6 billion humans, overpopulation, and more

9/19 - 10/25 Messages

The most recent messages can be found here.

received 10/25/99
Thought you might be interested in
this article from the Logan, Utah Herald Journal. It discusses a memo local church leaders issued last week concerning candidates and their views on Logan's alcohol regulations. The church is once again not being very neutral on political issues (as it always claims--see article in today's Salt Lake Tribune concerning the LDS church's most recent release on political issues).

The hypocrisy never seems to end. If the political actions aren't continually questioned, it is fairly clear that candidates will be backed (like they were in the early days of the church). Candidates are already backed in many cases--though usually not by name in written communications. If the substantial activities related to influencing legislation weren't illegal enough, the distributing of statements backing these candidates for public office should (but probably won't) get the IRS to step in.

received 10/22/99
Here is a letter to editor [found in the 10/22/99 Salt Lake Tribune] that I believe deserves placement on your web page. Even though I support the position as taken by the LDS Church, I don't like hypocrisy, and the fact of the matter is that the LDS Church still believes in plural marriage, historical amnesia or psychological denial notwithstanding. Looking at this from the perspective of someone trained in political science, I believe this is a weak spot that could be effectively used in the upcoming spin battle over this issue.
I understand the new marriage proposition being voted on in California will define marriage as being between one man and one woman. Is this so? If it is, how can a church with plural marriage still in the revelations (even if not currently practiced, or not "doctrinal" per the leader in a TV interview) support it? Its very history as well as revelations tell them the sacred, holy order of marriage is one man and more than one woman.

Brigham City

received 10/16/99 in reference to this article
Now that Malthus appears to have admitted that he was wrong, do you think there is any hope of Paul Ehrlich, Al Gore or even *you* admitting that 6 billion people is a number to be celebrated, not lamented?

I think so.

At least admit that evidence of the alleged problem of overpopulation is mixed at best. Any chance of that happening, or is this just another case Julian Simon, Jacob Jacoby and I committing the "sin" of selectively reading the evidence?

Yes and no. Should humans celebrate life, longer lives, richer lives, better lives? Absolutely. When have I ever said otherwise? There is, however, a serious problem with those who look at the glass as half full and completely ignore the fact that it is also half empty. Both viewpoints are required for "big picture thinking".

For instance, the author of the above article states

"[Gore] means: People should stop having so many children. Not all people, of course. Not people like Gore, a father of four. But people in places like Bangladesh and China, the sort of places routinely described as 'overpopulated.'"
Clearly, this is a straw man. As Paul Ehrlich explains in The Population Explosion overpopulated areas (like a China or an India) are only part of the problem. Looking at the long term, the REAL problem is consumption in excess of total carrying capacity. You don't have to have majored in Economics (in fact it is probably better if you haven't) to realize that if consumption continues to increase while the world's resources don't grow at the same pace (or are on the decline) we will eventually run into problems. Have we run into any of those problems yet? Jacoby doesn't seem to think so. Perhaps he should try living in parts of Africa or India for a few years as those people live.

He will likely change his false opinion that "In every society, men and women think about the costs and benefits of rearing children and choose the fertility level that suits their circumstances." Even in developed nations, like ours, everyone doesn't think of the costs of rearing children before having them. Perhaps my wife (an RN in Maternity and Pediatrics at the county hospital) can take you and Jacoby to visit her patients one of these days.

He is in as much of an ivory tower as Gore is. I'm no fan of Gore, but at least he can appreciate the fact that not everyone and every thing are taking part in the "celebration". Nor can we continue to consume the planet faster than Mother Nature can replenish it if we expect our posterity to join in our celebration. Another option would be for Jacoby to try and find something that's extinction has been directly caused by human activities like a Passenger Pigeon. Or he could take a drive down a road in Oregon or Washington that appears to be lined with dense forests. Have him get out and take a walk at least 100 feet into the "forest" only to discover that the forest is fake. Most every thing out of sight of the freeway has been clear cut.

