkins on God

May 22, 2022 • 10:30 am

Here’s a new episode from “The Big Conversation” (sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation!) in which Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health and an evangelical Christian, debates—or rather discusses—a variety of issues with evolutionist and atheist Richard Dawkins.  The moderator is Justin Brierly.

The argument centers on religion, especially on what constitutes “evidence” for God.  You might ask, “Why on earth would Dawkins debate Collins, since there’s no chance that either will change their minds?” But I think Dawkins took the time to do this to show the intellectually depauperate nature of Collins’s “evidence” for God. That evidence includes the laws of physics, our appreciation of beauty, the moral behavior of humans, and so on. Collins is not a “sophisticated” theologian, but remember that he’s not a theologian but a scientist who came to believe in Jesus through observing a waterfall frozen in three spouts (“the Trinity”). Collins seems to have picked up most of his arguments for God from a combination of C. S. Lewis and more modern “apologetics”, like the “fine-tuning” argument for God based on physical constants.

Reader Rick, who sent me this link, says “I’ve watched most of this and Collins is irritating.  When Richard points out a contradiction in his God hypothesis, he simply shrugs it off and says God can be anything He wants.  What a copout!”

But more about that contradiction below. In the meantime, if you want to hear a discussion between two smart guys, one of whom is subject to delusions, have a listen to this 1½ hour video. Let me add that Collins is an amiable and likable fellow, and was friends with Hitchens, helping Hitch with his cancer treatment.  What puzzles me is how such an apparently nice guy can buy into a passel of religious nonsense for which there’s no evidence.

But click to listen. It’s a better discussion than you might think.

They begin by discussing covid: Richard thinks that the lockdowns were premature, but Collins extolls scientific community’s rapid response in creating the mRNA vaccines.

With that out of the way, it’s onto the Big Questions of religion.  Collins recounts his conversion from atheism to religion, saying that he found that “faith was more rational than atheism” given the nature of the world. As for why Collins became a Christian rather than a Hindu or Jew, he says that he “needed an anchor for his faith”, and found one in “Jesus Christ, a historical figure about which we know a great deal”. Of course that “great deal” is solely from the Bible, and many of us aren’t even convinced that the anchor for Collins’s faith even existed. It would have been better for Collins to admit that “the great deal” is found entirely in the Bible, and different accounts of Jesus say different things.

The bit where I think Collins’s argument for God starts going awry is in his discussion with Richard about evolution.  Richard asks Collins the penetrating question, “If God could do anything, why did he choose to produce humans via the tortuous process of evolution?” Couldn’t He have just poofed all life into existence, as Genesis describes? And given—and Collins seems to agree—that a perfectly naturalistic process of evolution via natural selection could explain the appearance of organic design, why did God choose a mechanism that made Him superfluous?” (The question doesn’t arise about whether Collins thinks that with the appearance of H. sapiens the purpose of evolution has now been fulfilled: we have a product that evolved into God’s image.)

Collins’s answer smacks of a posteriori-ism, making the necessity of evolution into a virtue. As Collins says, “Evolution makes me even more in awe of the Creator than if God had just poofed things into existence.” In other words, God had a Big Plan for creating humans, and that Big Plan was evolution. Isn’t that mah-velous?  But he doesn’t explain why going through this Big Plan is more admirable and elegant than poofing things into existence. After all, several lineages of Homo, as well as of hominins, went extinct.

Collins has a further response:  God is all about order, and wanted a Universe that follows elegant mathematical laws. (Collins notes that the existence of those laws themselves constitutes evidence for God.) Ergo, we had evolution, which followed physical laws.  But this conflicts with Collins’s later assertion that it would be foolish to presume anything about the mind of God. After all, until 1859, all theologians thought that God cared more for creating humans instantly than for “following mathematical laws”.

The fine-tuning argument—the notion that the laws of physics were set up by God to allow the appearance of life and God’s Chosen Species—is especially appealing to Collins, even though there are naturalistic explanations for it. But Richard notes that if there were any argument that would convince him of God, it would be one related to fine-tuning. However, he adds that, as Hitch would say, “Collins has all his work before him.” Even if “fine-tuning” were to constitutes some sort of evidence for a Creator who made physical law, it gives no credence to Christianity and Jesus, who are smuggled in by Collins as an afterthought.

Richard adds the usual argument about how a a creator could come into being who ws so complex that he could bring into being the laws of physics. Collins responds that God could do it because he resides “outside of space and time.” Richard rightfully dismisses that notion as another a posteriori argument brought in without evidence to save God, noting that Collins’s “beyond space and time” argument “smacks of inventing a new cop-out instead of providing a proper explanation.”

Finally there’s Collins’s “contradiction,” which begins about 47:45 in the discussion. It is of course about theodicy. Why is there physical evil in a world created by an omnipotent and benevolent God? But Collins has a response, which I’ll call the “Let Her Roll Hypothesis”. It is this: God created the world so that it would obey his physical laws. And those physical laws simply allow for the existence of evil. Tectonic plates create earthquakes and tsunamis that kill innocents, cancers arise from mutations that obey physical laws, viruses evolve. In other words, God is more concerned with maintaining a Natural Order instead of mitigating suffering by interceding.

In response to Richard’s query that, if God can do miracles, couldn’t He have mitigated natural evil?, Collins says that miracles are a special case, to be used only in very special circumstances when convincing the world of God’s existence and power are overwhelmingly important. (One of these miracles, avers Collins, was the Resurrection.) Otherwise, it’s Let Her Roll, and if a kid gets leukemia, or a tsunami kills several hundred thousand people,  or a virus kills several million people, well, that’s just the byproduct of how God has chosen to run the Universe. It’s a remarkably sneaky but clever argument. (It could also be called “The Argument for the Rarity of Miracles.”) Evil, in other words, is simply a byproduct of God’s penchant for natural order and natural law, even if he could flout natural law if He wanted.

On to the query, “Where did the laws of physics come from?” (Dawkins says that if anybody would convince him of God, it would be that point.)  But he adds, why smuggle in Christianity and Jesus? Collins says that God was in a position to create the laws of physics because “God exists outside of into space and time.” (This doesn’t sound like a real argument to me.)

