Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why bother to vote?

Yes, I voted but I'm not sure why. All the candidates appear to present the same proposals in different colored wrappers, especially in their ideas of how to fix the economy.

Back in the eighteenth century, Adam Smith suggested that the economy ought to be based on land, labor, and capital. He then dealt with the fallacy that money is wealth by explaining that money is not wealth, it is an instrument for dealing with wealth.

Then in the nineteenth century, Henry George agreed with Adam Smith's contention that the economy ought to be based on land, labor, and capital. He then dealt with the fallacy that land is property by explaining that land is not property, it is a place to put property.

But none of the candidates on the ballot are willing to give up either of these fallacies, thus rendering it impossible to base the economy on land, labor, and capital.

Instead, we have an economy based on a monumental pyramid of derivative investments piled on top of a Ponzi scheme of endlessly escalating land prices, which is inherently unstable. The game of Monopoly was originally invented to provide a hands-on demonstration of the instability of such an economy.

Here's what appears to be happening. Increasing prices for building sites require businesses to borrow ever higher piles of money to acquire new sites when doing so would improve efficiency, thus lapse into lower efficiency. Workers need higher and higher wages just to pay the ever-increasing mortgages on their homes, the increased house prices being the land, not the houses. Businesses lapsing into lower efficiency lay off a few of their workers, who then default on their mortgages, and get their homes foreclosed, and the whole scheme collapses.

A very few economists (Fred Foldvary and Mark Wadsworth, just to name a couple) appear to be aware of what's going on. They realize that in order to base an economy on land, labor, and capital, the parties that provide these elements need to receive the benefits of what they're providing.

The value of land is provided by public agreement as to who owns what plot, and the value is enhanced by public improvements and other government action, therefore this value ought to be recovered for public use, perhaps by a land value tax as proposed by Henry George.

The value of labor is provided by the laborer, and therefore ought to be all his, not tapped off by income taxes.

The value of capital is provided by those who willingly give up a portion of their wealth in order to provide means of improving the efficiency of the laborers, and ought to be all theirs, not tapped off by sales taxes, "capital gain" taxes (Hey, who are we kidding here, capital doesn't gain, it depreciates!), and such like.

But none of the candidates I just got finished voting for has got a clue. Every last one of them is proposing ethereal fantasy plans for keeping the Ponzi scheme going a bit longer, usually at the cost of increasing the national debt. I have no idea who even owns our national debt. For all I know, maybe China, or Iran, or Afghanistan, or Venezuela, or somebody else who doesn't like us.

I feel like a mouse who just voted for what color of cat is going to get to eat me.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Report: The Grand Design

As soon as I discovered that there was another book out by Stephen Hawking I immediately went over to Bay Books to get a copy of The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. They had sold out of their first shipment on the first day, much to their own amazement at the book's unexpected popularity, so they added my name to the back-order list. When they called me to say the new shipment was in, I immediately went over and bought one.

It's an easily-readable book, highly understandable to anyone with the slightest knowledge of physics and mathematics, and partially understandable even to someone with no science background at all.

The book briefly traces the history of our knowledge of theoretical physics from the days of the ancient Greeks, through the Renaissance, and up to modern times. Most of the major contributors are mentioned: Archimedes, Pythagoras, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Michelson and Morley, Einstein, Feynman, etc.

Each contribution is briefly and understandably described. When they get to quantum theory, of course, there's no such thing as a correct but easily understandable non-mathematical description. Quantum theory simply can't possibly make any intuitive sense at the human scale of perception. Hawking and Mlodinow do their best, however, and it's at least as good as anybody else has ever done without plunging into the inscrutable depths of advanced mathematics.

Now here's the part that religious leaders are upset over. Our current scientific knowledge still has many large gaps, but the God Of The Gaps concept is no longer viable because the gaps aren't God-shaped. There are just too many logical and mathematical possibilities for the universe to have come into existence without the kind intercession of a conscious decision-making creator.

The burden of proof is now upon theologians to come up with a sufficiently drastic modification of their theology to be compatible with our present-day knowledge. I don't think they're up to the task. All I've heard so far from the theological community is impotent bleating about how Stephen Hawking doesn't understand theology. But why should he even try to understand make-believe? He's done a great job dedicating his life to understanding reality.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Burning Korans (yawn)

For now, it appears that a scheduled Koran-burning party down in Florida somewhere has been put on hold. Is it because the sponsor simply wimped out? Is it because he struck a deal of some sort? Is it because he suddenly realized that book-burning is symbolic of censorship, which is un-American?

Whatever the reason, I'm not sure I care. In our modern era of mass printing, purchasing a few Korans just to burn them has no practical effect except to increase the profits of Koran publishers. While we're at it, throw in a few Bibles, Rig-Vedas, Torahs, copies of The Shack, the Book Of Common Prayer, hymnals, and whatever religious hogwash you can afford to waste. On the other hand, please don't. It's wasteful and environmentally harmful.

I'm all in favor of religious crybabies of all stripes inciting each other to throw tantrums. It's great entertainment. But I wish we, as a social order, wouldn't be so wimpy with them when nonparticipants are caught in the crossfire.

Here's my modest proposal. Establish a judicial principle whereby anyone convicted of a crime for which a religious motive can be identified must serve out his sentence without being allowed to possess any religious artifact, receive visits from any religious leader, nor participate in any religious ritual.

I'm all in favor of freedom of religion as long as it's nothing more than peaceful fellowship. In fact I even participate in the Episcopal church for that reason. But it's time to stop giving religions any special treatment and begin recognizing them for the mere institutionalized mental disorders they really are. Yes, including the Episcopal church, which I feel qualified to criticize because I know it from the inside.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Random Thoughts About Randomness

If there were no God, could things happen randomly?

If there were no God, could things happen chaotically?

Oh by the way, randomness and chaos are mathematically different. In a random sequence, each event is independent of all other events. In a chaotic sequence, each event is highly dependent on all previous events in an incomprensibly complex pattern. Not that this difference is much noticed by the common folk, you understand.

If there were no God, would logic be valid? Or to put it another way, if there is a God (or several Gods) would his omnipotence be restricted from doing anything self-contradictory or otherwise logically impossible?

If there were no God, would the principles of arithmetic still be valid even if there was nothing to do arithmetic on?

If there were no God, could mathematical functions, such as conics, sinusoids, exponentials, etc. be conceptually meaningful even if there was nothing for them to describe?

If all the above questions can be answered "yes" and I suspect they probably can, but I can't prove it, then doesn't that suggest that everything that all known laws of physics are based on can exist without God?

If all that's true, then in the absence of God, what could stop the universe from existing?

When radio was first invented, radio hams began noticing that the laws of physics describing how their radios work bear a striking mathematical similarity to the laws of physics applicable to other topics in physics.

Then a Nobel Prize winning physicist named Richard Feynman came along and wrote a series of lectures on physics in which he explained how all the laws of physics in all the topics in physics are based on these same few mathematical principles.

And just yesterday I read something about how Stephen Hawking has said essentially the same thing in a new book, based on even more evidence than Richard Feynman had available to him. I haven't yet read Stephen Hawking's new book, but I'm looking forward to doing so.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Property Values

In the area around Huntingtown, Maryland, about 25 miles north of my place, the electric company is putting in additional lines which require new poles. These poles are larger than the old poles and have a new and unusual appearance. Personally, I think they look just fine.

But the residents of Huntingtown are complaining that the new poles are horribly ugly and will depress property values. I have two comments.

First, think what would happen to property values if the electric company were prevented from putting in the new service, and adequate electric power delivery became unavailable to their community.

Second, the component of the property values being affected is the location desirability, not the actual property built on the location. This should make it obvious that the change in property values, be it up or down, is not the doing of the owner, but the doing of others in the community, and therefore the location desirability is not really the property of the owner, but something the owner ought to be paying the community for.

The problem would resolve itself if our property taxes were shifted off of actual property, that is, the property the owner actually put there (or paid to have put there), and onto the location component. This would automatically compensate the owner with a tax break for anything beyond his control that made his location less desirable, and charge him extra for any doings of others that made his location more desirable.

