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Give Me A Reason
I’m thinking about giving religion another chance. Thing is, I’m expecting religion to meet me halfway.

Please don’t get me wrong; I do not intend to abandon reason. I need reason. For one thing, if you’re looking to find the area of a trapezoid, it’s practically indispensable. It’s also handy for finding food and shelter and the best route downtown during rush hour. And, if you’re concerned about protecting yourself from your own runaway stupidity, a little logic can sometimes head off a severe public embarrassment (or an ugly death).

Reason can even lead you to some of the same conclusions you might find by a spiritual path. The golden rule is a good example. It’s almost an equation, isn’t it? Others will do unto you the way you do unto them (as long as you’re not dealing with a real jerk).

Still, reason is not a perfect tool. When it comes to the sometimes dark affairs of human motivation, it’s pretty much useless. It’s a weak defense against fear or greed or anger (much less love). Worse, it seems to be helpless before excesses of our own egos. In fact, it seems to embolden them. Perhaps the notion of a life guided only by reason sounds so grown-up, so worldly-wise, so smart that it lures us into believing we have godlike powers. Consider the colossal egos of those who are so dead sure of their intellects that they know there is no God. These people seem to have forgotten that they are smelly blobs of protoplasm squirming around on a mote of dust in a vast and mysterious universe. Jesus H. Christ, people!

My point is that we need spirituality as much as we need reason. Those dark motivations are among the gravest dangers we face in this world. Indeed, they are the forces that urge us toward oblivion. Unfortunately, most religions aren’t much help against those forces either. Most of them got started with some keen metaphorical insight into the human condition, but they soon fell prey to the vices and foibles of the humans who run them. That’s when we begin to see the proliferation of dogma and the spewing of batshit crazy articles of faith that we are told to believe or burn in hell forever.

That said, I am completely ready for some kind of spirituality to enter my life. I want to have faith. What I need from religion, as I have said, is a willingness to meet me halfway. And so, I call on religion — all religions — to openly renounce all the dumb rules and transparent bullshit. That stuff is a real deal-killer for me. I want a ticket to see the insights, but I insist that reason come along as my plus-one.

So…no virgin births, no arks, no devils, angels, or talking in tongues. No heaven or hell, no 72 virgins, burning bushes, parting seas, golden tablets, or sacred cows — and no magnetic control freaks with a personal pipeline to God. Just keep it simple, folks, and make it believable.

One last word of advice: go easy on the God stuff. Even if he does exist, the more you tell me how well you know him, the less likely I am to believe you.
Pass the Hot Sauce
I advise you not to read the most recent U.N. report on global warming. It hasn’t been published yet, but some of its findings have been leaked to the media. Let’s just say that your worst fears are well-founded.

If it were just me, I guess I wouldn’t be that concerned about the end of civilization. I’ll probably be dead by the time the worst effects unfold. It’s not just me, though. There are some people I really like who will live on after I go, and I worry about them. I even have a bit of an emotional investment in civilization itself. For all its failings, I really do hope that humanity can survive in comfort for centuries to come.

I wonder what the science deniers plan to tell their children and grandchildren when the truth is finally and painfully apparent. They bought into the facile explanations offered by the employees of Big Oil. They voted for the politicians who told them what they wanted to hear. They accepted the rationale that asked the least from them. Their chosen course of action called for no action at all. When the time comes for them to account for their own irresponsibility, their mouths will be filled with ashes.

But what about us — the non-deniers? What will we say to future generations? “I bought a Prius”? Okay, but what if we can’t afford one? Is there something else real and substantial that we could be doing — something we can offer with a straight face as proof that we are not weak and irresponsible? My history of driving semi-fuel-efficient vehicles might be offered as a defense, I suppose, or my strong track record of recycling. Still, the degree of sacrifice required for these acts might seem pretty thin against the background of a global wasteland.

I do have an answer, I think. It’s not a new idea, but for some reason it hasn’t caught on the way that hybrid vehicles and solar panels have, and that is surprising. Besides saving the Earth, my solution would also save money and promote good health. I’m talking, of course, about becoming a vegetarian.

In case you don’t know, cows are among the worst offenders in creating greenhouse gases — right up there between automobiles and termites. Like termites, they produce enormous amounts of methane, a gas with twenty-five times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. So, if I stop eating beef, there will be fewer cows — and less deadly methane.

Now that I think of it, though, my solution does have a major drawback. When the time comes for my accounting, my legacy might turn out to be somewhat less than noble: he stood tall and strong in the face of cow farts. That just doesn’t seem like enough. If I really want to occupy the moral high ground, I’ll have to take it up a notch.

I’ll stop eating beef — and start eating termites. That should pass the test of history.
Pick a Number
When I was about five, my older brother announced that 4 would be his lucky number. I remember this especially because that was the number I would have selected if I had thought to do so, and I was bitterly disappointed that 4 was no longer available. Once my brother made his declaration, I couldn’t very well take the same one. I settled for my second choice, 2.

In retrospect, I see that 2 was actually a pretty good selection itself. It finds resonance in the duality of the universe, it’s half curved and half straight, it tries harder, and it’s a Gemini, the coolest of all signs.

I imagine that right now you might be thinking that my concern about lucky numbers is pretty childish. I admit to that, but as I have matured, the importance to me of lucky numbers has faded. These days I am more concerned with identifying the best number.

The best number, you ask, cocking your eyebrow in suspicion. What is that supposed to mean? It’s interesting that you should ask that question, because it touches at the very core of this blog. Any search for the best number must, in my view, take a holistic approach. Does the number have an interesting backstory? Is it pleasing to the eye? What is its vibe? Does it play nicely with other numbers? Would you go on a cross-country trip with it? The more such questions can be asked about a number, the more reliable our conclusions will be.

If you are tempted right now to blurt out pi as your choice, I’m afraid that will not be allowed. It is certainly a good number, a significant number, but we are limiting this to whole numbers. Also, no imaginary numbers, negative numbers, or complex polynomials. Just good, old fashioned numbers, the way God counts them.

Let’s begin by eliminating from consideration all numbers over 100. Less is more, after all, and more is too much. We can also drop any number containing a 7. Too ugly. 66 and 99, conversely, are so sexually attractive that people tend not to take them seriously as integers. While I certainly don’t want to encourage the objectification of numbers, we cannot deny that these titillating numerals can be a distraction. And that can lead to mistakes in math, thereby undermining the most fundamental rationale for the existence of numbers — accurate counting. So we can’t really call them best; they’ll just have to settle for hottest.

Most of the other double-digit numbers can be bounced on account of their sheer ordinariness. 58, for example, would never be noticed at all if it didn’t look like a pot-bellied old fart in a homburg standing next to his young trophy wife. I won’t walk you through the rest; let’s just say these wouldn’t be numbers at all if they could have found work as letters.

I do want to move on to my candidate for best number, but I feel that we should pause to make special mention of 3. Many of you, I’ll wager, would put 3 in the top spot. There is no doubting the ubiquity of 3 in our culture: 3 little pigs, 3 wise men, the tri-county area, and about 3 million other examples of things coming in threes. Yet, I must say what is true: 3 is, in almost every way, derivative of 2: two humps instead of one, a similar list of things coming in twos, and so on. Like Pat Boone’s cover of Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” it is a very, very pale imitation. And yet 2 is not the best, either.

No, that honor must fall to…10. That’s right, 10. Try saying it out loud, with gusto. “10!” Doesn’t it sound like you’ve just won something? That’s because 10 is the highest score — a perfect 10! It is the ultimate, the most, the best.

Still, I am sensing skepticism. Consider this, then: 10 marks the first appearance in the grand parade of numbers of 0 (the 0 before 1 being a silent 0) — and 0 is the most beautiful, most mysterious, and holiest and of all numbers. 10 is the first double-digit number (which is sort of like reaching puberty for numbers). 10 is the basis of the decimal system itself. There are ten commandments — and those, we know, were decreed by God.

10, moreover, makes no claims as to its own luckiness. Such claims are left to prepubescent numbers who might doubt their own worth. 10 knows who it is and how to take care of itself. 10 is the team captain, the MVP, and a proven winner. Not only can it make its own way, it can make its own luck.
Super Aliens from the Dawn of Time
I am confounded by the ease with which people are able to dismiss science. I don’t understand how they can live in a world of wonders based on science, yet when faced by an empirical truth that spooks them, they’re ready to vilify scientists as grand conspirators plotting to destroy all that is good and right and pure ... or something. It could be worse, I suppose; in the old days, messengers bearing bad news were often executed on the spot. At least we’ve made some progress.

Maybe the problem here is the scientific method itself. (Bear with me, please. I’m looking for an explanation for science-denial beyond the too-obvious “people are idiots.”) The scientific method, in its very first step, calls on its users to make guesses about why things are the way they are. These guesses are called hypotheses. They are not conclusions based on experimentation. Under the scientific method, those two steps are supposed to come next. Hypotheses are simply conjecture, and nothing more, but I think that sometimes people might confuse these conjectures with scientific conclusions. Since some of the guesses are pretty wild, you can see how folks might be ready to pooh-pooh science completely in favor of wishful thinking.

Am I trying too hard to be nice here? Am I letting people off the hook for being stupid by suggesting that they are merely ignorant? Perhaps, but consider for a moment the Super Aliens from the Dawn of Time Hypothesis. That’s not what Harvard astrophysicist Abraham Loeb calls it, of course, but the gist fits. He is the scientist who imagined that, during a window of time a mere fifteen million years after the Big Bang, conditions might have been perfect for the evolution of life… pretty much everywhere.

I should make clear that “everywhere” was not as big then as it is now. The universe has done a lot of expanding in the last 13.8 billion years (even though it has lost weight). In those early days, the whole exploding mess was still permeated by the warm afterglow of the Big Bang. As a matter of fact, every hunk of rock, no matter where it was in the firmament, was in the “goldilocks zone.”

These days, when astronomers talk about the “goldilocks zone,” they are referring to a temperate cocoon around stars where water can exist in liquid form. Such conditions are thought to be vital for evolution and the maintenance of life. Earth is in such a zone around our sun, and thanks to the very pleasant temperatures here — not too hot, not too cold, but just right — life (like Goldilocks) has thrived here on a steady diet of Baby Bear’s porridge.

Can you imagine the entire universe (small though it was) as one big temperate zone and therefore completely hospitable to life? Neither can I, but I’m not Prof. Abraham Loeb, doctor of physics and all kinds of other stuff. His conjecture is that life may have come into being and thrived during that time. Who is to say that the descendants of those life forms (despite the fact that his “goldilocks zone” would have lasted only seven million years) do not still exist today…as Super Aliens from the Dawn of Time?

If I am right, this is just the kind of dizzying theory that the ignorant (though not necessarily stupid) among us might seize upon as justification for dismissing all science. Loeb’s guess is so far outside the box, so crazy-sounding, that a normal person might be tempted to reject as untrue everything that science had actually proven over and over. Right?

No, not right. Now that it’s seen the light of day, my theory (call it a hypothesis) does not stand up to close examination. I like Dr. Loeb’s guess about the warm, young universe as a cradle of life. It makes a crazy kind of sense to me. It actually makes me trust science more for daring to ask such unconventional questions. In fact, isn’t that the absolute best way to search for truth?

In keeping with the scientific method, then, I withdraw my hypothesis. It was a worthy effort, I think, but once it was submitted to thought experiments in the laboratory of this blog, it failed to hold liquid water. So be it. Science deniers, I have concluded, reject science for one obvious reason, and you don’t have to be a Super Alien from the Dawn of Time to know it: people are idiots.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon