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Pondering the South African Memesphere – Looking for the Good in Everything

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Childhood Indoctrination

May 2nd, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 32 Comments

Oh the things we (collectively) do to our children…

I remember a particular evening, sitting in the back seat of the car, in tears. I was of single digit age. I’m not sure when exactly, and I’m not sure where, but I suspect it may have been during our first year(s) in The Netherlands. I was terrified.

I cannot remember what triggered the terrifying thought that afternoon or evening, or pinpoint why or where I picked it up on the idea, but you pick up the craziest ideas when you’re young and impressionable. And I was terrified. Because I was going to go to hell when I die.

No, I wasn’t a bad person, I was very well behaved. I wasn’t planning on doing anything wrong, I wasn’t remembering having done anything wrong, I was merely aware of the fact that I would never believe remarkable claims without questioning them. And somehow, the fundamentalists got it into my mind that that means I’m going to hell. As a quote in a South African fundamentalists/pentecostal/baptist magazine named “Joy” puts it: “Good people don’t go to heaven. Believers go to heaven.” I was good, but my single deadly “fault” was that I had a curious, “scientific” mind. At single digit age, I already realised that I would never be able to accomplish blind belief, or sustain it for any significant amount of time. I would never be able to suppress my inquisitiveness.

I was doomed. To Hell. For all eternity. To gnash and weep… To have my meat burned off by searing flames… ad infinitum. And I was but a child…

How did I escape that predicament? My mother helped me out. She reassured me that “if that’s the way I feel about it, if I feel that strongly, I won’t go to hell”. Well, what was she supposed to say? It didn’t quite gel with what I had learned elsewhere, but she was my mother. I placed my faith in her words. And what other choice did I have? Live in terror? Accepted her soothing words, I sent religion back to its dark corner of my mind, that it may haunt me again some other time.

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32 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Riaan // May 3, 2008 at 3:50 am

    I think sometimes the more something makes sense, the easier it is to believe it (ie. place your faith in it). So the more you can ask “why?” or “how?” and get a sensible answer, the more you believe it.

    It didn’t quite gel with what I had learned elsewhere, but she was my mother. I placed my faith in her words. And what other choice did I have? Live in terror? Accepted her soothing words

    At that moment you didn’t ask “why?” or “how can that be?”. You didn’t want to know, you just wanted to know you will be “OK”. So it seems that two things that facilitate faith come to play here. One is trust, and the other is information. Sometimes more of the one is needed and sometimes more of the other. Maybe it all comes down to trust. Sometimes you trust your own intellect, other times you need someone to trust. As a child one’s intellect is usually not well enough developed to ponder all the questions of life and existance and you need to trust others.

    Can one say that the faith of a child is characterized by trusting others rather than one’s own intellect?

  • 2 Kenneth Oberlander // May 3, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    OK Hugo. Do you still believe in hell as a real-life place? Or is this a concept, as valid or as uesless as the theoretical teapot orbiting Mars?

    I doubt you believe the former. If the latter, what possible validity could such a revolting concept hold for humanity? Why is it necessary to continue propagating this meme?

  • 3 Gericke Potgieter // May 3, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    I often find people believe that the God of the Christian bible is somehow nice. You know, almost like Santa Claus.

    He isn’t all that nice if you get to know Him – fact is, anything that goes against His will is equal to death, because His will is the truth and the truth brings life. Consistently.

    Not the He is the one killing you off because you were naughty…you are killing you off because that was your choice. Anything not God’s will is by nature death.

    So the magazine you read got it right, sort-of. Doing what we regard as “good” outside of the truth, is as much a lie as the motivations for murder. It is hard to hear, and harder still to swallow for those of us who are of a more liberal mind. But that is the way God is – you either go with His will or you die without Him.

    What I find curious about your post is that you somehow equate your scientific mind to something that cannot possibly align with God. As if asking questions may somehow frighten Him off, or worse yet, that asking questions will somehow lead you to hell.

    It may lead you THROUGH hell, but if you ask a question, God will answer (assuming of course you went to the trouble of establishing and building a relationship with Him).

    God may not be nice, but He is just. On the surface it may seem like a contradiction – a God that seems unforgiving in His will who at the same time is just. Yet, He is – we have been created through grace and so far as we are open to His guidance, we will have that grace as an option in our lives. This simply means that God will always present us with an option to live in truth. We may choose otherwise but the option will be there.

    I know I am writing this as a devout Christian. I speak a language you are unfamiliar with, using words that differ in definition to what is generally accepted. So you will probably shake your head at this Christian and sigh because you heard these words so many times before. But I am a scientific mind too – I ask questions all the time, sometimes getting answers I don’t like, always learning something new. I am a seeker of knowledge, often reading 15 – 20 articles a day spanning anything from the lives of Hollywood stars to genetics and quantum physics. It helps me understand what I believe, and because I look at the world through the eyes of a believer, I can see God’s logic clearly displayed in it.

    Here is something to think about – hell isn’t a place. Neither is heaven. It is a state of existence, a way of life. Hell is living outside of the grace of God – in other words, not having the option to choose the truth (and consequently the life that comes from it) over the lies we spin around us.

    How many people do you know that suffer from depression and say “I can’t do anything about it”, whilst being dependent on a variety of pills they cannot function without? That, my friend, is hell. Not because God sent them there, but because that is the consequence of the life they lived (and even the lives of their parents). They are bound, unfree and they suffer.

