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Of Molecular Manufacturing and Red Cows

by Kirsten Sanford, Jan 16 2009

In this modern world of the internet and social media, I think it is important to remember that motivations vary from person to person based upon personal experiences and goals. I am constantly reminded of this fact by the many people with whom I interact online. It’s rare that two people react to something in an identical manner.

Just this week on Twitter I was presented with two web-links, which brought the diversity of thoughts and ideas that are out there right up to the surface. First, I saw a tweet by @ruthseely quoting from an article about nanotechnology written by an evangelist Christian.

“The problem is not technology. The problem is sin.”

The article and others on the website suggest that nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing will bring about the end of the world as we know it. We are in a race for nanotech superiority, and whichever country is able to grab the reins of molecular manufacturing will rule the earth.

It’s one of those websites that smacks of conspiracy theory jargon, but in this case there is no conspiracy. The reasons to fear nanotech are based in the bible.

The quote that @ruthseely took from the article doesn’t stop there. The entire thought is as follows:

“The problem is not technological development.  The problem is sin.  The power of technology serves to amplify that sin.  And the solution is not a change in public attitude.  The solution is the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ.”

It is unfortunate that the author has to rely entirely on Jesus for salvation in this instance. While technology has the potential to amplify what are considered sins, it is the way in which people wield technology that makes the difference. I think that public attitude is an essential part of the solution to the problem of how best to use advancing technologies. Regardless, I find it interesting that the ideas of Ray Kurzweil are being used to support biblical prophecy.

I retweeted the link because I love to share interesing reading material, and the favor was returned by @pbrush:

“@drkiki what’s worse, that or those using recombinant dna to make a red heifer to fullfills biblical prophecy? http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/apocalypse/readings/forcing.html

In addition to being an enlightening read involving both fundamental Christian (Pentacostal) and Orthodox Jewish faiths, it contains this little gem right near the end of the article:

According to Lott, his efforts will ensure that “in the first one or two or three decades of the millennial reign Israel will be able to go into the tanks, pull out those frozen embryos, and place them in cows. And in one generation, whatever they lost in he tribulation, they will have the very best cows on the face of the earth….She will be able to get the rest of the world back on its feet again, agriculturally, from a livestock point of view.”

It’s amazing that otherwise fundamental faiths are, in this instance, using modern reproductive technologies for their religious needs. These same methods are scorned and shunned and protested when considered in relation to humans.

I’m not supporting any of these perspectives nor am I saying that they are wrong for any reason. In the end, both of these articles are, for me, reminders of the way that the human mind can rationalize any actions or ideas. It is one of the traits that does make us human. We need to remember this as we argue and debate against opposing perspectives. A little compassion for differences of opinion might do us all a little good.

I know it will for me.

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18 Responses to “Of Molecular Manufacturing and Red Cows”

  1. greg says:

    I wonder if using recombinant dna to get a fully red heifer is any different theologically from selectively breeding. I suppose it will depend on who I ask.

  2. Cambias says:

    I don’t think we should be quite so contemptuous. This is someone genuinely trying to fit science and faith into the same worldview. It sounds weird to us, but I think it’s better than the outright rejection. How is opposing nanotech based on the Bible any stranger than opposing it because “the rich” will get most of the benefits, or because it will destroy “the environment” (both of which arguments I’ve personally heard).

  3. Max says:

    There’s no question that technology reshapes society. The question is whether it’s for the better or whether it increases happiness. The answer is a value judgment.

  4. Mastriani says:

    In the end, both of these articles are, for me, reminders of the way that the human mind can rationalize any actions or ideas. It is one of the traits that does make us human.

    This sounds lugubriously metaphysical.

    First difference: To be “human” is not special. Too many social individuals confuse scenario constructions, and their consequent psychological effects/biochemical reactions in the brain, to be a mark of metaphysical “purpose”. Plainly, a blatant fallacy.

    Second difference: Rationalisation. To rationalise is to induce, and any consequent claims are therefore an error. Empathy and/or sympathy for errors does not edify or ameliorate any individual; rather it allows errors of thought to be put forth in fallacious claims which keep us in a regressive social state.

    “Opinions” are always claims of bias, most often without evidential predicates. Has no one noticed the condition of the U.S society and economy at this point? Critical thinking and skepticism are necessary, compassion for “opinions” is social apathy at its worst, and we are past the time for accepting or validating that behavior.

  5. Phillip says:

    An interesting article, from the “compassion for different views” perspective. In reality, nothing we say,think or do matters very much,life is just part of the cycle of universal decay.

  6. John Powell says:

    @ Mastriani

    Refusing to understand, sympathize, or to engage with irrational human behavior, as you seem to advocate, will not be a winning strategy in the fight for a rational society.

  7. Mastriani says:

    @ John Powell,

    I didn’t say it wasn’t understood, and it would be scarcely believable that anyone could manage to get through a single 24 hour period without some engagement with irrationality.

    We’ve sympathised and empathised with it for far too long. This has simply lead to more intense irrationality, and the furtherance of agendas by social groups, organisations and even formal institutions, that are leading to the “next fall of Rome”.

    Sympathy > complacency > apathy > decay. Again, are we not paying attention to the current state of society and economy, as well as ignoring the morbidly amusing likeness this situation bears to many known historical references?

  8. NightHiker says:

    Mastriani,

    “To rationalise is to induce, and any consequent claims are therefore an error.”

    You keep repeating that on almost every post of you I read. It makes me wonder if you really have a clue about what induction is. Without induction, science as we know today and its methods would not be possible. The reason is simple: the only way to reach any sort of really new, practical knowledge is through induction, or extrapolation. In deductive reasoning, by definition, there is never new information (since the conclusion simply rearranges the content of the premises and only has value if the premises are correct). All you can get to by deduction is what you already know. Deduction is useful when we are trying to sort out the information we gained through use of induction and if it is compatible with the other things we arealdy think we know, but without induction we would literally not have any food for thought. The error, therefore, is to say induction is an error.

    “First difference: To be “human” is not special.”

    This is another of your non sequiturs. It’s not in question whether being human is special or not, just what continutes “being human”, whatever it is.

    Also, not everything you claim to be irrational is really irrational. People usually mistake “being wrong” with “being irrational”. Reason can only be applied to the knowledge each one of us has – if our reasoning is consistent with what we know, then it is not irrational, even thought it might be wrong. It is only irrational to follow lines of action that stand in contradiction with what you already know.

    Therefore, religious people are not irrational by default, neither is religion. They become irrational, or incompatible with what we know, only when we learn enough to understand that. In other words, when we learn enough of skepticism and science.

    So, the biologist who specializes in evolution and still defends creationism is being irrational (or simply dishonest), but the lay person who had no acess to the relevant information in that regard is not really being irrational.

    The cure for this problem, if there is any, is education, not repression or ridicularization of one’s beliefs.

    Regarding what Kirsten spoke of, one of the characteristics that makes us human, it is in no way some sort of “metaphysical mumbo jumbo”, as you try to make it. It is actually a feature of the biological entities we call “human beings”.

    We only achieved the position we are in today because of the versatility and flexibility of our thinking processes. It’s what enables us to learn and improve our knowledge. It does not mean the result is perfect, only that you can’t take the bad out without risking throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    Also, considering there is no way to replace any sort of knowledge (even one we have evidence to consider wrong) with no knowledge at all, it’s pointless to only bash and criticize religion – we need to provide people with something to fill into that niche, i. e., more knowledge of science and its methods, and hope that they will end up making the exchange on their own while they keep learning. Ostracizing and actively confronting them won’t make that easier, since it triggers emotional responses that are incompatible with learning new things.

    Cheers,
    NH

  9. Mastriani says:

    NightHiker,

    If you haven’t read David Hume, thoroughly, you have nary an idea to what I refer. Induction is an error. Case closed.

    The position regarding “human” was not non sequitur, as it was invoked in the article where stated trait created a definition of “human” as being distinctly different than any other organism, under an ascribed parameter. To state in such a manner, is to attempt to raise above or attempt to create leveraged significance for the defined.

  10. Personally, I’m waiting for glow-in-the-dark heifers.

  11. NightHiker says:

    Mastriani,

    If you haven’t read David Hume, thoroughly, you have nary an idea to what I refer. Induction is an error. Case closed.

    I have read Hume. And a few others from Carneades to Locke, from Mill to Popper. That does not mean, however, that any of their words should be treated as cannon, like you imply.

    Hume, however, is not really your ally, since he defended that induction could not be justified by rational means, not that it was “wrong” or should not be used (can you find a quote from Hume where he says “induction is an error”?). There are many people who state that Hume was an opponent of induction, but the more sensible view is that he was only demonstrating its weaknesses. He, in fact, goes on to use induction in much of his work.

    In reality, it is unreasonable for someone to attack induction on the grounds that it cannot be absolutely realiable like deduction, since that was never part of its “job description” to begin with. It only makes sense for someone to criticize in an absolute way induction as a method of acquiring knowledge if, unlike any human being, that someone does have true knowledge of the nature of the universe to use deduction exclusively.

    In short, the problem of induction is real – it is, however, unavoidable. If everything could be known through deduction, there would be no need for induction. Unfortunately, knowledge is always provisional, and while we can use deduction to validade it (through Popper’s falsifications, for example), we cannot with it achieve new practical, scientific knowledge, since the “real” nature of the universe and the objects within it will be always be inherently unknowable.

