A robo-call

This past Saturday, I came back from a nice day out with my kids, to find a call waiting for me on the answering machine, transcribed verbatim herewith:

Hello, this is Jerry Falwell Jr, calling to urge you to go to the polls on November 8 or better yet, vote early by mail or absentee ballot. I believe Jesus was instructing us all to be good citizens and to vote when he said “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” I hope you will elect candidates who will defend the right to life, our religious liberties, the second amendment, and the state of Israel. The stakes could not be higher with the balance of the Supreme Court for the next generation at risk. Please urge your friends and family to vote as well. Thank you and god bless you.

Paid for by Faith and Freedom Coalition. Callback number 770-622-1501.

I have no idea how this group got my phone number, so I’m acting on the assumption that they just called everyone. I consider Mr. Falwell’s father one of the most repulsive people to ever walk this earth, and, as far as I can tell by the public pronouncements of the man whose voice graced my machine, he himself isn’t much better.

I question whether anyone actually believes that that particular passage in Mark 12:17 actually meant for people to go out and vote. Yes, I know that a lot of Christians have used this particular chapter and verse to justify the notion that separation of church and state is somehow biblically sanctioned (despite scores of contradictory passages). But even that interpretation is more reasonable than what Mr. Falwell said in the recording in question.

If we take the Biblical reference here to be a statement of fact, then Jesus was telling his followers that he wasn’t there to overthrow the Roman occupation. Jerry (if I may call him that) conveniently left out the “Render unto God what is God’s” from that same chapter and verse.

I do defend a right to life. It’s why I’m pro-choice and vote for pro-choice candidates when I can. I think I’ve written enough on that topic that I don’t need to rehash it here. I do think it would be interesting to know, though, the reasons why women who have abortions, have chosen to have them. That ought to humanize the decision a little bit more and maybe cause those who would insist on an absolute ban on the procedure to realize the wrongheadedness of their position. (Especially in a climate that offers neither preventative measures nor post-birth assistance.)

I also defend religious liberties. I must draw the line, though, on things that Mr. Falwell and his ilk try to do, when they seek to impose their religious viewpoints on others. It’s why I have been saying since 2004, when Pat Toomey challenged Sen. Arlen Specter for his senate seat in Pennsylvania, that I can’t in good conscience vote republican until such time as the party exorcises itself of the demons of the religious right.

I recently wrote about how the second amendment seems to hold a unique place in the American fringe right in terms of their adherence to the constitution. Without downplaying its importance on a grander scale, it’s nowhere near as important as the rights guaranteed by the first, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth, and fourteenth amendments to the constitution. And it’s the right enumerated within the constitution that actually requires a person to purchase something in order to exercise that right. (Unless you count the right to an attorney a “purchase”, and a strong argument can be made that it is, at least in the current environment and the way it actually works, rather than the idealized theory behind it.)

And yes, I support the state of Israel and its right to exist, but, much like the religious liberty point above, there is definitely room for criticism of the state when it oversteps its bounds. And I have no qualms whatsoever about say that Benjamin Netanyahu may be one of the most dangerous people currently living. (I think he might be competing with Vladimir Putin for the title, and I think Kim Jong-un might be gunning for that title, but he’s not quite there yet.

The Supreme Court can always make good and bad decisions. We’ve seen how the conservative-dominated court has given us some very bad decisions. In recent years, Greece v Galloway, Burwell v Hobby Lobby, and Citizens United v FEC are all laughably ridiculous rulings on their face. We need justices who would, in the event of a new challenge, overturn them.

It’s funny. Sometimes I’ve asked myself if my current (low) opinion of the Republican Party is somehow analogous to the ridiculous sentiment expressed a few months ago on the Christian film review site Movieguide, when they reviewed the Dinesh D’Souza hack piece Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party, when they spoke of the documentarian’s “battle to find out how the Democratic Party became so evil.”

I’m not a fan of the word “evil”. It has connotations and implications that do little to further rational discourse. I do not consider the Republican party “evil”. Just misguided for providing a voice to those whose opinions belong in the dustbin of history. It’s not a new phenomenon; indeed, we can point to Ronald Reagan in 1980 for first allowing the party to have a platform that comes from the Religious Right and the natural descendants of the John Birch Society. Back in the 1960’s, their views were rightly ridiculed. Now in 2016, they are attending Donald Trump rallies.

