Thursday, December 31, 2015

Shermer’s Provisional Rational Decalogue vs. The Ten Commandments

From Shermer’s Moral Arc
Provisional Rational Decalogue
1. The Golden Rule Principal: Behave toward others as you would desire that they behave toward you. (Reciprocal altruism… monkey nit pickers)
2. The Ask-First Principle: To find out whether an action is right or wrong, ask first. (The smoker in the restaurant might prefer that everybody smoked, but they should ask first to see if he is allowed.)
3. The Happiness Principle: It is a higher moral principal to always seek happiness with someone else’s happiness in mind, and never seek happiness when it leads to someone else’s unhappiness through force or fraud.
4. The Liberty Principle: It is a higher moral principle to always seek liberty with someone else’s liberty in mind, and never seek liberty when it leads to someone else’s loss of liberty through force or fraud.
5. The Fairness Principle: When contemplating a moral action imagine that you do not know if you will be the moral doer or receiver, and when in doubt err on the side if the other person.
6. The Reason Principle: Try to find rational reasons for your moral actions that are not self-justifications or rationalizations by consulting others first.
7. The Responsibility and Forgiveness Principle: Take full responsibility for your own moral actions and be prepared to be genuinely sorry and make restitution for your own wrongdoing to others; hold others fully accountable for their moral actions and be open to forgiving moral transgressors who are genuinely sorry and prepared to make restitution for their wrongdoing. 
8. The Defend Others principle: Stand up to evil people and moral transgressors, and defend the defenseless when they are victimized. 
9. The Expanding Moral Category Principle: Try to consider other people not your family, tribe, race, religion, nation, gender or sexual orientation as an honorary group member equal to you in moral standing.
10. The Biofilia Principle: Try to contribute to the survival and flourishing of other sentient beings, their ecosystems, and the biosphere as a whole. (Love of nature.)
If by fiat I had to reduce these ten principles to just one it would be this: Try to expand the moral sphere and to push the arc of the moral universe just a bit farther toward truth, justice, and freedom for more sentient beings in more places more of the time.
The Ten Commandments:
1 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. 
2 You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments. 
3 You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. 
4 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. 
5 Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you. 
6 You shall not murder. 
7 You shall not commit adultery. 
8 You shall not steal. 
9 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 
10 You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.
So which the better moral guide?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Ayaan Hirsi Ali- On Leaving Islam

I just finished one of the best books I've read in a while- Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel. This passage about leaving Islam is just so beautifully written, so clear-sighted, eloquent, and brave. You might have heard about the Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, who was killed because he directed a short film written by her, about her experiences with Islam. Not only was he killed... and this is gruesome... his murderer stabbed a letter to his chest. It was addressed to her. Do you know what that means? It means she has something important to say!


I had no one to talk to about this. One night in that Greek hotel I looked in the mirror and said out loud, “I don’t believe in God.” I said it slowly, enunciating it carefully, in Somali. And I felt relief.

It felt right. There was no pain, but a real clarity. The long process of seeing the flaws in my belief structure and carefully tiptoeing around the frayed edges as parts of it were torn out, piece by piece–that was all over. The angels, watching from my shoulders; the mental tension about having sex without marriage, and drinking alcohol, and not observing any religious obligations–they were gone. The ever-present prospect of hellfire lifted, and my horizon seemed broader. God, Satan, angels: these were all figments of human imagination. From now on I could step firmly on the ground that was under my feet and navigate based on my own reason and self-respect. My moral compass was within myself, not in the pages of a sacred book.

When we got back from Corfu, I began going to museums. I needed to see ruins and mummies and old dead people, to look at the reality of the bones and to absorb the realization that, when I die, I will become just a bunch of bones. I was on a psychological mission to accept living without a God, which means accepting that I give my life its own meaning. I was looking for a deeper sense of morality. In Islam you are Allah’s slave: you submit, and thus, ideally, you are devoid of personal will. You are not a free individual. You behave well because you fear Hell; you have no personal ethic. If God meant only that which is good, and Satan that which is evil, then both were in me. I wanted to develop the good side of me- discipline, generosity, love- and suppress the bad side: anger, envy, laziness, cruelty.

I didn’t want more imaginary guides telling me what to do, but I needed to believe I was still moral. Now I read the works of the great thinkers of the Enlightenment- Spinoza, Locke, Kant, Mill, Voltaire- and the modern ones, Russell and Popper, with my full attention, not just as a class assignment. All life is problem solving, Popper says. There are no absolutes; progress comes through critical thought. Popper admired Kant and Spinoza but criticized them when he felt their arguments were weak. I wanted to be like Popper: free of constraint, recognizing greatness but unafraid to detect its flaws.

