I make no holier-than-thow claims, and I have done my share of visits to Home Depot and Target etc.  I remember when a mall was a novelty - Roosevelt Field, Long Island, was the first one known to me.

Yet, as I look around many a Mainstreet, seeing closed stores, franchises, banks and too many damn "wireless" businesses, it seems to me that we are quicky bargaining away much of our former charm in favor of the big-box discount and impersonal service.  Indeed the mom and pop stores are increasingly the exception.  Add internet sales - what could be a more impersonal and unilateral experience!

When I go into a neighborhood store, I generally get what I need, fast and appreciatve  service and even someone who remembers me.  Compare this to the typical megastore experience in which I often wander aimlessly looking for help only to find someone not so helpful - if at all.  I spent an hour once waiting on line for a custom gallon of house paint, knowing all along that for five bucks more I would have been in and out of my neighborhood store.  Five dollars well spent I say!  If you have a favorite shop or two where you are treated royally and get great service, consider making your purchase there rather than deferring to the next megastore excursion.   Otherwise, you have only yourself to blaim when its a shuttered storefront or yet another Verizon/ATT/etc. store. 

Price and value are not interchangeable, even more so if your own time is one of the things you value.


God, Evolution, and Overkill

This will be my last heavy posting for a while; it will be refreshing to move on to lighter fare for a bit.

If this is your first blog read, I don’t profess to “know” that there is a God nor do I endorse creationism as a substitute for science.  Rather, I simply believe that there is a spiritual element to existence that is perfectly compatible with science and our quest to know all that is knowable.  Science is not heresy, but rather an essential component of man’s drive to learn and improve.  I am not out to convert anyone, except perhaps to suggest that we all need to look beyond the constraints of what we think we know and open our minds to other possibilities.

One of the things that puzzles me though is that it seems to me that, in certain areas, nature and natural selection (if this is all you believe in), have really outdone themselves.  It would seem that once a certain level of evolutionary advantage is attained, there is no real advantage to pushing beyond the bare minimum to survive and prevail.  The rest is evolutionary overkill.  It seems to me that we are blessed, for lack of a better word, with senses and appreciations that far exceed these minima, and there are others for which there is no real evolutionary explanation.

Let’s take beauty for example.  Now, we can never know if our primate cousins take a moment to enjoy the beauty of the sunset – maybe they do.  But seriously, what could be the evolutionary advantage of an innate tendency to stop and smell the roses?  Certainly, some ancestor of ours would have been better served by scurrying on back up the tree rather than stopping, dropping his guard, breathing in the fragrant spring air, and thereby becoming someone else’s lunch.   If we accept that our ability, not only to appreciate beauty but to create it, is unique to man, where on earth did it come from?  Was it just some happy confluence of other evolved abilities that we put to a new use when we could safely spare the time?  (as language is postulated to be)  Isn’t that hard to accept as the singular explanation?

Let’s compare two senses: olfactory (smelling) and auditory (hearing). 

We all know first-hand how primal our sense of smell is.  It is almost in instinctive sense, and a smell’s ability to revive memories and even emotions somehow feels basic, if not impulsive and uncontrollable. 

Hearing, on the other hand, and more specifically, hearing and music is so much more.  Our ability to hear, discern, appreciate, and be emotionally overcome by music could only have arisen after man had the ability to create music.  Quite a coincidence!  Think of a symphony orchestra: strings, woodwinds, horns, percussion – each with many component instruments, all playing different but related parts, and it all makes perfect beautiful musical sense to us – musician or not.  Why on earth were we gifted with a sense of hearing that seems to give us so much more than we really need?  How is that as we learned to create music, we found we already had the ability to appreciate it in ever increasing levels of complexity and beautiful harmonies?

Yet music, this late-arriving form of expression, seems to have unequalled ability to inspire, exhilarate, and motivate.  Indeed, it can inspire a soldier to go out and kill just as it can inspire us to look within ourselves to the depths of despair and the heights of exhilaration.  How can we explain the unique capacity of music to move us with science alone?  And yes, I know there are theories.  But that’s all they are.  I for one cannot explain the glory of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in terms of frequencies, time signatures, and harmonics.  Like so many other wonders in our world - natural or otherwise - it seems imbued with elements of the divine.

I won't even try to examine the evolutionary advantages of "love," that apparently unique human quality.  Maybe another blog.

So alas, perhaps there are wonders and miracles all around, beyond the science for which evolution alone is not explanation enough.  So why this abundance of sensory stimuli and the senses and abiltiies to appreciate them?  I am reminded of a line from The Color Purple, maybe it’s just God’s way of showing off.


“On God and  Baseball”

In the “battle” over the existence [or not] of  God, there are two schools - generally described as believers and  non-believers.  To state the obvious, the believers  believe in God and, in some instances, they attribute this belief to personal  experience and inspiration; they may even claim to “know” that there is a God.  Non-believers, to the  contrary, will point to science and deny the existence of God; some claim to be quite sure that there is no God, perhaps again claiming to “know” this to be  true.  And so, regrettably, the battle lines are  drawn. 

In truth, this is likely a  pointless exercise with one school relying on science and the other on faith and spiritualty.  So what is the  baseball connection, or more precisely the connection to baseball  salaries of all things?

Have you ever heard words to the effect: “I can’t believe that we  pay baseball players millions of dollars to play a game?”   This is an absolutely valid and entirely emotional point.  What true lover of baseball would not play the game virtually for free if  indeed he/she could play this wonderful kid’s game for a living?  
An economist might respond that these players are  the top 25 employees of a billion dollar business; they are the product; they make the business possible, draw the revenue, and of course they deserve to be handsomely paid for  this contribution.  In sum, they are paid what the market will bear just like anyone else.  This is a perfectly valid and logical scientific/economic  point.

 I do not mean to belittle the importance of God and his (or her - seriously can God even have a gender) existence by comparing it to America’s pastime, but the analogy has some merit.  In our two sample arguments above, one party makes an emotional or spiritual argument, the other a  scientific or logical one.  Both parties have valid points - but from such different disciplines that their  reconciliation is difficult. 

Yet  it seems the problem is often that, with respect to God and religion anyway, these two somewhat irreconcilable perspectives insist on condemning the other’s views rather than respecting, questioning, and examining them - and dare I say even enjoying them.  This is as true for the religious zealot condemning evolution as heresy as it is for the militant atheist belittling any church-goer as something south of a simpleton.

As someone who admittedly does believe in a spiritual component  to our existence, I offer the following thoughts:

First, it would seem that both camps can simply begin with respecting the  positions of the other, and this means that both believers and non-believers need to approach one another with some sense of humility and openness (a sense of humor never hurts either!). 

Second, absent some godly manifestation in our lifetime, it is unlikely that
anyone will be able to prove the existence of God.  And to those who claim to “know” that there is no God, the same applies - I think more so.  
Let’s look at a few of the common atheist arguments:

Evolution disproves God.  Get serious.  It does  nothing of the sort.  One can  wholly endorse all of science and evolution and indeed seek to unlock science’s  every mystery yet still believe in God.   What forces compelled mutations and variation?  Science has yet to fully explain this and may never.  I for one find the notion that even millions of years of mutation, variation, and natural selection could produce even an insect – yet alone a man  – so fantastic that it compels me to seek answers elsewhere. 

And yes, that is a place where science and faith intertwine.  It is indeed apples and oranges my friends.  Those who take evolution, which explains so much, as the end all and be all of creation, seem to be arguing that if you put together enough monkeys and enough typewriters, one monkey will write
War and Peace.  No it won’t, and I don’t care how many monkeys are in the room!

Yet, even if we fully concede that there was no supernatural force involved in life's creation and that evolution tells the whole story, we still have to explain “stuff.”    Yeah, just plain stuff, matter, the Big Bang, the substance of the universe.  Where the heck did all this stuff come from?  When you think about it, nothingness is a whole lot easier to understand than “stuff.”   Why is there anything?  Was it always there?  Was there ever just nothing?  It isn't nothing still really sort of something?  Empy space is still space after all.  It’s really a mind-bender. 

I get the Big Bang, and it’s the best theory we have at the moment.  But where the heck did all of this stuff - this super-dense mass of matter come from?  Once we know that, where did the stuff it was made from come from, and then the stuff before it, etc. etc. etc.  At some point in this explanation, physics and metaphysics collide, and isn’t that wonderful?  Isn’t this an area of such delicious ambiguity that both the scientist and the theologian really should embrace one another ?  Isn’t that where faith and science meet, and the real fun begins?!

Just like the Big Bang comments above, isn’t it the role of science to keep drilling down through both time and matter.  It is only relatively recently that we came to know molecules and atoms.  Now we understand many of the particles that comprise atoms and the myriad byproducts of smashing atoms apart and crunching them together.  At the end of each discovery is the “is.”  We found a new wave or particle and it simple exists.  It simple is.  We don’t know why it is or where it  come from, it just “is.”  And no matter how much we learn, we will always drill down to the next level of  “is.”  And in the “IS,” I would argue, is the undeniable touch of God.  But don’t ask me to prove it.

And let me just touch on the notions of “knowing” and“believing.”   I for one do not know that there is a God, but I do believe in one.  When someone tells me that they have such faith or have had such experience so as to know that there is a God, I take no offense.  They have had a conviction or perhaps an experience that I lack, and their senses, mind, and dare I say soul have taken their faith to a higher level – one beyond my own.  If this person has a closed mind to science, tolerance, and other belief systems, then, we should take issue and indeed offense.  But if this is a person who embraces debate, tolerates opposing views, and seeks truth, what does it matter that his belief system is rooted in the conviction that God indeed exists?

Those who claim to know there is a God base this knowledge on some actual 
 experience, profound faith, or some combination of these.  No, this is not a
perfect or infallible, but it is based on an individual human experience, and
someone’s claim to have experienced God is entitled to at least the same respect as we give to anyone else’s perceptions of their reality through our admittedly imperfect senses. 

I cannot say the same of the atheist who professes to know there is a no God. 
This an arrogant claim to know what is unknowable.  They simply cannot know this; they can only believe it, or I guess, not believe it.  Unlike the example above, the atheist can only disprove God by proving a  negative – a much more challenging problem in logic.  We can prove that anything exists by coming up with a single example.  Trying to prove something does not exist, is quite another matter.   It requires proving a thing does not exist anywhere, anytime – even in the alternate dimensions and universes that science postulates.  Good luck with that.   While one 's personal experience of God is a valid, and indeed the only, basis upon which to believe in God, another person experience of  God's absence does not preclude God's existence.  It merely defines a single person's belief.

 Only when we, as a race of men, know everything, can we even begin to claim to “know” that there is no God.  And my friends, we will never know everything.   We will never know what forces exist beyond the range of our senses, even with all technological contrivances, to detect.  There are doubtless countless waves, particles, and energies, the existence of which we may never have a clue.

So where does this bring us?   Well, playing a game for a living does not preclude making a lot of money any more than scientific explanations preclude the existence of God.   And the real fun begins when open-minded people of differing views share, argue, and respect one another’s views.

 So enjoy the game! 

And if you’re still with me, I have it on good authority that God roots for the Mets and the Cubs, but he [obviously] does not seem inclined to interfere!