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PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 5:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A Guide to Finding Faith

Scientific advances in recent centuries have made the idea of God only more plausible.

“If appreciating some of the ideas in St. Augustine’s ‘Confessions’ was enough to make you a Christian,” a friend said to me some years ago, “then I’d be a Christian. But a personal God? The miracles? I can’t get there yet.”

Whenever I write about the decline of organized religion in America, I get a lot of emails expressing some version of this sentiment. Sometimes it’s couched in the form of regretful unbelief: I’d happily go back to church, except for one small detail — we all know there is no God. Sometimes it’s a friendly challenge: OK, smart guy, what should I read to convince me that you’re right about the sky fairy?

So this is an essay for those readers — a suggested blueprint for thinking your way into religious belief.

But maybe not the blueprint you expect.

Many highly educated people who hover on the doorway of a church or synagogue are like my Augustine-reading friend. They relate to religion on a communal or philosophical level. They want to pass on a clear ethical inheritance to their children. They find certain God-haunted writers interesting or inspiring, and the biblical cadences of the civil rights era more moving than secular defenses of equality or liberty.

Yet they struggle to make the leap of faith, to reach a state where the supernatural parts become believable and the grace to accept the impossible is bestowed.

For some, this struggle just leads back to unbelief. For others, it can be a spur to act as if they believe, to pray and practice, to sing the hymns or keep kosher and wait for God to grant them faith in full. This is often the advice they get from religious friends: Treat piety as an act of the will undertaken in defiance of the reasoning faculties, and see what happens next.

I’ve given that advice myself. But there’s another way to approach religious belief, harder in some respects but simpler in others. Instead of starting by praying or practicing in defiance of the intellect, you could start by questioning the assumption that it’s really so difficult, so impossible, to credit ideas of God and accounts of supernatural happenings.

The “new atheist” philosopher Daniel Dennett once wrote a book called “Breaking the Spell,” whose title implies that religious faith prevents believers from seeing the world clearly. But what if atheism is actually the prejudice held against the evidence?

In that case, the title of Dennett’s book is actually a good way to describe the materialist defaults in secular culture. They’re like a spell that’s been cast over modern minds, and the fastest way to become religious is to break it.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 19, 2021 5:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Evolution and Faith


Last edited by kmaherali on Wed Sep 08, 2021 10:45 am, edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 30, 2021 9:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Design in Life

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 08, 2021 10:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Did Jesus actually exist?


Want to discuss something further from this video? Go to

Connect with me everywhere else!

My name is Kirk Durston and I’m a philosopher, scientist, husband, and a legit Christian. On my channel, I explore assumptions and questions pertaining to God, questions about philosophy, questions about science and questions about the meaning of life, which I think about a lot. I hope you’ll join me on that Quest or perhaps you’re already on your quest about these matters and we can explore together.

#KirkDurston #History #Jesus
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 08, 2021 11:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 13, 2021 1:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Hard Problem of Consciousness Has an Easy Part We Can Solve

How does consciousness arise? What might its relationship to matter be? And why are some things conscious while others apparently aren’t? These sorts of questions, taken together, make up what’s called the “hard problem” of consciousness, coined some years ago by the philosopher David Chalmers. There is no widely accepted solution to this. But, fortunately, we can break the problem down: If we can tackle what you might call the easy part of the hard problem, then we might make some progress in solving the remaining hard part.

This is what I’ve been up to in recent years with my partner in crime, Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at U.C. Santa Barbara. Since I came up in philosophy, rather than neuroscience or psychology, for me the easy part was deciding the philosophical orientation. Schooler and I duked it out over whether we should adopt a materialist, idealist, panpsychist, or some other position on our way to a complete answer. I am, as I’ve written in Nautilus before, a card-carrying panpsychist, inspired by Alfred North Whitehead, David Ray Griffin, David Skrbina, William Seager, and Chalmers. Panpsychism suggests that all matter has some associated mind/consciousness and vice versa. Where there is mind there is matter, where there is matter there is mind. They go together like inside and outside. But for Jonathan, this was far too glib. He felt strongly that this was actually the hard part of the problem. Since he’s the Distinguished Professor and I’m not, we decided to call this philosophical positioning the hard part of the hard problem.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 17, 2021 2:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Existential Comfort Without God

Can natural explanations to life’s big questions be as consoling as religious ones?

