Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Universe in a Nutshell

Fabric Of The Cosmos

Quantum Cognition

Science & Religion

Beyond Intelligent Design — The Scientific Case for a Creator

Science Of God

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Honoring Muhammad — A Bridge Between the Crescent and the Oktcrux

Abu Qasim Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Abdul Muttalib ibn Hashim was born in Mecca in the year 570 AD. He was raised by his uncle Abu Talib ibn Abdul Muttalib after being orphaned at an early age. At the time of his birth, the Arabian Peninsula had fallen into idolatry and disbelief, pagan traditions rampant and hedonism the norm.

Muhammad felt disgusted by all that. Revolted, he would retreat into the depths of Gar Hira for meditation. He could not believe that the true purpose of humanity was to bow down to stone and wooden statues of strange creatures in submission. He believed there was more. Turns out he was right.

At the age of forty, during one meditative sessions, Muhammad experienced something profound. A Light of Truth shone upon him in the form of the Archangel Gabriel who manifested before him with the command to read.

Initially, Muhammad was confounded by this. He did not know what he was being asked to read from. The angel embraced him, tighter and tighter, repeating the demand. Fear grasped Muhammad and he fled the scene, returning home to his wife, Hazrat Sayyidina Khadija bint Khuwaylid asking her to comfort him, lay her arms around him, soothe his nerves. As she did, Muhammad told her what happened and she assured him he was the Lord's Chosen.

The experience was profound and it was three years until the next revelation came, declaring Muhammad as a Prophet chosen to preach the doctrine of the One God to the pagan polytheists of Mecca. Daunted by the task, Muhammad was hesitant at first but steeled himself later on to begin his duty. He was persecuted, hurt, exiled and cast out. He lost his family and everyone he knew, those closest to him, dearest to him, were tortured along with him. Eventually, he and his followers took flight to Medina wherein the newest chapter of his ministry began.

In Medina, Muhammad turned his faith into a political system, forging the tribes there together into one state, with a law and an army. With his newfound power and influence, Muhammad launched a campaign to nationwide propagate the Faith of the One God of Abraham. Twenty-three years after the mission began, he succeeded.

The Arabian Peninsula came together as a singular entity of united tribes, a religious polity. The leaders who followed Muhammad after his death spread the faith even further. During the reign of Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab, the faith found its way to Palestine, Egypt and Persia. The faith was known as Islam.

From an outsider perspective, Muhammad is considered to be the founder of Islam. However, from the viewpoint of a practitioner, God is the founder of Islam and Adam was the first among humans to be Muslim. He propagated the faith and passed down its knowledge through Seth to Enoch to Noah all the way through to Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and David. The central creed of this faith: the doctrine of the One God, also known as Tawhid.

La ilaha il-Allah — this is the summary of the creed. There is no god but God. And Muhammad is His Messenger, merely a Prophet on the Path of Prophets. Patriarch Mar Timothy I of Baghdad states it succinctly as the following:
Muhammad is worthy of all praise by all reasonable people...
He walked in the Path of the Prophets and trod in the Trail of the Lovers of God. 
All the Prophets taught the doctrine of the One God, and since Muhammad taught the doctrine of the Unity of God, he walked, therefore, in the Path of the Prophets. 
Further, all the Prophets drove men away from misdeeds, and brought them nearer to good works, and since Muhammad drove his people away from impious acts and brought them nearer to righteousness, he walked, therefore, in the Path of the Prophets. 
Again, all the Prophets separated men from idolatry and polytheism, and attached them to God and worshiping Him. Since Muhammad separated his people from idolatry and polytheism and attached them to the worship and knowledge of One God, beside whom there is no other God, he walked, therefore, in the Path of the Prophets. 
Finally, Muhammad taught about God, His Word and His Spirit, and since all the Prophets had prophesied about God, His Word and His Spirit, verily indeed , Muhammad walked, therefore, in the Path of the Prophets... 
Who, then, shall not praise, honor and exalt the great one who not only fought for God through words, but showed zeal for Him by the sword?

Patriarch Timothy I is a patriarch of the Church of the East often called, inaccurately since they accept and follow the Chalcedonian Creed, the Nestorian Church of the East or, simply, the Nestorian Church. It is to be distinguished from the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches. A prime difference between the Oriental Orthodox Church and the Nestorian Church of the East is that the former is Nasrani while the latter Hanif.

"Hanif" is a Syro-Aramaic word meaning "one rejecting and turning back" because the Nestorian Church observed the Sabbath and refrained from eating pork along with keeping other Laws of the Torah meticulously. The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge states in the article concerning the Nestorians:
The Nestorians eat no pork and keep the Sabbath.
They believe in neither auricular confession nor purgatory.
Therefore, the greater majority of Christians considered that the Nestorians were turning back or inclining towards Judaism. Hence, the other Christians used to call the Nestorian Church "Hanif" because they were Hebraizers. Eventually the categorization stuck on.

