NOAH 2.0 –

The Movie

APRIL 15, 2014

  • In Boston, the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 are being remembered.
  • Pesach (Passover) is being observed (4-14 through 4-22) by Jewish families throughout the world.  
  • Holy Week is being celebrated (4-13 through 4-19 – followed on 4-20 by Easter) by Christian families. 


These are survivor stories; and the Grandfather of all the survivor stories is NOAH.

A Movie Unpacking Exercise

By Jay B Gaskill


It is possible, even likely, that the Noah story is an echo of what evolutionary scientists call a bottleneck event, something perhaps far earlier.[1] At several distinct moments in human prehistory a human population was reduced to the edge of extinction, leaving a dramatically reduced number of reproducing members, just large enough to survive inbreeding and eventually to rebound…or not.

Arguably the last great ice age was a bottleneck event for Homo sapiens.  Modern humans were adaptable, and made the cut.  Neanderthals failed to adapt, and did not make the cut.  Geologists agree that there was no world-wide flood 8 to 10 thousand years ago, but that has little to do with the possible inspiration for the Noah story, since any huge local catastrophic flooding would have seemed to the ancients of the day to herald “the end of the world.” Plato’s writings refer to a number of such events, at least one of which may actually have happened.[2]


THESE ARE MY PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON NOAH, the 2014 movie, by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel & a creative team of CGI artists and actors. It is not a typical movie review.  It is written from the perspective of a Judeo-Christian (in which the two threads are about equal), a believer in the findings of science, but not an atheist or agnostic.  I am a Russell Crowe fan (and yes, he really did finally get a meeting with Pope Francis)[3]; and I find myself endlessly curious about the shaky relationship between modern Hollywood and religious communities. So this movie was a must see for me.  That the Noah movie takes liberties with the biblical account was to be expected, as was the inevitable flak from representatives of the various religious traditions.  The more interesting question is whether this movie took improper liberties.

Yes, the movie was marred by two important flaws: one was an error of inclusion; and one was an error of omission. But, as a respecter of the creative process, I tend to make generous allowances for artistic license. By the standards applicable to a 21st century movie intended for a typically secular audience, Noah was an honest effort, filled with some nice touches, and told the core story without too much damage.



Myths are those long standing, well embedded narratives that carry important insights, embodying deeply memorable literature, and holding compelling stories.  They may or may not also capture echoes of historical (or pre-historical) events, but they always capture our durable cultural memories of something very important.  Several pre-modern figures are strongly associated with myths – thinking especially of Moses, the Buddha and Jesus of Nazareth, each of whom lived among us as a transformative and transcendent figure whose life and teachings became part of the human condition.

To describe the account of the Flood and Noah as myth is by no means a dismissal or marginalization – nor is it necessarily inconsistent with the notion of the Ark Story as originating in a real cataclysmic event.

Noah, as a Movie

In the opening scenes, we were shown graphic depictions of the earth being blotted with industrial cities on every continent – growing black spots, looking like metastatic cancerous lesions.

The movie’s depictions of the cruelty and depravity of the desperate people surrounding Noah and his little family gave us glimpses of a brutal, degraded culture.  It was just short of caricature – a cinematic blend of the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max (without the battered cars), and a carnivorous tribe of neo-Nazi survivalists (without the guns).  I assume that Noah’s creative team was going for something that members of our postmodern, sex and drug-use tolerant, culture could still recognize as depraved.  I imagine that the film’s producers and script writers had calculated that, after 8,000 years, few in the typical 21st century audience would still think that mere sexual debauchery could be seen as worthy of condemnation as the crime of spoiling the environment.

The audience saw images from the Garden of Eden story, the snake (weird and menacing) and the forbidden fruit (a pulsing, faintly repulsive organ), coupled with a graphic silhouette of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. These images were repeated in sequence presumably to remind everyone of humanity’s tendency to stray to the dark side. The reminders were doubtless intended to show that the desperate, angry throngs of people turned away from the Ark somehow had earned their fate. Of course, nothing can quite dispel the sense of injustice when everyone, wicked and not wicked, is to be wiped out, for a fresh start for a select remainder. Or is that always true? Consider the epidemic disease model where the contagious sick are quarantined and the uninfected flown out of harm’s way.

The moral force of the Noah account in a movie or play requires depiction of sufficient evil to anger the ancient (vision of) God commonly held in the early biblical period.  But to add urban blight, anachronistic abuses by industry 8,000 years ago, was more like an embarrassing appeal to the gods of political correctness. The theme rang as false as if, in a retelling of Moby Dick, the producers insisted on adding an attack by Greenpeace and a lawsuit by PETA. Moreover, the industrial decay theme was not even true to itself, especially since the surviving population that swarmed the Ark was more like a mob scene from an early Tarzan movie than an invasion of the post-collapse urbanites in escape from LA.

Using abuses from ancient industry as a reason to wipe out an ancient population could have completely undermined the movie’s credibility, but the story’s moral seriousness was redeemed by the movie’s depiction of authentic evil in the form of cruelty and depravity by that same population.

For all that – Noah the movie was engaging, even moving. The acting, especially by Russell Crowe, who was sturdily convincing as Noah, combined with the blockbuster production values, astute pacing, keen direction, and the excellent supporting cast, to rescue this movie from its silly excesses.

A SIDE NOTE ABOUT THE ROCK ANGELS: I admit that, at first, I was dismayed by what seemed to be yet one more gratuitous (and distracting) Hollywood add-on:  The intrusion of a set of fallen angels, depicted as rock beings (created with CGI, software probably licensed from the first Hobbit movie’s rock monsters).  In the Noah movie, these clumsy rock beings were the “Watchers,” angels that were required to remain behind after the Fall-of-Humanity. Their rocky exteriors trapped glowing angelic beings.  In the movie, these angels perished one-by-one while defending the Ark from the mobs of desperate people. As each angel “died”, a pillar of fire ascended heavenward. The rock creatures may have been a typically Hollywood idea, but I found the final effect of their fiery liberation touching.

Then I reread the biblical story and discovered that there are references to “divine beings” and “giants” at the very beginning of the Noah narrative: “…the divine beings saw how beautiful the human women were, so they took themselves wives,” (Gen 6:2), and “The giants were on earth in those days, and afterwards as well, when the divine beings came in to the human women and they bore them (children) – they were heroes who were of former ages, the mean of name.”

Scholars are in disagreement about the origin and meaning of these passages. To the credit of the movie, Aronofsky and Handel used this as an opening to add some theological meaning to these otherwise extraneous characters. Noah’s story does unfold in the aftermath of the Fall.  It makes narrative sense that the descendants of Adam and Eve might still be on probation, and that fallen angels would be left on duty as quasi-divine probation officers

This was a reminder that few of us moderns ever take the trouble to actually read the flood account in the Genesis book of the Pentateuch (the Torah, the 5 books of Moses).


Serious archaeologists have searched for and found several potential candidates for a massive prehistoric flood in the region, their searches having been driven by the fact that several ancient traditions also reference an apocalyptic flood event. The pre-Noah flood accounts (thinking of the Gilgamesh epic, for example) tend to attribute apocalyptic disasters to the gods, but not as a response to a breach in the moral relationship between deity and humanity, a penalty for breaking the divinely ordained Moral Law.  The notion of the Flood as the extreme moral penalty is unique to Noah.

For me, the most interesting scholarly commentary about Noah has focused where the streams of literary analysis and moral discernment run together.

We humans have been struggling to make sense of nature ever since we noticed that all is not as we want it to be in the world. When, over the eons of humanity’s struggles, sh*t inevitably happens, we will not be content with a raw narrative.

Because we are humans, because we have the capacity for moral intelligence, we invariably try to place our disasters in a meaning context.

In Noah, the meaning context is a morally shaped one.

The Noah legend reveals more about the changing human understandings of our relationship with the Ultimate Reality, a relationship that is painfully relevant whenever such apocalyptic events take place. Our various responses reveal less about the actual nature of Ultimate Being than about our expectations for moral authority. Our freedom to accept, ignore, misunderstand, reject or disregard moral authority remains a constant; the attendant consequences accepting, ignoring, misunderstanding, rejecting or disregarding moral authority tend to find their way into our deep traditions. The biography of a parent narrated from the shifting perspective of a child, tells us more about the child than the parent. The Noah story represents a major shift (I am tempted to say watershed) in our perspective and tradition, as I will explain at the end of this essay.

In the Noah account, God’s decision to flood the earth was prompted by of “humankind’s evildoing on earth and every form of their heart’s planning was only evil all the day”. God “was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it pained his heart,” and therefore decided to “blot out humankind whom I have created, from the face of the soil…”[4]

But “Noah was a righteous, wholehearted man in his generation. In accord with God, did Noah walk.” Even though “the earth had gone to ruin, for all flesh had ruined its way upon the earth,” Noah and his family and an Ark-load of creatures would be spared to start anew. (Gen. 6:5-22)

After the Deluge and the rescue, God promised: “I will never curse the soil again on humankind’s account, since what the human heart forms is evil from its youth; I will never again strike down all living things, as I have done.” God added two specific injunctions: “Whoever now sheds human blood, for that human shall his blood be shed, for in God’s image he made humankind. As for you – bear fruit and be many…” (Gen. 9:5-8)

I should note that throughout the movie, God communicates to Noah using imagery, often conveyed during dreams.  In my personal theology, this is an accurate account of the nature of these encounters[5].  …Which leaves our task one of discernment, verbalization and explanation – this is a vexing, often error-prone process.  But images-as-metaphors are wide bandwidth information carriers – they are capable of carrying more subtlety and depth of meaning than didactic pronouncements.

The process of interpretation and reinterpretation through reason and dialogue is well established in the rabbinic commentary tradition (pesher), and in the Christian critical tradition (exegesis). The risks of fervent literalism and authoritarian appropriation of single, simplistic interpretations of a subtle, deep message are well known.


In a compelling moment on the Ark, Noah retells the Genesis account of Creation by the light of a lantern. While he is talking we see images that amount to a vastly accelerated depiction of evolution from the formation of stars, galaxies, planets, the earth and the sequential appearance of life forms on earth leading up to the emergence of the first humans.  It was deftly done and neatly illustrated that the Genesis sequence fits nicely with what science has revealed.

At the very end, the movie suddenly adds a compelling drama, through an original plot twist. Noah falls into the trap of a fervent misinterpretation of God’s message. He convinces himself that the scope of God’s punishment was to be total; that humanity was to be eliminated.  Though his family was to survive the Flood, he thought it was God’s will that there be no more humans.  So, when a daughter is pregnant, Noah mistakenly reasons that she cannot be allowed to bear daughters, envisioning that the surviving children must be barren, each survivor burying the last until the last man standing dies alone on a planet cleansed of humanity.

