Validity

Rory Miller's Blog - Mon, 2014-09-08 13:36
Trying to answer an e-mail and it needs a little thinking out loud.
It wasn't a big thing, there was a single sentence about validity, but the concept of validity in self-defense instruction is a big one. Rocky.

I've seen a lot of things work and a lot of things fail. And thought -- a lot-- about why things succeed or fail. And those whys became my personal list of principles, and those principles became the framework for my teaching. And that was tested in the field. A lot. And... does that make what I do valid?

What does valid even mean?

Here's the deal. A few people have seen the elephant. But on one, no one, has seen the whole elephant. Soldier experience isn't cop experience. Cop experience isn't corrections experience. Corrections experience isn't bouncer experience. Bouncer experience isn't secure mental health custodial experience. And none of that is direct experience with domestic violence. None of that, hopefully, is experience with being targeted as a victim.

As a man, when I teach SD to women, there is an entire part of the equation (what it's like to be a woman) that I can never understand. But, you know what? I also can't truly understand what it's like to be a bigger, stronger man than I am. Or what it's like to have 30 years of kempo experience instead of jujutsu. I know enough about violent criminals to predict their behavior and pick apart their rationalizations in an interrogation, but I've never been one.

All any of us has is a piece of this. There are no experts. So is there validity? Sort of.

Validity is a function of logic, of syllogism, specifically. (And I'm a little out of my depth in the nuances of philosophy 101, but bear with me a bit). If A is B and B is C then A is C. If there are no holes in the logic chain, then it is valid. A is C. Is it true? Seriously, do you even have to ask? If A was C, then cat would be cct. All of the pieces have to be true for validity to resemble truth. As well as all of the assumptions, like what 'is' means.

In self-defense, one of the dangers is that people confuse validity for truth, and they often teach that things that should work do work, or that things that worked on sober, eager students in a class will work on drugged and enraged people in other places. People frequently rate logic or received wisdom over experience.

"As we all know, self-defense is exactly like math. If you do the same thing, you will get the same effect every time."-- A self-defense instructor who will remain nameless. Not a single person with any experience whatsoever and a marginally functioning brain believes this. Not one. Probabilities go up with higher levels of force, e.g. I have never heard of a .50 to the head failing...but a .45 to the head has.

This validity, this search for truth is, in my opinion, a side effect of the subject matter. We recognize that if we or our students are ever called on to use these skills it will be for high stakes. Any failures will be catastrophic. The combination of high stakes and limited experience (remember that three hundred encounters is probably less than five hours of experience) drives people to seek certainty elsewhere: Received wisdom from a 'master.' Thought experiments. Dojo experiments. Chains of logic where every step is a guess or an assumption.

You would be so much stronger as a fighter or a teacher if you could just get over the need to be sure. There is no right. As Tia said recently, there's just solutions with less suck than other solutions. That lets the goal change from being right to being better. The problem with thinking you're right is that you can't improve on 'right.' Accepting that there are no perfect answers, that tiny touch of humility, gives you the superpower of continuous improvement. You can never be perfect. You can never be right. Feeling sure is a dead giveaway that you don't actually know. But you can be better. Every day.

And validity is a slightly separate issue from validation, but that's a post for another day.

PICK UP THE PIECES

Ron Goin's Blog - Thu, 2014-08-28 20:37
PICK UP THE PIECESTHINGS I'VE PICKED UP ALONG THE WAY
"I have only one purpose: to make man free, to urge him towards freedom, to help him to break away from all limitations, for that alone will give him eternal happiness, will give him the unconditioned realization of the self."
J. Krishnamurti, "Truth is a Pathless Land


I've shared an amazing, mind-opening parable by Jiddu Krishnamurti before, but I think it bears repeating.  If you recall, Krishnamurti was very influential in the 60s and 70s, and the late Bruce Lee looked to Krishnamurti's writings for inspiration.  JKD has many points in comparison to Krishnamurti's teachings, most of which are about freedom and individuality.


“You may remember the story of how the devil and a friend of his were walking down the street, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, “What did that man pick up?” “He picked up a piece of Truth,” said the devil. “That is a very bad business for you, then,” said his friend. “Oh, not at all,” the devil replied, “I am going to let him organize it."


In my five decades of martial arts and combatives training I have picked up pieces of the truth here and there.  For a very brief period I considered organizing these pieces, putting them together in a systematic way, carefully arranging them into a tidy, neat package.  Fortunately, I too read Krishnamurti, and I began to see things differently.


"Truth," Krishnamurti went on to say, "being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief."

So what I ended up with in my own walk was a disorderly collection of common-sense, no frills skills, skill-sets, training methodologies, concepts and principles.  They are not in any particular order, but they seem to flow naturally from one to another and back again.   

