Gene -- The following graf from the Post quotes a Virginia prosecutor about why he chose to charge a woman in the death of her young son who was accidentally left in a hot car. Have you ever heard of someone forgetting a child TWICE? He said his decision to present the case to a grand jury was based in part on allegations that Murphy had forgotten Ryan in January when the minivan was parked outside her veterinary office, Caring Hands Animal Hospital. In that case, he said, day-care employees called her to ask whether Ryan would be coming, and she took him from the vehicle after less than a half-hour.
Yes, I know all about this case. It's a troubling fact, because you would think that the first instance would deliver a lesson forever learned. It did, in fact, with me. When I almost did this to Molly 29 years ago, it left me so terrified every time I was alone with a child in the car, I doubt it could have happened.
But in analyzing these cases, I have to keep coming back to something I was told by Dr. David Diamond, the expert in the effects of stress on brain chemistry.
The conscious mind, he said, prioritizes memory; it is vastly more important to you where you have last placed your child than, say, where you have last placed your cell phone. It's true of everyone. But the mind is also a machine, with parts that work mechanically and apart from our consciousness. And on that level -- the cellular level -- there are no such priorities. Machines stress and break. If you are capable of losing your cell phone, Diamond said, you are capable of forgetting your child.
I also keep coming back to something that was very apparent to me while researching this story, and talking to these devastated parents. The parents who have done this to their children are remarkably normal, nice, caring people. They're your neighbor or your sister or your veterinarian. You realize this when you are in a room with them.
Here is an old video I found of Karen Murphy, the veterinarian. Watch it. How can you feel anything but sympathy?
In your July 12 updates (in response to "Scientific method and God"), you suggested it would probably be easier to prove the existence of god, than the non-existence of one. There is a book called "The Einstein Enigma" that, fictionally, did just that. [MIILD SPOILER ALERT]It describes a project Einstein and his colleagues were working on just before he died, in which they use physics, chaos theory, etc. to try to prove the existence of god. In the case of the book, they define god not as an entity that intervenes in day-to-day human life, but just as the "intent" behind the universe, it's design and function. The translation (originally published in Portuguese) that I read was pretty good -- there were issues, but those were mostly able to be overlooked. The problem I have, though, is that I loved the idea so much that I'm afraid to look too hard into any of the "science" described in it, for fear that the whole premise fall apart. Am I now replacing faith in god with faith in a theory about god? How sad is this, really?
It's not sad, it's noble. It's WHY we believe in God -- because we must. The alternative is scary. That's why it is never possible to argue rationally with a believer, particularly a fundamentalist-type believer: In the end, the need to find a spiritual explanation is vastly more urgent than the impulse to employ logic.
Thus: If there is a just God, why do bad things happen to good people?
Ans: It's all part of a plan we can't understand.
Thus: If the world is 11,000 years old, why are there dinosaur bones?
Ans: God is testing our faith with, you know, a prank.
These discussions go nowhere, because the atheist knows that the logical answer to all this is the only one the believer cannot allow to be voiced. It's magical thinking.
You said, "Not once has there been a moment where a possible scientific theory has been supplanted by proof of something supernatural." Gene, I'm not religious, and in some sense I'm on your side here, but you know that this is completely false, right? There have been a great many rigorous intellectual traditions supplanted by supernatural ones, from Alexandrian Greek culture giving way to Christianity, to the entire collapse of classical civilization at the hands of the Goths, to the decline of Arab learning, to the crackdown on humanism by the Counterreformation. In each case the collapse of rigor was accompanied by all kinds of things that seemed, to people at the time, to be "proof," just as much as scientific proofs seem that way to you and me. I think there is a historical argument to be made for atheism, but I actually think you're making it kinda badly.
Whoa, whoa. I said supplanted by PROOF of the supernatural. Some supernatural explanation that holds up over time as an immutable truth. There have been burps and gurgles and returns to superstition and savagery, sure. But none of this ever stuck. Even Christianity, which you cite: Yes, it's superstition and magic, but none of it has ever withstood the scientific method. We have never figured how how Jesus turned water into wine, because, you know. We HAVE cured diseases, and figured out how molecules are formed, and how to solve problems with algebra. (Or, as the brilliant Arab mathematicians called it, "Al Gebra," before so many of their societies got all religious fundamentalist.)
Hi Gene, did you happen to read this in the NYT two weeks ago? It was beautiful, made my heart ache, I cried. And yet it was oddly inspiring.