Noah is espousing an ideology that has been slowly gaining 21st century underground adherents, to wit: That the Earth is a deity (for Noah, a creation of deity more precious than the humans who have despoiled it), and humans are a cancer that must be pruned away, even eliminated. His speech to this effect startled me, because in my forthcoming novel, Gabriel’s Stand, those same sentiments were voiced by malevolent eco-terrorists. [6]

This sets up a chilling scene where Noah’s daughter, weeping uncontrollably, holds his baby girl granddaughters, while Noah stands over the helpless twins, grimly holding a sharp blade. He is totally self-convinced that murdering his granddaughters is doing God’s bidding. This dreadful moment echoes the famous biblical passage where Abraham, following God’s explicit (not metaphorical) command to sacrifice his son, Isaac, obeys right up to the very last second, when God explicitly cancels the order. In Noah’s case, at the urging of his wife, he recovers his wits and his compassion; and he realizes just in time that God really wants him and the rest of humans to live, to be fruitful and multiply.

In the biblical account, God issues the “rainbow” covenant:”

All flesh shall never be cut off again by waters of the Deluge, never again shall there be Deluge, to bring the earth to ruin!

And God sets a bow in the clouds as a sign of that promise.


NOAH, the 2014 movie suffers from two not-trivial theological problems:

  1. The False Inclusion: It tries to place the Deluge in a simplistic and anachronistic punishment for urban blight.  This was a mistake, partly redeemed by the portrayal of widespread human wickedness that was the “real” divine motivation.
  2. The Regrettable Omission:  It leaves out of God’s explicit promise, never to do that again, not to people, not to life.  This is the watershed moment  that set the stage for the very important modern theological development in which Evil and Punishment are all about human behavior, not nature’s machinations, however destructive[7].

The movie’s single brilliant innovation, in my opinion, was the portrayal of Noah’s grave misinterpretation of the divine will, followed by his final act of choice of life over death, his redemption through love and reason.  The movie’s best touch was the running illustration of Genesis as evolution during Noah’s speech aboard the Ark.

The producers may have assumed that the silent rainbow at the end was enough to convey the “never again” message, but I think that was too silent by half. We should never presume the presence of biblical knowledge or theological nuance among a 21st century movie-going audience.

Taken as a whole, Noah carries an 8,000 year old message about life affirmation. It marks the dawn of our realization that the Creator is no longer going to take the rap for natural disasters; and that we humans are fully accountable for our self-caused disasters.  …And more importantly, that we are to live life abundantly.



Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law


Links and attributed pull quotes are welcomed. For other permissions and comments, please contact the author via email at <outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com> .


The Policy Think Site : < www.jaygaskill.com>  The I-2-I Blog:  <http://jaygaskill.com/i2i/ >




Irving Finkel, THE ARK BEFORE NOAH: Decoding the Story of the Flood

Hodder and Stoughton 2014 London

ISBN 977 144 7 5707 1


Everett Fox (trans.), THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES

Schocken Books 1997

ISBN 0-8052-1119-5



1973 Michael Grant Publications 1996 Barnes & Noble Books

ISBN 0-88029-025-0

[3] Mr. Crowe, a New Zealand born  Australian, who keeps a cattle ranch, is a serious actor, endowed with a moral compass (both traits are somewhat rare among the California screen actor set); while Pope Francis, in a very short time, has become the “coolest” Christian figure of the 21st Century. That His Holiness accomplished this guilelessly is a hopeful development in a popular culture, hungry for authenticity. Innocence is now “cool”.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2587682/Third-times-charm-Russell-Crowe-finally-gets-meeting-Pope-Francis-Vaticans-blessing-Biblical-epic-Noah.html

[4] All my biblical quotations are taken from from the powerful translation from the Hebrew by Everett Fox. See the bibliography.

[5] My commentary on the Burning Bush image is an example. See http://www.jaygaskill.com/FireInTheWhole.htm.

[6] This is often expressed in quasi-religious terms, that Gaia, the earth, is a living being, a demi-god, and that humanity is an ecophage (cancer that devours the environment) that must be eliminated.  This outrageous and dangerous nonsense is more prevalent – and more explicit – today than it was 20 years ago. As a novelist, I have explored this dark theme in my new political thriller, Gabriel’s Stand, to be released by Central Avenue Publishing of British Columbia (for all North American book markets  – print and e-book) later this spring. Check out > http://centralavenuepublishing.com/Books/styled-3/

[7] This insight has been particularly tough to bear for the 20th and 21st century, post-holocaust Jewish adults, mostly secular in outlook, who have struggled to come to grips with the Shoah. But the G-d who “permitted” evil to be visited on the innocent by a malevolent tribe fallen, depraved Nazis, is the same G-d who warned about the costs of freedom when the children of Adam and Eve chose to the protected innocence of that mythical garden-state of the human condition. Once again, the literalists among us are missing out on another powerful Teaching Myth.

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Fire in the Whole – Cannibals of the Spirit




A Meditation

By Jay B Gaskill


This text was first written 1400 – 600 BCE, in other words around three thousand years ago. The modern translation (2,000) from the scholar Everett Fox is considered to be the closest to the original Hebrew.



“Now Moshe was shepherding the flock of Yitro his father-in-law, priest of Midyan.

“He led the flock behind the wilderness- and he came to the mountain of God, to Horev.

“And YHWH’s messenger was seen by him in the flame of a fire out of the midst of a bush.

“He saw: here, the bush is burning with fire,

“Moshe said:

“Now let me turn aside that I may see this great sight-

“When YHWH saw that he had turned aside to see,

“God called to him out of the midst of the bush, he said:

“Here I am.

From The Five Books of Moses – The Schocken Bible: Volume I, translation & notes by Everett Fox





I will revisit Moses in a moment, but consider the radical context presented by 21st century insights about reality.  The phenomenon of emergent reality describes how coherent “supervising” patterns spontaneously appear as new organizational systems out of constituent, less organized, less coherent, disparate elements. The list of examples is long, and includes bird flock formation, weather cells and the emergence of certain complex ordering patterns within fluid dynamics. The universe appears to be self-organizing, influenced from its very beginning at the singularity before the cosmological explosion we call the Big Bang, influenced by and suffused with the creative emergence of increasingly complex, integrated systems.  And it is increasingly clear from our “modern” Genesis narrative that the list of emergent systems includes conscious being.


I’m not about to propose one more definition of what we mean by conscious being – after all, if you are conscious, you get it, if not, not. But we can observe that consciousness is an emergent property of very complex, biological neurological-networks when they achieve a certain critical state.  We are able to make this observation in the same way that we observe emergence when it manifests in fluid dynamics (in vortices, for example), and in nature generally.


That the entire universe appears to exhibit this self-organizing tendency is no longer even controversial. This is to say that emergence is universal, a deeply important, recurring aspect of nature, itself. But the implications of a universe filled with – even defined by – ongoing creative emergence have not yet been fully appreciated.  In this short meditation, I am proposing that we can profit greatly by revisiting key elements of the biblical creation narrative in light of what we have learned over the last several thousand years. That the biblical narrative is to be understood allegorically and metaphorically is no longer controversial among biblical scholars. [As anyone who has read Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) can attest.]


Instances of creative emergence are not a strictly determined outcomes in any given time, place and circumstance, at least in the sense that energy decay follows the second law of thermodynamics at all times.  So we can say that human consciousness depends on the existence and operation of a material body (the brain’s neural net) to manifest it.  But someone can be unconscious.  And we can also say that the essential character of conscious being is a novel manifestation, not strictly predetermined in the sense that the fall of Newton’s apple was predetermined by its release from the top of a tower.


Emergent systems are not prefigured in the situation that obtains immediately before they occur. Nothing about of a snapshot of a chaotic scatter of birds, for example, prefigures the emergence of the orderly flock pattern. The particular unpredictability of novel order is particularly evident when we observe a creative leap, as in creative inspiration.


Now flash back to the Exodus narrative for a moment to reconsider the significance of an image that was presented to Moses. What if the burning bush was a Divine metaphor, only dimly understood at the time it was conveyed?  A metaphor of what?


Think of a vastly complex neural network achieving, in the whole of its operations, something new and seemingly magic, a state of meaning-apprehension, motivation, and self-awareness. Imagine a graphic representation of such a network — a tangled wiring diagram in a roughly spherical shape, much as an illuminated schematic of the brain’s complex neural pathways is mapped.  Now, imagine conscious being as a glowing, fluctuating fog, a representation of the self-aware semantic field that we call consciousness. The field of conscious being as it is generated by the network appears in this graphic image as a fire linked to, surrounding and generated by the neuron branches as a whole.


In the vision, the fire that did not consume the bush was divine self-consciousness emerging from the virtual network of the entire universe.  G-d was revealing to Moses a picture-representation of conscious being, a vivid description of the very fabric from which humanity was made in G-d’s likeness. Later when G-d is asked by Moses for a name, the answer, seemingly enigmatic, was actually very straightforward:  The divine Being said: I am that (i.e. “that which is”) “I am”. In effect, G-d was revealing to Moses that G-d is conscious being, the fire in the whole.




Primitive cannibals ate their opponents in the naïve belief that they were taking into themselves the character and power of these enemies. But by reducing them to food, they destroyed those very qualities.


Enter scientism (not to be confused with science), sometimes presented as “naturalism” and “materialism”. By whatever name, this is the bold claim (popular among late 19th and early 20th century intellectuals and still prevalent in the modern academy) that the material sciences, the experiments and investigations of chemistry, physics, neurology and so on, represent the only valid objective source of all human knowledge, thereby reducing art, music, ethics, spirituality and the other humanities, to subjective whims, to anthropological developments, to tribal behavior patterns, and even electromagnetic fluctuations in that “electric meat” resident in our skulls.


This is the modern (and postmodern) equivalent of cannibalism. Its advocates attempted the very same feat that the primitive eaters of human flesh tried and failed to accomplish.


The followers of scientism purport to reduce conscious being (and its meaningful contents – including art, music, beauty & goodness) to the purely physical processes of neurology. This is pursued in the erroneous belief that by doing so – in effect by eating the human soul – they are taking in to themselves (i.e., into the domain of materialist science) the character and power of living consciousness and its values.


In fact, when scientism is taken seriously, it destroys being, beauty, meaning and value, in the same way that a cannibal destroys its victims.


My common sense advice: Don’t take these cannibals seriously, because deep down they do not really believe their own narratives.  And, above all, don’t let them eat you.




