WolframAlpha: Amazing


WolframAlpha-2

The following is taken from the "About" page of WolframAlpha, a revolutionary new search engine that seems destined to be an extraordinarily powerful and invaluably useful tool for scientists, engineers, educatiors, and researchers of all kinds.

Wolfram|Alpha's long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.

Wolfram|Alpha is an ambitious, long-term intellectual endeavor that we intend will deliver increasing capabilities over the years and decades to come. With a world-class team and participation from top outside experts in countless fields, our goal is to create something that will stand as a major milestone of 21st century intellectual achievement.

Why is this so amazing? This short demo video will make it clear why Wolfram|Alpha is a major breakthrough.


My Presentation at the United Nations


UN Values caucus

A few weeks ago, I had the honor and delight of presenting my newest program, Evolution and the Global Integrity Crisis, at the United Nations, in New York City.  The event, sponsored by The Values Caucus at the United Nations, was attended by 40 people representing a wide diversity of religious, political, and philosophical worldviews.  (See event flier and photo essay.)  My program was very well received and afterwards several members of the Values Caucus began talking about the possibility of inviting me back to speak to a much larger audience at the United Nations.  Naturally, I told them that I would be thrilled to do so.  Here is what I offered:

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION:  From crumbling economies to collapsing ecosystems, humanity is experiencing an unprecedented global integrity crisis.  In a richly illustrated presentation, Michael Dowd proposes that the lack of an evolutionary worldview made the current crisis inevitable and that a deep-time view of human nature, values, and social systems provides a clear and inspiring way forward.

A few days after the event, Anne Creter, one of the organizers, sent me this touching note:


The Nature of Integrity


Leadership Integrity Challenge

I've been thinking alot lately about concepts such as deep integrity, big integrity, and global integrity.  What does integrity mean in an evolutionary context?  How can individuals and groups of all slizes (including corporations and nation states) come into deeper ecological and evolutionary integrity?  This line of thinking led to the creation of my new 90-minute program, "Evolution and the Global Integrity Crisis", which I delivered last month at the United Nations.  A great source of inspiration for me along the lines of individual, family, and work-place integrity has been Edward E. Morler's widely acclaimed book, The Leadership Integrity ChallengeWhat follows are a few gems from Morler (though they do not appear in this order in his book):

"Integrity is spontaneous responsibility.  It is doing the right thing even when no one is looking.  Without integrity our self-image and self-esteem become dependent on what other people think.  Every time we compromise our integrity we sacrifice a bit of ourselves—we shave off a piece of the wholeness of who we are.

"People with integrity have positive control over their lives and over the events in their lives.  They have a clarity and certainty about what they want and will allow.  They do not see life as happening to them, but rather they make life happen.  Without the cement of integrity, we are left distracted, unclear about what to do, ineffective in action, and weighed down by negativity.

"Integrity is the bedrock and the cement of our purpose, principles, and character.  It is the foundation that provides the willingness, ability, poise, presence, and certainty to deal with the entirety of what is.  Out of that develops our sense of purpose and vision of what can be.  In living our values and moving toward this ideal vision, we become more of who we truly are."


New Preface: Plume Paperback TGFE Now Available!


Plume TGFE PW

Endorsements from 6 Nobel Prize-winning scientists
Praise from other science lumnaries
Responses from diverse religious leaders
Purchase softcover online for $10.88 

As we observe the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of his landmark book, On the Origin of Species, evolution has become firmly established as the central organizing principle of the biological sciences. Natural explanations for the growth of complexity through time ground all the other sciences, as well, from cosmology and chemistry to neuroscience and psychology. That everything within this universe has emerged through natural processes operating over vast spans of time is now well beyond dispute among scientists and the educated public. Yet even today, families and public school systems remain divided and the evolutionary worldview is still shunned by millions, perhaps billions, of religious believers around the world. Why?


