March 1999

Y0K: Humor from the Internet

The Y2K computer situation is in the news almost daily. A recent archeological find shows that the calendar has caused similar problems before:

Dear Cassius,

Are you still working on the Y zero K problem? This change from BC to AD is giving us a lot of headaches and we haven’t much time left. I don’t know how people will cope with working the wrong way around. Having been working happily downwards forever, now we have to start thinking upwards. You would think that someone would have thought of it earlier and not left it to us to sort it all out at this last minute.

I spoke to Caesar the other evening. He was livid that Julius hadn’t done something about it when he was sorting out the calendar. He said he could see why Brutus turned nasty. We called in the consulting astrologers, but they simply said that continuing downwards using minus BC won’t work. As usual, the consultants charged a fortune for doing nothing useful. As for myself, I just can’t see the sand in an hour glass flowing upwards. We have heard that there are three wise men in the East who are working on the problem, but unfortunately they won’t arrive until it’s all over. Some say the world will cease to exist at the moment of transition. Anyway we are still continuing to work on this blasted Y zero K problem and I will send you a parchment if anything further develops.

–Vale, Plutonius

Ben Franklin’s Virtues

Franklin placed each of the 13 virtues on a separate page in a little book which he carried with him for more than 50 years. Each day he evaluated his performance with regard to each of them. Every week he selected one of the virtues as a point of special focus, concentrating his attention on the selected trait for seven days.

Did Ben Franklin feel that this focus on his governing values was helpful? As he wrote in his autobiography, “I always carried my little book with me . . . and it may be well my posterity should be informed that to this little artifice, with the blessing of God, their ancestor owes the constant felicity of his life down to his seventy-ninth year, in which this is written.”

These names of virtues, with their precepts, were:

  1. TEMPERANCE: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. SILENCE: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. ORDER: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. RESOLUTION: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. FRUGALITY: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. INDUSTRY: Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. SINCERITY: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. JUSTICE: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. MODERATION: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. CLEANLINESS: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. TRANQUILLITY: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. CHASTITY: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. HUMILITY: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Has Science Found God?

Contrary to a recent report in Newsweek, the answer is “no.” Religion’s approach to determining truth is contradictory to the scientific method; the vast majority of practicing scientists do not believe in a god; and recent scientific discoveries have not revealed any evidence for the existence of a god. If current scientific knowledge has any theological implications at all, it is that our universe is probably not the result of a personal Creator.

Consider the radically different ways of knowing things in science vs. religion:

  • Scientific hypotheses are always tentative; they are held only so long as they are supported by evidence. Religious doctrines, on the other hand, may be held in accordance with evidence (e.g., Pontius Pilate was a historical person), without supporting evidence (e.g., the angel Moroni delivered the Book of Mormon on Golden Plates to Joseph Smith), or even in spite of evidence (e.g., the Genesis flood).
  • Scientific hypotheses must be testable. There is no such guarantee with respect to religious claims: they may be testable; then again, they might not be.

Thus, although religious epistemology may sometimes reach the same conclusions as the scientific method, there is no guarantee that it will do so. Thus religious epistemology is inconsistent with the scientific method.

The vast majority of scientists are atheists or agnostics. According to a letter by EJ Larson and L Witham, just published in Nature 394:313, a recent survey of members of the National Academy of Sciences showed that 72% are outright atheists, 21% are agnostic and only 7% admit to belief in a personal God. Figures from an almost identical survey in 1914 and 1933 show a steady decline in God-belief among scientists.

Why is the percentage of scientists who believe in God so much lower than the general U.S. population? One possible explanation is that scientists understand (much better than the scientifically illiterate general population of the U.S.) that science offers no evidence for the existence of God. Big Bang cosmology only entails that our universe is expanding as the result of a cosmic explosion which took place billions of years ago. From this it does not follow that the Big Bang was caused by a god, much less a personal god. Indeed, most scientists hold just the opposite conclusion. As the late Carl Sagan said, if Big Bang cosmology is true, “there is nothing for a Creator to do.” But what about the claim that the universe must have been “fine-tuned” by a cosmic designer? Simply put, the argument begs the question. The argument assumes that the values of the physical constants of our universe (e.g., the speed of light) are extremely unlikely. But how could anyone know that? We have no idea how likely or unlikely variations in the physical constants are. We do not even know that the values of the constants are in fact “tunable!”

Although these points do not constitute a strict disproof of the existence of a personal God, the nonexistence of a personal God is the best explanation for these points. They support a naturalistic worldview.