    Heaven is to live within the grace of God and choosing the truth that brings life. Eternally. This is why the bible so clearly states that we become part of heaven once we die – because our choice to leave our old lives behind is a death of sorts – the death of a live lived in hell.

    In summary – I don’t serve a God that is all nice and soft when it comes to my choices. I chose a relationship with Him and I have faced some very tough times as a result. He isn’t interested in my comfort. He is interested in getting my life into a shape that is a testimony to Him. A life well lived. A life lived with meaning and a powerful message that we have been empowered to choose the truth and change the universe. Christianity isn’t about sin, after all.

    So yes – from the perspective of a Christian I unapologetically concur with what the writer of that magazine said. If it scares you it may be time to ask some questions as to what you believe, and how that affects your life and your message. In the end we cannot hide behind what we understand – we are by far too subjective. We always go back to what we believe. The question then is this – is what we believe the truth?

    Consider the can open, let the worms come out.

  • 4 Kenneth Oberlander // May 4, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Gericke Potgieter, I don’t know whether you are addressing Hugo, or me (or both), but here is my response.

    He isn’t all that nice if you get to know Him – fact is, anything that goes against His will is equal to death, because His will is the truth and the truth brings life. Consistently.

    I agree. He is most decidedly not nice. In fact, he is almost human in his not-niceness. Where you and I differ is that I think he is not nice because he is a story cobbled together by humans, which reflects our own human not-niceness.

    It helps me understand what I believe, and because I look at the world through the eyes of a believer, I can see God’s logic clearly displayed in it.

    This sounds to me suspiciously like a circular argument. If I may ask you a few questions, what, according to you, is God’s logic for the appendix? Or the brain wiring that causes optical illusions? Or the reason for sickle-cell anaemia?

    Here is something to think about – hell isn’t a place. Neither is heaven. It is a state of existence, a way of life. Hell is living outside of the grace of God – in other words, not having the option to choose the truth (and consequently the life that comes from it) over the lies we spin around us.

    By this logic, I am living in hell right now. How am I affected by this? What am I being denied that you claim to have?

    How many people do you know that suffer from depression and say “I can’t do anything about it”, whilst being dependent on a variety of pills they cannot function without? That, my friend, is hell. Not because God sent them there, but because that is the consequence of the life they lived (and even the lives of their parents). They are bound, unfree and they suffer.

    You do realise that depression has a substantial genetic component? In other words, you are genetically predisposed before birth towards depression because some of the genes in your genome are out of whack. If you have these whacked-out genes, you remain at risk of depression at a far higher rate than unaffected people throughout your life. How is this a consequence of the life a person has lived?

    You are right that they suffer. The pills, despite all the side effects, are the one thing that allows them to overcome this major genetic problem and be able to lead functional, much happier lives. I fail to see how this can be described as hell.

    In the end we cannot hide behind what we understand – we are by far too subjective. We always go back to what we believe. The question then is this – is what we believe the truth?

    I couldn’t have said is better myself. I think you might describe it as obvious that my beliefs about the truth differ substantially from yours. How do you reconcile these?

    Consider the worms well and truly loosed ;-)

  • 5 Johan Swarts // May 4, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    so, how was that musical?

  • 6 Gericke Potgieter // May 4, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    I agree. He is most decidedly not nice. In fact, he is almost human in his not-niceness. Where you and I differ is that I think he is not nice because he is a story cobbled together by humans, which reflects our own human not-niceness.

    Creation is the expression of the creator – this is always the case. Be careful to not take that paragraph out of context though, the point here was that it is the nature of God to require a choice from us, and that this choice isn’t easy, simple or comfortable to make.

    This sounds to me suspiciously like a circular argument. If I may ask you a few questions, what, according to you, is God’s logic for the appendix? Or the brain wiring that causes optical illusions? Or the reason for sickle-cell anaemia?

    My point here was that we all see the world through the eyes of our choosing. You choose not to see God, but to constantly seek as objective an understanding as possible as proof of everything you believe.

    The appendix stores “good” bacteria that assists in the absorption of nutrients in the lower intestine. A curious fact of sickle cell aneamia is that it has its benefits, like being less prone to malaria (can it be a genetic adaptation for that very purpose?). As far as optical illusions are concerned – not sure. I am uncertain however how your questions relate to God’s logic.

    By this logic, I am living in hell right now. How am I affected by this? What am I being denied that you claim to have?

    Nothing is denied, what you don’t have is of your own choosing. You are free to have it should you choose it :) In answer to your question as to how you are affected – how do you know that your life has true value?

    You do realise that depression has a substantial genetic component? In other words, you are genetically predisposed before birth towards depression because some of the genes in your genome are out of whack. If you have these whacked-out genes, you remain at risk of depression at a far higher rate than unaffected people throughout your life. How is this a consequence of the life a person has lived?

    Indeed, ergo the comment in brackets “even their parents’ lives”. You need to get up to speed with your studies into genetics – it has been proven time and time again that choice has a direct influence on our genetic make-up. More importantly, predisposition does not preempt choice. It makes certain choices harder than others, but we still have the ability to choose.

    With all the respect and understanding in the world (coming from somebody who has first hand experience of dealing with this kind of thing), depression stays a choice. We can choose our emotions.

    The issue is that most individuals who are caught up in this problem never learns how to make this choice, so the pills, that should essentially help them through a process, becomes a crutch.

    If we believe that we are not free, then we are most certainly not believing the truth. If we do not believe the truth, then we are most certainly not in line with God’s will. This is hell.

    I think you might describe it as obvious that my beliefs about the truth differ substantially from yours. How do you reconcile these?

    Well, I think you are assuming too much when you state that our beliefs about the truth is so different. I am certain that, should you enlighten me as to how you view the truth, we would eventually end up agreeing.

    Worms are really good for soil. Lets plant some things and see what comes up.

  • 7 Gericke Potgieter // May 4, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Hey Kenneth – it was just a comment for whomever wished to take it further.

    I agree. He is most decidedly not nice. In fact, he is almost human in his not-niceness. Where you and I differ is that I think he is not nice because he is a story cobbled together by humans, which reflects our own human not-niceness.

    Creation is at its core the expression of the creator – this is always the case. Be careful to not take that paragraph out of context though, the point here was that it is the nature of God to require a choice from us, and that this choice isn’t easy, simple or comfortable to make. They are however always good.

    This sounds to me suspiciously like a circular argument. If I may ask you a few questions, what, according to you, is God’s logic for the appendix? Or the brain wiring that causes optical illusions? Or the reason for sickle-cell anaemia?

    Not so much circular as much as it is a comment on our subjectivity. My point here was that we all see the world through the eyes of our choosing. You choose not to see God, but to constantly seek as objective an understanding as possible as proof of everything you believe. I choose to use what I know as a flexible point of departure to allow God to reveal Himself through nature.

    The appendix stores “good” bacteria that assists in the absorption of nutrients in the lower intestine. A curious fact of sickle cell anemia is that it has its benefits, like being less prone to malaria (can it be a genetic adaptation for that very purpose?). As far as optical illusions are concerned – not sure. I am uncertain however how your questions relate to God’s logic.

    By this logic, I am living in hell right now. How am I affected by this? What am I being denied that you claim to have?

    Nothing is denied, what you don’t have is of your own choosing. You are free to have it should you choose it :) In answer to your question as to how you are affected – how do you know that your life has true value?

    You do realise that depression has a substantial genetic component? In other words, you are genetically predisposed before birth towards depression because some of the genes in your genome are out of whack. If you have these whacked-out genes, you remain at risk of depression at a far higher rate than unaffected people throughout your life. How is this a consequence of the life a person has lived?

    Indeed, ergo the comment in brackets “even their parents’ lives”. You need to get up to speed with your studies into genetics – it has been proven time and time again that choice has a direct influence on our genetic make-up. More importantly, predisposition does not preempt choice. It makes certain choices harder than others, but we still have the ability to choose.

    With all the respect and understanding in the world (coming from somebody who has first hand experience of dealing with this kind of thing), depression stays a choice. We can choose our emotions.

    The issue is that most individuals who are caught up in this problem never learn how to make this choice, so the pills, that should essentially help them through a process, becomes a crutch.

    If we believe that we are not free, then we are most certainly not believing the truth. If we do not believe the truth, then we are most certainly not in line with God’s will. This is hell.

    I think you might describe it as obvious that my beliefs about the truth differ substantially from yours. How do you reconcile these?

    Well, I think you are assuming too much when you state that our beliefs about the truth is so different. I am certain that, should you enlighten me as to how you view the truth, we would eventually end up agreeing.

    Worms are really good for soil. Lets plant some things and see what comes up.

  • 8 Gericke Potgieter // May 4, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Apologies for the double post.

  • 9 Hugo // May 4, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    What I find curious about your post is that you somehow equate your scientific mind to something that cannot possibly align with God. As if asking questions may somehow frighten Him off, or worse yet, that asking questions will somehow lead you to hell.

    I was of single digit age, that is what I was taught. I was terrified of hell, because I trusted my seniors. I was taught that I’m supposed to believe, but I would always be curious about e.g. walking on water. Why am I supposed to believe that without question? Why does doubting that, or doubting a resurrection if you want to go all the way, lead me to hell? I’ve been in heaven since I realised God doesn’t care whether I believe Jesus walked on water… My God doesn’t mind if I don’t believe in a literal virginal birth. (There were many “virginal births” at the time, a story that had to compete, had to include that kind of element. Or go for the “young woman” excuse, or the “first night of sex” excuse?) What difference does it make?

    As I wrote in I Will Burn In Hell:

    Why will I burn in hell for all eternity? I’m not completely sure yet, but I intend to find out. So far it seems it is because I believe Jesus had an X and a Y chromosome.

    So what I’m really curious here, is what I’m “supposed” to believe, and what don’t I have to believe?

    To borrow from Marcus Borg:

    “A further result: Christianity in the modern period became preoccupied with the dynamic of believing or not believing. For many people, believing “iffy” claims to be true became the central meaning of Christian faith. It is an odd notion – as if what God most wants from us is believing highly problematic statements to be factually true. And if one can’t believe them, then one doesn’t have faith and isn’t a Christian”

    I don’t know whether he walked on water or not. I don’t know whether he was resurrected or not. In both cases, I can say “extremely unlikely”. And I can get on with my life, and it doesn’t make much difference to me. Can I leave it at that? Is this “Liberal Christianity” too liberal?

