Ethics Discussion Assignment Paper

Ethics Discussion Assignment Paper

Ethics Discussion Assignment Paper

This week we read Mark Twain’s tongue-in-cheek advice to youth. Select two of the readings and two of the video clips and create your own list of advice to youth. Be sure to list the readings and clips you selected. Your list can be ironic like Mark Twain’s, but it cannot be offensive. Offensive, for the purposes of this assignment, means singling out any group or gender as the target of inappropriate comments and insults. Remember, your list should aim at getting youth to behave ethically.


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    Reg Saner

    My Fall into Knowledge

    DAILY, ever so and


    in apparently alive in

    causeless a place called

    moments, “the world.”

    I’m aware


    of being –

    the though

    odd- ever so briefly- alive in a place called “the world.” Whereupon the odd- ness in simultaneously feeling hyperordinary yet cosmic throws me into inter-

    rogative mode.

    Recently, during just such a moment, and because I’m incorrigibly reli-

    gious, I found myself wondering, “Throughout history, just how many creeds have there been? And the god population – how many deities, now or ever?” An accurate inventory would of course be impossible. Not only do eternal truths come and go, some gods take early retirement. Moreover, ancient tribes, whether of prehistoric Greece or North Americas Hopi mesas, occasionally adopted supernatural beings from neighboring peoples into their own cultures. That ecumenical outlook, plus the polytheism factor, means no census could be as simple as one religion, one god. Impossible seemed the right word. Ethics Discussion Assignment Paper

    Then, as if with a life of its own, the question kept widening: “How many gods are currently in service throughout this galaxy-rich universe?” And sud-

    denly it dawned on me that I’d just invented a new field of study: astrotheol-

    ogy. We already have astrobiology, in case some life-harboring, extraterrestrial

    planet should be discovered. Sooner or later, where there’s life there will be divinities, a natural offshoot.

    However, natural is as natural does. All it takes is a planet whose thinking species, upon looking around at the various life forms, concludes, instead of the usual “Som eone has done this,” that

    ” Something has done this.” The ultimate

    principle of causation on that planet would be considered natural instead of supernatural.

    My logic felt rock solid, but hairsplitters may quibble. In any case, future astrotheologians will surely pursue the quasi-infinite possibilities of this new


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    field. Perhaps they will even conjecture a religious war on certain planets, with devotees of Someone-ism righteously deploying fire and sword to destroy for- ever the infidel Something-ists.

    Apropos of the Big Questions, doesn’t every child eventually ask, “Mommy, where did I come from?” These days, however, with low-rider jeans, some moth- ers dressing their ten-year-old daughters like French tarts, boy-girl dialogues of

    single entendre, and teens copulating as if humans were an endangered species, no parent could invoke the stork and keep a straight face. Is there one mother left who tells her child, “Why, sweetie pie, we found you under a cabbage leaf”?

    Way back in the psychedelic sixties, my friend Jo Ann said nothing of the kind. For her five-year-old, Chris, she went into physiologic detail. She didn’t

    just refer vaguely to “certain body parts.” She named names. His eyes widened. She implicated his father. Said that she and he had been in cahoots on it. The

    boy was stunned, revolted, aghast. These were people he had respected. The

    very people who kept telling him to behave himself. Then, remembering he had a younger sister, he cried out in dismay, “You don t mean you did it twice ?”

    If ever there were a “fall into knowledge” its that one. It changes the child

    by putting him further into the real than he had dreamed or wanted to be – a

    strange new context of animality. Small wonder that many children, perhaps most, prefer not to think of their parents as sex mates.

    There are plenty of things we adults don t like to ponder. For example, the size of all we belong to and the pitiful brevity of our visit. Post-Darwin, our

    biological status is another aspect some among us would rather not dwell on. Like little Chris, surprising numbers of adults vehemently deny their double nature as fur-bearing critters with vestigial claws on hands and feet – animals who talk and think, yet who, like our mammalian kin, also copulate and give suck. In a nutshell, some people simply cant stand the facts of life. Thats why they throw hissy fits at the mention of evolution.

    A memory lapse explains why a few years ago I accepted an invitation to debate an anti-Darwinian. My friend Jane Bock, a biologist, had been the

    initial recipient of that invitation. She and other biologists often receive such

    challenges but routinely ignore them as a waste of time. Then, looking at me,

    Janes mischievous streak kicked in. “How about you?” she said, knowing of

    my intense admiration for Darwin. “Do you want to take them on?” Never in

    my adult life had I encountered a creationist. Now here was an opportunity to

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    REG SANER 11

    practice my favorite occupation: going forth to see for myself. I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.” Why? Well, fools do rush in.

    Alas, my eagerness to trade verities with a proponent of biblical inerrancy before the breed went extinct led me to forget I had been a creationist for years and years, and would be again, though in a very different way.

    At precisely what age I allowed myself to be gathered to the bosom of creation- ism I can t recall, yet it must have occurred by the time I was five and in first

    grade. My memory of just how it happened remains clear as the image of tall Sister Mary Daniel in her great black wimple and Dominican habit of ankle-

    length white linen, as she tested us first graders with the very first question in the Baltimore Catechism, “Who made us?”

    On cue, we chirruped like a classroom of sparrows, “God made us.” To say Sister did the asking and we the believing would, however, be quite

    false. Belief implies the possibility of disbelief, a thing literally unthinkable at that age. Children may be finicky eaters, yet when it comes to religion they down whatever s set before them. If your parents follow Jainism, you follow them. Besides, anything Sister Mary Daniel said was true.

    It wasn’t so much that she wore holy clothes covering all but her face and hands, nor that all the mothers including mine spoke to her as to a Very Special Person. It wasn’t even because she always seemed so clean and gave off such a nice soapy fragrance. What Sister Mary Daniel said was true because she was tall, patient, soft-spoken, and kind to every one of us children. Ethics Discussion Assignment Paper

    Was she pretty? I don’t remember – just that she was beautiful.

    Surprising as it should have been for me to learn I’d been made by a God, it never entered my noddle to ask why. That just seemed to be what God did. He made things. Unlike the grown-up kind of creationist, I didn’t at the least mention of Darwin grind my teeth and spit. I was proud of my spitting, but hadn’t yet heard of evolution, so there was no need for righteous saliva. All the same, as we children grew older we did learn that a hellish fate awaited that soul guilty of willfully doubting things the Baltimore Catechism said were eternally true, and its pages clearly gave top billing to the Creator.

    Me disagree with the catechism? Only heretics did that. Even if I didn’t quite know what a heretic was, I did know it was the baddest thing you could ever become. Maybe the word’s sound caused me to picture a hairy man in

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    grubby clothes- a swarthy, red-eyed man who stood glaring at me and without

    lifting a finger was unspeakably wicked. A despondent lass in an old play says, “We know what we are, but know

    not what we may be.” Well, the skinny little blue-eyed kid I once was is now himself a full-grown, double-damned heretic- though not particularly hairy. It happened the day I awoke to the single fact of life rendering our human situ- ation inexhaustibly fascinating: no one knows what this world is, much less has the answer to “Why?” Sadly enough, that limitation has always impelled members of our species to claim knowledge they dont have, and I claim to be one of their victims. Hence, my activist interest in those old reliables, the

    supersize, cosmic questions. Historically speaking, there have been many mystery religions – think

    Orpheus, think Isis- but only one mystery: the answer to “Why?”

    For my showdown with Binford Pyle, a hard-core fundamentalist if ever there was one, I turned up on schedule at the Bethany Church ready for action.1 True, I had no debate experience and only the vaguest idea of the creationist mind. So what? Biological fact was firmly on my side, wasn’t it? Not that I’m a biolo-

    gist. Far from it. fm merely an ink-stained wretch puzzled by the millions of adults who seem to believe the facts of life are ungodly.

    In addition to my respect for Darwins achievement, there was a moral dimension in my agreeing to a debate. The people hoping to foist creation- ism off onto biology courses in our public schools have employed blatantly immoral tactics, and have done so while claiming to be champions of moral-

    ity. Their hypocrisy deserved a comeuppance. Even more germane, they daily enact our species’ peculiar ability to believe the unbelievable, a trait I’ve always found fascinating.

