Thoughts on Pot

by Brian 14. April 2014 04:22

Apologetics often concerns itself with the removal of mental barriers to the Gospel. With that in mind, perhaps it is high time we clear the air regarding pot. I prefer to leave the matter of legality to others and focus rather on its perniciousness. I know any rebuke leading to restraint is clearly out of fashion these days. Nevertheless, credible people ought to take a stand on this issue. Who are the credible you ask? Most will agree criticism from those who have never smoked the drug are about as compelling as testimony from those whose minds are clouded by its regular use. And we are often incredulous of the experts with their inconclusive studies worded in ways seemingly meant to lessen our concern. Yet, there are those who have experience with the drug and they ought to honestly articulate the pitfalls to those who are uninformed. Let’s face the facts; it is likely marijuana will be generally available in the US in ways far more ubiquitous than black-market access. It’s coming to a convenient store near you. So what are we to make of it?

As I eluded, experts have not done a great job helping people move off the fence on the issue of pot’s health risks. According to the NIH: “Cannabis and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic.” Yet in the very same paper they also say: “…cannabis smoke has been implicated in respiratory dysfunction, including the conversion of respiratory cells to what appears to be a pre-cancerous state.” The causal link to tobacco-related cancer has not been found yet, but: “The genotoxic effects of partially oxidized hydrocarbons created by burning either cannabis or tobacco have been widely examined as the likely source of genetic changes that lead to the carcinogenic state.”  But instead of erring on the side of caution, many will take this kind of milquetoast analysis as license to smoke. You will always have some who ignore the risk, just like people do with cigarette smoking. But where is the same kind of fervor we see leveled against tobacco? Must we wait until weed becomes a lucrative industry with a requisite number of corporate fat-cats before we stigmatize it?

Then there are the obscurantists trying to convince you pot is no more (or perhaps less) harmful than alcohol. They say it is not addictive. Yet clearly there are dependency issues with pot. They say the psychoactive component of pot, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), is no more destructive to the mind than alcohol.  Yet again, not true. THC is fat-soluble whereas alcohol is water-soluble. I found this article on the Washington State University website to be helpful. If we skip over the harmful effects to the male and female reproductive system and focus on the half-life of THC you’ll see it’s around 7 days. Even if you take good care of yourself, drink plenty of fluids and exercise, you can only prevent THC build-up if you limit intake to less than once per week. But every one of us with experience knows the majority of pot smokers do not limit themselves to once a week. Why do you think the community of smokers adopted terms like pot-head and perma-baked? It’s simple; most pot-smokers intake at a frequency where the accumulation of THC in their system results in a chronic change to their cognitive state.

But I didn’t need to read a study to know this. I’m well-aware of what pot does. I smoked my share in 1980’s and experienced the full effect first hand. I wasn’t a Christian then, so I had no objective moral basis at the time for quitting. Nor as an unbeliever did I develop a subjective moral basis for altering my behavior. But I did have an epiphany. I was working on an electrical engineering project for a company out of Atlanta. I was involved in cutting-edge R&D on a complex cable television system. It was a challenging project and I was the lead engineer on a significant portion of the system. My position on pot flipped dramatically over a several week period as I continually dealt with a noticeably hindered ability. I knew what I was capable of, but I could not draw it out. I then had my subjective moral basis for quitting. I quit because it was wrong to partake in something leading to chronic stupidity. Nothing I have witnessed in the nearly thirty years following has led me to see this in any other way.

So what if your brain-function is chronically reduced. Why is that an issue? Why is it morally wrong? One guy told me: “I’ve run a successful business as a pot smoker” (note the past-tense). A very skilled developer I know says he smoked pot every night and his employer was none the wiser. What is wrong with getting by with sub-optimal cognitive ability?  How one responds to these questions depends on one's worldview. The Christian understands scripture is clear on the immorality of being inebriated. This applies to any intoxicant, not just pot, but of course alcohol too. But one can savor a glass of wine and be fully lucid. Pot-use on the other hand has one, and only one end in mind – inebriation. Apart from legitimate medical scenarios, I cannot see how the Christian can justify its use. Other worldviews will see things differently of course. Those who see man as a mere byproduct of material processes with no rhyme, reason or purpose to his existence might easily adopt a justification for chronic stupidity.