I still get contacted from time to time from people who would like to see this information laid out in a sequential, step-by-step, systematic manner.  And it is tempting at times to consider it, but I'm afraid I'd just turn out like the devil's friend in Krishnamurti's wise tale, forever trying to organize the collection, labeling the various parts, arranging them, trying to piece together the jigsaw puzzle that cannot be solved.  

So along the way I ended up with some oddball nuggets, some slivers and segments, some untidy tidbits of truth concerning self-preservation and coming face to face with aggression.  

In this, my final blog article, I wanted to share some of these random truths.

1.  Fighting is primal.   


"So it was in him, then," wrote Zane Grey, "an inherited fighting instinct, a driving intensity to kill."  

Fighting, like other actions promoting survival, is in our genes and part of our instinctive drive.  According to Konrad Lorenz in his bestselling book "On Aggression," Julian Huxley "compared the human being to a ship commanded by many captains.  All these commanders are on the bridge at the same time and each voices his opinion.  In doing so they sometimes reach a wise compromise which provides a better solution to their problems than the single opinion of the cleverest among them; but sometimes they cannot agree and then the ship is without any rational leadership."  

I contend that in the face of danger this counsel of commanders drops the compromise and listens to the single voice of survival.  But while the primal urge to survive is there, we must intentionally gain knowledge and experience and skill to make survival possible, to make sure the odds are in our favor when the time comes to roll the dice.  

If in our training we learn to follow what I call the A-B-C principle, Action Before Cognition, and respond instinctively, forcefully, and immediately to a threat, free from the paralysis of analysis, we become reacquainted with and reinforce this natural self-preservation instinct.

2.  Some people are natural fighters, (but most are not). 

Just listen to this description of Civil War soldier, Champ Ferguson:  "He was a man of strong sense, and of the intense will and energy, which, in men of his stamp and mode of life, have such a tendency to develop into ferocity, when they are in the least injured or opposed.  It is probable that, at the close of the war, he did not himself know how many men he had killed."  

In the martial arts world these types of people simply love to fight.  They seem to have no fear, will take on bigger and tougher opponents with glee, and must be taught to rein in their combative instinct less fellow students become injured.  

Most of us, however, do not have this so-called killer instinct so close to the surface.  It lies deep within, like a dormant volcano.  

Most of us must be trained to unleash this beast.

3.  Fancy, flashy, exotic looking movements are a waste of precious energy and much too risky to attempt in the heat of battle.  


One simply cannot imagine an ancient ancestor, out hunting a giant mammoth to feed his tribe, who stops and twirls his spear in an elaborate manner before plunging it into the beast's neck.  Or practicing cartwheels before letting loose an arrow in mortal combat with a hostile enemy.  

Just yesterday, as I drove past a strip-mall martial arts academy, I saw the windows decorated with images of people performing high flying kicks.  I went in and watched a martial arts demonstration featuring people jumping and kicking and leaping through the air.  I saw unrealistic Hollywood-movie defenses against guns and knives and clubs.  There were people breaking flaming bricks, performing techniques en masse in unison and precision, yelling menacingly, and executing deep, elaborate stances that were designed to replicate the movements of fierce animals.  


This is art, plain and simple.

Martial ART is to combat what a mime's performance is to reality.  

Watch a mime 'ice skate' or 'eat an apple' or 'walk against the wind.'  If he's really good you can almost come to believe that what he's doing is real.  But it's an exaggerated expression or depiction of the essence of reality.  Superb form, of course, and extremely difficult to perform.  But it's not reality.  

We do not study the mime's movements in order to improve our own.  We do not find truth in a mime's performance, we simply see an artful representation of tiny segment of life.

4.  Use whatever works.

Aside from the rare, gifted athlete who can perform seemingly impossible moves, most of us should just stick to time-tested, battle-proven, no-nonsense, common-sense, practical, effective and efficient skills.  

They are not nearly as exciting or crowd pleasing, but the truth of the matter is we are not performing to please the crowd.  We are not preparing to face a master, we are training to fight monsters.

We should be pragmatic, using skills from whatever source we can find, regardless of style and devoid of aesthetics merely for the sake of aesthetics.

5.  Fortunately most of us will never come face to face with the horrors of war, the terror of a vicious attack.  But, just in case... 


Peace and comfort is probably something we've grown used to, something we've come to expect.  But this is not true for many people around the world who live in war-torn countries, harsh conditions, and who must deal with random and daily occurrences of violence.  

Our ancestors, still very much in the food chain, faced the threat of predation daily.  The comedian Louis CK wonders what it would be like for commuters today if cheetahs were always hanging around at the train station.  

The truth is most of us will succumb to heart disease or some other ailment, so kill-or-be-killed training is simply (pardon the pun) overkill for our daily lives.  

This is probably why most people who practice martial arts emphasize the ART over the MARTIAL.  FORM over FUNCTION.  ENTERTAINMENT over EFFECTIVENESS.  RITUAL over REALITY.  This is probably why kata is still so popular.  It is something to obsess over--the precision, the minutiae, the tedious and trivial pursuit of stuff that doesn't really matter.  

6.  Real violence is nasty and brutish.  


It is ugly and reprehensible.  It is chaotic and unpredictable.  It happens fast, and it's usually over quickly.  It is not something to glory in or desire.  It is not pleasant or poetic.  

It's been interesting writing articles, researching history, philosophy, cognitive psychology and physics.  It's been a joy playfully poking fun at the martial arts world.  Now, it's time for me to put up my rock and roll shoes and read some fiction for a change.





Karate Uke, Blocks, and other Applications

John Titchen's Blog - Mon, 2014-08-25 11:27

What do we mean by block?

My old concise Oxford Dictionary offers 18 different meanings for ‘block’ as a noun and 6 for it as a verb, a number of which seem suited to the context in which the term is used in the martial arts:

  • an obstruction; anything preventing progress or normal working,
  • a blocking action,
  • put obstacles in the way of,
  • restrict the use of,
  • intercept with one’s body (American football).

It’s not a bad term, but one I suggest is still more limiting than the actual karate uke techniques themselves.

In a lot of martial arts that use Japanese language terminology when two people train together they may be referred to as Tori, the person that successfully ‘does’ the technique, and Uke, the person that receives the technique. For at least the last fourteen years I have used the word ‘receiver’ to translate the word ‘uke’ when it refers to a technique (such as Age Uke, Ude Uke, Uchi Uke) as I feel it allows for the broad range of things that the movements can be than the more commonly used term ‘block’.

When is an uke technique not an uke technique?

Most uke techniques are made up of a number of gross motor movements, often with some fine motor additions at the end. The opinion of what is and what isn’t an uke technique will vary from person to person. How much of the movement, and what part of the movement, has to be done before we can say “I used this uke technique”?

As an example, here are descriptions of two different uke techniques. I recognise that they will be taught differently from style to style and from association to association (and my version may well be viewed as heretical or incorrect by some), but I will describe them as I do them if I were doing Shotokan Karate kihon as Shotokan is one of the karate styles that I teach.

Right Arm Age Uke: the left arm extends palm open and down to the front at head height with the right hand fist closed palm up at the hip. The right hand (fist closed and palm facing upwards) moves diagonally across the body from right to left (outside to inside) to approximately shoulder height, supported by a partial turn of the right hip forward. The right arm then moves a small amount from the inside to the outside while continuing to push upwards, the forearm rotating so that the back of the hand now faces the head and the uppermost surface of the forearm is clear of the top of the head. The elbow of the right arm is lower than the fist and the angle of the forearm is diagonal rather than horizontal. This final movement is supported by a further turn of the right hip forward of the left. The hips turn fluidly throughout the movement and the movement of the right arm should be fluid throughout. As the right arm moves the left hand retracts sharply to the hip, closing to a fist and rotating to a palm up position. This can be done with supporting stepping motions.

Right Arm Ude Uke: the left arm extends palm open and down to the front at head height and the right arm is pulled back level with the head, its elbow at approximately shoulder height with the forearm at a vertical right angle to the upper arm and rotated so that the closed right fist faces away from the head. The right forearm then rotates so that the palm of the closed fist faces forwards and the right elbow drops down and forwards sweeping across the body from the outside towards the inside, supported by the right hip orientating forwards of the left. As the right arm reaches its end point (which would have been the centerline of the chest had the hips not turned) the forearm rotates so that the palm of the closed fist faces towards the practitioner. As the right arm moves the left hand retracts sharply to the hip, closing to a fist and rotating to a palm up position. This can be done with supporting stepping motions.

In basic training and in kata the prior extension of the ‘non blocking’ arm is common to the majority of uke techniques. As such if I just do that I would not describe myself as having done an uke technique, I see it as a setup movement, albeit a very important one in a lot of practical applications (as is its retraction). From a personal standpoint if I just do the diagonal upwards movement in one direction described in my version of Age Uke, whether the outside to inside part or the inside to outside reversal, I would not say “I have done Age Uke”, but if I did both I would describe it as an Age Uke. In similar vein although many years ago I was taught in Jiyu Kumite to move and rotate my arm a few inches from its kamae position from the outside to the inside and that movement was also ‘Ude Uke’, for me (and this is an opinion not a fact) it does not utilise enough of the movement to go by that name and I see it purely as a closed hand parry. As such I wouldn’t call an open or closed handed high outside to inside parry Gedan Barai, though if it is then followed by the arm sliding along and across the parried limb to strike the attacker with a hammerfist I would. If the same following outward movement went upwards rather than downwards then I would not be adverse to describing it as an Age Uke.

