Monday, May 22, 2006

Trading In Science For History ... The Bible Still Fails

Every regular My Case Against God reader knows that my favorite weapon with which to attack Christianity is science. I’m an unabashed naturalist and physicalist; I believe the natural laws under which we live are absolute, with no room for the supernatural, miracles or other unscientific phenomena. As such, most of my Christianity criticisms relate back to claims that violate natural principles. For example, I often point out the physiological impossibility of Jesus’ resurrection (if for no other reason, the irreversibility of brain death), the factual incorrectness of creationism (in all its various disguises) and the unsupported assertion that material entities somehow can interact with “immaterial” entities, whatever those hypothetical things might be.

Tonight, I’ll take a break from science and, with the help of David Mills’ Atheist Universe, attack Christianity on historical grounds. I’ll start by focusing my attention on two important—and little known—points. I’ll be quoting from David Mills’ text.

1. Jesus probably never even existed as a human being.

Mills writes, “There is not a single reference to a ‘Jesus’ or to ‘Jesus Christ’ written by any secular source who lived during the years in which Christ supposedly walked the earth. To me, this fact is very revealing, since these years represent one of the most thoroughly documented periods of antiquity. Wouldn’t Jesus’ miracles have drawn the attention of hundreds of contemporary writers and record-keepers? Why is there no mention at all of Jesus’ existence?”

I would hazard a guess that not too many Christians know this little tidbit. It’s the most convincing evidence I have to support the theory that Jesus never even existed.

2. Noah’s Ark isn’t just logically absurd. It’s also bad history.

Mills writes, “By a literal interpretation of the Bible, the worldwide deluge occurred in the year 2348 BC. Supposedly, the only humans to survive the flood were members of Noah’s own family, who rode in the ark with Noah and the animals.

“Difficult for creationists to explain, however, is the fact that the Tigris-Euphrates Valley Civilization (in the Middle East), the Nile Valley Civilization (in Egypt), and the Aegean Civilization (in Greece) maintained uninterrupted written historical records extending before, throughout, and following the year 2348 BC. Their written chains of history were unbroken by the flood. Peoples of these vast civilizations failed to notice their own ‘destruction’.”

Could several civilizations really be oblivious to a worldwide deluge killing all of humanity?

Speaking of the Bible’s historicity, I went to see The Da Vinci Code on Saturday night (it was sold out until a 10:45 start time). I found it thoroughly entertaining and think it was unfairly maligned by critics. Of course, it’s a bunch of hooey, but it’s a fun two-and-a-half hours nonetheless. I was particularly pleased to see the film mention Malleus Maleficarum, which is all too real. This book, one of the most venerated in Christian history, is a perfect example of Christianity’s pernicious nature.

What you are about to read already has appeared on this blog, but I believe it bears repeating, if only to memorialize those who died in the name of Christianity. Mills writes, “For 1500 years, the Christian Church systematically operated torture chambers throughout Europe. Torture was the rule; not the exception. Next to the Bible, the most influential and venerated book in Christian history was the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches), which was a step-by-step tutorial in how to torture ‘witches’ and ‘sorcerers.’ Each year, the Christian Church in Europe tortured to death tens of thousands of people, including children as young as two years of age. The only restriction was that the instruments of torment had to be blessed by a priest before their initial use.”

That isn’t part of Dan Brown’s fiction. That’s reality.

Here’s more on the Malleus Maleficarum:

“In all, the text was so popular that it sold more copies than any other work, apart from the Bible, until John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was published in 1678.

“The effects of the Malleus Maleficarum spread far beyond Germany, greatly impacting France and Italy and, to a lesser extent, England.

“Despite popular belief that the Malleus Maleficarum was the classic Roman Catholic text on witchcraft, it was never officially used by the Catholic Church and was, in fact, condemned by the Inquisition in 1490.”

So, it’s important to clarify that, while Malleus Maleficarum never was endorsed officially by the powers that be, it nevertheless was startlingly popular. Unquestionably, its effects were felt as the “witch” and “sorcerer” body count rose.