Regardless of worldview, we live in a society where the consequences of behavior have been greatly mitigated by the State and by the culture. If you trash your health; others will pick up the tab. If you lose your job because of substandard performance; there is a safety-hammock to catch you. If you ruin your marriage because you are disengaged; you dispose of it without fault or shame. Most can sense something is wrong with taking advantage of this lax arrangement. But such sensitivities will likely atrophy in the case of pot use. Like a man with dementia trying to find his own cure, how ironically circular the situation is here. It reminds me of the scene in the movie Das Boot where they try to restore the electrical system before running out of air. The higher the CO2 levels got, the more mentally difficult problem solving became and less likely they would be able to save themselves. Will marijuana be grist for the mill of depravity? I think so, but we'll know more as we run the experiment.

 

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Cosmos

by Brian 30. March 2014 06:43

I finally got a chance to sit down and watch the first episode of the new Cosmos series with host astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. It began with exciting animations and music to set your mind adrift like one of Sagan’s dandelions, untethered from the weight of substantive science. My daughter and I enjoyed the cosmic micro-to-macro journey, reminiscent of the intro to the movie Contact. It opened up some interesting conversation. I found Tyson’s personal experience with his mentor Carl Sagan touching and his excitement for science encouraging. But the effort to divide faith and science was both disappointing and misleading. Even though Tyson is not an atheist (he self-identifies with agnosticism) the executive producer Seth Macfarlane is an outspoken one. It seems pretty obvious to me his bias was allowed to drive the direction of the first episode.

 I’m going to skip over the first half of the show and the pop-science introduced briefly by Tyson’s comment: “Many of us suspect” everything in our observable universe is “but one tiny bubble in an infinite ocean of other universes...worlds without end.” [i] Tyson was allowed to quickly brush over this speculative, unobservable, metaphysical conjecture as if it were a genuine scientific theory. Since I’ve already blogged about the multiverse, I’ll move on to the second half of the show where for over 20 minutes I listened to Tyson attempt to widen the gap between those who look at the world through science and those who look at it through philosophy and theology. I won’t go into how badly Cosmos mishandled the history of the church and Giordano Bruno. You can read this excellent article showing how embarrassingly inaccurate Cosmos portrayed things. I do want to briefly mention how their divisive approach was unnecessary.

The new atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, believe those on the side of science must ridicule the other side of faith. There are also those like Hawking and Krauss who seem to think philosophy is dead because of the advancement of science. On the other hand, strict literalists like Ken Ham often appear to ignore any scientific view which might require a rethinking of one’s theological interpretations. The producers of Cosmos appeared, to me at least, to be fueling the fires in all of these camps. However, there are many scientists, philosophers and theologians who reject the notion science, philosophy and faith must forever be at odds. John Polkinghorne, who won the Templeton Prize in 2002, is an example of such a scientist and theologian.  I’ve blogged about this elsewhere but Polkinghorne’s words are worth repeating.

We must take account of what science has to tell us about the pattern and history of the physical world in which we live. Of course, science itself can no more dictate to religion what it is to believe than religion can prescribe for science what the outcome of its inquiry is to be. The two disciplines are concerned with the exploration of different aspects of human experience: in the one case, our impersonal encounter with a physical world that we transcend; in the other, our personal encounter with the One who transcends us. They use different methods: in the one case, the experimental procedure of putting matters to the test; in the other, the commitment of trust which must underlie all personal encounter, whether between ourselves or with the reality of God. They ask different questions: in the one case, how things happen, by what process?; in the other, why things happen, to what purpose? Though these are two different questions, yet, the ways we answer them must bear some consonant relationship to each other.

Science, philosophy and theology are all trying to make sense of the world from different angles. They all have their primary domains of inquiry into a single world; a single reality. These domains may overlap at points (contrary to Gould’s NOMA.) For example, we cannot divorce ourselves from scientific knowledge when developing a theology of creation. Nor should we air the conjecture of materialist scientists regarding unobservable constructs beyond the event horizon of our universe – at least not without the input of philosophers and theologians. So when you have an executive producer of Cosmos saying: “There have to be people who are vocal about the advancement of knowledge over faith.”[ii] It’s no wonder why the main message of the show is one of division instead of unity.