Last month, Harvard University named a new Chief Chaplain: Greg Epstein, an atheist. As reported in The New York Times,1 Epstein, the campus humanist chaplain, was unanimously elected to “coordinate the activities of more than 40 university chaplains, who lead the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and other religious communities on campus.” Perusing the hundreds of reader comments generated by the Times article revealed broad support. While some questioned whether an atheist could be a “real” chaplain, others suggested that appointing a humanist was a clever move—a way to have a neutral figure in a position of power.

Yet, across a chasm of difference, both reactions share a problematic assumption: that humanist commitments—by virtue of omitting belief in God(s)—involve no basis for religious authority, indeed no commitments at all. In stark contrast, the Harvard students interviewed about Epstein praised his ability to support an authentic quest for meaning without belief in God. “Being able to find values and rituals but not having to believe in magic,” A.J. Kumar, former president of a Harvard humanist group, was quoted as saying, “that’s a powerful thing.” But is it really possible to have meaning (the values and sense of purpose) without magic (the supernatural beings and metaphysics)? Are the commentators right to treat humanism as an absence of meaningful commitments, versus a commitment to humanistic sources of value and meaning?

This is partly a question for philosophers and theologians. (Epstein himself is the author of a book titled Good Without God.) But it’s also a question about the human mind. In the language of psychology: Can people get the benefits of canonically religious beliefs from naturalistic alternatives? (Call this “the humanist’s path” to meaning without magic.) Can people “believe” in God—and get the benefits of doing so—without taking the supernatural elements of their belief to be true? (Call this “the theist’s path” to meaning without magic.)

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 26, 2021 7:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Ecstasy of Scientific Discovery, and Its Agonizing Price

Book Review

A simulation of the Schwarzschild precession, named after the German scientist Karl Schwarzschild, who provided the first precise solution to Einstein’s equations of general relativity.

By Benjamín Labatut
Translated by Adrian Nathan West

In December 1915, while serving on the Russian front, the German astronomer and mathematician Karl Schwarzschild sent a letter to Albert Einstein that contained the first precise solution to the equations of general relativity. Schwarzschild’s approach had been simple. He had plugged Einstein’s equations into a model that posited an ideal, perfectly spherical star, in order to calculate how its mass would warp the surrounding space. Schwarzschild’s solution was elegant, but it revealed something monstrous: If the same process were applied not to an ideal star but to one that had begun to collapse, its density and gravity would increase infinitely, creating an enclosed region of space-time, or a singularity, from which nothing could escape. Schwarzschild had given the world its first glimpse of black holes.

In “When We Cease to Understand the World,” a gripping meditation on knowledge and hubris, Benjamín Labatut describes how Schwarzschild was seized by a sense of foreboding over his own discovery. “The true horror” of the singularity, he told a fellow mathematician, was that it created a “blind spot, fundamentally unknowable,” since even light would be unable to escape it. And what if, he continued, something similar could occur in the human psyche? “Could a sufficient concentration of human will — millions of people exploited for a single end with their minds compressed into the same psychic space — unleash something comparable to the singularity? Schwarzschild was convinced that such a thing was not only possible, but was actually taking place in the Fatherland.”

Schwarzschild, who was Jewish, did not live to see Hitler rise to power and concentrate the collective German will to catastrophic effect. But a different premonition came true within months. The “void without form or dimension,” which he told his wife had invaded his being, took shape as a rare disease that would cover his body in pustulant blisters and kill him mere months after his scientific breakthrough.

