Thoughts While Flying East

Flying over this enormous country — as I am right now, from Oakland CA to Houston to DC—can be literally awe inspiring in the true sense of the clouds and sun cooperate.

And WOW, this trip is the most visually spectacular one I can recall. We took off from OAK right at dawn, and it was very clear for much of the trip over CA, NV, AZ, NM, and TX; when the sun is at low angles, every fold or seam or hill is accented and made more beautiful by its rays. In addition, a not-terribly-deep snow cover accentuated the places where vegetation did or did not grow in the mountains and hills. Just BEAUTIFUL!!

When you fly over the American West, as opposed to driving or going by train, you see that ENORMOUS stretches of it is nearly empty of people once you get away from any sources of water — ie into the dry and wild California mountains and into the enormous and dry, dry valleys of the Basin & Range area of Nevada.

We are at cruising altitude now and at this instant I can only see one clear evidence of human impact of any sort: some car tracks … in one place …. after finishing that sentence, I see more now: some squared off but barren fields that at one point had center pivot irrigation, now long dormant I think. Lack of $? Water rights? Donno. But nothing like what we see anywhere east of the Mississippi or near Houston, which was our first stop. There, the human impact is literally everywhere. We have refashioned an enormous fraction of this continent!!!

If there was more rainfall here in the Great southwestern desert, untold millions upon millions of people could live here, growing food, working, going to school, etc etc. But that won’t happen unless there are ENORMOUS natural changes in the general shapes of the mountains and seas and the air and water currents — which will take tens of millions of years . The alternative is for humans manage to figure out a way to bring enormous quantities of water to this mostly-barren land. (Of course, we as a nation have already diverted much of the water that falls in the Rockies to southern and central California…) there. How such a new irrigation project could be accomplished is completely unclear to me. It would require absolutely herculaean amounts of capital and labor and energy. What would be the unforeseen but nasty side effects ? (Cf the disasters we have seen with the Aral Sea, diverted Siberian rivers, lake Chad, the Salton Sea, etc…)

Looking out the airplane window at dawn, you can see clearly how water, over the aeons, has shaped the land beneath this airplane. Water has been wearing down the highest ridges and sorting and depositing the debris in very interesting patterns… so beautiful to behold and looking so much like what one can make with a dirt- or sand-pile and a water hose… Recent evidence shows that catastrophic but very infrequent floods are responsible for much of the reshaping of the land, not only in these dry regions but also in places as well-watered as West Virginia…

Looking at beautiful places with others, I’ve heard some of them declare the splendor of the landscape as evidence for an omnipotent god guiding every step. Some go so far as to reject any naturalistic explanations for the processes that brought us the Grand Canyon and even close their children’s’ ears to park rangers’ explanations. These fundamentalists adhere to what i believe is a made-up and fallacious scenario plucked and chosen from what they consider holy scriptures.

As we know, there are folks who persist in believing that the entire universe was formed in ~6000 BC IIRC. In some cases they are able to acquire state funding to do so. (I guess I should be happy that these days, you are not likely to be arrested for teaching factual science, geology, or (gasp) evolution, as once was the case.

Of course this “young-earth” creationism and “intelligent design” goes against pretty much all actual scientific evidence. Just a few examples: dating trees (dendrochronology) is pretty straightforward and checkable. A bit to my south as I write this, there are LIVING bristlecone pine trees, which that are older than that. There is quite a bit of well-dated evidence of human habitation here in much of the Americas dating to around 13,000 years ago. Archaeology and paleontology Being sciences, and not Scripture written by somebody claiming to have a first communication method with God that’s absolute for all time, the details are always being debated, and new evidence is constantly being uncovered. Opinions have varied on whether these first Americans arrived by land or by boat. If the latter, all the evidence may have been washed away forever as the glaciers melted after the last ice age…

A good scientist doesn’t take anybody’s word for it unless they are very sure of that person’s reliability on that topic. That’s good advice for the rest of us, too!

Regarding the accuracy of supposedly sacred Scriptures, one can actually perform tests to see how well they concur with or are contradicted by archaeological and other scientific evidence. For example, we can compare the narrative in the Book of Exodus or the Book of Mormon against the archeological record in The Middle East and in North America. (Many items endure for a LONG, long time in the Judean desert. From the heights of Masada you can see the 2000-year/old camp of the besieging Roman army looking like it was abandoned a few years ago…)

In both cases, scripture fails: there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of a large tribe of Hebrews spending 40 years in the Sinai desert or even any mass conquest by Joshua of any Canaanite cities.