Three hundred and fifty years ago, when Europe was still steeped in religious dogma and thinkers were persecuted- just as they are today in the Muslim world- Spinoza was clear-minded and fearless. He was the first modern European to state clearly that the world is not ordained by a separate God. Nature created itself, Spinoza said. Reason, not obedience, should guide our lives. Though it took centuries to crumble, the entire ossified cage of European hierarchy- from kings to serfs, and between mean and women, all of it shored up by the Catholic Church- was destroyed by this thought.

Now, surely, it was Islam’s turn to be tested.

Humans themselves are a source of good and evil, I thought. We must think for ourselves; we are responsible for our own morality. I arrived at the conclusion that I couldn’t be honest with others unless I was honest with myself. I wanted to comply with the goals of religion, which are to be a better and more generous person, without suppressing my will and forcing it to obey inhuman rules. I would no longer lie, to myself or others. I had had enough of lying. I was no longer afraid of the Hereafter.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

My Final Statement in a Religious Debate over Morality

Link to the lead up:

First I want to thank you for your time in this, and I want to compliment you on your genuine effort, and your honesty. You’re not as slippery as some I’ve debated- you ignore my better points (hey, who wouldn’t?), but you do play along too and I appreciate that. Also, you genuinely believe what you’re putting forth- many people would be happy to sit back. Even though I think your point of view is wrong, I think it’s good that you fight for it, if that makes any sense. I learned from this debate too… the question of entropy has bugged me a bit for years… not the religious aspect of it, but “if things are supposed to tend toward disorder, why is there order?” I figured there was a reason, I researched it a bit in the course of this debate, and I’m glad I learned about it. Here’s the key thing I found, if interested. You should find it enlightening.

Now with all that said- you have made no case for morality stemming from the Bible (in fact you proved the opposite), and you’ve made no case for God existing. Your evidence is so weak that you’re belief can only be based on faith- if not faith in God, then faith in the weak evidence. For you belief in God is a priori, you said as much, you said you couldn’t possibly change your mind. I can and I believe has lead me to the truth. You’ve absolutely succeeded in proving that you believe in God, but it’s to your detriment that it’s a belief based on faith- in other words, an irrational belief. I think that you’d agree it’s irrational when you get a quiet moment to reflect, because faith is by definition irrational (the opposite of reason/proof) and you see faith as a virtue.

If you only take away one thing from this debate, let it be this- faith is belief without evidence, and belief without evidence is no way to gain actual knowledge of the world. Anytime you need to have faith in something, it is because you know you cannot prove it.

I do like to be provocative with my posts, and I invite the debate that follows (obviously.) I’m never provocative for the sake of being provocative though. I welcome the opportunity to justify what I post (the depth of which depends on my available time.) That said, I’m glad the original post resonated with you, and I hope some of my other points did as well.

Why do I bother with this? I think religion is a net harm to the world. People do gain from it- sense of community, makes it easier to deal with grief and injustice, provides meaning, etc- but none of that means it’s true at its core. Actual lives can be helped by stem cell research. Opposition to medical marijuana is often the result of politicians pandering to their religious base. Euthanasia helps people die with dignity- Christians often like to force non-Christians to partake in the glory of Christ’s suffering, which in itself could be considered a form of torture. Abuse of animals and the environment is often religious in nature- many Christians believe they were given to us by God to do with as we will. And do we need to get into how religion has inhibited equality since day 1? Look how some Jews treat the Palestinians, and look how some Palestinians treat the Jews. Look how women have been treated historically. Look how people have used Bible quotes to support slavery. Look how the Bible is used in present day to promote inequality in a variety of forms. Etc, etc, etc. And why is all of this happening- because people accept its truth on faith.

The Bible never contradicts itself? OOF. There’re just so many example if you’re open to them. Take the fact that light was created before the stars. Almost seems like they didn’t realize the science behind light when they wrote it. A minor example. I’m not spending more time on it though… there are just so many.

I don’t think you ever got my point about Krauss’s suggestions about the universe. Your point is “it could only be God.” His point is, there are other plausible, possible explanations that have scientific support… not proof, but support. The book destroyed the notion that it could only be God. God is not the default. It’s there if you want to read it.