Messrs Falwell, D’Souza, and scores of other individuals need to be reminded that their ideas are so regressive, so anachronistic, so incongruent with both what America should be and is, that the only path forward is a complete repudiation of what they stand for. And the best way to do that, is through our votes.

So, I agree with Mr. Falwell about one thing: get out there and vote on or before November 8. And show him and his ilk that his brand of hatred, tribalism, and morality have no place in the America of 2016.

Here’s the recording of that call if you’re interested in hearing it.

If you can stand yet another essay on it…

I’m hesitant to add to the mountain of words being written and spoken about Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk Kim Davis, who now sits in a jail cell on contempt of court charges for her unwillingness to sign marriage licenses for same sex couples.   According to her, doing so would be tantamount to her approval of the union, which, in turn, would violate her “sincerely held religious beliefs”.

Never mind that signing a marriage license for an otherwise lawful marriage is no more a statement of approval of something, than paying your monthly cable bill is approval of any channel you don’t actually watch.   Why bother with facts when it comes to your sincerely held religious beliefs?

It’s what enabled the Hobby Lobby retail chain to refuse contraceptive coverage because they believe — incorrectly — that some oral contraceptives induce abortions.  This is what the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has wrought: the right to look away from actual facts or evidence because of beliefs.

But even more interesting than that, though, is Mrs. Davis’s résumé.  She has worked in this office for nearly three decades and only sought the elected office in the November, 2014 polls.   Her job is to uphold the law in carrying out her elected duties.   And that’s one thing I haven’t seen much written about: laws change, sometimes through local venues, sometimes statewide, and sometimes on a federal level.  Sometimes the changes are the result of legislation and sometimes he changes are the result of courts interpreting existing laws.

Obergefell v Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling which held that same sex couples have the same right to marriage as opposite sex couples, was on the docket for the 2014-2015 court season.    And it was announced that it would be part of the docket in August, 2014.   (Oral arguments were in March, 2015.)  The very fact that it was on the docket meant that a change to marriage law at the time of last November’s election — while by no means a certainty — was certainly a possibility.

If Mrs. Davis is that steadfast in her beliefs about same sex marriage (or as we now should call it, “marriage”), why did she even seek the elected office?  If she feels that strongly about it, shouldn’t the possibility of having to sign licenses for same sex couples have at least given her pause about running?

They Lack Simple Human Decency

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to vote in an online poll thereby skewing the expected results of the organization that hosted the poll. The group that hosted it, the Minnesota Family Council, asked whether same sex marriage ought to be legal and I, along with many other people online, voted that it should be. This is, of course, despite the stated goals of this group.

Side note: I resent the fact that so many organizations that use the word “family” in their names teach hatred, bigotry, xenophobia, and scare tactics, which are most certainly not values I teach my children.

The cost of voting in the MFC’s poll, was my email address, and I have been receiving emails from them with some regularity ever since. In recent years, as same sex marriage has become legal throughout most of the United States (and with cautious optimism that the Supreme Court later this month will overturn the remaining laws later this month), they have shifted their rhetoric to opposition of other worthwhile topics, such as transgender rights, legalization of marijuana, and surrogate motherhood.

About a week ago, on June 11, 2015, I received an email that solidifies the notion that the people who communicate on behalf of their organization, have absolutely no human decency or any compassion. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: if the ideas they express are in any way reflective of mainstream Christianity, I can not possibly ever picture myself calling myself a Christian.

The email exists on their website, and I recommend that you read it here.

(Note that this came out before the Rachel Dolezal scandal, and they have since sent out a mea culpa not knowing that transracial is a thing.

But even before we get to their hypothesizing about other “trans{blank}” attitudes, we can see how disgusting they really are.

Without even getting into the issues that the transgender community has to deal with, here’s a little thought experiment: whether we like it or not, society asks us all to play certain roles in our lives. Some of those roles are a result of the accident of our birth, others happen with the normal passage of time, and others still are ones we find ourselves playing by virtue of choices we actively make.