 



[i] Neil Tyson, 15:00-24 Cosmos Ep1.

[ii]Esquire interview Aug, 18,2009

Why Facebook?

by Brian 24. December 2013 07:37

What good purpose does Facebook serve with respect to its users today? It is questionable as to whether it delivers a net-positive degree of happiness or contentment. Studies seem to indicate Facebook is not helpful to our well-being.  We are deluded if we think by having hundreds of friends we’ve never met, and by engaging in superficial interaction, that somehow we will derive similar benefit to spending face-time with real friends. So what good is it then? I can see two purposes for Facebook that are potentially worthwhile. One is to share with your shortlist of real friends and family. The other is a global forum where we might engage in the Great Conversation.

There are those who keep their friends and family list short. They post pictures of their vacations, pets and kid’s graduations. These posts are received on their friends’ newsfeed with genuine appreciation. No matter how many pictures they upload of pets or plates of food, their friends will probably *like* it. Under this scenario you typically steer clear of controversy. It’s better to avoid politics, philosophy and religion. Share a recipe or funny story and everyone will love it. Get into weightier matters and you might get unfriended. To these folks, a contrary comment might get you labeled as a troll. And of course if your only intention is to irritate those around you, then trolling is a vice. If on the other hand you articulate an idea and those who oppose it are irritated and offended, then trolling merely reveals our culture of reticence and political correctness run amok. That aside, it seems to me this is a legitimate use of Facebook even though I’m less inclined to use it for this purpose.

Then there are those of us in the camp who see Facebook as a global forum to discuss any topic. There was a time when we had speak-outs in the town square where one would stand up and engage the public in discourse. I’ve heard stories of my grandfather who would go down to the local pub and take part in philosophical discussions. The bartender kept a copy of Webster’s dictionary behind the counter to settle disputes over terms. He and his friends would look forward to these engagements over a scotch. No one knew who would wander into the fray on any given night, or how they might be bent. But regardless, there was a general respect for the opinion of others. Listeners were expected to form their own perspective, and if you had the courage, you might even articulate it openly. Tolerance actually meant something positive then. Though today we may have regressed in the practice of rational discourse, Facebook might actually offer some means of revitalization.

Even though Facebook has much to be desired for in-depth discussion, it does have an interesting characteristic. As you pursue weightier matters, conversions on topics considered taboo, your friends-list will inevitably evolve. Those who are intolerant of your views might unfriend you. Other uninterested friends in the first camp might hide your posts on their newsfeed. If you are tolerant in the traditional sense of the word, then you might unfriend those who are vulgar, offensive and incorrigible, but not those who can articulate a contrary view. On the other hand, you might choose to block those who agree entirely with you but add nothing but derision and noise to the conversation. With all of these configuration changes over time, your friends list will evolve to be comprised of those who are suitable for engaging in meaningful discourse on all sorts of topics.

You may be wondering how this applies to apologetics. Well, cordial and thoughtful discourse can improve our understanding of a topic and help us to better articulate a position to others. It also opens up opportunities for third-party observers to learn and grow. There are several people on my friend’s list with significantly different worldviews to mine. Still, I respect and appreciate hearing from them. To be sure, the more substantive and developed one’s worldview becomes, the more unlikely a contrary belief is integrated. A well-developed Christian worldview may find little to no common foundational ground with an atheist, but there may be plenty of possibilities around the periphery. We are certainly better suited to speak to someone with a different perspective after we have taken the time to understand it. If we communicate with each other with clarity and mutual respect, others watching will take note. I have found engaging in the Great Conversation on Facebook to be fruitful, especially as we employ 1-Peter-3:15 gentleness and respect. We inevitably learn more from those we disagree with than from those we already agreed with.

About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, an owner of ISC, lead architect of MapDotNet, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs, hot air baloons, lawn furniture)

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