Friday, October 16, 2020

Religion does not make people stupid.


Two articles showed up in my news feed that I found particularly interesting, especially when they appeared close together (and I needed a subject to blog about).

The first one, “Does Religion make People Stupid?” ( caught my eye as I have tangled with people who take their interpretation of the Bible as the last word in science, history, ethics and so forth. It isn’t pretty.

Does religion make people stupid? No, stupid people make religion stupid. But stupid people make everything stupid.

One of the most common charges laid at the door of organised religion is that it makes people stupid. As one of the most famous of living atheists, Richard Dawkins, puts it, “One of the things that is wrong with religion is that it teaches us to be satisfied with answers which are not really answers at all.” Dawkins isn’t totally wrong; religion does help some people to be satisfied with ‘answers’ that are not really answers at all. But he misses the rather important point that these people are already stupid or, to be slightly more charitable, they are afraid to think properly.

Dawkins is also unquestionably right about the fact that there are no such things as meaningful religious answers to scientific questions. Science succeeds in making the incredible progress it does precisely by excluding certain types of questions from its investigations and calculations. It limits itself to finding out through observation, hypothesis, and experiment, how the physical world works. It, quite rightly, doesn’t bother with questions such as ‘how should I behave?’, ‘what should I hope for?’, ‘how should I feel about reality itself?’ or ‘Is it better to exist or not to exist?’

Nor is religion particularly good at answering specific moral and social questions. Employing religious arguments sheds absolutely no light at all on whether I should support legalised abortion, or which party to vote for at the next election. In fact, as a day-to-day detailed guide in decision making, religion is more often than not completely useless. This is evidenced by the fact that, within my own Church (Roman Catholic), there is absolutely no consensus on most detailed political, social, medical or ethical dilemmas.

It is a short article and there are only 6 more paragraphs, well worth reading.

The second article from Ancient Origins, “Religion Isn’t the Enemy of Science: It’s Been Inspiring Scientists for Centuries” ( ) brings out noteworthy points about who these scientists were and why they were inspired.

The history of scientific thought is closely linked to that of religious thought, and with much more continuity than discontinuity. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle effectively set the Western template for studying the natural world in the 4th century BC. Most of his hugely influential scientific works were lost to Europe after the Roman Empire collapsed, but were developed by Muslim Arab thinkers like Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) from around 900AD to 1300AD. Early Islamic figures were responsible for very rapid progress in a number of scientific fields, notably maths, medicine and the study of light (optics).

When Aristotle was reintroduced to Europe in the 12th century, his scientific work had a great influence on medieval scholars, who were invariably thinkers within a church, synagogue or mosque. A key example is the 13th-century Oxford theologian and later Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste, who was also a pioneering early scientist. He presented a vision for how we might obtain new knowledge of the universe, the dawning of the first notions of experiment, and even a “big bang” theory of the cosmos and a concept of multiple universes.

When 16th-century philosopher Francis Bacon argued for a new experimental approach to science, he drew explicitly on such theological motivations. As the historian of science Peter Harrison argues, the scientific pioneers who followed Bacon, such as Newton and chemist Robert Boyle, saw their task as working with God’s gifts of senses and minds to recover a lost knowledge of nature.

In fact, science also has roots in ancient Jewish history that are as influential as the ancient Greek precedents. Philosopher Susan Neiman recently argued that the Biblical Book of Job should be understood as a foundation pillar of modern philosophy alongside Plato. This is because Job deals head-on with the problem of an apparently chaotic and fitful world, alien to the human predicament and unmoved in the face of suffering. And this, Neiman claims, is the starting point for philosophy.

It might also be the starting point for science, for Job also contains at its pivotal point the most profound nature poem of all ancient writings. Its verse form of questions is also striking to scientists from all ages, who know that asking the right creative questions – rather than always having the correct answer – is what unlocks progress.