What is interesting to note here is that the word "Hanif" also appears in the Quran and it did not previously exist within the Arabic language before the Revelation of the Book unto Muhammad. The root of the word is Syriac, basically the same as above. It is used in the Quran to refer to those who maintained the pure monotheistic beliefs of Patriarch Abraham, having rejected idolatry and retained some or all of the tenets and laws of the religion of Abraham which was "Submission to God" in its purest form.

Say unto them,
"Nay, we follow only Hanif, the religion of Abraham, and he was not of the polytheists."
[Quran 2:135] 
Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was a Hanif and he was not of the polytheists.
[Quran 3:67] 
Therefore, set you your face towards Hanif, inclining towards Haqq and Fitrah. No change let there be in the Creation of God: that is the straight religion, but most of men know not.
[Quran 30:30]
In the final Quranic verse listed above, "Haqq" means "Truth" and "Fitrah" means "Natural Law" referring to the preset moral compass instilled within all humans and jinn, as believed by Muslims, from the moment of their creation. These, in total, encompass the notion that Abraham's doctrine of monotheism, Hanif, in faith and practice was the true lawful nature of human beings expressed physically and spiritually.

Meanwhile, the categorization of the Oriental Orthodox as Nasri came from their acceptance of the Coptic belief regarding the Month of el-Nasi.  This is a thirteenth month lasting just a week or so in length. Nestorians do not accept this because of the prohibition of Nasi laid down in the Quran, the Revelation bestowed unto Muhammad, which the Church of the East term as Abu Qasim's Ahadith Qudsi, the Holy Narrations, making clear there are only twelve months, totally rejecting the Nasi,
The number of months with God is only twelve by God's Ordinance since the day He divinely fashioned the Heavens and the Earth.
[Quran 9:36]

Muhammad also mentions the Nasi in the Farewell Sermon,
Certainly the Nasi' is an impious addition, which has led the infidels into error. One year they authorize the Nasi', another year they forbid it. They observe the divine precept with respect to the number of the sacred months, but in fact they profane that which God has declared to be inviolable, and sanctify that which God has declared to be profane. 
Assuredly time, in its revolution, has returned to such as it was at the creation of the heavens and the earth. In the eyes of God the number of the months is twelve. Among these twelve months four are sacred, namely, Rajab, which stands alone, and three others which are consecutive.
The Nestorians accepts Muhammad as a transcendentally appointed Messenger of God inspired by the Holy Spirit. They call him Abu Qasim, Abbot Cosimas, and his Quranic traditions collected and codified during the time and reign of Caliph Osman they honor and consecrate as the Ahadith Qudsi.

The Nestorian Church of the East consists of many orders within its ranks, one of them being the small, almost extinct, military order known as the Order of the Caraimean. The Caraimean believe Muhammad was an orphaned ecclesiastical poet, not illiterate as propounded by mainstream Sunni scholarship, but one prolific with words and letters, his narrations, beautiful poetry, some of which were written down upon tablets of rocks and rags of parchment, leaves and leather, surviving him while others were lost.

They believe that when Caliph Osman put together the official Quran, some narrations were left out because he only included the ones which were written and could be recited but some could be recited yet no written copy was found and some were written yet no reciter was found. These became the remnants of the Ahadith Qudsi

However, over time, more and more Ahadith Qudsi were being spread around, some authentic while others fabricate. Therefore, Imam Abu Hanifah laid down the criteria to identify which ones were the former and the latter using Kalam, that is, philosophical discourse, and Ijtihad, independent reasoning. He taught this to Anan ben David who was, as believed by the Caraimean, the only student dedicated enough to be imprisoned with Imam Abu Hanifah.

Regarding the Theology and Christology of the Caraimean Order, they believe in High God the Holy Father Almighty. He is ha-Eloh, the God, al-Ilah or Allah, the Divine One. His Essence, dhat, is the Divinity, Haloh or Allah, which He has given His creations the chance of becoming one with through theosis, known in Islamic Sufi terminology as fana'. Theosis, in contrast to fana', though, is believed to provide one the chance to become elohim or alihatun, that is, lesser gods in His family. The equivalent to these "gods" or elohim in Islamic theology would probably be Sifatullah because these are the Names and Attributes of the One God reflected unto the mirrored hearts of His creations.

The Caraimean Creed believes in the statement of "La ilaha il-Allah" where they interpret it as:
The God is One, and His Essence is One, but His Names are many.
Therefore, the Holy Spirit, Ruh al-Quds, is considered to be a reflection of an eloh or sifat but not the God Himself, although emanating from the same Essence, Allah. The Holy Spirit carries the Logos which is also considered to be an eloh or sifat but not the God although emanating from the same Essence, Allah.

Meanwhile Christ is called Son of Mary — who is known by the Caraimean Order as the Christotokos, meaning Mother of Christ, and not the Theotokos, meaning Mother of God — not the Son of God. This is to emphasize his humanity. The role of the Messiah, according to the Caraimean, is to take the Logos from the Holy Spirit and be united with it forever. The Logos is from Allah but the Christ is not Allah. Together they are one in Jesus.

This is why it is said:
The Word is god from God, light from Light, truth from Truth, generated not created, but one divine essence with the Father. It was sent out by the Power of the Holy Spirit and through the flesh of the Virgin Mary to become one with man in Christ.

