July Letter from South America

Dear Bob,
You recently posted news about censorship, specifically about a new Florida law that lets anyone challenge topics children learn in school. One complaint is that evolution is taught as if it is ‘reality’. Regression. It is like we are living in Descartes times! And we need him again to appease the Christian right and its anti-evolution stand and let science and rationality keep working (but isn’t that what Pope Francis tried to do when he affirmed that “evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation”? ) We are living this kind of regression in politics over here. It is like every right wing politician wants to turn every important issue into a religious dispute. In a religious country this strategy pays off. Last year, when we had a referendum about a peace process with the oldest guerrilla group in Colombia, there was a strong campaign against it alleging that the agreement included legalization of gay marriage, adoption by gay couples and a broad support for homosexuals. The agreement did include a provision for inclusion, tolerance and more opportunities for single mothers.
Also last year there was a major scandal that involved the Minister of Education. Due to a sentence from the Supreme Court, which ordered the ministry to implement a program to stop bullying of gay and transsexual kids in schools, the Ministry published an informative leaflet that was supposed to help teachers and staff at schools deal with students’ different sexual orientations. The opposition party went up in arms: the government was trying to corrupt our kids and force people to compromise their moral views. The scandal paid off and helped the opposition win the referendum.
Many people now see with concern how political parties associate with churches, aligning their political goals with the religious views. We have an election next year and I am afraid it is going to be ‘religiously’ nasty. Regression. I don’t like the two kinds (or maybe they’re the same kind): those politicians/religious leaders whose goal is to turn the state into the religious state they dream of, or the other kind: the kind that abound here, those who just calculate when to create a moral debate in order to divide and win.  
Then they get elected. And it is no wonder how bad they are. It is shocking how far a politician can go to benefit himself. People in politics who seem smart, honest and educated turn out to be so obscure, so horrible, and so manipulative. It is so ironic that the former anticorruption watchman in Colombia is being extradited to the United States on charges of laundering money collected from bribes. He would approach politicians being accused of corruption and work a scheme to clear them from the charges. But in a kind of Shakespearean act, one of the politicians, object of the official’s briberies, blew the whistle with the DEA and they set the anti-corruption chief a trap.  It worked.
I find it so urgent to learn how science works, how critical thinking works, how important it is to be skeptical, always believing in a politician for good reasons and not believing for equally good reasons; otherwise, it is just a very easy game for them.

5 thoughts on “July Letter from South America

  1. Laura, why do so many people believe in some scripture or other, but won’t believe the discoveries of science? It seems so odd to me because, of course, discoveries in science are open to criticism, new discoveries, and adjustment to reality, while scriptures are fixed “forever”. I used to use the Old and New Testaments of the “Bible” in a Philosophy in Literature course and was confronted with “It doesn’t mean what it says” arguments all the time. E.g. Deuteronomy 21:18–21. [kill your rebellious child] .


    • So true, Bob. I guess it is somehow a powerful human mind’s trait – to believe that some powerful force, some spirit controls reality no matter how incoherent stories can be.
      I have a student who is trying to join the navy. Apparently she was not accepted so her catholic mother took her to some fortune teller to see what could be done. Evidently they do not find any difference between magic, religion, witches or angels. It is all part of this force. The fortune teller told them the girl was not going to get accepted unless she had some influential person to pull some strings (from a tarot reading). Wow, that’s what anyone thinks you need in this country to join government institutions. What a joke. But for the mother and the girl the fortune teller was no joke.


  2. I see that the Catholic Encyclopedia has this for belief: [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02408b.htm]

    That state of the mind by which it assents to propositions, not by reason of their intrinsic evidence, but because of authority. . . .
    By the definition given above we are enabled to distinguish belief

    – from intelligence, in that the truth of the fact or proposition believed is not seen intuitively;
    – from science or knowledge, since there is no question of resolving it into its first principles;
    – from doubt, because belief is an assent and positive;
    – from opinion and conjecture, in which the assent is not complete.

    Belief, however, as has already been noted, is often indiscriminatingly used for these and for other states of mind from which for the sake of accuracy it should be as carefully distinguished as is possible. Though we may know a thing and at the same time believe it (as in the case of the existence of God, which is a natural verity as well as a revealed truth), it is in the interest of clearness that we should keep to the distinction drawn and not confound belief and knowledge, because of the fact that the same truth may simultaneously be the object of both.

    In epistemology we usually insist that knowledge has three necessary conditions. If I know that X then 1. I believe that X; 2. I have sufficient evidence that X; and 3. X is true.

    The Stanford Encyclopedia has: [https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/belief/]

    Most contemporary philosophers characterize belief as a “propositional attitude”. Propositions are generally taken to be whatever it is that sentences express (see the entry on propositions). For example, if two sentences mean the same thing (e.g., “snow is white” in English, “Schnee ist weiss” in German), they express the same proposition, and if two sentences differ in meaning, they express different propositions. (Here we are setting aside some complications about that might arise in connection with indexicals; see the entry on indexicals.) A propositional attitude, then, is the mental state of having some attitude, stance, take, or opinion about a proposition or about the potential state of affairs in which that proposition is true—a mental state of the sort canonically expressible in the form “S A that P”, where S picks out the individual possessing the mental state, A picks out the attitude, and P is a sentence expressing a proposition. For example: Ahmed [the subject] hopes [the attitude] that Alpha Centauri hosts intelligent life [the proposition], or Yifeng [the subject] doubts [the attitude] that New York City will exist in four hundred years. What one person doubts or hopes, another might fear, or believe, or desire, or intend—different attitudes, all toward the same proposition. Contemporary discussions of belief are often embedded in more general discussions of the propositional attitudes; and treatments of the propositional attitudes often take belief as the first and foremost example.

    As my great-granddaughter says: “It’s complicated!”


    • Indeed, complicated! But I think the catholic encyclopedia is offering the meaning of ‘belief’ only in the religious sense. As it has been pointed out in this blog before, if I say something like ‘I believe the car will start’, I express my confidence in that the good maintenance it gets and as it has a full tank and as it has been running really well lately, I can say then, confidently, that it will start. The catholic explanation sounds more like the explanation of Faith (capital F). If Faith is different from Intelligence in that the truth of the fact is not seen intuitively and there is no reasoning involved (the distictions they want to make sure we make), then it looks like, by definition, there is no challenge possible to Faith. It is a black hole.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. In Bob’s Bible Book he makes a distinction between “the official line” and “the story line”. It is so much easier to simply accept the official line (which is based on authority) than to struggle with the shifting, open-ended, hard to pin down story line (which requires facts, interpretation, theories, study). But we must. Thanks to Copernicus, Descartes, and others who refused to be silenced by the officials from the official line.

    Liked by 1 person

Please join the discussion!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s