    Stellenbosch Gemeente is placing a good emphasis on “healthy doubt”. I love it, it’s the way forward for Christianity. Less fundamentalism about irrelevant dogma. More acceptance of pluralism in beliefs. More freedom to develop an understanding of the world, rather than living in denial.

    So the question then, what is relevant and what is irrelevant? Gericke, what would you say am I supposed to “believe”? I suspect you’re not from the kind of Christianity that condemns doubt. Where would you say have I “lost my way”, if indeed you think I have… (I’m sure you do think I’ve lost my way, and if you don’t, it’s purely because you don’t know me and my perspectives well enough. :-P )

    I speak a language you are unfamiliar with, using words that differ in definition to what is generally accepted.

    Gericke, you underestimate me. I was in so deep, that I even attended Shofar for three months… and not just attended, I was committed, I threw myself in with fervour. A nice side-effect of their process of digging up a painful past or a current reality, getting an emotional response, and hitting you with the book when you’re down. ;)

    You need to get up to speed with your studies into genetics – it has been proven time and time again that choice has a direct influence on our genetic make-up.

    Hehe, there’s definitely choice, yes: the choice you make with regards to what partner you choose to have children with… In that sense I really ought to choose someone that doesn’t have allergies, for the sake of my children. ;) Beyond that…? A link would do well. What “choice” would have an effect on genetic make-up?

    @Kenneth: more on hell is planned for a post later this week. I’ve gotta make another post now, that will serve as something to refer back to.

    @Everyone Re: Crutches — we all have our crutches. Crutches aren’t a negative thing. We can go about identifying individual crutches, or we can talk about how our material bodies are imperfect (evolutionary processes) but supporting our self-awareness (which might just be memes)… considering reality a crutch that supports the human experience. Yea, that’s taking it far, but anyway. I just don’t like derogatory comments on that’s “just” a crutch. Like that’s “just” a myth… more on myths later.

    It would help if our culture didn’t look down on myths. Take Brian Cox as an example, and learn something about the Large Hadron Collider at the same time, in his TED talk. A good game of “spot the reverence for myths”, it’s just a quick side-comment that demonstrates his attitude. I love it!

  • 10 Kenneth Oberlander // May 5, 2008 at 8:49 am

    Creation is at its core the expression of the creator

    Indeed. In which case we are also an expression of a creator. In which case we have been designed to doubt and to seek the truth. In which case, if we seek the truth, we should have no problem in avoiding hell. My means of seeking for the truth just differs from yours.

    You choose not to see God, but to constantly seek as objective an understanding as possible as proof of everything you believe.

    I think you misunderstand me here. I do NOT choose not to see God. How can I evaluate whether God exists if I refuse to even acknowledge the possibility of such a concept? I do, however, subscribe to the objective worldview, which allows one to test whether God exists or not. I also don’t seek proof. This is too final. All I am asking for is evidence.

    The appendix stores “good” bacteria that assists in the absorption of nutrients in the lower intestine. A curious fact of sickle cell anemia is that it has its benefits, like being less prone to malaria (can it be a genetic adaptation for that very purpose?). As far as optical illusions are concerned – not sure. I am uncertain however how your questions relate to God’s logic.

    My point with the above questions was to show you that a lot of features that humans possess are only obliquely usefull, or indeed actively harmful. The appendix is useless in the sense that it can be removed with no harm incurred to the body. I’m afraid that you are only partly right concerning sickle cell anaemia. If you have only a single copy of the sickle-cell gene, the you are protected against malaria. If you get, by luck of the genetic draw, two copies of this gene, you are doomed to die an early death. Why would God doom people on the basis of chance like this? Optical illusions are consequences of the way the brain is wired, side effects of otherwise usefull wiring. Why did God give us such faulty wiring? I could go on and ask why God gave a vitamin C-producing gene to all mammals except humans and other great apes, why are our genomes riddled with endogenous parasitic virusses, why is our retina inside out, why do humans, alone amongst mammals, get lower back pain etc etc. The point is, humans are not perfectly designed. We are only well-designed enough to be able to survive and produce progeny.

    Nothing is denied, what you don’t have is of your own choosing. You are free to have it should you choose it In answer to your question as to how you are affected – how do you know that your life has true value?

    You will have to define true value for me. I am going to go on a limb and presuppose your answer to be that God gives your life true value. If so, how can you be absolutely certain that this is correct, and how do you know?

    it has been proven time and time again that choice has a direct influence on our genetic make-up.

    The only way I can parse this is by Hugo’s logic, whereby you are referring to parental choice to have a baby. How is it the baby’s fault if the parents pass on genes for cystic fibrosis, or Alzheimers? If you don’t mean this, I highly doubt this is true. References please.

    Well, I think you are assuming too much when you state that our beliefs about the truth is so different. I am certain that, should you enlighten me as to how you view the truth, we would eventually end up agreeing.

    My way of seeking for the truth differs fundamentally from yours. From what I can gather above, you rely on faith and scripture. I rely on evidence. I am afraid the two are incompatible in many arenas, including on the existence of God.

  • 11 Gericke Potgieter // May 5, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    Hugo: Would I be mistaken in assuming that the story you related is somehow significant in your current world view? Based on this story, and many of your other blog entries I have surmised that you favour just about everything that has “liber-” attached to the front-end. A seeker of freedom perhaps?

    As for the language I speak, you ought to know me better by now too – I veer away from church-language because it became dull and general. We lost our ability to live our lives according to our faith because we aren’t willing to define the very words we hold as our beliefs: truth, love, faith. We declare them abstract nouns with all of the difficulties of definition that goes with it. So I made it my mission to find fundamental definitions, which is why I keep on hammering on these words :)

    On the topic of genetics – http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v33/n3s/full/ng1089.html

    This is a rather old article (2003) that summarises the direction in which the study of epigenetics were to go forward. You can pretty much skip to the conclusion to catch that part. This was on the quick-and-quick, I will need to search deeper for the good stuff.

    The main idea is that various factors influence gene expression. Things like diet, environment and internal processes. This makes complete sense because gene expression is controlled by hormones and hormones are released through mostly environmental changes or neural activity. We choose where we are and neural activity is by no means 100% involuntary (with the involuntary bits being the result of eons worth of evolution, which in turn is brought on through experiences and the “choices” related to them)

    On a side note – at no point did I say “just a crutch” – crutches are good, but only if they are temporary.

    As for what to believe – believe the truth. As Kenneth so rightly stated, our journey into finding the truth differ immensely (and that is good too). So keep asking the questions – it is a good thing if it brings about constructive development in your life.

    Kenneth: my conviction is that the truth is constant. It is always the truth and there is a way to know it when you see it. The expression of truth differs vastly, from the most fundamental basics of how cells divide, to the complexities of building and maintaining human relationships. So I agree, how we learn about the truth must differ, but that does not change the character of what truth essentially is.

    Faith does not require intelligence or understanding. It requires acceptance and wisdom (which loops back to what the truth is, seeing as wisdom is the ability to differentiate between the truth and a lie).

    With God it is a matter of believing is seeing. It my my personal opinion that this is true for all our knowledge, even that which we acquired through doubt. We cannot find an answer we don’t have a question for, and to ask the question is to bring whatever we question into the realm of possibility (our denial notwithstanding).

    Can you clear up how you distinguish between “evidence” and “proof”?

    Ok gotta run, apologies for the selective answers – will read everything properly a bit later and try to respond to all the questions.

  • 12 Kenneth Oberlander // May 5, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    This is a rather old article (2003) that summarises the direction in which the study of epigenetics were to go forward. You can pretty much skip to the conclusion to catch that part. This was on the quick-and-quick, I will need to search deeper for the good stuff.

    Again, I’m going to have to disagree. Your argument was that choice has an effect on our genetic makeup. There is a difference between the genome and the expression of that genome, which is what epigenetics deals with. Although it is possible to permanently alter the expression of a gene (perhaps by some choice that you have made, such as to start smoking, or do drugs), you do not alter the underlying genomic DNA sequence. It is also, in most cases, not heritable. It also very strongly depends on your original genetic makeup in the first place, which is utterly out of your hands.

    Kenneth: my conviction is that the truth is constant. It is always the truth and there is a way to know it when you see it.

    I would agree with you. Truth is (by definition) the same regardless of one’s own preferences and biases. This comes back to my point: how do you determine whether your particular preference is, indeed, the truth?

    Faith does not require intelligence or understanding. It requires acceptance and wisdom (which loops back to what the truth is, seeing as wisdom is the ability to differentiate between the truth and a lie).

    I agree with the first sentence completely. I also agree that faith requires acceptance. As for wisdom being the defining factor for falsehood…in my book, this loops back to previous experience, which is by definition evidence.

    Unfortunately, faith also requires a blind submission to manifest untruths, in the face of all evidence. This directly contradicts a search for truth.

    With God it is a matter of believing is seeing. It my my personal opinion that this is true for all our knowledge, even that which we acquired through doubt.

    You are entitled to your opinion. What happens when someone else has an equally entitled, but directly contradictory opinion? Whose is correct? How do you choose?

    We cannot find an answer we don’t have a question for, and to ask the question is to bring whatever we question into the realm of possibility (our denial notwithstanding).

    A favourite quote of mine, by Sigmund Freud: “Must I believe every absurdity? If not, why this one in particular?”

    We cannot address every conceptual question, there are infinitely many of them in the realm of possibility. We have to address relevant questions, such as how do we know what is true. The only way to do this is to use evidence.

    Can you clear up how you distinguish between “evidence” and “proof”?

    Evidence is data. Facts. Observations regarding reality. Things that happen. Measurements.
    Proof…I don’t like to use this word outside certain specific contexts. It is seldom used deliberately in science. A proof is something that is constructed, using a few basic axioms and logic, that must be absolutely and universally true if the axioms and logic are accepted. It never deals with evidence, only logic.

    Evidence would be a smoking gun. Shady financial dealings. The presence of fire and brimstone (to link back to the original post) at a sinner’s bedside as death occurs. Changes observed between DNA sequences. The sun coming up in the morning.

    A proof is something like the Pythagorean theorem, or limit theory of calculus, or the maths behind Mendelian heredity. If their assumptions aren’t violated, then they will always, universally, be true.

  • 13 Hugo // May 5, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Would I be mistaken in assuming that the story you related is somehow significant in your current world view?

    Possibly. This story is a story out of my past, to describe where I’m coming from. What is meant by my current “world view” is the question though: my stories out of my past are significant to how I view other people and their world views. And my past is part of the story of how I arrived at my current personal world view. But not much of my current personal world view (the parts without relation to other people) really doesn’t show in this post.

    Based on this story, and many of your other blog entries I have surmised that you favour just about everything that has “liber-” attached to the front-end. A seeker of freedom perhaps?

    I’m a seeker of truth. One aspect of what I have discovered or found, happens to be labelled “liberal Christianity” by other people. “Humanism” doesn’t start with “liber-“. And “liberal” is only really defined in relation to what is currently considered “conservative”. But anyway…

    The main idea is that various factors influence gene expression.

    Gene expression is rather different from “genetic make-up”. Your previous comment had us believing that you can have an effect on your actual genes, rather than just the expression or impact of those genes.

    On a side note – at no point did I say “just a crutch” – crutches are good, but only if they are temporary.

    Sure. That wasn’t addressed to you, by the way. And we differ on opinion on the measure of the “goodness” of crutches. Some crutches are permanent, and I think that’s fine. As long as you don’t go insisting that everyone else has to use the same crutch that you use. For example the over-prescription of antidepressants or anti-biotics or any other medicine for that matter (“over-” being the tricky element to determine in this sentence.)

    Onto Kenneth‘s comment… yea, he agrees with my appraisal of the “genetic make-up” discussion.

    Truth… what do the “fundamentalist post-modernists” say about “truth”? What are people on about when they talk about “my truth” and “your truth”? What is that definition of “truth”? Just a description of how one sees the world? (Idly pondering, not necessarily valuable to this discussion. If you want to answer this, you should ideally describe where and in what sense they are right, rather than just dismissing it with “wrong”. Thus, ignoring it is fine. ;) )

    For the rest, I’m in agreement with Kenneth.

  • 14 Marthelize // May 6, 2008 at 2:31 am

    Two things:

    Swarts jou idiot. Inquire about the musical somewhere else :P (En jy beter môre aand by oefening wees)

    And more relevantly…

    Might I suggest you take extreme care when throwing around statements about genetics, gene-expression, gene regulation and the like…

    The field is extensive, only barely understood in some areas and definitions are confusing and sometimes more complex than even I care to understand.

    I realize the post isn’t a discussion about genetics but it keeps getting mentioned and I felt the need to throw my two cents in…

  • 15 Kenneth Oberlander // May 6, 2008 at 8:11 am

    Might I suggest you take extreme care when throwing around statements about genetics, gene-expression, gene regulation and the like…

    Hi there Marthelize. I defer to your superior wisdom on this issue…;-)

    At the risk of making this a post on epigenetics, can you tell us whether what we have been saying is incorrect? And where? Epigenetics is by no means my primary area of expertise…

    Sorry if this is too far off-topic, Hugo…but enquiring minds want to know!

  • 16 Marthelize // May 6, 2008 at 9:58 am

    Haha, well Kenneth I’d hardly say I have superior wisdom on the issue :)

    If we go too far off topic maybe Hugo could be so kind as to give us our own little corner of his blog to rant and rave and discuss genetics on?

    Tell you what, I’ll take a closer look at exactly what you said and get back to you within the next day or so. I’m not a geneticist, but I am a biotechnologist. So while I use genetics daily, I don’t have all the definitions and neat explanations eloquently worded and at my fingertips.

    I wasn’t saying that you were completely off-base either. Both of you have the right idea of how things work it seems, but some of the definitions and concepts were used a little vaguely. What can I say…as a scientist that bugs me :-)

    I’ll get back to this as soon as my work allows me. Watch this space…

  • 17 Johan Swarts // May 6, 2008 at 11:21 am

    So, Hugo…hoe was daai musical? :p

  • 18 Hugo // May 6, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    This thread is now officially a thread on musicals and epigenetics. ;) There will be another post on hellish matters later this week anyway. I wanted to make this a post as well, but instead I’m rewarding Johan’s impatience here:

    The musical (LOTR) was a “skouspel”. What’s that in English? It wasn’t the kind of thing you would watch twice, it is no Les Misérables, no Phantom, no Cats. The music isn’t exactly memorable. The songs are “here and there”, it was effectively “drama with songs in between”, a little like the book? ;)

    Fitting that story into 9 hours on the big screen was already tough. Trimming it down to a couple of hours for a musical threw out a lot more. It was like a rushed recap of the main plot elements, some scenes combined in weird ways. It reminded me of a Harry Potter movie: to fully follow, you have to have read the book. (We had one person that was unfamiliar with the story.)

    The worst? Bad voice acting or voice casting for the elves and for Aragorn. The elves didn’t move right and they didn’t sound right. They weren’t elves. They weren’t regal enough. They weren’t aloof. Aragorn was also much too gruff. He was a “skollie”, not a man from Numenor. Boromir sounded and acted more like a worthy king than Aragorn.

    The ents also sucked. They looked great on their stilts, but they were rushed. They spoke too fast. And their “Entish” sounded like Shofar praying in tongues, which put me off.

    But, in the end, it was a “skouspel”… uh… it was spectacular. If you go to see it, knowing you’re going to see “a spectacular” rather than LOTR or a musical, it’s great to see what they can do and how they did it, how they worked with the medium. Their black riders were brilliant, the acrobatics of the Uruk-hai (who were just called “orcs”) were cool. Stilts and prosthetics, spring loaded extensions to legs. Shelob (the huge spider) also looked great. It was interesting to see how they did the Balrog. It was no CGI, but it was interesting. As Gandalf I would have done the voice acting differently though. Especially the clear and strong assertion “You… shall not… pass!” exclamation followed by the breaking of the bridge was kinda “missing” in my opinion.