How many innocent people were slaughtered in the name of witchcraft, anyway? It seems things aren’t quite clear:

“Brian Levack, author of The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe, took the number of known European witch trials and multiplied it by the average rate of conviction and execution. This provided him with a figure of around 60,000 deaths.

“Anne Lewellyn Barstow, author of Witchcraze, arrived at a number of approximately 100,000 deaths by attempting to adjust Levack's estimate to account for what she believed were unaccounted lost records, although historians have pointed out that Levack's estimate had already been adjusted for these.

“Ronald Hutton, author of Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles and Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, in his unpublished essay ‘Counting the Witch Hunt,’ counted local estimates, and in areas where estimates were unavailable attempted to extrapolate from nearby regions with similar demographics and attitudes towards witch hunting. He reached an estimate of 40,000 total executions, which appears to be emerging as the most widely accepted figure among academics.”

It should be noted that those figures might be too low. Some historians present figures of up to 135,000 people killed under the infamous Torquemada. This number incorporates 125,000 asserted to have died in prison because of bad conditions.

For every Biblical historical inaccuracy, there seems to be a Church-sponsored historical atrocity.

It’s always tragic when people perish in the name of a lie.

And, unfortunately, that’s equally applicable to the Iraq debacle.

Friday, May 19, 2006

New Feature: Week in Review

Today, I’m going to start what will be a regular Friday feature on My Case Against God. It’s called Week in Review, and will include a few notable news stories from the past week. I’ll provide a snippet of the story, and offer a few hundred words of commentary. Topics covered will range from atheism to science to politics. Since this was a big week in terms of political news (at least with respect to the issues about which I care most), this edition of Week in Review will be dedicated to the latest happenings in Washington.

“Senate panel backs US gay marriage ban” was the headline that most caught my eye on Thursday. Here’s a snippet of the report:

A Senate panel approved a controversial proposal to write a gay marriage ban into the US Constitution.

The proposed amendment will go to the full Senate on June 5 for what is expected to be a heated debate on a ban backed by President George W. Bush.

"The American people support protecting traditional marriage, and we should give this amendment due consideration through the full legislative process," Republican Senator Sam Brownback said.

"We must continue to fight for the protection of traditional marriage."

The proposed constitutional amendment faces an uphill battle as it must be passed by two-thirds of senators, two-thirds of representatives in the House and then approved by two-thirds of the 50 US states.

However, the numbers of legislators, both for and against gay marriage, who say the matter is better left to the individual states, are too many to allow passage.

A previous attempt failed in Congress in 2004.

This disgusting, shameful bigotry represents one of the main reasons I refuse to support the Republican Party in any elections, be they federal, state or local. The head of the GOP, George W. Bush, has explicitly endorsed a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. With that, Bush, through his own intolerance, has tainted his entire party. As long as an anti-gay bigot heads the GOP, I will not vote for a single member of that party. Of course, Bush’s apparent homophobia isn’t exactly unique among Republicans. Senators such as Sam Brownback and Tom Coburn have long records of making venomous remarks against homosexuals.

Here’s the plain truth: There is no rational reason to oppose gay marriage. The most commonly cited objection is the religious one; that is, The Bible condemns homosexuality and thus the government mustn’t endorse it. Separation of church and state issues aside, that argument might work if The Bible had credibility, but it doesn’t. With respect to matters scientific, historical and logical, The Bible has proven reliably faulty. Many of my previous posts have touched on The Bible’s innumerable flaws, the most notable post among them being my de-conversion story. I won’t rehash all the same arguments you’ve read there, but I encourage you to refresh yourself. Suffice it to say I don’t take my moral cues from a book that alleges the reanimation of hours-dead corpses.

The other argument is that, if gays are allowed to marry, heterosexual marriage somehow will be subverted. I won’t waste too much time on this ludicrous argument, either, as it’s generally just a cover for the previously mentioned Bible argument. Does interracial marriage subvert same-race marriage? Does inter-religious marriage subvert same-religion marriage? Of course not. The notion that gay nuptials will harm straight unions is analogous to fearing square hamburgers will harm circle-shaped ones. As long as your version of marriage is incorporated within the definition, who cares what other unions also are included?