That explains how we are given the roles we play. How much we feel those roles fit who we really are can vary from one role to the next. And some of the roles we might even be bold enough to say don’t apply to us, despite society’s expectations.

As specifically pertains to gender, there are no shortage of expectations that society places upon those of us who are considered “male” and others for those considered “female”. Very few, if any, of us, meet all of these expectations without regard to the gender assigned at birth.

So can you really blame someone — anyone — who might identify primarily as the opposite gender?

So when the MFC says this:

The push for “transgender rights” is based on the false ideas that you can divorce your mind and feelings from your body, and that however you feel you are or should be–that’s what you really are, regardless of the physical reality. And you should receive social recognition, honor, and legal rights based on your perception of who you are.

Or when they say this:

All along the way people who disagree will see their religious freedom rights trampled upon, people who truly need compassionate help and counseling won’t receive it and instead face greater turmoil and in some cases even fatalities, and the privacy and legal rights of others will be taken advantage of.

Or when they offer this advice:

Stand firm on the Truth, and be ready to run towards the cultural, media, political, and societal bullets boldly sharing the Truth and Hope you have in Christ, in love. Our darkened culture needs the Light YOU have so fear not!

They’re demonstrating how repulsive they really are. The LGBT community has asked for little more than tolerance of the fact that they’re different from the mainstream.

Tolerance is an exceptionally low bar if you think about it. All it really takes to be tolerant of something is to acknowledge its existence and not try to wish it away. It’s not acceptance of the concept and certainly isn’t embracing the idea or the people seeking tolerance. And you certainly don’t have to like it or even agree with it.

When you tolerate people, really all they’re asking is that you not want to destroy them.

These people are so completely devoid of human decency, it makes me angry. People can be excused for not understanding some ideas and concepts when they’re far enough outside of our own experience. But when the information becomes available to them and they cling to what they thought they understood, that’s when they need to be cut loose.

I’m glad I get those emails. It reminds me that there are truly awful people out there. And however much I’m reluctant to use the word, maybe even “evil” might be appropriate for — if not them, then at least their attitudes.

But I will be shocked if they ever take a position with which I agree.

Do We Trust In God?

In Walt Disney’s 1967 animated adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, the python Kaa attempts to hypnotize Mowgli, thereby turning the boy into a meal fit for a snake. As he brings the boy into a deep trance, he sings “Trust in Me” in order to (at least try to) facilitate in Mowgli’s destruction.

I think of that song every time there’s a news report regarding the national motto of the United States, “In God We Trust.” In recent years, we have seen the 2011 congressional reaffirmation of the motto, the 2014 bill in the Pennsylvania assembly that would mandate its placement in every school and classroom in the commonwealth, and various town councils wishing to display the motto in their meeting halls. (Nikki Moungo of Ballwin, Missouri, recently convinced the town not to post such a sign.)

The bigger question at hand, though, is the meaning of the phrase itself. Let’s start with the obvious question: why the word order? We could also say, “We trust in God” to achieve the same net result. The answer is simple enough: poetry. The phrase appears in the fourth verse of the poem, The Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key. Since the poem uses the phrase that way (even calling it a motto), that’s how we’ve known it ever since.

Side note: President James Madison, after he retired, lamented declaring a national day of prayer during the height of the War of 1812 on constitutional grounds. That makes it exceptionally ironic that this phrase as our motto can date to the same war.

There’s an interesting difference between saying “trust me” (or “trust someone”) and saying “trust in me” (or someone). If you say you trust me (or don’t trust me), you’re making a subjective statement, basically covering how honest a person you think I am. If you trust in someone, it’s more objective: you both think and expect that they will do the right thing; when the time comes that he or she might have to make an important decision, that they’ll make the choice that benefits you.

When you trust someone, you expect either honesty or an explanation for violating your trust. When you trust in someone, the betrayal is more palpable when they don’t live up to your expectations.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the god of the bible exists (but that is the god in which we trust according to the motto adopted in 1956). But this attitude can be quite dangerous and counterproductive when it comes to effecting real changes to secular policy. Recently Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), for example, blocked passage of reforms intended to curtail the threat posed by anthropogenic climate change because he doesn’t feel that God would allow such dramatic changes in climate to happen in the first place. Who knows how often improvements at a local, state, or federal level get impeded because someone in power feels that it goes against god’s plan?

Can we truly trust in God? Maybe, but we need to be mindful of the snake with the hypnotic eyes who really just wants to lead us to his dinner plate.

Let’s Count the Logical Fallacies!

About a month ago, I happened upon the Facebook page for the Institute for Creation Research, a young-earth creationist group that, along with groups like Answers in Genesis apparently believes that the average American IQ is just too damn high.

When I found that page, it gave me the opportunity to write a review their site / page, and I thought I was more than generous when I gave them one (out of five) star. My actual review was as follows:

It makes me sad when I see valuable financial and intellectual resources being wasted trying to either prove the unprovable, or trying to disprove reality as it actually exists. The anti-intellectualism exhibited by this group is little more than self-serving autofellatio that should be relegated to the dustbin of antiquated ideas and concepts.

Note that I wrote this review on the spur of the moment but I think it pretty accurately encapsulates what I think of their organization.

As I write these words, there have been a total of 643 public ratings of the ICR; mine is one of 103 1-star reviews. When weighted against the 485 5-star reviews, 30 4-star’s, 15 3-stars, and 10 2-stars, the average rating of this group is the appallingly high 4.2.

So it’s fair to say that my views are in the minority, at least on this Facebook page. It therefore shouldn’t be much of a surprise, then, that most of the comments received on my review, have disagreed with my perspective. Surprisingly, the reference to autofellatio in my review really hasn’t been (much) of a sticking point.

I would like to take some of the more interesting comments I’ve gotten, quote them verbatim (other than redacting the names of the posters and/or others they might have engaged in dialogue as a part of my posting), and address their arguments in this blog posting. Depending upon what might come up with future responses to my review, this could be the first of many blog entries. Who knows?

So, without further ado…

Actually Jim, it doesn’t require a lot of finances or intellectual resource to prove the existence of God. In fact, the existence of God can be proven with only one word…Israel.

I’m going to ignore the subtle anti-Semitism that I inferred from this comment. The geopolitical boundaries of any nation-state, even those whose borders might be in dispute (and without regard to which other countries recognize those geopolitical boundaries) are a human construct, pure and simple. There may be some who might argue against the rationale for the existence of any given nation and/or for modifying those current boundaries, but those, just like the processes that created those boundaries in the first place, is the work of men and women, pure and simple. No gods required or even expected.

Failure to recognize that for life’s complex order and design that there must be a Creator, is an obvious closed minded attitude that lacks the simplest acknowledgement or attempt at logic. I pray God will soften your hearts and open your eyes to this obvious reality. Whatever the reason for dismissing a God who loves you, is an attempt at holding on to the sinful ways of your existing life and failure at taking accountability for your own actions. I pray that you all will find your way home to our God’s open and loving arms. God bless!

Life is a lot of things, that much is true. It’s messy, dirty, and, quite frankly, pretty amazing. Yes, life is complex, but it’s not really very orderly and although it exhibits the appearance of design, that’s not the same as saying that it was designed. It doesn’t need a creator and that creator certainly doesn’t need to be capitalized. Natural selection is more than sufficient to explain this, as countless studies have confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt.

Additionally, what does it mean to “pray [that your] god will soften [my] heart… and open [my] eyes to this obvious reality.” This is something that keeps recurring in other comments so I’m going to say this now. There are two things that far too many Christians tend to do, both of which are far too detrimental to their greater cause. I am not, have never been, and cannot possibly imagine myself deciding to become a Christian if the faith even remotely requires either of the following attitudes:
— Focussing heavily on a story of appalling brutality and human sacrifice. A little bit over two years ago now I blogged about this very point
— Disguising their arrogance behind the mask of a false mask of humility. Don’t you love the subtle dig at me and people who don’t fall in lockstep with this writer’s attitude in the above quote? This writer wishes the best towards me and other posters who’ve agreed with me, eagerly awaiting the day when his Weltanschauung is somehow validated despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Note that someone who agrees with me took that quote above and pointed out, accurately, that even if his presumption of a creator were true, that in no way means that the creator must be the Christian god. That person responded to their response and said this:

‘re free to have your own opinion and I respect that. Your statement is wrong, but I know what you mean. There hasn’t been thousands of Gods, just thousands of idols worshipped by those who are lost and haven’t been yet found. There is only one God and he’s not just mine but everyone’s. Something our God has given to us is the gift of free will. Even if our free will brings us to our demise. I’ll pray for you it doesn’t. If there’s no guarantee then what does it hurt to follow the doctrine of a loving God and the example Jesus Christ has set forth to us to emulate? Nothing. But what does it hurt to ignore our God and Father and turn our backs to him and keep living in sin? Everything. I’ll pray for you. God bless you brother.

Again we see more of that arrogance masquerading as humility. We can trace the evolution of belief systems at least as far back as human writings, and, knowing how different gods and goddesses carried over from one faith tradition to another, it’s a pretty safe bet that very little of the Bible, is completely original. It’s almost all universally borrowed from older texts and even the most remedial studies of the history of religion demonstrate this. To somehow think that your one particular religion is the only true one and all of the others, past and present, are fake, nonsensical, or otherwise misleading… man, talk about hubris.

Anyway, moving on…

If you say that Michele Anglo is not a real person, only a myth, the Sistine Chapels’ celling is a great mystery, and the statue of David, a great miracle.

This one just plain doesn’t make sense. No one argues that those works of art weren’t made by people. There’s no shortage of works of art that have some religious overtones. This is at least partially because churches paid money to the artists in the first place.

Stringing together cliches and ad hominems does not certify YOUR intellect. Real science isn’t about closing doors that might lead to a conclusion you have precluded for purely emotional and/or philosophical reasons, adamantly refusing to consider alternative explanations simply because you don’t want them to be true. Quit pretending to have a monopoly on reality. It doesn’t lend itself to intellectual credibility.

(Note that this one was directed straight at me after quoting select portions of my review above…)

Interestingly, I never said anywhere in my review that I don’t believe in the supernatural (even though I don’t). The accusations of ad hominem attacks fascinate me the most. Let’s back up and talk about what science is and is not. This commenter is correct that real science isn’t about closing doors that might lead to a preconceived conclusion. The whole of science is dedicated to demonstrating inaccuracies of other people’s hypotheses and not being afraid to follow the evidence where it leads, even if the place you end up isn’t where you expected to go or even where you wanted to go.

I am not a biologist or even a professional scientist. But I am sufficiently well-read on the topic of evolution to know that the theory of evolution is as close as you can come to established fact within the sciences. There may still be a few open debates about certain processes within evolutionary theory but I’m not qualified to be a part of those debates because, as I said, I’m not a scientist. It is therefore not an ad hominem attack to point out that those who attempt to rebut the most basic points of evolutionary theory (or worse, set up strawman arguments for what the ToE actually says, in order to rebut them), are wasting time, money, energy, and brainpower in their endeavors. If anything, it’s doing them a favor by suggesting that their efforts are better placed elsewhere.

I find it curious that I’m writing this after I saw a news article on Andrew Wakefield earlier this week. For those who either don’t recognize his name or recognize it but can’t place it (and don’t feel like following the link to Wikipedia I just posted, he’s the disgraced scientist who first wrote that vaccines cause autism in young children. The study he conducted to support this thesis serves an example of horrible scientific methodology start to finish and it was thoroughly debunked. Now I can forgive any scientist for conducting a bad study. It’s not an easy job and it can be more than a little bit tempting to cut corners. What I can’t forgive is what he did next: when his study was found to be flawed, he doubled-down and went after those who pointed out the flaws. Earlier this week, he was denied standing to sue for damages from those who debunked his study. So if he were to publish some other study, especially on the topic of vaccines, I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t pay attention to the study on the grounds that it has his name on it. That might be an ad hominem attack, but it’s also because his history is so well documented.

That brings me to the last comment I’ve received thus far on my review. I strongly recommend not drinking anything as you read this, unless you want to risk it coming out of your nose and possibly damaging your computer:

It can be proven in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt that God the Creator exists, that the Bible is true, that alleged Bible self-contradictions melt away when historical context and chronology (when alleged contradicting passages were first written) are taken into account, that the Biblical history of Israel is the true and reliable history of Israel, and that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah who will one day return to rule this physical earth. More than one student and practioner of law has tried to prove the Bible false by using court of law (beyond a reasonable doubt) rules, and ended up becoming Christians instead. 2 of the most famous in the 20th century were Frank Morrison-author of Who Moved The Stone and Josh McDowell-author of Evidence That Demands A Verdict and More Evidence That Demands A Verdict. My main point is this: God hasn’t told us everything, but he has told us enough, so that unbelief is unreasonable. Believe me, I was not raised in church and used to be agnostic and or atheistic, so I know what I’m talking about. God has provided enough rope, so that if we “hang ourselves” by being unbelievers it is our own fault. I used to disbelieve because I accepted evolution over creation because Astronomy is my favorite hobby and Astronomy is ruled by the evolutionary thinking of the masses. You guys should understand what I am saying because I know you are smart.

I admit it, I’ve tried several times to count the sheer number of logical fallacies in this word salad, and I’ve lost track every time. The most glaring are the arguments from false authority and personal experience, with a little bit of goalpost shifting, false equivalency, and the argument from ignorance. So where do you begin with this one.

I’d start with the court of law analogy, I suppose. In a court of law, person A might accuse person B of having committed a given crime. In short hand, person A might say “He did it!” while person B responds with “No I didn’t!” The fact that person B is innocent until proven guilty means that, unless we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that person B is lying, we have to assume he’s not. If we extend this logic to the question of the existence of any given god of any religious tradition, person A is saying “This god exists” while person be is saying “No it doesn’t!” The burden of proof lies with the person making the statement in the affirmative, not with the person making the statement in the negative. If you need any more evidence that this is the right way to go, I recommend that you look up Russell’s Teapot, or The Flying Spaghetti Monster, or even the Crumple-Horned Snorkack. And then tell me that you can be absolutely certain that none of these things really exists.

What about the predictions of the Jewish Messiah from the Torah to the New Testament? When one book predicts something that’ll be reported in another book, that more likely tells me that they’re separate works in the same greater canon. Kind of like how Lord Voldemort learned of a prophecy and chose Harry Potter to be “marked as his equal” and thus be the chosen one. But no one thinks that events predicted in the earlier Harry Potter books that actually happened in the latter ones, makes them any less fictitious.

(And besides, not everything that the Messiah was supposed to do, according to the book of Ezekiel, were reportedly done by Jesus in any of the gospels…)

Then we’ve got the writings of Frank Morison (note the tpyo in the quote above; if you’ve never heard of Frank Morison or his book, it’s only one R. Frank Morison was the pseudonym of Albert Henry Ross) and Josh McDowell. Just because two people came to that conclusion doesn’t mean that theirs is the consensus conclusion of others who’ve observed the same evidence. Both of them seem to delve pretty heavily into presuppositional apologetics. I’m a little bit too tired to get into the full flaw of this particular argument for the existence of god, and others who are far better at debating this than I am, have already done the necessary gruntwork. But the link provided here to the Iron Chariots Wiki is a great resource for debunking most apologetics’ claims of the existence of god. And it’s a site I enjoy reading when I have the time.

This commenter then went on to say “I was not raised in church and used to be agnostic and or atheistic, so I know what I’m talking about.” Actually, no you don’t. As I said before, I wasn’t raised in a Christian household and yet, somehow, I understand Christianity better than you do. When Greta Christina wrote her book on Why Are Atheists So Angry, one of the most important ones is the fact that atheists have to know the bible better than their faithful counterparts. And she was right.

The most interesting thing about these comments, I think, is that all of them presume that I don’t believe in any gods, that I’m somehow misled or misinformed, and that I’ve turned my back on their god.

I guess they don’t realize, then, that I proved the existence of god in a blog entry nearly a year and a half ago…

I guess the only real question that needs to be asked, is whether or not there will be a need for a second blog entry to address as-yet-unposted comments. Let’s wait and see…

Death Is Not Final

On May 7, 2014, the Intelligence Squared US website hosted a debate that covered the thesis “death is not final”. Arguing for the thesis were Eben Alexander, the author of the popular book, Proof of Heaven and Raymond Moody, who for the past four decades, has been studying and reporting on people’s near-death experiences. Opposed to the thesis were CalTech physicist Sean Carroll and Steven Novella, the Yale neurologist who made a name for himself as as a contributor to both the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast and the Science Based Medicine blog.

It’s an important question, and undoubtedly one that we, as a species have been asking for as long as we’ve been capable of asking questions: what happens when you die? It is not a very satisfying answer to be agnostic about this question: saying “I don’t know” — for however much it’s a sign of humility to admit to lack of knowledge — doesn’t really answer the question at hand. It’s natural to be afraid of, in the words of musician Harry Chapin, “that black implacable wall of death.” (from the interview clip entitled “My Grandfather” from the Gold Medal Collection album.)

Indeed, it’s not entirely unreasonable to think that attempts to answer this question by saying that something — be it the afterlife, resurrection, or some other concept or even a combination of them — happens after death, is one of the foundational concepts of virtually every religious tradition, past or present. While the world of the 2009 movie The Invention of Lying is not exactly realistic, the way the concept of heaven first got formed very well might have been as it was presented in that movie.

(If you haven’t seen the movie, Ricky Gervais’s character is literally the only character capable of speaking something he knows to be false. As his mother lay dying, he invents a paradise to ease her anguish and fear over the finality of death. This kind of catches on and becomes a problem he has to deal with as no one else has any reason to doubt him…)

About three years ago, Sean Carroll wrote an article in Scientific American, in which he pointed out that the after-death persistence of a life energy violates the laws of physics, most specifically, the Dirac Equation. In the debate, Carroll reiterated the greater thesis of that old article. Novella, to buttress Carroll’s argument, pointed out that all of the evidence of modern neuroscience, holds that the mind and the brain are one, and there is no evidence that the mind can exist outside of a functioning brain.

In contrast, Alexander relied upon his own experience in which he nearly died to support his certainty that the afterlife of some sort might exist. While I don’t doubt Alexander’s sincerity, the most disingenuous of the arguments of the debate came from Moody. Moody tried to move the goalpost by arguing that the question of whether death is final, is not one that can be answered by science.

There are assertions that can be addressed by science (the age of the universe comes to mind) and others that can’t (such as the attempts by creationists to explain that dinosaurs were placed where they are in sediment by a god that’s trying to trick us). But Moody’s attempts to argue that science can’t answer the question at hand, were not only directly refuted by Carroll’s arguments, but also the most intellectually lazy part of the whole argument.

I don’t fault anyone whose fear of death, might lead someone to think that something might exist after death. There’s a little bit of a conceit to it all, but it’s no different, really, from anything else we might do in our lives to ensure that something about our all-too-brief lives might have an impact beyond our natural years. That desire is all in our minds, though.

And, as Dr. Novella pointed out in the debate, the mind and the brain are the same thing. No matter how much we might want something to be true, that doesn’t make it true. So it gives a good perspective on the Emo Philips joke: “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.”

If you want to watch the whole debate, you can watch it below:

Bloggery

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the Divided Under God blog was seeking new writers, so after some thought about it, I decided to apply to them, sharing my old blog entry about John 3:16 to illustrate my overall writing style and opinions.

After a few days, I got a response asking me to join them.

I have since written two articles that have been posted there.

First, after I got the news that “god hates fags” pastor Fred Phelps was dying (but before he died), I quickly dashed off an article saying that here was a man whose import probably will be nowhere near as great as he himself would like. It went up a day before he actually died. Here it is…

The second article I actually wrote first. Surely I can’t be the only person who recognizes the difference, linguistically and practically, between “freedom of religion” and “religious freedom”, and it’s certainly not a coincidence that those who would impose their religious views on others use the latter phrase. Here’s why they’re wrong.

I’ve got one other article in, but the simple truth is, I don’t know when it’ll be published because a certain event that will happen sooner or later, needs to happen first.

Let’s see where this takes me, and let’s enjoy the ride while we’re at it.