The Caraimean believe that Christ suffered death by crucifixion, he permitted it, under Pontius Pilate, who did not crucify him but only Allah allowed it to happen, and was buried, descended unto Sheol, the Realm of the Dead, at the End of Time to liberate the souls deserving Mercy, then rose again on the third day and ascended unto Heaven.

They believe we will see him again at the End of Days when he liberated the dead. Since time is relative, for him it has already happened but for us it is yet to happen. This is why the Caraimean say that Christ came and yet is coming. In Truth, it has all been accomplished already.

They believe that the Holy Spirit is Grace, termed Ahmed, poured out into the Saints, called Mahamadim. Each Saint is therefore named Muhammad. It is impossible to say Muhammad has gone, if he dies or is slain and the believer should not turn on their heels because, they believe, he will return in the next saint.

The Caraimean Order understands that when Abu Qasim was a child, the Archangel Gabriel came and opened his chest, took out his heart and put Ahmed inside of him. Hence, from that day onward he became Muhammad, and the same happens to every saint, at some point in their life.

This story and the foundation of this belief is not alien to Islam. The narration regarding the renewal of Muhammad's heart is found in a hadith concerning Muhammad's childhood related by Anas ibn Malik in the Sahih of Imam Muslim which states the following:
"Gabriel came to the Apostle of Allah while he was playing with his mates. He took hold of him and made him to lay on his back, ripping open his chest and taking out the heart from it.
He then proceeded to open the heart and extracted something that clung in it stating that was the part leading Man to sin. Then, his heart was washed in a gold basin with the Water of Zamzam, closed, and restored to its place. The boys came running to his foster mother and said,
Verily, Muhammad has been murdered!
They all rushed towards him and found him changed in complexion.
Anas said,
I myself saw the mark of stitching on his chest."

Muslims believe Gabriel is the Holy Spirit, Ruh al-Quds, who is tasked as the Archangel of Revelation to carry the Word of God to the Saints and Prophets. This is referenced multiple times in the Quran,
"And verily We gave unto Moses the Scripture and We caused a train of messengers to follow after him, and We gave unto Jesus, son of Mary, evident signs, and we supported him with the Holy Spirit."
[Quran 2:87]

"That Day God shall say: 'O Jesus, the son of Mary, recount My Favor unto thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit!"
[Quran 5:110]

"Say: the Holy Spirit has brought the Revelation from thy Lord in Truth, in order to strengthen those who believe, and as Guidance and Glad Tidings to Muslims."
[Quran 16:102]
Therefore, Gabriel, the Holy Spirit, cleansing the heart of Muhammad and implanting it unto him anew brimming with the Inspiration from the Grace of God is not entirely a bizarre idea from an Islamic viewpoint, though the resultant events and the interpretation of the event itself is different.

In the end, the gist of the matter is this, that our Caraimean brothers among the echelons of the Nestorian Church, have the utmost respect for our Liege Lord and Sultan al-Qulub Muhammad salallahu alayhisalam.

It is a shame today that so many of our brethren among them are being slaughtered inhumanely by those who claim to be from us such as the likes of ISIS and al-Qaeda. The violence perpetrated unto them by these terrorist so-called Muslims who are, in reality, munafiqun, are driving the Nestorians to believe that perhaps Patriarch Mar Timothy I was wrong about Muhammad and his people, leading them to leave the Church of the East for other denominations.

What is even more saddening is that the Church is already dwindling in regards to numbers. We cannot be the ones under whose name they are driven to extinction, specially when they behold our Prophet in such eminent light. We have to extend our hands to them, embrace them as one with us, hand in hand, together as humanity against the subhuman ilk of terrorism and extremist fundamentalism that is corrupting our world today.

I end this article with the Achtiname of our beloved Prophet Muhammad to the Christian Monks of Mount Sinai penned by his esteemed cousin and son-in-law Mawla Imam al-Murtaza Ali ibn Abu Talib:

This is a letter issued by Muhammed, son of Abdullah, the Messenger, the Prophet, the Faithful, who is sent to all the people as a trust on behalf of God to all His creatures and creation, that they may have no plea against God hereafter. Verily God is Mighty and Wise. 
This letter is directed to the ones embracing submission to God in peace, as a covenant unto the followers of the Holy Nazarene in the East and West, the far and the near, the Arabs and foreigners, the known and the unknown. 
This letter contains the oath given unto them, and he who disobeys that which is therein will be considered a renegade and transgressor to that whereunto he is commanded. He will be regarded as one who has corrupted the Oath of God, disbelieved His Testament, rejected His Authority, despised His Religion, and made himself deserving of His Curse, whether he is a Sultan or any other Muslim. 
Whenever monks, devotees and pilgrims gather together, whether in a mountain or valley, or den, or frequented place, or plain, or church, or in houses of worship, verily we are behind them and shall protect them, and their properties and their morals, by myself, by my friends and my allies, for they are of my subjects and under my protection. 
I shall exempt them from that which may disturb them; of the burdens which are paid by others as an oath of allegiance. They must not give anything of their income but only that which pleases them — they must not be offended, or disturbed, or coerced or compelled. 
Their judges should not be changed or prevented from accomplishing their offices, nor the monks disturbed in exercising their religion, or the people of seclusion be stopped from dwelling in their cells. 
No one is allowed to plunder the pilgrims, or destroy or spoil any of their churches, or houses of worship, or take any of the things contained within these houses and bring it to the houses of Islam. And he who takes away anything therefrom, will be one who has corrupted the Oath of God, and, indeed, disobeyed His Messenger. 
Poll-taxes should not be put upon their judges, monks, and those whose occupation is the worship of God; nor is any other thing to be taken from them, whether it be a fine, a tax or any unjust right. 
Verily I shall keep their compact, wherever they may be, in the sea or on the land, in the East or West, in the North or South, for they are under my protection and the testament of my safety, against all things which they abhor. 
No taxes or tithes should be received from those who devote themselves to the worship of God in the mountains, or from those who cultivate the Holy Lands. No one has the right to interfere with their affairs, or bring any action against them. 
Verily this is for aught else and not for them; rather, in the seasons of crops, they should be given a Kadah for each Ardab of wheat as provisions for them, and no one has the right to say to them this is too much, or ask them to pay any tax. 
As to those who possess properties, the wealthy and merchants, the poll-tax to be taken from them must not exceed twelve drachmas a head per year. 
They shall not be imposed upon by anyone to undertake a journey, or to be forced to go to wars or to carry arms; for the Muslims have to fight for them. Do no dispute or argue with them, but deal according to the verse recorded in the Quran,
Do not dispute or argue with the People of the Book but in that which is best [29:46] 
Thus they will live favored and protected from everything which may offend them by the Muslims, wherever they may be and in any place they may dwell. 
Should any Christian woman be married to a Muslim, such marriage must not take place except after her consent, and she must not be prevented from going to her church for prayer. 
Their churches must be honored duly as their right and they must not be obstructed or withheld from building churches or repairing their convents. 
They must not be forced to carry arms or stones; but the Muslims must protect them and defend them against others. 
It is positively incumbent upon every one of the Islam nation not to contradict or disobey this oath until the Day of Resurrection and the End of Time.

— Fahim Ferdous Promi

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Brief Summary of the Bangladeshi Sociopolitical Environment in Regards to Islam

After the fall of the British Empire, India and Pakistan were split up somewhat based on religion. Pakistan was for Muslims, India for Hindus. Bangladesh was part of Pakistan with a Muslim-majority population but had its own culture and language, etc. Pakistan wanted to strip that away from us. Thus began a war.

Islamist movements in Bangladesh supported the Pakistani regime, they wanted to keep the two countries merged together as a single Islamist entity. Most of the folks in these movements where people possessing religious authority such as mullahs and imams.

Eventually Bangladesh did manage to break away from Pakistan forming into its own country in 1971. Not the best in the world but I'd say a lot better than Pakistan with its blasphemy laws and other figures of Islamism in power, plagued by the Taliban, etc.

The Pakistani sympathizers, the people of the Islamist "right" planned to usurp power and failed but nonetheless survived trial and weren't punished for their war crimes until now. The problem? These Islamist figures indoctrinated the youth to believe that there is a conspiracy against Islam in our country and they are being punished not because of their war crimes but they're framed for being Muslim.

Think of the evangelical complains of war against Christianity here in the US and multiply times hundred with guns and thugs involved. On one hand you have a growing population of youths who think there is a conspiracy against Islam, some kind of religious oppression. They want to wage war, jihad, against the so-called kuffar powers who are fueling this conspiracy against Islam from the West and from India.

These guys are relentless. They support everything that has to do with violent jihad, the misguided kind: ISIS, Taliban, all that stuff. They want a caliphate, the only way, they believe, they can stop this conspiracy and oppression of Muslims in their own land.

On the other hand, you have the hedonists, the anti-theists, using this opportunity to vilify Islam as a violent, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-freedom, anti-democratic, tyrannical ideology against all notions of culture and civilization that must be eradicated in order to restore peace.

— Fahim Ferdous Promi

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Origins — Paleozoic Evolutionary Fauna

Today's lecture will also be conducted by Professor Arne Thorshøj Nielsen.

In this lecture we are going to continue our discussion of fossil records and study the animal life that developed during the Paleozoic era around 540 to 250 million years ago. In a classic study, American paleontologist Jack Sepkoski analyzed the various fossil records of marine animals and divided the distinct faunas into three distinguished groups called the Cambrian, the Paleozoic and the Modern evolutionary faunas.

The oldest fauna by Sepkoski was called the Cambrian evolutionary fauna. It includes the bulk of the fossil species which appeared during the so-called Cambrian Explosion. This was a relatively short evolutionary phase in the beginning of the Cambrian Epoch some 520-540 million years ago during which most major animal groupings appeared, at least in the fossil record. This we will get back to.

The overall diversity increased rapidly during the early part of the Cambrian and then reached a plateau of about a hundred families. The Cambrian fauna declined gradually through the Ordovician and many forms became extinct during the end-Ordovician mass extinction.

