Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tomthemick@gmail.com

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Is That All There Is?

On its web site, the BBC showed a picture of the “Oldest Human Ancestor.” It didn’t look like any of my relatives or my wife’s either. In a black and white photo taken through a microscope it resembled the central figure Edvard Munch’s painting: “The Scream” with what look like two eyes and a mouth that’s wide open. It’s tiny — only a millimeter, or .039 inches. Scientists claim it was “covered with a thin, relatively flexible skin and muscles, leading the researchers to conclude that it moved by contracting its muscles and got around by wriggling.”
Some of my relatives behave that way. Scientists also observed that, “It’s most striking feature is its large mouth, relative to the rest of its body.” That’s another feature sometimes pointed out in members of my family. The kicker, however, was this: “The researchers were unable to find any evidence that the animal had an anus, which suggests that it consumed food and excreted from the same orifice.” Almost everyone has relatives like that. Skeptical that such a tiny creature could be our common ancestor, that helped me consider it.
Artist's rendering of Saccorhytus

The creature is called Saccorhytus and it lived 540 million years ago in the Cambrian period, probably between two grains of sand on the sea floor in what is now China. It was a dull life. I would have had fun with this story if I were still teaching the “Beginnings” unit with which I used to start the school year every September. Students learned about the two prevailing concepts most Americans believed about our origins: creation and evolution.
We compared and contrasted them. They were similar in the order of events: Creation began with sea life, then other creatures, and lastly, humans -- which is what evolutionists contend. However, day four of creation is when stars and other heavenly bodies were made which is after life appeared, and that’s different from Big Bang/Darwinism. Time periods were vastly different too. Also, creation lent some meaning to it all, but not Big Bang/Darwinism. 
Ex Nihilo sculpture at the National Cathedral Washington DC

Sometimes, students debated formally. The creationist side always contended there was no explanation in the Big Bang theory about how the exploding object got there, whereas the Judeo/Christian/Muslim creation story claimed God created the universe “ex nihilo” or “out of nothing.” Neither did Darwin explain what was at the beginning of the march of evolution. In his recent book Kingdom of Speech, Tom Wolfe describes a conversation had Darwin with students: 

The students had the sort of naive, unbridled, free-floating curiosity most youths unfortunately rein in far too early in life. They wanted to know some small but fundamental details about the moment Evolution got underway and how exactly, physically, it started up — and from what?

That’s what I loved about teaching my eighth graders. They still had that, but back to Wolfe:

Darwin had apparently never thought of it quite that way before. Long pause… and finally, ‘Ohhh,’ he said, ‘probably from four or five cells floating in a warm pool somewhere.’ One student… wanted to know where the cells came from. Who or what put them in the pool? An exasperated Darwin said, in effect, “Well I don’t know. Isn’t it enough that I’ve brought you man and all the animals and plants in the world’
…Darwinism avoided the question of how the world developed ex nihilo. Darwin often thought about it, but it made his head hurt. The world was just… here. 
My students reviewed the Scopes Monkey Trial about banning lessons on evolution last century, and secular objections to  lessons on Intelligent Design more recently. Always, they asked my opinion, but I deferred until the end when I told them mine was a blend of both.
It was all controversial. Almost very time a new principal arrived, which was about every two to five years, he or she would approach me before classes started and ask that I stop teaching my Beginnings unit. Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t like that I taught about evolution, while secularists disdained lessons on creation. Both sides lobbied each new principal to get me to scrap it. I resisted, pointing out that I circled back to this dualistic understanding among Americans of how everything started and the way those beliefs influenced their views on other issues. 
They still do. In these contentious times, creationists tend to cluster in flyover country and Darwinists on the coasts. Creationists are red. Darwinists are blue. Creationists are generally pro-life, Darwinists pro-choice. Creationists anticipate an afterlife. Many Darwinists doubt there’s any such thing and their number grows. We and Saccorhytus live, die, and go back to earth. A refrain from a 1969 song by Peggy Lee went:

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is
It might be the ethos of our age.

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29 Comments:

Anonymous Brian said...

Just because a lot of people "believe" something does not mean it should be taught in school as an actual possibility. It took awhile for all people to learn that the world is not flat....should they have kept teaching that "possibility" until everyone realized it was nonsense? The popularity of a story or a book has nothing at all to do with it being real or not.

Creationists are simply people who have been brainwashed to believe in fantasy instead of science.

2/14/17, 1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do agree that most "creationists" are Republicans. You know, "alternative facts" and all.

2/14/17, 3:07 PM  
Blogger CJ Johnson said...

Point missed by a mile by commenters. Discussion, debate, exchange of ideas is the topic. Not steadfast adherence to narrowly focused concepts. Public Schools strike again.

2/14/17, 3:30 PM  
Blogger Tom McLaughlin said...

I taught history and current events, not science. We examined why people hold opinions on political and social issues. My goals were to help students understand how Americans and others in western civilization think. These concepts mold us, like them or not.

2/14/17, 6:16 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

My apologies then, Tom, for assuming you put your spin on things indicating that creationism might actually have been a possibility. If you were discussing how irrational thought and passed down beliefs can effect society, then good for you.

2/14/17, 7:10 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Then get the debate started, CJ Johnson, or Mr. McLaughlin can start the debate. Clearly you're a devote Catholic, but I can't recall you definitely writing what you believe regarding the origin of humankind. I believe in evolution. Life simply cannot survive without the ability to evolve. Habitats change. Food sources die out. Life learns and adapts. Organisms evolve or go extinct. I believe there's something else beyond life, but the idea that our feeble, pathetic mortal minds can articulate what that is, to me, is laughable. By conservative estimates, there are over 100 octillion suns in the universe. That's 100 followed by 27 zeroes. If there is a single, omnipotent force that can create 100 octillion suns, it is beyond human comprehension. I'm already getting off track. Even the Bible is muddled in its record of creation. Genesis chapter 1 verse 24 reads, "Then God commanded 'Let the earth produce all kinds of animal life; domestic and wild, large an small' - and it was done. So God made them all and he was pleased with what he saw. The God said, 'now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us." But in chapter 2 verse 18, "Then the Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make a suitable companion to help him" So he took some soil from the ground and formed all the animals and all the birds. Then he brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and that is how they all got their names. So the man named all the birds and all the animals; but not one of them was a suitable companion to help him. The Lord God made the man fall into a deep sleep and while he was sleeping, he took out one of the man's ribs and closed up the flesh. He formed a woman out of the rib and brought her to him."
In chapter 1, the order is animals first and then man, but in chapter 2, the order is man first and then animals. It's just hard to take creationism seriously. It's an interesting story to learn, but so is Greek mythology.

2/14/17, 8:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something can't come from nothing, unless you're a progressive who has nowhere to go but forward and into...nothing.

2/14/17, 8:45 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Well, Anon, you think like the Buddhists then - maybe there was no beginning, there just always is and always was.

And I guess the thought of something coming from nothing is hard to grasp. Just like the thought of space being infinite, and time being dependent on speed. But the universe is a complex place.

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.The universe didn't need a God to begin; it was quite capable of launching its existence on its own," says physicist Stephen Hawking.

2/14/17, 9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my, only a few weeks on the job and our pampered little man-child is already floundering in scandal. He is in way over his head with 4-star General Raymond A. Thomas saying “Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil” They can't get their stories/lies straight and sound more inept day by day.

What is this Russia/Trump connection? Maybe Trump has secret business dealings in Russia (why he won't release his taxes), maybe Russia also hacked damaging info on Trump and is blackmailing him, or maybe Trump just feels he owes Putin for helping him win the election. Whatever it is, it isn't good.

2/15/17, 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evolution and a belief in a Creator can co-exist. They are not mutually exclusive.

2/15/17, 12:22 PM  
Blogger Tom McLaughlin said...

Agreed. My own view is a mix of both. According to the Gallup poll above, that is true for about one in three Americans.

And yes, I am an orthodox Catholic. I realize that means I must be a moron in the view of most progressives, but I will not try to evangelize any of you. I do not wish to engage in theological debate here and I won't. I just say I came to this view after decades Catholic teaching and subsequent decades of doubt. I concluded that my intellect -- and that of any other human -- was insufficient to comprehend the universe by itself. I made a leap of faith consciously, then realized the truth of what someone said:

"I don't believe because I understand; I understand because I believe."

You're on your own journey or you're standing still. It's a personal choice. That's all the theology you'll get from me.

2/15/17, 12:40 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

It does not matter at all to me how people label themselves or what they believe about religion. Are they a decent person causing no undue harm to others? If so, they are alright by me and I do not think they are "morons". I am not a big fan of organized religion, which has lead to so many deaths, war, and persecution, but I can see that a lot of good can arise out of it as well. I like the Lenny Bruce quote: “Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”


Personally, I believe "god" is in all living things and is not a separate entity. My favorite religious leader alive today would have to be the Dalai Lama, who wisely said: “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”

Too often organized religions try and convert others, and spread their beliefs. Here I agree with another of the all-time great religious leaders:


“I came to the conclusion long ago that all religions were true and that also that all had some error in them, and while I hold by my own religion, I should hold other religions as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we were Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu; but our innermost prayer should be that a Hindu should become a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, and a Christian a better Christian.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

2/15/17, 1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, I don't think you're a moron because you're a devout Catholic. I think you're a moron in spite of it.

2/15/17, 1:52 PM  
Blogger Tom McLaughlin said...

KMCA.

2/15/17, 2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People make a lot of bizarre leaps of faith about things. About 40% of us have decided to believe in ghosts. Many people believe in bigfoot, in wacky conspiracy theories, in unicorns, in Elvis being alive, in fossil fuels being unrelated to climate change, in aliens being kept at area 51, in an all powerful dude in the sky that wants nothing more than to be worshiped (or ELSE!), in elves, in Santa, in Trump caring about the average American, in broken mirrors causing bad luck, etc etc. Whatever brings them comfort.

2/15/17, 4:01 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I lean toward science, but I also believe that the major religions, Islam excepted, provide a necessary moral compass for us humans. Very much worth reading is a book by Matthew Alper, "The God Part of the Brain".

2/15/17, 4:29 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

If you need an organized religion to guide your moral compass, I'm sorry, I can not relate...to me that is something that comes from within. I guess that is why I cannot relate either to the "Islam excepted" sentiment, because no doubt there are young people in Pakistan, Saudie Arabia, etc, being told the exact same thing about christianity. If instead we were all guided by our own moral compass, then we wouldn't have to judge other people by the prevalent organized religion of the area they were born in, but instead by the actions their moral compass guided them towards.

2/15/17, 9:05 PM  
Anonymous Zed said...

Maybe focus on your own ego? You didn't "teach" anyone anything, sorry. You were regurgitating propaganda. You did it so often you believed it. It's all vile lies. And religion? You claim to be a Catholic? Yet you knowingly lie and hate. What's more you throw your own country under the bus in favor of Israel. Why? I guess because you "right wing conservatives" are easily duped. You believe the egregious lies Israel spews despite reality and facts. You push for a genocidal war in gaza.do you really think Jesus would side with bibi Netanyahu? And the neocon war lords? Hypnotized by fantastic tales and lies under the name of "religion". Wow....

Hiding behind religion isn't doing anyone any good. The irony is staggering huh? How the hell do you sleep at night? The hypocrisy?

2/18/17, 9:49 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Another religious leader I look up to is Pope Francis, who certainly sent out warnings concerning what is happening with Trump and his fear mongering tactics. He mentioned provoking fears and worries and added that for him "the example of populism in the European sense of the word is Germany in 1933. Germany ... was looking for a leader, someone who would give her back her identity and there was a little man named Adolf Hitler who said 'I can do it'."

"Hitler did not steal power," the pope said. "He was elected by his people and then he destroyed his people."

The Germans at that time also wanted to protect themselves with "walls and barbed wire so that others cannot take away their identity", he said.

"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel."

2/20/17, 11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely the bible has something to say about honesty and integrity.