Copyright © 2013, by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law, All rights Reserved

Permissions & Comments: outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com




The author is a California Attorney …and a lay theologian.


Further Reading-











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A Fresh Look at Reality

By Jay B Gaskill

cropped-FutureRome2.jpgWe are living through a seemingly endless intellectual war between two competing worldviews. One dominates the intelligentsia (with important exceptions) and the other prevails in the world of common sense.  The first view goes by several names, naturalism, metaphysical naturalism, materialism, scientific materialism and reductionism, among others. Put starkly, its adherents purport to believe that absolutely everything there is, seen and unseen, can be fully accounted for by the physical sciences, chemistry, physics, biology, and so on.

In the materialist worldview, even psychology and anthropology can be reduced to their physical, scientific descriptions. Our values, our aspirations, our perception of beauty and of the mysteries of the soul, all of it and more, are “just matter, energy, electrons and other stuff.”

The adherents of this view rarely put it so starkly, but  Richard Dawkins, the atheist biologist, gave us a clear preview when he wrote that “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

I said “purport to believe” because few materialists live out their lives as if the atoms, electrons and other physical features of our existence are the sole reality. Do they actually think that our most cherished loves, hopes and moral verities are merely illusions?  Or that we are actually self-deceived robots without will or authentic being?  They have too much common sense for that.  They cling to their materialism in self-defense; they fear an onslaught of fundamentalism.

I submit that the available evidence, in its totality, carries a message. It points to a universe that not only “self organizes”, but generates hierarchies of ordered systems that are novel. These systems represent emergent creative order, an outcome that is not physically required. …And these new systems in turn facilitate the emergence of new levels of ordered systems, the mutual interactions of which led to the emergence of the first living organisms. These developments staged the emergence of decision-capable organisms, then conscious, intelligent organisms, endowed with creative capacities that can generate useful novelty at a hugely accelerated rate.

What are we to make of a universe that generates meaning, beauty and goodness, and the beings endowed with the capacity to create and appreciate these things…and each other? Our universe long ago transcended the cramped, mechanistic narrative of reductive naturalism advanced by a faith-phobic intelligentsia. Materialism survives, but as a narrow, useful methodology.

Given the bankruptcy of the grand materialist worldview, what are we to make of the emergence of caring, meaning-seeking intelligence on the stage of a “dead’’ universe? Was life “there” all along, much as Plato imagined the eternal shapes of geometric forms?  If not, where was it? Were the archetypes and designs of mammals and their precursors, the DNA code nestled in some updated version of Plato’s realm of forms, alongside the streamlined engineering solutions that resulted in the fin and the wing? Or were they just the lucky hits in nature’s casino?

Plato was a visionary who lacked our actual vision. Seen from our expanded perspective, it is almost as if a lifeless, pitiless universe has been gradually colonized.  In science fiction scenarios, we accept such notions as at least plausible.  The clever, highly advanced aliens seed a planet with mysterious germs/cells/nanoparticles that contain the self-replicating plans for an entire invading race; then, over time these invading bio-tech agents mature into life-sized creatures who take over.

This sort of thing is readily accepted for purposes of the story for a couple of reasons: [1] Clarke’s Third Law. The iconic science/science fiction writer, Arthur C Clarke, wrote that our encounter with any sufficiently advanced technology (as in well beyond human abilities at the moment) will be perceived as magic.  Because the alien “invasion” takes place via a materialist form of ultra-high tech, it is threatening in a ‘this is a cool movie’ hypothetical way; but it does not challenge the essential materialist world view. [2] Conventional Threat. We intuitively understand that a material threat can be countered by a material response, as in the last scenes of the alien colonization movie when the heroic earth people blow up the invaders.

But what if the colonization takes place via something essentially non-physical, as in pure information?  That notion threatens the materialist worldview at its very core. There are now three powerful ideas in play that will upset the foundations of narrow materialism, and they are closely interrelated:

a)       Active information. This notion warrants more explanation than space allows, so here is the elevator version.  Information in its most comprehensive sense includes data, instructions and meaning, depending on its complexity.  Our lives seethe with it, carried electronically in the web and in our devices. Information is “carried” or “stored” via various physical media, like electrons, light waves, optical digital storage magnetic, media storage and so on.  Here’s the takeaway point: Information, as such, has neither mass nor energy.  Imagine different electronic or electromagnetic waveforms, each of which is carrying information – or not: one is carrying random garbage; one is carrying no information at all; and one is carrying truly meaningful information.  There will be no measurable mass/energy differences between them based on the message carried or lack thereof. Yet the information content of an input makes a huge difference in physical systems.  NOTE FOR FURTHER READING: Many physicists and philosophers are now beginning to notice that the creative processes in nature are utilizing active information.

b)      Latent information. The laws of physics and the form-order manifest in mathematics consist of information that is somehow stored in the universe without any discernible physical media.  The “rules” that governed the unfolding of the entire universe from the “singularity” to the present wonderful, expanding tapestry of stars, worlds and living, thinking creatures existed before the unfolding, as if the universe utilized infinite information storage in a point. {NOTE FOR FURTHER READING: The pre-Big Bang singularity and aspects of quantum physics hint that this could indeed be the case.}

c)      Integration of reality and information. The scientific enterprise, the monotheistic religions and the spiritual seekers of unity among us are working from the same playbook: It is the faith-assumption/insight that all reality is integrated, including our own reasoning selves, such that seemingly irreconcilable dualisms and seemingly arbitrary breaks in reality are always reconcilable in a larger context.  This is why, as Einstein mused, the most remarkable thing about the universe is that its workings are intelligible to the human mind (my paraphrase).  …And this is why Einstein and other scientist-philosophers have described their task as discerning “the mind of God”.  The professed atheism of some of these (Einstein was a deist in the tradition of Spinoza, not a true atheist) was directed at a specific class of ideas about God, the primitive notions of deity, a fearsome, arbitrary being, not just creative agency/presence, but a micromanager, controller.

Let me return to the colonization metaphor.  It is almost as if a lifeless, pitiless universe has been gradually colonized by life, employing a vast archive/repertoire of forms, design relationships and parameters: It began with the initial anthropic conditions, encoded in the universe’s physical laws; then the more life-favorable environments as star systems generated planets with water; then the reproducing systems emerge and take hold, followed by cells and whole organisms. Eventually, the patterns/plans/architectures of biological intelligence and even the forms and design features of working civilizations…all of these elements of the vast portfolio of creation were and remain poised to emerge whenever opportunities present themselves over the vase reaches of space-time.

But, if we accept the colonization metaphor as instructive, we are led to several obvious questions, among them: Colonized by what? …Or by whom? …And why?

The evidence of colonization presents the picture of a focused, but opportunistic force/tendency/enterprise, seeking beachheads when and where they present themselves.  To appreciate the explanatory power of the colonization insight, we need to examine more closely the operation of the creative processes that have brought humanity into being from a mere possibility in a cloud of exploding energy into thinking, feeling persons who are now able to ponder the “first questions”.

The creative processes in nature represent the appearance/emergence of novelty, often incremental and gradual, but sometimes more dramatically.  The designs that emerge are no different in functionality than the plans, designs, blueprints and algorithms that human inventors come up with. But a materialist like Richard Dawkins prefers that we call them ‘designoids’, since he has determined, a priori, that there is no designer.

These competing design-forms are sorted by seemingly hidden criteria, as if the environment were doing the heavy lifting.  But fitness to an immediate environmental challenge is not really sufficient to explain our existence.  Long after the fact, we can detect that particular early designs (thinking of, say, the cell and early precursors of DNA) were essential to further the continued advancement of life. …And do notice that the emergence of compassionate, creative intelligence also serves that goal.

The fine tuning of this universe for life’s emergence is a well-known problem for the materialist-naturalist school of Dawkins and others of like minds. These thinkers have advanced the claim that the wildly improbable combination of life friendly features of this universe is readily explainable because there are an infinite number of universes and we just happen to be in this one.  But this claim is unprovable. As the physicist, turned theologian, Dr. John Polkinghorne, has pointed out, the leap of faith against evidence to assume that there really are uncountable other universes is by far the longer stretch compared to the inference from evidence that this universe evidences an emergent purpose.

Of all the possible universes, ours is clearly one of a group (if there even is a group), or perhaps the only one, that was sufficiently prepared for the emergence of information-receptive, meaning-seeking beings.

The term teleology is used to describe a universe that has a purpose.  For obvious reasons the materialists reject teleology altogether. But what would a reasonable observer expect to happen when the distinct possibility of a particularly fecund emergent novelty (as in the first living creatures) is coupled to an immense reservoir of probability?  Think of a universe that squanders vast possibilities of variations over vast spans of space-time; think of this unfolding in a universe pre-equipped with fundamental conditions felicitous to life – referring to the  anthropic ‘wiring’ of this universe.  In such a scenario, a mere possibility becomes a virtual inevitability given enough billions of years.  And that is our scenario.  It is hard to ignore the implication: That the evidence points us to the conclusion that our emergence was in some sense destined. (FURTHER READING: The Fine Tuning of Physical Laws Favoring Life – The Anthropic Principle.)

Many scientists and philosophers have now concluded that the materialist/naturalist worldview is fatally incomplete; that all of the evidence cannot be satisfactorily explained unless there really is a non-material, non-physical aspect of reality in the mix. If that is the case, then who are we to assume that this expanded realm of the real does not hold meaning, beauty and goodness, as well as the sterile rules that regularize orbits and power stars?

It is time to revisit Plato’s forms, updated to include the very life-forms that sustain living, consciousness, the venue of meaning.  I propose that we recapture the ancient insight that the beautiful and elegant forms that appear in nature are not arbitrary accidents in a chaotic universe, but the instantiations of a deeper, form-aspect of reality that exists alongside the realm of flux, change, and apparent random chance. The very term emergence suggests a “coming out” of that which was obscure or hidden from our view; this is a description of the appearance of aspects of the ‘other’, non-mechanical level of reality, something very much like Plato’s realm of forms.

The universe is not dead, nor unconscious, nor uncaring; and this is the case because it is our birthplace, and because we are the region/sector/component of the universe that can apprehend meaning, and because our arrival was virtually inevitable.  To put it differently, we are the universe come awake. One might even describe us as the colonists of intelligent life who are awakening to our role.

If we are the colonists of awareness, meaning, compassion, beauty and accelerated creativity, who or what might be the Colonist?  For my part, after decades of careful reflection, certain inferences are inescapable:

I.            Do we represent the emergence of early versions of the Master Archetype, the design template who is the Designer?

