August 27, 2009

The Pointless Hot Air of P.Z. Myers

I usually take a mid-afternoon coffee break at this time of the day, but on days that I don't I'm going to start taking a bit of a blogging break. So today's topic: P.Z. Myers' relentless verbal battle against God and religion.

P.Z. Myers is a biologist at my fine institution, the University of Minnesota. I admit that I do not know much about his scholarly work, but trust that he's an accomplished scientist and so I do not wish to belittle his intelligence. Nor do I wish to belittle atheism, either: it's a belief system like any other, and I think that people are free to believe what they wish. If they choose to not believe in God, that's perfectly understandable and even defensible (and I write this as a Lutheran).

What I find to be hilariously pathetic, however, are Myers' incessant and cantankerous articles insisting that not only does God not exist, but that believers must be morons (or, at least, people who are otherwise completely incompatible with reason and intelligence --- insert your favorite pejorative). The latest entry in this nauseatingly long series is entitled "Baby Bear's lament".

Now again, I do not mean to dismiss Myers' intelligence: that would be stooping to his same low-level game. All I mean to state in this blog entry is simple and brief:

What's your point, Dr. Myers?

Myers wastes tons and tons of electrons (a shame, as a scientist) raging about religion, and carefully crafting arguments about it, that are completely obvious and require no such verbosity to assert. Take the very definition of faith: "based on spiritual understanding rather than proof". And believe: "accepting (something) as true; feel sure of the truth; think or suppose." Myers writes blog entry after blog entry asserting that a belief in God is ludicrous because no matter how much he challenges people of faith, no one can provide any proof of God.

Well, duh, Dr. Myers. Review the definitions above. Repeat.

Faith and belief are indeed inherently devoid of evidence. So why does Myers spend so much time raging against language? The words and concepts speak for themselves. So he continues to ask for something that he cannot possibly get.... and yet he blames the believers, like it's their fault!

Now granted, people who believe certain things can sometimes mystify me, too. Take, for example, the belief that radishes are food. I do not believe that radishes taste good, and thus have no faith in them as a food source for me. I'm sure Dr. Myers could provide ample scientific evidence to the contrary. And, perhaps, Dr. Myers even believes that radishes taste good! But would his scientific evidence convince me to believe that radishes taste good? No. Does me not liking radishes make me an idiot? I hope not. Would Myers' liking of radishes be superior in any way to my dislike of them? I don't think so.

You might very well be thinking that comparing God to a radish is unfair and overly simplistic, but I disagree. At a basic level, there is nothing different between believing in the two. A radish lover and a radish hater might disagree with each other irreconcilably, but one is not more or less intelligent than the other. Nor are they more or less intelligent than a scientist who might use evidence to bolster the claims of either the believer or non-believer: the scientist is using another language and framework to discuss the radish in a way that is completely irrelevant to both people's beliefs.

Which is why, despite Myers' relentless writings against God and religion, he accomplishes absolutely nothing in the process. He is merely pointing out the obvious, over and over again: religious people cannot justify their faith, nor prove that God exists.

Just look it up in the dictionary if you don't believe me.

June 1, 2009

On Abortion

The news of Dr. George Tiller being gunned down in his church by an anti-abortion activist is tragic at many levels. It is tragic, most of all, for his surviving family. It is also tragic for his patients. Finally, I think it is tragic for the national debate about abortion.

I struggled today with reading various viewpoints about the issue today on my primary news feed, Twitter. And I realized that one of Twitter's gross shortcomings is to discuss anything as complex as abortion. Truly, a topic like abortion cannot be discussed in 140 characters or less, no matter how many entries are made and exchanged.

The fact of the matter is, abortion is a nearly insurmountable dilemma, with no perfect solution. This makes discussing the death of Dr. Tiller very difficult. And yet, I think it needs to be done. The tragedy would be to let it go as a simple black and white issue, but it is not. Any more than the debate about abortion is a simple black and white issue.