Imagine an old woman hands you an object, you go back in time and hand the object back to her as a child. She grows up and gives it to you again. Was this object created by God? Was it created or did it always exist? Let’s admit we don’t know some things, and our lack of knowledge does not equal extra proof for God… unless you believe in the God of the Gaps, where the more we learn the smaller God becomes.

You asked, “where are the in between lungs and wings?” They exist and it’s just so freaking simple! There are fish that can exist on land for a bit until they find another stream, and there are tree lizards with skin flaps they help them glide a bit. These answers all exist… but you aren’t looking for them. The question is not, what am I running from? The question is, why don’t you open your eyes?

If you decide you want to, watch the whole Cosmos episode on evolution. What do you have to lose, an hour? (Or your whole identity? Haha.) If nothing else, you’ll better understand what you’re fighting against.

You said we can never know if flourishing will come from a decision. I agree, but all we can do is make the best decision possible… based of the evidence. There is simply nothing else. There would have been righteous mass outrage if the judgment of the Nuremburg Trials was, “these people shall go free because we simply don’t know if they will get into cloning and bring back more Jews than they’ve killed.” Why? Again-evidence. It’s all we have.

You never touched on what I said about the creator needing a creator. Remember when I put those words in your mouth?

You- Everything needs a creator.
Me- Then what created the creator?
You- The creator doesn’t need a creator.
Me- If something exists that doesn’t need a creator that thing could simply be what you take to be the creation, right? Does that make logical sense?
You- Yep!

Where did my logic break down? The better question though is this- do you care about logic? You certainly would if logic proved that God existed! It would be all your side would talk about. But that’s not the case.

You would expect that if prayer worked, the statistical results would be alarming, say for instance that results showed that people who are prayed for recover more quickly that those who aren’t. The only thing that could be seen as alarming about the positive results is that that they simply don’t exist. Really take that in… statistics should be able to prove that prayer works. There aren’t even statistically significant peer-reviewed results, they should be off the charts to the positive side. Why would God want to be hidden, at the expense of people’s health???

Your evidence of Biblical archaeology, oh goodness… check your sources next time. Wikipedia refers to Ron Wyatt as a pseudoarchaeologist whose findings have been debunked by scientists. But what about biblical scholars, and his own church? Yes, they debunked it too. Why are you the only one who is left?

If you consider the fact that Jesus’s supposed miracles were written about, oftentimes hundreds of years later, constitutes proof that they were real…then when you play Whisper Down the Lane I suppose you believe the first person actually started with “pterodactyl dishwater pig jowl hightops.”

I hate to even have to say it, but your herniated disc miracle is the lowest threshold for a miracle I can imagine. The doctors told you it could mend on its own in three months…but it took four. Certainly some mend in four months! A miracle is something with no natural explanation. You think a miracle is something that is only moderately unlikely. Moderately unlikely things can be expected to happen all day every day because so many things happen to us.

This got me thinking, if THAT is your threshold for proof of a miracle, of course you see proofs and miracles everywhere. What have we even been talking about this whole time??? Everything you are saying rests on these definitions and they don’t come from any regular dictionary. On top of that you define good as god, and god as good. You say- if A, then B… then use your belief in B as proof of A. But A was the assumption. I don’t know, maybe it’s me, I just can’t follow. Assume my definitions come from any regular dictionary.

In your rebuttal, consider defining your terms- proof, miracle, god, good. I believe any discerning reader will recognize the house of cards you set up for yourself.

You didn’t answer the microorganism question- if God is good why did he create certain microorganisms whose sole purpose is to rot out the eyes of children? You believe God is all-powerful, just and good, but he created this microorganism to punish children for something someone else did a long time ago. I can think of a few more words to describe him- vindictive, petty, irrational…evil. Explain the goodness that results from rotting out children’s eyes. It makes no sense.

If you really believe this is good, go blind some kid because his grandma did something bad. If God sets a good example, follow him! Actually don’t do that… instead, recognize that your own morality and kindness are what keep you from acting like your moral hero (who is actually a celestial psychopath.)

(Is anybody else reading this??? Hello??? Haha, didn’t think so.)

You ask how I can’t look into my brand new daughter’s face and know that God is good. I look into it and see beauty, and wonder why a just god would let other children die when he has the power to stop it. I actually don’t wonder that at all… I just wonder how people can believe it. Absurd on the surface. I look in my child’s face and see that we are risen apes, not fallen angels. (Look back into the earliest stages of development and you’ll see a lizard!) You know what else one could think of when they look into their child’s face- how could god ask me to kill you??? Which of course brings me to…

THE STORY OF ABRAHAM! You went into great detail explaining the story of Abraham but you still didn’t answer my question! You said you would not kill your child if god told you to (again, you’re not a lunatic, nice work!) because you would know it’s not god and god would command you to do something evil. But god did do this- which proves that you do not get your morals from him. (And it also proves you think he is capable of evil.) This just simply wasn’t dealt with in a reasonable way in your argument… it seemed like you drew out his story as a cover for the fact you have no defense. I can only ask this one last time- can you outline how you reconcile these contradictory facts? (Oh forget it, I’ve already asked maybe 5 times, I’ve lost hope that you’re going to address it…)

The trinity/sacrifice/salvation thing… it still just seems like utter nonsense. It still seems like god is sacrificing himself (his son, which is him), to himself, to save us from himself (his judgment). Either way, he could wipe out evil, unless his powers are limited. Let’s never forget that he supposedly created the world with knowledge that this exact scenario would unfold. If he wants to forgive us, he has the power to simply forgive us… why go through all of the rigmarole??? It’s as if I wanted to forgive someone from breaking into my car so I set up a Rube Goldberg machine to squirt toothpaste on a toothbrush, and upon the completion the person is forgiven. It’s a story of non-sequiturs. I can just forgive the person, and God could too! And we can’t forget that there’s no proof for any of this either. I mean it’s all just so ridiculous!

You said people can come back from death. Again, the proof is as flimsy as the rest. You asked me to prove we can’t. I’m not saying I have proof it’s impossible, I’m saying there’s no proof that you can. If you put forth an extraordinary claim, you must put forth extraordinary evidence. If you put forth something with no evidence, I’ll dismiss it with no evidence. If you put forth something, justify it. Why is it my job to prove the opposite of any ridiculous notion? That’s why there’s no need for me to prove that God is not actually a cricket living in the core of Pluto. If someone claims he is, they should prove it.

Many people think an atheist is someone who thinks they have proof that god doesn’t exist. Instead, generally, they are people who recognizes that no acceptable proof has been put forward.

But let’s get back to what started off this whole thing. Join me in a thought experiment, and let me know the answer in your final statement, if you wish- if God ceased to exist tomorrow, would rape and slavery still be wrong? The answer can only be yes. I think you’ll skirt this and that you’re honest answer would be an exercise in doublethink.

Thought 1: Of course they would still be wrong.
Thought 2: I can’t consider that hypothetical as a possibility so I’ll say it’s impossible.

Let’s just admit rape and slavery are wrong if God exists today, and also if he doesn’t exist tomorrow. Why? Because neither lead to human flourishing! Of that there can be no doubt.

I think there are two types of people in the world- those who will consider hypotheticals and those who won’t. Are you willing to accept the challenge of that thought experiment? Your honest answer will prove Krauss’s original thought valid. How could someone who considers a hypothetical know LESS about the world? What if I don’t stop to pee at this rest stop? Should I spend all of my money on heroin? Would I kill Jason Voorhees if he broke into my house, or would I wait to see if he was just stopping in to give me his winning lottery ticket? We use hypotheticals all day every day- but when religion becomes involved suddenly it becomes forbidden. This makes no sense and should be a warning to anybody else listening. It should raise your cognitive dissonance through the roof too. If I were to refuse to consider that hypothetical, I’d never be able to shake it- “Why won’t I consider it? Why won’t I consider it? Etc.”

During this whole debate have you considered that hypothetical Krauss proposed- what if God told you to do something bad? The answer is YES, and that’s when you made the most sense. You said that if God told you to kill your child you’d know that it was not God. (You started out refusing the hypothetical, saying that god and goodness were equal… even if that is so, the hypothetical can still be considered.) What followed was that I pointed out that God DID tell someone to kill his child, so it follows that either that was not God, or God is not good. Consider if a person told you kill your child. You’d know the person was a lunatic. Extend that belief to God. I’d prefer a non-existent God to a lunatic God! An all-powerful being telling a father to kill his child… that is psychopathic behavior. Admit this. It follows from hypothetical thinking.

