What Are Our Responsibilities as Co-creators of the Earth?

I have frequently made the argument that we are co-creators of the Earth.  In the past, I have largely made this argument to justify Mormon environmentalism.  But being co-creators could mean so much more.  It could also mean enhancing the intellectual capacity of our fellow higher-level animals.

If I Only Had a Brain!

If I Only Had a Brain!

Science-fiction writer David Brin argues that the intellectual evolutionary path of all mammals, except humans, has plateaued.  Mother Nature and/or God have been generous, but only up to a point.  There is a glass ceiling.

The lesson from all this is to be even more amazed that humanity pushed through this glass ceiling.  Smashed through it, actually, by orders of magnitude!  Which then demands of us not to feel overweening pride, but a sense of duty and obligation.  To use our titanic brains to benefit the planet, not just ourselves.

For Mormons and other Christians, humans breaking through the glass ceiling is the willful act of a benevolent God.  But for Brin (a non-Mormon) the act of smashing through the glass ceiling carries with it responsibilities:

If getting past the barrier [glass ceiling] is rare (it’s only happened with the human species), then don’t we owe it to our neighbors and cousins to turn around and offer a helping hand?

For example, make the great apes more sapient and/or sentient.  In the past, such a thought would have been unthinkable.  But modern science and technology will eventually make this gesture possible.  We will be able to uplift sea lions et al. to sapient or sentient.  We’ll be able to help them through the existing glass ceiling.  We will have the ability to mess with Darwin’s evolutionary trajectory.

If I Only Had a "Bigger" Brain!

If I Only Had a “Bigger” Brain!

Questions remain.  Is this a good idea?  What are the ethical arguments against uplifting?  Should we be interfering with Mother Nature’s or God’s plan?  But would we be interfering with God’s plan, or would we be carrying it out?

To the human arrogance of playing God argument, Brin replies:  “How about typical ‘human generosity?’  Lending a hand to others across nature’s chasm, so they might then join us building starships?”

Posted in Creation, Environment, great apes, mormonism, other animals, Religion, Science, Technology, transhumanism | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

An Atheist’s Thoughtful Observation

In Time magazine (29 Sep 2014), the following question is put to British novelist Ian McEwan.  His answer is very enlightening.

A family in [your new novel The Children Act] wants to withhold medical treatment for their child because they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses.  A judge has to decide what to do.  You’re an atheist.  Is there a message here?

One thing [my book] isn’t is an atheist tract.  I was very keen to give warmth and life to the Jehovah’s Witness boy and his father.  I’m really on the side of the law in this personally.  But sometimes you might disrupt someone’s belief and you find that you don’t have anything to put in it’s place.  You might take away a network of family and social relations, a great deal of consolation and many other things.  It’s not as simple as waving a wand over someone and banishing their gods and then they’ll be happy.

Posted in atheism, Religion, Social Justice | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Cartoons: Bastardizing Pat Bagley’s Work

Sister Kelley, You Can Talk, Just Don't Talk Too Much

Sister Kelley, You Can Talk, Just Don’t Talk Too Much

Protecting the Self-Righteous From the Merely Righteous

Protecting the Self-Righteous From the Merely Righteous

Beware of the Accurate LDS History You Find on the Internet

Beware of the Accurate LDS History You Find on the Internet

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Ebola: Reporting from West Africa

By Jackson Niamah, Physician’s Assistant With Doctors Without Borders, Monrovia, Liberia

I first heard about cases of Ebola in March.  Soon after, the disease came here to Monrovia [Liberia] from then on, people started dying.

My niece, Francia Kollie, and my cousin, Jounpu Lowea, both nurses, became infected at work.  While they were able to receive treatment, they died in late July.  So many of my close friends, university classmates, and colleagues have also died in recent months.

Since I have a medical background, I felt it was my responsibility to help my country.

I am a team leader in MSF’s treatment center in Monrovia.  I have worked in the triage, assessing patients prior to admission, in the suspected cases tent, and with patients confirmed to have Ebola.  Because there is no cure, we provide supportive care to patients, in the form of food, hydration, and basic treatment of symptoms.  If treated early enough, their chances of survival are much better.

I cannot stand aside and watch my people die.  But I, along with my colleagues here, cannot fight Ebola alone.

Drawing by Pat Bagley (Salt Lake Tribune)

Drawing by Pat Bagley (Salt Lake Tribune)

We are trying to treat as many people as we can, but there are not nearly enough treatment centers and patient beds.  We have to turn people away.  And they are dying at our front door.

Right now, as I speak, people are sitting at the gates of our centers, literally begging for their lives.  They rightly feel alone, neglected, denied–left to die a horrible, undignified death.

We urgently need to get the disease under control.  The international community must help us.

For more of Jackson’s story click here.

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Can Technology Help Save Africa?

My latest post discussing possible technology fixes for Africa is at ieet.org.

NASA Scientist Michael Flynn Talking to Students in Uganda

NASA Scientist Michael Flynn Talking to Students in Uganda

Posted in Social Justice, Technology, transhumanism, Travel, uganda | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“The Drop”: A Movie Review

The Drop is a great movie, but it is definitely for adults because of subject matter, language, and some violence.  The movie gets its name from the expression “drop bar,” a covert place for funneling cash to local gangsters.  The excellent script was written by mystery novelist Dennis Lehane and the director is the relative-newcomer Michael Roskam (who is Flemish).  The movie is based on Lehane’s short story Animal Rescue.

The plot centers around the life of Bob, a lonely bartender.  Bob is the perfect anti-hero; he’s a slow-of-speech, amoral, asexual, emotionless loner.  His principal interest, outside of his work, is his newly acquired puppy, but at the end Bob seems to be developing a love interest or a least an emotional connection.  Whether intentional or not, The Drop seems very much like a Lehane homage to the french writer and absurdist Albert Camus.  Bob reminds me of the anti-hero in Camus’ The Stranger.

The first hour of the movie is slow and long on character development, perhaps a little too long.  But when the action getting rolling in the second half, things get fascinating.  In fact, the plot twists toward the end, while well done, almost had me laughing.  It turns out our anti-hero is a different person than we think he is.

The acting in the flick is excellent.  Other critics have highlighted the performances of Tom Hardy (who plays Bob) and James Gandolfini (in his last movie role) who plays Bob’s cousin and bar operator.  But Noomi Rapace is also excellent as Bob’s would-be girl friend.  She is emotionally damaged and trying hard to recover.

On a generic basis, author Gillian Flynn objects to the type of female character played by Rapace:

I’m tired of women as the supporting character, women as the helpmate, women as the adorably flawed heroine–she can be front and center, but only if she falls down a lot and has trouble with men.

And the “flawed heroine” role is definitely a important part of the plot for The Drop.  Other than this one possible objection, the movie is first rate.

There is one cinematic trick that I found particularly interesting in the movie:  keeping all or part of the characters at the start of a scene blurred for a second or two before bringing them into focus.  This keeps the viewer briefly guessing about what is really happening.  And it heightens the tension.  The technique was used very effectively in the movie.

If you can handle the grittiness, The Drop is an excellent movie.  One of this year’s best.  It received an 89 percent approval rating on rottentomatoes.com.

Posted in absurdism, existentialism, Movies | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Recent LDS Essays Need Attribution.

For about a year, the LDS Church has been posting on its website scholarly essays about controversial subjects:

  • Did Mormons abandon polygamy in 1890?
  • Did Brigham Young order the Mountain Meadow Massacre?
  • Do LDS believe a person can become like God?
  • How did the Church’s ban on black men hold the priesthood come to be?
  • What are the origins of the Book of Abraham?

While the essays have been generally lauded, one drawback was that few church members and others knew of their existence.  They would just randomly showed up on the Church’s lds.org website under “General Topics.”

This anonymity was recently partially lifted by a memo (dated 19 Sep 2014) from the Priesthood Department to the senior leaders from the SLC establishment down to the Bishop and BP level:

The purpose of the Gospel Topics section is to provide accurate and transparent information on church history and doctrine within the framework of faith.  When church members have questions regarding [LDS] history or doctrine, possibly arising when detractors spread misinformation and doubt, you may want to direct their attention to these resources.

I’m uncomfortable with the expression “when detractors spread misinformation and doubt” because the LDS Church, in the past, has presented less than candid versions of its history and doctrine.  Frequently, the alleged “misinformation” was more accurate than the “official” church version.   That being said, it is important that church members come to grips with Mormonism’s past.

Unfortunately, another drawback to the essays is that they are all written without attribution which seriously limits their usefulness.  We need to know who the authors are and who approved the essays.

Posted in mormonism, Religion | Tagged | Leave a comment