    Oh, and Gandalf was also a little too “impulsive”. (Bad word, I just can’t think of the right one now.) But hey, this is my opinion, and the opinion of a fan of the books is often very, well, opinionated. ;)

  • 19 Kenneth Oberlander // May 6, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    As a decisive fan of all things Tolkien, I doubt I would be able to watch this…

    As marvellous as the movies were, I still cringed at times because of the deviation from the original books. Too much of a purist…so a show still more cramped and rushed would have me rolling on the floor in a foetal position. And not in a good way.

    I take it you’ve all heard of the Hobbit movie news…

  • 20 Hugo // May 6, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    As a decisive fan of all things Tolkien, I doubt I would be able to watch this…

    I went in with a certain kind of detachment. ;) We were invited by friends. Being a Tolkien fan myself, I would not have risked watching the musical without external motivation.

    That said, I enjoyed it. Because I decided I will enjoy it. Because the insane price of these spectacles dictates that I have to enjoy it. And appreciate it, because it was a gift. So yea, it was great. ;) (But it wasn’t really LOTR.)

    I take it you’ve all heard of the Hobbit movie news…

    Actually no, I haven’t…?

  • 21 Kenneth Oberlander // May 6, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    They are making two movies of the Hobbit, one based on the book, and some travesty of a concocted story between the Hobbit and LoTR. It will be directed by Guillermo del Torro. Ian McKellen has been confirmed as Gandalf, and Peter Jackson is executive producer, so there is some hope for a relatively decent movie ;-)

    So the epigenetics of growing hair on your feet…

  • 22 Marthelize // May 6, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Ok I’ve put my own evil scientist experiments aside for the day to come back to this wildly far-reaching discussion (musicals and epigenetics with the odd religious thread…)…

    I’ve read through all the genetics-related parts of the previous posts, and I must say you all seem to have a fairly firm understanding of the general idea, but some terms thrown around are less than scientifically sound…

    “Genetic make-up” is one. I know the phrase is thrown around a lot but scientifically it’s not really relevant. Answers.com defines the Genotype (recognized scientific term) as:

    “1) The genetic makeup, as distinguished from the physical appearance, of an organism or a group of organisms.
    2) The combination of alleles located on homologous chromosomes that determines a specific characteristic or trait.”

    This definition refers to the phenotype, i.e. the physical appearance and/or composition of the organism (phenotype generally refers mainly to visible qualities or appearance but is also applicable to morphology, development and behaviour)

    The phenotype is linked to the genotype but does is not quantitative. Meaning the genotype might contain the genes for traits that are not expressed. Very simple example: If one parent has blue eyes and one parent has brown eyes, the offspring will carry the allele for both brown and blue eyes but will most likely have brown eyes. If they do have brown eyes, the phenotype does not reflect their genotype..

    Umm..I think I’m rambling… apologies if that was a too simple explanation for something you already knew. I’m just trying to find a starting point in this vast ocean of a topic…

    Ok so… epigenetics…
    Kenneth made a very accurate statement about epigenetics:

    “There is a difference between the genome and the expression of that genome, which is what epigenetics deals with. Although it is possible to permanently alter the expression of a gene (perhaps by some choice that you have made, such as to start smoking, or do drugs), you do not alter the underlying genomic DNA sequence.”

    So these changes in expression are very temporary. At most they might last a few generations, but barring an actual mutation in the DNA it won’t be stable for long. The idea that our behaviour influences our “genetic makeup” (there’s that word again) is debateable.

    “Specific epigenetic processes include paramutation, bookmarking, imprinting, gene silencing, X chromosome inactivation, position effect, reprogramming, transvection, maternal effects, the progress of carcinogenesis, many effects of teratogens, regulation of histone modifications and heterochromatin, and technical limitations affecting parthenogenesis and cloning.” (from Wikipedia)

    The above list of epigenetic effects in humans are more usually related to illness, disease and developmental disorders ( eg. Prader-Willi and Angelman syndromes as well as various cancers.)

    Yes, environmental factors can influence gene expression. But to what extent? Can you change your hereditary disposition for bipolar disorder by simply “choosing to be awesome” (if you’ll forgive my How I Met Your Mother refernce..hehe)

    Right. This discussion can go on forever and in many different directions. Maybe if there are specific things to be clarified? Or if someone disagrees with me it can be voiced?

    Pardon if I rant and rave a tad somtimes. Science is my niche :D

    As for the epigenetics of growing hair on your feet… well.. perhaps if you’re really very hairy.. and you move to a very cold climate….? ;)

  • 23 Hugo // May 6, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Or if someone disagrees with me it can be voiced?

    Because it is so much fun to disagree with an expert when you’re a lay-person, I’m going to nitpick:

    If one parent has blue eyes and one parent has brown eyes, the offspring will carry the allele for both brown and blue eyes but will most likely have brown eyes.

    The brown-eyed parent might carry alleles for both brown and blue eyes, and might pass on the blue eye allele. The offspring may thus have a 50/50 chance of carry only alleles for blue eyes? (And in that case have blue eyes.)

    Heh, I didn’t have high school biology, I’m nitpicking only because you’re an expert. ;) My sincerest apologies for being pedantic.

    Now religious themes in LOTR is something I might visit some time. Maybe sketch out some of my wild unfounded speculations on what might have transpired in Tolkien’s mind.

  • 24 Kenneth Oberlander // May 6, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    So these changes in expression are very temporary. At most they might last a few generations, but barring an actual mutation in the DNA it won’t be stable for long. The idea that our behaviour influences our “genetic makeup” (there’s that word again) is debateable.

    This is what I was trying to point out above…you can make choices that will alter gene expression patterns in your body, but choices that alter your genome I find highly implausible. Not to mention that it is impossible for epileptics or Alzheimer’s sufferers to choose not to have these diseases, to get back to an earlier point.

    Also, apologies for the use of “genetic make-up”, which I think I introduced. I agree, genotype would have been a better choice of word.

    As for the epigenetics of growing hair on your feet… well.. perhaps if you’re really very hairy.. and you move to a very cold climate….?

    Ack…dare I ask, another Batty seminar sufferer?

  • 25 Marthelize // May 6, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Kenneth:

    Batty seminar? Sorry I think I’ve missed something. You’re referring to the Batten seminar…of which I haven’t paid any attention at all and just noted the existence of it in passing. So…why do you think I’m a “sufferer”?

    I was being frivolous with the hairy-feet-and-cold-climate remark by the way ;)

    Hugo:

    Not bad for someone who didn’t have high school biology! I’m impressed. You’re not too far off. A person with brown eyes may carry the allele for blue eyes (I am an example of that). But the chances aren’t 50/50 as the blue eye allele is recessive and the brown eye allele is dominant. So if a person has both alleles, they’ll always have brown eyes. (But if they marry someone with blue eyes, then the children could inherit both blue eye alleles and thus have blue eyes)

    Oh and by the way… I love being challenged ;)

  • 26 Kenneth Oberlander // May 6, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    The brown-eyed parent might carry alleles for both brown and blue eyes, and might pass on the blue eye allele. The offspring may thus have a 50/50 chance of carry only alleles for blue eyes? (And in that case have blue eyes.)

    *scribbles quick Punnett diagrams* It all depends on the brown-eyed parent. If said parent is heterozygous for brown eyes, then yes, you are correct. If the parent is homozygous for brown eyes, then all the progeny will have brown eyes.

    Now religious themes in LOTR is something I might visit some time. Maybe sketch out some of my wild unfounded speculations on what might have transpired in Tolkien’s mind.

    I would appreciate such speculation. To spur you on a bit, it is clearly apparent that Tolkien tried to fit many Catholic themes into his work (Iluvatar=God, Ainur=angels, Melkor/Morgoth=Lucifer/Satan, original sin=repentance but diminishment of the Atani). He also incorporated the Atlantis myth (which was the result of an interesting bet he and C.S. Lewis had) in the Fall of Numenor. His ideas for the Quendi, however, were quite different. Perpetual re-incarnation, nirvana, prophecy and predestination…not exactly aspects associated with the Christian mythos! There are also very strong influences from Northern European sagas and, later in his work, attempts to make his mythology congruent with the findings of science. It is a tremendous mishmash of stories, but still an incredible and wonderful piece of work.

    Marthelize, I’m glad you weren’t exposed to Batten’s talk. Any scientist would have suffered through that piece of dreck. Your joke regarding hairy bodies and moving to a cold climate was just eerily reminiscent of one of the points Batten was trying to make. Hope that clarifies the issue.

  • 27 Marthelize // May 6, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Thank you for clearing it up. If it was such dreck and dribble then I won’t bother reading up about it too much. Apologies for the similiarity. I was trying to be ridiculous. Scary that he was being serious…

    Religious themes in LOTR? Tell me more :)

  • 28 Gericke Potgieter // May 7, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    Aww shmidt, now I missed the bus completely :( Well, Marthelize (having given me brilliant instruction in genetics) clarified a bunch of stuff that would have eventually popped up in any case.

    I think I should write a proper article on my views in this regard.

    For those who are interested something on the issue:
    http://www.newscientist.com/channel/health/dn13844-abuse-may-trigger-gene-changes-found-in-suicide-victims.html

    This was a great discussion and I learned a lot. Thanks!

    G.

  • 29 Marthelize // May 7, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Well I don’t think a bus was missed just because the topic has been turned into a LOTR quasi muscial discussion :)

    You remember the genetics lessons? I’m glad. Althogh I would hardly call it brilliant. I’ve learned a lot more since then, perhaps even improved my teaching abilities. So feel free to direct any questions to me. If you’re interested. The offer stands…

    The article you posted is fascinating. It illustrates the possible role and effect of epigenetics during development and how that indeed can change an individuals phenotype.

    Thank you G. Intriguing reading.

    M.

  • 30 Marthelize // May 7, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    AAAAAAAAH now i’ve started reading and digging and I can’t stop.

    Another one..

    http://www.newscientist.com/channel/life/genetics/dn13743-complete-cookbook-for-running-a-genome-published.html

    Ok I’m done. For now. My genetically manipulated grapevines are calling.

    M.

    P.S. Gericke I’d be interested to read that article when you write it…

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