The Absurdity of Theological Debate

April 15, 2009

At present time, all accounts of the physical world are wildly incomplete.  The biggest issue, of course, is how the universe came to be.  Neither religion nor science can explain how, for example, a higher power could be self-caused or where all of this physical matter came from (specifically, what created God or what happened prior to 10^-43 seconds after the Big Bang).

Yes, most religions claim something like God has always existed or was the cause of him/her self, but it’s quite obvious that these explanations fall well short of complete understanding – for there exists no account of how anything, let alone God, could be the cause of itself (or have always existed).

Similarly, modern day scientific understanding stops at “approximately” 10^-43 seconds after the Big Bang, and prominently lacks a unified theory of the physical universe (we use two very different models – Einstein’s theories of relativity and quantum theory – to govern large and small bodies).

New discoveries suggest it may even turn out that time does not actually exist – which is not nearly as implausible as it may seem at first glance (for we already know that time is not a constant, a nice explanation of this is here – choose the 4th video link).

The point is there are gaps in our understanding.  Huge gaps.  Consider the following (paraphrased) metaphor from Baruch Spinoza’s letter to Henry Oldenburg:

Imagine a worm, living in the bloodstream, able to distinguish by sight the particles of blood, lymph, etc., and able to think about how each particle is related.  This little worm would live in the blood [a part of the body], in the same way as we live in a part of the universe.  The worm would consider each particle of blood, not as a part, but as a whole. He would be unable to grasp the larger truth, namely the role the blood plays as a part of the body, and that the blood (his entire world) is only a part of something larger [the body], which in turn is part of something larger still [the universe].

It is impossible for the worm to get on to the larger, ultimate, reality of the universe from the evidence of his world (the blood).

While it may be possible for mankind to expand its understanding beyond that of the worm’s at some point in the future, modern day knowledge of some ultimate reality is on par with the worm.  This is evidenced by our inability to answer the most fundamental of all questions – how we came to be – and those referenced above.

The tired athiest/theist/agnostic debate – three worms in blood, confusing hubris for enlightenment.

Today’s Ignorance Courtesy of Jack Cafferty

March 31, 2009

CNN’s Jack Cafferty writes in his column today:

One senior Harvard economist estimates we spend $44 billion a year fighting the war on drugs. He says if they were legal, governments would realize about $33 billion a year in tax revenue. Net swing of $77 billion. Could we use that money today for something else? You bet your ass we could. Plus the cartels would be out of business. Instantly. Goodbye crime and violence.

Really Jack?  The cartels would be out of business?  Goodbye crime and violence?

I hate the illogical “War on Drugs” as much as the next literate, reasonably well-informed person – and don’t get me wrong, hyperbole is one heck of a literary device – but, no.

No, the cartels would not be out of business (according to UN estimates – p. 127 here – North America consumes less than half of the global illicit drug market).  No, it is not immediately obvious that crime and violence would decrease (see points 5 and 7 here).

The War on Drugs in its present form is ludicrous.  However, overstating the dissenter’s position does nothing to illuminate this insanity.

Uhhh… Yeah So This Really Happened

December 16, 2008

John Balcerzak is a police officer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and president of the Milwaukee Police Association. In 1991, he was fired for having handed over an injured victim to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, despite the victim’s protests.

Balcerzak and his partner Joseph Gabrish discovered the victim, 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone, after he had managed to escape from Dahmer’s apartment. Though the Laotian immigrant had been in the country for ten years and spoke English fluently, in his drugged and brain-injured state, Konerak was unable to communicate his situation to authorities. Dahmer found the boy with the police and convinced them that the boy was his 19-year-old lover. Two African-American women, Sandra Smith and Nicole Childress, were convinced that Sinthasomphone’s life was in peril and tried to save the boy. However, Balcerzak and his partner chose to believe Dahmer and allowed him to keep Sinthasomphone. Dahmer later sexually abused, killed, and dismembered the boy.

Balcerzak and Gabrish were terminated from the Milwaukee Police Department after their actions were widely publicized, including an audiotape of the officers making homophobic statements to their dispatcher and cracking jokes about having reunited the “lovers”. The officers had never checked the boy’s ID because they said he appeared to be 19 years old. The officers did not check Dahmer’s identification; had they done so, they would have discovered that Dahmer was a sex offender previously convicted for molesting Sinthasomphone’s older brother.

Both officers later appealed their termination, won, and were reinstated with back pay. Balcerzak and Gabrish were named “officers of the year” by their local union, the Milwaukee Police Association, for fighting a “righteous” battle to regain their jobs.

In May 2005, Balcerzak was elected president of the Milwaukee Police Association, defeating Sebastian Raclaw by a vote of 521 to 453. As president, he has been criticized for failing to protect officers from mandatory overtime and not supporting African-American officer Alfonzo Glover, who was charged with homicide and later committed suicide. By June 2006, the union vice president had resigned because of disagreements with Balcerzak’s “style of leadership.” A petition to remove Balcerzak was filed and a recall election was held in August 2006. The results were 213 for a recall and 397 to retain him.

To review: known sex offender rapes boy. Cop makes gay jokes, hands back boy to rapist. Rapist murders boy. Cop gets elected head of Police Association. Cop is still head of Police Association today.

U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
New York Times

I’m Brilliant

December 5, 2008

… or online IQ tests are B.S.  I’m going with the latter

IQ Test

This Isn’t Clever

November 27, 2008


Chuck Norris Can Cure Cancer but is Baffled by the Principles of Logic

November 25, 2008


Chuck Norris put forth the following argument in an editorial piece he wrote for

  1. Because Obama was elected by the popular vote, I accept his presidency
  2. Proposition 8 was passed by popular vote
  3. Therefore everyone should accept Proposition 8

I know what you’re thinking – this argument isn’t even valid, let alone sound! What kind of moronic imbicile penned this drivel? Unfortunately it was authored by the prophet himself, Mr. Walker Texas Ranger.

To review, here’s a valid argument:

  • If A then B – If I eat then I’m happy
  • A – I eat
  • Therefore B – I’m happy

The conclusion (I’m happy) will always be true if the premises are true (If I eat then I’m happy; I eat)

A sound argument is just a valid argument with all true premises; so the argument above is both sound and valid. However, if it wasn’t true that “If I eat then I’m happy” or “I eat” then the argument would be valid but not sound.

Make sense?

Here’s Mr. Norris’s argument in symbolic terms:

B= Barack Obama

e= was elected/passed by a popular vote

a= should be accepted by the general public

P= Proposition 8

  1. Be -> Ba
  2. Be (implied premise)
  3. Pe
  4. Pa – conclusion

This argument isn’t valid becuase even if premises #1,2, and 3 are true, the conclusion (Pa) could be true or false.

Thus, little Chucky’s “serious” political diatribe is actually quite funny becuase even if the premises he puts forth were true (e.g. points 1&2) there’s still absolutely no reason for concluding “people should accept Prop 8.” It’s cute really. Kind of like the boy in Kindergarten who draws a purple dog… not exactly right but at least he’s trying.

What’s missing, and the most difficult part of the argument (no surprise Norris left it out) is this:


Meaning there are enough similarities between B and P that for the purposes of the argument everything that applies to B also applies to P.

Barack Obama and Proposition 8… why, they’re virtually twins!

Height of Stupidity: Supporting a Political Party Like a Sports Team

November 6, 2008

young-football-supporter1True sports fans are among the most passionate supporters in the world. They stick with their team through the good and the bad, triumph and defeat. To switch team affiliation is to renounce the very essence of one’s being.

Political parties are not sports teams. They are groups of people that represent different ideologies. Names change and ideologies change.

Twenty years ago the Republican Party stood for small government, low taxes and fiscal responsibility. It was officially pro-life but social issues with religious implications were largely left alone, or at the very least, for states to decide.

The Republican Party of the last five years bears very little resemblance to the party it was in the 80’s. For better or worse national security and instituting Christian principles have both taken precedence over economic and domestic policies. As a result, the national deficit has ballooned and domestic services like education, healthcare and social security have suffered; but we have increased our presence overseas and nouveaux Republicans would argue we are safer today as a result.

If you value instituting Christian principles and an interventionist foreign policy (and paying for it with tax dollars and the lives of our young people) you should be a Republican because the Republican Party represents these ideals.

However, if you were a Republican twenty years ago and are a Republican today because of that (or worse, because your parents are Republican) you are a complete moron. Today the Democratic Party is more closely aligned with traditional Republican values than the Republican party itself – don’t buy something you can’t pay for (i.e. a war), take care of home first (health care, education, etc.), and SMALL government (not expanding executive power to the greatest extent in our country’s history).