The article is quite short, and it will not take much time to read. The important takeaway is that these people were/are thinkers, not stupid people.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Remembering the Farm - The Dominion Land Survey System


When you grow up on a western Canadian farm, as soon as you leave the blacktop, the Metric System falls by the way and it is miles and acres because that is embedded in our land system and in our DNA. I promised a blog post on Correction Lines. To do that requires an understanding of our land survey system. I am too tired to reinvent the wheel and this PowerPoint presentation (saved as a pdf) explains it far better and clearer than I ever could. It is cear, simple and well illustrated and takes no longer to read than if I wrote a full explanation.

If you want more details, I suggest the following: - history and  detail more history and detail

And for a fascinating story of how the incredible survey from the Red to the Rockies was accomplished, often in the words of the men who did it, I suggest begging, borrowing or stealing this book. Beginning in 1871, with primitive equipment, facing an empty land and untold hardships, these men managed with a remarkable degree of accuracy to divide 310,000 square miles into small squares suitable for settlement and agriculture.

Vision of an Ordered Land: The Story of the Dominion Land Survey
by James Grierson Macgregor

It is out of print but available from ABEBooks

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Saskatchewan Demographics by Census Stated Religion

 Since I posted about Saskatchewan last week, I thought I would tackle this. The back story is that about 10 years ago, a Regina Leader Post article criticized the government for opening the legislative session with prayer. The article was posted on Facebook and drew comments from the usual crowd. Including me. I said that the province had come a long way since it was pretty much either Catholics or Protestants, (with very few exceptions). Christian prayer may have made sense then but not now. 

Whereupon I was shat upon from great heights by two lovely ladies who informed me that Saskatchewan had NEVER been just Catholics and Protestants. I quoted the census data that said otherwise. Their argument was that the First Nations had been forced to give up their traditional beliefs so whatever they put down didn't count. I was cool with that and asked for a reference, suggesting they couldn't just go around making up numbers. They said the census was made up numbers. That ended the conversation.

Since I know people who know people, I was able to get census religious tables with whatever detail they contained for 1901 to 1971. I should have asked for 1981 and 1991 too as what I was able to find was not very detailed. Census tables for 2001 and 2011 were the jackpot when it came to detail. Almost too much.

The reporting format from one 10 year census to the next changed every time. What religion was counted and what was lumped under OTHER was at the whim of the apparatchiki in Ottawa. Just because a religion showed up on one census and not on another did not necessarily mean it wasn't there; it was either pulled out or ignored.

Between 1901 and 1971, there was little change in the overall religious composition. Protestant denominations were added or disappeared but non-Christian religions were almost non-existent. However after 1971, immigration to Saskatchewan took off, especially after 2001. I can hardly wait to add the 2021 census data in a couple years. 

The following tables look at religious distribution in 1911, 1951, 1971 and then 2001 and 2011. 

As the population increased, so did the number of religions. Some were new to the province and some were split out from "Other". The relatively large "Other" in 1911 made me wonder about the attitudes of the tabulators.

The tabulators made up for it in the new century. Not sure what the cutoff was or why some were not listed like the Hutterites (did they ask to be blended in?). People tend to be whatever religion their parents were and will defend to the death the notion that it is the one true faith. The numbers of "No religion" have really taken a jump. Of course, religion is as much a culture as a belief system, like the Irish joke, "Are you a Protestant Atheist or a Catholic Atheist?" 

The United Church of Canada was formed in 1925 from four organizations, including Methodist and 2/3 of the Presbyterian churches. It became the largest Protestant denomination, though membership has steadily declined since 1961. Roman Catholicism dwarfs all the individual Protestant denominations. Anglican and Lutheran membership have declined every census since 1921. Presbyterian membership dropped sharply between 1921 and 1931 with the advent of the United Church. Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox membership reflects the large inflow of "peasants in sheepskin coats" from Eastern Europe and I am quite sure they were present before 1941.

The Jewish religion was listed separately in every census. Given Canada's history of anti-Semitism, I do not imagine it was out of respect to the Jews. Most of the non-Christian religions showed up after 1971 and especially since 1991. The 2021 census will certainly add to the numbers in these religions. I was pleased to see that Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality was not only listed but increased rapidly between 2001 and 2011. White Man's religion did them nothing but harm. The fastest growing religion seems to be "None" and represented almost 25% of the population in 2011.

So we still have Catholic schools and Public schools but the latter are no longer Protestant school as they were in my father's and my time. They are all-inclusive and need to take that into account so no one is excluded or slighted. The number of religions that celebrate something during our traditional winter holiday season quite astounded me.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Odds and Ends of Information about Saskatchewan

 I didn't have many charts and stuff to post about Saskatchewan so I had to set out to find some. My apologies if some of the writing is too small to read. I know, it makes me crazy too.

Map of location in Canada and main highways and communities

Saskatchewan is roughly 500 to 1000 metres above sea level

Saskatchewan settlers initially tended to clump together by ethnic group

The Grand Trunk Pacific (later the CNR) by 1908 was providing competition to the CPR. The main line from Winnipeg to Edmonton, through Saskatoon was unique in that the designated stations were all named in alphabetical with some exceptions. Coblenz (Cavell from 1915) was my home town.

Regina temperatures and precipitation are typical for the province. Hot in summer, cold and dry in winter. Average provincial precipitation ranges from 350 to 450 mm, mostly in May through August which makes dryland farming of spring crops the best alternative.

Wheat was king until the early 2000s when Canola production increased sharply and gross revenue surpassed wheat. Barley production, mainly for feed, averaged 3 million t (between 2 and 4 million t)

Durum wheat is a major crop in Saskatchewan, suiting the dryer areas. The 30 year average for wheat not durum was 9.2 million t and for durum 3.9 million t. It gets shipped around the world and some makes its way back to our grocery stores as pasta where it says made in Italy.

I used this before showing the long term decline in wheat price in real dollars

Any time I can talk about cows, I will. The hump in the mid 2000s was a result of finding Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease(CJD) in Canadian cattle in 2003 and all exports instantly shut off. We eventually ate some and the borders reopened, so we are now down to around a million cows which is more or less the long term average for Saskatchewan

Some farms still have a few cows but economics drives increased herd size, mainly the cost of winter feed

Roughly 60% of farms reporting beef cows have 20% of the provincial cow herd, averaging 30 cows per farm. 40% of the farms reporting beef cows account for 80% of the provincial cow herd and average 188 cows per farm

Friday, September 18, 2020

Odds and Ends of Information About Canada

 I collect scraps of useless information. I used to Xerox it but now it is much easier and takes less space on a hard drive. Also easier to find IF I label and sort right. Here are some bits of Canadiana for your enjoyment. Totally random.

Not every Canadian uses every slang term but we all use some of them

Our population tends to be concentrated in the cities of Ontario and Quebec

Roads tend to be few and far between in most of Canada

Farming in western Canada occurs mainly in the Dark Grey to Brown soil zones, the shape of which corresponds to the road density in the photo above.

Declining Saskatchewan wheat prices in constant dollars drive farm expansion and mechanization which in turn drives the price down further in a never ending cycle.

It is all downhill from Thunder Bay to the Atlantic

I am ashamed to admit I have only been to a few of our National Parks. Decades ago, a friend and I talked about applying to be Wardens in one of the High Arctic Parks. Our wives said we could visit them in Montreal.

Sable Island is a 44 km long sandbar about 160 km east of Nova Scotia. This is a list of known wrecks since 1585. There are feral horses living on the island that were deliberately brought there a couple hundred years ago to raise for meat. They are now protected. 

Most Canadians live south of the 49th parallel while Europeans are spread out over a wide range of latitude

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Remembering the Farm: Grain Handling at Harvest

 Once the grain was in the hopper on the combine, the question became what to do with it. On our farm in the early 50s that was a problem. Dad had neither a truck nor an auger; he had two rubber tired wagons of questionable vintage that held maybe 50 bu and 75 bu. They did not have hoists so grain would have to be shoveled off into the bin, if you look at old wooden grain bins, you will usually see a window near the top.  That was to shovel the grain from the wagon into the bin.

Some background is required here. At that time, Dad farmed 640 acres, of which 320 were deeded and cultivated, while 320 were rented. The rented land had 80 cultivated acres. There was a total of 400 cultivated acres of which 100 acres were summerfallow. Crop rotation was usually 100 acres summerfallow wheat, 100 acres stubble wheat and 100 acres barley or oats grown on stubble after the two wheat crops. Being generous that would mean 5,000 to 6,000 bushels of grain to harvest and store.

A bushel is a unit of volume. A bushel of wheat weighs 60 lbs, of barley 48 lbs and of oats 34 lbs. They all occupy the same space as in an Imperial bushel is 0.78 cubic feet and an American bushel is 0.80 cubic feet. A wooden grain bin 12’x14’x8’ would hold roughly 1,000 Imperial bushels. It would need to be cross braced inside about 1/3 up with wire or rods to prevent the pressure of the grain from forcing out the walls. I have no idea what the farm had for storage in the very early 50s but I know several wooden rectangular bins were added over a few years.

Typical rectangular wooden granaries, usually on wooden floors, sometimes with foundations other times just skids

The grain would be hauled to the local elevator (Saskatchewan Wheat Pool) beginning in the fall and through out the winter and following spring as quotas opened up and if there was room in the elevator. With luck the bins would be empty in time to hold the harvest. Cleaning them for fall meant sweeping out the bird droppings and any rotten grain that stayed in the corners. I hated that job. We never heard of Hantavirus in those days. My brother remembers cutting the ends out of tin cans and nailing them over mouse holes in the walls and floors

A 15’ diameter round bin would also hold about 1,000 bu with the advantage of not needing inside bracing, just strapping around the outside. It was filled through a hole in the centre of the roof with an auger. Round wooden bins painted red with black or green roofs were quite popular by the end of the 60s and you still see them abandoned, out in the middle of a field or rotting away in a row of round and rectangular bins. The disadvantage was you had to buy them as most lacked the skill to build them themselves. And had to have an auger long enough to reach.

Typical round wooden bins, usually with wooden floors set on skids

Back to the combine. The simplest solution was to clean off a place and pile the grain on the ground, hauling it home after harvest. Usually, he would make a circle with snow fence and line it with tarpaper to reduce the amount of grain in contact with the ground. Dad borrowed a short auger from our neighbour and filled the wagon, hooked the auger behind it, and drove it home slowly. The auger went into the little window and he would shovel the grain to the back of the wagon and then distribute it in the bin as required. Sometimes he got tired of hauling the auger home and would just shovel off the load. Next time he would take the auger.

In 1955, my Grandfather Johnson sold out and Dad bought his 49 Mercury 1 ton truck with a grain box and hoist. Life changed dramatically and that truck was our go-to work horse for 15 years (until he bought the Ford Louisville about 1971). About the same time as he bought the 1949 Mercury, he bought a new Versatile 28’ 6” auger with a (very dependable) Wisconsin gas engine. Grain handling became much easier. He had a hired man in the fall to drive the truck until I was big enough. The hired man drove it on the road; I had to drive it cross country which was simple as our land was all connected.

Three or four combine hopper dumps would fill the truck and you hoped that Dad wouldn’t have to wait too long for it to get back. I checked the hopper capacity of the new big combines 400 bu and up. No wonder farmers buy semis to haul from the combine.

Dad purchased another 320 cultivated acres and 160 of native grass and later broke up the remaining 80 acres of grass on the one quarter and  That gave him five quarters of cultivated land of which he summerfallowed one quarter each year. This all added to his need for grain storage.

This is pretty much how it stayed until the early 1970s. My youngest brother filled in some details as I was long gone by then. Dad bought a steel bin (3,000 bu?) in 1972 and put it on a concrete base. He bought several after that but on wooden floors with skids under them. At the estate sale in September 2002, the farm kept three bins including the one on concrete. In 2013 my two brothers, two renters and “two other guys” set the two bins on hopper bottoms as the wooden floors were starting to rot.

Setting the steel bin on the hopper bottom

Note the ability to insert a grain aerator fan into the hopper. Depending on the situation grain aeration can be used dry it, keep it from heating or bring the moisture level up to the legal maximum to market.

Dad finishing his last harvest 2001. The yellow truck was to jumpstart the auger engine. Dad only farmed the home quarter the last few years and rented the rest out. The other auger in the picture was also Dad’s and was sold at the estate sale.

Temporary storage belonging to one of the renters. The auger was purchased at the estate sale. The family continues to own the land and rent it out

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Remembering the Farm: Harvesting with Clipper Combines

 My first memory of harvest on our farm was possibly 1950 when I was coming 4 years old. Dad had the crop custom combined by a neighbour who had a self-propelled combine. Dad was not happy with him because he went too fast and threw too much grain out the back.

The next year Dad bought a new Massey Harris Clipper combine, with a 6 foot cutter bar, a canvas table to feed the crop to the cylinder, and a five foot cylinder. (For non-farm people – the cylinder turns at high speed and rub bars on the cylinder beat the grain out of the heads by running very close to the concave. Grain, chaff and straw exit the cylinder/concave to the straw walkers, and sieves, where a fan and sieves separate the grain, weed seeds and chaff, sending the grain to the hopper, and the chaff, weed seeds and straw out the back).

The Clipper pull-type combine was manufactured from 1938 to 1958 and was one of the most popular pull-type combines that Massey-Harris produced.

The Massey Clipper had one major fault in that it could thresh a heavy stand but there was no way to adjust the fan speed and sieves to prevent grain loss out the back unless you went slow. Dad pulled it with an Oliver 77 which had a live PTO to drive the combine but had no inboard hydraulics, so adjustments were by lever, manually. It had one other major fault which I will get to later in the post.

Dad made a simple straw buncher which was pulled behind the combine to catch the straw, chaff, and any grain for winter feed for the cows. When the buncher would get full, Dad would manually lift it to clear the contents.

I do not remember how long we used the Massy (it sat in the yard for years as Dad was always “going to do something with it”. But sometime before 1960, I think, he bought a John Deere 12A Clipper. Much the same rig as the Massey but did a much better job of separating the grain from the chaff and putting it in the hopper, instead of the straw buncher (which carried on with the new machine). By this time, we had an Oliver 88 tractor with in-board hydraulic so no more manual levers, except for the straw buncher.

By selling over 116,000 units between 1939 and 1952, the John Deere 12A became the company’s most popular PTO-driven model ever.

However, the John Deere Clipper came with its own headaches. The canvass on the Massey could be tightened by straps and buckles. That wasn’t fancy enough for John Deere. The canvass bolted together and was tightened or loosened by adjusting the rollers on the combine. Except in hot weather the canvass got slightly more slack than the adjustment could tighten. A slightly slack canvass tends to stall and plug. A crowbar carried on the tractor was useful in prying the canvass to get it moving again. There were many times when both Dad and I (I was running the combine myself by then) were sorely tempted to throw the crowbar into the machine and as Hamlet put it “and by opposing end them”.

The pictures and videos show the combines straight cutting, i.e. cutting standing crop straight into the combine. In Saskatchewan at the time, swathing was the norm. Standing grain would be cut into a swath which lay on top of the stubble to dry and to let the green spots mature. A pickup would be mounted on the cutter bar and would pick up the swath and the canvas would feed it into the cylinder.

The pickup on the Massey consisted of spring loaded teeth that went round and round under the swath, feeding it onto the table. It also picked up rocks, flipping them up onto the swath. The distance between the rub bars and the concave was very small and needless to say, rocks were deleterious to its health. Little rocks were sometimes caught in a tray in front of the cylinder but something half the size of your fist would bring everything to a grinding halt. Rub bars would be removed and straightened, sometimes the concave needed to be removed and beaten back into shape.  Any combine that used that type of pickup had the same problem. There were several custom pickup builders in those days and the one on the John Deere Clipper was vastly superior. I cannot recall the name of it to save my life.

We were still using the John Deere Clipper when I left home in 1965 to go to University. Dad eventually traded it to a First Nations farmer from North Battleford area for a red and while cow with a heifer calf at foot. Best deal he ever made. She was an awesome cow and by the time Dad sold the cattle, she had several daughters and granddaughters in the herd.

If you are a JD history fan, this link will give you all the diagrams, and instructions for the 12A: