Russell and Duenes

Archive for January 2010

when do we become more machine than man?

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I’m currently reading This Mortal Flesh: Incarnation and Bioethics, by Brent Waters. He raises many important questions, but his analysis of “posthumanism” raises the important question of how we would draw ethical lines in our technological advancements in regenerative medicine. Specifically, he addresses the issue of whether or not we should allow ourselves to become “technosapiens,” which is to say, human beings that are beginning to merge with and even be taken over by machines. Many would say that we ought to avoid this altogether, but I’m not sure it’s that simple. Nobody currently seems to have a problem with humans using artificial hearts, joints, limbs and various other mechanical devices intended to restore a greater measure of health. If we are willing to use such machinery now, what would be wrong with going further and employing nanotechnology – nanotechnology being the use of microscopic regenerative machines that rove throughout the body acting as little fix-it men – and how would we decide when we’ve become “too much machine and not enough human?”

If regenerative medicine can allow us to live longer, how much longer is ethical? Forever? As Waters asks it: “At what point does medicine cross the line, becoming a hubristic attempt to transform necessity into goodness, and thereby forsaking the art of helping patients come to terms with their finitude and mortality?…So long as the willful destruction of embryos is avoided, cannot humans enjoy longer and healthier lives with their dignity intact?” How long? How healthy? How much human body? How much machine? If we say that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to live healthier, longer lives, then where do we draw the lines? When does this desire compromise our dignity and proper humility as humans under God? I’d love to have some takes on this.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

January 29, 2010 at 6:26 am

Posted in Bioethics, Duenes

show your passports and go through

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Does God answer prayer in specific ways? I think He does and a particular answer of His always stays in my mind. In August of 1995 I was part of a team that went to Kazakhstan. Me and about twelve others had been planning this trip since January, meeting, praying, strategizing and team-building. We were all excited about what God might do, particularly in this new post-Soviet era. Of course there was the usual paperwork that had to be acquired, passports and visas. Our plan was to visit a small city on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea called Aqtau. Our journey there included a non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, then on to Moscow. We then had a ten hour layover in Moscow before catching a flight to Aqtau that departed around 3:00AM. I mention this because we had been informed by an Australian team already in Aqtau that there was to be a city celebration on the day we arrived. They were requesting that we prepare a few songs and sing in the celebration. As you can imagine after traveling all that distance, we figured that all we’d want to do upon arrival is crash and sleep for a good twelve hours or so. We chafed a bit, but agreed to sing.

So we’re nearing the middle of the summer and everyone on the team is excited. Just a few short weeks and we’ll be off. Not so fast. The consulate that handles visas informs us that they have mishandled our visas for Kazakhstan and will not be able to get them to us in time for our trip. Not having these visas means that we would likely be unable to get out of Russia and into Kazakhstan. All those months of planning and anticipation, down the drain. Unless…unless we decide to go anyway and see if God will get us in. We decide to trust him and go anyway, praying that He will see us through and that He has a purpose for our going.

We make it to Moscow and we’re waiting around for our flight to Aqtau. None of us speaks any kind of Russian, so we’re not sure what to expect. A couple of hours before our flight, our team leader heads off to try and discuss something with the Russian airport officials. He’s with them for about two hours, and only God knows what they were talking about. All I know is that when it came time to board the flight, a crank of a Russian guy waves us through the line and on to the plane (the trip to the plane on the “tram” would be worth a story in itself). As we roll down a runway full of potholes in some piece of crap Soviet plane that has dogs on it, my only thought is, “Dear God, let this plane fly.”

We arrive early in the morning in Aqtau, wondering what awaits us. We should’ve been turned back. We didn’t have our papers. But God had other ideas. Remember the city celebration in which we had no desire to participate? Well, our presence was requested and word was sent to let us through. So we pass everyone else waiting in line to go through customs, flash our passports, get our luggage and head out. We were in!

After all of it, we had a good time singing in the city and we eventually got visas while we were there (We were informed not to try this again). I don’t know all of the things God did through us while we were there, but I trust He had His purposes. What I do know is that He did many things in me, one of which was to show me that He can be trusted and that He answers prayer.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

January 28, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

Does the landlady need to know my philosophy?

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I love G.K. Chesterton, likely for the same reasons most others like him. He has a way with words and arguments that pack intellectual and spiritual power, yet also engage the reader with wit and humor. Paragraph after paragraph from Chesterton contain maxims and witticisms for the ages, and what never fails to amaze me is how insightful his words are almost a hundred years after he wrote them. Since myself writing a series of pieces on Chesterton’s Orthodoxy several years back, I haven’t had the subsequent occasion to read much of his stuff. But the other day my wife was thrilling me with the apps on her ipod, one of which allows the user to download books for free. She happened to download Chesterton’s Heretics and was reading some of it to me. We were both caught in the grip of his rhetorical power, and laughing quite a bit in the process. He explains that nowadays, being “orthodox” about anything is looked on as a liability. It’s the heretic who is celebrated. Many a modern wag would tell us, as Chesterton puts it, that…

We are more and more to discuss details in art, politics, literature. A man’s opinion on tramcars matters; his opinion on Botticelli matters; his opinion on all things does not matter. He may turn over and explore a million objects, but he must not find that strange object, the universe; for if he does he will have a… religion, and be lost. Everything matters–except everything.

So we say that it doesn’t matter what the metaphysics are of our governmental leaders, it only matters what they believe about taxes. We don’t care what our senators think is right and wrong behavior in the sexual arena, just whether they support unions. Our employees can go on and on about their ideas of a non-moral, godless, evolutionary-driven universe so long as they know how to sell mortgage-backed securities. This is sheer folly, of course, and Chesterton does not count himself among them. He writes,

But there are some people, nevertheless–and I am one of them–who
think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still
his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a
lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to
know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an
enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more
important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not
whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the
long run, anything else affects them. In the fifteenth century men
cross-examined and tormented a man because he preached some immoral
attitude; in the nineteenth century we feted and flattered Oscar Wilde
because he preached such an attitude, and then broke his heart in penal
servitude because he carried it out. It may be a question which of the
two methods was the more cruel; there can be no kind of question which
was the more ludicrous. The age of the Inquisition has not at least the
disgrace of having produced a society which made an idol of the very
same man for preaching the very same things which it made him a convict
for practising.

– D

Written by Michael Duenes

January 26, 2010 at 8:39 pm

Scratch and Sniff

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On Thursday, Army Gen. David Petraeus, Central Command’s top officer, called the practice of coding military weapons with Scripture verses on the scopes “disturbing.”  He went on to add that “this is a serious concern to me and the other commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and “cultural and religious sensitivities are important considerations in the conduct of military operations.”

Really? If we were culturally and religiously sensitive then we would have packed up our Bible scopes and left these countries years ago.  Is Gen. Petraeus finding enscripted Bible codes on weapons and scopes more disturbing than using those guns to blow holes in Muslims? It is the most ridiculous notion that a reference to Jesus equals disturbing insensitivity.  And what Muslim will ever get close enough to the scope of a military issued machine gun or rifle to break out their monocles and study the scopes serial number anyway? If we are letting Afghanis and Iraqis that close to our guns, we might as well hand them the weapon and get the hell out of there.

How about instead of wasting resources and time scratching off the encoded verses from the scopes (yes, I just said they are going to spend time and money doing this) that they spend more money and time finding out where Al-Qaeda is harboring terror cells in U.S. cities, or putting more in-flight Federal Air Marshal’s on U.S. bound flights, or spending the money giving Harry Reid ethnic and racial sensitivity lessons. All of these would be much more fiscally responsible than spending huge sums of money scratching numbers and letters off of the barrels of guns.

-R

Written by Michael Duenes

January 22, 2010 at 12:50 am

Posted in Reflections, Russell

haiti once the emergency is over

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Canadian journalist, David Warren, notes that the outpouring of money given for Haitian aid has been overwhelmingly generous and that delivering food, water and other life-saving supplies is, on the whole, relatively inexpensive. It’s the months and years to come where the real “aid” challenge lies. To this he says,

Haiti is not a basket case from the absence of foreign aid. Quite the contrary. I lived many years in Asia, and much of my journalistic work was focused on “development issues.” I’ve seen the consequences of aid dependency with my own eyes. It is the same story everywhere, where people are desperately poor: they have no freedom, they are landless, everything belongs to an exploiting class. And that exploiting class is, almost invariably, “leftist,” and the nearly-exclusive beneficiary of foreign aid.

New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, also editorialized on continuing aid to Haiti and offers a good counterpoint to Warren. In fact, the United States truly does not send much aid to Haiti, and the historical sins against Haiti that have led to her current state are many and varied. Kristof is right to point out that the Haitian people are not hobbled by any inherent special proclivities for stupidity or corruption. Their land has been raped and pillaged. He is also right in his implicit argument that Haitians are hurt by western sensibilities against certain kinds of labor (i.e., sweatshops). What do they need? He writes,

Far more than most other impoverished countries — particularly those in Africa — Haiti could plausibly turn itself around. It has an excellent geographic location, there are no regional wars, and it could boom if it could just export to the American market. A report for the United Nations by a prominent British economist, Paul Collier, outlined the best strategy for Haiti: building garment factories. That idea (sweatshops!) may sound horrific to Americans. But it’s a strategy that has worked for other countries, such as Bangladesh, and Haitians in the slums would tell you that their most fervent wish is for jobs. A few dozen major shirt factories could be transformational for Haiti. So in the coming months as we help Haitians rebuild, let’s dispatch not only aid workers, but also business investors. Haiti desperately needs new schools and hospitals, but also new factories.

D

Written by Michael Duenes

January 21, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Posted in Duenes, Economics