9-14-13 3:33Democrats vs. Republicans

Nichelle: I heard someone say, "Democrats want a handout, Republicans are racist!" What's your take on this statement?

It's not wise to generalize. But, I'll do it anyway, just for fun.

I would say that, generally speaking, Republicans believe that competition is the key to the success of society and Democrats believe that cooperation is the key. So as Repubs strive to outcompete others, this has sometimes meant consigning others to a lower position by virtue of their race. As Dems strive to enfranchise others, this has sometimes resulted in handouts.

I personally think that a healthy balance of cooperation and competition is the optimal solution, which is good because, for the most part, that is what we have. Granted, a few people have outcompeted everyone else so effectively that they have gained an unfair portion of the power. A few people have used their handout, not to become enfranchised, but just to live until the next handout.

But for the majority of people, that is, ordinary working/middle class people, the combination of competition and cooperation usually results in a fairly happy, healthy existence.

I would further say (generalizing again, here) that those on the left think the real problem is the outcompeters with too much power, and those on the right feel the real problem is the handout crowd. I think it just means we need to fine tune our system a bit to share power downward and encourage cooperation upward. But overall, not too shabby.

Nichelle: Wow. Smart answer.

9-13-13 9:13Choosing Hell

Jolene: Like so many things, Hell is a choice. Anyone who WANTS to go to God's Heaven and dwell with God forever - is welcome.

How do you figure that "doesn't find salvation-through-Jesus plausible" equates to "doesn't WANT a good afterlife"?

Even if there was a god the story still makes no sense. You'd think He'd just forgive people for not buying this one.

Jolene: He can't do that. How can you forgive those who refuse to recognize their error/s?

You just do. You forgive, you get over it. It's part of healing.

Jolene: It is nothing but an insult to offer forgiveness to someone who believes he has done nothing wrong.

That is utter bullshit. Forgiveness should be given to everyone, no matter what they thought or did, because the forgiveness is not for them. It's for you.

And the logic is just sick. A compassionate God would forgive people for being wrong.

Jolene: It is also folly, since the person who believes his evil is a right and proper act will continue doing it.

Do you really think failure to believe in salvation through Jesus constitutes evil?

Jolene: Those who reject God have no desire to commune with Him, so Heaven is not the place they wish to go.

What, did you interview every one of them? How do you know that this everyone's reason?

This is the salve that Christians regularly apply to their consciences. "Sure, they are going to suffer for eternity in Hell, but...obviously they just don't LIKE God, so Hell will work out better for them."

I can tell you that there are many atheists who spent much of their lives burning with desire to commune with God. However, "God" was apparently not in evidence for them to commune with. That doesn't mean they just didn't want to. It means they tried but it just didn't work.

And, I think the fact that that everyone has a different story about what God is, and the fact that not one of these stories can be verified, and that none of it can be shown to work, and that it sounds like a bunch of hokey made-up stuff, has at least something to do with it also.

Maybe Christians need to stop equating "Doesn't believe in Jesus" with "Doesn't like God and would prefer Hell." They are not the same.

Jolene: You don't understand forgiveness. If someone killed my child, I would forgive him.

I would not, however, forgive the person to the point of allowing them near my other children.

Are you saying that failure to believe is the equivalent of killing children, and equally as unforgivable?

Jolene: And, for the sake of the others in Heaven, welcoming an unrepentant sinner, determined to harm himself and/or others, puts those who are willing to acknowledge and accept God's laws of love at risk.

Are you seriously positing an afterlife that contains risk, just so you can excuse excluding non-believers? Why?

Jolene: It would not be Heaven if it were filled with hateful, purposefully harmful people causing the perpetual suffering of the worthy souls who only wish to love them.

In what way is nonbelief hateful, or purposely harmful?

Jolene:Why, if they hate God so much, would they want to dwell with Him forever?

I'm sorry, who hates God? What person are you talking about?

Jolene: Try, for a moment, to consider what makes Heaven Heaven and what makes Hell Hell.

It is not possible to consider this. Humans have exactly zero knowledge about Heaven or Hell. All speculation is equally invalid.

Jolene: As for atheists "burning with desire to know God" I'm afraid that makes no sense to me.

Many atheists were not always atheists. A lot of them used to be Christian, and desired to know God as much as the next Christian. However, they later chose atheism, for any number of reasons, not just because they don't like God and don't want to be stuck with Him in Heaven.

Jolene:The choice to reject God may be subconscious, but I believe it must precede any search for God that fails to find Him.

You believe a lot of things. However there is no evidence that this speculation is correct. Plenty of former Christians - and current Christians - have failed to find "God."

9-13-13 9:13What Can God Do?

Katy: I need to know the Truth!

Hi Katy, an honor as always.

Katy: Do you know the answers?

I do, and I have explained them to you many times. You ignore them and pretend that you still don't know, but what the hell, I have a few minutes right now. I will tell you the answers again.

Katy: How much God can do actually on this world?

Nothing. There is not one thing in this world that looks like it was done by gods. Every single thing has a natural explanation. You can examine the history of the universe and of the planet and see all motion arising from the interactions of particles like quarks and forces like electromagnetism and gravity. It is a beautiful dance of energy and matter which does not require divine intervention. Gods would only mess it up.

Katy: How much God can do in our lives?

Nothing. The things that happen in people's lives happen because of what people do and how things are. There is nothing that happens in people's lives which could only be the work of gods. There is nothing that can be observed which shows any effects of gods.

Katy: Where is God?

Clearly, not here. This is painfully obvious to everyone. Even Mother Theresa could tell. It's a dead phone.

Katy: God really does miracles now?

No. Not now, not ever. Almost everything that happens does so because of a chain of cause and effect. And in a very tiny number of cases, where there is an inexplicable recovery from illness, for example, there is still no evidence that anything miraculous occurred, only something unexplained.

Katy: When? Who gets the miracle?

Almost never, and not by merit. You have a better chance of winning the lottery.

Katy: Seriously, What is the answers! Where is the magic mirror?

I can tell you how I found out the answers. I examined reality. That is where you will find the truth because it is not a person talking, who can be lying or crazy or wrong. It is what it is.

The mirror is directly in front of you. You can see it and touch it. Look, and you will see many wonderful and amazing things. Eventually you will notice a conspicuous lack of gods.

9-13-13 12:13Airlines Charging Double

Bettina: A Canadian court ruled that obese people have the right to two seats for the price of one on flights within Canada. I certainly don't agree with this. Simply put, if you take up more than one seat, you pay for that seat...no matter what the reason.

I disagree. Flying is already very expensive. Who could afford to pay double?

Do you want obese people to miss the family occasions of their lives because they can't afford to be there?

Bettina: I realize it seems unfair, but honestly that is just REALITY. Life sucks sometimes, and we have to deal with that fact.

People get cancer and there is often no way to cure them. No matter how we try, we just can't manage it. THAT is just reality. THAT is life sucking sometimes and we just have to deal with that fact.

We can't change the weather. Sometimes it blizzards on your wedding day. THAT is just reality. THAT is life sucking sometimes and we just have to deal with that fact.

Airline fares are not the weather, they are not mandated by divine directive. They aren't some kind of unalterable reality that we just have to accept. They are decided by people. They can be exactly whatever people decide them to be. If they are unfair, it's because people have decided to make them unfair. They could decide to make them fair, or at least accommodating, instead.

It's not like each seat has some intrinsic value anyway. The price of a seat on an airplane is totally arbitrary. Depending on when you made your reservation, whether you are travelling round trip, what kind of deal your travel agent has, if you were on standby, etc., the prices of any two seats could vary by hundreds of dollars. The rare occasion of a morbidly obese person needing two seats is just another variable in a constantly changing equation.

In a case like this, where the decision is arbitrary and made by a person, the compassionate thing to do is try to work at being more fair.

Bettina:I am sorry, but I can't feel compassion for someone just because they are too big for one seat when I would have to buy a ticket for each of my children.

I'm sorry to hear that. I can feel compassion for anyone in a tight spot, no pun intended. :-)

Bettina: What about families that must go visit someone who is also terminally ill and they have children but flying is prohibitively expensive? Where do the exceptions extend to??

I understand what you are saying. There is no policy so flexible that it can accomodate every situation. Some people might have to find someone to stay with the kids, or not go, and that's not really the responsibility of the airline.

