Once again this past week we have news of students and colleagues who have become the target of violence by the forces of rabid tribal ignorance. 

Garissa University College on the plains of Kenya is a small but growing school.  It was formerly a "normal" school, which is the old fashioned name for a teachers' college - a place where bright and service-minded young people could prepare to carry the light of knowledge to children and teens in towns and villages across the area.   More recently, it has been offering more advanced degrees in what we'd consider practical agriculture and engineering - skills to help the poor in towns, villages, and cities engage in sustainable development, and survive the growing drought.

I grieve with the families of my lost colleagues, and the families of our lost students.

It is a reminder, though, that now and throughout history education is on the front lines.  Education is a radical act, an act of courage and defiance.  The belief that every human can make a difference, that each student is worth empowering will forever be a challenge to tyranny.  The quest for better understanding, for unifying principles, for overarching theories and universal truth is a constant threat to tribalism and parochial ignorance in all its forms.   There is a reason why Al Shabab attacks schools and universities, and a reason why some of our own politicians continue to cut funds for elementary and higher education.  We really are their enemy.

So to all those who teach, and for all those who continue to learn with open-mindedness and commitment, it has been a hard week.  Take courage, though.  May each loss of a student be replaced by 5 more yearning to learn and be free.  May each fallen professor be followed by several more willing to stand against ignorance.  May each of us who continue as teachers and learners renew our commitment on the front lines of humanity.

And may we remember the courage of our fallen friends.

May they rest in peace.

Views: 234

Comment by _Robert_ on April 8, 2015 at 2:37pm

RE: Prayer:

Anyone with above mentioned education knows that frequency of occurrence of human events follows a normal (a.k.a. non-supernatural) distribution (e.g. a bell curve with very unlikely events way over on edges are often attributed to "miracles" on the 6PM news).  Dr. Bob you do seem to concede that prayer does not work via divine intervention and focus on the "social" benefits of prayer....however because I was catholic for most of my life, I know that 99% of service prayer was a rather spooky mindless drone as it echoed through the tall corridors. The average person lulled into a kneeling/standing/sitting/repeat robot. Don't see the social benefit in that at all.

May as well go back to Latin, really.

Comment by Logicallunatic on April 8, 2015 at 9:04pm

Two hands working is really a profoundly irrational idea

Wow!

Comment by Ed on April 8, 2015 at 9:37pm

@ Dr Bob

"Yes, of course."

Yes, of course, despite the fact there is basically little to no evidence that prayer actually works. Failed prayers at hospitals, rehabilitation clinics and myriad other locations were desperate individuals reach out to an apparently indifferent supreme being.

"It's interesting that you talk about low tolerance among religions, as you express low tolerance of religions."

In light of the number of innocent deaths occurring each and every day at the hands of religious zealots it remains hard to be tolerant, especially when one considers the children affected.

"A rationalist I think would say that people around the world continue to maim and murder one another on a daily basis."  

Is it not fair to hold the religious to a slightly higher moral code of behavior since they are motivated by the desires of an invisible loving master?

"Recognizing that it is useless and unproductive to imagine eliminating religion and ethnicity and culture and nationalism and all the rest is the first step toward rational approaches."

 There you go, Bob, throwing the baby out with the bath water. 

"So the question becomes how to co-opt those things.  Religion is the easiest to co-opt, because unlike tribalism and nationalism and all the rest, it is suffused with notions of care-for-the-other, and has core teachings that to a greater or lesser degree run counter to violence."

Notions of care-for-the-other? Really? That message is not getting circulated near enough in many regions of the world.

"Hence prayer.  Prayer at very least is a form of meditation and reflection which causes people to pause and step back and possibly consider those counter-violence core teachings.  Regardless of whether you feel it has remote effects, it has effects on the person doing the praying.  Encouraging empathy, inspiring action, supporting fortitude."

For each fool reciting a peaceful prayer there is a dozen beseeching their god to "smite the heathen." So much for warm fuzzy feelings amongst one another. Your glass remains half full despite the glaring realities of a world full of failed religions.

"If the goal is to advance your own group by encouraging violence, then talking about how the other group is responsible for all sorts of real and imagined evils throughout history is a better choice, and one frequently employed by groups that really are advocating violence."

Atheists have no position on violence; as a humanist they may but not as an atheist. I find the current level of religious-oriented violence throughout the world intolerable and despicable. Surely there must be a more noble endeavor than to kill your neighbor to appease your jealous god. History informs us that violence is, unfortunately, inextricably linked to most religions. It has a shitty track record to be blunt.

Certainly our civilization has more pressing problems than wasting our time trying to keep the peace among the religious. Talk about irony.  

 

Comment by Dr. Bob on April 9, 2015 at 12:42pm

Thanks, @Ed.   That is a marvelous example of why education needs to continue to be at the forefront of humanity.  

In this age where the internet is creating geographically wide-spread but insular communities which repeat emotive memes and unsubstantiated claims as though they were truth, the presence of well-informed and responsible teachers is vital. 

Comment by Unseen on April 11, 2015 at 3:58pm

While I realize that many see philosophy as an anachronism and waste of time (I assume mainly people with little familiarity with it), I think courses in logic and the history of philosophy would go a long way toward making high schoolers better critical thinkers.

I myself, a graduate of a graduate-level philosophy program, have my doubts about the value of academic philosophy since, more and more, it produces people who are unrelateable to ordinary people who want answers to philosophical questions. It's one thing for a physicist to solve a problem through abstruse mathematics, quite another for a philosopher to wander off into eccentric definitions and abstruse logic, only to end up with a "solution" only another academic philosopher can truly understand (if indeed s/he does!).

If you propose bringing philosophy and logic to high schoolers, you run into a log of resistance. Teens are challenging enough, but if they're starting to learn to think...really think... THAT is dangerous!

Comment by Dr. Bob on April 11, 2015 at 7:31pm

I think courses in logic and the history of philosophy would go a long way toward making high schoolers better critical thinkers.

What a marvelous idea, @Unseen.  I quite agree.  

I also see it as an opportunity to get my separated brethren out of the science classroom.  Rather than arguing whether Creation should be taught in science, we could give them a small amount of space in discussions of different philosophies.  Creation/design is a philosophy, and exploring it would help them think through the issues more deeply.

Comment by Unseen on April 11, 2015 at 7:39pm

Dr. Bob, a truly critical thinker is going to ask how an ineffable, immaterial spirit can exert any force over material objects and events in the material world. 

Haven't you wondered about that? Or is it just "a miracle happens" for you?

Comment by Strega on April 12, 2015 at 9:03am
"any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind" (John Donne)

I feel sympathy with you for the futile deaths of so many. I don't believe that religion is the cause of these "tribal conflicts". I think it provides a rallying flag which is then used to justify atrocities, but if it were absent, I do not believe tribal violence would stop. I think a different rallying flag might be used (read 'Gulliver's Travels' for an example).

Any and every human life is important to us all. I do not believe in gods but that doesn't make me an enemy of those who do. It simply means our philosophies are different. As a species, I think we are warmongers. Individuals who disagree often resort to physical altercations, particularly when inhibitions are lifted through alcohol.

The question of how humanity can evolve past intra-species violence is the big one. Religion doesn't seem to help. As Bob points out, his churches have been preaching love, peace and acceptance for centuries. It doesn't work, does it?

Unfortunately, adherents to religions have spewed hate messages for years, but in my opinion, in the absence of religion, there would still be hate and discrimination.

Religion just gives hate a flag to wave. All the written "teachings" of religions include instructions to kill others not of the same tribe, faith, sexual orientation, etc.. In my view, religions evolved to accommodate human nature, not to alter or improve it.
Comment by Ed on April 12, 2015 at 10:23pm

@ Strega

"In my view, religions evolved to accommodate human nature, not to alter or improve it."

It seems religion has not always brought out the best in our fellow man. In the case of man's disposition for power and wealth the church has been very accommodating.

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