The Cambrian fauna was dominated by trilobites and, thus, the Cambrian is also called “the Age of the Trilobites.” Trilobites were arthropods and are thus distant relatives of the modern crustaceans. A typical trilobite would have lived on the sea floor and filtered the mud for food particles.

Also, brachiopods with phosphatic shells, so-called inarticulate brachiopods, were a characteristic constituent of the Cambrian fauna. They lived attached to the sea floor and fed by filtering detritus from the surrounding sea water. Interesting enough, a few representatives still live in the oceans today.

Hyoliths, also, were common in the Cambrian fauna. They are related to the better known bivalves and snails and had a tube formed shell. Many representatives were mud-eaters and they most likely lived on the sea floor.

As mentioned also in previous lectures, it is much discussed what caused the Cambrian Explosion. Why did so many fundamentally different bodies plan to evolve so quickly and in such profusion? The key feature that distinguishes the Cambrian from the Precambrian is the upcoming of a hard skeleton. A hard skeleton suddenly appeared in many different animal groups, which is the reason why they suddenly appeared in the fossil record.

Many researchers believe that there must have been a foregoing evolution in the latest Precambrian which is the reason why so many different animal groups suddenly appeared in the Cambrian when they got potential to become fossilized. It is reasonable to assume that most of the animal phyla actually developed in the latest Precambrian but these ancestral animals were likely small and had no hard, shelly parts, therefore we do not find them as fossils.
The big new thing in the Cambrian was thus the development of a mineralized skeleton.

Another major change is seen within trace fossils: the animals began to burrow more efficiently into the sea floor and graze on the sea floor. The scientists talk about the Cambrian substrate revolution. Many researchers believe that an increase in oxygen level in the atmosphere was the main reason why so many different animals suddenly became capable of forming a hard skeleton. This is supported by investigation of marine environments in the modern world showing that when the oxygen concentration gets below c. 1/10 of normal values the shelled animals disappear but a fauna consisting of non-shelled small animals, for instance worms, still thrive. It is tempting to see this as a model for the Cambrian Explosion.

A hard skeleton provides better muscle attachment, so the animals could increase in size, move and burrow more efficiently and a skeleton also offers protection against predation. It is a popular hypothesis that an arms race played a role in the rapid evolution that took place during the early Cambrian after upcoming of hard skeleton. At the same time the sea level rose very significantly and continents around the world became inundated. This opened up many ecological niches and maybe also supplied extra nutrition to the shallow seas washed out from land. As nearly always, it is highly likely that the Cambrian Explosion reflects the combination of several factors, not just a single one.

The diversity of marine animals increased significantly during the Ordovician. This period of evolution is referred to as the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event, or, in short, GOBE.

The upcoming fauna is referred to as the Paleozoic Fauna or, more precisely, the Paleozoic Evolutionary Fauna.

Trilobites were still around, but overall the Paleozoic fauna is dominated by brachiopods and other filter feeders, filtering the sea water for food particles. Brachiopods superficially resemble bivalves but are completely different inside. Broadly speaking they live in the same way, though, namely on the sea floor. Brachiopods still exist today; however, bivalves are much more dominant.

Graptolites are another group of filter feeders that was common in the Paleozoic fauna.
Graptolites are colonial animals living afloat in sea water.

Corals and other barrier builders also became common in the Paleozoic fauna – they also filtered the water for food particles. Also predators such as cephalopods developed rapidly. Cephalopods are still common in the modern oceans, such as the likes of squids and octopodes.

The Paleozoic fauna is characterized by burrowing deeper below the sea floor and living higher above it than the Cambrian fauna. The Paleozoic fauna took over slowly and eventually reached a much higher diversity than before. It recovered after the end-Ordovician and the Devonian mass extinctions but was severely diminished at the end of the Permian after which the so-called Modern fauna took over.

In a way the Ordovician biodiversification can be seen as a continuation of the Cambrian Explosion. Nearly no new body forms appeared and the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event is mainly reflecting a major biodiversity increase at the lower taxonomic level.

Also in this case has there been intense discussion as to what drove this evolution. Again, a continued increase in oxygen level has been suggested and also a continued arms race. Other researchers believe that the surface temperatures in the sea were extremely high in the beginning of the Ordovician Era following which there was a drastic cooling which paved the way for higher evolutionary rates.

A major collision took place in the asteroid belt around 470 million years ago and the Earth was subsequently intensively bombarded with meteorites and large impacts, and some scientist have proposed that this instability could spark rapid evolution. In short, we do not know for sure why this major increase in diversity took place.

The Sepkoski Diagrams show only marine animals. As we will study more about later, land plants started to develop during the Ordovician as well and forests came into existence in the Devonian and further developed during the Carboniferous Period.

Animals invaded land during the Devonian and showed a strong diversification during the Late Paleozoic. Hence plant and animal life diversified much stronger than apparent from the Sepkoski Diagrams showing only marine organisms. Fossils of some of the first terrestrial animals have been found in Greenland. They are of Devonian age.