Richard responds that saying God is “outside time and space” is another a posteriori explanation, something that “smacks of inventing a new cop-out instead of providing a proper explanation”

The last part of the discussion is about human altruism, an altruism that Collins sees as evidence for God. In contrast, Dawkins sees it a carryover from the millions of years over which our ancestors lived in small bands in which reciprocal altruism (and kin selection) would have been adaptive. The “rule of thumb” to be nice and helpful to others, argues Dawkins, shows that “altruism” could have been a product of adaptive evolution.  The same goes for beauty, with Collins seeing human appreciation for music, art, and landscapes as evidence for God, while Richard notes that if birds can show a preference for beauty (this is Richard Prum’s argument for sexual selection), then so could humans.

My take? It’s an interesting discussion, but of course was doomed from the outset by both men holding incompatible worldviews. I have to say though—and call me biased if you will—that the ability of naturalism to solve scientific problems gives me a preference for Richard’s naturalism over Collins’s supernaturalism. In fact, Collins appears to believe in a lot of things for which there’s no evidence, like the Resurrection, and this detracts from his scientific worldview in other areas. Further, Collins appears to make stuff up as he goes along to buttress the weaknesses in his evangelical Christianity. But of course that’s the way theologians and regular believers have always operated.

In the end, the debate is a very clear demonstration of the philosophy of naturalism versus that of supernaturalism. To me, the ability of naturalism to explain the world (“we have no need of the God hypothesis”), plus the absence of miracles at a time when, one would think, Collins would find them especially useful (the world’s becoming more secular!)—all of this puts much heavier weight on the naturalistic side.

It’s hard to dislike Collins, but I am repelled at his uncritical approach to his religious beliefs.

Where should I go next?

May 22, 2022 • 9:00 am

The travel itch is beginning again, and of course part of my Life Plan was to devote more time after retirement to traveling. After all, I’m no spring chicken, and want to travel before they wheel me, drooling, into the nursing home. The only issue is that there are covid restrictions to traveling, including a mandatory test before returning to the U.S.

I am crowdsourcing ideas from readers. The question is this:

Where should I go?

The restrictions are these: trip should be 2-3 weeks, not take place at a time when the putative destination is crowded with summer tourists (I tend to avoid touristy place as well as beaches, since I use vacations to see the world’s diversity, not a strip of sand).  The food must be good and the place interesting. I tend to avoid places with high prices, like Scandinavia.

Paris and Dobrzyn are always there, and will always be on my list, but I count that as a regular place to visit, not a “vacation destination”.

The places that have crossed my mind so far are Mexico (particularly Oaxaca and the Yucatan), Israel (just to see what’s going on there), Africa (to see the famous animals), and Southeast Asia (e.g., Vietnam). I love the idea of going to Pacific Islands, though I understand that some that were once my goals, like Bali, have become overcrowded with tourists. (Yes, I know that I am asking for destinations as a tourist!)

If you have any ideas that fit these criteria, especially based on your personal experience, I’d be glad to hear them.

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 22, 2022 • 8:15 am

Sunday is John Avise Bird Photo Day, and today he has some rarities. John’s text and IDs are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them. There will be two more parts to this series:

Rare-Bird Alert, Part 1

Like many of my fellow birders in Southern California, I am signed up to receive email notifications of when and exactly where an exceptionally rare or vagrant species has been spotted in Orange County.  Whenever possible, I immediately drop what I am doing and head out to try to find the special bird.

This week’s post starts a three-part mini-series on rare (for Orange County) birds that I have photographed during such excursions.  The photos are in a random order (much the way that new reports arrive on the hotline).  Likewise, many other places in North America and around the world have local hotlines for rare birds in their respective areas, and such community hotlines are an indispensable way for birders to spread the news about exceptional avian finds.   [And of course it should be noted that some of the species that are rarities in southern California may be rather common elsewhere.]

Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), nonbreeding plumage:

Sabine’s Gull (Xemi sabini), juvenile:

Wilson’s Plover (Charadrius wilsonia):

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) juvenile:

Black Scoter (Melanitta nigra), female:

Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys), female:

Ross’s Goose (Chen rossii), juvenile:

Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons):

Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus):

Lewis’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis):

Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena), transitional plumage:

Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus):

Sunday: Hili dialogue

May 22, 2022 • 6:30 am

Good morning on the Sabbath for goyische cats: Sunday, May 22, 2022: National Vanilla Pudding Day. I can’t think of either that or chocolate pudding without remembering Bill Cosby’s ads for them, so we’ll pass along.  It’s also Harvey Milk Day (California), International Day for Biological DiversityUnited States National Maritime Day, and World Goth Day. 

Here are some Irish goths. Does this subculture even exist any more?

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the life and victories of Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt (1878-1960),known as “The Great Gama”. The Doodle and then a photo are below, and Wikipedia says this:

[Gama] was a pehlwani wrestler in British India and a strongman. In the early 20th century, he was an undefeated wrestling champion of the world

Born in village Jabbowal, Amritsar District in the Punjab Province of British India in 1878, Baksh was awarded a version of the World Heavyweight Championship on 15 October 1910. Undefeated in a career spanning more than 52 years, he is considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. After the partition of British India, into the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan in August 1947, Gama opted for Pakistan, where he died in Lahore on May 23, 1960.

Undefeated! He did 5,000 pushups and 3,000 squats per day, often wearing 100 kilos of weights.

And here’s the Asian sport of pehlwani wrestling, in which Butt was undefeated:

Stuff that happened on May 22 include:

  • 1455 – Start of the Wars of the Roses: At the First Battle of St Albans, Richard, Duke of York, defeats and captures King Henry VI of England.
  • 1804 – The Lewis and Clark Expedition officially begins as the Corps of Discovery departs from St. Charles, Missouri.v
  • 1826 – HMS Beagle departs on its first voyage.
  • 1849 – Future U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is issued a patent for an invention to lift boats, making him the only U.S. president to ever hold a patent.

As far as I now, the “buoyancy device” was never put into use.

Here’s one diagram from the ten-page patent, which you can see in its entirety here.

  • 1964 – U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson launches the Great Society.
  • 2002 – Civil rights movement: A jury in Birmingham, Alabama, convicts former Ku Klux Klan member Bobby Frank Cherry of the 1963 murder of four girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.
  • 2015 – The Republic of Ireland becomes the first nation in the world to legalize gay marriage in a public referendum.

Who was the first couple to marry legally in the world. Wikipedia says this:

While Glenn Cunningham and Adriano Vilar are often cited as the first same-sex couple to have their civil partnership formally recognised in Ireland, in fact several hundred couples were recognised together at the exactly the same time. The couple formed a civil partnership at a ceremony in Northern Ireland in 2010.

But here are Cunningham and Vilar:

DA NOOZ:

*Monkeypox! It’s now in 14 countries. It’s not as deadly as smallpox, but smallpox vaccine seems to prevent it about 85% of the time. But why is there monkeypox in places with no monkeys?

*The Washington Post has made a list of “The top 10 GOP presidential candidates for 2024, ranked.” The ranking is done this way: “As usual, this list takes into account both how likely they are to run in the first place and how likely they are to win.”

And the list in order (#1 most likely to run and win; reasons are given):

  1. Donald Trump (shoot me now!)
  2. Ron DeSantis
  3. Mike Pence
  4. Nikki Haley
  5. Tim Scott
  6. Ted Cruz
  7. Donald Trump, Jr.
  8. Glenn Youngkin
  9. Chris Sununu
  10. Asa Hutchinson

Any of these excite you? I didn’t think so.

*In response to American sanctions, Russia has just permanently banned 963 Americans from entering Russia, presumably forever (or until Russia changes its mind). Those banned include President Biden, Vice-President Harris, and “a wide-ranging collection of Biden administration members, Republicans, tech executives, journalists, lawmakers who have died, regular U.S. citizens and even actor Morgan Freeman.”

Ex-President Trump is not on the banned list.

*Here’s an almost self-contained news item penned by reader Ken:

Here’s a piece from The Miami Herald about how the “Don’t Say Gay” bill pushed through the Florida legislature by the dumpy demagogue in the Tallahassee governor’s mansion who has his eye on the US presidency — the law that offers rewards to vigilante parents who rat out gay teachers — is working out so far, even though the law doesn’t officially take effect until July 1st.

The demagogue is Republican governor Gov. Ron DeSantis, the law takes effect July 1, and is ambiguous. From the Herald:

The new law was both broad and vague, outlawing “classroom instruction … on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through grade 3” and stipulating these lessons must be “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate” for all older students. But it was specific when it came to punishment: Parents could sue school districts for violating the law. It would inspire a wave of copycat legislation — Alabama’s governor signed a near-identical measure into law in April, and similar bills are pending in at least 19 other states.

The paper tells of Nicolette Solomon, a fourth-grade Florida teacher who by all accounts was beloved by her students. But they figured out she was married to another woman, and that, though ok by the students, wasn’t okay with parents or her fellow teachers. After suffering harassment for being gay, she quit teaching and says she’ll never teach again in Florida.

*The National Health Service has removed the word “woman” from three pages about ovarian, womb and cervix cancers, cancers that occur only in biological women. From The Daily Fail, which reproduces both the original and changed pages:

The original version of the ovarian NHS cancer page featured the line: ‘Ovarian cancer, or cancer of the ovaries, is one of the most common types of cancer in women.’

It also highlights the women who may be particularly at risk, saying: ‘Ovarian cancer mainly affects women who have been through the menopause (usually over the age of 50), but it can sometimes affect younger women.’

However, in an update sneaked out in January — which campaigners only uncovered this week — both lines were removed.

Instead, another line was added: ‘Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer, but it mostly affects those over 50.’

. . .The same has happened to the NHS cervical cancer page with the previous version stating: ‘Cervical cancer develops in a woman’s cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina). It mainly affects sexually active women aged between 30 and 45.’

While the new version does feature a diagram of vagina, womb and cervix, no mention of women or woman is made.

. . . But the NHS has defended the update, stating it seeks to make the pages ‘as helpful as possible to everyone who needs them’.

Other quoted maintain that this obfuscation of language could actually harm women’s health by not directing vital information to the relevant audience (h/t: Ginger K.)

*I discovered that Harper’s has a “Harper’s Index” of interesting and fun facts. Here’s from the latest (sources given at the site):

Portion of female students asked to sit alone for fifteen minutes who will self-administer an electric shock out of curiosity: 1/4

Of male students : 2/3

That one mystifies me. Are males more masochistic, or more curious?

*As reported by the Algemeiner, the law faculty of the City University of New York has endorsed the pro-BDS resolution passed last December by the Law School’s student government.

At the time, the original measure was denounced by Jewish groups and rejected by CUNY Chancellor Matos Rodríguez, who said its call for an academic boycott was “contrary to a university’s core mission to expose students personally and academically to a world that can be vastly different to their own, particularly through international exchange programs.”

The CUNY Law spokesperson said the faculty endorsement took place on May 12, and did not disclose further details of the vote.

The cowards won’t even reveal the vote tally much less, who voted for or against this resolution. BDS is of course anti-Semitic, since its aim is the elimination of the state of Israel, and so now we seem to have have an official university statement to that effect. As we at the University of Chicago have realized, it chills speech for official units within a University to make official statements on politics, ideology, or morality. I wonder what the Jewish law faculty think of this resolution. (h/t Malgorzata). What with these statements proliferating, is it in the future of American Jews to have to seek refuge in Israel, just as European refugees did a generation ago?

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Szaron take their walkies down to the river

Hili: We have to see how long it takes to get to the river.
Szaron: But we’ve been there so many times.
Hili: Yes, but sometimes we go fast and sometimes slow.
In Polish:
Hili: Trzeba sprawdzić ile czasu zabiera droga nad rzekę.
Szaron: Przecież byliśmy tam tyle razy.
Hili: Tak, ale czasem idziemy szybciej, a czasem wolniej.

From Su:

From Not Another Science Cat Page:

From Jesus of the Day:

From Barry: Land mammal greets sea mammal:

Bill Maher dilates on LGBQ+ issues:

From Malcolm. You’ll have to be a Brit to get this one, but I’m sure a British reader can explain it for us:

Good old Patrick Stewart! A tweet found by Ginger K:

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew. Lovely visitors!

