Pi = 3.0 and other Fundamentalist reforms



Pi = 3.0

“He knows when you’ve been sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”

Southern “Fundamentalists” have an ancient history. Remember the Scopes “Monkey Trial”? It’s going on right now in Helena, and state capitols around the country. There were actually Southern states which passed laws proclaiming that Pi = 3 (the ratio of the radius to the circumference of a circle, usually recorded as 3.1416 or 22/7ths, for those working in fractions only). This can be a metaphor for the kind of thinking which proclaims Marijuana to be a “schedule 1 drug” and thus locks up millions of people and ruins their lives because of a wrong definition. DEFINITIONS MATTER. OBJECTIVE REALITY MATTERS. SCIENCE MATTERS. THE TRUTH MATTERS. Tell that to the Judge…

The Truth Shall Make You Free

As little theologically-inclined as I am, I am still puzzled at this “Fundamentalist” view of God – a kind of fierce “hanging judge” who lives in a book, not in the real world. God is whatever they say he is. And His laws are totally arbitrary, not to be discovered or questioned (proven), but to be proclaimed by phoney “prophets” like ….(name your favorites).

How can they think that the Theory of Evolution (now we should say, the Principles or mechanisms of biological evolution) is irreligious, and somehow an affront to the God who is proclaimed (in an ancient book of doubtful provenance) to have “created” everything in 7 Earth Days (before Earth was even created, apparently – now, they say it may have been 7 billion years, or some such number). Or that birth control is some sort of “communist plot”, or an incitement to prostitution?

Speaking of numbers and “numeracy”, there’s even a book in the Bible called “Numbers.” Is it a math primer? Or an accounting of reality (in c. 2000BCE Judea, conducted by Moses and Aaron) in mathematical terms? Some of the earliest writing, we discover, was accounting ledgers – cows and troops and chariots and water rights, the numbers of people enrolled in tribes or clans, etc. – in the cuniform of the Assyrians. The ancient Hebrews did a tour of duty, there, too – who knows when or how their writing evolved? We now know they’re all “Indo-Europeans”, from the Plains of India to Ireland, with only the Basques exempt from this designation and language-group….

According to the Christian (and many Jewish and Muslim Fundamentalists – they all claim descent from Abraham, whence the term “Saracens), it is this “history” of some 8000 years, recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, which constitutes the entire time-span of cosmic history. In this view, there weren’t even stars or galaxies before 8000 years ago, and Men (humans) did not come into being before the 6th Day.

If you wonder why so many religious conservatives can be opposed to climate science, economic science, or indeed, any other logical and “secular” understanding of things, some 40% of Americans actually believes that the world was created 8000 years ago. Thus, all the geological evidence, 100K-year-old ice-cores from glaciers, etc. just don’t exist. And if they do, they were put there by this “Beneficent God” to test our faith. Only those who deny global warming will go to Heaven, apparently. Warming must be the work of the Devil.

The Age of Reason dismissed most of this as “superstition” – not a bad thing in itself, mind you. It’s something we imagine on top (super) of what we know by direct perception and experience. The more polite word is “Transcendental” – that which transcends ordinary material experience. And it’s all good.

Why would any God worthy of our belief and respect object to Science? Or real geologic history? It’s merely a correction of the human record, and our understanding of it. It doesn’t reflect on God or her “Creation” in any way. All the laws and facts of science are the laws and facts of God. Of course, we don’t need to posit a God to make it all work. It works just as well without any sort of “supernatural” explanations. “Occam’s Razor” is a Medieval principle we still use, today.

The simplest explanation (consistent with the evidence) is the best one. Our study of Nature may be enhanced by reverence for or faith in God’s Creation, but we should not use our faith to suppress and punish those who don’t share it. And that might be the difference between Christianity and Islam. Christianity implies eternal forgiveness and reconciliation, not “death to the infidels” (which, in fact, Islam usually rejects, as well). American Christians need to dialog more with Orthodox Christians who live in the Middle-east, and not follow the hate-filled legacy of organized religion and religious wars/persecutions in the West. Shi’ites and Sunni have nothing on Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, or in 17th Century Germany and Poland.

The war between faith and reason has been reborn in the war between science and the humanities. We thought we had this licked in the 1960’s, with C.P. Snow’s work and the discussions it inspired. The traditional Liberal Arts didn’t really have this problem, since it included such things as math, astronomy, and cosmology. And it was basically the tools of learning, thinking (logic) and writing or speaking (rhetoric) which had been developed by Aristotle nearly 2000 years before the 1600’s, when the Age of Reason started up again, and Religious Authority began to be questioned and opposed wherever it seemed to conflict with humanistic values.

They didn’t teach “history” as such. You “read history” just as you “read law.” By reading, you learn what happened, and what sort of ideas or principles govern human society and its development and conflicts over time. It isn’t a matter of taking a test, but simply demonstrating, by your work and conversation, whatever level of understanding and expertise you have attained. Would that we had similar qualifications for lawyers and judges, today, instead of how much they spend on negative campaign advertising, or kow-tow to some imagined hirearcy of prestige and authority within their “profession.”

The first “humanism” exemplified by Erasmus and his fellows was about learning Greek and Latin, and recovering the lost wisdom, art, and literature of the Mediterranean Classical World. And this was easy enough because the New Testament was written in Greek, and the Catholic Church conducted its business exclusively in Latin. People already knew how to read the Classics, but the non-clerical stuff had long been lost and suppressed – except for the grafitti and incriptions which endured and were visible to the literati.

The texts of Plato and Aristotle, although widely known in the Hellenistic world (later Byzantine Empire and Caliphate), remained lost to Europe through the “Dark Ages”. St Thomas Aquinas and his teacher, Albertus Magnus, put Aristotle back into the curriculum – including Theology – and this led to all sort of developments including the establishment of universities on the model of the Academy and Lyceum. Still, it would be centuries before such universities were independent of ecclesiastical authority.

Indeed, the main purpose of these universities was to train the clergy, who also served as schoolmasters at all levels. If you look at the Talib in the Islamic world, today, you can get some sort of idea of what this education was like. Lots of memorization, little thought or discussion, and lots of copying ancient texts and and holy writings.

The first task for a scholar at a university in the 1300’s was to make his own personal copy of the Bible, or at least the most important parts of it. And this could take up to 200 calf-skins (vellum), and thousands of hours of copying the Greek or Latin script from the “master copy” at that school. Having learned about this studying Medieval Philosophy at UCLA, I could see the parallels when I went to work for the Campus Computing Network, and cyber-scholars consulting the 3-foot-thick book of “error messages” and “codes” in the Machine Room, where their programs were still submitted by hand on punched cards, which we then fed into the card reader, resulting in some “output” on a printer or magnetic tape. That whole computer, an IBM 360-91, had only 4 MB of RAM, and it was one of the largest and fastest in the world in 1969.

This was the beginning of the Age of Machines – which seems to be evolving more or less as predicted in the James Cameron film, The Terminator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, who would follow (or perhaps mimic) Ronald Reagan from the Silver Screen to the Governor’s mansion in Sacramento. Another fulfillment of the Sacraments, one might say, and the idea of God as a great Machine which regulates and governs us all.



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