    This case will never be closed.

    And the “human” characteristic implied above was related to our unique capacity for abstraction and flexibility of thought, which is, in the proper context, something that does make humans distinctly different than any other animal. That does not mean it makes us “special” in the “better” connotation of the word, but it is neverthless true.

  12. Mastriani says:

    Billiard ball explanation; induction is an error. Case closed.

    “It is one of the traits that does make us human.”

    Induced.

    I notice by your choice of words, and philosophers, metaphysics is your fundament. We have no further grounds to debate.

  13. NightHiker says:

    Mastriani,

    “Billiard ball explanation;”

    Again, he was not saying induction is wrong – just that it cannot be rationally justified. But let’s allow the very Hume to settle the issue, on a quote from “A Treatise Concerning Human Understanding”:

    “I conclude, by an induction which seems to me very evident, that an opinion or belief is nothing but an idea, that is different from a fiction, not in the nature or the order of its parts, but in the manner of its being conceived.”

    I find it funny that he would consciously commit an error he felt so strongly about. Don’t you?

    “I notice by your choice of words, and philosophers, metaphysics is your fundament.”

    I notice by your choice of words, and philosophers, bluffing is your fundament.

    “We have no further grounds to debate.”

    That we never had.

  14. Mastriani says:

    I have read Hume. And a few others from Carneades to Locke, from Mill to Popper. That does not mean, however, that any of their words should be treated as cannon, like you imply.

    In the first, the word is “canon”, for literature. Please show where I inferred treating anything as canon? Else, this statement falls to being argumentum ad hominem.

    Hume, however, is not really your ally, since he defended that induction could not be justified by rational means, not that it was “wrong” or should not be used (can you find a quote from Hume where he says “induction is an error”?). There are many people who state that Hume was an opponent of induction, but the more sensible view is that he was only demonstrating its weaknesses. He, in fact, goes on to use induction in much of his work.

    Actually, his argument fell into circular logic until correlation and counterfactual dependence were properly defined. Using an assertive claim without evidence, brings into play causality by induction, which is an error. I tended towards brevity, and simply stated induction was an error.

    Use of induction, even by Hume, does not negate an error. He was well aware of this, of his own. Those I know who state he was an opponent of induction carry PhD.’s in Philosophical disciplines; I defer to their authority, and it has come down that most describe him in just such a way.

    Unfortunately, knowledge is always provisional, and while we can use deduction to validade it (through Popper’s falsifications, for example), we cannot with it achieve new practical, scientific knowledge, since the “real” nature of the universe and the objects within it will be always be inherently unknowable.

    Unsupported metaphysical claim, summarily rejected. Hence, empiricism is used to make objects knowable, quantifiable.

    And the “human” characteristic implied above was related to our unique capacity for abstraction and flexibility of thought, which is, in the proper context, something that does make humans distinctly different than any other animal.

    Self-referencing truth claim with no supporting evidence, logical error.

    Not withstanding, the manner with which this is structured falls under petitio principii, so I will ask: According to your parameters, a homo sapien who has some form of retardation, mongoloidism or other form of malady/disability that cannot show the “unique capacity for abstraction and flexibility of thought”, must obviously be an animal, and therefore not human, yes?

    That does not mean it makes us “special” in the “better” connotation of the word, but it is neverthless true.

    I would find it dubious that the author was making an assertive distinction that was intended to define a regressive state, in this case. Your semantic argument is duly noted, but refuted by context.

    I notice by your choice of words, and philosophers, bluffing is your fundament.

    So much for the debate, a finishing argumentum ad hominem.

  15. Dr. Dave says:

    I agree with Dr. Kiki that greater tolerance from everyone would help us all. I’m pretty quick to react emotionally when someone dismisses what I consider to be a strong argument with a quote from a book that they consider sacred, that was written centuries ago in a culture with standards distant from our own. In my case the bible was shoved down my throat, which is why it has such a residual hold on me. Still, I force myself to remember the good and sweet people I know that really believe in it.

    I don’t know of any way to suggest tolerance to them other than by example. A quick, angry reaction only entrenches them more deeply (as it probably does to us).

    In any case, I feel compassion for anyone who believes that they are a “sinner”.

    But that’s just me …

  16. NightHiker says:

    Mastriani,

    “In the first, the word is “canon”, for literature. Please show where I inferred treating anything as canon?”

    Thank you for the correction. I’m not a native English speaker, so without proper revision, a few mistakes do appear. I take you understood the argument, though.

    You said: “If you haven’t read David Hume, thoroughly, you have nary an idea to what I refer. Induction is an error. Case closed.”

    This is equivalent to say that because Hume wrote it, it is true. Unqualified, it looks like an appeal to authority. I understand the urge for brevity, but it is convenient in more than one way.

