Easy Useless Answers

My sister sent me a Facebook post with this video and a question, “This is very interesting, Would like to have feed back from you. I hope that we can agree to disagree on this subject. I would just like to know your beliefs. Calm cool and collected conversation.”

My first response was pretty poor, “Poorly explained options, DNA did not 'happen by accident,' it happened after billions of years of failed and partial failure natural selection experiments. So, this protagonist has a well-scripted set of misleading questions and jumps unprepared people with his propaganda routine. No surprise that their answers get him the answer he expects and most likely edited to refine. A more detailed explanation of Dawkins' position is found in The God Delusion, but this video isn't about obtaining rational opposition it's just an effort to demonstrate a cheesy debate tactic. It would be interested to see the entire input to this video, because it's obvious the editing was intended to direct the conversation in a very limited way.

“Since the whole God argument is so childish, most atheists don't put enough thought into religions' propositions to be good anti-superstition debaters. Logically, that would be wasted time. Dawkins has done so because the Big Three religions have become 'death cults' bent on destroying life on this planet to create a test for their various Armageddon stories. It's an admirable goal, but hyper-unpleasant because you have to listen to so much silliness. The whole 'something from nothing' argument is not satisfied simply by shamans' inventing a god and placing him/her/it in charge of creating something. That's just human arrogance to imagine that we can go "poof" and invent the answer to a scientific question with 1500 year old sheepherders' tales.

“We're currently involved in a pretty scary natural selection experiment, as a species. Just in the last 25 years, 75% of flying insects have vanished from the planet. That will have all sorts of effects on every species up the food chain, including humans. It's pretty obvious from the fossil record and even human records that lots of natural selection experiments have failed or been modified. That DNA is either lost or combined with surviving lifeforms. Did the gods screw up with those animals? If they can screw up something as simple as a butterfly, how did they manage to create an infinite universe?

“If humans are going to survive, we're going to have grow past superstition. If we don't, we certainly don't deserve any claim for love for our children and their children. Being the cause of the 6th Extinction in the name of religion is nothing to brag about.”

The question and the smarmy “interviews” stuck with me throughout the day. Mostly, I worked my ass off all day and a long history of going through these questions slowly came back to me. Thirty years ago, a philosophy instructor loaned me a book, Abusing Science, The Case Against Creationism, by Philip Kitcher (a UofM professor) that attempted to answer all of the questions posed in this video. It’s a terrific book and, oddly, still in print. The problem with asking about evolution and DNA, the origin of the universe, and the building blocks of life from a religious perspective is that the questioner already believes he has the answer, “God works in mysterious ways. We can’t know the mind of the maker. And so on.” The answers from a scientific perspective are all hyper complicated, requiring an education in astrophysics, biology, genetics, geology, and other disciplines. Abusing Science goes to those places and experts and obtains those answers, but most of us (probably all of us) are already involved in complicated and specialized lives and we’d have to spend a few days preparing an answer to these poorly framed and leading questions. Dawkins has presented several of these rebuttals, in case someone actually cares enough to hear them. Here is one, for example:

In 1957, my mother died of hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer). In 1957, medicine had no answer, no solutions, no options for someone even suffering from stage one hepatocellular carcinoma. Religion still offered the brilliant and perfectly useless, “God works in mysterious ways. We can’t know the mind of the maker. And so on.” Today, "people with early-stage liver cancers who have a liver transplant, the 5-year survival rate is in the range of 60% to 70%.” Religion is still stuck with “God works in mysterious ways. We can’t know the mind of the maker. And so on.” If religion was a valid area of thought, it would have evolved something useful, like medicine has done, by now. In fact, since Christianity has been around for about 1500 years and has accomplished exactly nothing of use to any human, other than becoming a highly refined money-making scheme for churches, televangelists, and assorted con men, generating wars and warriors for practically any political excuse, and a huge variety of inequalities and injustices.
That’s where religion draws its strength, though. Uneducated people who desperately hope for a magic solution to the problems of existence, survival, power and money are not attracted to the complexity of the real world. “God works in mysterious ways,” is a good answer for them because real answers require a serious effort to comprehend. People, as a species, are fairly lazy. Easy, useless answers are more acceptable to most people than reality.

A friend tried to justify some part of that position by saying, “That ecological disaster you referred to was caused by science.” No, it wasn’t. If we were a scientific species or even marginally led by scientific leaders, we’d have dramatically dropped the world’s population 50 years ago and the cliff we’re heading toward would be far more manageable. Religion and its bizarre interpretations of sheepherders’ gibberish squalls like a stuck pig when any attempt to slow down the world’s population gets any traction. Religion is the core to practically unsolvable problem in the world and will continue to be until something either ends humanity or superstition. I’d bet on superstition outlasting our species. It is core to our flaws. As Voltaire said, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." Hoping for the end of life because some halfwit convinced you that you'll be in paradise after life is the ultimate absurd atrocity.


“We’re Not Nazis!”

A while back, I wrote about an encounter we had at a campsite in Wisonsin with a pair of Boomer Twin Citizens with an irrational committment to our present nutjub Republican President, “Trump-Colored Glasses.” Since they were doing all the talking, other than a few observations my wife or I made about the behavior of our nutty leader, the inference they were making (to me) was that they were mildly aware of the inconsistencies in their belief system and were more trying to convince themselves, than us, that they weren’t Nazis or Nazi supporters or colaborators. “We’re not Nazis,” the wife said in a fairly disconnected outburst.

So, what are you if you aren’t a Nazi? If you mindlessly, carelessly support a neo-fascist President and a cabinet and executive office full of the worst people in the country, can you still claim to be innocent of association and responsibility for electing and supporting those people? I don’t see how. If you selectively obtain your “information” from the least reliable sources (Fox News, Breitbart, and your drunk cousin for example) do you seriously expect adults and literate citizens to respect your choices and give you a pass for responsibility for the positions you have taken? Again, I don’t see how. When you have knowlingly put the stability and security of the nation and world at stake simply because you are upset that a well-educated President stabilized the economic freefall after your last collection of nitwits blew up the economy and handed trillions over to the TBTF banks without as much as a basic request for what they would do with the money, you don’t think you deserve to be called ‘rascists?” Good luck with that.

getupAs I’ve noted on a regular basis, one of the core principles of modern conservatism is “never having to say we’re sorry for being wrong, again.” It is amazing how little crap sticks to the people who have been wrong on every issue since we started banging the rocks together. I’m sure they’ll slither away from responsibility for Trump, too. Not with me, though. I won’t forget and I won’t forgive. As far as I’m concerned, you either learn from this massive and incredibly stupid mistake or you spend the rest of your life being a Nazi sympathizer, which is not far enough from being an actual Nazi to worry about. As someone said, “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” You who voted for Trump and neo-Nazis who populate our House of Representatives and state governments are guilty and respnsible for the damage you’ve done. Go ahead, wear your swastikas in public. It’s not like we don’t know who you are. As usual, pseudo-conservatives will make a mess and expect the few of us who actually care about our country to fix it.


Trump-Colored Glasses

On a short camping outing this weekend, we met a couple from the Twin Cities who seemed to have a lot in common with us: the same camper, the same age, roughly the same education, and similar life and work experiences. The surprising major difference was that they are committed Trump fanatics. The guy wanted to talk about mythical “antifa” atrocities he’d witnessed while he was participating in Trump rallies at the state capitol. The woman kept chanting “You should listen to Donald’s whole speech in Poland. It tells you who he really is.”

I did that and, relatively speaking, Donald was reasonably impressive in his ability to read the Teleprompter without too much self-congratulation. However, he followed up that performance with Tweets demonstrating his usual insanity, "We will fight the #FakeNews with you!" over the moment when Donald tried to intercept President Duda’s wife who was on her way to acknowledge Donny’s wife. Apparently, he didn’t want to miss the opportunity to pat himself on the back because he followed that weirdness with “My experience yesterday in Poland was a great one. Thank you to everyone, including the haters, for the great reviews of the speech!” He was really proud of his reading ability, apparently.
However, my takeaway from the camping experience was that Trump’s fanatics are completely mesmerized with The Donald. They are somehow entranced with something about his personality. My wife speculated that many of these people had a “favorite boorish uncle” Trump reminds them of and that familial memory is the link that draws them to him. It’s a weird kind of charisma that loses most of us, but conservative white people appear to be drawn to it like moths. Like moths, they are totally uncritical of whatever it is that attraction is about.

One of the stranger things said that morning was the wife’s conviction that if Hillary had been elected we’d be on the way to war with Russia. I have no idea where that night terror came from and she wasn’t at all clear on its origin, either. I’d vote for “fake news” if I had to speculate.

We had our brief encounter the morning after the Las Vegas massacre, which made one of the morning’s conversations seem surreal in retrospect. My wife and I hadn’t heard the news about the shooting. The couple repeatedly talked about how sad they were that so many of us felt disconnected from our fellow Americans. I said that the fact that public places were becoming so dangerous thanks to the many nutjobs who feel the need to go everywhere armed isn’t doing honest conversation much good. He said, “we need to get the guns away from the nutjobs.” Obviously, that is the NRA’s distracting chant. It’s also a non-starter. I suspect the most sane people in the country are unconvinced that wanting to own a gun is an indication of sanity. The things people use guns for are the best indication of why they want to possess them: suicide, murder (mostly family members and friends), and fear. I don’t know where you would start if you decided to take guns away from crazy people. At least one in five US citizens experience mental illness in a given year. Where would you start in identifying who is “mentally ill” and who is just a pissed off son-of-a-bitch? Do you worry about the difference?

Among the things this couple used to justify their love of Donald Trump, consistency and rational thought weren’t on the list. They just desperately want Trump to be their fearless leader and don’t want to be judged on the merits of that desperation and irrationality, “We’re not Nazis!” Like most of that crowd, they absolutely hate President Barack Obama. They hate Hillary Clinton. And they absolutely believe nothing about those positions make them bad people. I came away from the conversation feeling even more like this is 1933 and that Canada probably isn’t even close to being far enough away from the United States when this all comes to a head.