Insanity Grips the Republican Party

If you haven’t heard, today the GOP has decided that it no longer wants Liz Cheney to be part of its leadership, or to have any kind of leadership role in Washington. If you’ve never heard of Liz Cheney she is the daughter of former Vice-President Dick “what was that rustling in the bushes” Cheney, and a very staunch conservative. Why is she being punished? What terrible crime has she committed? She wants nothing to do with the continuation of Donald Trump’s sob story that it was because of election fraud that Joe Biden was elected as President. If you’re not on the “Trump was robbed” train, the Republican party doesn’t want you.

I do have to give Cheney some credit, because she’s literally one of a handful of Republicans who are willing to publicly go against the hard embrace of Trump and the continued lies to the American people. While there may be others that don’t accept the lies, she’s at least willing to call them what they are, and risk her career to help make sure that a man who incited an insurrection doesn’t get to return to power. I heartily applaud her, even though I otherwise strongly disagree with her politically.

It would also seem that this problem isn’t going away either. Many Republican voters want to punish those who don’t fall in line, kiss the royal ring of Dear Orange Leader, and sell their souls for a red hat. A poll done in Cheney’s home state of Wyoming indicates that more than half of those Republican voters don’t want her re-elected, and she has very low support overall. I predict her time in politics may be coming to an end, and she will be replaced with some conspiracy embracing whack-job.

Trumpism is alive and well in the Republican party, even if Trump doesn’t have any direct power right now. A cult of personality has swept in and taken control of a party that once freed the slaves. That party is, as far as I’m concerned, dead, doesn’t seem to know how to do anything but embrace DJT. The message being sent today is clear: Embrace the Orange Clown or we don’t want you in our circus.

Frankly, I don’t know what is going to happen going forward. 2022 and 2024 are going to be important election years, and will help decide the future of the Republican party. From what I’ve seen, many Republicans are angry that they’ve lost control of the federal government, and that they are already doing everything they can to make sure they take back power. One only needs to look at the voter suppression laws that are being enacted in Republican controlled states to see how they intend to take that power back. I think it’s a fairly safe bet that 2024 will see another Biden-Trump battle.

While I’m glad I’m not an American, the far right seems to have completely jumped the rails and started trying to fly to space. I’m not sure if there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of politics in the US when the party of utter insanity would seem to have a reasonable chance of retaking power. American politics just seems to be the kind of affair that should make any sensible person want to cry.

COVID-19, a Hypothetical, and a Rant

I see a lot of people on the internet making claims about the survival rate of COVID-19, often claiming that it’s 99% or higher, and that we are therefore taking COVID way too seriously, that there’s no reason to get ourselves injected with the COVID vaccine, or that they’ll never wear a mask to help reduce transmission. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the internet it’s that there’s no shortage of ignorant people who spout off alternate facts.

For the moment I’m going to assume that the 99% survival rate is factual, and that there is a strict binary dichotomy of those who are infected: Either they die or they completely recover with no ill effects whatsoever.

Let’s imagine a standard 747 jetliner, that is able to carry 366 people. But this is no ordinary jetliner, rather this one is powered by human deaths, and every trip 1% of the passengers are violently thrown off at 30,000 feet (without a parachute of course), so that they can splash onto the ground horrifically.

Here’s the hypothetical question: Would you be willing to fly on one of these jets, for free (or perhaps for an extremely low cost)? Are you willing to be sacrificed to the ground so that you have a chance at a low cost flight, or put another way, are you willing to allow somebody else to be sacrificed horrifically so that you can get a cheap flight? I doubt that I would.

COVID is actually probably worse than the hypothetical jet in my scenario. We know that the case fatality rate from COVID is pretty consistently between 1-3% (so 1% is probably the very low end of the fatality rate), and we also know that some number of people end up with severe complications from the disease, including possible hospitalization, lung scarring, stroke, organ damage, chronic fatigue, blood clots, brain fog, and myopathy. Even if this is another 2-3%, that adds a serious degree of risk to infection. These complications are no laughing matter, and even if you don’t die you may be dealing with the consequences of your infection for long time to come.

Fortunately, we may have a way to significantly reduce all the risks associated with COVID, and it comes in the form of vaccines. While there are certainly risks associated with all vaccines, the small risk of complications from a vaccine would seem to vastly outweigh the risks of an unvaccinated infection from COVID. With the rise of new variants the young and otherwise healthy are the ones who are clogging up the medical system with new infections.