    I also understand there is a lot of people, PhDs, who have a lot of claims regarding a lot of authors. Most of the time, it is speculative, however, mainly when fishing for ulterior meanings that were not in the text to advance their own agendas.

    For my conclusion that Hume only investigated the weaknesses of induction, as it is natural for a philosopher, but never really condenmed it, I don’t use texts from PhDs – just his own (taken from the same text as above – it’s somewhat long, but necessary to settle the matter on what he really thought – emphasis mine):

    “…What is the foundation of all conclusions from experience? This implies a new question, which may be of more difficult solution and explication. Philosophers, that give themselves airs of superior wisdom and sufficiency, have a hard task when they encounter persons of inquisitive dispositions, who push them from every corner to which they retreat, and who are sure at last to bring them to some dangerous dilemma. The best expedient to prevent this confusion, is to be modest in our pretensions; and even to discover the difficulty ourselves before it is objected to us. By this means, we may make a kind of merit of our very ignorance.

    I shall content myself, in this section, with an easy task, and shall pretend only to give a negative answer to the question here proposed. I say then, that, even after we have experience of the operations of cause and effect, our conclusions from that experience are not founded on reasoning, or any process of the understanding. This answer we must endeavor both to explain and to defend….

    In reality, all arguments from experience are founded on the similarity which we discover among natural objects, and by which we are induced to expect effects similar to those which we have found to follow from such objects. And though none but a fool or madman will ever pretend to dispute the authority of experience, or to reject that great guide of human life, it may surely be allowed a philosopher to have so much curiosity at least as to examine the principle of human nature, which gives this mighty authority to experience, and makes us draw advantage from that similarity which nature has placed among different objects…

    …What logic, what process of argument secures you against this supposition? My practice, you say, refutes my doubts. But you mistake the purport of my question. As an agent, I am quite satisfied in the point; but as a philosopher, who has some share of curiosity, I will not say scepticism, I want to learn the foundation of this inference

    …This quality by which the mind enlivens some ideas more than others seems trivial, and has no basis in reason; yet without it we could never assent to any argument, or carry our view beyond Ÿthe few objects that are present to our senses…

    … We save ourselves from this total scepticism only by means of a special and seemingly trivial property of the imagination – namely, its making it difficult for us to enter into remote views of things, not being able to accompany them with as strong an impression as we do things that are more easy and natural. Shall we, then, adopt it as a general maxim that no refined or elaborate reasoning is ever to be accepted? Consider well the consequences of such a principle! It cuts you off entirely from all science and philosophy…

    …What side shall we choose among these difficulties? If we embrace this principle and condemn all refined reasoning, we run into the most manifest absurdities. If we reject it in favour of these reasonings, we entirely subvert the human understanding. We are left with a choice between Ÿa false reason and Ÿno reason at all…

    …Most fortunately it happens that since reason can’t scatter these clouds, Nature herself suffices for that purpose and cures me of this philosophical gloom and frenzy, either by reducing the intensity of these thoughts or by some pastime that makes lively impressions on my senses that obliterate all these chimeras…

    It is proper that we should Ÿin general indulge our inclination in the most elaborate philosophical researches, notwithstanding our sceptical principles, and also that we should Ÿgive rein to our inclination to be positive and certain about particular points, according to how we see them at any particular instant.”

    From what I read, what I can gather is not that we should not use induction, only that we should use it while remaining aware of its shortcomings, which were duly noted.

    You say: “Unsupported metaphysical claim, summarily rejected. Hence, empiricism is used to make objects knowable, quantifiable.

    The empiricism I know is the one based on the premise that experience, i. e. the information we can gather through our senses is the only valid way of acquiring knowledge. But if you understand that experience is always particular, to use that experience to reach conclusions is to do exactly what you are condemning: to induce from the experience to the universe, from the particular to the general. Unless you don’t, of course, but then you will refrain from making any predictions about things you can’t experience (like saying bipedal intelligent aliens are a mathematical improbability).

    That is my problem with your position – you criticize a stance to which there is really no other alternative, but take it yourself when convenient to you. As Hume said, it becomes an issue of chosing between a false reason and no reason at all.

    Youy again: “So much for the debate, a finishing argumentum ad hominem.”

    Of course, your suggestion I was adept of metaphysics was valid, no ad hominem at all. “Do as I say, do not do as I do” seems to be a favorite motto of yours.

    In any case, it seems we already hijacked too much of these comment sections, so, if there is any further divergence of opinion, I suggest we leave it at that.

    Cheers,
    NH

  17. Don Smith says:

    There’s a really fun novel about people using tech to fulfill relgious prophesies. It’s called The Android’s Dream, by John Scalzi.

  18. sonic says:

    “the human mind can rationalize any actions or ideas.”
    And as long as we remember we are human too, we might find a way to get along.