Cats will be cats:

As I was just saying. . . .

Enlarge the separate pix to get a better look at this gorgeous longicorn:

Wonky science quotes of the week

May 21, 2022 • 12:00 pm

While perusing a recent issue of Science, I came upon a review of the book below (access is free, click on book to see Amazon link); the review is called “Rethinking the ‘Western’ revolution in science” and was written by Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, a Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.  Poskett, the book’s author, is an Associate Professor in the History of Science and Technology at the University of Warwick.

The point of Poskett’s book, which I haven’t yet read, is apparently to show that science began as an international enterprise, with nascent science developing in many places, and that the “Eurocentric view” that science is solely a Western phenomenon is misguided. Fine; I agree, although I have to say that “modern” science since the 18th century is almost wholly a product of what we call “the West.” Science started and was conducted elsewhere, but often died out (as with the Greeks), or was abandoned (as in Islamic nations). In contrast, it’s been was a more or less continuous enterprise in the “West” since about 1600.  There’s no doubt that earlier influences played a big role, and of course people from all over the world have made huge contributions to science, but many of them did so after being trained in the West or influenced by “Western science.”

But I don’t want to argue about this; I’m fine with admitting that science began as an international enterprise. What I’m not fine with admitting is the distortions that Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra engages in to show that Western science was not only not dominant, but resulted from with all kinds of bigotry, hatred, and perfidious acts. This includes Newtonian physics and, yes, evolutionary biology. Here are two paragraphs from Cañizares-Esguerra’s review. Remember, I’m not reviewing the book, but pointing out tendentious and misleading statements by the reviewer. I have no idea whether Poskett himself would agree:

Similarly, Poskett demonstrates how all the key evidence Isaac Newton relied on to revitalize physics came from comparative studies conducted in equatorial and Arctic locations. To reach isolated islands in the Pacific to obtain such data, nations needed considerable seafaring capabilities. Ultimately, Poskett argues, it was the Atlantic slave trade that made the accumulation of evidence for Newtonian physics possible.
All the key evidence? Here, the reviewer leans over backwards to connect Newton and his physics to the slave trade. Is this convincing? Not from what I read, for “considerable seafaring capabilities” were already well developed well before the Atlantic slave trade, and I can’t envision a case whereby the slave trade so greatly improved navigational skills so that these skills gave rise to “all the key evidence Isaac Newton relied on to revitalize physics”. Optics? Gravity? Well, I’m sure there are people out there who could cobble together such a case, but it would be a stretch. And the dragging in of slavery seems, well, a bit gratuitous.

And then Cañizares-Esguerra comes to evolution:

According to Poskett, 19th-century industrialization, nationalism, settler colonialism, and imperialism drove the development of evolutionary biology, particularly Darwinian natural selection. The idea of evolution as the survival of the fittest was a trope that informed the development of national armies and frontier societies. Nineteenth-century Argentina, Russia, Japan, and China, he notes, excelled in paleontology and evolutionary biology.

My first response to this entire quote is “it’s not even wrong,” but I’ll try to be charitable.  It is just possible that capitalism (but not war) can be seen as part of the Zeitgeist that inspired Wallace and Darwin to come up with the view of natural selection, though Darwin’s own explanation involved reading Malthus, not pondering factories and clashing armies. But that could just be a coincidence: a correlation rather than a causation.  I don’t know about paleontology, but it’s not my understanding of the field that Russia, Japan, China, and Argentina “excelled in evolutionary biology” in the nineteenth century.  National armies and frontier societies? Well, you won’t find that in Darwin’s own work, but perhaps he didn’t recognize his own influences.

This all reminds me of the frequent claim that “Hitler was a Darwinian”: a reverse claim that Darwin’s work on “survival of the fittest” inspired Hitler in his genocidal and imperialistic acts. In fact, though that was also “a trope,” it’s a misguided trope, as my colleague Robert Richards pointed out in his long essay, “Was Hitler a Darwinian?” (The answer is “Nope!”).  That essay is free online. What it shows is that a temporal succession of two people whose work involved “competition” (Darwin and then Hitler) does not show that the former influenced the latter.

The drive to discredit science, and “Western” science, by connecting them to acts of immorality will continue, as will the denigration of Darwin as just one more feet-of-clay idol who needs to be toppled. It’s easy to draw connections between science and nearly every other societal development, but making a strong case that the latter influenced the former often leads to tendentious  and inflammatory speculation meant to do down science.

Caturday felid trifecta: Cats remember each other’s names; a cat-themed short story; Japanese cat circus; and lagniappe

May 21, 2022 • 8:30 am

Here’s a short article from Science Alerts (click on screenshot):

It’s a summary of a longer scientific paper from Nature Scientific Reports (free by clicking below):

It’s not a very convincing experiment. I looked at the paper, and this is the summary:

We examined whether cats matched familiar cats’ names and faces (Exp.1) and human family members’ names and faces (Exp.2). Cats were presented with a photo of the familiar cat’s face on a laptop monitor after hearing the same cat’s name or another cat’s name called by the subject cat’s owner (Exp.1) or an experimenter (Exp.2). Half of the trials were in a congruent condition where the name and face matched, and half were in an incongruent (mismatch) condition. Results of Exp.1 showed that household cats paid attention to the monitor for longer in the incongruent condition, suggesting an expectancy violation effect; however, café cats did not. In Exp.2, cats living in larger human families were found to look at the monitor for increasingly longer durations in the incongruent condition. Furthermore, this tendency was stronger among cats that had lived with their human family for a longer time, although we could not rule out an effect of age. This study provides evidence that cats link a companion’s name and corresponding face without explicit training.

And a diagram, which isn’t really needed but has a picture of two cats (caption from the paper:

Diagram illustrating each condition in Exp.1. Two model cats were chosen from cats living with subject. The model cat’s name called by owner was played through the speaker built into the laptop computer (Name phase). Immediately after playback, a cat’s face appeared on the monitor (Face phase). On half of the trials the name and face matched (congruent condition), on the other half they mismatched (incongruent condition).

 

So house cats looked longer at a computer screen when shown a cat (known to the observer cat) when the owner’s voice called out a wrong name. Observation time was shorter when the cat matched the name. But this wasn’t true for café cats.