The world according to alternative facts:

So, after the biggest electoral victory since Reagan (actually one of the slimmest), Trump’s inauguration was watched by the biggest crowds ever (much smaller than Obama’s), and God stopped the rain for Trump’s speech (although it kept raining). Trump won despite massive voter fraud and busses pouring over state lines to vote illegally. (Invisible busses) Also pouring over our borders are waves of drug dealing rapists from Mexico and swarms of unvetted refuges (also invisible.) Also, many terrorist attacks go unreported, like the “massacre at Bowling Green”, and the big event in Sweden the other day.

The crime rate in the country is higher than ever (although half of 1980s), including two people murdered in Chicago during Obama’s speech. (B.S.)

Oh, and Trump has been of the magazine of Time more than anyone (not).

But we do not know all these facts because of the “fake media”. When called out on a lie at his press conference he explained it was what he was told, so you know, he is not really at fault. Who knows where that buck stops.

But hey, the pathological liar is on “your side”, so no big deal. The press should treat him better.

2/20/17, 1:55 PM  
Blogger Tom McLaughlin said...

Anonymous claims:
"So, after the biggest electoral victory since Reagan (actually one of the slimmest), Trump’s inauguration was watched by the biggest crowds ever (much smaller than Obama’s), and God stopped the rain for Trump’s speech (although it kept raining)."

"Oh, and Trump has been of the magazine of Time more than anyone (not)."

Can't argue with those claims. Trump is quite a braggart and often shoots from the lip.

But then (s)he goes on:
"Trump won despite massive voter fraud and busses pouring over state lines to vote illegally. (Invisible busses)"

Maybe. Maybe not.

(S)he goes on further:

"Also pouring over our borders are waves of drug dealing rapists from Mexico and swarms of unvetted refuges (also invisible.) Also, many terrorist attacks go unreported,"

Lots of evidence for this and you don't have to look too hard either. You actually have to look the other way to avoid seeing it, or watch MSNBC exclusively, which is kind of the same thing.

Then:
"Oh, and Trump has been of the magazine of Time more than anyone (not)."

Can't argue with that one either.

His claims about fake media? Lots of evidence for this too, but again, not on MSNBC.

Trump does say dumb things sometimes. If he keeps it up, in a few years he'll approach the level his predecessor's claims that he'd "been to all 57 states," that "Hawaii is in Asia," that "in Austria they speak Austrian," not to mention: "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor..." and on and on.

But then, you never saw most of that stuff on MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, or in the NYT, Washington Post, Boston Globe... because It didn't fit their narrative of "Smartest president ever."

And, he was on "your side," so no big deal.

That door swings both ways.

2/20/17, 2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Maybe, maybe not"? So it is ok for the President to throw out baseless accusations as if they were facts?

As for swarms of raping mexicans and unvetted refugees: "Lots of evidence for this and you don't have to look too hard either." I'm having trouble finding this evidence of yours. Could you give me some credible links? Dodging this question will show that you are relying on alternative facts.

You really want to compare "fake Media" stories to this administrations "alternative facts"? Bring it on. Lets hear some of the more recent "fake stories" that CNN or MSNBC have run. Don't run and hide from this one either. If you noticed, I gave real examples you couldn't argue with....can you be so kind as to do the same?

Along with some goofy Obama gaffes (obviously not purposeful lies that he kept defending after the mistakes were pointed out) you did point out a big Obama lie - that about keeping your doctor. To his credit, he apologized for this mistake: "I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me" Have you ever heard Trump apologize for any of his lies? No, he doubles down. Or makes excuses. Trump has blown way, way past Obama's lies and dumb comments, easily 20 times over in just his first month.

I did listen to some of those media outlets you mentioned, and never heard anything about the "smartest president ever". That must have been something they were pushing in the Right Wing (alternative facts) outlets.

And no, I do not have a political "side". I am a long time independent who sides with the good of our country.



2/20/17, 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is an example of Trump's use of "facts" and statistics:

Here is Trump in an interview with CNN's Don Lemon (trying to) cite an article from Fusion to defend his calling Mexican immigrants “rapists”.

"Eighty percent of the women coming in ... " he says, trailing off. (probably seeing his mistake, but blustering on... "You have to take a look at these stories. ... It's unbelievable, when you look at what's going on. All I'm doing is telling the truth."

Lemon correctly points out that the story was about immigrant women BEING raped. "Well," Trump replies, "someone's doing the raping, Don."

Wow

2/20/17, 4:41 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

I wonder if Tom is going to find some proof of those unreported terrorist acts in Sweden and Bowling Green.

Maybe post some video of all those busses pulling into polling places. In this day and age nothing like that can happen without many iPhones recording it. He does say there is lots of evidence for it, I'm sure this will be an easy one for Tom.

And just maybe Tom will show us the evidence of Trump's son-in-law, and his daughter, and Steve Bannon, and Sean Spicer, and all those sort of people who were registered in two states, and say "There...see? " because these are the types of people who may have illegally voted twice for Hillary.

2/20/17, 6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can people not see this overwhelming evidence of raping Mexicans and unvetted refugees? Peel your eyes away from MSNBC and look around! Don't you see them swarming through the fields, knives between their teeth, looking for caucasians to plunder and rape! I had to lock my doors and hightail it out of my drivevway to get past the marauders and get to work. What's worse, come the mid-term elections the libtards are going to collect these people and bus them around to vote illegally! WAKE UP, or before you know it there will be another Bowling Green massacre!!

2/21/17, 10:16 AM  
Anonymous Ken said...

The problem with the dualistic paradigm on display. Obama? That's the anti trump argument? Pretend the last eight years were something positive and that the murdering scumbag we called mr. President wasn't another Wall Street puppet and war mongering shill!! That's your argument. Obama, who drone assassinated American citizens! One a teenager!! Hello!!! Where was your "outrage" then? Libya? Uhm.....how does he sleep at night? The only president to be at war every single day of his two terms. Every. Single. Day. Peace prize winner too!!! Hahah!!! A lying Wall Street puppet is all he was. But golly gee he did give some fancy speeches and made numerous tv appearances on late night comedy shows... This fantasy of his legacy is a product of the media who ran cover for him and did a great job selling an idea, a brand. After all, that's what Obama is. A brand. Completely fake. Thank this pathetic shill for paving the way for absolute chaos too! You Obama cheerleaders are the absolute worst. Take a hard look at reality. Least transparent admin after promises of the opposite. Least in history by the way. Persecuted whiistleblowers like the fascist he is too. And on and on...

Oh, and you think Sweden is doing just fine? Maybe do your own research. It is less than ideal there.. Germany too. But you let the "media" define reality for you so...

2/21/17, 10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who brought up Obama, Ken? That would be Tom. I didn't see anybody in this thread cheerleading him. Nobody here said Sweden was doing well either. I WAS outraged about dronings. You seem to be locked in on hatred for a past president. Now is the time to move on and worry about our current one.

2/21/17, 3:30 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

“Trump does say dumb things sometimes. If he keeps it up, in a few years he'll approach the level his predecessor's claims that he'd "been to all 57 states," that "Hawaii is in Asia," that "in Austria they speak Austrian," not to mention: "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor..." and on and on.
But then, you never saw most of that stuff on MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, or in the NYT, Washington Post, Boston Globe... because It didn't fit their narrative of "Smartest president ever."

This statement suggests you read all of those papers day after day to see if those stories were going to be covered, and you watched all of those channels – some of which are 24-hours – day after day to see if those stories would be covered. Do really know if all of those non events weren't covered by all of that media? Are you telling us what you KNOW is true, or are you telling us what you HOPE is true, because to the average partisan opinionist, there is no measurable difference between those two questions, but for people who search for the most impartial and objective reporting available, a chasm separates those two questions no matter how much the truth stings. During Bush’s presidency, I received 2 365-day calendars from different people chock full of his moronic comments that I never remembered being covered in the NYT or WSJ,  because Bush’s gaffes and Obama's gaffes simply are not news. All of those newspapers and news channels didn’t cover the unforgivable mistake of Obama pronouncing the letter p in corpsman, because it’s genuinely was not news, but it sounds like the conservative media covered it.

2/21/17, 4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yet another embarrassing week in the life of blogging for Tom.

2/21/17, 6:19 PM  

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