— Fahim Ferdous Promi

Monday, November 24, 2014

Origins — Cambrian Evolutionary Fauna

This lecture will be conducted by Professor Arne Thorshøj Nielsen, a palaeontologist working on Cambrian and Ordovician fossils at the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen. In this lecture we will discuss ancient biodiversity and the evolution of animal life with special focus on marine life. We will also discuss about fossils.

In previous lectures we have learned that life evolved during the Precambrian, maybe from as early as 3.8 billion years ago, but animal life as such did not evolve before the very end of the Precambrian. The Cambrian, starting at 541 million years ago, is characterized by the upcoming of hard shells in many different animal groups and this sparked a rapid evolution of animals. This event, spanning 20 million years, is referred to as the Cambrian explosion.

The present lecture deals with the major trends in evolution of animal life from the beginning of the Cambrian to the end of the Permian. That is from about 540 million years ago, when animals with a hard skeleton appeared, to the major mass extinction at the end of the Permian, approximately 250 million years ago when higher life forms on Earth was close to being wiped out entirely from existence on the surface of the planet.

The modern world is teeming with life almost everywhere. It is unknown precisely how many animal species exist today, but some researchers estimate that we are dealing with approximately 1.5 million species and many, many more small undescribed forms. A little more than 200,000 animal species are presently described from the modern seas and oceans. The species richness of animals in an environment is referred to as the biodiversity.

With maybe about 1.5 million animals living on the planet today, it is obvious that one should expect the presence of many more fossil species in the geological record since there has been animal life on this planet for about 600 million years. It is reasonable to assume that several tens of millions of different species have existed through geological time, but the fact is that only a quarter of a million fossil species have been described so far.

Although many fossil species undoubtedly remain to be found and named, we will never come anywhere near describing the true number of species that have existed in the past. How come? Well, the problem is that most dead animals never become fossils, they are simply recycled by the environment. The soft tissue decays and the hard parts are usually broken down or dissolved.

It is therefore more the exception than the rule that a dead animal becomes a fossil. That said, animals with hard parts are obviously more likely to become fossilized than soft-bodied animals and the potential for being preserved as a fossil increases if the dead animal is rapidly buried by sediment.

The processes that affect an animal – or a plant for that matter – between death and burial are referred to as taphonomy. The taphonomic processes introduce what could be called a filter between the living community and the fossil community. Only very, very rarely will the fossil community have precisely the same species composition as the living community and in most cases the fossil community will contain only a fraction of the animal species that actually lived in the environment. This makes differentiation between them very much more simpler.

Under very special circumstances a larger proportion of the fauna may be preserved as fossils, including forms without hard skeleton. Such rare fossil occurrences are referred to as Lagerstätten. Lagerstätten provide a unique window into ancient biodiversity, demonstrating how many different animals lived in the environment in the Cambrian.

Three such localities are particularly famous namely the Chengjiang fauna in China, the Sirius Passet fauna in Greenland and the Burgess Shale in Canada. These fossil sites provide a unique glimpse of Cambrian biodiversities. At the same time they also demonstrate how few species that are actually preserved under normal circumstances. Based on the fossils found in the Burgess Shale, calculations have been made, showing that less than 15% of these animals would have been preserved as fossils under normal circumstances. This should be kept in mind evaluating the species richness of fossiliferous strata: Usually less than 15% of the species living in an environment may be anticipated preserved – that is, preferably those with hard parts.

Analyzing the biodiversity of the past is therefore not an easy task. In spite of all the difficulties working with them, however, the incomplete fossil record pioneering work on ancient biodiversity was made by the American paleontologist Jack Sepkoski. He compiled known fossil taxa from the marine realm and recognized three so-called evolutionary faunas, named the Cambrian fauna, the Paleozoic fauna and the Modern fauna.

Overall the Sepkoski Diagram shows that the marine animals have become more and more diverse through time. It is, however, discussed among biologists and paleontologists how evolution works. Darwin predicted a slow, gradual evolution, with slow accumulation of beneficial mutations. Others have pointed out that this fits poorly with the fossil record, mostly showing rapid changes and long periods where no or only few changes take place.

Fossil examples of gradual changes are actually rare. This school of paleontologists has suggested that evolution takes place in steps, so-called punctualistic evolution. They further suggest that evolution mostly takes place in small populations where mutations quickly can spread because of the limited number of individuals.

It is, in any case, obvious that mass extinctions recurrently wiped out a significant proportion of the fauna, allowing for development of news forms afterwards. A well-known example is the radiation of mammals after extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous some 66 million years ago.

— Fahim Ferdous Promi

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Intuition vs. Rationalization and the Reflective Equilibrium of Ethics

The following is an essay I penned for my Introduction to Ethics class offered by Rutgers University, conducted by Professor Beth Henzel.

The question of whether ethics and moral judgment be based upon reason or intuition is a subject of debate as indicated in the dialogue between Joakim Sandberg, Niklas Juth and Peter Singer. The text in consideration is a response to one of Peter Singer’s papers where he argues that some interesting new findings in the field of experimental moral psychology confirms his thesis of contention that intuition should play a negligible role in adequate justifications of normative ethical positions.