{OTOH, we do have clear instructions from Yahweh in Exodus on how to carry out Genocide and how said genocide was a holy duty. Not to mention enslaving people : none of those books condemn it outright, anywhere.

{So much for the Old Testament being a guide for good conduct today. In fact, if there is anything on which almost everybody alive agrees, it’s that slavery, Genocide and even racism are immoral!! Anybody advocating those things is seen as a monster. Even today’s Nazis and other Fascists have to pretend they don’t want to do those things…}

If you’ve never read the Book of Mormon, i can recommend plunging in almost anywhere for a good laugh. Mark Twain mocked it mercilessly, and rightly so. When you hear the background and read a little bit of the text, you quickly realize that the whole book is 100% Fact-free made up BS written to sound like the KJV of the Old Testament, written by a con-man. Why anybody believed that nonsense is astonishing, but I guess Abe Lincoln, Mencken, and PTBarnum were right about the prevalence of suckers in America. If you choose to look into it, don’t pay for a printed version of the BOM. instead, do an online search for occurrences in the text of things like horses; camels; figs; dates; wheat; iron; or bronze. Those words appear throughout the text, which supposedly details events in the America between the time that Jesus (?iirc) and an entire tribe of Israel supposedly made their way to North America sometime between 6 ad to 200 AD and engaged in constant warfare & battles with the natives until the Israelites were wiped out. And according to this fairy tale, the last Israelite survivor single handedly wrote an entire 100-page book on golden-but-invisible plates (!!) that he somehow hid in a hill in upstate NY right before he was killed (again, iirc; but I may have a few details wrong) and somehow these magic plates survived in a hill for over 1000 years, intact, until one Joe Smith came along and read them through his hat. But no one else could see them ….

A very imaginative fiction, I guess— but not exactly believable on its face. If we are being charitable we could call Joseph Smith an early science fiction & fantasy writer. L Ron Hubbard was another sci-fi writer who invented a bullshit story and made a lot of money founding a cult and finding followers / aka suckers…

… and meanwhile, regular archaeologists and paleontologists — not guided by this fairy tale but by their own guesses (hypotheses) that were either confirmed, modified, or discarded as new evidence came into their awareness, found that the camels and horses that at one point thrived (neigh, originated {pun intended}) in North America, went extinct quite shortly after the ancestors of our current North American Indians arrived from what’s now Siberia — and that was >10k years before the supposed events in the BOM. No evidence of any wine, date palms, figs, saddles, iron or bronze technology, wheat, barley, chariots, castles, camels, burros, or horses anywhere in North America during the past 10,000 years. Even an official Mormon commission that searched for YEARS for any bit of evidence ANYWHERE in North America that might confirm ANY of the stories or cultural details from the BOM quietly stopped their work came up with bupkis, nada, zilch, zip, nothing. Not that they published their findings, oh, no. That would have been honest thing to do, BUT THEY DIDN’T.

My understanding is that LDSers no longer try very hard to get prospective converts to believe that nonsense. I’m not sure what their real “draw” is; perhaps someone can enlighten me…

(Most — all??— children who are raised to believe in, say, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy eventually learn to reconcile their prior belief in SC or TF with the evidence and discard those beliefs. A number of True Believers in one thing or another — I know some HS classmates who ended up today believing some Hindu or Buddhist saint or other, and I’ve had friends and colleagues who interpreted every event in their lives as showing evidence that their God and/or their saint or Savior are always in their life, that everything is controlled by that Power, etc. I personally see different, perhaps more natural, explanations for each of the events that they interpret as divine. Yes, there are certain events that I have no explanation for: most fundamentally, these are:

1. How exactly did the universe come into being? I have no idea. As an avid amateur astronomer I love to try to keep up with the fire-hose of new developments outlining how the universe developed after the putative Big Bang (or whatever it was)the details are becoming somewhat clearer and clearer with every new cutting edge telescope, detector, and spacecraft, which is really cool because the TRUTH (as we discover it, step by step) about our origins and the universe is SOOOOO much stranger and weirder and more beautiful than any fairy tale or myth ever invented… and what little is predicted about the universe and solar system in those stories is clearly incorrect unless you can spin things like 46’s latest spokesperson😬

2. How did life begin on our tiny little planet? (It’s clear that it started in the form of tiny one-called microbes somewhere between 3-5 GYA, but exactly how, I donno. No evidence of special creation by a God who has to keep making adjustments. Plenty of evidence of natural processes, some still going on today and some (fortunately and hopefully) finished forever — such as frequent, enormous impacts from multiple asteroids & such… and they explain quite well almost all the geographic we see out the windows of airplanes… (except I don’t think we have a good explanation yet for the suddenness of the Front Range of the Rockies, nor how Cheryl and flints form in chalk beds… Yet.)