I'm a relatively liberal person regarding many political issues, but coupled with that is my strong Lutheran identity. And to be clear, my Lutheran identity has less to do with evoking "religious" beliefs, and more to do with how Lutherans think or, rather, live in a constant state of doubt. The central aspect of Lutheranism as a whole is not a devout belief in any one thing (that is, we tend to disagree about nearly everything), but rather a strong proclivity to question nearly everything involving God, existence, and faith. For better or worse, this is the tradition that has been handed down to us from Martin Luther himself, our namesake, who believed in God but vigorously questioned many of the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church of his time. To him, little was black and white: rather, he believed in accepting and living within the "unresolvable tensions" that surround us.

And in my opinion, abortion is clearly one of these unresolvable tensions.

Which makes even the language surrounding abortion completely absurd, when you think about it. People who are against abortion aren't always "pro-life", as the murderer of Dr. Tiller just evilly demonstrated. But similarly, people who claim they are "pro-choice" aren't fully supporting choice either, are they? They are merely making the choice of the mother more important than the choice of the unborn child who, in the case of an abortion, is certainly not being given any liberties because he or she is having their life taken away.

So I hope President Obama's efforts to have a more nuanced discussion about abortion continues to be successful, despite the enormous tragedy of Dr. Tiller's death. He simply cannot afford to be either too strongly pro-choice nor pro-life, but rather must lead by striking a balance and continuing to push this issue as being entirely and thoroughly gray in nature. Because pro-choice activists are right, just as pro-life activists are, too: yet the people who are "most right" in this debate are the people who live fully within the unresolvable tension of the situation, and admit that abortion is indeed a medical solution for some cases yet a tragic one. It is a medical solution where a physician, who has sworn to do everything in their power to save the lives of humans, sometimes makes the choice of saving one life over another. Let's not glorify the woman's choice, the physician's choice, or anything at all about this. And when we remember Dr. Tiller, let's remember that he did save women's lives but he also ended the lives of 2nd and 3rd trimester babies.

I'm a father of four girls, and they have all kicked me in the back during their 2nd and 3rd trimesters. I saw their faces before they were born, and felt and saw their little fists flailing against my wife's uterus. And more than one of my cousins were born very premature. Yes, aborting a 3rd trimester child may save a mother's life, but at what cost?

So let us all mourn the tragic death of Dr. Tiller, and remember his noble efforts to save women's lives and respect their decisions. But let's also remember the deaths of the children who are the victims of abortions, and admit that the abortion debate is an unresolvable tension with no clear solution.

And finally, we cannot allow our compassion for Dr. Tiller and his family to cloud our judgment and fuel pro-choice activism any more than we should ally ourselves with his murderer. Dr. Tiller's work came at great human cost. And some people choose to value those lost lives just as much as the lives of their mothers. Let us respect this and realize that this is a noble belief to have, just as it is also noble to value the decisions of mothers, and let us live with this grand paradox.

Denying the paradox certainly simplifies the discourse about this most tragic topic, but it does not advance the discussion.

December 11, 2008

MPR's The Morning Show

The digital era has gotten us used to things coming and going so quickly in the mediascape, it’s peculiar to take a moment to quietly honor something that is going away after having endured for a long time. In this case, over 25 years.

Today marks the final broadcast of Minnesota Public Radio’s The Morning Show (Jim Ed Poole, or Tom Keith, is retiring). I’m listening to the last half-hour as I type this (I had planned to be present at the Fitzgerald Theater in person for the final hour or so, but after hearing about the long lines of people waiting to get in, I gave up on that).

My earliest memory of Jim Ed Poole and Dale Connelly are from sometime in the early 80s when I was in junior high, which was apparently one of the first years of their program. I was riding down to the State Fair from Duluth with my friend John, in his comfy conversion van (remember those?), and his dad had The Morning Show on the radio. I recall a goofy fake wine ad, and folky music that wasn’t nearly as cool as what John and I usually watched (and listened to) on MTV.

Continue reading "MPR's The Morning Show" »

December 10, 2008

To Be Continued

I thought I needed a new place to issue random thoughts and commentary that are longer than 140 characters, so this is that place. A continuation of my 2008 election blog, sort of, but now no longer focused on that topic for obvious reasons.

Related: My Obama Blog