May 30, 2007

REGARDING DINOSAURS, PEOPLE, ALTRUISM, AND SUCH


Caption: The serpent in the garden?

I've been sitting on this one a while and trying to figure out what to do with it:

PETERSBURG, Ky. — The entrance gates here are topped with metallic Stegosauruses. The grounds include a giant tyrannosaur standing amid the trees, and a stone-lined lobby sports varied sauropods. It could be like any other natural history museum, luring families with the promise of immense fossils and dinosaur adventures.

But step a little farther into the entrance hall, and you come upon a pastoral scene undreamt of by any natural history museum. Two prehistoric children play near a burbling waterfall, thoroughly at home in the natural world. Dinosaurs cavort nearby, their animatronic mechanisms turning them into alluring companions, their gaping mouths seeming not threatening, but almost welcoming, as an Apatosaurus munches on leaves a few yards away.


It's not the Flintstones; it's a new Creation Museum which purports to show people hanging out with dinosaurs, who were apparently vegetarian in their prelapsarian condition. Here at least, the earth is only a few thousand years old, fossils and geologic formations are the result of Noah's flood, and the demon of Darwinism has been exorcised.

It's ironic that when we literalize good stories we often lose their point and when we try to blend literalistic religion with science we're not doing either any favors.

Meanwhile the real message of the Genesis story is a keeper: creation is good, but humans from the beginning have misused their freedom and in doing so have brought suffering on themselves and the rest of the world.

UPWARD MOBILITY Here's an interesting item from the AFLCIO blog about a report America's declining social mobility. What is eye-catching about this report is the fact that the report was co-sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, two conservative think tanks not known for undue concern about inequality.

FEELING ALTRUISTIC? It may be only natural. According to this item from the Washington Post, scientists are conducting new research that suggests our concern for others is

not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.

Their 2006 finding that unselfishness can feel good lends scientific support to the admonitions of spiritual leaders such as Saint Francis of Assisi, who said, "For it is in giving that we receive." But it is also a dramatic example of the way neuroscience has begun to elbow its way into discussions about morality and has opened up a new window on what it means to be good.


Recent brain imaging studies and experiments "are showing, unexpectedly, that many aspects of morality appear to be hard-wired in the brain, most likely the result of evolutionary processes that began in other species." If that is the case, at least some basic elements of the moral sense are not so much "handed down" by teachers as "handed up" by genes.

This is what the 18th century philosopher and political economist Adam Smith called "moral sentiment." Holy Scottish Enlightenment, Batman!

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

6 comments:

Bonney said...

well, obviously this creation museum is wrong. According to the Southern Baptists (who every year told my mom, who worked at a science museum with a dino exhibit), the dinosaurs died in the flood.

I guess so did unicorns.

El Cabrero said...

I can get you a unicorn by 3:00 tomorrow. There are ways...you don't want to know.

Anonymous said...

I wanna unicorn dad.....

El Cabrero said...

OK, Pumpkin!

Bon said...

You know, with the gratuitous animal pictures, the promise of a unicorn by 3pm today makes me worry about the mounting evidence the SPCA might have on you.

But you do have a goat farm. Perhaps things are overlooked in the name of the ancient brotherhood of shepards.... ;)

El Cabrero said...

I don't recall any rule stating that the unicorn's horn had to be in the middle of its head...