II.            Are we the children of the Deity who cannot be named, whose fecund seeds are scattered across all the possible realities, including those that are unreceptive (the hard, infertile spaces) and the others like our (possibly unique) universe that has the nurturing early conditions?

III.            If we were sent to this universe to fill it with intelligent, caring life, is that not a compelling basis to revisit the foundational questions of morality?

My answers, based on reflection and personal experience are yes, yes and yes.

So to my overly skeptical friends, I pose this question: What if it’s not all just “made up?” What if our grandparents were more right than wrong? Of course, that is up to you and your conscience.

Deism is the idea of G-d[1] as the originating force/cause/agency, the creator-designer, who thereafter remains out of the causal picture.  In our working metaphor, this is the Colonist in Chief who is now out of touch.

Theism is the apprehension of G-d as creator, as engaged in ongoing creativity; as present always in spirit; and as mysteriously and subtly engaged in every moment of our lives. The “why?” question is partially answered – we are partial, flawed, but beloved instantiations of G-d as Parent.

Fair disclosure: I am a theist as a result of experience and introspection.

Which, if any, of these reality models best fits your worldview?  That is left to you, to your experience and introspection.


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Active Information

One of my favorite sources is the physicist, turned Anglican priest, the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, who wrote, “As embodied beings, humans may be expected to act both energetically and informationally.  As pure Spirit, God might be expected to act solely through information input.  One could summarize the novel aspect of this proposal by saying that it advocates the idea of a top down causality through “active information.” Belief in God in an Age of Science, Does God Act in the Physical World? – John Polkinghorne (Yale 1998) at p 63. A winner of the Templeton Prize for theology, Dr. Polkinghorne has written scores of books and essays, most of which are still in print. As one reviewer put it, “If C S Lewis had a doctorate in physics, this is how he would write about God.”

[See also – “Active Information in Physics” Warwick University, Coventry CV4 7AL, by Pickering at this LINK:

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/psych/people/jpickering/johnpickering/ivalo/ .]


Latent Information

“The Omega Point Theory by Tulane University professor of physics and mathematics Frank J. Tipler is what he maintains is a proof of God’s  existence according to the known laws of physics. The theory is an integral part of the Feynman –Weinberg–DeWitt quantum gravity/Standard Model  Theory of Everything (TOE) which Tipler also holds is required by the known physical laws.

“The Omega Point is a term used by Tipler to designate the final cosmological singularity, which he contends is a physically-necessary cosmological state in the far future of the universe.

“According to his Omega Point Theory, as the universe comes to an end at this singularity in a particular form of the Big Crunch, the computational capacity of the universe (in terms of both its processor speed and memory storage) increases unlimitedly with a hyperbolic growth rate as the radius of the universe goes to zero, allowing an infinite  number of bits to be processed and stored before the end of spacetime. Via this supertask, a simulation run on this universal computer can thereby continue forever in its own terms (i.e., in “experiential time”), even though the universe lasts only a finite amount of proper time.

“Tipler states that the known laws of physics require there be intelligent civilizations in existence at the appropriate time in order to force the collapse of the universe and then manipulate its collapse so that the computational capacity of the universe can diverge to infinity. Due to the increasing temperature of the universe during the collapse phase (wherein the temperature diverges to infinity), Tipler says that life will have to transfer its information processes to higher energy states, eventually using elementary particles to directly compute on via traveling waves  and standing waves.” LINK:  http://www.conservapedia.com/Omega_Point_Theory


The Anthropic Principle

The minute alteration of any one of a score of physical laws, many of which are not obviously required by logic to be the way they are, would have made the evolution of life impossible. See Michael J Denton, “Nature’s Destiny”,1998 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-684-84509-1. …And John D. Barrow and Frank J Tipler, “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle” 1988 (1st Ed 1986) Oxford U. Press ISBN 0-19-282147-4 (paperback)


The Unity Principle

The seminal book was by the physicist, David Bohm, “Wholeness And  The Implicate Order, 1980 Routledge ISBN 0-7448-0000-5. But I believe the most important contribution was made by a somewhat obscure British scientist, who consulted with Albert Einstein on unified field theory, Lancelot Law Whyte. He who proposed the “Unitary Principle” as a universal, applying to science and everything else.  Whyte’s works, now out of print, are all available on Google Books.  Among them, the three most interesting are “The Next Development in Man”, 1948, Henry Holt and Company; “The Universe of Experience” 1974, Harper and Row 06-131821-3 (paper)/ 06-236143-7 (hard); and “The Unitary Principle in Physics and Biology” LINK – http://books.google.com/books?id=5YgGAQAAIAAJ .

In the major world religious traditions, the commitment to metaphysical unity, a feature of monotheism, is also described as monism. [See the Wiki article at - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monism.]

Unity is a core value of Sufi metaphysics. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sufi_metaphysics.] And of Hinduism – “At the metaphysical level is absolute unity; everyone is nothing but Brahman. Consequently, there is no notion of the other in Hinduism. This leaves no place for hostility towards anyone.”  Ashok Vohra, Department of Philosophy, University of New Delhi. [See http://www.elijah-interfaith.org/uploads/media/Chap5.pdf.]

The quest for and belief in unity is the a priori commitment that drives the scientific enterprise. See the article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-unity/.] Also see the article by William Bechtel and Andrew Hamilton of the University of California, San Diego at -http://mechanism.ucsd.edu/research/bechtel.hamilton.reduction.pdf.


First published on The Policy Think Site <www.jaygaskill.com> and the linked Blogs

The author is a California Attorney, writer, consultant and lay theologian.

Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law // Contact: outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com

[1] The vowel ‘o’ is dropped in deference to the Jewish and other traditions that resist fully naming deity, on several grounds, chief among them that a name imposes an implied limitation. See the author’s essay at – http://jaygaskill.com/WhyG-d.htm.

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By Jay B Gaskill

The anti-god bias that manifests in sophisticated circles is rooted in the fear of the primitive intelligent atheists fear the very possibility that God is real.[1].

Among atheists, this can be a deep aversion bordering on dread; many fear religion. What explains the emotional force that drives the anti-theism among this group? I believe it is the arch-materialism, the narrow rationalism of the post-superstitious. This is a force that is often amplified by the lingering traces of Post Ecclesial Abuse Syndrome (PEAS)[2]. It is no coincidence that most fiercely committed atheists (whom I prefer to call the anti-theists), have experienced an attempted religious formation by some authority figure of the literalist/fundamentalist stripe.

These traumatized minds are repelled by, and actually fear, a set of ideas of God (that to sophisticated modern theologians represent discarded anachronisms, cartoons, and caricatures of deity). A version of these dark images appears in atheist nightmares. It seems they are haunted by a fearsome archetype, a foreboding persona of raw untamable power, an authority beyond reason, a being fitful and often arbitrary, an unanswerable Parent who forces a grim, hierarchical order on all humankind via a single command, a directive that trumps dialogue, discernment and debate with a single word: SUBMIT.

Our naturalist, scientific materialist friends are in rebellion against superstition and ignorance personified. They secretly see themselves as warriors.  As combatants, they are too engaged to stop, smell the roses, and reassess the mission goals. They are caught up in full-on war against the primitive unconscious itself, as if it were the deity-in-charge of Life, the Universe and Everything, the author of existence.

These (typically) moral men and women have gotten themselves trapped in the materialist bubble in which the sole authorized form of existence is found only within the comfortably narrow confines of the mechanistic realm of the natural sciences that can be accessed only via the specialized forms of reason appropriate to its unpacking. Nothing outside that bubble must ever be acknowledged as objectively “real”. Ironically, their moral fervor, which is directed at a phantom deity construct, has deep, but unexamined, spiritual origins. Better, they think, to live without the tooth fairy and also without that religious monster under the bed.

The larger reality views that include meaning, beauty and goodness, are allowed in the door provisionally, and only as admirable human “inventions” or “constructs”.  As a consequence, any understanding of deity as the author of order and reason is rejected (even though it is a more acceptable model to the scientific mind than the fundamentalist boogeyman) on the grounds that the very notion of a priori authorship smacks of superstition.  The corollary notion of Deity as the embodiment of holiness and compassion is also attractive to these same minds. But so was the tooth fairy.


The naturalist-materialist bubble is a self-imposed, philosophical autism. Just as true autistics tend to find the inner conscious, affective life of other persons to be deeply puzzling, the inhabitant of the materialist bubble are puzzled by their own, richly endowed “extra-rational” cognitive faculties (think empathetic, esthetic and spiritual here). The parts of their minds that operate beyond the structures and constraints of “respectable science” are not “real” except as bio-electronic brain processes. An entire cluster of powerful, integrating, inductive, conscious thinking tools includes our capacity for moral, esthetic and spiritual awareness. These capabilities evolved in tandem with the sensorium, memory, and the base reasoning capabilities of the human reality-interface. These our most precious of endowments t This amazing cognitive suite is far, far more valuable than some entertainment algorithm; they transcend the rules-of-conduct strategies that any autistic must learn in order to function socially. These faculties are not only “real”; they are our connection to an immensely important part of reality.

This situation is unexplainable in strictly materialist terms.  …Which is why the materialist-naturalist needs to compartmentalize, anointing as “objective” the “real-real” realm with which the empirical sciences deal, and demoting as “subjective” the “unreal-real” realm, that holds what is most valuable in our human experience of reality.

Albert Einstein gave us a window into this conflicted mindset when he wrote a friend.

You find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world (to the extent that we are authorized to speak of such a comprehensibility) as a miracle or an eternal mystery. …Even if the axioms of the theory are proposed by man, the success of such a project presupposes a high degree of ordering of the objective world, and this could not be expected a priori. That is the “miracle” which is being constantly re-enforced as our knowledge expands. There lies the weaknesses of positivists and professional atheists who are elated because they feel that they have not only successfully rid the world of gods but “bared the miracles.” Oddly enough, we must be satisfied to acknowledge the “miracle” without there being any legitimate way for us to approach it. I am forced to add that just to keep you from thinking that –weakened by age–I have fallen prey to the clergy.[3]

“All belief starts with a decision; in this instance we decide to adopt a world view and to live into it while always holding the possibility of correction in reserve.  Our strongest beliefs are anchored in authentic personal experience and in trust of those whom we deem worthy of trust.