First, how do we know that “longer looking at a computer screen” is the same as “knowing an incongruence between name and face”? I could easily make the reverse hypothesis. Second, the results are barely significant:

Second, while the difference between house and cafe cats is significant at an appreciable level, within each group there’s not much difference in “looking time”. Here’s the figure with the “attending time”. Note that it’s longer for house cats when the picture doesn’t match the name (blue box is higher), but it’s barely a significant difference (p = 0.045, when less than 0.05 denotes “significance”), while for cafe cats there is no significant difference (p = 0.11). There is, as I said, a significant result X venue interaction (p = 0.009). That may mean that cafe cats have less chance to associate a face with a name.  Still, we’d like a bigger sample size and some indication that longer looking time really means that the cats are confused!

*************

Here’s “The Cat” a lovely short (yes, really short) story published on Electric Lit. It’s by the noted Danish writer Tove Ditlevsen and deals with the effect of a cat on a broken marriage.

Click to read story and introduction:

***************

A cat circus! The Google translation from the Japanese:

A show by cats that are hard to see The Cats I went to Nasu Animal Kingdom! It was Taken on February 4, 2017.

It isn’t bad given that these are cats.  The tightrope walk is my favorite.

************

I don’t know anything about this giant cat sculpture, but it came from reader Rick, who noted, “Portugal must love cats too.” Maybe an enterprising reader can find out what this is:

h/t: Ginger K.

Saturday: Hili dialogue

May 21, 2022 • 6:30 am

Good day on Cat Sabbath, Saturday, May 21, 2022—the day when dogs have to turn on the lights and the oven for the cats. It’s National Strawberries and Cream Day, which is kosher, but cats don’t like it. It’s also International Tea DaySaint Helena Day (celebrating the discovery of Saint Helena in 1502), and  World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.  

Saint Helena is remote, small (about 6 miles across) and used to be accessible only by an infrequent mailboat from Capetown. Now, however, it has an airport and flights from Joberg in December and April. Here’s how small the populated part is:

Stuff that happened on May 21 includes:

If you don’t know about this case, which involved two University of Chicago students killing a young boy just to see if they could get away with it, at least read the Wikipedia entry. It’s full of twists and turns, and involved local lawyer Clarence Darrow (whose place was a few blocks from where I live now), talking for over a day straight (and emphasizing determinism) to get the judge to sentence Leopold and Loeb to life in prison instead of execution.

Left to right: Loeb, Darrow, and Leopold:

  • 1927 – Charles Lindbergh touches down at Le Bourget Field in Paris, completing the world’s first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
  • 1936 – Sada Abe is arrested after wandering the streets of Tokyo for days with her dead lover’s severed genitals in her handbag. Her story soon becomes one of Japan’s most notorious scandals.

If you saw the 1976 Japanese movie 1976  In the Realm of the Sense, you’ll have sen a dramatization of Abe’s life as a prostitute. She served five years for strangling her lover and the ancillary snippings, but then became famous and sought-after. She finally wound up as a nun. Here’s a photo from 1935:

The “demon core” ultimately killed two men in accidents that made it go critical. It’s a long and painful way to die.

Here’s the sculpture with the damaged hand, nose, and eye.

The Pietà is also the only work Michelangelo ever signed. Here’s the signature, on Mary’s sash:

Here’s Williams on the last show with guests:

  • 2011 – Radio broadcaster Harold Camping predicted that the world would end on this date.

Da Nooz:

*Yesterday a federal judge in Louisiana, ruling on behalf of a passel of Republican state attorneys, decided not to end Biden’s Title 42 bill that substantially restricted immigration at the U.S. southern border on the grounds of the pandemic. This restriction was set to expire Monday, but the judge decided that suspending the order would. . .

result in “immediate and irreparable harm” because of a projected increase in border crossings, overcrowded processing facilities and, in turn, greater costs to provide health care and education services.”

“The record reflects that – based on the government’s own predictions – that the Termination Order will result in an increase in daily border crossings and that this increase could be as large as a three-fold increase to 18,000 daily border crossings,” the judge wrote. “Moreover, the CDC’s own Termination Order acknowledges that the order ‘will lead to an increase in a number of non-citizens being processed in DHS facilities which could result in overcrowding in congregate settings.”

Regardless of whether you think extending the bill was wrong, there’s no doubt that immigration is out of control at the border. A substantial percentage of migrants enter illegally, for economic reasons rather than as refugees, and many simply disappear into the U.S. and never show up for their court dates. In April, over 234,000 migrants tried to cross the border, a figure not seen for 22 years. Democrats need a credible immigration policy, but what we hear are crickets. If they want open borders, which is what their actions seem to say, they should just say so, but that would be political suicide.

*It’s way, way too early to think about the death of Wokeism, much less its senescence, but there’s a heartening harbinger reported in both Variety and The Daily Fail. I’ll take Nellie Bowles’s summary from Bari Weiss’s TGIF column (also h/t Bill):

At the end of last week, Netflix updated its corporate culture memo, which now includes a jab at the company’s increasingly agitated Red Guard: “Depending on your role, you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful. If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.” And this week Netflix made that decision for 150 people. The company framed the firings as “layoffs”—but 150 people doesn’t really make a dent for a company of 11,000 people. Those 150 happen to include, just by chance, some of the most Twitter-active social justice workers in the place. Netflix also announced it would cancel the upcoming animated film “Antiracist Baby,” based on the Ibram X. Kendi book.

Now, I am personally conflicted on this news. Of course I salute Netflix and Ted Sarandos for ousting anyone who tried to come between me and Dave Chapelle. On the other hand, the home screening of “Antiracist Baby: The Movie” was going to be the best party I’ve ever thrown, and Netflix stole that joy. So for TGIF, this news is a wash.

*In a Washington Post op-ed, columnist J. J. McCullough argues that “If Queen Elizabeth can’t do her job, she should abdicate.” Now you’re probably thinking, “But she doesn’t have a job!” Not so. McCullough says this:

These days, she barely even travels the grounds of her home at Windsor Castle, having abstained from two back-to-back ceremonies last month at the palace chapel. Though she did make a 10-minute cameo at the opening of a new London subway line this week, she was a no-show at the state opening of the British Parliament a few days earlier — one of her most important duties and one she’s previously only skipped when pregnant.