Flinching, parrying, swatting, patting, diverting and slipping and uke techniques

There are a number of different reactions we make to attacks. The tongue in cheek descriptor I use for the different umbrella aspects that govern the actions or reactions of the ‘defender’ is the FEAR of the defender: their focus, experience, attitude and reaction time – all measured or competing against the EASE of the attack (environment, attitude, speed and entry angle). In broad terms though what we do in response to an attack will depend upon whether or when we see it, how long we have to react to it and how much experience we have dealing with it along with what we’ve trained to do.

The fastest most natural proactive things we can do in response to an attack we have not pre-empted are simple gross motor actions. Patting or parrying from one side to the other, pushing up or swatting down, or slipping straight under. These are all natural movements that most people will do if they have enough time unless confused by being specifically told to do something else. Where training comes in is that a trained person will

  • spot the telegraphs of the attack sooner and begin to make appropriate movements,
  • have improved reaction time from regular exposure to the stimuli,
  • have superior supporting biomechanics to ensure a greater likelihood of success,
  • have a superior ability to follow (or convert) their swat/parry/push/pat/slip with an appropriate ‘shutting down’ movement or combination.

Depending on the style (and the student) there are often points in training (particularly in the first few years) where an untrained person will avoid being struck with greater success and ease than a trained person because they are carrying less mental baggage about what they should be doing in support of the movement and that is particularly true if a person is trying to utilise a ‘complete’ uke technique in the manner I described above (with Age Uke and Ude Uke as examples) against an unpredictable attack at speed.

While flinching is a natural movement (and can to a degree biomechanically overlap with some of the examples given above) it differs from them in that it is an unconscious reflexive response. We all flinch, but we do so unconsciously when we do not have time to access a conscious response to protect ourselves. How we flinch will depend on how far away the stimuli is when we spot it, how fast it is, where it is headed, and the position of our hands and arms at the time. If you spot a punch heading towards your face at the last minute and your hands are down by your waist, they may begin to come up as if to cover the head, and the spinal reflex will kick in turning you down and away, and the face will scrunch and the eyes shut, but you will still get hit. If your hands were already in front of your face then your arms would probably have covered the head and you wouldn’t have been hit. If there were more time the arms (or the nearest arm) would have extended to push the threat away. If there were more time than that then you would most likely have accessed a conscious response and your unconscious brain would not have taken over. We cannot modify the flinch. We can reduce its likelihood through training and learning to spot and act on telegraphs earlier. We can also (if we’re sensible) practice recovering from flinch-like positions so that if we do flinch we are immediately able to respond rather than fall victim to follow up attacks. I’ve previously discussed how I view flinching and its relation to karate kata, sparring and techniques here.

Karate uke and applications

Uke can be used and trained for a number of different purposes, some of which are more effective in different environments and under different degrees of pressure than others. So far as I’m concerned whether an application of an uke is right or wrong comes down to the Ronseal test: does it do what it says on the tin?

Stepping backwards with a full Age Uke and Ude Uke (as described above) against a prearranged long-range straight punching torso or chin attack at speed works. I can’t question that, I’ve seen it done hundreds of times and I’ve done it hundreds of times. I’ve not seen it work in other environments, and I’ve seen it fail in other environments, but that doesn’t matter if that’s not your training intention. If you can reliably apply it to do what you want it to do then it passes the Ronseal test for you.

Uke make up the majority of karate kata techniques. It is my opinion (and this isn’t a new view by any means, it has been common in the karate world for a very long time) that they were not designed to be used against karate (or other MA) attacks in the manner in which they are generally trained in a number of karate systems, though that does not detract from their ability in such to bestow a number of positive combative and fitness benefits in the process.

I view uke techniques as ‘receiver’ techniques, they receive the other person’s attack. This means that they deflect, they intercept, they strike (potentially pre-emptively), they unbalance, they manipulate, they trap and they can even control.