But I think that is different from being flexible and acknowledging that one person should pay for one ticket. The ticket price isn't just for the seat itself. They are paying for the pilot's expertise, for the safety systems, for the flight attendant service, for the takeoff and landing, for the airport security, for the luggage handling, for the reservation service, and a million other things that an obese person uses no more of than a thin person.

I could see a two-seat surcharge - maybe ten percent? But they aren't getting twice the service or going twice as far. They shouldn't be paying twice the price.

9-12-13 8:42On Building a Brain

In a recent discussion of evolution, a poster asked, "Do you think you can put a brain together, like the one God gave you?"

This really made me wonder. Supposing that "God" did "put a brain together." My question is, how?

How could "God" have known what to do construct a brain the first time, when none had existed before? How could He have known what would work? How could He have figured out where to put each of the components? Where did God learn to build a brain?

And, how did God actually "put together" the first brain? Did He grab each molecule and push it into position? Or did he conjure the molecules into existence already in the right place?

Does God make every brain? Why does He make them wrong so often, so that people are mentally challenged?

Does it really make sense to think that God puts the brains together?

May: Why do you assume that someone who is "mentally challenged" is somehow "wrong"?

I am asserting that brains which do not work properly can be a result of incorrect physiology.

May: Do you honestly believe God messed up?

No, of course not. I don't see what God could possibly have to do with it.

May: It makes more sense to think it was God building the brain than to think that some other human being did it.

I don't think anyone has ever suggested that a human deliberately designed or assembled a brain. However it seems obvious that the brain is assembled by DNA. In our case, human DNA.

May: You assume that someone had to teach God how to do this.

The alternative is to assume that God could "know" it without learning it. Is that a more valid assumption? How is that possible?

May: I am not God, only a human. I honestly don't know how any of it is possible.

Then why posit it? I don't know, therefore...God?

People who posit that "God" designed the brain have to assume that it's possible for God to do this, but that we're just too limited to understand anything about it.

There is no way for us to know where this God could have come from in the first place. There is no way to understand how God can know things or think without a brain. There is no way to know how God can design and build things without any kind of physicality. There is no way to know how He obtained the ability or knowledge to design brains. There is no way to know how He figured out what to make brains out of and where to put the pieces and how to connect them all together. We can't know, so don't bother trying. It's just "magic."

We must assume that we just can't understand the brain or where it came from. We just have to shrug and say, "Well, we're humans, not God. Duh."

That is a cop out.

The alternative, if we want to understand brains, is to forget the assumptions, and just examine the brains. It is to look at what they are made of - neurons. It is to ask, "How could these neurons have come to be organized like this?" It is to examine the simplest and oldest creatures with neurons, like jellyfish, and see how just a handful of neurons gave them the ability to coordinate their swimming motions. It is to see how a slightly more organized neural structure, like that of earthworms, allows them to exhibit more complex forms of behavior.

It is to see how the struggle for survival would favor those creatures with ever slightly more organized and more numerous neurons. It is to see that over millions of years, not by "coincidence", but by selection, more and more complex brains came into being. It is to see that first there were animals with brain stems, and then animals with limbic systems, and then animals with a cerebellum, and then animals with a cerebrum. It is to say that selection directed how brains are made and why the pieces are where they are and how they are hooked up.

Instead of giving up, and saying "God! Duh!" we can come up with actual explanations with real, possible mechanisms. How could the unknown, no-way-to-understand explanation be better than a physically possible explanation which is supported by evidence and doesn't require magic?

May: And I find the "fluke" theory to be far more difficult to believe.

I'm sorry, what exactly is "fluke" theory and who is positing it?

May: You claim, well, the DNA built the brain. But then that begs the question - how did DNA come to be? Who or what designed the DNA?

It appears to have arisen from complex chains of amino acids which were acted upon by intense forces of heat and pressure.

But supposing "God" designed it. Then that begs the question - how did God come to be? Who or what designed Him? If intelligence cannot have arisen naturally, where did He get the ability to consider these matters? A fluke?

Positing a God just pushes the fluke back a step. It makes God the fluke.

May: Oh, I see. You follow the theory of evolution...

If you think the theory of evolution is something which is "followed," you definitely do not "see." Evolution is not a religion, or a plan or a leader. It is not something which is "followed." It is an explanation, perhaps not a perfect one, but one that certainly appears to fit the evidence. This is why it is the cornerstone of biology.