Labatut, a Chilean novelist born in 1980 in the Netherlands, casts the flickering light of Gothic fiction on 20th-century science. In five free-floating vignettes, he illuminates the kinship of knowledge and destruction, brilliance and madness. He draws a line from the invention of a synthetic color in the 18th century to chemical warfare in World War I to the Zyklon B agent used in Nazi gas chambers. He relives the vertigo that can grip scientists on the precipice of discoveries, like Schwarzschild’s time-scrambling singularity or the German physicist Werner Heisenberg’s theory of indeterminacy. He retraces the trajectories of two brilliant mathematicians, Shinichi Mochizuki and Alexander Grothendieck, who after solving hitherto intractable problems, obscured or destroyed their own work and withdrew into eremitic silence. And he takes the reader into the heart of the battle to understand the quantum world, pitting Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics against Erwin Schrödinger’s wave equation, efforts that laid the groundwork for both Hiroshima and the internet.

Labatut’s gallery of tormented scientists features no women, though Marie Curie would have fit the profile well as both genius and martyr. Instead, it is the specter of Mary Shelley that seems to guide the author’s hand as he magnifies the nightmarish, repulsive or bizarre moments that affect the course of the history of science.

In any case, the individual characters are merely vehicles for Labatut. His true subject is the ecstasy of scientific discovery and the price it exacts — from the individuals who sacrifice everything in its pursuit, and from the human species, which gains ever more powerful tools to master a world that keeps eluding comprehension.

In the final chapter, we encounter a reclusive gardener who had once been a mathematician but “now speaks of mathematics as former alcoholics speak of booze, with a mixture of fear and longing.” The man, who gardens only at night because he maintains that plants suffer less if they are handled in their sleep, believes that “it was mathematics — not nuclear weapons, computers, biological warfare or our climate Armageddon — which was changing our world to the point where, in a couple of decades at most, we would simply not be able to grasp what being human really meant.”

That night gardener is one of the few invented characters in a book otherwise built on real events. The mix of fact and fiction is in itself common, but Labatut’s formula is unusual. As he explains in an author’s note, the amount of invented material grows over the course of the book. The opening chapter stays close to the facts in its account of Fritz Haber, the chemist who saved countless lives from starvation when he figured out how to harvest nitrogen from the air, creating a plentiful supply of fertilizer, but who also caused the agonizing deaths of countless soldiers in World War I as the guiding force behind Germany’s chemical weapons program. According to Labatut, that chapter contains only a single paragraph of fiction.

From there — as if growing out of that single impurity — dialogue, dreams and hallucinations proliferate. (Labatut’s imagination may run lurid, but his prose is masterfully paced and vividly rendered in Adrian Nathan West’s magnetic translation.) Thus the reader witnesses Heisenberg’s matrix epiphany on the remote North Sea island of Heligoland not as a breakthrough in esoteric algebra, but as revelation induced by fever and accompanied by visions.

The historical record confirms that Heisenberg arrived on Heligoland delirious with allergies. It’s known that he had a copy of Goethe’s “West-Eastern Divan” and memorized passages from it. But the hallucination in which the German naturalist and polymath Goethe fellates the lifeless body of Hafez, the 14th-century Sufi poet whose verses had inspired his Divan, is all Labatut’s. Modern science may have replaced mysticism as a path to knowledge, he seems to say, but it’s shattered our holistic understanding of our world.

Labatut has Heisenberg suffer another mental breakdown on the cusp of a scientific breakthrough, this time in Copenhagen, where he arrived at the uncertainty principle now named for him. In a seedy bar, he is accosted by a stranger who works in radio and confronts the German scientist about the “magnificent inferno” created by technologies that can warp distance and time. Stumbling out into the night, Heisenberg is overcome by a prefiguration of the nuclear bomb his research will make possible, a vision of tiny sparks dancing before his eyes, and a mute chorus of shadowy figures who throng around him before a flash of “blind” — not blinding — light obliterates them.

In Labatut’s telling, Heisenberg then comes to recognize that the parameters of any given quantum object can never be identified with certainty. If the position of an electron is determined precisely, “arresting that particle in its orbit like an insect impaled on a pin,” then it becomes impossible to know its momentum, and vice versa. The variables are mathematically complementary, so that the more clearly we bring one into focus, the more it blurs our understanding of the other — as if, Heisenberg explains, “reality allowed us to perceive the world with crystalline clarity with one eye at a time, but never with both.”

With his slippery hybrid of fact and fiction, Labatut slyly applies the uncertainty principle to the human pursuit of knowledge itself. Abstraction and imagination, measurement and story coexist in a multidimensional reality containing infinite destinies and interpretations. At its furthest reaches, reason and scientific inquiry lead into the unknowable. As Labatut puts it, in words he ascribes to Schwarzschild: “Only a vision of the whole, like that of a saint, a madman or a mystic, will permit us to decipher the true organizing principles of the universe.”
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 05, 2021 3:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Devastating Ways Depression and Anxiety Impact the Body

Mind and body form a two-way street.

It’s no surprise that when a person gets a diagnosis of heart disease, cancer or some other life-limiting or life-threatening physical ailment, they become anxious or depressed. But the reverse can also be true: Undue anxiety or depression can foster the development of a serious physical disease, and even impede the ability to withstand or recover from one. The potential consequences are particularly timely, as the ongoing stress and disruptions of the pandemic continue to take a toll on mental health.

The human organism does not recognize the medical profession’s artificial separation of mental and physical ills. Rather, mind and body form a two-way street. What happens inside a person’s head can have damaging effects throughout the body, as well as the other way around. An untreated mental illness can significantly increase the risk of becoming physically ill, and physical disorders may result in behaviors that make mental conditions worse.

In studies that tracked how patients with breast cancer fared, for example, Dr. David Spiegel and his colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine showed decades ago that women whose depression was easing lived longer than those whose depression was getting worse. His research and other studies have clearly shown that “the brain is intimately connected to the body and the body to the brain,” Dr. Spiegel said in an interview. “The body tends to react to mental stress as if it was a physical stress.”

Despite such evidence, he and other experts say, chronic emotional distress is too often overlooked by doctors. Commonly, a physician will prescribe a therapy for physical ailments like heart disease or diabetes, only to wonder why some patients get worse instead of better.

Many people are reluctant to seek treatment for emotional ills. Some people with anxiety or depression may fear being stigmatized, even if they recognize they have a serious psychological problem. Many attempt to self-treat their emotional distress by adopting behaviors like drinking too much or abusing drugs, which only adds insult to their pre-existing injury.

And sometimes, family and friends inadvertently reinforce a person’s denial of mental distress by labeling it as “that’s just the way he is” and do nothing to encourage them to seek professional help.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 08, 2021 10:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

How Covid Raised the Stakes of the War Between Faith and Science

I have never had much interest in faith versus science debates. They simply did not resonate with me. I believe God created the world, but I never felt the need to nail down the details or method of creation. I went to a fairly conservative evangelical seminary (founded by Billy Graham himself), and even there, I was taught that Genesis 1 was more like a hymn or a poem than a science textbook. I have long been influenced by early church theologians like Augustine of Hippo, who understood the biblical creation account as primarily making theological claims instead of offering a precise explanation of cosmological origins.

I was in campus ministry for a decade among scientists who were leaders in their fields. They sought cures for cancer and studied black holes, and were also passionate about their faith. They saw science as a tool, a gift from God that allowed them to help people and explore the glorious wonder of the world.

So I mostly ignored the larger cultural conversations that pit science and faith against each other.

Then along came Covid-19.

It has not been hard for me to trust the medical community and their recommendations during the pandemic because I personally know biomedical researchers whom I trust. I worship each Sunday with physicians. My church prayed for an end to the pandemic and asked God to help scientists in their vaccine research. We never saw a conflict between the work of God and efforts of science.