Henry George proposed something like this clear back in the nineteenth century, and it sounds like a good solution to problems like the good folks of Huntingtown are experiencing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gun Control

During the fourth century A.D. when Christianity was rising to power and shoving Europe back into the stone age, there arose an agreement between the clergy and nobility. All education was to be under the control of the clergy and all bearing of arms was to be done under the command of the nobility. Thus the "unwashed masses" had no access to either of these two important sources of power.

This situation dominated most of Europe and a bit of Asia until the Renaissance, when a few people began rediscovering the glories of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Then in the 17-th and 18-th centuries, philosophers began basing their philosophies on the enlightened principles of the ancient Greeks.

The American constitution was written in accordance with these enlightened principles. Democracy. Elimination of the nobility. Elimination of special privilege for the clergy. Education for all. Right to bear arms for all.

And thus the Second Amendment was added to the Constitution, giving the right to bear arms to all citizens, not just the nobility (which there wasn't any of any more), thus "thumbing our nose" at established Christianity which was adamantly opposed to such an amendment.

And now in the 21-st century, the Second Amendment, with its totally anti-Christian sentiment, seems to be most strongly supported by those who claim to be staunch Christians. I have no idea how this strange turnabout occurred.

But whether the Second Amendment is supported by Christians or non-Christians shouldn't have any bearing on how it is interpreted nor on whether it is even a useful amendment in the modern era. For that, we must look at the Preamble to the Constitution.

The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments, was added to enumerate the rights that would contribute to the purposes stated in the Preamble. Each right was to be granted in the specific form that would enhance those purposes.

Thus, all citizens should be granted the right to specific forms of arms-bearing that would help us form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, as stated in the Preamble.

Does this mean we should all go around with Saturday Night Specials concealed in our boots everywhere we go? Well maybe, maybe not. There's room for differences of opinion here.

The pro-gun-control crowd believes that more guns will cause more gun crimes. This is hogwash because the people who are going to use guns to commit crimes will find a way to get guns no matter how illegal they are. If somebody is not deterred by a law against some crime, why would they be deterred by an additional law against possession of the implement for committing the crime?

The anti-gun-control crowd believes that the presence of armed law-abiding people deters crime. This is hogwash because the person committing the crime will probably get the jump on the law-abiding citizens who won't be able to reach their guns in time.

A very few instances have actually happened where armed law-abiding citizens have used their guns to prevent a crime. These few instances have been re-told and re-re-told so many times, with a few variations each re-telling, that you get the impression that such occurrences are commonplace. They aren't.

So how can I take sides when the arguments for both sides are hogwash? I can't! Personally I've never owned a gun because I've never had an actual use for one. On the other hand I've never been threatened by law-abiding citizens with guns but I've occasionally been threatened by non-law-abiding citizens without guns.

Overall, I don't see how gun control laws make much difference.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Is America a Christian Nation?

Now that my life's sixty-seventh Independence Day has passed, with all the hoopla about God And Country, it's time to reflect on whether America is a Christian nation.

First, read the Declaration of Independence. The only clear reference to anything religious is an assertion about being endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. This is a Deist-Humanist concept, definitely not Christian. Deism is actually more of a metaphysical world-view than an actual religion.

Next, read the Constitution. No mention of any religion until we get to the First Amendment, which states, essentially, that we have no official national religion and that all people are free to participate in any religion or non-religion of their choosing.

The original Pledge of Allegiance did not contain the phrase Under God. That was added during the 1950's under the mistaken delusion that it would distinguish us from those Godless Communists. In reality, Communism and Godlessness have nothing to do with each other.

Here's the story. At the end of World War II it became apparent that the USA and the USSR were not really allies, we were competitors to see how hard we could stomp on the remnants of the defeated Germany. Both major powers were interested in reaping the spoils of victory and furthering our own empires. The practical difference between Communism and Capitalism is very slight, actually, only a few minor details as to the exact composition of the elite class that has the privilege of oppressing the rest of us.