“The state of mindedness I have called ‘On Approach’ is rooted in a life-derived heuristic faith stance: that the mystery of shared being is always reconcilable with ‘the world’; that the arch-materialist mindset, the fad of this age, always can be transcended; and that our deepest urgings, that sense of connection with being-as-universal, including our intimations of the numinous, all these things represent our glimpses of that greater reality that transcends the mundane. [This is] a reasonable act of faith, no more or less reasonable than the faith-perceptions that allow us to see into the hearts of other persons, to recognize them as persons and not objects, and to see, in them, something of ourselves.  The very suite of cognitive faculties that allow us to be social and sometimes moral beings, to apprehend and create beauty and to experience awe, and even reverence,  for creation, also allows us to apprehend G-d, by whatever name or no name at all.”[4]


Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Permissions – law@jaygaskill.com

[1] The atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel, has created a stir among his former colleagues by advancing the heresy that the materialist naturalism of his peers is wrong.  His name came up in a conference of famous atheists in the Berkshires, covered by the journalist, Andrew Ferguson. His revealing field report, “The Heretic was published in the Weekly Standard, March 25, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 27.  Fergusen reports that- “In a recent review in the New York Review of Books of Where the Conflict Really Lies, by the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, Nagel told how instinctively he recoils from theism, and how hungry he is for a reasonable alternative. “If I ever found myself flooded with the conviction that what the Nicene Creed says is true,” he wrote, “the most likely explanation would be that I was losing my mind, not that I was being granted the gift of faith.” He admits that he finds the evident failure of materialism as a worldview alarming—precisely because the alternative is, for a secular intellectual, unthinkable. He calls this intellectual tic “fear of religion.” [NAGEL adds]“I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear. I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isnt just that I dont believe in God and, naturally, hope that Im right in my belief. Its that I hope there is no God! I dont want there to be a God; I dont want the universe to be like that.”


[3] From a letter to Maurice Solovine (1875-1958), a young student of philosophy who wanted to take lessons with Einstein in physics… As quoted by Robert Goldman., Einstein’s God—Albert Einstein’s Quest as a Scientist and as a Jew to Replace a Forsaken God  (Joyce Aronson Inc.; Northvale, New Jersey; 1997) …Also, see Einstein’s Collected Papers at Princeton http://press.princeton.edu/catalogs/series/cpe.html .


[4] From my short essay, “On Approach”  http://www.jaygaskill.com/OnApproach.htm


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In cities and towns throughout Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s Jewish parents kept their children indoors on Good Friday.  It was a frightening day because some loosely wrapped Christians were stirred by the reminder of an ancient Jewish “crime” to retaliatory violence.   They had been moved by a retelling of the Passion (i.e., condemnation, torture and execution) of their Lord by “the Jews.”

With that context in mind, consider these not-unrepresentative Gospel passages -

Matthew 27

{25} All the Jews answered, ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children!’

Luke 23

{13} Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders and the people, and said to them, “You brought this man as one perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of the charges against him….  Indeed he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him”.  …  {18} Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow!”… “…they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!”  {22} A third time he said to them, “Why what evil has he done” … But they kept urgently demanding with loud shout that he should be crucified, and their voices prevailed.
In these and other Gospel passages there is a widely understood subtext that taken as the “Gospel truth” in places like Hitler’s Germany, in which phrases like “the people”, “they all” and “they” are really talking about “those murdering Jews.”

And Pilate is somehow exonerated.

I believe to the core of my being that this is slander. Some of my fellow Christians have become aware of the problem.  They and I wince with pain during a traditional reading of Jesus’ last hours, his “Passion” as told in one of the gospel accounts.  This should be a glorious chronicle of a holy hero, but for me it was poisoned by a falsehood, innocently repeated, that Jesus was murdered by a mob of his fellow Jews who forced a reluctant Pontius Pilate (that worldly and sophisticated humanist!) to kill an innocent Jewish teacher.

In effect, Pontius Pilate leers at us from history’s stage like some bloody Shakespearean figure, holding a dripping knife and shouting: “The Jews made me do it!”  I submit that Christians are still reading “The Passion According to Pilate”, an account with about the same credibility as a document called “Hitler’s liberation of France” written by the Vichy government.

During the Easter season Christian congregations hear about the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, including this passage from the gospel of John (John 20:19)

Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, “Peace be unto you”.

What if we were to adjust that passage for its missing context?  Recall that Jesus was a popular Jewish spiritual leader who was executed by the Roman occupiers as a revolutionary threat.  Recall that the Temple authorities were much like the collaborationist Vichy government in Nazi-occupied France.

When the Nazi’s ruled Europe, not everyone was enthusiastic.  Most French citizens longed for the removal of their German overlords. Some of them undertook active resistance at great risk to their lives. One hero of the French resistance, Jean Moulin, met secretly with fellow freedom fighters in German occupied France for the last time on the 21st of June 1943. The meeting was behind closed doors for good reason.  But someone had betrayed them. The Gestapo raided the place and arrested Moulin. He died not long after while in Gestapo custody.

Now imagine how one might describe Moulin’s last meeting—

When Moulin met with his fellow resistance leaders the doors were shut because of fear of the (a) the French people, (b) German soldiers, (c) Nazi collaborators.

Only in the scenario where the Nazis won would the account read, “because of fear of the French people”.

As I hope to show in the following pages, the reason for the following proposed historical correction should become bright line clear –

Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Roman authorities and their collaborators, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, “Peace be unto you”.

I started this project several years ago when I first encountered the work of the growing number of Jewish scholars who are actively exploring the life of Jesus of Nazareth as part of the history of First Century Judaism. My project became more timely because of the impact of Mel Gibson’s widely viewed film, “The Passion of Jesus Christ”, and the concerns of the Jewish community about resurrecting the “Christ killer” war-cry of some loosely wrapped anti-Semites. As to any detail concerning Jesus’s execution, no one can claim to have finally “proved the case”. That would be unrealistic at this remove.  But the evidence is more than enough to prove Pilate’s scheming culpability and exonerate the Jewish people.

MY ENTIRE 16 PAGE ARTICLE IS AVAILABLE IN PDF FORMAT AT THIS LINK: http://jaygaskill.com/PilateGameExposed.pdf .

Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law


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Go to this link -http://www.jaygaskill.com/DecodingDeity.pdf

Hint – Moses experienced a glimpse of a reality so profoundly beyond ordinary human experience that it would have been vividly, but incompletely remembered – like the retinal afterimage of a lightning stroke. Surely, it was a massive information transfer, beyond the normal bandwidth of the human mind.

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Copyright© 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

For permissions & comments, contact the author via email < law@jaygaskill.com >.

By Jay B Gaskill, Attorney At Law

It was no accident that Marxism was erected on the edifice of economic, historical and social materialism.  And it was no accident that Marxism in all its forms has bulldozed the value of individual human dignity, the last bulwark against the dehumanization of humanity.


The arch-materialist position is running on empty. The persuasive force of that view – that life, the universe and everything is all just stuff, in effect that you, me, and all our hopes and thoughts are nothing but matter and energy – has been groaning under the weight of the information age and the cumulative abuses of the materialists whenever they have achieved political power.

Arch-materialism is not just a love of material things; it is the denial of the moral reality of everything else. In its most malignant form, materialism is a wrecking ball with the clear and present capacity to take down modern civilization.

Values are not just inclinations; they are the living channels of our moral awareness.  The single most harmful consequence of arch-materialism was the demotion of values to emotional states and of morality itself to an emotional construct, a plastic one that the authoritarians among us have molded to fit their ends.  Ideologies are theologies stripped of the universal moral underpinning.

For a thousand years, the morally aware among us have agreed on the core values that sustain civilized life, the prohibitions against stealing, cheating, oath-breaking, assault and murder.  The implications of this consensus are profound. When different human minds separately keep coming up with the same insights, principles and norms, the sense of discovery is a tell.  Discovery is not limited to physics and mathematics.  Discovery is not invention. The core moral principles are discovered, not just made up “by dead white men” or anyone else.

I propose that we have arrived at a new place in the development of thought, one in which we now accept that meaning is also a discovered property of reality, detectable only by conscious, intelligent minds (which also provides us with a pretty good working definition of living, conscious intelligence as the set of faculties of any living organism that detect meaning and significance).  The overly skeptical, arch materialist minds of the post enlightenment sophisticates among us are operating on borrowed skepticism and borrowed time. Their position on center stage is over.  But their naughty adult children, the ones who still tell our real children that “if it feels good, do it” are loose and active, much as the pathogens of a plague survive the rotting corpses that it has already killed.

The late Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (See footnote[1]), wrote about an impossibly powerful computer – “Deep Thought” – that was tasked by mice to discover the “secret of life the universe and everything”. After performing prodigious calculations over eons, Deep Thought finally came up with an answer: The number 42. (See footnote [2])

Adams was telling us the importance of asking the right question.  And Deep Thought’s answer was revelatory. The computer was “at 6’s and 7’s” because the question asked it was ultimately beyond the power of any algorithm or non-living thinking device to answer.

We need to break into the territory where the answers our questions about life the universe and everything are located. In other words, we need to break out of the intellectual trap of arch-materialist thinking; this is the conceit that absolutely everything in and out of our minds can be fully accounted for by material processes.

We humans are stuck at the fault line caused by our own release of acidic skepticism about two and a half centuries ago. The doubt acid was unleashed on the world (I tend to think of Pandora’s Box or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice) by well-meaning intellectuals bent on bringing down entire archaic and oppressive social institutions. When the well-meaning intellectuals unbottled the magic solvent, their main goal was to weaken the support systems of the royalist-clerical autocracy that these intellectuals despised.

Their strategy worked…and then some. An early success (the American Revolution) was followed by an epic cascade of unintended consequences. Once out of the bottle, the acid of comprehensive doubt began dissolving everything of value; the damage went well beyond the targeted institutions.  By the time the doubt virus had infected the modern and postmodern mind, churches were on the ropes, ethics itself was in disarray and the entire civil order was left defenseless.

Human nature so abhors a moral vacuum that something, no matter how repugnant, will always fill it. Without the firewall of faith-anchored morality, invented “scientific” doctrines swiftly gave rise to virulent mass movements.  Among them, Nazi race theory and Marxist human-nature transformation theory filled the moral vacuum with toxic ideologies.  These were faux scientific ideologies, deeply irrational to the core.  Marxism and Nazism acquired the patina of moral authority by default – the great acid flux of doubt had disabled or crippled everything else that we believed in.

The entire skeptical project was founded in a false premise: the notion that the material realm holds all of reality’s secrets. But that very premise, the arch-materialist’s vision – that there exists nothing other than the physical-mechanical – was never deeply examined nor carefully questioned.  It generated a world view that was as fiercely held and doggedly defended as any fundamentalist religion. For a plurality of the dominant intellectuals in the academy, it is still the glorious paradigm of the current age…but not for much longer.