There’s nothing wrong with broadening the definition of marriage. Indeed, over the decades, it has been broadened beneficially on several fronts. The most notable, of course, is with respect to interracial marriage. Without definition broadening, the term “marriage” still might exclude interracial couples. That’s why the analogy between interracial marriage and gay marriage is legitimate. If black men marrying white women didn’t interfere in Sen. Brownback’s marriage, on what basis does he think one man marrying another would harm it?

Here’s a list of the committee members who, by vote, endorsed homophobic bigotry:

Arlen Specter

Orrin G. Hatch

Charles E. Grassley

Jon Kyl

Mike DeWine

Jeff Sessions

Lindsey Graham

John Cornyn

Sam Brownback

Tom Coburn

They are embarrassments to public office. They should be ashamed.

The other story in this edition of Week in Review relates to naming English as the US’ official language. The following is a snippet of this story.

The White House Friday backed a U.S. Senate vote making English the nation's official language, saying it's important for immigrants to become fluent.

Following emotionally charged debate, the measure was approved Thursday on a 63-34 vote. It now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives to work out differences in the proposal.

It declares that except for that which is already guaranteed by law, no one has a right to federal services in a language other than English, The Washington Post said.

"You want to make sure that people are fluent in English because you want them to be able to enter the mainstream of society, and you want them to do well," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Opponents warned the measure could negate a number of executive orders and multilingual ordinances not officially approved by Congress.

On this particular issue, I side with the GOP. Let me be clear: I do not support the idea that immigrants must “assimilate” into American culture. I view that as racist, since it clearly implies that American ways somehow are superior to the practices of other cultures. I do not believe the US should be a melting pot; rather, I embrace the US as a “tossed salad.” By that, I mean a concoction of many things, none of which blends into the others. I don’t think people should dress alike, think alike, worship alike or engage in the same traditions. Multiculturalism is a beautiful thing…far better than the bland sameness wished for by xenophobes.

But people must be able to communicate. I cannot have a real relationship with my neighbor if he and I speak different languages. A national language doesn’t have to be a means by which assimilation is achieved. It can, and should, be a means by which people from different backgrounds communicate with, learn about and grow to understand each other. Clothing, practices and beliefs do not impede relationship building; on the other hand, inability to have a conversation halts it in its tracks. On this basis, I support the proposal, even though I remain wary of its supporters’ intentions [After all, many of them are the same folks who quake in fear when statistics are presented indicating Caucasians one day will be a minority in the US.]. I support a national language in the name of multiculturalism. Whether the result will look more like I hope it to be or James Inhofe hopes it to be remains to be seen.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

FrancestheMagnificent's Recommended Blogs

As a public service to the blogging community, I will take this opportunity to share 10 of the best blogs I regularly frequent. All of them appear in my blogroll, but I feel they deserve more attention than that. Each and every one regularly delivers thought-provoking, intelligent, rational commentaries. The views expressed in them are incredibly refreshing to me, as the direction in which this country is moving often leaves me distressed. I’ve been lucky enough to make a personal connection with many of the writers, all of whom inspire me to maintain, and improve, this blog. Below they are presented, in random order (so as not to offend anybody!).

Kill the Afterlife, written by Aaron Kinney, has been around for quite a while (for a blog, that is). It is dedicated to debunking the ludicrous afterlife myth and placing importance on the one life that actually matters—the one we’re all presently living. I’m proud to count Aaron as a friend, despite our vigorous disagreement with respect to moral issues. Aaron’s blog, in large measure, inspired me to create this one.

The Atheist Mama is the nightmare of the pro-theist media. She presents atheism from the perspective of a wife and mother, hardly the typical atheist presented to the public for scorn and ridicule. Though updates have been few as of late, it’s certainly worth a trip or two.

Escapee From the Meme Machine, written by Lya Kahlo, is a frequently-updated blog run by a former theist who’s now atheistic, to say the least! Admirably, the blog attacks and ridicules President Bush, and rails against those who would infringe a woman’s right to choose. Generally speaking, the site isn’t recommended for Republicans.

The Atheist Jew is a blog writer who’s not afraid to express his deeply held views. Because of his candor, he has an antagonistic relationship with several individuals, including those who frequent this site. Nonetheless, his sense of humor and use of (frequently hilarious) multimedia content make his blog a must-visit.

Goosing the Antithesis is a team blog, featuring Francois Tremblay and Aaron Kinney, among others. It promotes the view of Strong Atheism, that being the positive assertion that God doesn’t exist. It also seems to have a rather pronounced Objectivist streak, as well as a fondness for anarchism. It’s constantly updated and unfailingly thought provoking.

Biblioblography is written by Reluctant Atheist. Posts tend to be rather lengthy, but well worth the time investment. It’s one of the few sites where I can honestly say I learn new facts, rather than just new ways to formulate arguments from facts I already know. Good use of links, which often are ignored by others (to the detriment of their arguments).

Stardust Musings and Thoughts for the Freethinker, written by Stardust1954, is something of a catch-all. It incorporates science, politics, culture, religion (or lack thereof) and humor. It’s one of the blogs that I check every single day, since there’s always something worth reading or laughing at. Posts tend to be brief, bite-sized nuggets.

Freethought Weekly, written by delta, is another of my favorites. Although updated infrequently, posts are always clearly, persuasively argued. In particular, delta’s criticisms of the US’ political system (our enslavement to two parties) are refreshing. Although we might not agree on everything with respect to political issues, I’m never able to dismiss delta’s arguments. Days later, I still find myself turning things over in my mind.

Atheist Girl is written by a self-professed libertarian, anarchist and free thinker. Although this blog is rather new to me, I was impressed enough to quickly add it to my recommended links tab. Posts are frequent, short and engaging.

Doctor Boogaloo’s Lunch Counter, written by Ontario’s own Doctor Boogaloo, gets points for the most esoteric title, if nothing else. It incorporates graphics regularly, much to its credit (sorry, but I don’t see that coming here anytime soon). And, it frequently targets the Bush Administration, an admirable quality for any blog [See my listing for Escapee from the Meme Machine]. It’s off the beaten path, and well worth a look.

Honorable mention: Memoirs of a Gouda.

Apologies in advance for any worthy blogs I inadvertently omitted.

Friday, May 12, 2006

In Defense of 300-Pound Third Graders

It’s time for a quick, angry rant. Even though I’m a big fan of former President Clinton, and indeed, wish he could be president again, I was extremely disappointed in his decision to take on a prominent role in the so-called War on Obesity [I prefer to call it the Assault on Bodily Sovereignty]. Last week, the beverage industry announced that it will voluntarily remove high-calorie sodas from all schools, under a deal with anti-obesity groups [read: groups that wish to intrude into your life]. This is just another case of freedom being sacrificed for the alleged greater good, that being a healthier and slimmer citizenry.

Here’s the news: Freedom is its own positive consequence. Nothing is more important than freedom: not security, health, comfort, stability or order. I’m pro-choice in the broadest sense of the word; that is, give everybody maximum choices, and let them set their own course. Indeed, I’m so fervently pro-choice that I have no objection to bringing healthy foods into the country’s public schools. Bring in your carrot sticks, skim milk and salads. Then, next to that area, bring in a vending machine with soda, cookies and candy bars. Let the students exercise CHOICE. If they eat healthily, they might lead longer, healthier lives. If they eat unhealthily, they might become obese and cut short their lives. And you know what – that’s fine. I never said freedom was utilitarian; with freedom, some children are left behind.