Reagan would have voted for Obama. His son and chief of staff both did. Again, if you’re a social conservative and don’t care as much about the economy or personal freedoms you should be and vote Republican. However, if you’re an old school conservative and like how the country operated under the Reagan administration (underhanded politics aside) you have a new party and a new leader.

Otherwise you’re a hypocrite – and worse – too dumb to realize it.

That Damn Availability Bias

October 29, 2008

People often base their prediction of the frequency of an event on how easily an example can be brought to mind.  This is called an Availability Bias.  For example, what happens more often – murder or suicide?  The correct answer is suicide but most people say murder because murders receive more publicity than suicides.

Why is this important?

Consider the news media.  It’s their job to report current events; what’s going on today.  Right now with the presidential election less than a week away, national politics understandably dominates the headlines.  However, two weeks ago it was the banking crisis, and before that it was oil and the Iraq war.  It’s important to stay abreast with current events but equally important to keep the big picture in mind and not become distracted by the new, shiny issue of the week (i.e. fall victim to availability bias).

So here’s a thought: after the election on November 4 and the spotlight leaves Sen. Obama or McCain for a few months, let’s not lose sight of the global political landscape.  Undoubtedly new issues and “crises” will appear between November 4 and the January 20, 2009 inauguration but few will be as significant (to Americans at least) as the direction this country will take under new leadership.

LA Times Engaging in Dishonest Journalistic Practices Under Stanton’s Watch

October 16, 2008

The top headline on today’s print edition of the Los Angeles Times reads “McCain Doesn’t Seal the Deal”. That same story is also the lead on but with a different, more appropriate headline: “McCain Deals no Lethal Blows in Final Debate With Obama.”

First, the headline on the print edition is wildly misleading. Stating “McCain Doesn’t Seal the Deal” [obviously] suggests he was in a position to “seal the deal,” which isn’t the case. McCain is and was losing to Obama in every national poll. McCain was no more likely to “seal the deal” in the third and final debate than he was to levitate or feed the audience with a couple sardines and a piece of toast. No McCain didn’t seal the deal but he also didn’t turn invisible or ride in on a unicorn.

The next question is why did the Times change the headline for the internet? Did they realize their error after the print edition had gone to press? It’s possible but I have a very hard time believing the headline for the top story of the day was a simple mistake.

The current editor of the Los Angeles times is Russ Stanton, he has held the position since February of this year. His reputation is of a business man first, a journalist second. It’s possible the headline is a result of his personal right wing political preferences. Regardless, the bottom line is Stanton is ultimately responsible for what is printed by the LA Times and today’s headline is disingenuous at best. Thus, the headline is either the result of a (fairly large) oversight by Stanton or an underlying political agenda.

Dishonesty or incompetence – I’m not sure which is worse.

Since I Can’t Say it Better Myself…

October 14, 2008

… I won’t.  From Bob Lefsetz’s (marginally offensive) blog:

America is pissed about so much.  And feels too often that politicians don’t care about them.  And there’s scads of ignorance, purveyed by biased talk show hosts and bloviating, supposedly neutral, TV talking heads.  And everybody’s afraid.  You get people saying Sarah Palin won the Vice Presidential debate and you wonder if you watched the same show.  When I didn’t answer the questions in school, I flunked.  And suddenly, by going to school, working damn hard, studying to get good grades to get into a good college, I’m an elitist, my opinion is to be discounted.

I shouldn’t have gone to public school, I should have gone to a parochial institution, to be indoctrinated in viewpoints that don’t square with reality. Worse yet, be home schooled… tell me you can get infections hanging with the underprivileged in regular high schools, that you can teach your kids better than those underpaid teachers.  But what about socialization, what about opposing viewpoints?  How can there be a dialogue when there’s not another side?

And that’s what we have in America today, only one side.  Everybody’s on his own side, only speaking to himself and like-minded people.

It’s easy to bash America and Americans right now and that’s not my intent.  Just like any other country, America has its own pros and cons; we’re taking our lumps now and will come out the other side all the better for it.

However, Lefsetz makes points worth considering – why do so many place so little importance on things like academic ability and experiencing diversity (be it diversity in race, religion or opinion)?  Why is there an increasing tendency to polarize, to associate with a like-minded group of “yes friends”?

Are our beliefs really that fragile?