The 7 Deadly Sins of Old-Time Religion


"A mistake about Creation will necessarily result in a mistake about God." —Saint Thomas Aquinas

One of the most important truths revealed in recent centuries is this: everything—the entire Universe—is in an ongoing process of deep-time transformation.  Galaxies and star systems evolve.  Planets evolve.  Life evolves.  Human cultures evolve.  Individuals and groups of all sizes evolve.  And our personal and collective thinking about life's big questions (including our concepts/stories of Ultimacy, God, or Undeniable Reality) evolve, too.  Reflecting on this is, I suspect, what led Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to write:

"Is evolution a theory, a system, or a hypothesis?  It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, and all systems must bow and satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true.  Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow."

Over the next few weeks, I will elaborate on The 7 Deadly Sins of Old-Time Religion, taking them one at a time.  I will show that there are 7 profoundly negative consequences of religious resistance to a measurable understanding of time and emergent view of grace.  Specifically, I will reveal how, from a religious naturalism point of view, a pre-evolutionary worldview frozen within scriptural literalism necessarily...

1.  Trivializes God, guidance, and good news;
2.  Balkanizes religion and bastardizes science;
3.  Desacralizes nature;
4.  Blasphemes death;
5.  Fails our children in three tragic, unnecessary ways;
6.  Denies individuals and families access to the most important saving wisdom for overcoming personal and relational challenges; and
7.  Blinds us from seeing the true nature of the current global integrity crisis.

Everything must evolve in order to remain viable.  Three billion years ago, life (bacteria and archaea) thrived in a context of 2% oxygen.  Today, anything less than 15% oxygen would wipe out all mammals.  In an ever-emerging, ever-developing Cosmos, conditions that were once healthy and lifegiving can later become dangerous or even deadly—which is, of course, why life must be so adaptive.

Traditional religions will either evolve like everything else or, paradoxically, they will destroy nearly everything they stand for (or maybe just go extinct).  I'm betting my life that they will evolve, and will become more lifegiving then ever—not just for their own members but for the entire Earth community.  This is, indeed, why I wrote Thank God for Evolution, and why my wife and I have been living on the road for 7 years, sharing a sacred, meaningful view of cosmic, Earth, life, and human history with religious and secular audiences across America. 

The boldest creedal assertions are in the future, not the past.  I foresee a time in the not-too-distant future when churches and other religious organizations preach and teach the science-based epic of evolution as our common creation story, and when this story is seen as foundational for moral instruction and teaching values to the next generations.  Widespread awareness of The 7 Deadly Sins of Old-Time Religion will, I pray, significantly further this process.

Stay tuned...


"God" as a Personification of Undeniable Reality


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Birth, life, death, the cycles and rhythms of Nature, the elemental forces of the Universe—these are undeniably real.  Like it or not, we humans have always been in an inescapable relationship with a Reality that we could neither fully predict nor control.  And given the nature of our brains, there's one thing that people in every culture and throughout history have instinctually done: we've used metaphors and analogies to understand and relate to that which is unavoidably, undeniably real and/or mysterious.  We can't not do this.  Consciously or unconsciously, we will always interpret via metaphors. 

ALL images and concepts of God are more or less meaningful interpretations and personifications of Undeniable Reality, or Unavoidable Mystery.  And it didn't take a genius to figure out that if you trust, or have faith, in what is ultimately inescapable, your life works better than if you judge or resist what is Real.  This is not theological rocket science.

Whenever any story, any culture, or any scriptural passage claims "God said this..." or "God did that...," what follows is necessarily a meaningful interpretation of some individual or group's inner or outer experience; it is never a measurable fact.  In other words, had CNN or ABC News been there to record the moment of divine revelation, there would have been nothing out of the ordinary (nothing miraculous) to report on the evening news—nothing other than what was coming out of someone's mouth, or pen, or whatever folks wrote with back then.  If we fail to understand this, we belittle God and will surely miss what Reality is revealing today.  And we mock God if we imagine that a truly divine communicator would have spoken to humanity as a whole more clearly through goat herders and fisherman in the distant past, via their dreams and intuitions, than through cumulative evidence discovered by the global community of scientists alive today.  After all, if the worldwide, self-correcting scientific endeavor is anything, it is the pursuit of collective intelligence and a cultural system designed to hold people accountable for their factual statements—their truth claims.

As I discuss at length in Part II of TGFE ("Reality is Speaking"), facts are God's native tongue.  In the same way that Reality is always speaking to us individually through our feelings, circumstances, and relationships (i.e., through our experience), empirical evidence is how Reality (God) speaks to us collectively.  Few things are more important, it seems to me, than appreciating this and acting on it at all levels of society, the sooner the better.

Fortunately, this perspective seems to be resonating with lots of heavyweight science and religion leaders:

Endorsements from Nobel Prize-winning scientists
Praise from other Science Luminaries
Response from Religious Leaders Across the Spectrum (by Affiliation)

Also see:

Are God and Satan Real?
The Silly Debate Over God's Existence
Evolution as Meaningful, Inspiring Fact

 


Are God and Satan Real?


Satan.jpg

ABC Nightline recently staged two debates.  In one, participants argued over the question "Does God Exist?" The other, last night, debated the question "Doe Satan Exist?" Rarely have a witnessed a more brilliant display of unnecessary silliness for want of an evolutionary worldview.  (I'm referring to ABC News, not the participants.  Deepak Chopra mentioned evolution a couple of times and Carlton Pearson was a beautiful model of generosity of spirit.)  Without a deep-time understanding of our brains and the nature of human language, such questions are regarded not only as legitimate, but important. From a meaningful evolutionary perspective, however, questions such as "Does God Exist?" or "Does Satan Exist?" are revealed to be misleading at best, and demonically distracting at worst.

Do dreams exist?  Are they real?  Subjectively, of course they are!  But are they real objectively?  Well, it depends on what you mean by "real".  Certainly dreams are natural and experiential—and are subjectively realistic.  And dreams are, of course, correlated with very real brain activity as well as chemical, hormonal, and other physiological changes.  But fortunately for me, when I dream about Angelina Jolie I don't need to worry about Achilles (aka, Brad Pitt) stalking me down in a jealous rage—or my wife divorcing me.

I expect to write more on this subject in the not-too-distant future.  Until then, I invite interested readers to see the following previous posts of mine and a few passages from my book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Sciene and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World.

The Silly Debate Over God's Existence
Metaphorical gods vs. Reality/God: Part 1
Metaphorical gods vs. Reality/God: Part 2
God is NOT a Supernatural Terrorist

There is indeed a force devoted to enticing us into various pleasures that are (or once were) in our genetic interests but do not bring long-term happiness to us and may bring great suffering to others. . . . If it will help to actually use the word evil, there's no reason not to. —ROBERT WRIGHT, author of The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are—the New Science of Evolutionary Psychology

TGFE: PAGES 160-161 (Good stuff follows!) ...


The Future of Religion: Evolutionary Trends


Celtic cemetary

The other day I was talking with my dear friend and colleague in the Great Work, Jon Cleland Host, about recent polls on religion in America and around the world.  I greatly appreciated his perspective and asked him to contribute this GUEST BLOG POST.  It's lengthy but well worth the reading!

________________________________________________

One of the many empowering realizations that an evolutionary worldview gives us is that we can make some reasonable guesses about the future based on long term trends of the past.  We can enter the future with trust and with our eyes open, poised for some likely scenarios, instead of being blindly buffeted by inscrutable Fates.  In chapters 16 and 17 of Thank God for Evolution, Michael Dowd shows that if the 14 billion year history of the universe were compressed into a single century, then the next minute on the cosmic century timeline would represent 250 years. Surely, we should be able to make a few accurate assumptions about the next minute if we know the past 100 years of history!

Some events can't be predicted very well, such as distant supernovae or the direction of next week's stock market movement.   Others, however, are the result of long-term trends, and can at least be estimated based on those trends.  For instance, world population has been increasing rapidly for centuries, and it appears likely to continue to do so for several decades into the future.  When our day-to-day experience is affected by long-term trends, those trends can predict part of what our future (and our kids' future) will be like.  Out of all the aspects of society that affect our lives, let's look at religion.

If you are an American Gen X'er like me, you probably grew up in a world where the dominant religion was an unquestioned, moderate, mainline (Protestant or Roman Catholic) Christianity.  I remember some religious conflict in society (such as the fight over female ministers), but also remember times without conflict.  How much should I trust those memories of mine?

Anecdotal evidence (the memories and experiences of one or several people) is naturally a powerful force in our evolved minds.  After all, it's the only kind of evidence that our Ancestors had available for well over 99.9% of our existence.  It makes sense that we have evolved to pay a lot of attention to it.  However, our experiences are terribly limited, our recall quite selective, and our memories malleable by desire and expectation.  This is why anecdotal evidence is often not worth the paper it is (sometimes) printed on, and why it takes a conscious effort for us to go beyond it.

Luckily, the modern world often gives us powerful and effective supplements to anecdotal evidence.  The 20th century, unlike any century before it, generated a wealth of detailed data on an astounding array of subjects.  To ignore this evidence when looking into any subject is like driving with your eyes closed.  It's stupid, pointless, and often harmful.  So let's look at some recent religious trends...


From Mystery to Wonder: Science vs. God of the Gaps


Guest blog

The following post was written by my wife, Connie Barlow.

"Science cannot explain the origin of life," a man told me as I managed the book table at my husband's evening program last night.  The man had been explaining how he had come to accept evolution while maintaining his belief in God.  Then a younger man entered the conversation, warning, "But science may one day crack that mystery, too." I concurred, "A God of the Gaps is a dangerous approach for resolving science and faith."

Michael's program that evening (23 March 2009) was his newest illustrated talk, "Evolution and the Global Integrity Crisis", which he will also be presenting at the United Nations next week.  We were at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church near Philadelphia.  The event drew an audience from the surrounding Philadelphia community.  It was co-sponsored by the Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia, Metanexus Institute, Narbarth Havurah, Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, St. Luke United Methodist Church, and The Earth Center of the Delaware Watershed.

In order to make time for the global integrity theme in his new program, Michael had dropped some of the theology that he ordinarily presents (and that entails a large chunk of his book, Thank God for Evolution).  Specifically, he had excised the arguments leading up to a bold assertion: "An understanding of God that does not at least include the entire creative process of the Universe is, given our modern understandings, a trivial notion of God."  Alas, absent this perspective, moderate Christians will have little option but to continue taking refuge in today's version of "God of the Gaps" theology—that is, Intelligent Design.

Just how secure is the mystery of life's origin?  Is this argument in favor of a designer God well fortified from possible intrusions by explanatory science?  That is, how great are the gaps in scientific understanding of (a) the formation of complex organic molecules on or within the early Earth, and (b) natural and unguided processes for linking up such molecules into precursors of living systems?

A stunning gain in understanding the formation of complex organic molecules was reported in December 2008 - and not just in the science media: Nature GeoscienceUSA Today also printed an article titled "Life from Asteroid Collisions?". 


'The Great Disruption' Has Begun


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The following appeared in today’s (March 7, 2009) issue of The New York Times.  I burst into tears of gratitude and hugged Connie after I read it aloud to her.  Untold millions of people throughout the world read Friedman's column.

The Inflection is Near? - by Thomas L. Friedman

Sometimes the satirical newspaper The Onion is so right on, I can’t resist quoting from it. Consider this faux article from June 2005 about America’s addiction to Chinese exports:

FENGHUA, China — Chen Hsien, an employee of Fenghua Ningbo Plastic Works Ltd., a plastics factory that manufactures lightweight household items for Western markets, expressed his disbelief Monday over the “sheer amount of [garbage] Americans will buy. Often, when we’re assigned a new order for, say, ‘salad shooters,’ I will say to myself, ‘There’s no way that anyone will ever buy these.’ ... One month later, we will receive an order for the same product, but three times the quantity. How can anyone have a need for such useless [garbage]? I hear that Americans can buy anything they want, and I believe it, judging from the things I’ve made for them,” Chen said. “And I also hear that, when they no longer want an item, they simply throw it away. So wasteful and contemptible.”

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”

We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese ...

We can’t do this anymore.