    On entering the church’s large vestibule I found dozens of earlier arrivals

    studying creationist displays, and a wide screen overhead flashing a projected sequence of anti-Darwinian power points. Their techno-effect was unexpect- edly hip. “Hm-m,” I thought, “and me with only a few handwritten notes.” The church’s Baptist congregation, drawn from one of Denver’s working-class suburbs, would surely be impressed by the electronic look of cutting-edge info. Ethics Discussion Assignment Paper

    Already I felt a bit daunted.

    i. Names of both person and place have been changed.

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    REG SANER 13

    As each slide brightened, then dissolved into the next one, I hadn’t time to read more than a few. Yet visually snappy as they were, they paraded the same old junk science and untruths that, nonetheless, have found a home in the hearts of countless devotees who take the biblical description of creation

    literally. Why do we believe the unbelievable? Agreed, the answer is obvious: we

    do because we want to, but saying so addresses only the why, not the how. It’s the how that intrigues me.

    No sooner had I left the vestibules displays and entered the church proper, where adult murmuring mingled with adolescent chatter, than I became dis- mayed by the sight of so many young faces, including quite a few children. I’d assumed the entire audience would be grown-ups. To undercut parental authority was the last thing I, with my straight-arrow midwestern upbringing, wanted to do. That reluctance led me to scrap the main argument of my open- ing remarks: a critique of the fundamentalist dogma on the Bible’s inerrancy, plus comments on the blood lust of the God its Old Testament describes. Intel- lectually, my spur-of-the-moment decision to back off was indefensible. I didn’t care. Children’s respect for their parents’ judgment seemed more important, so I chose to extemporize.

    On a brightly lit, carpeted platform, Binford Pyle and I sat opposite, each of us behind a small table covered with red cloth. Though Pyle was a man of large girth, he carried his weight well, was soberly attired in a dark blue suit, and made quite a good appearance, while the open laptop before him contin- ued the cutting-edge implications. These he further enhanced by setting it on the podium each time his turn came to speak or rebut. My few handwritten notes seemed so slight by comparison I ditched them and decided to wing it. Ethics Discussion Assignment Paper

    From the Internet I had learned of Pyle’s speaking engagements and vid- eos; learned too of his conceiving and leading, with others, something called Scriptural Tours in science museums, so as to correct the unbiblical informa- tion infesting such places; learned as well of his connection to the Farview Academy, which trains young fundamentalists.

    Between us at the podium, in marked contrast to Mr. Pyle, stood our moderator, a man in his late twenties, one Jeremy Higgins. What with his abun- dant beard, flowing brown hair, and bulky figure, his teddy-bear aspect made his role as the church’s youth director seem natural. Into the microphone he explained how the debate would proceed. Each of us would give a ten-minute opening argument. These would be followed by two rebuttals, the first for eight

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    minutes, the second for five minutes. Each of us would then make a five-minute

    closing argument, after which we d respond to questions from the audience. Just before Pyle and I had mounted the platform we stood momentarily

    face to face long enough for me to ask if he took the creation story in Genesis

    literally. His reply was edgy, as if long since weary of that issue. “The Creator,” he said, “made the world in six days of twenty- four hours.”

    Temptation overcame me. I asked, “What took him so long?” He didn’t answer that one, so after an ominous pause I tried again.

    “Well . . . how can you tell whether a given biblical passage is figurative or literal?” In the same dismissive tone he said, “You can tell by the context,” which

    on the one hand is true enough, but on the other sounds like dealers choice. I was about to press the point when the moderator asked us to take our

    places. To avoid being typecast as one of those university professors fond of

    destroying young souls with their godless ideas, I had worn a cowboy-style vest woven with Indian designs. Furthermore, I topped it off with a black, broad- brimmed Stetson and choke strap, such as bad guys always wore in the dime movies of my boyhood Saturday afternoons.

    During Mr. Higgins’ preliminaries I doffed the Stetson, but when my turn came to speak, I put it back on and, in a bantering manner, began with

    something like the following: “Lest anybody be confused, my hat should clarify the situation. Creationists here can relax. Though Mr. Pyle isn’t wearing a white

    hat, we know the man in the black hat always loses. To further simplify things, I advise those who are satisfied with their beliefs not to credit a word I say.” Then, after pointing out the impossibility of a debate between faith and fact, I sketched my position without raising my voice. Especially before an audience of working-class Baptists, soft-spoken was the only way to go. Ethics Discussion Assignment Paper

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