19 December 2010

All The Lovely Comments

Ricky Gervais recently wrote a lovely essay about why he is an atheist. It was published on a Wall Street Journal blog and incited over 600 comments (at the time of this writing) from a variety of readers. Some were also atheists praising the piece, while some were believers with a bone to pick. I had a fun time picking through the comments to find my favorites.

Dennis Stillings wrote:

Relying on science is selling your soul pretty cheap. A friend of mine, a prominent sociologist, required the good science seal of approval on all of his non-trivial beliefs. He died a very bitter man.
One cannot deny the existence of God no more than one can prove it. What we can do is say that we don’t have a concept of God that we can believe in—and relying on the human brain and its reason is a pathetic strategy. Be scientific. Strive to obtain as clear a view of the world and of human nature. Then, from that, contemplate what God might be like. Atheists actually are quite medieval; i.e., they start with their concept of God and then try to fit the data, and voila! It doesn’t work. They are like conventional theologians this way

When I die, will people think I am bitter just because I don't believe in god? Or will I actually be bitter because believers made my life hell? I've got a better question. Is an unnecessary god a god at all? I like how this guy thinks that the thinking process for atheists is that simplistic. It sheds a lot of light on how people argue; they imagine their opposition as impotent. Surely, these are merely mice distracted by a strong-smelling cheese!

cp wrote:

you rationalize all you want, but death will make a punk out of you
in that time you will look for him.
the human mind cannot rationalizing being alone forever,
and that is the sum of all fear in death.
if there is no god then you are truly alone
this logic cannot be mollified.
that is why atheists become more irrational over time.
at the kitchen table he knew God,
and apparently, in an instant Bob became God
we all know that there is a God
we are in mortal fear, though, at who the being might actually turn out to be.

This is the kind if person who I feel sorry for. This is the kind of person I would try to deconvert out of pure empathy. It's OK, dude! People get really worked up over their existence and, by extension, the need for there to be a god. I'm not sure how you'd go about raising a child to be OK with the fact that he's just another human on a planet of 6 billion, hidden in a remote galaxy in an unremarkable section of the universe, but its clear that some people have been deceived into believing they're more important than they really are. I'd hate to see the curtain come down on that one.

Intelligent Design wrote:

It is very easy for people to reject the notion of GOD specially when they are very successful financially. It is very sad when they even reject the notion of a creator leaving everything on random choice. But yet those same people usually are quick to name someone a genius for creating something like a pencil. Go figure.

Ok, I understand that not everyone is gifted with the ability to write a complete coherent paragraph. These guys have so much to say that they don't even bother transitioning between points. The thought process goes on in their heads but it never reaches their fingers. Even so, being poor isn't a good argument for god existing.

Alphred P. Sloan wrote:

I find it interesting that those who live in the apparent absence of the experience of God try to convince me that He doesn’t exist.
Ricky, one person that believes in one God isn’t almost as atheistic as you, they are a believer in God. How does science disprove spiritual matters? Answer me that.

I love the argument that faith is some higher state of awareness because it totally negates all of the "pompous, arrogant atheist" crap. Fine, I'll give you your cup-and-string telephone to god if I can have my humility back. Ok, now that that transaction is complete, where is your proof in spiritual matters?

Holli wrote:

God is the unknown. Do any of us believe the unknown does not exist? We all have a relationship with God.

This person's way of proving god exists is to redefine a word. Ooo ooo let me try. God is yogurt! I ate god today. It had berries in it. If god is the unknown, why call it god? We already have a word for it that people already use; the unknown.

Tom wrote:

God exists, whether or not His creation believes that He does.

Science actually proves God exists in its inability to explain creation according to any evolutionary premise. For support of this claim, please consider the number of times evolution’s premise has actually changed, and consider the number of simple scientific explanations it cannot provide … whereas creation according to the Bible is unchanged.

This guy thinks he's got it, except that he doesn't. Evolution doesn't explain creation and never has. We do have a few plausible scientific theories for creation though. And evolution's premise changing? What? I don't think it has, but maybe he's saying something bigger about science. The best I can do to understand that statement is to explain that science works BECAUSE it keeps changing. Because it improves on the previous explanation. If you want to believe a story that hasn't changed in the last 2000 years despite everything we've learned to the contrary, you're disastrously, willfully ignorant.

Anonymous 2 wrote:

Consider arriving at consciousness inside a concrete cell. Your senses would be limited to experiences within the concrete cell - the realm of science. The fact that science can not exist to explain the existence of consciousness beyond the concrete cell logically leads to the conclusion that science can not be used as a tool to conclusively establish the existence or non-existence of some external consciousness. Akin to using a yardstick to measure temperature.

Leave it to the new-agers to up the crazy one more notch. They think there is some extra intangible essence and lack completely the means to define it. Oh, well that would be scientific so we can't have that.

Chris Traglia wrote:

Anyone who believes in evolution has more faith than any born-again Christian.

Until you witness the supernatural change that can only happen to a person who accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour, you cannot truly believe there is a God.

Eternity. Please consider what is at stake if you were possibly wrong about all of this.

The Bible says “if you truly seek God you will find Him”

So, what this guy is saying is that my faith outshines his. He should be envious.

09 December 2010

Political Identities

Finding a balance of what I believe as my political identity is always tough. It is the one aspect of myself that I acknowledge I do not know enough about to be sure. I once thought I was a Libertarian; absolute personal sovereignty is an intoxicating ideal, but the closer I look at it the more it seems like an immature fantasy. There is a reality that seems determined to fray the hard borders we like to declare around our neat and tidy political philosophies. Though I consider myself to be liberal, I am against a nanny state. While I support the right to bear arms, I am not a centrist, an anarchist or a conservative. I’ve never even fired a gun. Politics are nuanced ideals that take ages to refine and I am still working on mine.

I liked classical Liberalism because it was nice and clean: minimal government allowing private enterprise and the spirit of competition to optimize society. It seemed like there was evidence for this all around. When I heard that the only medical procedures to go down in price over the last couple decades were cosmetic surgeries that were not subsidized or regulated, it seemed to make so much sense; competition made them better and more affordable. Logically, then, competition must be good. And the other thing that classical Liberalism protects you against, dreaded socialism, obviously leads you down a slippery slope, the road to serfdom.

Then, I thought, what happens when other things go unregulated or when industries are in charge of regulating themselves? Disaster. The banking industry, the energy industry, the telecommunications industry and many more; all either unregulated or regulated by organizations staffed by their own members. And they are horrible for consumers and the environment. Frankly, anyone who thinks they’ll find salvation in the hands of executives who work only toward a bottom line is foolish.

But is the answer more regulation? Is it oversight and restrictions? Sometimes the most effective means are the least appealing. While one may look at Japan or China or Sweden or Germany and marvel at how they do some things better than the US, but you’d also have to take into consideration the differences in culture. Japan may have a lower corruption rate because their ancient culture is based on communal honor, not because of any written laws. Sweden may have more happiness because it is more homogeneous, not because it has progressive social policies. China may be overtaking us in technology and industry, but does that mean the only way we can compete is to shrug off human rights and become a nationalist regime?

For some people, like me, politics are very personal. Though I am not very nationalist, in fact I hate the idea that somehow my country is better than yours because I live in it and you don’t, I want to be a part of a country that tries hard to be good by its citizens. I want to be proud of my country for what it does, not because I was lucky enough to be born in it. As stated before, some countries to some things better than others, so there is no true measure of what makes one greater than the other. All that matters to me is that my tax money goes to a good cause.

A lot of people look at politics in terms of national competition. I’ve heard people lamenting that China is probably loving all of the WikiLeaks releases, as they make the US look terrible on the global stage. For this reason, they hate WikiLeaks. For me, I don’t care whose reputation the cables damage or whose plans they interrupt; information so revealing of evil is necessary for the citizens of the world to know about. If foreign relationships are damaged and prevent deals from being brokered, I’m totally willing to live with that.

The United States has been responsible for many deeds both good and evil, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. This is because I don’t know what information to trust. Taking, for example, Chile, 1973, where the elected president Salvador Allende was overthrown in a coup d’etat sponsored by the CIA and replaced by General Augusto Pinochet. Allende was seen as a threat to American economics because he represented socialism. He nationalized many US-owned mines and other resources. He worked up large deficits and though his popularity and the love of his people grew, the rich hated him because he was ruining them. In the end, he was brutally overthrown and the rich got their way. The story has been spun as a win for democracy, but it was really a win for capitalism. And this is where we start to really see the cracks.

So the moral question is asked: Sure, heavily impacting American economics and the lives of the rich is a bad thing, but is it worth the deaths of thousands of people and repression of millions more to correct it? When someone asks me to recognize all the lives lost that made it possible for me to enjoy my 100% beef hamburger in my Upper East Side apartment, they don’t usually realize how many lives that really is. It wasn’t just the American Revolution or the Civil War or any of the World Wars. Innocent people, communists and socialists, but human lives none the less, somehow had to die in order for me to look out my window of my overpriced shoebox apartment at the domed roof of the parking garage that graces 64th street and feel proud that I live in the greatest country on Earth.

So I’ve learned that there are two worlds; that of the rich and that of the common man. And the rich always win. It doesn’t matter what kind of government or economic system; there is always a ruling class with privileges and luxury and they will always act to maintain their status and secure against its failing. This means two things for anyone thinking about politics. First, one must consider how much power they have over their situation; is it enough that caring will change anything? Second, what is the most feasible way to accomplish your personal goals, given the constraints of reality?

That is all to say that no matter what your politics are, and no matter what those of your debate opponent are, some things will never change enough to please either of you.