Nor is production and/or consumption necessarily a good means of measuring Jacoby and Simon's 'wealth'. It certainly doesn't always (or even usually?) lead to happiness.

There are many more items in the half empty portion of the glass that I could go into, but hopefully my point has already been made. Celebrate advancement in technology, medicine, and life, but don't ignore the problems that increasing populations and consumption can have, have had, and will have on our species and those we share the planet with.

received 10/16/99 (message has been edited to get to the key point raised)
First, kudos: I think your site is, on the whole, excellent. I have nothing but respect for your thoughtful and reasonably well-organized website, and I certainly have no objection to or major disagreement with your content...

I think that your choice to remain anonymous could easily be seen as evidence for intellectual dishonesty, which does your excellent work a disservice.

Yes, I found out more about who you are by surfing deep into your site(s). But I didn't find out that much, and I had to look pretty carefully to find what I did (reasons.shtml, sop.shtml, http://www.2think.org/2think.shtml). Nothing on those pages, I think, really qualifies as taking ownership of your opinions.

Even if you don't want to use your name (and you have a link to family photos, so I can't imagine why you would balk at a name)

I do have my name on the site though. Is it really necessary to have it on every one of the several hundred pages?

I think you ought to:

(1) Include a brief biography with educational and professional qualifications, or an explanation of why I might be interested in what you say if you have no particular qualifications (which is sorta there in your "reasons" page).

This is one of the things the site aims to be against. The site is an appeal to methodology and to the hard cold facts. It is not for an appeal to authority (real or perceived). The bios that I have tended to see on the internet (or on the back of books) frequently give the impression that the author is to be believed simply because they have some sort of degree. While I have several degrees and could flaunt them as well as the next guy I choose not to. I don't want anyone to perceive me as an authority. Authorities and those who think they are authorities are frequently wrong too. I don't want anyone to "believe" in the content of the site because "I said so". I want the site to be questioned. I want people to walk away thinking, "Is that right? Maybe I should do more research on the subject and not trust that author." I want people to email me with facts showing how I am wrong and they are right and how I should change the facts I have presented. I have been wrong on several facts and opinions that viewers have questioned. I have no problem admitting and correcting the site for errors.

(2) Acknowledge anyone else who's contributed to the site(s) or clearly declare that it's all your own work if there are no contributors.

I do this already. Whenever a contribution is not mine I make a note indicating its source.

(3) Make your mission statements clearly accessible on your main page as a "who's responsible for this site and what it's all about" link. I know that I often look for just this sort of link when I'm exploring new web territory, and my estimation of the website's worth goes down if I can't find such a thing. (If I do find it, my estimation may go up or down depending on the contents.)

The problem with this suggestion (not that it is a bad one) is everyone comes to the site for the first time through different areas. On the site that has been around longer (www.california.com) I have tried to put a link on every page to the site map which includes all the "what it's all about" stuff. On 2think.org, one can also get to this area quickly through links on the bottom of every page.

received 4/6/99 (lost in the shuffle until 10/13/99)
If you get the chance, you might consider reading Ray Kurzweil's,
The Age of Spiritual Machines, Viking 1999.

It presents an interesting slant on the evolutionary process which posits that "artificial" machine-based intelligence is not artificial at all, but rather, is the next logical step in human development. Kurzweil traces (quickly) the evolution of creation, as we know it, from the time of the big bang. The book has a comprehensive bibliography of print and online resources ranging from artificial life and AI research, to biology/evolution, computers, nanotechnology, futurism and other topics.

The book is interesting and light in tone, and was an eye opener for me, prompting me to look at your site (which I came across looking for some einstein for mere mortals).

Am I ready to undergo a brain scan and transfer to a coffee-based quantum computer?? Not yet... but I don't necessarily think that its beyond the realm of possibility after reading this book.

Thanks for some very interesting references. I expect to spend some time roaming around your site.

received 9/28/99 (This was two messages and two responses. I've put them together here for the sake of clarity.)
There is a possible problem with a quote
you attribute to Abraham Lincoln.
"The Bible is not my book and Christianity is not my religion. I could never give assent to the long complicated statements of Christian dogma"
The first thing I noticed about this quote is that there is no citation given for it, whereas the latter does give a date and location. What is most interesting about the latter of the two quotes is that while it is quoted correctly, the passage from which the quote is taken seems to directly contradict the first quote.

The second quote is taken from the tail end of a speech given by Lincoln and in reply to Stephen Douglas. This speech, given less than a month after Lincoln's "House Divided" speech, addresses the issue of popular sovereignty which was used as an argument to help extend the odious practice of slavery. In the paragraph preceding the one you quote Lincoln states,

"My friend has said to me that I am a poor hand to quote Scripture. I will try it again, however. It is said in one of the admonitions of the Lord,"As your Father in Heaven is perfect, be ye also perfect." The Savior, I suppose, did not expect that any human creature could be perfect as the Father in Heaven; but He said,"As your Father in Heaven is perfect, be ye also perfect." He set that up as a standard, and he who did most towards reaching that standard, attained the highest degree of moral perfection. So I say in relation to the principle that all men are created equal, let it be as nearly reached as we can. If we cannot give freedom to every creature, let us do nothing that will impose slavery upon any other creature." p. 458 Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings, 1832-1858, edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher, published by the Library of America, 1989.
This is an odd quote for an individual to make while elsewhere voicing the sentiment that the "Bible is not my book." And this is hardly an isolated, out of context sort of quote. In a handbill replying to charges of infidelity Lincoln wrote,
"I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion. Leaving the higher matter of eternal consequences, between him and his Maker, I still do not think any man has the right thus to insult the feelings, and injure the morals, of the community in which he may live. If, then, I was guilty of such conduct, I should blame no man who should condemn me for it; but I do blame those, whoever they may be, who falsely put such a charge in circulation against me." July 31, 1846 Fehrenbacher, p. 140
But wait, there is still more,
"I sincerely hope Father may yet recover his health; but at all events tell him to remember to call upon, and confide in, our great, and good, and merciful Maker; who will not turn away from him in any extremity. He notes the fall of a sparrow, and numbers the hair of our heads; and He will not forget the dying man, who puts his trust in Him." Fehrenbacher, p. 256
The Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863) states clearly that "this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom" as does the Second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1865; approx a month before Lincoln was assassinated) affirm that he believed in God and that the Bible was his book.

Lincoln's views on the Christian God and the Bible have been debated for decades. What is clear is that he made numerous contradictory statements over his lifetime.

Why is it that I read a URL such as, http://www.infidels.org I am left wondering about the partisan nature of such a site?

Find consistent errors and then your wondering will have merit. Until then... who cares where the information comes from as long as it is true?

Some things which appear to be true are:
1. He never joined or attended a church in his adulthood.

A point readily admitted.

2. His public statements appear far more religious and theistic than his private statements and writings. This appears to say more about his audience than it does about his personal beliefs.

Perhaps...what is clear though from the quote I provided from Fehrenbacher, a recently deceased Lincoln scholar, is that he *was* publicly respectful of religion, as well as those devoted believers. I don't care what Lincoln's motives were, what matters is that he was respectful of religion and religious belief. Was he respectful only to gain public office? Perhaps, then again, getting into judging other people's motives, does it matter? I guess only if one is grinding an ax on behalf of a secular ideology and has something to prove.

I have no ax to grind. Remember that I'm the one posting both pro and con quotes. If I was dishonestly trying to prove Lincoln was a lifelong atheist I certainly wouldn't be posting his excerpts that are positive regarding religion or at least acknowledge his interest in the Bible.

3. He likely fluctuated between belief and doubt during his lifetime.

As I suspect most thoughtful people do. Though I am not presently religious in any formal sense, I do tend more to belief than to doubt. I guess I subscribe to the creed of Rabbi Harold Kushner (author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People) when he stated in an interview (the PBS series "Searching for God in America") that the four most religious words in the english language are *I* *May* *Be* *Wrong*. Rabbi Kushner, in my opinion, represents some of the best that revealed religion has to offer.

Now why would you use Lincoln to verbally slap down a respondent to your web site, I wondered. Well, when I looked at the other quotes ("Thinking Quotes"?...really now) at the same URL the answer to that question became quite clear. Of the approximately 25 some odd individuals that you quote so admiringly at this URL, an overwhelming number of them represent an opinion that is dismissive of both God and revealed religion.

Please critique the subject and content of their quotes rather than their names or religious views. If you can prove or otherwise show why they are wrong I'd like to hear it. Using snide and/or sarcastic remarks doesn't bolster your case.

Well the subject of their quotes represents an unrelenting monomaniacal fixation with naturalism and secular humanism. As an aside, I remember watching the CBS News program "Sunday Morning" (started by Charles Kuralt; now hosted by CBS Radio personality Charles Osgood) and a particular segment on scientists and religion. The crux of the segment seemed to me to be that one need not be an ignorant hayseed to believe religion, as indeed some scientists interviewed. Also interviewed was Stephen Jay Gould. What struck me most, beside the fact that he seem to be very smart, was his complete lack of intellectual humility.

Yes, Gould can be a pompous ass, but that doesn't change the fact that facts need to be separated from personalities.

Indeed, you go so far as to quote Howard Stern on the subject of religion! And I quote,

"I'm sickened by all religions. Religion has divided people. I don't think there is any difference between the pope[sic] wearing a large hat and parading around with a smoking purse and an African painting his face white and praying to a rock."
Now at the risk of casting pearls before swine, permit me to venture an answer to Mr. Stern. The present Pope, John Paul II, does see a difference and, yet as a man of his position and status, is humble enough to be respectful of that difference.

Let's move beyond personalities and on to the substance. Is Mr. Stern wrong? That is the question.

As a matter of fact, yes. That he is "sickened" by religion may in no small measure be due to the fact that religion puts the kabosh on a good many things that Mr. Stern seems to revel in.

In the context he used the word sickened, I hardly think that is what he is talking about.

Has religion divided people over the centuries? Does it continue to do so?

Now that is a silly question; silly because that is a question that is self-evidently true.

Exactly my point and his.

Yes, of course, religion divides people...so what? So does politics; does that make it less worthy of engagement?


Additionally, such a question ignores how religion *unites* people, and not just people of a single religious faith system. A wonderful example that immediately comes to mind is the alliance that Jews and Christians formed for the noble purpose of advancing the civil rights of Black Americans in this country during the late 50' and early 60's. Indeed, among some of those murdered during this period were Jews. Also, such a harsh assessment of religion ignores all the good that is done by those of religious faith. Has evil been done in the name of religion? You bet, then again, the worst evil in this century (and after all that is the century we are living in) has been done in the name of two secular ideologies: communism and fascism.

If you think communism and fascism are two aspects of my "secular agenda" then you don't know me as well as I thought.

The fact of the matter is that religion, throughout history, has been built up on dividing people. The Bible itself and the creation of a Satan provide ample evidence. Many church sermons and practices today provide additional current evidence. The "uniting" only comes about when it is with a new convert to the same faith or an alliance between faiths for the betterment of both. The "good" that comes out of these events is seldom for all--and frequently very late in the game when religion is merely trying to play catch-up to reason.

Is praying to the Christian God any more effective than praying to a rock? I will gladly perform a double-blind experiment too see if you'd like.

Ah, the double-blind experiment...do you live your entire life this way now?

When it comes to my time, money, and core beliefs I'm not going to leave things to blind faith anymore. So yes, if you are going to ask me to believe in your God, I will need something much more tangible than your testimony. As Eugen Weber so eloquently put it on page 239 of Apocalypses

Some would say that the borderland between theology and psychopathology has always been indistinct; others, that when we know so little about things that we are supposed to know, it is presumptuous to advance judgments about things we don't know at all.
So, while I am hardly a "rocket scientist" it is easy enough for me to read the entire body of the "thinking quotes" you provide and infer the use to which you intend to put your mere two quotes by Lincoln. It is in the service of a clearly secular agenda whose purpose it is to affirm the belief that there is no God, and religion is merely an opiate of the people. When those two items are pushed aside then anything is possible and indeed permitted, as Howard Stern, by example, so ably demonstrates.

Quite the contrary when it comes to what is permitted. When these items are pushed aside (or at least held in disbelief until some evidence is presented), the possibilities are improved. Not only does science become possible and useful, but 'sinning' with the hopes of later forgiveness becomes impossible. Ethics become based on critical intelligence rather than adherence to a perceived authority or tradition.

And while you may be able to press the likes of Darwin, Sagan, Gould and Stern, to mention just a few, into your secular agenda, please leave Lincoln out of such company. While it is clear from the historical record that Lincoln was *not* a regular church goer, and indeed may not have been even very religious in any formal sense, he did affirm a belief in God, the Bible and the essential goodness of religion. In fact, the most elementary arguments he used to oppose slavery were religious in nature.

Again, you are selectively reading Lincoln to come to the above conclusion.

"Selectively reading"? Really now, just who is doing the "selective" reading and quoting of Lincoln? Permit me to share with you a brief passage from Lincoln in American Memory, written by Merrill D. Peterson, Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Virginia (Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 227

The freethought argument was essentially negative. Its fullest statement was in John E. Remsburg's book of over three hundred pages, Abraham Lincoln: Was He a Christian? Remsburg, a Kansas "village atheist," had been Herndon's friend; he inherited some of the Illinoisan's Lincoln relics along with his convictions. He sought testimony from Lincoln's contemporaries about his religion, using what he agreed with and discarding the rest. He believed there was a clerical conspiracy to suppress the truth about Lincoln's infidelity. Unwelcome evidence that he could not refute Remsburg branded lies...
That is all the play Mr. Remsburg receives in 397 pages of text and nearly 50 pages of footnotes. Now I ask, Who is "selectively reading Lincoln"? Rr. Remsburg, the "village atheist" *OR* Prof. Merrill D. Peterson and Don E. Fehrenbacher, both acknowledged and respected scholars on the subject of Lincoln?

Now, do I for a moment maintain that Lincoln was ever a formally religious individual? Not for a moment. Indeed, Peterson points out that, p. 218

The nub of the paradox was that for all the manifest religiousness, Lincoln never was baptized, never took communion, and never joined a church.
Moreover, p. 217
Of the skirmishes over Lincoln's religion following his death, David Davis, his lawyer and friend, remarked, "I don't know anything about Lincoln's religion, nor do I think anybody else knows anything about it." The same opinion might be rendered after the millions of words since written on the subject, but that would be uncharitable and possibly untrue.
What is clear though is that those of the secular worldview were (and it appears continue to be) as eager as those of the religious bent to claim Lincoln as their own. And why not? Lincoln is arguably the greatest President this country has ever seen, for abolishing slavery while at the same time preserving the Union (all the while having to wage the bloodiest war this country has ever seen).

Why? As I said in my previous reply (below), a person's beliefs mean nothing to my beliefs. I try to base my beliefs on correct facts and truth finding methods rather than authorities.

If you want to prove Lincoln never said a bad thing about religion or the Bible you will have to discount far more people than Remsburg. I'm not like Peterson's characterization of Remsburg though. I am not, nor have I ever, withheld or discarded Lincoln's public views on the Bible or religion.

I have no problem admitting that his views changed over his lifetime and depending on the particular circumstance.

I really don't care what his religious views were. The point of my using the Lincoln quote when I did was that the person felt that people should be given lesser rights based on characteristics they were born with--something Lincoln apparently didn't believe in.

Orin Ryssman

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