These types of moral questions are hard-wired in us, because we’ve evolved in groups. Those with no interpersonal relationship skills tend to get weeded out. Who wants to hang out with them? We have empathy and can act altruistically. And not just us, animals too. Google “examples of animal empathy and altruism.” Animals who live in groups know that they need to act in the interest of the group if they want to be accepted, and propagate. This is the basis for moral behavior. Did the animals need the Bible to learn this? I don’t see how this doesn’t pass the smell test to you.

You keep coming back to questions of the form, “Can a nuclear bomb create the Mona Lisa?” Did God? No, a person did. Can a nuclear bomb blow up a tree and create a pack of toothpicks? No, but a toothpick factory can produce one. Could a nuclear bomb have made my sandwich? No, I did. I’ve expended energy that I’ve received from eating food that was grown by the sun, and with that energy I’ve created order. You’ve made the mistake of considering the Earth a closed system but we get energy from the sun. There’s no way for you to not concede this point.

Now since the energy of our system is not closed, you can also agree that wolves evolved into dogs over a few millennium, or “adapted” if you prefer. You can agree that more and more order came to the eye, which started as just a spot that could detect light vs dark. How did that emerge to begin with? Don’t know, maybe a fluke that ended up being useful. Our fingers originally came about because we needed to hold onto the hair of our great-great-grandmonkey’s back hair. Now we can use them to express irritation while driving. Things just happen, and adaptations that work end up sticking around, because the individuals without the adaptation tend to die. (Not that I’d die if I couldn’t give the finger, but I might if I couldn’t see as well.) When the DNA becomes too different, species can no longer have children. Even members within a species have different DNA, except twins. Again, this is all confirmed by rigorous experimentation across a variety of fields. And again, after Darwin, if they found rabbit bones in the pre-Cambrian his theory was over. Or any of a million other possibilities. But no, it all correlates- there are no counter-examples, and science (unlike religion) leaves itself open for them.

Seriously, look up “eye evolution cosmos” on you tube. You should be enlightened by it. Even if you don’t agree, you will know more than you did before you watched it. Only a few minutes. Here, I’ll look it up for you:

I pointed out the illogic again of demanding more in between stages… for each one we find, you’d demand two more! You can drop that requirement from your repertoire.

Not to rely on authority, but it’s hard to go wrong when you quote Einstein on this topic- "A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death."

Let me take a wild step back and agree that there’s something to religion, but the thing that is genuine is represented is the human psyche- through all cultures and religions. For instance- all religions and cultures have a form of the golden rule. If we take the best of all religions and combine them- what we essentially have is a blueprint for the humanist code of ethics- a code of ethics that does not need to accepted on faith. Look for any list online and they all generally coalesce around the principle of acting in a way that leads to human flourishing. Can’t be stressed enough- if those of us who learned to act this way are the ones who tended to survive, God is unnecessary in the moral equation.

I’ll go even further and say that historically, religions that can’t adapt have died… that’s kind of true on the surface! I think that’s well underway. People deserve to be treated with kindness for its own sake, not because of a commandment. (By the way, that would have been a great commandment- treat people with kindness. Much better than… oh, say, do not make a graven image.)

Not only WILL they die, but they deserve to die. I congratulate today’s Christians who eat shellfish. It’s strictly forbidden in the Bible. Seriously though, google the rules for rape and slavery in the Bible. I can barely think of a worse moral guide, I’m not even kidding. They are universally condemned despite the Bible, not because of it. Why? Again, people are generally hard-wired to put human flourishing above their holy books. A notable exception- ISIS, another example of misplaced faith.

Religions need to adapt by recognizing themselves as metaphors for the needs of the human psyche. Take transubstantiation- the Pope will not admit that the wine becoming the blood of Christ is a metaphor. They do indeed mean it literally. Ridiculous, right??? Yes, of course. But I look at all religious rituals and beliefs that way- they are all a metaphor for something, but then people end up suffering because they take the metaphor literally. Real quick, for the case of transubstantiation- Jesus represents goodness (among other stuff), his blood represents his essence, drinking it symbolizes communion, or becoming one with Jesus’ essence. The Pope does believe it actually becomes the blood of Christ which is absurd, but as a ritual I get it.

To me, the person who makes the most sense on this topic is Joseph Campbell, the world’s leading scholar on mythology until his death in the 1980’s. He was a mentor of George Lucas, and Campbell’s archetypes are seen all through Star Wars… and indeed through all religions, literature, art, Native American legends, etc. I always wondered why I was so into Star Wars, and then my last semester in college someone told me I should watch The Power of Myth, 6 one-hour conversations between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. It blew me away- it gave voice to things I always thought but couldn’t verbalize. I couldn’t suggest it more highly. You can borrow it from any library.