But others saw the two in opposition. In April 2020, Andrew Cuomo, then the governor of New York, explained declining coronavirus rates by saying, “Our behavior has stopped the spread of the virus. God did not stop the spread of the virus.” Around me, I heard some churchgoers say that Covid precautions were motivated by fear, not faith.

Indeed, these past two years have exposed how the science vs. faith discourse isn’t an abstract ideological debate but a false dichotomy that has disastrous real-world consequences. According to a September Pew study, white evangelicals are the least likely religious group to get vaccinated (about 57 percent have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine). There are certainly political reasons for this. Many white American evangelicals lean Republican, and Republicans overall are less likely to get vaccinated against Covid. But we also cannot overlook the broader context of distrust between evangelical faith communities and the scientific community.

To better understand this cultural division, I talked to Deborah Haarsma, an astrophysicist, a Christian and the president of BioLogos, an organization that explores the relationship between faith and science. In popular thought, she said, scientists and Christians are often slotted into “two different categories.”

It wasn’t always this way. At the outset of the Scientific Revolution, many scientists were motivated by their beliefs about God. Nicolaus Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle and other giants of modern science were people of faith. But, after high-profile debates over Darwin’s theory of evolution in the late 19th century, a perceived division began to emerge between religion and science. In the spectacle of the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, which assessed, among other things, whether a state could prohibit the teaching of evolution in schools (but was also staged as a publicity stunt by town leaders in Dayton, Tenn.), Christian beliefs and science were set up as incompatible ideas.

It “is better to trust in the Rock of Ages,” wrote the prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, “than to know the age of the rocks.”

Haarsma told me that the rise of the creationism movement in the 1960s, led by the engineer Henry Morris, increased the skepticism between some evangelical churches and scientists. The rift continued to grow because of bioethical conflicts around issues like stem cell research and euthanasia, but more so because of a latent cultural assumption that faith and fact oppose each other. When President Barack Obama appointed Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian (and the founder of BioLogos), as head of the National Institutes of Health in 2009, some questioned whether Collins’s religious faith should disqualify him from the position.

A 2018 study by Barna, a Christian research and polling firm, showed that “significantly fewer teens and young adults (28 percent and 25 percent) than Gen X and Boomers (36 percent and 45 percent)” view science and faith as complementary. Young people increasingly see an essential conflict between faith and science.

I asked Haarsma who is to blame. Is it the fault of religious communities for denigrating science or the scientific community for denigrating faith? She laughed and said there’s plenty of blame to go around.

At times, a vocal minority of prominent scientists have marginalized religious communities. Haarsma cited a tweet by Neil deGrasse Tyson, a prominent astrophysicist, from Christmas morning 2014: “On this day long ago, a child was born who, by age 30, would transform the world. Happy Birthday Isaac Newton.” That’s clever, but it appeared to mock Christians on one of our most sacred holidays. These sorts of messages spur needless animosity. If the cultural conversation requires people to choose between their faith and science, most will choose faith, but we don’t have to ask people to choose. This is a false choice.

At the same time, Haarsma said, there are some Christians who present faith as opposed to evidence, instead of “faith as a lived-out commitment in response” to evidence. She also said that heated anti-science rhetoric from a minority of Christians online encourages scientists to dismiss people of faith as a whole.

So, I asked Haarsma, what is the path to reconciliation? If this dichotomy between faith and science is truly a false dichotomy, how do we purge it from our broader cultural discourse and imagination?

I heard her voice rise with passion. This is her life’s work and the work of her organization. She offered practical steps: The message to religious communities needs to be, “Don’t trust science instead of God, trust science as a gift from God.” Church leaders can praise God for creation and the unique ability to be able to study and understand it. Churches can also spotlight scientists, especially people of faith who are leaders in their fields. (BioLogos has a bureau of scientists and other scholars who speak to faith groups.)

In turn, the scientific community could be more honest about the limits of the discipline. “Sometimes people say things like, ‘If everyone would just accept the science, the world would be great,’” Haarsma said. But she notes that science doesn’t solve everything and that scientific communities have to “acknowledge the value of religion as a way of answering life’s biggest questions.”

In the end, Haarsma said, these two communities share a goal: seeking truth. “They can find common ground in their desire to know what is true,” she suggests, “whether about nature or about God.” I asked Haarsma how faith and science entwine in her own work. Her voice sounded ebullient. As a professor of astronomy, she said, she truly sees how, in the words of Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” That’s what scientists study, she told me, “the very handiwork of God.”
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 22, 2021 2:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just Because You Don’t Believe in Conspiracy Theories Doesn’t Mean You’re Always Right

Every so often, something so awful and senseless happens that it’s hard to fully absorb it. An apartment building collapses as residents sleep within. A movie star’s prop gun fires a real bullet on a film set, killing a young mother. A concert crowd morphs into a melee that leaves people dead and injured.

After each such catastrophe, there looms a question: What’s the real story of what happened here? Amid a stream of facts and rumors via breaking news alerts, the loudest answers often come from two camps: Let’s call them the conspiracists and the reformists.

One rants about shadowy schemes, nefarious figures, unseen hands and global cabals. The other preaches the gospel of rationality, a doctrine holding that even if all is not yet known, all is eventually knowable, and that if sensible rules are followed, chaos can be prevented.

Take as an example Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival, where a crowd surge earlier this month left at least 10 people dead and injured hundreds. “It was like hell,” one attendee said. Some conspiracists were quick to assert another view: The concert wasn’t just “like” hell. It was, rather, an elaborate satanic ritual, perhaps designed to summon a portal to hell.

The signs were all there, they tweeted. There was the stage that looked like an inverted cross. There was the fact that the Church of Satan was founded on April 30, 1966 — 666 months and six days before the night of the concert, Nov. 5, 2021. And that date was also the 66th birthday of Kris Jenner, the mother of Kylie Jenner, Mr. Scott’s girlfriend. These outlandish ideas are not relegated to the fringes of the internet; some videos making such claims have millions of views. A single comment on one of these posts (“The music industry is demonic and collects souls”) garnered tens of thousands of likes on its own.

A conspiracist’s natural habitats are TikTok, Reddit, Facebook and YouTube, fertile ground for planting seeds of paranoia and fear through seconds-long clips and doctored photos. After the Astroworld tragedy, a prominent QAnon figure reportedly articulated the mantra of a conspiracist: “There is NO such thing as ‘coincidence.’ Ever.”

Enter the reformist, for whom a catastrophe comes down to predictable human error. According to the reformist, the cause of the crowd surge at Astroworld was a series of egregious mistakes: inadequate planning, a set of safety measures not properly put in place or a performer who should have stopped the show sooner.

Crisis could have been averted if only the proper procedures had been followed, the reformist argues on CNN or MSNBC, in an op-ed or Twitter thread. With sober policy prescriptions and technocratic resolve, the reformist suggests, we can bring to heel the chaos that is human existence. We need only follow the rules — and his or her smart advice.

The dichotomy between figures embodying either chaos or order goes back millenniums, and exists in cultures around the world. It is exemplified by the pairing of the ancient Greek gods Dionysus, the god of wine, revelry and mayhem, and Apollo, the god of the sun, temperance and rational thinking. Philosophers, Nietzsche most notably, have long commented on the relationship between the Apollonian and the Dionysian.

We humans need narratives to process what happens around us or in the world at large. As the popular historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari has said: “The truly unique trait of Sapiens is our ability to create and believe fiction. All other animals use their communication system to describe reality. We use our communication system to create new realities.”

Both the conspiracists and the reformists are engaged in this utterly human process. By connecting events and facts, and tying red strings between them on their metaphorical pin boards, the conspiracist and the reformist each develop a thesis about what happened. Stories help us live with each other and with ourselves, and in the wake of great and sudden suffering, we need something to keep us going.

It might be difficult to see how a story about a satanic blood sacrifice helps people live with themselves. But the conspiracist’s story offers a kind of clemency for the people involved, and perhaps for humankind at large. The image of concertgoers booing a woman who climbed a platform to try to stop the show at Astroworld is difficult to stomach. It can be easier to believe that the events that transpired were a satanic plot than to see them as a result of mundane human indifference.

The soothing quality of the reformist’s story is even easier to identify. His or her program of measured improvement offers hope for progress and the promise of control. For that, the reformist attitude is to be admired. If it’s true that “the story in which you believe shapes the society that you create,” as Mr. Harari recently said in an interview, then reformists, with their efforts to eliminate systemic malfunctions, are working toward a better world, or at the very least, a more safe and just one.

The conspiracist and the reformist tend to double down on the narratives valued by their respective communities. The reformist lives in a world where expertise and problem-solving have cultural cachet. The conspiracist lives in world where spirituality and belief in higher powers can answer a lot of the big questions.

Of course the distinctions between the reformist and the conspiracist, between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, are not absolute. Within any one person, the lines blur: Many of us can be reformists and conspiracists, prone to mysticism in some areas and beholden to reason in others. A tree may fall and nearly kill you, leading you to believe that this was a sign from the universe that you must live life to the fullest and appreciate each day — even as you email the city council about hiring more arborists.

There are problems with the stories that both conspiracists and reformists peddle. The conspiracist’s story, taken to its extreme, would have us believe that there is nothing we can do about accidents or problems because they are spawned by devils and cabals, malevolent forces beyond our control. The extreme version of the reformist’s story, by contrast, would have us believe that there’s nothing we can’t do about accidents or problems, that reason can secure us total control over our environment, and even over ourselves.

The truth is that catastrophes occupy the gray space between the darkness of the conspiracist’s narrative and the light of the reformist’s narrative. We are more in control than the conspiracists think; we are less in control than the reformists think.

American history offers many examples of conspiracists and reformists differing in their interpretation of events, from the Salem witch trials to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Or, take two other horrors of recent months: the fatal shooting on the set of the film “Rust,” and the Surfside condo building collapse. Both inspired conspiracy theories, and both inspired lectures and expert analyses of societal failures. Surely, more could have been done to prevent these tragedies — there were procedural and administrative failures in both instances — but we can only ever reduce the possibility of disaster, not eliminate it completely.

There’s a risk here, of course, of false equivalence. Though the conspiracist and the reformist have much in common, the consequences of their stories are obviously quite different. Conspiracy theories such as those advanced by QAnon adherents can breed apathy or extremism or undermine civil society, and they have led to violence and threats of violence.

Reformist narratives might be sanctimonious, but they tend to come from a desire to protect people and improve the world. Still, they can lead to excess caution, such as an unwillingness to discuss an eventual end to masking mandates at schools in some blue states, even when it’s not yet clear what effects two years of masking will have on children.

The true problem with the conspiracist and the reformist, however, is that by telling stories about a catastrophe’s meaning, they assent to the premise of the question, to the hubristic notion that the world should bend itself to human reasoning, that its nature and events and accidents will align with our storytelling. Each camp acts as if its stories are natural discoveries, rather than constructed narratives.

And what’s often lacking in both these camps is humility and empathy. Living in the gray area requires a healthy dose of both.

Empathy is what’s required, for example, to narrow the gulf on Covid: the conspiracist deniers and anti-vaxxers on one side, and the double-masked-and-triple-vaxxed reformists on the other, each railing against anyone whose choices they disagree with.

What would Covid messaging have looked like if humility had been built into the stories we told about masks and vaccines? If we had understood them to be highly effective preventive measures, rather than either silver bullets or ruses, would they have mutated into symbols, into sharp ideological lines dividing the nation?

Humility is a useful quality, too, when regarding the disaster of human-wrought climate change: It’s required to accept that a great deal of damage has already been done, and that our ability to mitigate future damage is already limited. Admitting so doesn’t mean abandoning the fight altogether.