Arch-materialism makes outrageous claims on its face, something akin to the lie that the naked emperor of the fable was clothed in splendorous raiment.  The notion that everything that is or can be is completely reducible to mere “stuff”, to matter and energy, and their processes and interactions, with nothing “left over”, leads to a series of absurdities in which, for example, Mozart’s Requiem can be fully and completely reduced to air pressure fluctuations that induce brain electro-chemical responses in some subjects.

The claims of arch materialism are bankrupt. There is no room in arch-materialism for the “I am” or the “I love” or for the “I ought”, except as you or I might arbitrarily decide. In the world of arch-materialism, our decisions themselves are a sort of ephemeral gloss on the biochemical, bioelectrical fluctuations that we “really” are, and our very consciousness, the sense of being, is a mirage.

This was the single greatest fraud perpetrated on the human family of all time.

More and more of the intelligentsia are coming to their senses; one by one, they are returning to the older, more balanced and more integrated wisdom traditions.  As these newly awakened minds recover from the spell of arch-materialism, a realization dawns:  The mechanistic part of reality, the subject of the physical sciences of measurement and prediction, is just that, a part or phase of the greater scheme.  Meaning cannot be redacted from the picture.  Meaning is not a measurable property of physics, chemistry or the other physical disciplines; nor is it “just made up”.

The recovery from the grip of arch-materialism is almost like waking up from a spell.

The Secrets of Life, the Universe and Everything can be unpacked only when we acknowledge the deep and enduring reality of ongoing creative emergence (See footnote [3]), the essential ontological link between the material and the not-material phases of reality, and the role of our own minds as the bridge state between these two. (See footnote [4]) The gifts moral intelligence and esthetically tuned awareness are among the cognitive tools that were issued our species.  Arch materialism has temporarily disabled us from using these tools to discover the nature of reality and the reality of nature.

If the esthetic is real (and it is), but cannot be captured in the narrow confines of comprehensive materialism; then so it goes for the ethical aspects of reality. And if the esthetic and ethical are real, then so is the spiritual. If meaning exists at all (and it does), then meaning, qua meaning, necessarily exists outside the confines of narrow materialism.  It follows that Reality naturally includes both the material realm of energy, matter and space and the non-material realm of meaning.

Reality in its totality can neither be defined by nor limited by the material realm.  The lowly possum has a bifurcated brain, one in which the huge bandwidth connections between left and right hemispheres (that we smart humans take for granted) are missing.  You can show something to a possum’s left side without the right side “knowing” anything about it.

The artificial bifurcation between the material and spiritual, between the real of the measurable physical and that of un-measurable meaning is a mental disability.  It is as if we humans had decided to emulate the lowly possum.  We need to pursue a mutually correcting dialogue between the two.  For me, one insight opened up all the rest — that the overall integration of reality is a primal fact, the a priori key to further knowledge about life, the universe and everything. We thinking, feeling beings are the interface between these two realms.  We are the venue of the meta-dialogic. There is an overall rational structure to our values that can be mapped.

For those of us who believe that acts of faith can be both reasonable and heuristic (See footnote  [5]), these recovered insights have truly infinite implications, among them: A universe that generates creatures that are capable of apprehending meaning and purpose; is a universe that has meaning and purpose.

To the blind followers of arch materialism, we can do worse than repeat the words of Hamlet – “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”



Why pick on poor, old Marxism?

Feedback from my recent article, The Arch Crumbles at Dawn (where I predict the demise of arch-materialism), included a complaint because I singled out Marxism:  “Please substitute the word capitalism for Marxism. Open your eyes and look at the damage.   …And, what has been the damage of Marxism as opposed to the current state of affairs, and the vampiristic, insatiable appetites of morphing capitalism?”

My article was about values and their Source.  Every social /economic model has its best and worst exemplars.  Communism, at its best, was a drawing room theory adopted by gentle idealists who supported the arts, the wars and wouldn’t hurt a fly; at its worst, Communism was used to create a brutal authoritarian system in which millions were murdered and a productive country was impoverished and enslaved.   At its best, Capitalism honors the human dignity of one’s trading partner and encourages creative innovation; at its worst Capitalism has been a cover story for organized crime,  and the crony capitalism of corrupt elites (really, organized crime by another name) who play ball with liberal and conservative politicians alike.

How many times have you heard an intelligent person assert that “there is no such thing as morality,” or “we determine our own morality” or “life is an accidental event” or “there is no purpose to any of this, just human will”?  These and a thousand other similar sentiments have their roots in philosophical materialism which is arch-materialism dressed up in skepticism.  My article was a fraction of the larger critique that includes Nazism and Islam.  That larger discussion was just touched on with this passage from my first piece –

“Human nature so abhors a moral vacuum that something, no matter how repugnant, will always fill it. Without the firewall of faith-anchored morality, invented “scientific” doctrines swiftly gave rise to virulent mass movements.  Among them, Nazi race theory and Marxist human-nature transformation theory filled the moral vacuum with toxic ideologies.  These were faux scientific ideologies, deeply irrational to the core.  Marxism and Nazism acquired the patina of moral authority by default – the great acid flux of doubt had disabled or crippled everything else that we believed in.”

Marxism was the God(less) Father of all the later forms of modern, “scientific” social reform experiments, from Nazism, Fabian Socialism to the Third World “revolutionary” regimes of Cuba and Venezuela, all of them authoritarian nightmares writ large and small.

Until materialism (in the technical sense I’ve been using the term) took over the political arguments in the public square, the social reform proposals of the day were argued in the context of  well-established moral traditions.  Slavery, for example, was vanquished because of the moral confidence of the abolitionists who relied on a moral tradition, not by throwing over traditional morality itself as was the case of Marxism.

Materialism was the ammunition of “weaponized doubt” (for more on this, see my essay posted at http://jaygaskill.com/WeaponizedDoubt.htm ). This was my term for the acidic skepticism that took down traditional institutions, both bad (royalism) and good (churches), until the playing field was open for truly revolutionary ideas, unconstrained by moral scruples.

Arch-materialism empowered “chemistry” to supersede morality (chemistry is a stand-in for arch-materialism). Dostoevsky said it first. In The Brothers Karamazov, his character, Mitya Karamazov, is in jail talking with his brother. Mitya says that he is “…sorry for God” because, ‘Your Reverence, you must move over a little, chemistry is coming!’” …and he adds, “How…is man to fare after that? Without God and a life to come? After all, that would mean that now all things are lawful, that one may do anything that one likes.”

In that 1880 novel, Dostoevsky nailed the central problem of the modern and postmodern age: the notion that science has displaced God, deep tradition and universal humanism, shunting aside our most trusted sources of moral wisdom.  In this “modern” view, moral truth (if it exists at all) is best explained by anthropology…even chemistry. When Dostoevsky wrote the Brothers, a malignant alternative to traditional morality was gestating right down the street. It was God-hating, bloodthirsty Marxism, the ideology that would destroy Russia and bring the planet to the edge of nuclear winter.  Dostoevsky was a prophet. [6]

Arch-materialism granted permission for “science” to do anything without reference to the overarching moral order.  Arch-materialism necessarily supersedes morality, because without the non-material realm, morality does not exist except in our heads.

With that background, let me return to that much maligned system we now call capitalism, by posing a question. Which would you rather have: a world without Marxism or a world without capitalism? The Chinese will not abandon capitalism because they refuse to starve.  They will try control it (because they fear= it is an agent of regime change) and distort it (into a nationalized, semi-antonymous progress-engine) as long as possible. Russia is basically in the same place.

Karl Marx is credited with naming capitalism (in Das Kapital). More than any other intellectual, Marx cleverly moved the focus away from free individuals engaging in commercial trade to the few, well connected players of the late 1900’s and early 20th century who were tightly allied with powerful politicians and were not above using political power to gain market control.  Many of these “capitalists” were given monopolies by the Crown or government.  This form of “capitalism” is called mercantilism, and it has more in common with China’s state-owned businesses than the realm of free markets and usually bankers. Pure capitalism, in the Milton Friedman sense, requires a political and economic system that abhors force and fraud, and effectively supports honesty in our dealings with each other.  That is why it is still comparatively rare.

Capitalism’s historical excesses are real.  They are the result of human nature.  We are flawed creatures with a predisposition to blatant greed, gross dishonesty, and we are all too eager to succumb to power lures.  The communists were no different.  All social systems must contend with these human tendencies, including the systems modeled on Marxist ideology.  But the authoritarian abuses of Marxism are inherent in its very conception and structure. Marxism is a model of economic governance that is founded on the morally unconstrained, “scientific” remaking of human society (and even human nature). Communism rested on the faux-scientific premise that fixing the very structure of private ownership (eventually abolishing it) will correct all the abuses in society.  Such a conception cannot by its very nature avoid authoritarian abuses so severe that they that should chill the hearts of liberals and conservatives alike.

German National Socialism arose as the dark mirror image of its enemy, Russian Communism. Nazism was founded on an equally loony faux-science, the pernicious notion of a state-run eugenics program aimed at racial superiority – this in contrast with Marx’s scientific social engineering aimed at enforced equality. The socialist project in all its forms (whether Fascist, communist or communist-Lite) is the bastard child of Marxist materialism.

Our culture, indeed the whole modern Western social order, are deeply infected with arch-materialism and its spawn.  Mr. Romney’s 47% gaffe was an echo of Marx’s economic determinist materialism.  And the campaign’s laser-like focus on economic, i.e., narrowly material issues instead of values, was a concession to Karl Marx’s materialism.

Look around you. We are expected by our dominant handlers to seek material things and the attendant status they seem to confer above all other considerations.  Values? Especially moral values rooted in religious and other traditions? Not so much.

The 2008-9 American mortgage debt collapse was sold by our elite opinion makers as mostly a financial malfunction, brought about by well-meaning people caught up in an imprudent bidding bubble.  As if getting something for nothing and getting rich quick without productive effort, as if tricking your fellow investors and nationalizing a Ponzi scheme were not symptoms of a profound moral failure!

The mortgage/banking crisis of 2008-9 was a truly massive moral failure with catastrophic financial consequences for the innocent and guilty alike.  Our elite-run financial system was embarrassed and almost brought down by endemic dishonesty, self-deception and endemic breaches of trust. Many of the same elites have proposed fixing this mess by deflating the value of our obligations (which amounts to theft by stealth in my moral universe), and by treating miscreants and victims alike (the very definition of injustice).

If we fully implement their proposals, another damaging moral failure is certain to follow.  The collapse of materialism and the resurgence of moral values are just in the early stages.  That is why I described this as dawn. When it takes place, our recovery will not be more than another bubble, unless it has a necessary moral component.  When dawn comes, it’s time to get up. We have a lot of work to do.


Jay B Gaskill

Attorney at Law


Barrow, John D. and Tipler, Frank J.

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle

1988 (1st Ed 1986) Oxford U. ress ISBN 0-19-282147-4 (paperback)

Bohm, David

Wholeness And The Implicate Order

1980 Routledge ISBN 0-7448-0000-5

Buber, Martin

The Eclipse of God

1952 Harper and Brothers

Davies, Paul

About Time

1995 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-79964-9

The Cosmic Blueprint

1988 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-60233-0

The Mind of God

1992 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-68787-5

Denton, Michael J.

Nature’s Destiny

1998 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-684-84509-1

Einstein, Albert

Out Of My Later Years

1950 Philosophical Library

Kant, Immanuel

Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals

1964 Harper & Row (1st H & R Ed 1948, German Ed. @1788)

Monod, Jasques

Chance and Necessity

1971 Alfred Knopf  ISBN 0-394-4661-5-2

Penrose, Roger

The Emperor’s New Mind

1989 Oxford U. Press ISBN0-19-851973-7

The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind (Editor & contributor)

1997 Cambridge U. Press ISBN 0-521-56330-5

Shadows of the Mind

1994 Oxford U. Press ISBN 0-19-853978-9

Plantiga, Alvin C.

God, Freedom, and Evil

1994-1996 W.B. Eerdmans ISBN 0-8028-1731-9

Polkinghorne, John

Belief in God in an Age of Science

1998 Yale U. Press ISBN 0-300-07294-5

Beyond Science, the Wider Human Context

1996 Cambridge ISBN 0-521-62508-4 (paperback)

The Faith of a Physicist

1996 First Fortress Press ISBN 0-8006-2970-1

Reason and Reality, the Relationship Between Science and Theology

1991 Trinity Press ISBN 1-56338-019-6

Serious Talk, Science and Religion in Dialogue

1995 Trinity Press ISBN 1-56338-109-5 (paperback)

Prigogine, Ilya

The End of Certainty, Time Chaos and the New Laws of Nature

1996 Simon and Schuster ISBN 0-684-83705-6

Searle, John

Mind, Brains and Science

1984 Harvard U. Press ISBN 0-674-57631-4 (cloth)

Schweitzer, Albert

The Philosophy of Civilization

1960 Macmillan Paperbacks

Vermes, Pamela

Buber on God and the Perfect Man

1994 Littman Library of Jewish Civilization ISBN 1-874774-22-6

[1] Adams whimsically described the series as a “trilogy in five parts.”

[2] Deep Thought was a computer that was created by the pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent race of beings that appear in our universe as mice. As to the answer 42, Adams (through a character) said, “I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question was.”

[3] Stay in touch with this concept.  Emergence represents the seemingly spontaneous appearance of order in otherwise less ordered systems.  Think of bird flocking behavior and the seeming self-assembly of the constituent molecules essential for living organisms. The phenomenon is well studied, but less comprehensively applied than it can be.  For example, conscious awareness can be understood as an emergent state of higher order in a neural system.  Creative leaps, whether in evolution or thought are examples of emergence.  Of course, much more remains to be said on the topic.

[4] In effect, the entire non-physical realm (thinking of the realm Plato’s forms as a stripped-down precursor) and the realm of physical processes can be understood as phases of the same encompassing reality (i.e., the share the same ontological status, much as matter and energy of solid and gas represent phase states of the same “stuff”.  This is very condensed version of a longer discussion by the author.

[5] Heuristic systems are capable of learning from experience.  Similarly, the necessary faith-exercises  that enable us to rationally deal with the unseen, including the inferential and the partially known, allow us to detect important aspects of reality that arch-materialism conditions us to ignore. For example human trust always requires an exercise of faith. In this sense, arch-materialism is anti-heuristic; it even rejects the faith of scientists that the universe will be intelligible to human reason. The scientist/theologian John Polkinghorne (below) is excellent on this question.

[6] …And so was the poet Matthew Arnold, when he wrote, “The Sea of Faith/Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore/ Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled/ But now I only hear/ Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,/Retreating, to the breath/Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear/And naked shingles of the world.” From Dover Beach (1867). …And so was William butler Yeats: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer/ Things fall apart. the centre cannot hold/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” The Second Coming (1919-20)

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By Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

It was no accident that Marxism was erected on the edifice of economic, historical and social materialism.  And it was no accident that Marxism in all its forms has bulldozed the value of individual human dignity, the last bulwark against the dehumanization of humanity.


The arch-materialist position is running on empty. The persuasive force of that view – that life, the universe and everything is all just stuff, in effect that you, me, and all our hopes and thoughts are nothing but matter and energy – has been groaning under the weight of the information age and the cumulative abuses of the materialists whenever they have achieved political power.

This five page essay (with a bibliography) is posted in full on The Policy Think Site as a free PDF download only.


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Commonsense Wisdom for 2013

Thanks to my LDS friends for this Gem from their spiritual leader – GBH

“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to just be people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey…delays…sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling burst of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

― Gordon B. Hinckley

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How We Always Lose It Before We Find It


Jay B Gaskill

Our moral compass is an irreplaceable gift.  It is our species’ survival advantage in a hostile universe. It is a personal life raft in a toxic culture. Morality is not an arbitrary construct, but an immensely valuable discovery, on a par with that of fire, farming & writing. Applying moral intelligence in the real world is the very essence of moral agency. Moral character is the capacity to do the difficult, right thing especially when faced with consequential choices.  To act in accord with one’s moral compass is very difficult when the very moral ground seems to have fallen away. In a culture characterized by fashionable ambivalence, moral character is more than a virtue; it is a beacon of hope.

I am reminded of a cautionary observation by Albert Speer. He was Hitler’s architect and Reichminister of Defense.  Albert Speer was, by all accounts, a civilized man – before the war.  During the Nuremburg war crimes trials, Speer’s life was spared in favor of life in Spandau Prison.  After some reflection time behind bars, he was able to confess that:

“Basically, I exploited the phenomenon of the technician’s often blind devotion to his task. Because of what seems to be the moral neutrality of technology, these people were without scruples about their activities.” (Albert Speer – “Inside The Third Reich”)

For Speer’s technicians we can substitute scientists, engineers, researchers, artists and even physicians. From 1943 to 1944 the infamous Doctor Joseph Mengele performed human experiments on imprisoned twins at Auschwitz. The twins were injected with dyes into their eyes in attempts to change eye color; some were even sewn together to make conjoined twins. Of about three thousand individual twins, only 100 survived. During the War, at Ravensbruck concentration camp, bones, muscles, and nerves were removed from the subjects without pain management or anesthetics.

I could go on with this dreary and sickening catalogue, but you get the idea. There are so many paths down to the abyss, and Nazi eugenics was just one of them. The “greatest good for the greatest number” left out a wise understanding of the “good”, and left room for the Nazis, the Marxists and others to treat those outside “the greatest number” as disposable things. Utilitarian ethics is a dead end.  The abyss has welcomed civilized people into the darkness before and – unless we recover the capacity for moral intelligence, and the necessary motivation and courage to become moral agents – we will succumb to the abyss again, falling even lower than before.


Once again we have lost our way.  This is hardly a novel development in our story; getting lost is part of the human condition.  Our very modernity was not a sufficient bulwark against our own failings.  Is this really surprising?

What is the greatest benefit for those of us who are fortunate enough live in the modern enclaves of Western civilization? Most of us would answer, “Safe, sophisticated comfort”.  And what, we might ask ourselves, holds the greatest peril for us? It is the same answer…safe, sophisticated comfort.

We have so far survived in a turbulent world because of the strong will to live that was instilled into us, and because of the gift of several fruitful biological “technologies” (using that term very broadly), among them: the entire cluster of cognitive faculties and thinking aids we call “reason”, logic, creative imagination, empathy and foresight among them; then the social technologies of  cooperation (including language, of course, but much more than that); and our moral compass without which social cooperation and civilization itself withers and dies.

We are the result of creative processes; we are surrounded by them; and our minds run them.  The creative processes in our minds replicate and recapitulate the creative processes of natural evolution, but at a vastly accelerated rate.  Natural selection has stumbled along over eons, sacrificing entire species (like the obsolete triceratops), but the creative processes of human intelligence move at lightning speed, sacrificing only hypotheses and creative dead-ends.  Creative human intelligence has achieved major innovations over mere days, weeks and years.  While nature took hundreds of millions of years of animal evolution to develop insect and bird flight, we humans developed aircraft and spacecraft in a few centuries[i]. This does not take us outside nature. We are nature, awakened to intelligent self-direction.

So we tend to harbor “king of the universe” conceits, the hubris of a young technological species. We and only we did that, made that or invented that. When we discovered fire…or the wheel…or…the refrigeration principle…or electricity…or atomic power, we naively assumed that these were human inventions.  Yet we still don’t know whether we were the first thinking creatures to arrive and awake in this universe, nor whether even the most improbable and wonderful developments along our path were not prefigured in some way.  But these discovery paths were not accidental or arbitrary. For example, the design features of the human, bird and mammal eyes represent applied versions of a single engineering solution, much as the slipstream form of the fish or the function of the wing have appeared in “nature” before the fundamental idea ever occurred to humankind. Because of the consistency of natural physical laws, engineering solutions are discovered in much the same way that geometrical solutions are discovered.

Why, then do we assume that morality is “made up” (as some insist) as opposed to discovered? Our most important social technology is civilization, a system of exchange and regulation among individuals and groups that has greatly enhanced the prospects of human survival by facilitating institutional memory (a sense of history), sophisticated task specialization and the peaceful exchange of goods and services. But all civilizations do not serve us equally well. The ones held together by a common moral framework do better.  In this sense, the moral compass can be understood as survival-enhancing technology.

The natural evolution of living organisms is governed by a single direction, survival, felt consciously as life-affirmation, or as Schweitzer put it, the universal will-to-live[ii] (the seed of human morality). The processes of human social and cultural evolution needed a more complex guidance system, equally life affirming, but more sophisticated: It is the moral directional axis formed in the mix of moral intelligence and experience, saved to our wisdom data base and available to everyone as the “app” we call the moral compass. If we are to avoid falling into the next abyss, we need to keep two ideas firmly in the foreground of our thoughts at all times:

→ The objective reality of the universal moral compass;

→ The strict necessity of personal moral engagement.

Moral engagement is work.  We are hard-wired to resist unnecessary work in order to conserve energy. It is all too easy to avoid engagement, by denying the insights and directions signaled by our internal moral compass.  But moral engagement is the price of survival.