The USSR tried to suppress organized religions because they were competing power structures, not because Communism had anything against religion. In fact, old Joe Stalin was on-and-off religious himself!

There are two kinds of government that are to be avoided at all costs: Those that try to suppress religion, and those based on religion. Our Founding Fathers made an attempt to avoid either extreme. I think we ought to follow that tradition.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Religion Has All The Answers

How did the universe come into existence? Is our universe all that exists, all that has ever existed, and all that will ever exist? Does our universe exist on a substrate of Ultimate Reality that also hosts many other universes? Is our universe the result of a confluence of uncaused causes within the Primordial Realm of Uncaused Nothingness? Is our universe one of the many dimensional manifestations of a body of Absolute Truths? Is our universe merely the current state of affairs in an ever-changing infinite sequence of prior causes?

We don't know, and we probably can't know until we find a way of discovering things beyond our universe, if there is any such thing as a realm beyond our universe.

But our religion has the answer. God is the Uncreated Creator of everything. God is tacitly presumed to possess some sort of conscious decision-making intelligence. But there are at least four credibility gaps with this answer.

First, an Uncreated Creator has to be uncreated, but our theology offers no decent plausibility argument to explain how the Primordial Realm of the Uncreated could even host the existence of God, let alone consist entirely of nothing but God.

Second, a creator must have creative powers, but our theology fails to suggest any attributes for God that would clearly imply creative powers. We simply declare God to be omnipotent, a logically meaningless term that sounds more like a cop-out than a real attribute.

Third, our theology offers no credible motive for why God would want to bother with creating any universe, let alone our particular universe.

Fourth, no reliable and repeatable observations have ever been presented to support the theistic view, and logical arguments in support of it are massively flaw-ridden.

So, with all these difficulties, why do we insist on believing in God? I think it must be because we've been systematically educated from birth to be too stupid to imagine any of the far more plausible alternatives.

But we've hardly started! On top of this already implausible belief, our Christian religion claims that God suffers from some sort of chronic three-way identity crisis called a Holy Trinity. At this point, we've wandered another order of magnitude into implausibility.

One of the alter-egos of this Holy Trinity identity crisis is supposedly a man named Jesus who went strolling round and about Merry Olde Palestine doing wonderful deeds, teaching profound truths, and gathering quite a following of admirers. At one point he caused the local authorities to become emotionally disturbed, which probobly wasn't too hard considering the politics of the era, so they executed him, but then he magically got alive again and zoomed off to heaven.

Then, every bit of the vast quantity of writings written about him during his lifetime in his own native language completely vanished without a trace, in spite of the enormous efforts of many people to preserve them. Historians have never been able to explain the total evaporation of such a vast body of literature.

But wait! There's more! About fifteen or twenty years later, some people who lived a long ways away from Palestine, didn't know much about the place, and didn't even speak the same language, suddenly started knowing all about Jesus, with no credible audit trail as to how they found it out. Not only that, but what they knew about Jesus bore an astonishing similarity to several man-god myths that had been part of Indo-European mythology since at least the 23-rd century BC, and the teachings they attributed to Jesus bore an astonishing resemblance to twisted misunderstandings of scattershot fragments of Greek philosophy.

At this point, I'd be willing to entertain the conjecture that perhaps there was no such historical person as Jesus, but that he was simply made up by primitive stone-age Indo-European tribespeople who had recently come under Roman rule and into contact with Greek civilization. Now, at this time the entire Roman empire was merrily festooned with rumors of the many misdeeds of the hopelessly incompetent Pontius Pilate who had recently been removed from the procuratorship of Judea under highly scandalous conditions. Perhaps these tribespeople figured that Pontius Pilate would be a credible earthly authority to have crucified their mythical man-god, so they embellished their existing myth accordingly.

I can think of at least four glaringly obvious pointers to a completely non-Jewish and totally Indo-European origin for Christianity.

First, we call our man-god hero by the title Christ, which comes from a Greek word and has cognate forms in all Indo-European languages, and doesn't sound very Jewish.