What’s the harm, you might ask, of stories that make some sense of the senseless? Perhaps none. But they can rob us of the opportunity to sit with our feelings, to grieve our losses, to rage at the chaos of the universe, at our animal helplessness, at the random unfairness of life. Both conspiracists and reformists tell stories that explain the “why” before we’ve even processed the “what.”
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 04, 2021 11:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Revelation, Sciences and Symbolism. Al-Ghazali's Jawahir al-Qur an.

Islam and Rationality

The Impact of al-Ghazali

Papers Collected on His 900th Anniversary


Edited by

Georges Tamer

pdf of the book can be accessed at:
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 09, 2021 4:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Christmas Reflections: Miracles (Part 1 of 2)

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 12, 2021 2:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion

Drawing on a wealth of new evidence, pioneering research psychologist David DeSteno shows why religious practices and rituals are so beneficial to those who follow them—and to anyone, regardless of their faith (or lack thereof).

Scientists are beginning to discover what believers have known for a long time: the rewards that a religious life can provide. For millennia, people have turned to priests, rabbis, imams, shamans, and others to help them deal with issues of grief and loss, birth and death, morality and meaning. In this absorbing work, DeSteno reveals how numerous religious practices from around the world improve emotional and physical well-being.

With empathy and rigor, DeSteno chronicles religious rites and traditions from cradle to grave. He explains how the Japanese rituals surrounding childbirth help strengthen parental bonds with children. He describes how the Apache Sunrise Ceremony makes teenage girls better able to face the rigors of womanhood. He shows how Buddhist meditation reduces hostility and increases compassion. He demonstrates how the Jewish practice of sitting shiva comforts the bereaved. And much more.

DeSteno details how belief itself enhances physical and mental health. But you don’t need to be religious to benefit from the trove of wisdom that religion has to offer. Many items in religion’s “toolbox” can help the body and mind whether or not one believes. How God Works offers advice on how to incorporate many of these practices to help all of us live more meaningful, successful, and satisfying lives.
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2021 6:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Christmas Reflections: Miracles (Part 2 of 2)

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 26, 2021 2:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NASA looks to religious scholars for answers

NASA has enlisted the help of theologians to examine how the world would react if sentient life was found on other planets and what impacts such a discovery would have on deeply-held beliefs about divinity and creation.

The US space agency has recruited some 24 scholars so far to participate in a program at Princeton University’s Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) in New Jersey. The center – which received a $1.1 million NASA grant in 2014 – looks to build “bridges of understanding” between academics of various disciplines, scientists, and policymakers on “global concerns.”

According to the Daily Mail, the program is apparently aimed at answering such big picture questions as “what is life? What does it mean to be alive? Where do we draw the line between the human and the alien? What are the possibilities for sentient life in other places?”

Last week, CTI Director Will Storrar told The Times that NASA’s goal for the program was “serious scholarship being published in books and journals” to address the “profound wonder and mystery and implication of finding microbial life on another planet.”

“We may not discover life for 100 years. Or we may discover it next week,” a NASA expert told the paper, which added that the agency’s growing “astrobiology” department has been looking for new answers to age-old questions for some 25 years.

Among those who have participated in the CTI program is Andrew Davison, a priest and theologian at Cambridge University who holds a PhD in biochemistry. Davison, who was part of the program’s 2016-2017 cohort, noted in a blog post that “religious traditions” were an “important feature in how humanity would work through any such confirmation of life elsewhere.”

Because of that, [religion] features as part of NASA’s ongoing aim to support work on ‘the societal implications of astrobiology,’ working with various partner organizations.

Other religious figures, including the Bishop of Buckingham Alan Wilson, Rabbi Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue, and Imam Qari Asim of the Makkah Mosque in Leeds, told The Times that Christian, Jewish, and Islamic teaching would not be affected by the discovery of alien life.

Meanwhile, Carl Pilcher, a former head of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, said that the agency was “giving an increased emphasis to questions which before the 20th century had largely been the preserve of philosophy and theology and religion.”
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