Moral engagement seems like an onerous duty, in part, because it forces us to make either-or choices. The decision-challenged among us can get trapped in the illusion of passive escape, the notion that delay will make the problem go away.  In practice, delay is almost always a choice on the very merits of the dilemma that the decision-challenged among us sought to avoid.  Except at the threshold choice, to be or not to be, there are always more than two choices in the real world.  Each threshold choice (other than suicide) opens up many more choices. This is not an argument for indecision, but instead should tell us that a binary choice usually means rejecting the bad alternative in favor of the one or category of choices that keep other choices open. [You may recognize this as the argument against suicide.]

Many of our biggest mistakes, especially where technological tasks are concerned, can be traced to a failure to consider all of the later options that are hiding behind that first, deceptively simple binary choice. At the beginning of any project, such later implications are very easy to ignore – remember how Reichminister Speer exploited the amoral enthusiasm of the technicians, engineers and scientists working for the Reich.

Even the simplest, no-brainer choices involve work.  An example relating to technology and ethics will demonstrate what I’m talking about. The threshold decision to protect intellectual property is classic binary choice with real, long term consequences.

A society can choose not to protect intellectual property, or (amounting to the same thing) to declare that the work product of all creative types all belongs to the state.  Secrecy will inevitably result and creative energy will be suffocated.  For me, the contrary decision, to protect intellectual property is the obviously superior policy option.

Suppose that a society does undertake to protect intellectual property in order to encourage creative innovation. America was foremost among 18th century countries to protect intellectual property; and that choice ignited a vital creative engine of progress.  But a whole series of hard policy choices and problems have followed that threshold choice as well.

Every decision, even the seemingly easy ones, confers the duty of continuing attention and engagement.  Once we decided to protect creative intellectual property, other choices surfaced – about the kind of property that can be protected (a song, a novel, trademark, an algorithm, an app, a weapon, a cure, even a human DNA strand), and the length and strength of protection.

A caution looms over all of this: Keeping Speer’s example in mind: Intellectual property rights alone do little to guarantee that the creative spirits among us are not being exploited for dark purposes. Most political power brokers understand that creative communities can be dangerous to them, so they tend to keep these types close, like tamed pets.  The Nazi Peenemunde scientists and the captive Soviet communist composers come immediately to mind.  There are softer, but very effective means of taming the creative ones into tools of the dominant political players – using purse-string controls, ideological group-think and the threat of ostracism.  State subsidization is control and the means of creative suffocation. Protections for individual creative property do not alone guarantee the health of free creative communities.

Merely granting legal protections for intellectual property will never prevent some creative communities from wandering into the abyss on their own. Consider the cynical, amoral creative culture that characterized the pre-Nazi Weimar Republic, a classic example of a creative community poisoned by cynicism and national defeat – a cautionary tale.

The Weimar Republic was viable from 1919 ‘till 1933, ending with Hitler’s ascent to power.  Born during the crippling reparations following Germany’s crushing defeat in WW I, under pressure from left and right, the Weimar Republic experienced a burst of cultural energy characterized by a mood of bleakness and failure (often described as “modernism”) in the literature of geniuses like Brecht and Mann and the atonal music of Berg and Schoenberg, and in the political theories of the so called Critical Theorists.  The critical realist intellectuals belonged to the Marxist Frankfort School.  One prominent thread in the Weimar cultural mix was a Marxist-inspired attack on traditional beauty. The beauty “worship” of romanticism was portrayed as part of the ideology of capitalism (much as religion was denounced as the “opiate of the people”).  One sympathetic writer described the role of “modern” music as a “message of despair”.  The Weimar cultural period, whatever its incidental value to world culture, contained a dominant anti-life ethos that ultimately crippled the very creative process itself, marking the beginning of popular alienation from the “elite arts.” This illustrates the danger of severing the link between the life-affirming moral compass and our creative enterprises.

The failure by the creative community of Weimar to honor moral boundaries and to value life-affirmation undermined the commitment to creative freedom, breeding moral denial and passivity, and opening a pathway to a new authoritarian regime.  This was an early example of a catastrophic loss of confidence in the value of liberal civilization, and the consequences that inevitably follow. Weimar’s moral ambivalence provided an opening for the Hitlerian nightmare. That same loss of confidence is rampant among postmodern Western intellectuals.

This is not a simple situation; nor is there a quick, simple fix.  Both ethical and practical considerations interpenetrate. The choices we thought we made are always up for reconsideration.  Which is another way of saying that life is messy. We need robust creative capabilities and communities to survive and thrive, and they need the life-affirming guidance of a moral compass that supports creativity and individual human dignity.

We live in a real world that resembles episodes from Star Trek: The cultural and technological distance between developed Western countries and other, essentially medieval societies, is about the same as that between the men and women aboard the Starship enterprise and some of the fictional native populations on the planets they visited. Enterprise crew members were under strict orders not to hand out phasers to the natives, let alone any of the heavy duty planet busters.  Unlike those Star Trek crew members, when we screw up, we can’t just call the bridge and say “Beam me up Scotty!”  We comfortable high tech societies are like space aliens stranded on a primitive planet. We can’t leave.

Make no mistake. There are some very, very bad choices where our technological advances are concerned.  These examples come to mind:

  • We have allowed the technologies of mass destruction, like nuclear bombs, to fall under the control of pre-modern minds living in bloody- minded cultures. Letting mobs of these types run around with more “primitive” weapons, like machine guns and RPG’s, was a mistake.  Letting them have WMD’s is in another category entirely – insanity. When our WMD’s technologies fall into the wrong hands, we may not live with the consequences.
  • Western scientists have already allowed organ transplant technologies to spread to brutal regimes. People are being sold for parts in China and in many other places in the world. The “greatest good for the greatest number” left room for those with power to treat those outside “the greatest number” as disposable things.  Utilitarian ethics is now a rationale for evil.
  • Scientists are currently experimenting with new techniques employing pharmacological agents and neurological interventions to alter the core human personality. No one in high-tech’s management circles has apparently read or heeded the warnings in Brave New World [iii]. Scarcely a thought is being given to the looming moral questions: Given how handy those technologies are going to be for authoritarian regimes, there are no safeguards? Is this research line even worth the risks?

As a general rule, the heuristic (learn as you go) feedback models work quite well for us – we try something; we incorporate the experience; sometimes we reassess.  Some of us have learned to exercise caution and always reassess because unintended consequences are inevitable…but not all of us are so prudent  Sometimes it is too late to reassess. Bright line rules are necessary.

We need to practice eternal vigilance because we dare not ever assume that a choice we thought was a good one five years ago can be taken for granted as a good choice today.  We need an ongoing review process well-grounded in ethics.

And that is the rub.  We are living in an ethically confused era.  Putting it another way, our technological communities are morally illiterate because, increasingly, our culture is morally illiterate. Ask yourselves, Can you readily identify where any formal course in ethics and morally informed thinking is required at any level from K-12 through a BA or BS degree? Modern law students are being taught legal ethics (really, professional rules of narrow scope, not core ethics as the term is used here) and for most of them, this will be the first ethics course they will have taken of any kind.

Finding the path we have lost starts with renewing some commitments (or making them for the first time). Here are my top six:


  • We keep alive our creative options as a person, as a community and as a species because we understand the dual role of creativity and morality to our survival.
  • We preserve our essential humanity. Therefore, we use machines in the service of humanity; and we never use humans in the service of machines.
  • We never cede our control, our humanity or our human dignity, or that of others, to machines, or algorithms, or tyrants.
  • The protection of human dignity is among our very deepest commitments, as essential to our working moral compass as the injunctions – “Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t assault and don’t murder your fellow human beings.”
  • We hold the image of a small child foremost in our minds and we ask – What kind of a world are we making for her?
  • If we don’t like the answer to the last question, we work to bring about a better one.

If you are reading this and it makes sense, then your parents and mentors did something right.  Never forget our mentors; never forget our childhoods…and never forget that we are now the adults in charge. We are all teachers and mentors, whether for the good by example…or for the bad by default.



BUBER –I and Thou by Martin Buber, (1923, 1937, 2010)

KASS –Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity, The Challenge of Bioethics by Leon R. Kass, M. D. (Encounter Books 2002. London & New York)

JOY –Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us, by Bill Joy. (WIRED Magazine April 4, 2000) http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html

LEWIS –The Abolition of Man, by C. S. Lewis (Touchstone 1944, 1947 / 1972, 1975)

“For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.”

[i] To get a sense of the dramatic speed differences between human, cognitive-driven innovation and that of natural selection in nature, note the four century interval between Da Vinci’s 1485 drawings of a flying device and the Wright Brothers powered flight demonstration in 1903. Now note that roughly 50 million years passed while natural selection worked to endow insects with wings and flight technology – from about 400 until 350 million years ago.

[ii] See Albert Schweitzer’s The Philosophy of Civilization (1960 Macmillan).

[iii] Aldus Huxley’s iconic 1931 novel about a dystopia we might yet create is worth another look.


The problems and issues I’ve addressed here are sufficiently serious that we urgently need to unite all of us who understand the reality and significance of the moral compass, first in our dialogue, then in common purpose.  Our survival depends on it. Whether we see these issues through a spiritual/religious lens, a secular/atheist lens, or any other lens, we are on the same page provided we are clear enough about the scope and nature of the problem and the depth and character of the solution.

It is reasonable to talk about the moral dimension of our experience without referencing religion, but it is not reasonable to talk about religion without referencing the moral dimension of our experience.  So I have been careful to construct these insights and observations in a way that invites both the religious and the non-religious minds among our ranks to join in the task before us.  In this discussion, the special gift of the non-religious is their outsider’s honesty of observation – the emperor’s new clothes view – about some religious moral pretensions.  The special gift of the religious is exactly the same, their outsider’s honesty of observation – the emperor’s new clothes view – about some secular moral pretensions.

I would be remiss if I failed to disclose my own bias that, whether described as a benign unifying principle, or as a loving creator, it is impossible for me to think of the moral compass as anything less than a gift of profound value by a giver who actually cares about our survival.  There is one ultimate moral question of all time.  It is outside the scope of this short article. It rests at the very center of what I will call the unity-traditions within the world’s great religions.  It is this: Why care about the generations of people who will come after us?  The inability of purely utilitarian, purely secular, and strongly anti-spiritual world-views to provide a satisfying answer to this question is a tell. Our children can smell moral ambivalence and spiritual bankruptcy like a dog can smell fear.

Jay B Gaskill

December, 2012

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