3. How did we humans come into being, with our unmatched capability for language and the transmission of culture, knowledge, ideas and skills? (Not to mention our naked skin and our heads of hair that absolutely MUST be tended to in one way or another?) Really a mystery.

4. Is there life of any sort elsewhere in the universe (other than that which hitched a ride on a spacecraft)? Possibly… (I do not find claims of intelligent life having already reached Earth and visited us, anal proves or not, to be any more credible than claims of ESP or PKI or Tarot or crystals…)

My understanding is that nearly all serious archaeologists, Jewish or otherwise, agree that there is no evidence of almost any of the major events recounted in Genesis or Exodus. So that means that the Bible as we know it is simply not trustworthy: its authors made up a story. Period.

Now imagine a person who you KNOW has just lied to you about something real. Would you believe that person if they told you a story about something very serious that might change your life forever? I hope that I — and you — wouldn’t be so gullible. I hope that people would think, “Well, maybe yes, maybe no. Let’s check it out.” That level of skepticism is of course discouraged by any cult, whether it be Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Marxism-Leninism, Fascism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Scientology, you name it. Thinking for yourself and expressing doubts about your cult is the ultimate no-no. It’s specifically forbidden, multiple times, in the ‘Qoran. (فوراب I think)

I will grant that *some* of the wars and other events in the New and Old Testaments do seem to be real. Nebuchadnezzar was real. Herod was real. Jesus probably was real — although his actual message, at least as reported in the accepted and rejected books of the New Testament, are completely self-contradictory that I have no idea what he may have been trying to say.

Here is another example: the Babylonians did indeed conquer much or all of the region now called the Israel, and the Israelites were in fact partly or entirely forcibly removed to Babylon — modern day Iraq. There is both cultural and archaeological evidence for this. Of course, the details of how this occurred, and why, are almost assuredly not exactly how the authors of the תן״חג (Tanakh, or first five books of OT) describe. But my understanding is that during that captivity, the religious leaders of the Jews agreed upon, and wrote down, their at-least-partly-imaginary founding myth, the Pentateuch. And many of them did return to the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Does the imagined word of god give today’s Jews the right to perform ethnic cleansing upon the Palestinian people — who are actually their cousins? I don’t think so, but I modern day right wing zionists told me precisely that as I was participating in an all-night vigil against illegal settlements with other left wing kibbutzniks, outside the Knesset (parliament) back in 1974…

BTW: Have you ever noticed how *nasty*, clumsy and vengeful יהוה (Jehovah, or Adonai, or God) is in the Old Testament? He reminds me of a kid who sets up his or her action figures, badly, knocks them over by accident, blames them for disobeying his/her orders, and throws them in the fire, cursing them all the while. (Such a kid was I — I had a horrible temper and even threw fishing poles into lakes… I was definitely not worth worshiping! Don’t adore sadists!)

While some people believe that Noah’s Flood explains pretty much all sediments anywhere in the world — all happening within weeks of each other, a few thousand years ago, you can only believe that if you completely reject everything that has been learned about archaeology, geology, chemistry, physics, and logic. Sorry, I like to test out hypotheses, or read about how others have done that, meticulously and carefully. And I like to pay attention to which ideas and people have been repeatedly debunked and which ones have been repeatedly confirmed.

Internal contradictions, of which the Bible has many (look them up!) also cast doubt on sources.

(Another aside; who exactly was it witnessing and recording how God made the universe? What tools did they use to record it? And why are there soooo many different versions of the creation of the Earth, in all of the recorded religions? They all disagree. And their stories can only be made to conform to actual scientific evidence if you look at them as allegories.

You can only say that religions predict the evidence that scientists are carefully uncovering and constantly refining if you are willing to stretch those allegories beyond, uh, belief.

How can it be logical to put your trust in just one made-up story? How does that help us to figure out how to leave this planet a better place for our children, grand/children, and future descendants who will (I hope) live on long after I die? Some people, eg Ayn Rand, the Koch brothers, and certain types of Dominionists say, in essence, I’m rich and wealthy, I want to keep it that way, I don’t care about future generations or the mass of the people… Some evangelicals think that their God will fix everything for his Chosen People even if the latter fuck the planet up royally. Or else that The Lord will call His Chosen People Home to him, leaving us all to die in misery, which we deserve anyway because we are evil.