Please, my dear readers, I implore all of you to get vaccinated as soon as you can, if not only to protect yourself but to help protect those around you. Herd immunity from this virus is the only way we’re going to return to normal, and getting vaccinated is the easiest path to achieve that herd immunity.

Vaccine hesitancy really shouldn’t be a thing, but alas, we live in a world where people like Jenny McCarthy makes money selling people fear of well established science. And that’s what makes some of this so sad. People will end up infected, and dying, because they didn’t want to be vaccinated when the overwhelming evidence shows that vaccines work!

Response to STR: Is Hell a Solution to the Problem of Evil?

Some time ago I came across a blog post on Stand to Reason titled “Hell: A Solution, Not a Problem.” The author claims that hell is somehow a solution to the problem of evil, but seems to miss some key marks that turns an essay into a work of obfuscation and sophistry. Quite honestly, to say that hell is somehow a solution to the problem is evil seems much like somebody saying that walking is a solution to the flat tire on my bicycle. Frankly, the author just doesn’t seem to understand what the problem of evil is, or why it’s a problem for Christian theism.

The problem of evil is not the problem for Christianity people think it is. It’s a problem for atheism, but not for us. Why? Because our entire story is about the problem of evil. It starts in the third chapter and doesn’t get solved until 66 books later. But it does get solved.

Well, technically I guess the problem of evil is solved in the sense that eventually there will be no more evil, but it certainly doesn’t really deal with the problem in the here and now. Evil is still a problem today, and who knows how long (assuming that this Christian view is actually correct) we would have to wait before God finally decides that it’s time to pull the plug on evil. That could be 200 million years in the future, or even more – we simply have no idea.

As for the problem of evil being problem for atheism, I really fail to understand this point. It simply makes no sense to say that the not believing that gods exist makes the problem of evil a problem. Sure, we can’t wave a magic wand and make the problem disappear (Christians can’t seem to do that either), but it really is something easily explained on a naturalistic worldview. When we look at our closest cousins, the chimpanzee, we see that they will kill other chimps, including members of their own tribe. Frankly, on a naturalistic worldview, evil and suffering are not really are that surprising given that we live in a world with limit resources and where evolution is blind to outcomes other than what produces survival. The problem of evil is only a problem when you start positing that there’s some all knowing, all powerful, perfectly good, consciousness behind our universe and that this was all created with a perfect plan, because the world we live in doesn’t seem to jive with what we should expect if “good”, “all knowing”, and “all powerful” have any semblance of meaning.

Frankly, that anybody would suggest that hell is a solution only shows how poorly the author understands what the problem of evil represents. In fact, when we look at the theistic explanations for evil they are always ad-hoc, and very hypothetical. Rarely, if ever, do theists give concrete explanations that jive well with our understanding of the world and what it means to be “good.”

Christianity has a lot to say in response to evil. We won’t get into all of that here. But one part of our larger response is that, in the end, evil is defeated.

Well, sure, but it shouldn’t be here in the first place. That’s the point of the problem of evil. Now you (as a theist) must explain why the evil is present and explain would even allow for it in the first place. A perfect God ought to be able to create beings who have no desire to act selfishly. In a world created by a perfect God evil would simply be a byproduct of our lack of understanding rather than any conscious desire to inflict harm on others.

The other problem is that pretty much any religion can come along and say that in the future evil will be defeated and it also solves the problem of evil, but just claiming that in the future it will be solved doesn’t actually do anything to solve the problem. It just pushes it back.

Many people have no problem with a God who forgives. The problem is a God who punishes.

My second biggest problem with Christianity (the first being that I don’t think it’s correct) is that it presents God as someone who forgives based on the incredibly arbitrary criteria of “did you believe that Jesus died for your sins?” It means that those who commit incredible evil in this world, do nothing to help rectify it, but believe on their deathbed that Jesus is their savior, will end up in heaven, while those who try to live as well as they can, help to actually rectify the harm they cause, but happen to be of the wrong religion, will end up in hell. That doesn’t even begin to resemble anything that I would call just, or good.

If Christianity is correct then by the very lucky coincidence of being born into a Christian family (where childhood indoctrination can take place), in a largely Christian society (where that indoctrination is unlikely to be challenge), you have the best chance to attain salvation, while those who are born in say India, Pakistan, or China, where you’re very unlikely to be born into a Christian family, and have few Christians around you, means that you’re unlikely to believe that Jesus is your savior in this life and wind up in hell.

If this is the best solution that God can come with to for the problem of evil then I’m at a loss for words, because it doesn’t actually do anything to solve the problem of evil. If God created hell and what you believe is what sends you there, then each and every person who ends up in hell is ultimately a reflection of the gross incompetence of God in the first place.

On the Historicity of the Resurrection

When I listen to Christian apologists I often hear that there is very good evidence in favor of the historicity of the resurrection. I don’t think this claim is true, and don’t think that secular historians generally support the idea of Jesus’ resurrection for secular reasons.

So let me ask this simple question. If the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so good, can anyone name me at least a dozen historians, who do not come from a faith tradition that already affirms the resurrection, but agree that there is a very strong secular case for Jesus rising from the dead?

Furthermore, I’d be curious if somebody could name me some actual secular historians who came to believe that Jesus rose from the dead based solely on the historical evidence for the claim. It would seem to me that if this claim about the historicity of the resurrection were true then we should see all kinds of professional historians coming to believe that Jesus rose from the dead from purely secular historical reasons. Yet this doesn’t really seem to materialize. So either the evidence isn’t as good as they claim, or secular historians are already committed to a position against the resurrection. I would tend to think the former is stronger than the latter.

So I’m forced to ask: Is the historical evidence for the resurrection really as good as Christian apologists like to claim?

The Fishy Story of the Resurrection

Today is Easter Sunday, and I thought it would be a good time to bring to light something that has bothered me for a long time about the Christian resurrection story. I’ve mentioned before that, as an outsider to Christianity, the whole idea of God creating us broken and then coming to save us from his own mistake by dying for us, so that those who believe do not have to go to hell, is quite the absurdity, but it is essentially the Christian story. What also seems rather obvious to me is that the resurrection is very much a “just-so” kinda story. Let me try to explain:

You have Jesus dying, which is seen by a large number of people. But then you have his supposed resurrection, for which we really have nothing but the attestation of Christian believers. The stories tell us that after his resurrection Jesus supposedly spends about two months with his friends, appearing at times, walking into rooms that are locked, and eating broiled fish, without really telling anyone else. In all that time it would seem that Jesus never once appeared to anyone but his friends. He certainly doesn’t seem to have appeared to Pilate, or any of the Jewish authorities, although he very easily could have. He could have demonstrated to those who didn’t believe, much like he did for Thomas, that he was very much alive after his execution. After this period of time Jesus finally flies off to heaven, presumably to take control of the universe, and has never been seen again[1]. When it comes to the post-death appearance of Jesus, the only sources we have for these miraculous claims come from Christians.  The whole thing seems, well frankly, fishy.

What do I mean by fishy? Have you ever known a somebody who loves to fish? Have you ever heard the tales they’ll sometimes tell of the giant fish they caught, yet the only evidence they present is their testimony, or perhaps the word of their fishing buddies? This giant fish inevitably got away, or was eaten, so there’s no remaining evidence of this large fish, but the fisherman is convinced he caught the big one. Now, when it comes to the Jesus story, doesn’t it seems to be just a little too convenient that the story of Jesus involves a bunch of fishermen, and a man who completely disappears after his most incredible miracle of all? The story sounds to me like one of those “I caught a 80 pound whopper ten years ago” stories.

The whole idea of Jesus’ resurrection would be more believable if we had some credible enemy attestation to it. Even more impressive would be if Jesus was still here today to tell us about how he was crucified and came back to life. Yet we’re forced to sit in a position were we have to take this fish story on nothing more than the beliefs of fishermen who lived millennia ago. The whole thing is fishy. From the ichthys fish to the fisherman buddies of Jesus. At least with big fish stories we know that big fish exist (as anyone who has ever seen a tuna can attest), but I don’t think we can say the same for resurrecting god-men.

[1] Mormons seem to claim that he flew to the Americas and visited Hebrews that lived there, but there’s no evidence that these people lived.

Is God’s Existence a Question for Science or Philosophy?

A person, on the Catholic blog site “Strange Notions”, made the following comment:

God's existence is a philosophical question not a scientific one. So who cares? This is like ranting "Archeologists have been digging for years and they never dug up a Higgs Boson."

Several points should be made about these kinds of ideas.

First, theists regularly make claims that God causes miracles, and other phenomena, inside our universe. If God, or any other supernatural agent, has some interaction with our material universe then studying those supposed miracles with science is precisely the correct tool to use. At the very least we may discover some cool new natural phenomenon, and be able to explain it. At worst we’ll continue to investigate and may never find sufficient explanation. Regardless, if God is the cause of anything, science would be a tool to discover that.

Second, if your “sophisticated” theology and ideas about God make it such that it cannot be investigated by science, then I would argue that you have effectively rendered the proposition “God exists” to be something that is pragmatically meaningless. After all, what does it mean to say that God exists when there is absolutely nothing detectable about it? How is this different from saying that intelligent life exists on another planet that is outside of our visible universe, such that they can never interact with us in any way? What exactly is different between a universe where these aliens exist and a universe where they do not, from any pragmatic point of view?

If God exists in any meaningful way then it ought to have some reasonable possibility of having some noticeable effect on the world, so as to affect the decisions I make. Like the alien life that I cannot interact with, an undetectable god is quite indistinguishable from that which doesn’t exist. Making claims about what will happen to me after I’m dead, where (as far as I can tell) I won’t be able to experience anything anyways, are just as useless to me. Until you can demonstrate this supposed afterlife it’s just another claim.

Theists, if you believe that some kind of god exists, but your god is not detectable in any meaningful way, then I have vastly more interesting things to deal with. Believe if you must, but I see no reason to join you. I think I need to go clean my cats litter box. At least I know it exists and what will happen if I don’t.

If Theology Was Objective

If theology was an objective field of study, oh how the world would be different than it is today. Instead it appears to be a largely a speculative endeavor where theologians appear to find justification for the religious beliefs they already hold.

If theology was objective we wouldn’t have so many widely divergent conclusions about the nature of the divine. Instead we find ourselves in a world where every different theological tradition competes against every other and none show themselves to be significantly superior to any other. With all of the mutually incompatible theologies of the world it appears that we have no objective way to determine which one (assuming that at least one of them) is correct.

Is there one only god? Are there many gods? Do any gods still exist? Is the will of the divine accessible to humans? Is there any afterlife? All of these are questions that various theology claims to have answers for, but what answers you get seems to be completely dependent on the religious traditions, and assumptions, that theology starts with.

Science, being able to deal with objective matters about causal relationships, does a very good job of doing what it claims it does. Theology, on the other hand, cannot show any fruit from its work. If theology has some semblance of objectivity behind it we should expect, like science, that once a true discovery is made then theologians of competing views would gradually adopt that finding. I don’t think we see this, as each major religion has its own mutually incompatible theology.

Theology is a stagnant field that does not produce objectively true findings. While the ideas may give comfort to people, there is no good reason to believe that theological ideas are true in any meaningful sense. Theology belongs in the dustbin of human history, along with other speculative fields of human thought.

The Catholic Church and Same-Sex Unions

So I read today that the Vatican has made a pronouncement that it will not allow priests to bless same-sex unions, calling homosexuality a “sin.”

The nonsense idea that homosexuality is a sin, along with its positions on abortion, contraception, and other issues, are some of the main reasons I stopped being a Catholic. I simply found that the church was too far out of touch with reality on important issues, and that I could not trust them about what constituted sin. They were ignorant old men who saw the world through the broken lens of tradition.

Since the whole coverup about child abusing priests has come to light decades ago, I really don’t understand how anybody can honestly come out and call themselves a Catholic. To knowingly support a church that has been unrepentant about the abuse of so many is tantamount to saying “I don’t care, I will support this organization no matter what they do.” Where have we seen those attitudes before?

While I can say that the stodgy, and very conservative, moral positions of the Catholic church drove me away from them, I don’t know how long I would have continued to believe had the Catholic Church been held more reasonable social positions. Their position may have only hastened my path towards skepticism.

As far as I’m concerned, homosexuality, along with any immutable attribute of oneself, cannot be a sin. Any God that would create homosexuals (being homosexual is not a choice), and demand that they shut themselves off from loving consensual relationships, is not a God that is worthy of any worship and can be rightly called an ass.

Why is Same-Sex Marriage Still an Issue?

For evangelical Christians, same-sex marriage is still a contentious issue. In my country the issue has been largely decided by an act of Parliament for over 15 years now. It’s really not an issue here, although I suspect our evangelicals are just not as noisy as Americans. We certainly don’t have any of our major political parties up in arms about the decision to legalize same-sex marriages. It is, as they say, a non-issue where I live.

And for that reason I have a really hard time understanding why same-sex marriages is such a big deal for so many American right wing religious nutcases. It’s not like they are harmed in any way by gay people getting married to people of their own gender. It’s not like it affects their ability to have children, read their Bible, or make for any material differences in their lives. I don’t hear too much from religious conservative about the problem of spousal abuse (which would seem to be a much bigger problem than gay people getting married), or people who have children they can’t afford to take care of, yet they have no problem using their religion as a cudgel to stop gay people from getting married. They seem very happy to wave around their religious holy text as a justification for their bigotry.

