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The 2012 Dave Awards: Person

December 31, 2012 2 comments

While Time Magazine may be giving person of the year to President Barak Obama, we know they are only doing so because he won re-election. Let’s face it; if he had lost they would be giving the honor to Mitt Romney. For me, the person of the year is the one that no one could stop talking about or the person for whom the news revolved around. In this case, it’s not about winners and losers; it’s about the players of the game. That’s why this year’s award has to go to, “Mitt Romney—the actual Mitt Romney.” Romney really shaped the news, inadvertently most of the time, but really this election was about one thing—whether or not he could beat the president. The president, as an incumbent, really has to not fuck up. That’s the goal. Conservative or liberal, you kind of have to admit that he hasn’t really had any major fuckups that the public really cared about. Romney’s goal was much more difficult he had to attain the presidency even though he was already a loser; he lost the nomination in 2008 for the GOP, which never looks good. He also had to represent a party that was extremely more conservative than his record even came close to. That he did not succeed should not be a mark on him, he tried, it’s time to move on or back to Bain or wherever people like him go.

Anyway, Mitt Romney always had a relate-ability problem. He did more to expose the view of the ultra-rich toward everyone else than any Occupy protest (whatever happened to them?) or reporter ever could. In his infamous 47% speech, in which he explained that almost half of all Americans are on the dole without paying taxes of any kind it, he failed to understand that a majority of that group are not just people living the high life on other people’s taxes. That group included veterans, the elderly, and people who are really trying to get on their feet. It always seemed odd to me that his platform was about how bad the economy is and how much people are suffering and his solution to that was to take away the safety net, but I didn’t vote for him so it doesn’t really matter. The thing about the 47% speech is that I really think he believes that those people are just freeloaders, who unlike him don’t have the connections to just get a job. He’s like a skinny person telling a fat person to, “just don’t eat the doughnut if you’re not hungry.” The thin person just doesn’t get it.

When the right wing decided to back him (despite their desire for literally anyone else—including crazy people) they had to make sure that he would distance himself from his main opponent—past Mitt Romney. Romney’s problem was always that he was as distant and out of touch as John Kerry was eight years earlier but now he had to placate an increasingly dumber and more zealous base of the party, a strategy that I never understood since those people were never going not vote against Obama. Without putting a distance between past Romney, it made little sense for present Romney to campaign on a platform of repealing Obamas Healthcare reform act since it was modeled after a past-Romney’s successful program in Massachusetts. He was pro-choice and that doesn’t work with the present GOP, but for some reason they still nominated him. What he thought was funny no one else did, just ask Big Bird. There were very few times that he was able to gain momentum, but whenever he did so his second big opponent was there to steal the spotlight away from him.

His second biggest opponent was not the President, the Democrats, or whatever liberal conspiracy you might think is out there (and if you do think there exists one, I’m surprised you kept reading this far): no—his biggest opponent was the Republican Party. I’ve said it before, that if it wasn’t for the religious zealotry, the anti-education, anti-science, black and white ideology—I could be a Republican. I don’t like an intrusive government but they apparently want the law to govern what can and can’t happen in the bedroom, who can and can’t get married and a whole bunch of other issues that don’t have any impact on the general population. I want less spending to pay for government programs, only I want that to come out of the military spending. We don’t need a base in Japan anymore; I think China will be safe from them. We don’t need a new aircraft carrier, we don’t need…I’m getting off track.

Whenever Mitt decided to gain momentum, whether it was from a really good speech or a really good debate, one of his fellow Republicans would swoop in to steal the spotlight by explaining to a camera what the GOP’s base’s position was on a social issue. From Rush Limbaugh verbally attacking a private citizen, to being thankful because god willed that you got a rape baby, Romney couldn’t hold on to the good because he always had to comment on the bad. He had to explain that he wouldn’t have phrased Limbaugh’s comment the way he wanted it, but he could never really build on his own momentum. Trump tried to bring back the birther debate right around the time Romney killed the president in that first debate. What Romney ought to have done was publicly tell his party to shut up; at that point, he really was their only hope. It’s perhaps why; he could never explain the details of his secret plan for economic recovery, even though that plan had a fluctuating number of points. Or that his plan to cut spending seemed to include increasing military spending.