Sandberg and Juth argue that even though basing ethics solely on certain kinds of intuition can be problematic, basing ethics off the standpoint of pure reason can be similarly troublesome. Instead, Sandberg and Juth suggest a more nuanced and sensible methodology to derive moral positions. They coin this methodology “reflective equilibrium” which, as the name suggests, travels the middlep path between reason and intuition taking into account both sides of the coin before settling on a decision. This is the most fair and equitable position.

In this essay I will attempt to argue on the side of Joakim Sandberg and Niklas Juth by first presenting a summary of Peter Singer’s paper and the summary of arguments against Singer raised by Sandberg and Niklas on their response to him, then providing my own argument by drawing a comparison between moral decision-making and cognitive psychological findings on how best to deal with situations that induce an emotional and a rational response.

Singer begins his paper by stating the views of moral philosopher Jim Rachel who argues that ethicists in general should not base their comments on tragic events and their moral ramifications on pure intuition subject to the orthodox view of what is right and what is wrong. Singer then goes on to say that this is a view he shares with Rachel and proceeds to explain his own standpoint by starting off with a history of moral philosophy recalling popular myths of mankind being bestowed moral guidance from a divine origin and then moving on to names of other philosophers such as David Hume and Niccolo Machiavelli. He then goes on to explanations of post-Darwinian understanding of ethics in relation to genes and reciprocity.

Following this, Singer explains the difference between “personal” and “impersonal” moral reasoning, that is, he uses the example of the “trolley problem” to show how people are quick to make personal moral decisions over impersonal ones, namely, that if a group of people are asked, assuming an empty train trolley is rolling towards a group of five and flipping a switch will save four of them but kill the fifth by diverting the path of the trolley, whether they want to flip the switch or not, majority would answer in the affirmative. However, if the group is then asked whether they want to push a large heavy man into the pathway of the trolley thus stopping the trolley at the cost of that man most would answer in the negative. Singer explains how neuroscientists have discovered that this is the case because in the latter scenario pushing the large man causes the agent to be personally involved in killing him thus stimulating more areas of the brain making the intuition against it stronger than if the agent is not personally responsible for killing one man by flipping the switch. Afterwards, Singer goes on to talk about Rawls and his analogy of normative moral theories being similar to scientific theories where he says that like scientific theories that may be best explained by plausible scenarios even if those scenarios do not comply with all the data, in which case we assume the data to be flawed and seek a balance between it and the result, moral theories have our base intuitions as raw data and we are to regulate our intuitions and our judgments until there is reconciliation between the two. Singer finds this analogy erroneous.

Singer explains the difference between a scientific theory and a theory of normative morality by expounding on their definitions. He states that a scientific theory attempts to explain why certain things happen the way they happen while normative morality does not explain why do we react the way we react to things such as abortion and voluntary euthanasia but rather what we are ought to do and how we are to react in such circumstances. This difference between the two should account for the error in Rawls’ analogy by contrasting the two.

In conclusion, Singer states that human beings may always be subject to intuition and, just like the tampering or dismissal of data to fit a plausible scientific theory, we rationalize our arguments to fit the intuition for morality. Nonetheless, Singers says there is a difference between this intuition and the base intuition that cannot be rationalized where a person says they do not know why something is wrong but they just know it is, as they did in Haidt’s experiment that Singer uses to support his paper. Singer calls the former rational intuition and concludes that this should be our methodology to arrive at moral judgments.

Sandberg and Juth start their paper off by outlining Singer’s arguments along with the experiments mentioned in his paper. They move on to explaining the two types of intuitions in Singer’s paper, namely practical and theoretical, and mentioning how Singer concludes we should derive moral codes off the latter instead of the former. Sandberg and Juth argues that Singer’s notion that practical intuitions are products of our evolutionary lineage whereas theoretical intuitions are more rationally grounded is false since the latter can be just as evolution-based as the former, also adding in the fact that for most people theoretical intuitions could be just as spontaneous as their practical ones. The gist of Sandberg Juth’s paper is basically this that both methodologies are prone to the same cons as each other.

Personally, I agree with Sandberg and Juth’s view and do believe that the reflective equilibrium approach is the best approach to arrive at moral conclusions. In the field of cognitive behavioral psychology the human mind is divided into three separated dimensions: the emotional mind, rational mind, and wise mind. The emotional mind is the loci of decisions based on emotions, intuitions, and feelings, while the rational mind is the loci of decisions derived off pure logical reasoning. The wise mind is the balance in between and, psychologists confirm, is the correct source to base our decisions off in real-life. The wise mind is the balance between validating our emotions and judging a situation properly off sound logical reasoning. Cognitive behavioral therapy attempts to teach patients to base their decisions and tackle everyday problems using the wise mind. This largely mimics the methodology of reflective equilibrium for moral reasoning.

A good example to demonstrate the contrast between the thought processes of the emotional mind, the rational mind and the wise mind is to think of a girl who walks into her room which is extremely untidy and disorganized. Looking at the room makes her feel like that there is no way she can clean up the room given how messy it is. This is the emotional mind talking. The rational mind says that just because she feels like it cannot be done does not mean it cannot realistically be done. The job is not impossible. Rationally speaking, it is, in fact, possible. The wise mind strikes a balance between the two and says that yes it is possible but it is going to be difficult which is why the first emotional instinct of the girl was to feel like it could not be done. This validates her initial emotions as well as present the reality of the situation that cleaning up the room is something that is not impossible to achieve but it is going to be a tiresome task, preparing the girl to tackle with the problem as required.

The aforementioned example can then be applied for a moral decision. Let us assume that the woman somewhere in the world is undergoing labor and her husband is frantically pleading for help. He calls the emergency unit of the closest hospital and they inform him that all their ambulances are currently engaged. Distraught, the man decides to drive his wife to the hospital himself. Rationally, at this point, the moral thing to do would probably be to follow all the driving laws for the safety of everyone on the road. However, the first intuition of the man would be to rather ignore all the laws and speed limits, and make sure that his wife is in the hospital under immediate medical attention. Nonetheless, it is morally wrong to push away the safety of everyone else on the road for the well-being of just one person, namely this man’s wife, if one were to weigh the situation logically. The best thing to do at this point would be to strike a balance and drive ignoring a few traffic rules without being too reckless while upholding a minimal level of road safety and not harm anyone else. Balance is the key.

Now, it is important to note here that just because some answers are neither black nor white, it does not mean that no answers are black or white. In other words, there can be a situation where acting upon one’s intuition is “wrong” and the rational answer is “right” or vice versa. Once again, reflective equilibrium maintains the balance by reconciling one and the other.

It can be argued that an area so gray does not provide us with a concrete understanding of what is right and what is wrong. The answers derived off such a methodology is too subjective and it does not allow us to lay down a consolidated set of ethical laws and codes of conduct for all to follow since intuition will differ from person to person and thus what may seem right to one person may be branded as ethically wrong by another. Rationally arrived codes of ethics may be more compact and therefore give us something corporeal to follow. This argument can be broken down into premises surrounding the idea that ethical codes of conduct are nomic necessary truths which can be arrived at using pure logical reasoning alone. However, this is not the case in a practical scenario, as, by pure logical reasoning alone, a person may arrive at an entirely different conclusion than another regarding the question of what is right and what is wrong. Therefore, reasoning can be just as subjective as intuition.

Also, let us assume for the sake of argument that ethical codes of conduct are nomic necessary truths that can be reached at through solely using reason. This leaves us with another problem, namely that the capability of the mental faculties of the one doing the reasoning is subject to differ from one person to another thus two people may arrive at two completely different conclusions on the matter of what is right and what is wrong due to the varying levels of their intelligence and other mental abilities.

Hence, taking all of the presented viewpoints into account it would be safest to conclude that Sandberg and Juth’s argument that rationalization is prone to similar flaws as intuition in the topic of ethics and morality, and thus, a balance between the two utilizing the methodology of reflective equilibrium is the most sound approach for an ethicist.

— Fahim Ferdous Promi

Friday, November 14, 2014

Unity Of Existence

Only God is Existent, and all of Creation is but a grandiose mirror reflecting His Divine Essence and Attributes.
Shaykh al-Akbar Imam ibn Arabi al-Hatimi at-Tai termed this concept "the Unity of Existence" — al-Wahdat al-Wujud.

In Sufi terminology, Wahdatul-Wujud means to believe that all the Mawjudat, that is, everything that exists and are present around us and beyond us, are an indication of God’s Presence, and also to believe that everything besides God is Subjective, that is, a thing that exists, merely exists because God has subjected it to exist and therefore it has no existentiality of its own. Therefore, everything that exists is a representation of Takwin, the Creative Act of God.

A common argument against the concept of al-Wahdat al-Wajud, often brought up by the Wahhabi Muslims or the Ahl-e-Hadith, the likes of Dr. Zakir Naik and Dr. Bilal Philips, is that it is Shirk in the form of Pantheism. Untrue.

Pantheism is the belief that God is Present in Creation in the physical sense, and is thus worshiped. This leads to paganism and idolatry as the objects in creation are directly worshiped as containing the Essence of God. In other words, Pantheism reduces God bound to three-dimensional entities existing within space and time inside creation.

In sharp contrast, Wahdatul-Wujud enhances God beyond any space, time or dimensional boundaries by stating that if everything in being was extended to infinity, nothing would remain but God. That is, a two-dimensional picture of a house can be rendered into three-dimensions whence it would take the form of an actual house with height, weight, width and length. However, if everything in existence now, similarly, be rendered to infinite dimensions then it would all cease to exist except for God. Therefore, in the greater scheme of things, we conclude, nothing exists but God.

Think of it this way: You draw a picture. The picture is not real. It is a two-dimensional rendering of whatever was going through your head as you formulated it upon a canvas. It doesn't really exist, you gave it form. Now, think this: you and everything around you is a picture, a three dimensional rendering of the Will and Creative Attribute of God.

This is the Ultimate Truth. This is the Unity of Creation and All of Existence. This is Wahdat al-Wujud.

— Fahim Ferdous Promi