In the name of bodily sovereignty, I make the following strong suggestions:

1. Return junk food to the schools.

2. End the War on Drugs.

3. Legalize prostitution.

4. Eliminate all laws regulating private, consensual, adult sexual behavior.

5. Eliminate seatbelt and helmet laws, except for individuals younger than 13.

I have no question making these changes would do a bit to destabilize society. Obesity might continue to rise. Drug use might increase a bit. STD transmission might be a bit elevated (though that’s certainly questionable, since in Nevada, where prostitution is legal, brothels are strictly regulated with respect to health and disease control), and certainly more car accidents would be fatal ones. But you know what – free societies are a little bit dangerous. They require personal responsibility and rational decision-making. Some people aren’t cut out to handle living in a free society, and, if my reforms were enacted, I would encourage such people to move to a country that’s more willing to hold their hand like a kindergarten teacher.

Still not convinced freedom is good? Still think stability and safety matter more? Perhaps my point will be better proven if I raise the specter of taking presently held freedoms away. The country certainly would be healthier if smoking were illegal. The roads certainly would be safer if alcohol were banned again. The rising tide of obesity certainly would be halted if unhealthy foods were made illegal. Car-accident deaths would probably decrease dramatically if drivers were forced to wear helmets and a padded vest. Think those ideas sound like horrible intrusions into personal freedom? Well, now you know how I feel whenever I hear about the War on Drugs or see somebody being pulled over for exercising the right not to wear a seatbelt.

Freedom might be expensive, but there’s nothing more important. Liberty is its own reward; it needs no further justification. The War on Obesity, unquestionably, curbs people’s liberty. On that count, alone, it’s deplorable.

Friday, May 5, 2006

Response to Aaron Kinney's Response to Me

My response to this post.

Is it really an unjustified stretch to say that the word "good" refers to that which brings an individual closer to value fulfillment, while "bad" is that which takes an individual farther away from value fulfillment, even if said values are opinions, like a favorite movie?

I think Frances betrayed his own objection in his "That was a good movie," example. Even if "good" and "bad" are only opinion statements, isn't it still true that fulfilling one's values is factually good for them? I mean, if I liked V for Vendetta, and said "That was a good movie," isn't it still true that I'm using the word "good" to represent value fulfillment, in this case a movie that entertained me? If Frances hated the movie V for Vendetta, would he use the word "good" or "bad" to describe it? In this way, the words "good" and "bad" are fact based, because they relate to value fulfillment, and values are fact based (a point that Frances seems to agree on).

Use of the words “good” and “bad” is tricky. Let’s use V for Vendetta as an example, since you brought that terrific movie up. I thought V for Vendetta was a good movie. In what context would I use the word “good”? I would use good as an adjective for the film because it aligned well with my preferences. This is exactly the same way I use “good” with respect to weather. Good weather aligns well with my preferences. However, I would not use “good” to describe my behavior of seeing the film because I do not recognize inherent value in fulfilling my preferences. Simply stated, fulfilling preferences isn’t “right” or “wrong”; it’s not something one is SUPPOSED to do. People can fulfill their preferences or be apathetic to them. Nobody is supposed to do anything.

While Frances personally accepts my self-ownership position, he argues that it is an unprovable one. I, of course, totally disagree. Why? Because self-ownership is based on the law of identity. A = A. You are you. Frances is Frances; he is not Aaron. Because Frances is Frances, only Frances owns himself. Self-ownership is somewhat of a tautology because it is virtually identical to the law of identity. Aaron is Aaron, and Aaron owns Aaron.

Frances claims that I cannot prove that he does not own me, and in doing so, Frances confuses the burden of proof. It is Frances' burden to prove that he does own me, not the other way around. It is, of course, also my burden to prove the principle of self-ownership. Thanks to the law of identity, I can say that an individual inherently owns what it inherently is: itself. Is there really much of a difference between saying, "Aaron is himself" and "Aaron owns himself"?

Unfortunately, Frances does not have these logical tools at his disposal to support his claim that he owns me.

I would say there is quite a big difference between "Aaron is Aaron" and "Aaron owns Aaron." I'm not going to argue against A=A, because I think it’s logically sound. But, I do strongly object to A=A, therefore A owns A. That "principle" is nothing more than an assertion. And, I think you are prejudicially applying it. If "A=A, and therefore A owns A," anything can be put in the place of "A." That means my encyclopedia owns my encyclopedia; the daffodil owns the daffodil; and the horse owns the horse. Applying it only to humans would be ad hoc, and thus logically impermissible.