What the whole campaign showed was that if the GOP is going to survive, then ironically it needs to evolve. It needs to not like a party of wrinkly old white men who don’t let women in when it’s time discuss women’s reproductive rights. The biggest irony though: was that when all was said and done, Romney was the one with 47% of the vote.

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Being An Atheist IX: Stop Anthropomorphizing Your Deity!

December 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Currently, I’m enrolled in a Ph.D program at University in a philosophy program. At the end of every semester we get together to have a, ‘damn I’m glad this shit is over,’ party. In the fall semester this always falls around the holiday season, so it’s also a holiday/Christmas/Hanukkah party. This post isn’t about the holiday season, I don’t care about the alleged war going on over what we ought to call it. The big holiday is Christmas, stores can order their employees to either do it or not, I’m not that insecure in my view that if someone tells me “merry Christmas” that I get offended. A group of were sitting in the lounge room having a discussion about some facet of American history. One person, whom I can’t remember, brought up the fact that Thomas Jefferson was a deist. I’ve made mention of deism before because it lies in a curious middle ground between theism and atheism. They are non-religious (sometime vehemently so) but technically believe in a god. The whole deal with deism is that it solves the first cause problem (that we need something to explain the creation of the universe) but then rejects any supernatural or superstitious involvement in the world. That’s just a brief recap, it can get pretty involved as a theological philosophy.

In this group of philosophy students, one person began to doubt the idea that Jefferson was a deist because the deist position, to him, is more ridiculous than the atheist argument. I who had been in the ever angering Continental versus Rationalism philosophy debate (because apparently there are only two choices) quickly switched gears. As a person who is in the strict minority on the god question (approaching only 5% according to recent surveys) I’m used to hearing that my view is ridiculous. What I’m not used to hearing is that my view is less ridiculous than a person who believes in god, from a theist. Prima facie, this seems awfully odd, however there ought to be more to this than just the statement given. The reasoning behind this claim was that what deism postulates—a disinterested god—is utterly untenable. There is no reasonable justification that a being would walk away from its creation or just observe it from afar.

I jumped in saying that if there was a god and it was an anthropomorphic being than that objection would make sense (it would still render the initial statement regarding deism more absurd than atheism wrong though) The reply was that, I was wrong because you don’t have to anthropomorphize god you just have to understand that the deist god doesn’t act toward its creation the way we do.

Of course this person is still making god into a man. Even then, he’s still wrong. Sometimes people do things just to do them. I have many short stories that exist just for the sake of me wanting to write them. Even the thing you are reading right now is just me wanting to write things for the sake of writing them (for the most part that is, there is the underlying intent of having people read this, but I would still do it even if I knew no one read it). The concept of creating something and then leaving it to its fate does exist, children do it all the time. The other issue is that couldn’t we be the failed creation experiment? What if, in all seriousness, we aren’t the pinnacle of creation that we assume we are. Perhaps there is a better world out there that gets direct attention from the creator. If I write two stories and one of them is better than the other why wouldn’t I continue to work on the better one?

However, the main point is that despite his claim that he isn’t doing it, there still exists the god-man. The being that is pretty much a man but with omnipotent power just like Superman only not lame. Most religions involve different versions of an anthropomorphic deity, it seems to be a normal condition of religious worship. Yet this feature has been criticized by the pre-socratic philosopher Xenophanes. He remarked that if horses could draw, they would draw horse-gods, oxen oxen-gods. After all, the gods of the Greeks look Greek. Xenophanes said that the Ethiopians’ gods were all snubbed nosed and dark skinned, that the Thracians’ gods had red hair, depictions of Jesus look like he would be right at home in Europe despite the obviousness that he would look more like Yassar Arafat than David Cameron. Believing that god/gods look like us is no different than the horse-gods of Ponyville.

By taking the best qualities that a horse could come up with, the qualities that the herd of horses valued as being the best is now they would have developed their gods. It would be an equine-pomorphized deity but for no other reason than that is what horses esteemed. There is no other reason to think that the divine looks like a person anymore than it looks like a horse.

If we have no legitimate reason to think that the divine being looks like us, what reason do we have to opine that it thinks like us? In other words, why does my colleague assume that his god would act exactly like he does with regard to creations? This I feel, is the appeal of the deist position. It assumes that the divine is nothing like us, and that it would have no stake in our fate whatsoever. It makes more sense than a constantly meddling, tinkerer god who has a vain need for our worship and an inordinate amount of attention focused on our eating and sexual behavior.

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The 2012 Dave Awards: Best Television Show

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

I believe last year’s winner was Community, as well it should have been. This year would have been the same if not for a glut of good things to watch, and for vast improvements in shows that really looked like the shark had been jumped. For instance, Community itself apparently fired creator Dan Harmon, and decided that it would embrace the crazy of the show whole-heartedly making for quite an interesting series. My personal favorite was “Lupine Urology” a send up of cop procedurals, most notably of Law and Order (even the title of the show is a play on Law and Order’s creator Dick Wolf). We even got to hear Professor Omar utter the line, “a man has got to have a code.” The Walking Dead, finally did what Lost should have done in season 3, started knocking off the annoying characters and returning the series to its zombie origins. Newsroom, on HBO, gave us an alcoholic Jack McCoy whose crazy eyebrows accentuated the need for a real news show that regarded all politicians with contempt, doesn’t fall under the sway of having to pretend that there are two sides to every argument, although perhaps they could have shown some actual reporting work being done and dropped the romantic subplots. Game of Thrones, continued its run, showing us the Joffrey that we always knew was in there and how to handle multiple plot threads at the same time without feeling frenetic.

Yet for all of what was good, there is one show that tackled current events in a way that really showed why, in real life, not everything is black and white, that, in fact, most things are painted in grey. This show tackled topics like genocide, insurgent warfare, counter-insurgent warfare, drone strikes, and that sometimes even the bad guys have legitimate emotional ties to each other. No, I’m not talking about Homeland, I’m talking about this season’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Re-read that list of topics again and tell me that sounds like a kid’s show, because it airs on Saturday mornings in between a bunch of shows that I can’t remember. It’s a kid’s show, it’s a cartoon, I know all of these things. I also know that the series has to overcome its major problem: that we know the fate of almost every character in the show. It’s hard to build tension when that happens, we know Kenobi makes it, Anakin sort of does, Padme dies, Dooku dies, General Grievous dies, Yoda goes into hiding, R2D2 makes it, etc. The show does its best when we leave those characters out of the spotlight and focus on the people we have no idea about.

I don’t know who said it, but good sci-fi isn’t about the future (or in this case the past) it’s about the present. For all of the gadgets and space magic in science fiction there has to be some thread of present by which the story is communicated. Good science fiction tells us about ourselves now, and if a death ray threatens a planet in the a 1960s alien/robot movie, we know they are really talking about atomic bombs. This is probably why I can’t stand Firefly (and it’s terrible movie), because that was sci-fi that was about the fictional past. Clone Wars works because it takes the star wars universe and cashes out the easy dichotomy of good and evil. Sure we know the Republic is good and the Separatists are evil, and we only know that because the Separatists use the dark side of the force, but without that aspect would we really know? Some guy sitting on a Separatist planet probably has no fondness for evil but he doesn’t have the perspective that we do. He’s just some guy, with blue skin, doing his job. As Ben Stiller said in “The Zero Effect,” “There aren’t good guys and bad guys, there are just a bunch of guys.”

Yet, we know that in the Star Wars universe there are bad guys. There are mean shark people who fight some other kind of mermaid people and everyone watches to see what a lightsabre does underwater. Between the epic battles and titanic space fights, what The Clone Wars does for some episode arcs (which I think they ought to do all of the time) is show the grit of war. For instance, bringing back Darth Maul by his brother Savage Oppress (the names are always terrible), to see that although they are horrible evil space demons they have a brotherhood bond that reveals that they are more than emotionless murder machines. They love each other in the same way that Anakin and Obi-Won love each other, they just happen to be dark siders.

One of the more compelling stories, and the most shocking; focused on two groups of villains—Count Dooku and this weird group of Space Witches. The witches were tasked with finding Dooku a new apprentice because he had to kill the old one by order of his master, and things didn’t work out so well in the deal. In retribution for the perceived deception Dooku orders the extinction of their race. Ok, fine, that’s how the dark side rolls we get that. Then they show it, the droid army comes in with tanks and massacres the space witches. Up to that point they were both evil yet Dooku’s action made me pity the evil space witches who created Darth Maul and his unfortunately named brother. They created them by kidnapping relatively peaceful men from a nearby town and then performing spells to erase any compassion they had. The show then made me pity them as the droid army mowed them down under blaster and tank fire. Only one lived. I stopped watching the show with my four year old after this episode.

The real award stealer is the insurgency episode. Some planet that rhymes with Tantooine, but isn’t because it’s not a desert, sides with the Separatists and the Republic doesn’t like it. So they come up with a plan that would be just as home in Westeros as it is in a Galaxy far far away. The plan is to drop some military advisors and two Jedi Knights on the planet to aid the guerrillas in their war against the government. Remember, the only reason we know who is good is because this fictional universe has told us in advance that Anakin and Asoka are not terrorists. It’s hard to remember that when Anakin begins instructing his merry band of guerrilla fighters to begin attacking “soft targets” and infrastructure within the city. Even the Jedi Council balks at this suggestion, but they lay down their moral ideology for the pragmatic reality of war. It’s like the show is explaining to children why the US uses drones to kill people without trial in countries we aren’t at war with: sometimes the good guys have to get their hands dirty. Ashoka’s band (she’s left as head advisor) then comes into conflict with a new droid that acts a lot like the Hind helicopters the Soviets used against the Afghan population during the 80s. So what’s a jedi to do? Easy, take a bunch of government money and hire the help of a space-pirate/murderer (who in later episodes threatens to kill a bunch of children for their sabre crystals) to deliver missiles to the insurgents. That’s Iran-Contra scandal, Charlie Wilson’s plan to get Stingers to the Mujahadeen, and the US dealings with countries of questionable moral authority all at the same time…in a kid’s show.

I liked these episodes because they confronted the reality of war without condescending to their intended audience (of which I know that I am not in). And like good science fiction, it’s really about us.

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The 2012 Dave Awards: Quote

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Every year since I started doing this (could be this year for all I know) I have tried to make some sort of noteworthies list from the past year. It’s the end of 2012 and between all of the fads (Kony 2012 anyone?), news stories, and people sometimes things get lost in the translation. IT takes a real cynic to locate them, ridicule them, and then spin out something coherent where the rest of the world quickly scrolls through the post looking for the stuff they already know in some attempt to see that other people agree with them.

In a blatant rip off of Cracked.com’s year-end lists I’m going to do this by subject. So the next few posts, until the beginning of the next year are going to be reviews of things that I found important and why.

Quote of the year: “We have these things called aircraft carriers, planes land on them.”

Context: this was the third debate of the presidential election. The clown car travesty that was the GOP primary had been over for some time and to absolutely no one’s surprise Mitt Romney was pretending that he had some chance at winning the presidency. Romney…I don’t know why anyone thought he was going to win, I don’t know why anyone expected him to win, and I certainly don’t know why he thought he was going to win. This quote from President Obama during the crucial “foreign policy debate” summed up for me what exactly was the problem with the GOP platform this year: ignorance.

Upon the president’s re-election, Bill O’Reilly claimed that the era of Leave it to Beaver was over, and no shit. It wasn’t over because Obama had won, not because US Census data confirmed that white people are the minority, and not because Hispanics, blacks, single women, gays, atheists, non-Christians, etc. all voted for Obama. It’s because it never existed. “Leave it to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” “My Three Sons,” etc. were fictional television shows trying to be nostalgic for a period of time that had just passed at the time of the televisions shows first airings. It was people yearning for a time that didn’t exist. It’s a single guy thinking about his ex-girlfriend from awhile back. Yeah, it looks good now, but that’s because at this distance you can’t see the crazy. It makes no sense for people to wax nostalgically about something that never existed, and it makes less sense for the Tea Party because taxes were exponentially higher on the rich, businesses were expected to pay taxes, and people didn’t think that the sick ought to die for not having money.

What the GOP missed in its appeal to me was anything approaching common sense. See Obama isn’t just saying that to Romney for the hell of it, he’s saying it because the bubble of “truth” that the GOP and its conservative fanatical base built as a foundation for attacking the president lacks a certain factual basis. Not that I am saying they are lying. To lie you have to know the truth and then purposely attempt to convince another person that the truth is untrue or represent fiction as fact. I don’t know if these people are lying or if they are ignorant, I also don’t know which worries me more. But Romney needed something, something on foreign policy that would make him seem better than the president. It was his weak point, and instead of nominating some guy with actual foreign policy experience (John Huntsman former ambassador to China) they picked a guy whose foreign experience was being a missionary of the Mormon church in France. Any call by the GOP that Obama was weak on terror was laughable at best. This is the president who got Osama, and has so many drone strikes on his record that even Skynet thinks he ought to dial it back a little.

Romney’s claim was terrible. I don’t know who prepped him but there is little doubt that person doesn’t also live in the GOP bubble. He was claiming that the government needs to increase the Navy, as our Navy is smaller than in 1918 (or some year). Never mind that our Navy is so ridiculously large that the next ten Navies don’t equal it in tonnage (which is how they measure that sort of thing–thanks Wikipedia!), and that one destroyer from now could annihilate that Navy on its own. Even with radar that Navy would stand a chance. Grab a time machine and send the USS Enterprise (the water ship, not the space ship) back to 1941, just that one aircraft carrier and Pearl Harbor never happens.

This was one of those moments where the President probably had to restrain himself from erupting with joy at such a ludicrous claim. Yet the comment is sarcastic, which is rightly belittling such an absurd position for what it is. No ship, in any Navy from 1918 could compete with our smaller Navy now, anyone who thinks its just about numbers ought to be ridiculed for thinking so. It was something that for the last fifteen years people have been afraid to do and it has gotten us where we are today. Liars ought to be called liars, bullshitters ought to be called bullshitters, and absurd claims ought to be labeled as such. Perhaps this is the year we can start doing this daily and not believe the lies because it sounds like something we would agree with.

Runnerup: Megyn Kelley, “Is this just the math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?”

To Karl Rove, who after it was all but inevitable, still thought that the election would swing back to Romney. For the same reasoning listed above, but I’m not as sure that Rove believed what he was saying as Romney believed what he was saying.

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Being an Atheist VIII: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

December 8, 2012 Leave a comment

How could we not? It’s not like any other holiday in this country (the United States), it lasts roughly two months, it has its own soundtrack and aesthetic which permeates every sense that we have…except maybe touch. Yes, I suppose touch can escape the rest of it. There are two points about the Christmas season that I think are especially poignant for atheists of my ilk (the non-fanatical kind). 

The first is the alleged war on Christmas that isn’t in any way, shape, or form, happening. Personally I don’t care one way or the other, but there are some really interesting contradictions from the group of people that are always complaining that someone somewhere is conducting this war. The major one is that a person most likely to complain about Christmas being under siege is a person who also more than likely wants to make sure that their tax dollars aren’t going to something they believe is wrong (see Sandra Fluke if you need a recent example) yet at the same time seem to want to make sure that Nativity scenes can be erected on government property with government dollars. This, despite the fact that those tax dollars are being spent on something that other people do not believe in, or do not celebrate (for instance Jehova’s Witnesses are Christians but don’t do holidays so any celebration of such would offend their religious beliefs). It’s a contradiction but it’s a contradiction if you try and see things from an unselfish angle…I suppose then that is the problem. 

The second problem, is that the person who again, is more likely to complain about a non-issue, is also the person who is more likely to believe that private businesses can do whatever they want being, private businesses; will begin to boycott a business because it mandates a policy of using the generic holiday greeting “happy holidays,” rather than the Christian specific, “Merry Christmas.” This problem, from my disinterested point of view, is that of placing the cart before the horse. The way I always see it framed is that somewhere some person of non-Christian background walked into a store, some employee greeted them with a Merry Christmas, that customer became all upset and now the store has decided that they would rather offend the Christian majority than one person who just can’t accept that it’s Christmas time and not holiday time. This is more than likely a bullshit story, and I’m just hypothesizing here but I’m willing to bet that finances are the major player here. If you notice in the last ten years Hanukkah has become a much bigger holiday than it actually is in the Jewish religion. It is not a “high holiday” as my semitic friends have explained to me. It’s elevation has a lot more to do with holiday competition, and it also occurs around roughly the same period of time that Christmas does and I’m willing to bet (small) that their internal policy change–if there is even one, has more to do with getting people inside their stores than with not offending the non-Christians. There is a secondary problem I have with this issue, and that is in my experience I have never been told not to say “Merry Christmas.” I bring it up because I have worked for six corporations and not one of them has ever directed it’s employees to not say “Merry Christmas.” The only thing we were ever directed regarding religion in the work place was to not preach our beliefs to fellow workers or customers. We could, of course, talk about it but not be pushy was the point. Would you want an employee who drove out the customers with their rantings? Probably not. I just don’t see this as an issue, probably because I’m a reasonable person who doesn’t feel the need to pretend that I’m being oppressed (which is, in fact, most people that I know religious or not). 

The other question regarding this holiday and this time of year, is whether or not I, my family/daughter celebrate Christmas. It’s a fair question and when the people asking it, ask me if I celebrate Christmas they really aren’t concerned with whether I do but whether I let my daughter do so. The answer is: yes, for both. I do Christmas because at this point it seems more like a social holiday than a religious one. Even the religious aspect doesn’t bother me. It’s a story to me that more than likely didn’t happen and for sure didn’t happen at the time we celebrate it. Does this make me a hypocrite? I’m not sure on that. If you want to get strict about it, then I suppose it does apply since it’s a day with a religious origin but I can get through the Christmas season without ever encountering the religious aspect and that takes very little effort. The songs are repeated ad nauseum to the point where my mind just kicks them into the background and how many of them are really religious? Jingle Bells is about riding on a sleigh, Frosty the Snowman is about a snow zombie that comes to life and orders children around, Rudolph is about a deformed reindeer who is teased and shunned until the other reindeer discover that his deformity is useful to him, Baby it’s Cold Outside is about two people who want to have sex and are just listing all of the excuses they can to not part ways…you have the specific religious songs but for every one of them there is a song that can, at best, be described as agnostic. The symbol of Christmas, the tree, is expressly forbidden by the Bible (Jeremiah 10:1-5 if you’re feeling cheeky keep reading on to where Jeremiah says that god is going to destroy those people with the trees) so seeing them in stores does not bother me what so ever. Nor does putting them up and going through the entire rigamaroll of the season. The only reason not do so would just be to militantly adhere to an ideology just for the sake of opposing another. As an atheist, since we don’t really have a dedicated secular holiday (maybe American Independence day) we do get all of the holidays, it’s just that we aren’t mandated to do so. 

I also purposely titled this post after the worst Christmas song ever. Mainly because it involved a large group of millionaires getting together to beg for money from us to feed the poor, couldn’t they have just done it themselves? Eh, Bono? 

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Dispatches from the War on Christmas

December 4, 2012 Leave a comment

To: Legal

From: Agent 7083264617

Subject: Rocks and Hard Places have very little space between them

Legal I have a question, and frankly this is a question that has come up repeatedly regarding our final goal and the methodology by which we are to proceed for it. For the last year or so, especially within the last month ever since we resolved our problem on 11-6 (although I still think it was foolish to both rig it and indulge in that much v. fraud) we have been pressing forth with our shadow war. We did the usual suspects, inch the beginning of the shopping season by another day, I mean you have to give us credit this year not only did we have some stores do their specials on wednesday but we that one store to ruin Thanksgiving! I tell you we popped our corks on that one. The problem that we are having has to do with our political machinations that we’ve been running. 

Now we’ve run into a problem: so we’ve been kind of working on just a general overthrow of Christianity and I think we’ve been doing a decent job battling inches. We’ve basically gotten the country divided between the muslim-atheist alliance and the fundamental christians. One of the methods that we’ve been using is to change the focus of the party that seems to really care about this sort of thing to a de-regulation pro business party that worships rich people. Well in order to this we’ve been really running that pro-business angle to the point where any legal proposal to mandate what a business can and can’t do gets a lot of air time. We may have painted ourselves into a corner. See the same group that wants to make sure businesses can do whatever they want is also the same group that seems to think its important to force people to say Merry Christmas. We have on the books a proposal to introduce a mandatory holiday wishing law, it will never pass you will insure that, but won’t the same group that worships private business be resentful of trying to force what a person says to another at business? Our confusion is that if a business, say an office supply store, wants to include the Jews celebrating Hanukkah, the African-Americans celebrating Kwanzaa, the Muslims celebrating Ramadan, etc. doesn’t their philosophy hold that those businesses get to do whatever it is that they want? They don’t want to force these businesses to say “Merry Christmas” do they?

D

 

To: Agent 7083264617

From: Legal

Subject: I know…but

D, 

We over here at legal understand your concern. It seems a contradiction but go ahead anyway. We’ve commercialized the holiday to over saturation, the ones that complain the most seem to indulge the most as well. The worst case scenario: they actually have to back off of the phrase-issue and we have to find another way to undermine it. Remember that these are people who want less government intrusion in their lives but think there ought to be laws governing marriage and who gets to have sex with whom. Contradiction is nothing new. 

O

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Being an Atheist Part VII: Another Look at Design

December 1, 2012 Leave a comment

One of the more difficult things about changing from a theist to an atheist is having to confront all of the prior information that tells you that theism is the way things are. You have to confront the belief system that you used to subscribe to and then say that all of that was false. This is especially difficult if you were well read enough to know that simply being told that theism was true wasn’t enough and decided that maybe reading into the subject would be a good idea. Bible literalists don’t do this, they attach their arguments to one book, which is problematic because the book offers no proof for what it is claiming. Recently, I was in a rather long argument on this blog with someone making precisely that claim. Proof of X has to come from outside of X, or it has to be a rational argument. Otherwise we simply fall back into presuming our conclusion in order to justify our conclusion.

Tackling someone who is trying to argue the circular argument is a lost cause. It takes a hammer to break that circle and I know of no hammer sufficiently hard. The only way to go about it is to get them to leave the circle of their own volition. Most people don’t argue the circle, for the common sense reason that it simply doesn’t work. It can justify something to their own self but not to another person. As a Catholic kid, I was never taught the circular argument…I was never really taught anything as way of proof. That is until a misguided aside by my seventh grade religion teacher.

One of the reasons none of this was ever tackled prior was that everyone we knew believed. Sure, there were people that didn’t go to church, or their were people that went to different churches, but at the end of the day the idea that someone would seriously question whether or not god existed was not something that actually existed so why bother? I’m kind of proof of why you should bother.

I can’t remember what made her do it, but she began to tell a story regarding a friend that built a model of something. And the friend was asked who made it, the friend replied that no one made it, it just randomly fell into its ordered pattern. Apparently the other person was an atheist. Now of course the atheist isn’t going to accept that what is clearly the product of human design was a random generation…and that was precisely the point of the whole thing. I doubt that this whole episode really happened. The teacher was, as I remember it, not that effective. Her point was made though and that was that.

What she was discussing is probably the most common argument, aside from the bible literalists of course, that is used to prove that god exists. It is an old argument, very old. It predates not only the theory of evolution and the founding of the United States, but it actually predates Christianity itself. The origin of this argument begins with the great orator, senator, and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Cicero frames his argument in the form of a debate between the three dominant schools of Roman philosophy: the Academics, Stoics, and Epicureans. The Academics are the school that Cicero sides with, and in his work on theology “On the Nature of the Gods” he places himself as the speaker Balbus in a discussion about not only whether the gods exist but their characteristics as well.

It is a testament to the genius of Cicero that his argument has stood for over two thousand years. Not only just stood, but has been adapted, improved, and accepted for that entire time. It is however deeply flawed. It’s hard reading his theology trilogy (this book, On Divination, and On Fate) to really peg down what his belief was in regard to the divine. Being an Academic doesn’t help. Both the Stoics and the Epicureans believed in the gods although the Stoics did not believe in free will and the Epicureans were Deists in the most literal sense, the Academics were Platonists but it’s hard to say whether or not their god was a god or just a divine force at the center of all creation, i.e. they could have been Deists as well.

Cicero, though, believes that something exists some kind of designing force because the argument he gives in favor of it will sound quite familiar. He posits the existence of what is known as an Armillary sphere–a type of proto-observatory. It’s a model of the heavens that gives the rotation of the planets and stars in a fixed mechanical pattern. The fact that it is based on a science that relied on an Earth-centric view of the universe is worth pointing out but does nothing to detract from the argument.

His point is that while the armillary sphere is clearly a device of human origin it mimics the heavens. No one who could look at the sphere and then the heavens would be foolish enough to thing that the sphere was somehow greater than what it imitates. Now the it is obvious that what is rational is superior to the irrational, and anything which is the product of a rational mind would then be superior to that which is not. If the heavens were not designed by a rational mind, but rather the products of chance, the sphere would be greater than the thing which it imitates. QED the heavens must be a product of some kind of rational mind.

William Paley will pick this idea up much later to make the exact same claim only he is going to use the example of a watch versus a rock. His argument is almost point for point the same as Cicero’s. Contemporary Philosopher Peter Van Inwagen takes the same argument but he flips it around. Instead of having an existing mechanical object he takes a look at how precise the laws of the universe are and then postulates what kind of complex machine would need to exist to create it, a universe making machine. His idea sounds ridiculous but his point is that if something like the gravitational constant were a number different matter would refuse to hold together, so something must have tuned the universe in order for it to exist the way that it does.

Three different arguments all driving at the same point and all fallacious. Cicero and Paley’s argument makes a great appeal to common sense. Of course watches and armillary spheres are the products of reason, but that doesn’t transfer over to the heavens because they are two utterly different things. One is a measuring device and the other is a model. The universe lacks the same purpose that these two items possess. The only way out for adherents of these two arguments is to claim an Aristotelian teleological purpose to the world that they will then have to justify. Van Inwagen’s solution, the reversal does not possess the same problem that these two iterations do. Instead it creates the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, the old after this because of this fallacy. He looks at the gravitational constant, the beautiful dance between the various quarks, and whatever it is that the Higgs Boson does seeking to claim that existence can only occur if the tuning on the machine is just right. The Epicurean in Cicero’s dialogue, Vellus, actually argues against this saying that it is not that we have tongues because we speak but rather that we have speech because we have tongues. The universe was not created for our existence rather we exist because the universe is a certain way.

What makes these arguments so effective, despite the flaws, is that the normal person can easily grasp the point before it is spoken. They point to the often mistaken conflation between what is possible and what is probable. Is it possible that the world is a collection of random collisions of Democritean atoms? Of course, is it probable? Well that’s an entirely different question. How much time are we talking? With infinte past the odds don’t change against it but in a long enough stretch of time there is a greater likelihood that it can happen. Once even worse is that the laws of the universe are not proscriptive they are descriptive. They describe how things fall, orbit, bind, split apart, etc. they do not tell them to do so. It’s the old adage about putting the cart before the horse, you can’t look at something, claim design and then claim designer. After all once you get down to the quantum level, it’s all just random chance anyway.

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