Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sanitation Is A Basic Human Right

Warning: This talk might contain much more than you’d ever want to know about the way the world poops. But as sanitation activist (and TED Fellow) Francis de los Reyes asks — doesn’t everyone deserve a safe place to go?

When True Turns Out Not To Be True

by Joe Erwin

When one is taught something as ultimate and inflexible Truth that turns out not to be true, one wonders what else from that source is not so.

I would not describe my position as "total agnosticism." I am agnostic about the existence of God--at least, of the concept of God that I learned as a child and held onto for as long as I could into adulthood.

I find tangible reality to be quite believable. I believe we exist in tangible reality. How well we understand real things is another matter. We can understand some real things better than others.

I am quite skeptical about unreal things, like ghosts and spirits, even though I acknowledge that there are real things/forces/thoughts/processes that are intangible. But, for me, intangible things are more difficult to define, grasp, or understand than things that are more tangible.  

I happen to think that some things are much more "knowable" than others. Knowing "the mind of God" is one of the least knowable things I can imagine. I no longer claim to know some of the things I formerly thought I knew. I find them to be unknowable and incredible. You are, of course, welcome to believe anything you are able to believe. If I am unable to believe something that you do, why should I? Is it because you know about some essential aspects of existence that you are obligated to make me acknowledge or believe?

If Jesus created all human and nonhuman animals, He certainly did not make mankind "absolutely different" from all the others. We humans share most of our structure and function with nonhumans. We are different enough from other animals to be distinguishable, but in most ways we are not qualitatively different than the other animals are different from each other.

We do have remarkable brains that enable us devise extragenetic ways of adapting to a wide range of environments and changing environmental conditions. One emergent consequence of our remarkable brains has been the invention of a level of symbolic communication, through spoken and written language, that is unparalleled in other animals. And, in the case of written symbolic communication, that is a recent development. Written language has been around, as far as we can tell, only for a few thousand years—only for about the amount of time accounted for in scripture.

In that sense, mankind or humanity as we know it as a communicator through written and spoken language, originated recently. There might be some deep wisdom embedded in the biblical statement that "In the beginning was the Word." Perhaps the scriptural stories really only address a sort of regionally focused glimpse of humans since the dawn of literacy (far from universal literacy, of course, hence the need for the story tellers and writers to have special social status and authority).

I do think we as humans are morally accountable to each other and ourselves for the things we do that affect us and those around us. In that sense, we have some responsibilities for the nonhuman animate and inanimate world. On the basis of  "due consideration" as an ethical guide, we have obligations to be as considerate as we are able to be—as considerate as we know how to be. The social systems of other animals include affection, protection, retribution, even, apparently, some degree of empathy, etc., not identical what occurs with people, but similar to some degree.

I place confidence, to varying degrees, in many different kinds of substantial evidence. By faith Joseph walks out of the house in the morning and gets into his little Subaru and activates the starter expecting to be able to drive to the Dott Store for a morning cup of coffee. By faith Joseph reads reports from scientists who write in detail about fossils they have discovered, including descriptions of the locations and matrix of the findings and estimates of the ages of the specimens—and he holds this information as tentatively valid and subject to revision in the context of other information. Joseph does not place much confidence in a small number of reported estimates or even in the speculative interpretations of experts—knowing that more will be learned in the future. The more substantial the evidence, the greater my confidence in conclusions based on that information.

The less substance and evidence that exists, the more faith is required to believe something. But don't ask me to believe something that abundant and substantial evidence clearly indicates is not so. I am very confident that a loving Creator God would not have provided us with abilities to acquire and evaluate evidence if She/He/It did not intend for us to use those abilities.

I have no interest in defying Almighty God or claiming to know He does not exist. I honestly do not know, and do not see how I could know or understand His existence. The concept of God I was taught while growing up just does not seem to be supported by abundant tangible evidence. I think I was misled. Even so, an appreciation for honesty, affection, kindness, and empathy—love, if you will—seems to have rubbed off on me, and these concepts seem to me to be consistent with living life fully. And "living life fully" seems awfully close to the message of Jesus.


Why I Take The Piano On The Road … And In The Air

Pianist Daria van den Bercken fell in love with the baroque keyboard music of George Frideric Handel. Now, she aims to ignite this passion in others. In this talk, she plays us through the emotional roller coaster of his music — while sailing with her piano through the air, driving it down the street, and of course playing on the stage.