February 3rd, 2011

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 79 - A Person of Virtue


After a bitter quarrel, some resentment must remain.
What can one do about it?
Therefore the sage keeps his half of the bargain
But does not exact his due.
A man of Virtue performs his part,
But a man without Virtue requires others to fulfill their obligations.
The Tao of heaven is impartial.
It stays with good men all the time.-
Daily Tao - December 1st, 2009

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Science and Religion from James Burke - The Day the Universe Changed

.....Science began its fight to supplant myth and magic on the grounds that it provided more valid explanations of nature.

Yet myths and magic rituals and religious beliefs attempt the same task. Science produces a cosmogony as a general structure to explain the major questions of existence. So do the Edda and Gilgamesh epics, and the belief in Creation and the garden of Eden. Myths provide structures which give cause-and effect reasons for the existence of phenomena. So does science. Rituals use secret languages known only to the initiates who have passed ritual tests and who follow the strictest rules of procedure which are essential if the magic is to work. Science operates in the same way. Myths confer stability and certainty because they explain why things happen or fail to happen, as does science. The aim of the myth is to explain existence, to provide a means of control over nature, and to give to us all comfort and a sense of place in the apparent chaos of the universe. This is precisely the aim of science.

Science, therefore for all the reasons above, is not what it appears to be. It is not objectively impartial, since every observation it makes of nature is impregnated with theory. Nature is so complex and so random that it can only be approached with a systematic tool that presupposes certain facts about it. Without such a pattern it would be impossible to find an answer to questions even as simple as 'What am I looking at?'

The structure is institutionalised and given permanence by the educational system. Agreement on the structure is efficient: it saves investigators from having to go back to first principles each time. The theory of the structure dictates what 'facts' shall be, and all values and assessments of results are internal to the structure. Since theory 'creates' facts, and facts prove the theory, the argument of science is circular. Commitment to the theory is essential to orderly progress. The unknown can only be examined by first being defined in terms of the structure.

The implications of this are that, since the structure of reality changes over time, science can only answer contemporary questions about a reality defined in contemporary terms and investigated with contemporary tools. Logic is shaped by the values of the time; for Abelard it is revealed truth, for Galileo experimental evidence. Language, too, changes: in the fifteenth century 'earth' means 'fixed, unmoving'; in the eighteenth century 'electric' implies 'liquid'; 'space' before Georg Riemann is two-dimensional. Method is similarly dependent upon context: dialectic argument is replaced by empirical observation which is replaced by statistical probability. Science learns from mistakes only because they are deemed as such by the new structure.

In spite of its claims, science offers no method or universal explanation of reality adequate for all time. The search for the truth, the 'discovery of nature's secrets', as Descartes put it, is an idiosyncratic search for temporary truth. One truth is replaced by another. The fact that over time science has provided a more complex picture of nature is not in itself final proof that we live by the best, most accurate model so far.

The knowledge acquired through the use of any structure is selective. There are no standards or beliefs guiding the search for knowledge which are not dependent on the structure. Scientific knowledge, in sum, is not necessarily the clearest representation of what reality is; it is the artifact of each structure and its tool. Discovery is invention. Knowledge is man-made.

If this is so, then all views at all times are equally valid. There is no metaphysical, super-ordinary, final, absolute reality. There is no special direction to events. The universe is what we say it is. When theories change, the universe changes. The truth is relative.

This relativist view is generally shunned. It is supposed by the Left to dilute commitment and by the Right to leave society defenceless. In fact it renders everybody equally responsible for the structure adopted by the group. If there is no privileged source of truth, all structures are equally worth assessment and equally worth toleration. Relativism neutralises the views of extremists of all kinds. It makes science accountable to the society from which its structure springs. It urges care in judgment through awareness of the contextual nature of the judgmental values themselves.

A relativist approach might well use the new electronic data systems to provide a structure unlike any which has gone before. If structural change occurs most often through the juxtaposition of so-called 'facts' in a novel way, then the systems might offer the opportunity to evaluate not the facts which are, at the present rate of change, obsolete by the time they come to public consciousness, but the relationships between facts: the constants in the way they interact to produce change. Knowledge would then properly include the study of the structure itself.

Such a system would permit a type of 'balanced anarchy' in which all interests could be represented in a continuous reappraisal of the social requirements for knowledge, and the value judgments to be applied in directing the search for that knowledge. The view that this would endanger the position of the expert by imposing on his work the judgment of the layman ignores the fact that science has always been the product of social needs, consciously expressed or not. Science may well be a vital part of human endeavour, but for it to retain the privilege which it has gained over the centuries of being in some measure unaccountable would be to render both science itself and society a disservice. It is time that knowledge became more accessible to those to whom it properly belongs.

James Burke - Wolrds Without End

Meme: "God and the World" Question 3 What religion were you raised with?

As a child, i attended a series of Sunday school and "vacation Bible schools" which could vaguely be described as "non-denominational" and "fundamentalist"  My mother was Baptist and for a short time i attended a Southern Baptist Church and Sunday School.  At 14, i followed my current girl friend into the Methodist Church where i remained until my mid twenties.

Question 4. Do you practice this religion.  I do not.  At age 25 i began to attend a Unitarian Church in a city fifty miles from where i lived (the closest one).  After marrying to my present wife at age 27, i stopped attending church,  A few years later (age 36?) i started attending
Roman Catholic Masses with her.  I continue to do this because i love her.  Between ages 23 and 72 i regarded myself as an agnostic.

Question 5. Your most spiritual moment.  I have been graced with four or five such moments during my life, but the most impressive was the first.  I was approaching the age of ten and a move that would take us 800 miles away from home.  It was to be the last of many moves during my childhood.  We had returned briefly to the first home i could remember, a commercial trout farm,  It was war time, and the farm had been drained and converted into a "victory garden."  All that was left of the ponds were areas of deep mud with streamlets running through them. In one of these ponds i was playing, catching  water skippers (with another boy, i think) ankle deep in mud, when suddenly a wave of total calm came over me.  I realized in that moment the oneness and perfection of everything.  It was as if time had entered eternity and all was at peace. This feeling must have lasted a few seconds or a few minutes and then passed leaving me slightly dazed and wondering what had happened. Years later, after reading much about mystical experiences, i concluded that this had been such.

Question 6. The last time you were in a house of worship...  Dianne and i attended Mass Saturday eveneing,, we will likely do so this coming Saturday as well.  If you wanted more information you should have asked for it

(Question 2 was answered in a previous post.).