To paraphrase a point made by Robby Berry, atheists and agnostics may find articles about “science finding god” upsetting, but there is a positive side to all this. Theists have tried to give scientific evidence for the existence of God. Their arguments may not be successful, but they clearly want others to think that their theism is supported by science. This in itself is a sign that skepticism is slowly but surely taking the place of faith. It wasn’t that long ago when the vast majority of religious believers simply ignored science, or condemned it outright. But nowadays, most theists are trying to make their religious claims appear scientifically sound. It would seem that science (and thus its methods) have gained the respect of a large proportion of the populace, such that science can no longer be ignored by those who don’t like its implications. As a result, Christians dare not condemn science outright; they must instead make it appear that science really agreed with them all along. Thus witness the onslaught of books attempting to integrate science and religion: Hugh Ross’s Fingerprint of God, Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box, J.P. Moreland’s (ed.) Creation Hypothesis, Patrick Glynn’s God: The Evidence, and so on. All of these are attempts to make it appear that science is on the Christians’ side.

So guess what? The skeptics are winning. While its still too early to toast our victory, we can take comfort in the fact that we’ve managed to dictate the terms of engagement.

–by Jeffery Jay Lowder, Internet Infidel

Annual Meeting Report

The continued growth of our chapter was evident at the February 4th Annual Business Meeting. Sixty-five people enjoyed a variety of wines and light discussion during the social hour followed by a delicious sit-down dinner. The record setting attendance heard encouraging reports regarding the chapter’s financial condition from outgoing treasurer Irene Fryer, membership growth figures from secretary Wayne Wilson, and from Earl Wunderli a progress report on establishing a Humanist of Utah Foundation to solicit major contributions for the construction of a Utah Humanist Center.

Chapter president Flo Wineriter reported highlights of the past year including a year-long newspaper advertising campaign that resulted in a 25% increase in membership, a 50% increase in average attendance at our public meetings and a big increase in the number of people seeking information about humanism. Another major note of progress was the establishing of the chapters presence on the Internet, thanks to the creative energies and electronic expertise of board member David Evans and secretary Wayne Wilson.

Unanimously elected to serve on the board for the next year were: Joyce Barnes, Mendel Cohen, David Evans, Rolf Kay, Brenda Wright and Earl Wunderli. Elected as chapter officers were: Flo Wineriter, president; Hugh Gillilan, vice-president; Wayne Wilson, secretary; Anna Hoagland, treasurer.

Thanks to Rolf Kay, the annual business membership meeting and dinner concluded with a beautiful musical program, a mandolin-guitar duet featuring Martin Zwick and Michael Lucarelli.

–Flo Wineriter

Envision Utah: Does It Have Enough Vision?

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

Recently Utahns were asked by the Envision Utah project to think and express their views about what kind of growth pattern they would like to see the state follow in future years. Governor Mike Leavitt said citizens had an “obligation” to make their views known by sending in questionnaires published in the newspapers, or by responses on the Internet. The responses, we have been told, will be used by leaders to help them make planning decisions.

Four scenarios are presented as planning alternatives:

  1. Low density development: This is best liked by those who like large lots, creating a rural atmosphere. Problems: It creates sprawl and a high price tag and consumes the most miles and money, primarily for roads and other infrastructure.
  2. Current growth trends: It continues existing community master plans and development trends; and creates more low density housing, more separation of homes and stores, more limits on apartments and more roads–in short, more sprawl, but less than under scenario 1.
  3. Walkable neighborhood: This Is a more pedestrian-friendly development. It combines stores, offices, homes, and apartments in “villages” with higher densities and more mass transit.
  4. High-infill development: Building new subdivisions is out; filling empty lots is in. It promotes more mixed-use and neighborhood-scale development than scenario 3, produces the most compact development, gobbles up the least land and is the most walkable and most viable for mass transit.

The discussion group felt it was commendable that planning leaders have provided this opportunity for the public to make its views known about the future course of development in our state. However, the group expressed some concerns about the limited scope of the study. For example, it seems to assume the desirability of continued population growth; it does not consider the alternative of limiting population growth, a scenario that could be realized if people were to limit family size. The recent announcement by the Mormon Church of a change in its position on family planning to a more liberal approach should help with this problem. Planners in Utah apparently assume that continued rapid growth is necessary to maintain prosperity. Is this necessarily the case?

Envision Utah doesn’t take into account worldwide macro-problems like the depletion of our natural resources, especially our oil reserves. Petroleum in the ground is rapidly becoming more and more in short supply and much of what is left is less readily accessible than in the past. Work on the development of alternative fuels for motor vehicles is not progressing rapidly enough. The development of alternative modes of transportation is going ahead, but it may not be enough. Many people will still probably continue preferring the automobile because it is so enormously convenient. Add in the problem of global warming, which nearly all scientists who are informed on the problem except those who work for the oil and coal companies say is already upon us. Perhaps Utah could do more to promote awareness of these problems. There is no more important planning activity. However, the prevalent assumption in Utah, as elsewhere, seems to be that we will somehow come up with the answers when disaster is near, but this assumption could prove to be unfortunate. We seem to be headed toward a collision with a brick wall. Are our long-range planning problems outrunning our vision?