It may seem cruel to be too judgmental of the queen’s increasingly rare and brief appearances — by my count, the tube thing is her first attendance at a public ceremony in about seven months (unless you count her presence at Westminster Abbey in March for her late husband’s memorial service) — given she recently celebrated her 96th birthday and is said to have the sort of limited capacities common among people of that age.

Yet the queen is not merely a kindly old lady whose decline we can passively observe with a mixture of sympathy and pity. She is a paid employee of the British state with a specific job to do, and if that job is now beyond her capacities, she should do what the rest of us are expected to when our employment becomes too onerous: retire.

I’m sure Prince Charles is thinking the same thing!

*The NYT shares a group of 13 text messages from dying covid patients to their loved ones. They’re hard to read (there’s also interpolated text and explanation), but I found them moving and ineffably sad.

*There is no end of advice from NYT columnists about how Democrats need to change their behavior if they’re to hold on to the Congress and the Presidency. From David Brooks, “How Democrats can win the morality wars.” It’s based on the arguable premise that Leftist morality is based on the Manichean view that their opponents are bad people and obdurate racists, while the Rightist morality adheres to norms: “American values.” What to do? Brooks’s advice involves:

  1. Give religion a bigger break insofar as “people of faith” should be exempt from some issues involving LGBTQ issues
  2. Become less vociferous on moral issues, such as ones involving transgender rights
  3. And this:

America needs institutions built on the “you are not your own” ethos to create social bonds that are more permanent than individual choice. It needs that ethos to counter the me-centric, narcissistic tendencies in our culture. It needs that ethos to preserve a sense of the sacred, the idea that there are some truths so transcendentally right that they are absolutely true in all circumstances.

Brooks is a bloviator. Does that make any sense to you? Well, I can understand the words, but it doesn’t seem like a great panacea to save the Democratic Party. Plus the editorial is boring. 

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is checking out the appetizers:

Hili: Starlings have colonized our garden.
A: They are feeding their nestlings now.
Hili: I know, I tried to take a closer look.
In Polish:
Hili: Szpaki skolonizowały nasz ogród.
Ja: Karmią teraz pisklęta.
Hili: Wiem, próbowałam to obejrzeć z bliska.

From Not Another Science Cat Page:

 

From Merilee. I hope you get this:

From Jesus of the Day:

From Ricky Gervais; a short take on believers:

Red pandas stand up when they fight to make themselves look larger:

From Ginger K.:

From Dom: the spider is parasitized itself and is thus doomed:

From Barry, who asks, “Is this any way to treat a Trump doll?” I think the answer is obvious:

Tweets from Matthew, who, like me, loves DodoLand because everything turns out fine. This rescue cat looks a lot like my late cat Teddy. Sound up.

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

A mesmerizing video:

What are these pelicans up to? Often murmurations of starlings are thought to be anti-predator formations, but I don’t think pelicans have any avian predators.

I want one of these, and also one of those cups!

Freddie deBoer on “the new attractive”

May 20, 2022 • 12:30 pm

The title of this new piece from Fredie deBoer’s Substack (it’s free, but subscribe if you read often) seems to be paradoxical, but it refers to the fracas that started (or was intensified) by the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (henceforth “SI”; see the models here).  Actually, companies like Victoria’s Secret an others have started to realize that not all women look like underfed runway models, and have started selling items and sizes that are suitable for women who are closer to the average.

The new SI features women who are curvier (or older) than models that have traditionally featured in this popular issue. One of them, Yumi Nu, is shown below.

Click to read:

As expected, there were howls of outrage from men who wanted to see the traditional models decked out in a few square millimeters of cloth, and didn’t have any truck with women who didn’t look like Heidi Klum. One of these men was, of course, Jordan Peterson, who emitted this hurtful and thoughtless tweet, I suppose because he feels that it helps the world when he says whatever’s on his mind:

First of all, “not beautiful” is his opinion; there are plenty of men, including deBoer himself, who find Nu attractive.  People can argue about whom they find beautiful, and often there’s a sort-of consensus, at least among men, but there’s no denying that beauty, at least as conveyed in a photo, is subjective, and to deem someone “ugly” who looks like Nu is reprehensible. (I’m not taking up the issue of whether using “curvy” models is bad because it sometimes glorifies unhealthy weights. I wrote about that a while back.)

At any rate, I think we agree that beauty, at least in photographs, is subjective but not wildly divergent. But there’s enough divergence that every “type” of man or woman can be seen as attractive by others.

But that’s not what deBoer is on about: he’s on, properly, about those people who say that is our responsibility as social-justice inclined people to find everyone beautiful, whether we consider them too fat, too skinny, too ugly, or, if you include personality, too unpleasant. (Everyone knows that personality plays a huge role in who we see as “beautiful”, but we’re talking about pictures in a magazine.) If someone finds Nu unattractive, then he doesn’t have to pursue her.  The argument being bruited about, though, is that we must find people like Nu attractive, for it’s a form of “fat” discrimination you don’t.  Unfortunately, each person has a standard of beauty. This also goes when we’re talking about transgender people. I have heard cis men chewed out, for example, because they said they didn’t find trans men as attractive or as suitable sexual partners. If you don’t, then you’re “transphobic”.

This latter movement to shame people for who they find attractive or not is what deBoer is discussing, and I tend to agree with him.  What attracts us is a complex mixture of physical and psychological attractiveness, depends on our own unique brains, and it’s virtually impossible to be attracted to someone who doesn’t meet what standards of “beauty” each of us have. And shaming them if they don’t is ludicrous.  It reminds me of people telling others that they should believe in God because it’s good for them and for society; yet for people like me it’s simply impossible to force myself to become a believer. Some tastes are simply unalterable, even in the face of social justice hectoring. You can’t make someone who is wild about Rembrandt become attracted to Warhol paintings.  The need to do so as an imperative is what I call “psychological fascism”. This attitude, by the way, is completely different from arguments about things like morality and political beliefs, where minds can change.

But the whole point here is to quote deBoer’s trenchang summary of the issue, an so I’ll give a long quote from the end of his piece. The emphases are mine.

And here’s the point: the question that supposedly gets raised by these periodic controversies, which of course Sports Illustrated and other magazines actively court, is “can fat women be sexy?” The answer to that is of course. But they’re sexy because of human attributes that are no more egalitarian or fair than body fat percentage is. A fat person can be beautiful, and people of all races can be beautiful, and trans and cis people can be beautiful, and disabled people can be as well. But ugly people can’t be beautiful, and how is that any less of an “injustice”? The reality is that physical attraction is not equitable, just, or fair, as it operates under a visceral logic that’s immune to the intellectualized politics of what we intend, and who we get horny for is in large measure part of our evolutionary endowment as an animal species. That which is not genetically conditioned is still powered by psychological animal spirits that are beyond our understanding or control. And what I don’t understand is why this circumstance is perceived to be any fairer or in line with social justice than someone only being into thin women. Why will you get canceled, in certain spaces, for saying that you’re not attracted to fat women but not if you say that you’re not attracted to unattractive women? It’s not remotely internally consistent.

I have brought this up before, usually to howls of anger, but…. I’ve spent my adult life in lefty spaces (media, academia, and activism), and have been surrounded by people who embrace non-traditional masculinity and endlessly critique the traditional form. And those gay men and straight women among them? Yeah, they almost inevitably liked traditionally masculine men when it came to sex and romance. The mind conceives but the body desires. I’d go to academic conferences and see women give impassioned presentations about how conventional masculinity is rape culture, but then later that night at the mixer they weren’t exactly rushing to flirt with the sensitive 5’7 guys. Because you don’t choose who you’re attracted to.

I’m all for diversifying the bodies we see in media, but we have to always bear in mind that no one can control who they’re attracted to and there’s nothing deficient about a man who isn’t attracted to a particular fat woman. I think it’s great to highlight different kinds of bodies, but it’s great because bodies are attractive in different ways – we’re still bowing to the god of being hot, who will never be woke. Widening concepts of sexiness represent progress, but not feminist progress. It’s not some blow struck against patriarchy or whatever. (I assure you that patriarchy is not threatened by sad guys jacking off to heavier models than they used to.) And it’s a symptom of a broader cultural addiction to trying to shoehorn every last development in human society into some reductive social justice frame that doesn’t fit. “There’s more ways to be attractive than our society has traditionally recognized, and actually a lot of guys find some fat women very hot” is a perfectly progressive and coherent message, a good one. Far better, anyway, than the mental gymnastics that people try to perform to somehow make hotness subject to the demand for equality and justice.

As you know, I’m someone who believes that, for example, some lucky people are born inclined to be smart, or good at making music, or with an artist’s temperament. Some people deeply disagree. But nobody I’m aware of doubts that some people are just born beautiful, and life for the beautiful is not the same as life for the rest of us. We’re all dealt a hand, and we play it. Why can’t we accept that simple wisdom?

Frank Wilczek, the newest Templeton Prize winner, talks about science, religion, and their relationship

May 20, 2022 • 9:15 am

The Los Angeles Times has a long interview with Frank Wilczek, polymath and physics Nobel Laureate who recently nabbed the $1.3-million Templeton Prize. As I wrote a couple of days ago, Wilczek doesn’t fit the mold of those who’ve won the Prize over the past decades, as he professes no belief in a personal god (he’s a pantheist), and emphasizes the power of science versus faith. It is the case, though, that the prize, which used to go to believers like Mother Teresa and Billy Graham, is increasingly being conferred on scientists.

My main impression of the article is that the paper is subtly pressuring Wilczek to admit to some belief in the numinous, but Wilczek won’t bite. He does say a few strange things, but on the whole Wilczek seems to be one of us “nones”: a “pantheist” who rejects the idea of a personal God. Instead, he sees the whole of nature as “God”.  Well, I could say that, too, professing that I see all the panoply of evolution as God. Does that qualify me for the Templeton Prize?

Originally I saw no harm in giving the prize to someone who is, in effect, an atheist in the sense of being an “a-theist”—someone who rejects any conventional notion of gods. But several readers noted that giving Wilczek the Templeton Prize enables the Foundation to enfold him into their stable of faithheads and, to some extent, justify their aim, which the L.A. Times says involves extols “the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.” The very notion of a “purpose” for humankind immediately conjures up the notion of God. And those readers may be right: Wilczek’s acceptance harms science.

Click to read:

Here are some statements by the Times and by Wilczek that struck me. First, the paper tries to draw a connection between Wilczek and belief in God:

As a theoretical physicist, Wilczek has been peeking under the hood of our perceived reality for more than 50 years. His insights and ideas have led to several revolutionary scientific discoveries, as well as an almost theological perspective on the nature of the world and our role in it that he shares in his myriad articles, books and talks for a general audience.

And yet, Wilczek has said some stuff that can be used to claim that he believes in a God, even though he’s a pantheist (in my view, a humanist). Here’s a quote from him given by the paper:

You’ve written that “in studying how the world works, we are studying how God works, and thereby learning what God is.” So, what do you think God is?

Let me lead into that by talking about two of the greatest figures in physics and their very different views of what God is. Sir Isaac Newton was very much a believing Christian and probably devoted as much time to studying Scriptures and theology as he did to physics and mathematics.

Einstein, on the other hand, often talked about God — sometimes he used that word, sometimes he said “the old one” — but his concept was much different. When he was asked seriously what he meant by that, he said he believed in the God of Spinoza, who identified God with reality, with God’s work.

That was Einstein’s view and that is very much closer to my spirit. I would only add to that that I think God is not only the world as it is, but the world as it should be. So, to me, God is under construction. My concept of God is really based on what I learn about the nature of reality.

Now I think that the quote in bold (from the Times’s question) is poor, and clearly leads to misinterpretation.  The “God” of Wilczek is not the kind of God that nearly any believer accepts. Later on in the article, he emphasizes that. I’m still symied, though, by Wilczek’s statement that “God is not only the world as it is, but the world as it should be.” What does he mean by that? Even as a pantheist, how can you take as God a reality that doesn’t even exist? And how should the world be?