Second, we haven't picked up any Jewish holidays. Our two most important holidays, Christmas and Easter, are so thoroughly Indo-European that we've even retained the Indo-European names for them, making no attempt to conceal their completely non-Jewish origins.

Thirdly, the earliest known Christian writings that we're fairly confident they were written within the Christian community itself and not by outsiders, are the Epistles of Saint Paul. All of them were, as far as can be known, originally written in Greek, and all except Romans were addressed to people in Greek-speaking communities ina fringe area of the Roman Empire where Roman rule had recently put several primitive stone-age Indo-European tribes into close contact with Greek civilization. None of Saint Paul's epistles were written to any place with a significant Jewish population.

Fourthly, when the early Christians decided they needed some Jewish literature to establish credibility for their pretense of Jewish origins, they used the Septuagint as the basis for the original Old Testament. The Septuagint was a scholarly compilation of Greek translations of Jewish traditional literature but was never accepted by any Jews as canonically sacred. If there had been any Jewish Christians in early Christianity, don't you think they would have caught that little boo-boo?

So what more evidence do you need that all of Christianity is total hogwash? Hey, read the New Testament and try to guess how much of it was written by anybody with a Jewish background, or had ever even met any Jews in their lives. To me, it looks mostly like a combination of primitive Indo-European mythology and stone-age misunderstandings of bits and pieces of Greek philosophy with a twisted parody of Judaism hastily grafted on as an afterthought.

Sorry, but I don't think religion has any of the answers to anything.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day

Today we celebrate Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. Here's my submission:

Why are we doing this? For centuries, religious lunatics have been dreaming up, purely out of thin air, arbitrary theological taboos specifically for the purpose of becoming artificially offended by any violation, inadvertent or intentional. They then respond with threats and sometimes acts of violence.

These ridiculous taboos include such things as drawing pictures of Mohammed, gay people smooching in public, depictions of Jesus having happiness with Mary Magdalene, sticking rusty nails into tiny snickets of stale bread, and a near-infinity of other totally harmless acts.

In the interest of freedom of speech and freedom of artistic expression, this bullying has got to be stopped. One of the ways to stop it is to join together and flood the media with deliberate and severe violations of these taboos, so as to overwhelm the bullies and dilute any possible threat they could present.

But shouldn't we respect these taboos? NO! Definitely not! Respect must be reserved for that which is respectable. The way an idea gains respectability is to be submitted to intense scrutiny, criticism, and ridicule, and let it rise above all criticism on its own merit. Religious ideas have not done this. They've been protected under the title "sacred" and can therefore never undergo the process required to become respectable.

But how about the Golden Rule, you say? In my opinion, the highest application of the Golden Rule is to treat artists and opinion-holders the way we'd like them to treat us, namely, unite behind them and stand firm against these bullies. It certainly isn't good for anybody to let these insufferable crybabies rule the world.

At least one whole country (Pakistan) has responded by decreeing, in effect, that Islam is not really a religion, it's a severe mental disorder. They've apparently blocked the entirety of Facebook simply because the event for Everybody Draw Mohammed Day has been hosted primarily on Facebook. At latest report, it appears that some other Islam-dominated countries may be following suit. In doing so, they're removing themselves from any semblance of respectability.

I've even heard it said that all religions are really nothing but institutionalized mental disorders. That idea may actually have some partial merit.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

International Day of Reason

Today we celebrate the International Day of Reason. I really don't expect this to be a very popular celebration.

Reason requires logic, not necessarily formal mathematical logic, but at least logic in the classical sense of putting your thoughts in order.

Formal mathematical logic has never been rigorously proven valid. Several of the most famous attempts at proving the validity of logic involved the mathematical technique of recursive invocation. Bertrand Russell showed that the use of recursive invocation requires the definition of such a thing as the set of all sets that are not members of themselves which raises the question of whether this set is a member of itself or not. If it is, that proves it isn't. If it isn't, that proves it is. Thus recursive invocation in logic is actually a convoluted form of circularity.

Several more attempts at proving the validity of formal logic were based on attempts to determine the attributes of a premise set that is both complete and consistent, in the mathematical sense. Kurt Godel then proved that the validity of logic itself would render such a premise set impossible.

So we don't really know whether logic is actually valid, that is, necessarily workable in all possible realms of reality, or only a created feature of our universe.

We can all think of a realm in which logic doesn't work: Your dreams, in which you might be able to make a whole pot of coffee with only one teaspoon of water, you might be able to build a multi-lane bridge across the Chesapeake Bay using nothing but recycled Post-it notes, you might be able to feed five thousand hungry people with five biscuits and a couple of sardines, or whatever.

But is dreamland a realm of reality? Well, define it any way you please. If you regard your dreams as real, then obviously logic is not valid by that definition.

But even without the use of formal mathematical logic at least you can put your thoughts in an understandable order. Some folks can't even do that. Almost every presentation I've ever been to, during the Q & A session there's always at least one question-asker who can't see fit to ask the question as briefly as possible and then listen for the answer, but has a personal need to ramble incoherently, yakking over the presenter and leaving no chance for an answer.

In my personal life I stand astraddle of the Episcopal Church and Secular Humanist communities. The Episcopal Church is currently attempting to promote a set of presentations called Living The Questions, which attempts to reconcile Christian doctrine with rational thought, which is impossible. I've been sitting through these sessions and thinking, you know, we'd achieve rational thought much more quickly if we'd follow the Secular Humanist lead and totally abandon the primitive stone-age superstition that the entire universe is being secretly masterminded by an invisible sky-fairy named God who suffers from a chronic three-way identity crisis caled a Holy Trinity.

It looks to me as though the entire notion of a Day of Reason is likely to be forgotten in the wake of a string of conflicting court decisions as to the constitutionality of a National Day of Prayer. It's unlikely that reason will play a part in any of these court decisions.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Humoring Crybabies

Does the Golden Rule require that we humor the whimsies of insufferable crybabies? What if these whimsies stand in opposition to all reason and tradition?

Here's an example: A Muslim whimsy is the forbidding of the portrayal of Muhammad. Western tradition holds that important historical figures, including Muhammad, must be portrayed in art. Another hallowed Western tradition is that sheer idiocy, such as that occasionally exhibited by a few Muslim extremists, must be mercilessly lampooned in cartoons.

Certain Muslims are upset because unflattering portrayals of Muhammad have appeared entirely outside of Muslim private domain, where such portrayals are appropriate. Of course it would be a grievous breach of etiquette to post a cartoon of Muhammad on the property of the Islamic center in Prince Frederick, and neither I nor any civilized person would do such a thing. But in the public domain do we have a duty to violate our own time-honored traditions just to avoid upsetting these crybabies?

Recently there's a Facebook event established for May 20 called Everybody Draw Mohammed Day (deliberately using the traditional Western misspelling of Muhammad that irritates some Muslims). The inventor of this event is trying to wimp out and say, now folks, we really didn't mean it, let's not really draw Muhammad but let's be nice and follow the Golden Rule. So what do you think?

Here's another example: A Roman Catholic whimsy holds that communion wafers be treated with special reverence during the church service. Everyone probably remembers an incident a while back where someone at a Roman Catholic church service took the wafer back to his seat instead of eating it at the altar. This was, of course, a breach of etiquette, which he shouldn't have committed. But apparently somewhat of a mini-riot ensued, far beyond the reaction that would seem to be justified.

So, one of the more popular bloggers on the Internet posted a rather lengthy entry about the event, referring to the communion wafer as "just a frackin' cracker" and suggesting that if anyone could score him a communion wafer he'd desecrate it. A few weeks later he posted an entry showing a picture of a desecrated wafer.

Now, within a church service, decorum is important. But outside of a church service, in your own domain and on your own nickel, you can buy your own communion wafers from C.M. Almy or any of several other sources for about eight or ten bucks a thousand and do anything you please with them. So, do Roman Catholic crybabies have any business getting upset over this blogger's entry?

And now for a hypothetical example: Suppose you have a relative who, by means of a lifetime of horribly unhygienic habits and maliciously hostile attitudes, destroyed her own health and alienated everyone around her, so now she's in the hospital and has no friends. She's making excessive demands on you, wanting you to visit her daily even though you live a couple of hours drive away, and wanting you to bring her things but is never clear about exactly what she wants until you arrive with the wrong thing, and making all sorts of unreasonable demands.

What duty do you have toward this relative? How far do you need to go in catering to her needs? What do you think?

Basically, I think the Golden Rule needs to be tempered by a bit of rational thought. Do unto others what you reasonably might want sane and rational people to do unto you. Oh by the way, I'm perfectly aware that the Golden Rule appears to have been a part of moral philosophy as early as the eighteenth century BC, long before it was ever accepted into any religion.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

If Aliens Exist

If aliens exist, should we be eager to meet them? Maybe, maybe not.

Obviously, in order to get to Earth, inhabitants of a distant planet would require a technology vastly beyond anything we Earthlings, at present can conceive. But advanced technology does not imply cultural enlightenment. What if they have the technology to conquer us but no civilized culture to offer?

Witness the sixteenth century on Earth, when Europeans had the most advanced military technology in the world but were culturally still in the Stone Age. They went around the world conquering, colonizing, and enslaving the culturally more advanced civilizations of Africa, American and Asia, simply because these people didn't have the military might to defend themselves.

The results are still with us today. Most of the world is dominated by two primitive stone-age religions, Christianity and Islam, each of which is determined to obliterate the other, not to mention they both want to get rid of the more enlightened ideas of nonbelievers.

So it's conceivable that somewhere out in the galaxy there might be an alien life form whose entire intelligence is devoted to domination of the universe, with no cultural enlightenment whatsoever. If they conquer us, we're doomed. We'll all be enslaved and converted to whatever primitive religion they've got, although I find it hard to believe there could be any religion much more primitive and unenlightened than Christianity and Islam.

Monday, March 15, 2010

God is a Hyperconstinated Transonome

When I was in graduate school, our nuclear physics class was held in a classroom in which the previous class was meteorology. This was nice for our nuclear physics professor, whose hobby was meteorology. When he entered the room he'd always take a minute to read the blackboard before erasing it.

One day the meteorology class ended a bit early, so several of us students observed that the blackboard had some sort of weather chart consisting mainly of three wavy lines, so we erased the labels and re-labeled the wavy lines "Hyperconstinated Transonome", "Mesoconstinated Transonome", and "Infraconstinated Transonome". Then we filled the rest of the blackboard with a lengthy description of what these fabulous new mathematical discoveries were supposed to be, all in terms of equally ludicrous and utterly meaningless made-up words. At no point did we ever tie the description to anything observable, logically derivable, or otherwise meaningful.

So when our professor entered the room, he took his usual minute or so to read the blackboard, and immediately realized that we were jerking him around.

Now, let's compare this bit of jocularity with the definition of God, who is supposed to be omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, perfectly benevolent, and eternal, the Five Traditional Attributes of medieval theology. These attributes are totally make-believe, not based on anything observable, logically derivable, or otherwise meaningful.

When religious people come to church, they hear all about this make-believe God, but they've suspended their powers of rational thought, so, unlike our professor, they don't realize they're being jerked around.

As a college undergraduate, I attended a religious college and had to take a required religion class. I think one of the very few meaningful things the professor said was, "The God with these Five Traditional Attributes was just a God that was simply cooked up out of thin air." Unfortunately, from that point on, he proceeded to totally obfuscate the character of God until it made no more sense than our make-believe Hyperconstinated Transonome.

Theology still makes absolutely no sense to me. I'm now realizing the truth of the only other intelligent thing our religion professor ever said, and that was, "The primary reason most of us go to church is to indulge our egotistical delusions that we can boss God around by reciting mystic incantations at our own belly buttons." Unfortunately, he was unable to provide us with any better reason to believe in any religious doctrine.

Oh by the way, I actually somehow got a passing grade in Religion. My A-plus on my term paper (on the book of Job) raised my total grade for the semester to a C-minus.