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Is Xenophobia Inherent in Organized Religion?
Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss explains his main gripe with organized religion: "It implies things about the real world that are just not true."
Lawrence Maxwell Krauss is a Canadian-American theoretical physicist who is a professor of physics, and the author of several bestselling books, including The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe from Nothing. He is an advocate of scientific skepticism, science education, and the science of morality. Krauss is one of the few living physicists referred to by Scientific American as a "public intellectual", and he is the only physicist to have received awards from all three major U.S. physics societies: the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Institute of Physics.
Lawrence Krauss: It’s hard to lump religion which comes in many different forms, shapes, sizes, and viewed many ways by different people in a single framework. Ultimately, I think religion is a negative force for humanity because what it does — at least organized religion around the world — is it implies things about the real world that are just not true. That are in disagreement with the evidence of empirical testing in science. And while they may provide comfort to people inevitably whenever you make decisions based on something that’s a myth, the decisions lead to bad consequences. Whether you’re teaching children or subjugating women. So religion of course at various times in human history for individuals provides comfort. It has provided opportunities for groups to sometimes do progressive things. But inevitably it’s based on myth and superstition, based on ideas created by Iron Age peasants who didn’t even know the Earth orbited the sun. And ultimately why we should view that as wisdom is beyond me.
The saddest part that’s characteristic of everything including the Koran and I don’t want to label just the Koran in this regard because I think it’s characteristic in the Old Testament and the New Testament in the Abrahamic religions. Is the xenophobia that religion introduces; it’s us versus them. We are absolutely right because we believe this or because we follow these traditions and other people are absolutely wrong because they don’t. And then the question is what do you do to the people who are wrong because they’re not part of your group? Well in many cases you kill them or you ostracize them or you send them to hell. No one mentions hell more than Jesus. Supposedly he was a loving savior, but he uses the word hell more than anyone else in the Bible. So that’s the same kind of xenophobia. In fact it’s worse in my mind. As my late friend Christopher Hitchens would say, you know, Saddam Hussein only condemned his victims to violence and death, you know, until they died. What about a god who condemns you to eternal pain forever? Far worse than Saddam Hussein in the sky. So I think the kind of xenophobia, the fact that people who don’t conform are to be ostracized or killed is prevalent in every religion and I can understand it because these religions were based, in some sense, [on] preserving order within a tribe. They’re all outgrowths of tribal behavior. To preserve order with a tribe, it’s always us versus them. Here are rules that define you as a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim. You do those rules and you’re distinguishable from the other and the other is to be swept away.
Now in the current world, I think there’s no doubt that right now Islam is a source of more violence than a number of the other organized religions. It’s not the unique source of violence. But I think the problem is just one of timing. Islam is 500 years younger than say Christianity. And 500 years ago Christianity was producing far more violence than Islam ever is today from the Crusades to the Inquisition. And so it’s not surprising that a younger religion in some sense is coming through its growing pains in that regard. The problem is we live in a time where there’s access to much more destructive forces so you’ve got to worry a little bit about that. Ultimately the real problem — the real difference that I see between Islam and, say, Judaism, I mean the Old Testament is every bit — it’s more violent than the Koran. It’s full of violence, oppression, genocide, hatred. It’s an awful book and it’s amazing that we present it as a moral standard. If you actually read the Bible, it’s a disgusting, disgusting document. There’s beauty in the psalms and the poetry of the psalms perhaps, but it’s every bit as violent if not more so than the Koran. The fundamental difference it seems to me is that we’ve learned even highly religious people take the Bible allegorically. They take it — they don’t — when it says you can stone your children if they disobey you, no one takes that seriously anymore. The difference is that many people take the Koran, every word of the Koran as not only divine, but literally. And therefore when it exhorts you to violence, they take that literally. That’s not done any more in the older religions, in the Abrahamic religions. The Bible still says to do those awful things, but people don’t take it seriously. In fact, when we talk about religion in general, many people call themselves religious because they think if they don’t, they’re not good people.
There was a — my friend Richard Dawkins has his foundation in England did a poll. It looked after the most recent census in England, which happens to ask what your religious affiliation is. For the first time only 53 percent of people said they were Christian or about that number. They took the people who listed Christian in the box and said do you believe in the virgin birth? Do you believe in transubstantiation? Do you believe in — the whole list of things that are sort of standard parts of Christianity? Most of those people said no. And then they were asked why did you check the tick that said you’re a Christian? And they said we like to think of ourselves as good people. And that’s the — what seems to me the thing that we have to overcome the most is people recognizing that you can be a good person by accepting reality for what it is and questioning everything including questioning the existence of God. There’s nothing wrong with that. I get letters from kids all the time who say, you know, I’m happy to read your books or see the movie you’ve just done because it tells me I’m not alone. I’m not a bad person for questioning what my elders or pastor or teachers say. In fact we should be encouraging our children to question everything. It’s part of education.
Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss explains his main gripe about organized religion: "It implies things about the real world that are just not true." Organized religion tends to promote an "us vs. them" mentality that in turn triggers a dangerous form of xenophobia. When people say religion is responsible for much of history's wars and suffering, this is what they're talking about.
Krauss then enters an investigation into holy texts such as the Old Testament, which — taken literally — is a "disgusting document" that most people know to treat allegorically. An issue Krauss sees among some Muslims is that the insistence on treating a text like the Koran 100 percent at face value leads to unnecessary violence.
Religion is strange that way. There are plenty of people who identify as Christians who also don't believe in transubstantiation or the virgin birth or any of the other examples of outdated hocus-pocus. Krauss says we should encourage more questioning of the sacred texts in all religions. We can't allow blind adherence to vastly outdated texts and values to stifle social progress through ignorance and bloodshed.
If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.
- Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
- Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
- One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.
Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.
- Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
- The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
- The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
Duke researchers have developed the first gel-based synthetic cartilage with the strength of the real thing. A quarter-sized disc of the material can withstand the weight of a 100-pound kettlebell without tearing or losing its shape.
Photo: Feichen Yang.<p>That's the word from a team in the Department of Chemistry and Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University. Their <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/adfm.202003451" target="_blank">new paper</a>, published in the journal,<em> Advanced Functional Materials</em>, details this exciting evolution of this frustrating joint.<br></p><p>Researchers have sought materials strong and versatile enough to repair a knee since at least the seventies. This new hydrogel, comprised of three polymers, might be it. When two of the polymers are stretched, a third keeps the entire structure intact. When pulled 100,000 times, the cartilage held up as well as materials used in bone implants. The team also rubbed the hydrogel against natural cartilage a million times and found it to be as wear-resistant as the real thing. </p><p>The hydrogel has the appearance of Jell-O and is comprised of 60 percent water. Co-author, Feichen Yang, <a href="https://today.duke.edu/2020/06/lab-first-cartilage-mimicking-gel-strong-enough-knees" target="_blank">says</a> this network of polymers is particularly durable: "Only this combination of all three components is both flexible and stiff and therefore strong." </p><p> As with any new material, a lot of testing must be conducted. They don't foresee this hydrogel being implanted into human bodies for at least three years. The next step is to test it out in sheep. </p><p>Still, this is an exciting step forward in the rehabilitation of one of our trickiest joints. Given the potential reward, the wait is worth it. </p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?
Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.
An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.
- 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
- Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
- Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.
The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.
In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.
That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.
70 data points and machine learning
Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash
Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:
"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."
The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.
Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."
Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.
Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.
On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.
Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash
Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."
"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.
The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.