But here again, the L.A. Times tries to imply that there’s a more conventional religious cast to Wilczek’s views. From the paper:

In addition to groundbreaking discoveries, Wilczek’s work has also led him to some of the same conclusions shared by mystics from all religions: the myth of separateness and the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.

As he wrote in “Fundamentals,” “Detailed study of matter reveals that our body and our brain — the physical platform of our ‘self’ — is, against all intuition, built from the same stuff as ‘not-self,’ and appears to be continuous with it.”

Other spiritual insights from his decades of scientific study include the idea of complementarity — that different ways of viewing the same thing can be informative, and valid, yet difficult or impossible to maintain at the same time, and that science teaches us both humility and self-respect.

The quote given by Wilczek is far from “spiritual”: it argues that the stuff of our body and brain obeys the laws of physics, be they deterministic or indeterministic. That’s NOT “spiritual!  (He also more or less rules out a “soul.”)

And the idea of “complementarity” clearly refers to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics: an electron can behave as a particle and a wave at the same time. We don’t understand quantum mechanics at its most basic level—does it correspond to any reality?—but our lack of understanding doesn’t promote spirituality, any more than our failure to understand what dark matter or dark energy are constitute “spiritual insighta.”

The Q&A with Wilczek tells us more about him. The stuff in bold is the paper’s questions (my comments are flush left):

Do you consider yourself an atheist, agnostic? Do you have a definition you’re comfortable with?

Not affiliated with any specific recognized church is certainly part of it, but I’m more comfortable saying that I’m a pantheist. I believe that the whole world is sacred and we should take a reverential attitude toward it.

What, exactly, does he mean by saying the “whole world is sacred”? We can have a “reverence” towards it because it’s amazing and yet still comprehensible, but that’s not the same thing as believing in God. It would have helped had Wilczek defined what he means by “reverential” and “sacred”. In fact, I’d love to interview him myself.  These answers, of course, involve words that would put him into the running for the Templeton Prize.

Are science and religion in conflict with each other?

No, they are not in conflict with each other. There have been problems when religions make claims about how the world works or how things got to be the way they are that science comes to make seem incredible. For me, it’s very hard to resist the methods of science which are based on the accumulation of evidence.

On the other hand, science itself leads to the deep principle of complementarity, which means to answer different kinds of questions you may need different kinds of approaches that may be mutually incomprehensible or even superficially contradictory.

He’s just admitted that they ARE in conflict with each other! For there are very few religions—none of them Abrahamic—that don’t at bottom rest on certain empirical assumptions about the world and Universe. He’s also admitted that science is based on evidence (but omits the obvious addendum: “and religion is based not on evidence but on faith”). The “deep principle of complementarity”, by which I assume he means quantum complementarity, is baffling but doesn’t show there’s anything wrong with science, much less that the answer involves the numinous. By saying “on the other hand,” though, he implies that “complementarity” is immune to scientific evidence.

You’ve written that “in studying how the world works, we are studying how God works, and thereby learning what God is.” So, what do you think God is?

Let me lead into that by talking about two of the greatest figures in physics and their very different views of what God is. Sir Isaac Newton was very much a believing Christian and probably devoted as much time to studying Scriptures and theology as he did to physics and mathematics.

Einstein, on the other hand, often talked about God — sometimes he used that word, sometimes he said “the old one” — but his concept was much different. When he was asked seriously what he meant by that, he said he believed in the God of Spinoza, who identified God with reality, with God’s work.

That was Einstein’s view and that is very much closer to my spirit. I would only add to that that I think God is not only the world as it is, but the world as it should be. So, to me, God is under construction. My concept of God is really based on what I learn about the nature of reality.

Here again Wilczek admits that he sees God as “reality”, not as something supernatural. The Gods of Einstein and Spinoza were not goddy gods, but simply physical reality, and wonder before reality is not religion. Einstein, of course, rejected the idea of a personal God, and I don’t believe ever said that “reality” is “God’s work” (but I’m willing to be corrected). As far as I know from my reading of Einstein, he was a straight-up pantheist, and any palaver about what God did or wanted (like “not playing dice”) were mere musings about the nature of reality.

Does that God have a will?

Not a will as we would ascribe to human beings, although I’m not saying that’s logically impossible. I would say it’s really a stretch, given what we know. The form of the physical laws seems to be very tight and doesn’t allow for exceptions.

The existence of human beings, as they are, is a very remote consequence of the fundamental laws. One thing that [the physicist] Richard Feynman said really sticks in my mind here. He said, “The stage is too big for the players.” If you were designing a universe around humans and their concerns, you could be a lot more economical about it.

Of course a god with a will is not logically impossible, but it’s clear that Wilczek doesn’t buy it. And of course he must know that Feynman was an atheist, and appears to share Feynman’s view that the universe doesn’t look as it it were constructed with humans in mind.

There is more Q&A, but I’ll just give one last exchange:

While I was preparing for our interview, I came across a statement by the Catholic Bishops of California that said science cannot answer our deepest and most perplexing questions like, “Why am I here?” “What is the purpose of my life?” “Why have I suffered this loss?” “Why is God allowing this terrible illness?” They said these are religious questions. Do you agree?

Science doesn’t answer those questions. On the other hand, you ignore science at your peril if you are interested in those questions. There’s a lot you can learn from science by expanding your imagination and realizing the background over which those questions are posed. So, saying that science doesn’t have a complete answer is a very different thing than saying, “Go away, scientists; we don’t want to hear from you, leave it to us.”

Now here Wilczek missed a shot, but it’s a shot that would have made Templeton revoke its Prize. What he should have said is this: “Science doesn’t answer those questions (though it can inform them), but religion doesn’t either.” He’s cleverly avoiding dissing religion.

The problem with softball interviews like this is that nobody ask Wilczek the really hard questions, or at least questions that would lay his disbelief out clearly. Example: “what exactly did you mean when you said that “the world is ‘sacred'”? And so on.  What’s clear is that Wilczek doesn’t adhere to the notion of God shared by the vast majority of religious believers around the world. Instead, he sees God as physical reality, pure and simple.

The only remaining question is, “With Wilczek’s views, why did Templeton give him the Prize?” There are many possible reasons, but, thank Ceiling Cat, I’m not on the board of those who have to weigh the factors.