You can add "ownership" to my list of "gooey" words. It's kind of amorphous and meaningless, at least without hard evidence. There is plenty of hard evidence that I own this computer: I have the receipt; I can look up the credit card charge in my records; I am registered with Dell. There is no hard evidence that an individual owns him/herself. As I said initially, such a claim is just that...a claim. And, I am not making a positive assertion that, for example, I own you. Rather, I am saying there is just as much hard evidence that I own you as there is hard evidence that you own you - that is to say, none.

Can Frances, by sheer force of will, make me comply with all of his demands and agree with all of his values? No, he must use physical force to comply with his demands (he can't do it with mere thought), and he cannot get me to agree with all of his values no matter what physical force he applies to me. That is because, like Frances, I am my own separate individual entity with my own individual values and I have my own direct control over my own body.

I think it is erroneous to tie ownership and total control together. Just because one must use physical force on an entity to make it do what the individual wants, and just because the individual might not be able to get the entity to do everything he/she wants, doesn't mean the entity isn't owned by the individual. Let's again use my computer as an example. We can both agree I own my computer. If I want my computer to make an Excel chart, I must use physical force on it to make it do it. And, as any computer user knows, the computer does indeed disallow me from making it do certain things I want it to do. The fact that I must use physical force on the computer, and the fact that the computer doesn't do everything I want, doesn't somehow change the fact that I own the computer. Similarly, if I alleged to own another person, I might have to use physical force to get the person to do what I want, and the person might not do every single thing I demand, but that still wouldn't cancel out my ownership of the person, anymore than it does the computer. I think the computer analogy adequately demonstrates that ownership need not be accompanied by total control.

Individuals exist as singular conscious entities. Societies don't. A society is just a collection of individuals with no singular consciousness. Morality is about individual value fulfillment because morality applies to the actions of a conscious entity, and only individuals are conscious entities. Defining morality as individual value fulfillment is no more of a presupposition than it is to "presuppose" that individual humans have individual and separate consciousnesses. It is honestly not that difficult to observe that, factually, individuals are singular, conscious entities and a collective society is not.

I completely agree with you that individuals, not societies, are conscious entities. I will even agree that morality relates to the behaviors of a conscious entity, since only conscious entities have behaviors. But I don’t think this proves that morality is wrapped up in individual value fulfillment. Morality applies to the behaviors of individuals…in the context of what? Themselves? Society? The environment? The fact that morality involves the behaviors of individuals does not necessarily imply that morality relates to the way in which they fulfill or don’t fulfill their preferences. Morality could just as easily be wrapped up in how each individual’s behaviors affect the collective. Or, morality could just as easily deal with how each individual’s behaviors affect the environment. Just like with bodily ownership, there is no hard evidence at all to confirm ANY of those possibilities.

Frances then asks me to prove factually that morality and value fulfillment have a relationship. This is a definitional problem regarding the very word "morality"? It seems that Frances wants me to define "morality" and prove that the definition is valid. May I just say that a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet? Can't we just agree on a dictionary definition or something? Whatever concept you want to assign the word "morality" to is irrelevant. That is because the concepts of right and wrong behavior, and value fulfillment, will always exist, regardless of what we call them. We can use the word "blark" for all I care.

Here’s the problem: I’m willing to define morality as “The study of the effects of an individual’s behavior.” However, that definition doesn’t incorporate the context. The study of the effects of an individual’s behavior…in the context of what? In the context of the individual? In the context of society? In the context of the environment? An individual’s behavior has an effect on all three; so, on what basis does morality restrict itself to only an individual’s behaviors’ effects on his/her preferences? I’m willing to accept that morality has to do with the effects of behaviors; I’m not willing to grant that morality has to do with the effects of behaviors on preferences (which, by necessity, must be held by individuals). I’d just as soon say morality has to do with the effects of behaviors on societies or on the environment.