Sheesh. Thanks a lot, for nothing, you assholes. I want my descendants world to be as beautiful as the one I see out this airplane window — or even better. I don’t want to see millions or billions killed in floods from global warming, or made into refugees, or killed in nuclear or conventional wars. As far as we can see so far, there is NO other habitable planet. And if we ever find one, it would take enormous sums of energy, materials, cash and many, many generations to get there. And the chances it would have a breathable atmosphere, or drinkable water, and not zapped by dangerous radiation, and soil suitable for our plants and animals, are slim to none.

This planet is our home, like it or not. It’s actually a heaven — or it can be. Let’s not turn it into a hell.

Watching little kids running around in the airport, or in a school, or at my grandchildren’s homes, my faith in humanity is restored, runny noses and all. I hope that we will not be able to kill off the entire human race in a single war. I hope that we can re-extend the electric and water grid to all of Puerto Rico and all the horrible camps and hovels where so many millions of refugees live in abject privation, want and misery, all over the world — including the homeless encampments right here in every large American city.

If Jesus had a positive social message, it seems to me that it was that we should treat the homeless, the poor and the refugee/exile as a true brother or sister — not to suck up to, or to yearn to become, rich and powerful. Also: Don’t wage war.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that that part of Jesus’ message is just about the exact opposite of the message of white Evangelical American Christian churches of today (2017).

Not looking at what evidence suggests, and relying on one person’s theory despite all evidence, is a very bad idea. Looking evidence and comparing to Bible made me give up my Episcopalian (Christian) upbringing. I took on a different faith, various versions of Marxism-Leninism, tried to make the world better by class struggle, but I eventually gave that up, too.

(I eventually saw that any sort of doctrine — like ML — that causes so much death and human misery. No matter how theoretically egalitarian and uplifting-of-the-masses it might be, and no matter how bad the fascists are. Even such a blinded idiot as myself eventually saw that the only area in which the Soviet leadership excelled at was LYING.)

Another aside: these true believers don’t even agree on which parts of those scriptures should be emphasized…. various sects of Communists and Socialists have a long history of trying to exterminate each other, as do Moslems, Christians and Jews. Each of these last three religions are themselves divided into almost innumerable sects, and the broad outlines of Xtianity weren’t even agreed on until about 325 by vote at the council of Nicaea. And of them some Got excommunicated….

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Published in: on December 22, 2017 at 4:17 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. So much to comment on, oh my! I will limit myself to this. The Pentateuch as we know it was written in Babylon. The Israelites were worried that they would lose connection with their religion because they had lost their foundational temple, rituals, etc.

    Interesting enough, the creation myth in the Bible parallels exactly the Babylonian creation myth. The flood myth … etc. The “writers” of the foundational books were not concerned with accuracy as much as they were concerned with keeping their culture together. The OT emphasizes one thing above all of the others. That one thing is obedience. Over and over, the message is obey or suffer, starting with Adam and Eve and continuing in a long series of wisdom stories.

    Generations of Biblical scholars scoured the “Holy Land” looking for proof of the events of Genesis and Exodus and came up empty. I imagine the Jewish scholars were merely laughing up their sleeves. Why should they go out of their way to educate the upstart Christians so full of themselves.

    After a century of finding no supportive evidence for those events, one finds Christians, many of them, still believing they are true. It is sad.

    Okay … one more. Why should we be at all concerned with how the universe came into being? What the heck difference does it make? Why is this an important point of theology or philosophy. Why do we care what happened over 14 billion years ago and not give a fig about Christian history? (Christians do not teach their own history to their congregates because it would drive them away in droves.)

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  2. I disagree with you on the usefulness of understanding the origin of the earth, the solar system, the entire universe and our species. If you don’t know where you come from, then you can’t understand where you are or where you are going.

    For me, the more I learn about astronomy and cosmology, the more I see that our wonderful-but-endangered planet is the only piece of heaven that our species will ever arrive at and visit. If there are in fact other habitable planets in some galaxy somewhere, they are much too far away to reach with any conceivable technology. And looking at the various hells of our relatively nearby neighboring planets (hellishly hot Venus and hellishly cold Mars — to which we have still not sent even a single human being) you can see that even small but inadvertent changes to our own climate could cause many millions or billions of humans to die horrible deaths and leave this planet a horrible place for our few descendants.

    In other words: there is no Divine Savior who is going to clean up our messes and forgive our sins and deliver us to some paradise. In fact, as far as we can see so far, the rest of the universe is an enormous HELL. Our small blue-and-green planet is the closest thing to paradise we will ever see, and we owe it to ourselves and our descendants not to foul our own nests.

    Oh, one more thing: anthropology and biology tell us that all living human beings are cousins. We are part of the same family, and we should treat each other that way.

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