May: ..."survival of the fittest".

There is a good deal more to it than that.

May: Well, I'm certainly no naturalist, but I can find all kinds of "exceptions" to that theory (including our own brains).

Perhaps so. But what you personally think should be regarded as the "fittest" may not be what actually survives long enough to reproduce. There are a variety of factors. We certainly don't know everything there is to know about how life evolved. But if you want to use that as an excuse to disregard evolution altogether you are missing out on a valuble tool which has advanced human understanding in immeasurable ways across many fields.

May: Because science really hasn't determined a whole lot.

Science has determined a fuck of a lot and if you don't think so, why don't you try getting on the internet and having this conversation without it. Science has figured out how to build and power and cure and solve beyond the wildest dreams of those without it. Just because we don't know everything doesn't mean we don't know much. We know a lot.

May: So you're acknowledging that science doesn't know, either?

Of course I'm acknowledging it that science doesn't know everything. I'm not in denial about reality. However, "I don't know" doesn't equal=God.

May: Because if God is a fluke, then everything is a fluke.

First of all, if "God" is not a fluke, then what's your explanation?

Secondly, suppose there was evidence to show that everything is a fluke. So what? It is what it is. Do you turn your back on the evidence just because you don't like flukes?

May: That's a lot of flukes, based on one initial assumption of "fluke". Evolution, development, abilities, creation - life in general, and everything that goes with it.

This is a ridiculous misunderstanding of what evolution means. It could be that the very first living molecules were a fluke, a random result of amino acids acted upon by heat and pressure and twisted into self-replicating molecules.

That doesn't mean that everything that happened afterwards was a fluke. The molecules that could reproduce kept reproducing. That's not a fluke, that is just something happening. The ones that did it better kept it up. The ones that were not as good stopped. That's not a fluke, it is the direct result of what occurred.

Over time, billions of years of interacting with the environment, tiny little changes occurred. That doesn't make development a fluke...it was a natural result of the interaction of chemicals in the environment. The molecules acquired "abilities" when some small chemical change occurred that slightly changed their shape, in some way that gave them a slight advantage. That doesn't make abilities a fluke, it makes them a change that sticks.

This is why I brought up brains in particular. If you examine animal brains, you can literally see that they become more complex by adding more components as you move from the older species to the newer ones. Our limbic system, the "reptile brain," is called this because everyone from reptiles forward, including us, has this brain. We just have more brains that came about later piled on top of it. That is not a fluke, it is the result of selection acting on different populations over millions of years of time.

Creativity, loyalty, love, compassion, even religiosity...all these wonderful human traits that arose in larger brains with more complex connections gave a real advantage to the groups that had them. So they stayed. They developed further. That's not a fluke, it's a natural result of one thing working better than another.

And on through time, through the present day, this process continues.

So far that's just one fluke, right at the beginning. Everything else is a natural result of a natural process. Of course there may have been other flukes too. But over billions of years a few flukes are hardly unbelievable.

May: However, if you consider the possibility of a God, regardless of how difficult it may be to understand that concept, then there's an umbrella to cover those flukes.


May: I personally like the umbrella.

I hate to break this to you, but the ultimate nature of the universe is not determined by what you like.

May: Going through life without faith in something better would be pointless for me.

I'm sorry to hear that. My life is fun and beautiful and wondrous and it would be even if it had no point whatsoever.

May: Well, I don't know how God works. But the fact remains, however, that no one knows, indisputably, how brains came to be as they are.

That doesn't mean we have no clue whatsoever. Again, not knowing everything doesn't mean we know nothing.

And, it's not like we have no choice but to sit on our thumbs and say, "Gee, wonder which one. Guess we'll never know." People have examined natural processes. They have examined brains. Upon examination, it looks very much like a process of natural selection over a long period of time is responsible for the brains we see. It doesn't look anything at all like they were made by a God. Doesn't that tell us something?

May: All we have at this point is speculation, theory, and conjecture. On either side of the belief fence.

That is just not true. It's not a 50-50 proposition. There are mountains of evidence in support of design by natural selection and none at all in support of design by an intelligent deity.

May: We'll have to agree to disagree, but thanks for the post. Well-written, BTW.

Obviously not well-written enough.

9-11-13 11:11Gods and Gays

Annabelle: I am so over the debate about gay marriage! I refuse to discuss with it with Christians who tell me how homosexuality is "an abomination to God," or that homosexuality is a "chosen lifestyle," or about how with prayer and "reparative therapy" gays can be "cured." Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy.

Christianity is on the wrong side of this debate. Gay marriage is a reality and there is nothing wrong with it. It's time to acknowledge this and get past it.

Trish: I don't see how you can say Christians are wrong. Maybe they just believe something different instead of being wrong.

How could consigning a significant portion of the population to second-class citizenship not be wrong?

Trish: Isn't that the problem in the first place? People don't want to be judged and held to other's interpretation of scripture?

No, the problem is the idea of "scripture."

Trish: "Second class citizens?" I would encourage you to soul search and put injustice, civil rights and second-class citizenship in proper perspective outside of the cushy United States entitlement mentality.

What is the "proper" perspective?

Trish: I can't answer that for anyone else but me.

I was asking you to answer for you. What do you consider the "proper" perspective?

Trish: I won't answer that. My post wasn't about what I think.

That's convenient.

Since you refuse to clarify, I'll address what it looks like you are saying.

I would encourage you to soul search and put injustice, civil rights and second-class citizenship in proper perspective outside of the cushy United States entitlement mentality.

My soul-searching tells me that this position is morally bankrupt. Just because second-class citizens have it worse outside the "cushy" U.S., there is still no way that making gays second-class citizens in this country is "different, not wrong."

Trish: I'm curious, how would you solve this problem?


Trish: I'm asking what you suggest as a solution.


Trish: How do you reason with a person who trusts scripture method-wise?

The same way as anyone else. If they don't get it, that's cool. Others will.

9-12-13 9:11Not Perfect

Betty Lou: I just know God exists because I see Him everywhere, in all creation. I see everything so perfectly made. It wasn't some mad scientist just making crazy things. It was a Wonderful Creator who made Absolutely perfect things.

Sorry, no. You only have to examine living systems to see that life is far from perfect. A few examples:

1) Rabbits evolved their digestive tract so that food passes through the main organ which absorbs nutrition before it goes through the main organ which breaks it down for absorption. This means the rabbits have to break down the food, crap it out, and then eat it again in order to get the digested food into the absorbing intestine.

The rabbit was not "designed" to eat his own crap and is anything but perfectly made. This arose because the rabbit had to adjust to a completely different food source at some point in its evolutionary history. It was not planned, it came about as an adaptation to a change in the environment.

2) The eyes of humans and other primates evolved with a blind spot, because the nerves and blood vessels which attach to the eye evolved on top on the retina. This would be like designing a camera with all of the wiring in front of the lens.

Interestingly, octopi and squid evolved their eyes separately, and their eyes don't have this problem. As Julia Sweeny said, if God designed these eyes, He must have liked the octopus and squid way more than He likes humans.

3) The human spine was not designed to stand upright and support a heavy cranium. The spine was originally a suspension bridge hung between the front and rear legs of four-footed mammals. As a result of the spine being pressed into duty as a column, almost every person suffers from head, neck and back pain.

4) The recurrent laryngeal nerve is the nerve that supplies motor function to the voice box in mammals. The nerve is one of the longest in the body, taking a several-foot route from the throat down around the heart and then back up to the brain. The route was direct in our early fish ancestors, but as the head and neck extended in later land-dwellers the nerve was caught on the wrong side of the heart.

A direct route would be a much more efficient and obvious design, and would not leave some mammals, such as horses, subject to equine recurrent laryngeal neuropathy, a disorder of this nerve which collapses the lung cavity. So, not perfect.

You can examine anything that lives and see evolutionary flukes, mishaps and dead-ends, not to mention the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. Nothing alive is even remotely perfect...only, sometimes barely, good enough to survive for the moment.

Even outside of living systems there is nothing perfect. Why do we have to add a leap day every four years? It's because the earth doesn't take exactly 365 days to circle the sun. It takes 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 1.2 seconds. Seems like a god could set the planet in motion around the sun so that the rotations and revolutions lined up perfectly. But nothing is "perfectly" aligned, anywhere.

I know of not one thing which is perfect or appears designed by an intelligence other than the biological brains of our world. So if you have an example of any actual perfect thing I would love to hear about it.

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