I do enjoy the opportunity to clarify by beliefs in print. It was Vonnegut who said “If you can't write clearly, you probably don't think nearly as well as you think you do.” If nothing else, hopefully I’ve convinced you that I can think clearly.

If you do believe I think clearly, please heed my warning to not fall victim to the sharpshooter fallacy… it’s all through your thinking. (Again, you shoot the side of the barn, paint a bullseye around the hole, the next person walks up and says “wow, nice shot.”) You’re the guy saying nice shot. I look at my book shelves, and I wonder how many possible arrangements there could have been of all the books. You say “wow, what are the odds that it would be arranged exactly like this?” But the crucial thing is that you look in wonder AFTER THE FACT. After my books are arranged that way, the probability is 1/1 that they are arranged that way. You might look at your children and imagine the long line of ancestors that contributed to their DNA, and you think “wow, the odds are just too great for THIS person to exist without a divine plan. The fact is that A child would exist, and you’re painting the bullseye after the fact. You’re doing that with the entire universe. What are the odds that the universe is exactly as it is, right now… the odds by definition are 1/1. What are the odds that the shooter hit the bullseye… always 1/1 if you paint the bullseye afterward. You consistently fall victim to the sharpshooter fallacy.

Since this started with a Krauss quote, seems fitting to end it with one. “The universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not. The existence or nonexistence of a creator is independent of our desires. A world without God or purpose may seem harsh or pointless, but that alone doesn’t require God to actually exist. …science does not make it impossible to believe in God, but rather makes it possible to not believe in God. Without science, everything is a miracle. With science, there remains the possibility that nothing is. Religious belief in this case becomes less and less necessary, and also less and less relevant.”

Well put, as always.

And jeez, after the fact I came across this:

He said everything more clearly, concisely, and precisely than I could have… and addresses the issue of “why focus on this?”

You get the last word.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Deposit for the Savings Account

I just had a nice time at the bank opening up a savings account for Gretel.

The bank manager mentioned how calmly and quietly she was sitting in the chair and asked if she was always so well-behaved. I said that she usually was, but that she could erupt at any time. Nearly on cue she reached for me, sat on my lap, and puked all over the front of me.

The bank manager ran to get some paper towels and while she was gone Gretel must have become possessed by a demon. I don't know how to explain how much puke came out of her. It was like she was trying to imitate Pete Brady's science experiment volcano. It was like she was trying to start a Stand By Me-esque Barf-O-Rama. It was like I took the Baby Puke Bucket Challenge. It was epic. It was monumental. It was... is magnificent the correct word?

The bank manager returned with like 8 napkins. I was for some reason compelled to state the obvious- "the situation has become much worse." I guess that was my way of telling her she was going to have to get her nice office chairs pressure-washed. We mutually decided that it might be better if I came back later to finish creating the account.

Out at the car I took off my shirt, took off Gretel's pants, put her in the car seat... and I swear we shared a look of understanding and each started giggling.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

My Final Statement in a Debate About Gay Marriage

I wanted to get down the rest of the stuff I’ve been thinking on this subject. I’ll consider this my final statement and then you can have the last word. You know what I like about this debate- most people would think we’re wasting our time trying to convince each other, but really we’re each just trying to get down our thoughts on the subject(s) as clearly as we can, and perhaps make a difference to anybody else who is reading.

You say you don’t want to quote the Bible to defend homosexuality because it wouldn’t do any good. You’re right, but divine inspiration IS the foundation of your belief. Concerning using the Bible as a moral guide- did the writers forget about listing genocide, rape and slavery as evils? We certainly believe now that they are- a testament to how times have changed, and pretty good evidence that the Bible is not the word of God, but “the word of God” as invented by men living thousands of years ago in a morally outmoded society. God is really omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and good but he says nothing against genocide, rape and slavery? And you think we should trust Him on the minutiae from the Old Testament, most of which you discarded anyway?

What have you discarded? It doesn’t just say that a man should not lie with another man as with a women. It says (or “reads” if you prefer) “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” It’s not just wrong, they should be killed. You somehow think that’s divinely inspired???

Your other reasons against homosexuality fall apart. The health argument is countered by the fact lesbians get less AIDS, and gay men live longer than straight men. Even if that weren’t true, everything we do has the chance to affect our health. If your actual concern is health, you should instead be telling people to not to drive, to get exercise, and have their heart checked regularly.