But is there a relationship between value fulfillment and right and wrong behavior? Of course! That is because values are fact-based, as Frances conceded earlier. "Right" or "good" relates to fulfilling a value, and "wrong" or "bad" relates to not fulfilling that value, or fulfilling an anti-value. Certain factual things must be performed to fulfill a value. And to fulfill a value is "good" for the value holder, while not fulfilling the value is "bad". Right and wrong are definite things because values are definite things that require definite actions. I cannot fulfill my food value by eating rusty nails, or by refusing to eat altogether! Eating rusty nails or refusing to eat is "bad" if obtaining sustenance is a value that I hold.

I think the key disconnect here is that you build “should be strived for” into your definition of “values,” and I do not. To me, “values” are simply things an individual can do or not do that have tangible results in either case [this definitional disconnect is why I continually use the word “preferences” instead]. With that definition, the same list of values applies to everybody, since it is divorced from individual preferences. A good example is nutrition; an individual can fulfill nutrition or not fulfill it. Another example is sleep; once again, that’s a value that can be fulfilled or not fulfilled. Someone who fulfills the nutrition value and fulfills the sleep value will get certain results. Someone who doesn’t fulfill the nutrition or sleep values will get different results. And sure, individuals have preferences with regard to these things. For example, I prefer to fulfill my nutrition value and sleep value. But, that doesn’t mean I am somehow SUPPOSED TO. Nobody is supposed to do anything. If people want to strive for their preferences they can, and if they want to be apathetic to them they can. I look at humanity as just another part of animalia; I don’t think humans are supposed to do anything anymore than goldfish are.

The acceptance of individualist philosophy does not make said philosophy relative anymore than the acceptance of the law of gravity makes gravity relative. Anyone can define morality any way they want, but the concepts of right and wrong behavior, and the factual nature of values, will remain constant, regardless of what word is used to describe them, and regardless of the refusal of one to accept their truths.

What you describe (Individual preference fulfillment, with successful preference fulfillment being “right” and lack of preference fulfillment being “wrong”) is indeed one way to approach the issue of morality; however, the key words in that are “one way.” If one doesn’t accept that morality has any relationship with individual preference fulfillment, and instead defines the word slightly differently, how can morality (a word with multiple definitions) be universally objective? Individual preference fulfillment, as you describe it, is objective. To you, “good" relates to fulfilling a preference, and "bad" relates to not fulfilling that preference, or fulfilling an anti-preference. We can both agree that certain factual things must be performed to fulfill a preference. But somebody could just as easily say, “Morality deals with how individuals’ actions affect society” or “Morality deals with how individuals’ actions affect the environment.” Morality can have numerous definitions, since the definition I recognize, “The study of the effects of an individual’s behavior,” provides no context (on the individual?; on society?; on the environment?).

Just because I reject that individuals exist doesn't make them cease to exist, does it? Just because I refuse to recognize that a high-speed metal projectile will destroy my brain if my skull intercepts it's path, doesn't mean that my head won't be blown off when someone shoots me, does it?

I am not saying anybody has the right to deny the existence of individuals; the existence of individuals is undeniable. I reject the factual accuracy of individualism, a philosophy centered around the primary importance of the individual as compared to society, environment, etc. Primary importance is assigned arbitrarily; it could just as easily be assigned to society or the environment, with individuals viewed as secondary. That’s why neither Libertarianism nor Communism is objectively “correct.” It’s just a matter of the way in which one views things.

We can scientifically and factually prove that an individual human has a singular consciousness and direct control over itself. We cannot do the same for a collective group of people. In fact, we can even use science to factually prove that a collective group of humans in fact does not have a singular consciousness and direct control over itself. Analysis of observable facts will most definitely support the claim that an individual exists as a singular self-directing entity, while a collective society does not.

Again, I will gladly grant you that an individual exists as a singular, self-directing entity. And, I will grant you that a society is neither singular nor self-directing. What I will not rubber-stamp is the notion that, because individuals are singular and self-directing, they are somehow of primary importance. I would need to see a chart of some type, based upon scientific data, demonstrating a direct relationship between singularity/self-direction and “importance,” whatever the latter means. One could just as easily pluck out the defining characteristics of societies or the environment and then declare either of them to be of primary importance. It’s kind of like my arguments about human speciocentricity: Humans pick out a few of our defining characteristics (sentience, full range of emotions, etc.), arbitrarily declare them to be “value adding,” and then assert humans are the most valuable of all animal life. I don’t accept that, either.

Gross! I hate nihilism. But you know what they say, "hate the nihilism, not the nihilist."

What’s to hate about nihilism? I take two main points from it: 1. Nothing is self-evident. Absolutely everything requires hard evidence. 2. Nothing, intrinsically speaking, is preferable to anything else. The latter, especially, is the ultimate in individualism; it basically says that “good” and “bad” and “right” and “wrong” are all just a matter of opinion--an individual's opinion.

Thanks for engaging me, Aaron!

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

The National Day of Solemn Monologues

Well, the National Day of Prayer is almost upon us. That sacred day begins, as I type this, just five hours from now. According to the National Day of Prayer Task Force’s official website, the infantile holiday “was established in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.” It seems that the National Day of Prayer is just another unfortunate product of the anti-Communist hysteria of the ’50s; you see, we had to distinguish ourselves from godless Communists by rolling around in Christianity, like a pig in the mud. After all, it was also the mid ’50s when the words “under God” were wedged into the Pledge of Allegiance.

I have nothing but scorn and mockery for the National Day of Prayer. Only in a country fully infected with religiosity would the government choose to legitimize prayer: An activity that can be defined as dropping to one’s knees and talking to oneself, pretending to speak to a higher being. Mental institutions are full of people who were institutionalized because they spoke to “people” who didn’t actually exist; why are they more irrational than those who speak to a logically contradictory deity for which there is no hard evidence? At least, in most cases, the mentally ill pretend to communicate with other people; those who pray are pretending to communicate with a Supreme Being who snapped the universe into existence.

I am very confident that the people who read this blog already know what I’m about to say is true, but I’ll make the point in any case: Prayer does nothing. It is precisely analogous to crossing one’s fingers, knocking on wood, wishing upon a star, saying “God forbid” or “God willing,” or hoping really, really hard. Not only that, it’s pathetic in the most literal sense of the word. When people pray for their goals to be achieved, they are pleading with a non-existent deity to do it for them; can one possibly engage in a more disempowering activity? A truly empowered individual goes out and strives to achieve his/her goals; he/she doesn’t whine at the feet of an alleged higher power, begging for a handout. And prayer for the recovery of a sick or injured loved one is a similar waste of time. Besides, should one really be spending time talking to oneself during what might be the last days of a loved one?

I know, in a major scientific study, prayer’s mythic power already has been disproved. But, I have a suggestion that, hopefully, will cement this. In honor of the National Day of Prayer, the United States should shut off all hospital machinery for the day, and suspend all airline security checks for the day. In their place, individuals should pray. It would be put-up or shut up time for prayer.

I wonder if the members of the National Day of Prayer Task Force are brainwashed enough to agree to suspend all hospital care for a loved one on that day, replacing traditional medicine with prayer. I wonder if they’d be willing to fly from, say, New York to Los Angeles on an airplane filled with passengers who hadn’t gone through security checks of any kind—with only the "Power of Prayer" to keep them safe. In these (admittedly extreme) examples, would the Task Force still allege that praying delivers more tangible results than crossing one’s fingers or knocking on wood?

But maybe I’m misinterpreting this. Maybe the Prayer Mafia doesn’t think praying has an actual effect on the real world; maybe they simply believe it’s a method by which to come closer to God. Of course, the atheist question is “What God?” I’ve seen no hard evidence for any God, let alone the God of a particular religion (let alone the logically contradictory Christian God). That being true, isn’t the National Day of Prayer simply a case of the federal government legitimizing via holiday a one-way conversation with an entity for which there is no evidence? And if such a characterization, indeed, is accurate…how scary is that?

I’d sooner support a National Day of Knocking on Wood; you see, there's actual hard evidence that wood exists.