In his ten precepts Anko Itosu wrote of Karate as being designed to defend oneself against a ruffian rather than engaging in challenge matches. As such in my own training I have chosen to orientate my study and application of uke techniques towards habitual acts of violence (HAOV). The recreation of HAOV in training and in the simulation of force on force individual and multiple person realistic self defence scenarios is something for which I am probably better known internationally than my karate articles and books. I consider myself very fortunate to have had a number of highly experienced martial artists from a broad range of martial arts disciplines as well as LEOs, military and security personnel, watch or participate in the training that I have run in this regard and endorse it. The applications I teach for uke techniques stem from the observations of what happens (and what works) in this form of training in addition to over a decade of the study of violent crime and associated supporting disciplines. Photographs for clarity of explanation in books and articles will illustrate my applications in a very static form (because they are for people learning the drills), but they are designed to be trained in the manner I describe here with progressive resistance, speed and unpredictability. Ultimately I believe in their effectiveness for self defence and would like to see those who learn them try them in situations such as illustrated in my training in the following video.

I’ve previously discussed the case for elements of grappling in karate here  and I know that the conclusions I drew there are not unique. Karate is not purely a striking approach, nor is it purely a grappling approach, it is an approach that is orientated predominantly towards striking and striking is its preferred approach. To do this effectively against HAOV by necessity it contains techniques that are designed to navigate and extricate from the common ‘non percussive’ elements of fighting (such as grabbing and pulling, holding, barging, tackling attempted leg take downs etc) in order to strike, flee or control. In self defence situations the vast majority of conflict occurs at extremely close range and grabbing, clinching, pushing, barging and tackling are extremely common responses – even (and especially) amongst highly trained martial artists who have focused their training on maintaining distance. Long range stepping and attacking tend to occur most often when chasing a retreating person that has not been held, or on joining ‘another’ struggle to help a friend after dealing with an aggressor in a multiple person situation.

In my scenario simulations various patterns of behaviour emerge. I’m not referring to the HAOV of the role-playing aggressors, or the adrenal reactions of the surprised trainees who suddenly find themselves attacked while trying to defuse an argument, but in the patterns that successful counter tactics form.   As part of the training the scenarios are videoed and the footage examined frame by frame to give feedback. What is consistently visible in the footage is that successful navigation and extraction of participants from the close quarter fighting comes through movements and stances that more closely resemble the strategies that are shown in karate kata, even amongst those participants who have no martial arts experience. In fact if I were to edit out the attacker from the video so that it appeared as if the defender were fighting thin air, then the resulting movements would look more akin to a kata than anything else seen in the martial arts. Those that have specifically trained to use the kata against HAOV on a regular basis do exceptionally well in such scenario training by using the kata practically. This pattern of both striking and ‘grappling’ (or anti-grappling if you prefer) on the part of both attacker and defender, and the resulting kata mirror, makes a further convincing case for both the need and presence of grappling and throwing in karate kata.

One of the most noticeable elements of karate kata is the relative paucity of ‘obvious’ striking techniques. In terms of overall quantity the majority of the kata are made up of uke receiving techniques combined with hikite pulling motions (and in some systems preparatory extended arm thrusting motions), then we have ‘obvious’ open and close handed thrusting / punching / striking motions and finally we have the emphasised kneeing or kicking techniques.

The idea that uke techniques are only ‘blocks’ and that their predominance in kata reflects the defensive nature of karate should be rejected for a number of reasons. Firstly, deflecting and blocking attacks is a largely instinctive action that does not require specialised movement, though as I outlined above training to deflect and parry attacks is not a waste of time. If you observe anyone shielding themselves against a committed attack outside of set prearranged sparring combinations, you will see them cover, parry, slap, duck or flinch (or any combination of those), and any time you see anything resembling part of a fixed uke technique it will be because the uke technique itself mimics natural movement. Secondly the best form of defence is offence, and that principle has been enshrined in martial writings across many cultures for centuries. A committed attack is not stopped by continuous deflection but by pattern disrupting behaviour that forces reaction and reorientation. Thirdly it is unlikely to be a coincidence that uke techniques function extremely well as striking, unbalancing, trapping and limb (and head) manipulation movements in stand up grappling. Finally it is incongruous that the majority of the movements being drilled in kata should be devoted to anything other than navigating the most common problems posed by violent incidents.

The requirement of good training to address the most common problems takes us back to the weighting of movements in the kata. When I look at the footage of the skilled and unskilled martial artists working to extricate themselves from close quarter force on force violent confrontations in the hundreds of scenario training simulations that I have run (whether on their own against a single assailant, against a group, or part of the chaos of multiple groups of people in an argument that has escalated to physical violence) the weighting of techniques and time is as follows in order of frequency:

  • moving and manipulating others to gain a position from which to strike, control or escape (predominantly extracting oneself from multiple punches, grabs, high tackles and clinches),
  • striking with the forearms, elbows or hands,
  • kneeing,
  • kicking with the foot.

This distribution of movement mirrors the emphasis on techniques in the majority of karate kata, especially with the ability of most uke techniques to function as short close range strikes (often using the forearm) as well as stand up grappling (or grappling avoidance and escape) movements.

My approach to and interpretation of the application of uke techniques is neither new nor unique, and it is not the only valid approach. From my perspective though it is one that is underwritten by textual evidence from past generations of karateka and their antecedents, is orientated towards the purpose of karate as described by Anko Itosu, fits the uncomfortable realities of civilian self defence (as shown by CCTV footage, years of hospital emergency room data, decades of consistent violent crime surveys and reports, and accompanying psychological and physiological research into human behaviour), and is supported by the fact that entire uke techniques and indeed entire kata sequences can be applied realistically under pressure with other techniques (from the same kata) acting as effective redundancies in the event of less than optimal performance. A few photos in isolation (and possibly out of context without explanation) or a short video of a single application cannot convey its holistic integrity, appropriateness or effectiveness.   If you really want to understand or judge my approach then you need to train with me.


OUT OF THE DARKNESS

Ron Goin's Blog - Sat, 2014-08-16 16:19
OUT OF THE DARKNESS

“Here in the light a lazy mist is lifting
And the sands of time are slowly shifting"

Out of the Darkness, David Crosby-Graham Nash

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
Aldous Huxley

I have lived in or near the so-called 'Bible Belt' of the Southern part of the United States for most of my life.  Those sweet people who live down in the South are real generous folks.  They share just about everything down there--potato salad, pecan pie, sweet iced tea, and their faith in a fire-and-brimstone Old Testament God and His love-and-joy New Testament Son.  It is not an uncommon experience for me as I travel the South to meet believers who feel obliged to witness to me.  When they discover that I am an atheist they will often intensify their efforts and ratchet up their rhetoric.  For some odd reason they will often become quite angry.

What they don't know, and what they don't bother to ask about, is that for a time in my youth I was involved with, and in fact that I was a leader in a national religious organization which taught what was referred to as 'THE TRUTH.'  

This interdenominational organization sought to convert college and high school students to its fresh brand of fundamentalist Christianity during a time of political unrest and uncertainty.  

It was a time when student anti-war demonstrations were an everyday occurrence, when people were still dying for the cause of equality, and when the white, conservative establishment had no clue about the emerging views and values of a diverse and dissatisfied counter culture. 

Bumping Up Against Science


In those days I was indoctrinated to believe that science was evil and that faith was good; that science was a lie, but that the gospel was the truth.  

This organization trained me and motivated me and encouraged me to go out and approach perfect strangers with a simple faith-based solution to all of their life's problems.  They expected me to talk to others about their sadness, and loneliness, and emptiness, and despair.  Should a scientific, rational objection--'resistance' we liked to call it--rear its ugly head, we were taught insurance-salesman-type techniques to negate and overcome resistance and to 'close the deal' of winning hearts and minds to what I now recognize as a mythology.

Desperate Times
The youth culture of the Sixties had witnessed the horrifying assassinations of a beloved president, a deeply respected and inspirational civil rights leader, and the president's brother, a voice for freedom and justice.  They had seen the bigotry and the terrible brutality of racially motivated church bombings, one of which took the lives of four innocent young girls in Alabama.  They had watched flailing nightsticks used against protestors at the Chicago Democratic National Convention.  They saw the Cuban missile standoff and the steady proliferation of nuclear warheads, bringing the symbolic Doomsday Clock mere minutes away from what could be a very real total annihilation.  

They watched shocking images on the nightly news of the tragic war in Southeast Asia, they knew about the murders of peaceful demonstrators by members of the National Guard at the campus of Kent State, and they were aware of the corruption of senior government officials in the Watergate conspiracy.

The Jesus Movement

Amidst all of this upheaval the "Jesus Movement" of the late 60s and early 70s had no problem whatsoever gathering together growing numbers of scared and disillusioned teens who were hungry for hope, peace and love in a time of turmoil. 

This religious movement was energized by a wave of youthful converts who saw a connection to the man Jesus, a bearded, sandal-wearing teacher who preached brotherly love.  They saw themselves in this man, and they could empathize with a person, an outsider, who was persecuted for being different.

This was also around the time of a new national bestselling book, The Late Great Planet Earth, about the horrors of a coming apocalypse which would fill the earth with death and destruction on an epic scale.  The clues in the biblical books of Daniel and Revelations just needed to be decoded to see the fulfillment of end-times prophecy being played out on the evening news and in the morning's headlines.

We did not look to science for solutions in those days, and instead we thought we knew The Truth--that the problems of the world were spiritual problems, solved by a return to the simple gospel of the early church.   

The organization was not so much anti-science as it was science-free and blissfully ignorant of basic scientific facts.  

On the rare occasion that we thought about science at all we perceived scientists as the ones who created the tools of destruction.  Our view was that chemists and physicists created napalm, Agent Orange, nerve gas, and the atom bomb, and they polluted the water and the air, and threatened the environment with the help of giant mega corporations.

During that time my beliefs would occasionally brush up gently against science, and I would have to look the other way if scientific facts stood in my path.   

Seeing the Light




Eventually as I got older and encountered tough, real-world problems in my own life, my spiritual life began to wane.  Around that time I began to have a growing interest in the physical world around me.  The things I had learned in studying scripture could not help with basic questions about the physical world or provide satisfactory answers to simple questions about the mind and human behavior, and so I started to turn to science and education for understanding.

You know how in the cartoons the character gets an idea, and we see the light bulb over his head?  Well, mine was more of a dimmer switch, and it took me many years to pull my head out of the sand, to finally see the light and to shift my mind out of the darkness of ignorance.  



For example I had begun to read that the world was old.  Very old.  And that the continents were adrift, moving at about the same pace as the growth of our fingernails.  As so many curious people before me when I looked at a globe I couldn't help but see that the coasts of one continent seemed to fit jigsaw-like against the coast of another even though they were an ocean apart.  

My Christian friends had no problem accepting that the earth was young and still had a new car smell, but this made no sense to me when I took the time to think about volcanoes, earthquakes and the forces of erosion.  I wondered about fossils of dinosaurs buried deep in the ground.  But dinosaur fossils were explained as either:  (a) they were put there to test our faith, or (b) because they are buried in the ground they support a global flood.  
 

I wondered about the origin of the moon on whose surface man had so recently left his footprints.  I wondered how it was formed, when it was formed and how it affected life on earth.  

I wondered about atomic energy and quantum mechanics, knowing full well that the explanation would blow my mind.  

And I wondered how things worked and where things came from.  

The Grand Canyon for example.  Geologists explain that it was carved quickly, perhaps over a span of 5 million years--a mere blink of an eye geologically speaking.  

But my fundamentalist friends believed that it happened only about 4,500 years ago--just 1,500 years after the beginning of 'Creation'--and that it was carved really really REALLY quickly, perhaps in a year's time, at a rate of a hundred thousand cubic meters per second, as a result of the 'Global Flood' from the Old Testament story about Noah.  

Instead of accepting the scientific explanation of the Grand Canyon, I was encouraged to read a book by Dr. Henry Morris, one of the early founders of modern "creation science."  I bought and read his book on Noah's ark and the gathering of all kinds of creatures to rescue man and beast from the destruction of global deluge.  Although it's hard for me to believe now, but in the absence of any training in critical thinking and with only a very limited education in hard science, his views seemed quite reasonable to me at the time.


Science books and educational television shows explained that the universe is unimaginably vast, and constantly expanding at mind-boggling speed.  The Andromeda Galaxy alone is 2.5 million light years away, and with light traveling approximately 5,878,000,000,000 miles in a year, the age of the universe is admittedly hard for mortal minds to comprehend.  And yet fundamentalists whom I called my friends and leaders claimed that the universe was only a few thousand years old. 

I was encouraged to ignore the views of astronomers and popular science spokespersons such as the brilliant Carl Sagan.  I am embarrassed to say that for a time I listened to the persons in authority within that organization, and I accepted the consensus of the group that these atheistic scientists had an evil, anti-god agenda.  

I regret those lost, dark years.   


Because of their religious indoctrination, my friends had no clue how the process of natural selection worked.  They had some simplistic notion that modern man supposedly evolved from monkeys.  They were then unable to comprehend how there are still chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans in the modern world if we evolved from apes and monkeys.  

These same friends wanted to turn back the clock to the time of the Scopes monkey trial in my home state of Tennessee.  They wanted to remove the teaching of evolution from science classes and teach what they referred to as the Truth of Creationism, what has recently come to be known as the theory of "intelligent design."

Although anthropologists can point to a growing body of evidence that accurately traces the family tree of modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) to a common ancestor with modern primates, our closest cousins, my Christian friends refused to accept these rational, scientific explanations.

Even now fundamentalists--some of whom hold seats of power on local school boards, or in state government, or on science committees of the national government--disregard this evidence and want American school children to be taught that man was created in the image of his divine creator in his present form only a few thousand years ago.  

They want to teach American school children that this first man and his mate disobeyed divine guidelines and doomed all of us to everlasting torment unless we accept the intervention and payment of an actual historic god-man sacrifice. 

I can see how this mythology might have made sense in the Dark Ages.  I can even see how this mythology could possibly make sense in the absence of scientific literacy.  

Heck, it even made sense to me for awhile.  

But I cannot understand how it continues to prevail in the 21st century when the science explaining man's origins is so clear, thorough, and convincing. 

The Breakdown of Belief 

Gödel, a mathematician and logician, concluded that in complex axiomatic systems, and especially with axioms that deal with the infinite, there may be statements that are true but unproveable, and thus some axiomatic systems are incomplete or inconsistent.

The folks at Duke University give us a semantic mental game that's been around for some time:
  • The Law of Contradiction tells us that any given statement cannot be both true and false at the same time.
  • The Law of Excluded Middle tells us that any given statement must be true or false.
  • The following statement is false.
  • The preceding statement is true.
The axiomatic system taught by the leaders in the national youth religious movement to which I belonged in high school was full of self-referential axioms, or what one writer referred to as a Gödelian knot.   The axioms or rules were often difficult to defend in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, and apologetics--self-evident statements and established principles in defense of the faith--follow pretzel logic, and were full of incomplete and inconsistent statements.    


There were essentially three primary rules:  

  • The axioms or statements of Truth within this system have been divinely revealed to us long ago and are contained within a book of divinely inspired writings which encompass rules about day-to-day behavior, regulations about the practice of certain proscribed rituals, and prophetic--albeit mysterious and paradoxical--statements issued forth from an actual, living, all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present being, and they are true, complete, non-negotiable, and good.   
    • Death is not the end of existence.   
    • Those individuals chosen by this divine being to accept the Truth and who willingly admit their separateness from this divine being due to an innate/inherited, hereditary curse or natural condition of wickedness as well as actions taken by the individual which do not follow the rules and regulations as presented in inspired writings, will spend an eternity in the presence of this divine being which can only be described as paradise.
    • Those who are not chosen and who do not admit the guilt of their condition of separateness will be condemned to eternal torment and suffering and separation from all that is good and eternally pleasing.
    • Faith or belief is required to know the Truth.  Truth will not be revealed to those with insufficient faith or belief; however, a simple, child-like acceptance of the Truth will suffice. 
    • Many axiomatic systems demand payment or offering to please the divine being at the head of their system.  This payment is generally in the form of sacrifice, that is propitiation or homage, and is quite frequently a burnt offering, that is an offering of burnt animal flesh.  
    • Those who realize their state of separateness from this divine being must accept by faith the blood sacrifice of an actual, historical god/man.  
    • This god/man came to earth to be a sacrificial offering for the sins of all men.
    • Knowledge was given to man, the pinnacle of creation, and man is expected to use this knowledge to have dominion over the world and all of its creatures.

(2) If any of the axioms within this system appear to be confusing, contradictory or untrue, please refer to rule 1.

(3) All competing axiomatic systems which claim to be true are actually bad, false and not divinely revealed.  Acceptance of competing axiomatic systems will lead to divine judgment which includes eternal torment and suffering and separation from all that is good and eternally pleasing.  These competing axiomatic systems may have strong similarities about rules and regulations, with similar things being labeled as 'good' or 'bad', or 'acceptable' or 'prohibited'; however, this is where the comparison stops. 


I not only actively participated in efforts to help others come to grips with these 'Truths,' I even helped train others to go and do likewise.

Because of these years of darkness and ignorance I find myself to be playing a constant game of catch-up.  So much to learn, and so little time available.  

When I am stopped by a smiling Southerner I just know it's going to turn ugly.  The smiles will morph into snarls fairly quickly as I turn aside their tired, cliche-ridden, science-free attempts at persuasion and offer tough resistance to their sales pitch.  

At some point amidst their diatribe I realize that their minds are closed.  They have no grasp of the provisional nature of science and the need to use thorough observation, systematic analysis and rigorous experimentation to arrive at knowledge that is ever evolving.  Their absolute adherence to and confidence in their faith has closed their minds from learning. 

I do my best to try and explain, but I am often rebuffed. 

If they would allow me to, I would paraphrase Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic Magazine:

"What separates science from all other human activities is its belief in the provisional nature of all conclusions. In science, knowledge is fluid and certainty fleeting. That is the heart of its limitation. It is also its greatest strength.

"I believe, but cannot prove...that reality exists and science is the best method for understanding it, there is no God, the universe is determined but we are free, morality evolved as an adaptive trait of humans and human communities, and that ultimately all of existence is explicable through science."

They will quote scripture, use outdated arguments based on faulty logic, and in a final touché they will tell me (sometimes shouting) that they will pray for me.

They do not realize that I have been inoculated and that I have built up an immunity.



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