Your “things don’t fit properly” argument is ridiculous on the surface and appropriately countered by others previously.

Rodger’s links show that children raised by homosexuals are as well-adjusted and children raised by heterosexuals, etc, etc. It’s clear that homosexuality is not harmful to anything and it’s helpful to many things… that is, to anyone who hasn’t accepted its wrongness a priori.

You see the fact that some gays want to be straight as evidence that God doesn’t want it. You really don’t see Catholic guilt as a human construct? Shame over one’s sexuality (heterosexuality or homosexuality) has nothing to do with inherent rightness and wrongness… it has to do with what people are taught. If you weren’t Catholic you might correctly see Catholic guilt as a form of social engineering. Without teaching it you could have a society without shame of homosexuality- which like I said is true in some aboriginal societies and in ancient Greece, for instance.

Bringing “child rape” into the debate of ancient Greece’s acceptance of homosexuality is a smokescreen and a backhanded emotional appeal. It has nothing to do with anything. I gave an example of a society without shame of homosexuality- it’s an insane leap to suggest I condone everything that society did. I’m glad Hitler was nice to his dog- it doesn’t mean I agree with anything else the Nazis did! Feel free to apologize for the insinuation… but at the very least, let this be the end of that absurd line of reasoning.

Through all of this you still never said that you believe in equality. Although you didn’t say it outright, you do wish America was a Christian theocracy. You want non-religious people to be forced, through the state, to live their lives and follow laws according to your religious beliefs. I don’t believe you would argue against this point. If so, please state the contrary outright- “I do not believe America should be a Christian theocracy.” Next I’d ask you which of your Christian God’s laws do you not think the country should adopt?

You’ve stated we should be ruled by some sort of “natural law” but what is this natural law and what proof is there for it? (Sounds like “natural food,” which is meaningless.) The “natural law” of our ancestors generally included subjugation of women, acceptance of slavery, etc. Why is your natural law the correct natural law, and not something that in hindsight will be seen as an outmoded belief system? You have a very HEAVY burden of proof because you are using it to limit people’s freedom in a very fundamental way.

Rodger is right that you are using pedophilia and bestiality as a smokescreen to obscure the real issue. (Your husband might say you’re chasing rabbits.) The issue is this- can two loving adults of the same sex have equal rights under secular law to marry. For some reason you think the question is this- can anything marry anything? It’s not about having sex with a chicken, or joining NAMBLA, or whether Blackbeard’s peg-leg can marry George Washington’s false teeth, or any other nonsense. Let the Supreme Court weigh in on those separate issues if they like. Take note of their use of the terms “consent” and “animal rights” in their dissenting decision. You’re looking for an answer to a question that nobody asked. Again, we’re asking if two loving adults of the same sex have equal rights under secular law to marry. It can be weighed on its own merits.

I still maintain that you are on the wrong side of history and this is why. Everyone can feel the tide turning against opposition to gay marriage. People are recognizing it as an equality issue. What happened to other equality issues that people supported by using the Bible- slavery, subjugation of women, miscegenation, segregation, etc? They became accepted under the law, a generation passed, now everybody overlooks those passages in the Bible and thinks “my goodness, how could have my ancestors justified such horrible beliefs???” (The video I posted at the beginning gives examples of the Bible being used to support segregation… readers are welcome to google examples of the others.)

The question was raised of whether I am an atheist or an agnostic- let’s just say I’m a skeptic. Give me a reason to believe and I’d be forced to accept it. Someone once asked Bertrand Russell what he would say to God if he found himself at the entrance to Heaven after he died. “I would say, “You didn’t give us enough evidence.”” So what is the evidence? You didn’t say. Maybe God exists, you’re right that I have no proof that he doesn’t. Neither do I have proof that Zeus doesn’t exist, or garden gnomes on Pluto. There’s no reason to believe in either of them either. We can believe in them through faith, but why would we?

You said everything must have a cause. But then you said there’s an uncaused cause, and that is God. What? Where did you get that? Does everything need a cause or not? I talked about emergence as a possibility. Yes, people were the medium for music, tool-making and language. Yes, nature was the medium for people to exist. You believe God is the uncaused cause that brought nature into being. But wait a minute- why can’t nature be the uncaused cause??? You’re putting an extra link in your argument without justification. You’ll have a very hard time proving that the uncaused cause must be an entity rather than a process, but be my guest in trying. It’s like saying an entity must be responsible for gravity- nope, it’s just a force until proven otherwise.

Not only must you prove it was an entity, but a god, and the Christian God, and the Christian God who supports Catholicism, and the Christian God who supports YOUR version of Catholicism which thinks homosexuality is wrong. That might be a tough task, but you believe it and I’d like to hear your reasons.

Let me say this another way, because it’s important. Maybe God caused the Big Bang, or maybe it just happened. If God must have caused it because everything needs a cause, what was it again that caused God??? IF there’s one thing that doesn’t need a cause, that thing could be nature.

Let’s say that one day the Big Bang “just happened.” If you want to call that “God” perhaps we can agree. If God is the word for the things that just happened, then who doesn’t believe? If you define God vaguely enough, as Aquinas does, then the word God has no meaning.

I was forthright in saying I don’t know the origin of the universe, but I don’t think you do either. If you do know it, you haven’t said what you know or shown how you know it. You say it’s illogical to believe that something came from nothing. That’s the wrong word- it’s counter-intuitive. Once we’d understand the process, if that’s indeed what happened, it would no longer be thought of as illogical or counter-intuitive- it would be considered commonplace. There’s a long history of discovery of reasons behind what were thought of as magic and miracles.

There are other options too, why can’t time go back forever? There’s nothing illogical about that. What do we really know about the nature of time, space, and matter? I say not much. You say, everything we need to know, they came from God. The burden of proof is again on you, if proof is something you care about.

A thought experiment for you- a sufficiently advanced alien species COULD be indistinguishable from God. Am I right? There are big problems answering either way.

Concerning faith vs. reason- it’s true that it might be reasonable to have faith, like maybe people with faith in God live longer, but the faith in God itself is belief without reason. You’d admit that there’s no possible evidence that could subvert your faith? If so, what is it? You believe in God a priori, without reason, an unquestioned truth to you. It’s accepted before all else. I’ve said before that if there is a reason for you to believe, then your belief if only as good as that reason. Subvert that reason and your faith is subverted, which isn’t allowed as a possibility. If the existence of God is questioned by you, it’s only questioned in a way that the only possible answer would support your premise that He does. Again, if you have a reason, let’s hear it. But proof is not necessary for those who have faith and it would even subvert faith. Faith is unnecessary when you have proof. Yes, I do agree with you that belief without reason is superstition.

You’ve countered that I believe in love a priori, without proof. Yes, and of course I do have subjective proof, as everybody does, and all of the empirical evidence that helps to explain it* is only additive to my belief. But this is all philosophical, and skirts the earthly issue of people in love being able to legally share their lives with each other. I’m reminded of the Johnny Cash song “You’re So Heavenly Minded You’re No Earthly Good.”

Concerning love, you don’t even respect (much less accept) the love that some people of the same sex feel for each other. God created them sick, and commands them to be well- is that something a good god would do? You and I didn’t choose our sexual orientation, so why would we assume they did? You think they should be ashamed to pursue it, and you don’t want it to be allowed by law. You assume a moral source only agreed upon by a fraction of the denomination of the one religion to which you belong. I’d call that narrow-mindedly moralistic, and that’s the definition self-righteousness.

Am I self-righteous? I certainly think I’m morally right on this issue, but I’m not narrow-minded. If I were shown evidence that there’s only harm, and no benefit to homosexuality I’d have change my view. Nothing could possibly change your view- your book is closed. I believe from what we know about love subjectively, and as illuminated by science, it should be allowed to flourish. That’s my argument as best as I can make it.

* “What science offers for explaining the feelings we experience when believing in God or falling in love is complementary, not conflicting; additive, not detractive. I find it deeply interesting to know that when I fall in love with someone my initial lustful feelings are enhanced by dopamine, a neurohormone produced by the hypothalamus that triggers the release of testosterone, the hormone that drives sexual desire, and that my deeper feelings of attachment are reinforced by oxytocin, a hormone synthesized in the hypothalamus and secreted into the blood by the pituitary. Further, it is instructive to know that such hormone-induced neural pathways are exclusive to monogamous pair-bonded species as an evolutionary adaptation for the long-term care of helpless infants. We fall in love because our children need us! Does this in any way lessen the qualitative experience of falling in love and doting on one’s children? Of course not, any more than unweaving a rainbow into its constituent parts reduces the aesthetic appreciation of the rainbow.
-Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain