anthony dobranski online


Revolutionary atheists vs Stockholm syndrome (John Gray)

Esteemed cosmologist, and my old friend, Andrew Jaffe just posted a quick retort on his blog to a long essay by philosopher John Gray. Gray has an objection to the strident challenging tone of modern atheist thought-leaders like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

I am not the scientist Andrew Jaffe is, and I was hopeful that Gray’s essay was something endearing and woolly, a plea for magic in our contemplative moments. Some time ago I began having issues with my atheism, a matter of personal feeling about this great universe. I’m not sure even now if I am proud or sheepish about it, but it is what it is – I am a woolly atheist.

Gray’s objections alas are very different, and worrisome. Supposedly Gray is discussing why militant religion is in resurgence, but Gray – himself a self-professed atheist – really writes to vilify and blame, cheekily calling the New Atheists “missionary” and “evangelical,” and less cheekily comparing them to the pseudo-scientists who justified Nazi and Soviet genocides.

It took a while for me to understand: John Gray has Stockholm syndrome. He’s been living in a culture that has been deferential to the religious for a very long time, and he can’t see a way past that.

Modern atheists are revolutionaries, not missionaries, and this is their revolution: to insist that in the modern world — where we fly without feathered wings, talk across distances without magic crystals, kill far-away enemies without thunderbolts and stop epidemics without human sacrifices — religion must now justify the exalted place it demands in the making of public policy and education.  Continue reading


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Jerk with binoculars finds wonder

There’s a house on my block that’s being rebuilt, a new plywood and lumber skeleton on the same foundation.

I walked the dogs at midnight, just down the block and back. From across the street they barked at the dark construction site. On the old front stoop I saw a slow cigarette smoked by a man in shadows.

This is not a street of trespassing midnight smokers. One theft down the block last month. At home, I called the cops.

They came in minutes. From my rear terrace, hiding in darkness, I saw three police talking to one guy. I went to my house and got binoculars. 8×42, a good pair. Yes I am now a creepy neighbor, but at least I was dressed. A man in a clean white polo shirt talked gamely to three police. Probably working in the basement. I felt a little bad. The police stayed a while, ten minutes and more, the man talking and talking to them. The longer the police stayed, the more illicit it all felt. I stopped watching.

In my stealthy dark, Orion hung in bright points on our city’s indigo skies. I looked through my binoculars and saw wonders. Continue reading


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Science and the Jinx

A recent issue of Science News featured marvelously detailed images of cellular division — images that recently would have been considered impossible, since cell structures are tinier and more delicate than the very light used to image them.

This is a familiar story, the impossible becoming possible. At the moment, following Feynman’s lead, all myopic eyes are on the micro-scale. Even Big Data mainly gets used to target small niches of humanity for advertising, votes, or drone strikes.

I hope I live to see a science of the human herd’s effect on itself. I want a science of the mystical. For example – why are people jinxes?

You know what I mean, even if science doesn’t. Stuff just doesn’t work around some people — computers, traffic, weather, getting to the movies on time. Those who try to compensate for these people wind up completely overboard in situations they would sail through any other day. And you know these people are jinxes. You just do.

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