On that note, over at Triablogue, some Christian bigot named Jason Engwer produced a blog post with some pretty bad arguments against same-sex marriage. He specifically offers the following points:

  • Opposite-sex relationships still promote the unity of the genders in a way that same-sex relationships don’t
  • Opposite-sex relationships still have a potential that same-sex relationships don’t have to produce biological offspring
  • Opposite-sex relationships provide a significantly different environment in which to raise children
  • We have good religious grounds for distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex relationships.

On his first point, whatever he actually means here, even if I was to grant that opposite-sex relationship offer some “unity of the genders in a way that same-sex relationship do not “, I fail to see how this is an argument against same-sex marriage. The fact that opposite-sex relationship have some attribute in no way takes away from reasons for allowing same-sex relationship, and allowing people to marry this may. Frankly, for those who aren’t straight, “the unity of the genders” probably means very little to them, as most simply aren’t interested in being in a relationship with a person of the opposite gender. So how is this a good reason to deny them the right to marry? I fail to see how this offers a good justification for his bigotry.

On the second point, while the author likely believes miracles are possible, a man without testicles, or a woman without a uterus or overies, aren’t going to produce offspring by themselves. Regardless, marriage is not simply about making babies, and is not a requirement for making them either. If it were then unwed mothers wouldn’t be a thing. Would the author seriously propose that we deny marriage to those for whom it is impossible to have offspring? If not, this point is really just a convenient way to say “can’t have kids, don’t get married.”

On his third point, as far as I’m aware there’s no compelling evidence that children raised by same sex couples have any statistically significant differences in outcomes once you account for other socio-economic variables. As far as I know, children raised by two parents fare equally regardless of their parents gender. Even then, if there does happen to be some real, demonstrable, harm that came to children being raised by same-sex couples, is it worse than the harm that comes to children raised by single parents, and why should this be a factor in whether two consenting adults can get married? At best it’s an argument against certain people having children, and even then it’s not much of an argument for that either.

I suspect that if we were to look at the outcomes of children we’d find that children raised in deep poverty have some of the worse life outcomes, yet we do not tell poor parents that they cannot get married, or have children. If this was really about “the children”, evangelicals would be doing much more than simply stopping gay people from getting married. As I said earlier, this is much more about enforcing their religious bigotry, and picking on a minority that has been maligned for millennia.

On the fourth point, I don’t care (and for the most part nor does the law) what your religious grounds are. The law is secular (unless Western style democracies suddenly became theocracies overnight, and I hadn’t heard about it), and does not accept religious convictions as a reason to deny rights to other people. You don’t get to make the government impose your religious beliefs on others, especially those who don’t agree with your religious beliefs. Religious nonsense is not a justification for our government to behave in a certain fashion. If that’s what you want then move to Iran or Saudi Arabia.

On top of all of this there are all the benefits that come from being married. Aside from the fact that the law treats married couples differently than even common-law couples, we know that there are health benefits as well. Why would we want to deny people these benefits, simply because you think they’re marrying the wrong person? Oh right, because you think they’re marrying the wrong person, and you must know best. Sigh.

Why Trump Must Be Convicted

During the impeachment trial it has been suggested that Democrats are afraid of Donald Trump running again in 2024, and winning the Presidency. While that notion does scare me (I’m not sure that the republic would survive a second Trump term), I’m immediately more concerned about what would happen if Trump loses again in 2024.

Democracy is a fragile thing, and it only takes one failure for it to be gone forever. Those who stand on the side of protecting democracy have to do so 100% of the time. If they ever fail, and democracy should fall, we may end up in a place where it never comes back.

Sure, January 6th was a colossally screwed up coup attempt by Trump supporters, but who’s to say that they would screw up so badly the next time. What if the next time they manage to get into the chambers of the Senate, or House of Representatives? Who would they kill? How many would they kill? Would we be able to restore what we currently have?

The dangers of Donald Trump losing again, telling his supporters that he lost because of massive election fraud, and fomenting another uprising, is a scary thought. The fact that he has done it once with his lies should be enough to warn every single senator that this is a risk should he ever run again. If you’re in Congress come January 2025, regardless of the side you’re on, there is a risk that you may die at the hands of Trump supporters should he run, and lose, in the next Presidential election. Are you prepared to risk your life, and the lives of your fellow members of Congress?

This has nothing to do with partisanship. This is about asking the question “how many times does a person need to demonstrate that they cannot be trusted before you’re willing to put a stop to their reckless behavior?” Is it really worth the risk to democracy itself to let him go?