Free Speech

So in case you haven’t heard the news, everyone’s favorite free speech absolutist (unless of course you’re using that free speech to push for a union inside of Telsa) Elon Musk has made an agreement to purchase a giant dumpster Twitter, in order to take it private. Musk has also promised to protect free speech, but who knows what that will actually mean for everyday users.

Upon hearing this I suspect that many Conservatives started wringing their hands in glee, in the hopes that they’ll soon be able to say whatever they want without any moderation being imposed upon them. I think this is more of a pipe dream than what we’ll see in reality.

There’s something that needs to be understood about social media. The product isn’t the platform for communicating between each other and sharing your thoughts – that is simply part of how they get the product to the platform, because it’s actually you – the people who uses that platform – that is the product. You (or at least their screens) are sold, by Twitter, to companies, so that ads can be displayed to you. So here’s the fundamental problem: If you make the platform too toxic, or damage the brand by reducing the platform to little more than a place to fling shit at others, advertisers aren’t going to be interested in that, and many of the regular end-users will likely flee as well. So, even if Musk has some grand ideas of making the platform much more open and free, I doubt the implementation of those ideas will be so radical that he’ll end up setting his 40 billion dollar dumpster on fire. I can’t see that even he can afford to do that. If the advertisers are driven away then the platform will become infeasible to operate and his investment goes up in smoke.

All of the above said, the crying that people make over freedom of speech all seems rather empty anyways. On private property you have no freedom of speech rights. As long as you’re on private property your use of that property is almost always subject to some kind of agreement (implied or otherwise) with the property owner. If that property owner put restrictions on how you can use the property then that is entirely their prerogative. Nobody has to let you into their home, use their computer hardware, or put a sign on their front lawn.

Don’t like those terms of service – go elsewhere or build your own soapbox. That’s why I don’t use Twitter, and rarely use most social media platforms in general. I’m not interested in being treated as a commodity for giant media companies to sell.

human decency 101

Fischer Wells just wants to play field hockey. The State of Kentucky says she can’t. I’m not making this up. Kentucky passed a law to make sure this twelve-year-old girl won’t be able to play field hockey at her middle school. Think about how fucked up that is.

You know what? It’s more fucked up that you think. Consider the process of passing a law in Kentucky (or any other state, for that matter). It’s a time-intensive process. You have to cobble together the language of the bill you want to become law, including defining all the elements. Then you have to present the bill to…wait. Here, look at this:

This is the amount of effort the State of Kentucky went to in order to keep 12-year-old Fischer Wells from playing field hockey at school. Note Step 11: “If bill is vetoed, it goes back to each chamber. If…

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Addressing a Response to Question 5

This is another address of an answer that a Christian gave to one of my “10 questions” post. I’ve broken the response into two sections, since they are quite separate topics.

HN: Why would a loving and all-powerful God chose to use humans to propagate the Christian message of salvation? If God is all loving and all powerful shouldn’t God be the one to bring this message rather than ignorant and fallible humans, considering that your religion look remarkably like every other religion out there?

Christian: This is not a question; it is an argument that God should run His Creation the way Herald Newman would run it…

The question contains a couple of incorrect, unsupported conclusions. Did God choose humans to propagate His message? Not exactly. Jesus — the God/Man who lived, died, and rose from dead — preached. Jesus did charge us with spreading His Gospel, documented in the Bible, which is the inspired Word of God.

Do you even understand what the word “propagate” means? Because it seems you just want to be a contrarian when it’s clear that you agree with me. Jesus charged humans with spreading the gospel message. This is accepted by both of us. The question is: Why would an all powerful, all loving, God choose to use stupid fallible humans, who can screw it up, to send out this important message, where the eternal fate of others depends?

If the people who have been charged to convince me that Christianity is true are incompetent, and fail to provide convincing reasons, that failure potentially affects my eternal fate. If I’m coming from a Muslim family, and live in a Muslim majority culture, I’m potentially risking my life by apostatizing from that Muslim faith. That’s a huge ask based on nothing more than what some evangelist has to say.

This question tries to address the kind of world that we should expect if the Christian claims about God are true. If God actually cares about humanity, is all powerful and all knowing, and really does want everyone to be saved, then that salvation message should have gotten out to everyone. The message should also be absolutely clear, unambiguous, and undeniably true. The problem is that the Christian message is far from that. Christians can’t even agree on whether Catholic dogma is important for their salvation, or if you only need to profess your belief that Jesus is your savior. These are important details, and if the Catholics are right then every Protestant is at risk with regards to their salvation. Just believing may not be enough to get you saved, and you have no way to know that you’re right if that’s what you believe. You would think that if God was all knowing, all powerful, and loving, God would know about this problem, and actually do something to rectify it. It should also be abundantly clear even which of the two major camps – to say nothing of Christian sects like the Jehovah’s Witness, the Latter Day Saints, or even the thousands of Christian denominations out there – is ultimately correct.

Now, I can grant that Jesus had a message of salvation, but it’s fundamentally obvious to anyone that the only reason this message spreads is because humans are the ones spreading it. There’s no credible evidence that God is doing anything to help move it along.

Apart from the problem listed above there’s another serious problem with the human spread of the Christian religion: The hundreds of millions throughout history who never got a chance to hear the gospel message. The salvation of these people has only two choices:
1. God is willing to save at least some of them
2. God saves none of them

If #1 is true then it really does call into question just how important accepting Jesus as your savior really is as a means of salvation. If #2 is true then God is necessarily cruel because people are being denied the opportunity of salvation based on the purely random chance of being born into a time and place where Christianity was unheard of. People born into Christian families, and even Christian cultures, are much more likely to find the path to salvation. How on earth can this be considered “good”? It seriously strains my credulity.

Christian: Is Christianity remarkably like every other religion out there? Of course not. All the other religions are about what we have to do to be saved. Christianity is about accepting the gift of salvation.

My response: I’ve never claimed that Christianity isn’t unique in some aspects, but Christianity is also about what you have to do to be saved. The difference is exactly what you have to do. Unless you are claiming that I don’t have to do anything to be saved (which would necessarily include accepting Jesus as my savior), then Christianity also requires me to do something.

My problem is that all religions have exactly the same problem: They make incredible claims and offer no objective evidence to support those claims. They have to accepted on faith.

Further, when we look at the lives of Christians, we do not see anything that shows that they have better lives than any other religious traditions. They don’t live longer, or have significantly lower rates of crime, at least when controlled for other socio-economic conditions. Christian societies aren’t even among the happiest societies out there. There really doesn’t appear to be much of anything that makes Christianity remarkable enough to distinguish it from any other religion.

Responding to a Christian Response

I recently asked 10 questions to Christians and found this response in the comments of this post.

My Question: 3. Is there anything that God could do that would change your mind about God being loving and good, or is there nothing you would make you reconsider?

Christian response: This question is incoherent. By nature and definition, God is all good, all knowing and all powerful. Therefore, everything he does is good.

My Response: That’s nice, but the question isn’t incoherent just because you say it is. The question appears to be perfectly valid and meaningful. You don’t get to assert that something is incoherent without actually demonstrating that it is actually incoherent.

Now, with that out of the way, you’re certainly allowed to define your terms however you want, but keep in mind that reality is not obliged to comport with your definitions. One can run around screaming about how the Earth is flat by definition, but that doesn’t mean that I can now sail over the edge, or claim that the Flat Earth Theory is suddenly credible. Definition are descriptive in nature, not prescriptive, so if the real world doesn’t match your definition then you need different definitions.

Besides, even if there is a creator, nothing about being a creator requires that it must be good, or even loving. A creator could exist that doesn’t give a whiff about humanity, or any life in the universe.

Ultimately the question was aimed at the assumptions Christians make about God, and if they have any criteria under which they would reconsider those assumptions. It seems pretty clear that this person is unwilling to ever reconsider their position. They are apparently right about God because they’ve defined God in such a way that they are right.

Let’s Suppose That Jesus Came Back From the Dead

Let’s suppose, for the purposes of argument, that Jesus really did come back from the dead. If I was willing to grant this absurd premise, what conclusions can be drawn from this?

Not a lot really, without know how Jesus was actually raised. We know of no mechanism to return people from brain death, which Jesus would have certainly experienced a short time after death, let alone a day and a half after death. We certainly can’t really accept Christian claims about why Jesus returned from the dead.

Christians suggest that Jesus was alive again because God raised Jesus from the dead as Jesus was the sacrifice for the sins of humanity, and those who believe in Jesus will have eternal life. What makes this, and Christianity in general, such a hard claim for skeptics to accept? To accept the Christian claims about Jesus’ death and our salvation, we need the following assumptions:

1. A creator being exists
2. That the creator being cares about humanity
3. Sin exists
4. Humans sin
5. This creator needed a sacrifice to be able to forgive humans of sin
6. That Jesus was that sacrifice
7. That the creator had the power to raise Jesus from the dead afterwards
8. That there is an afterlife
9. That this afterlife requires us to accept Jesus as our savior.
10. That the creator knows our beliefs about Jesus

Wow. As I see it you need to introduce at least 10 more assumptions in order to get to something that looks like Christian dogma about why Jesus wasn’t still dead. Is it safe to accept these assumptions? I don’t know how any of them could be demonstrated to be true, let alone that any are even likely to be true (which would have a compounding problem. It certainly doesn’t justify moving away from “I don’t know.”

In other words, even if I accept that Jesus came back from the dead, in order to use that as a basis to accept Christianity, Christians still have a long way to go. It is absurd for Christians to think that if they convince me that Jesus came back from the dead that I would become a Christian. That just doesn’t follow.

Ten Questions for Christians

Christians and their apologists seem to have a proclivity for asking these “10 questions for atheists”, in the hope of either getting answer or exposing some hypothetical problem of our worldview. I thought it might be interesting to ask my own set of 10 questions that I have about Christianity. If you, as a non-believer, have your own questions, feel free to add them to the comments section.

So, without further ado, here they are:

  1. How do you reconcile the obvious and extreme suffering of sentient life on this planet with your belief that God is perfectly loving, moral, and all powerful? In other words, shouldn’t a loving, moral, and all powerful God act in ways that shield us from suffering, and if not why not?
  2. Do you believe that God owes any duties to humanity, such as a duty to protect us, or at least credibly warn us of various dangers? If you think that God doesn’t owe us any duties, what does it mean to say that God is good? Don’t good and loving beings have a duty to protect those they care about from suffering?
  3. Is there anything that God could do that would change your mind about God being loving and good, or is there nothing you would make you reconsider?
  4. How do you reconcile the fact that religious belief appears highly correlated to both geography and the religious traditions of your parents, with the idea that God is loving and would therefore want everyone to be saved, since all religious traditions cannot be true?
  5. Why would a loving and all powerful God chose to use humans to propagate the Christian message of salvation? If God is all loving and all powerful shouldn’t God be the one to bring this message rather than ignorant and fallible humans, considering that your religion look remarkably like every other religion out there?
  6. If you believe God values our free will, why is it that God was so willing to violate the free will of certain humans in the stories of your holy book, but apparently does not do the same today? In other words, why did Paul, Thomas, or any of the apostles, get so much better evidence that Jesus was the Christ than anybody today?
  7. If you believe that I have free will, imagine an exact clone of me except without free will. Please tell me what differences I would notice between myself and this clone? If you do not believe I have free will, and I will not be saved (in my present state), why would God allow beings to exist who will ultimately be sent to hell? If you believe I will be saved, why does belief in Jesus as your savior even matter?
  8. If Christianity was a false religion, how would the world be different today compared to if Christianity was true? In other words, is there anything that would falsify your belief that Christianity is true, and if so, what is that? Is it realistic that this could exist or happen?
  9. What would you say is the best evidence that Jesus of Nazareth is the Creator?
  10. Why is it that Jesus, who you believe is Creator, appears to have said nothing in any of the gospels that could not have been said by anyone else at that time and place?

US Life Expectancy Drops Again

NPR carried a story yesterday about life expectancy dropping for the second year in a row, to the lowest level in 25 years at 76.61 years. The primary reason for this drop was the number of young, and otherwise healthy, people who died from COVID. All of these deaths despite the fact that there were highly effective vaccines, which significantly reduce the risk of death (and other complications), available to the general population for most of the year.

According to this study, in 2019 life expectancy was 78.86 years, dropped to 76.99 years in 2020, and then dropped again in 2021. That’s a drop of 1.87 and 0.38 years respectively. When looking at peer countries of the US we see a much smaller loss to life expectancy at 0.40 in 2020 and 0.28 years in 2021. The US continues to slide behind peer countries in terms of life expectancy when it was already near the bottom of the chart.

While I’m sure this result is disappointing, it is probably not at all surprising, given how politicized this pandemic was, and that Republicans are much more likely to not be vaccinated than Democrats and Independents. You can largely thank the messaging coming out of the Republican party, and the former President in particular, regarding how insignificant this pandemic was, and other misinformation that was spread.

I wish that everyone would have taken this pandemic more seriously. In the US this is just more deaths piling up because it is not being taken seriously. After two years I worry that people are just fatigued with COVID and will stop caring. That can only lead to further loss like last year.

Bay du Nord and Global Warming

It was announced today that the Canadian Federal government has approved the Bay du Nord oil project. Quite honestly, I’m not surprised by this, given that the Liberal government likes to talk out of both sides of its mouth on the issue of global warming (GW), but it doesn’t make this any less disappointing, given that they clearly understand what GW means for our species.

Let’s remember that this is the same Liberal government that has pledged Canada to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% below 2005 levels by 2030 (that’s less than 8 years away.) So on one hand they signal that we will do something, but on the other hand they announce projects which make that target even harder to hit. This is to say nothing of the environmental risks, like this one, or this, that can have serious consequences. I don’t see how the world can really afford to take on more oil and gas projects, even if we are addicted to the stuff.

I look at this announcement much like I looked at the announcement to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline, a policy decision which made little sense given existing climate policy. Again, this decision makes little sense to me outside of some immediate economic interest for the poorer eastern provinces. It would seem that our governments are, yet again, selling the future in the name of convenience today, even though global warming is both an existential and national security threat.

The fact remains, GW is real (there is a very high degree of consensus among climate scientists) and we have good reason to believe that human GHG emissions are responsible for nearly all of the observed increase in global air and ocean temperatures. Our planet is (on aggregate) getting hotter and our activities are the reason for this. As this continues we can expect more of the weather we saw last year, as scotching temperatures killed crops in the west, along with large numbers of forest fires, record high arctic temperatures, and a continued desertification of the American southwest. So far we’ve only seen about a 1 degree Celsius rise in temperatures, so this is probably mild compared to what a 2-3 degree Celsius increase may reveal.

Making changes now, even if they are slightly painful, will be easier than facing the consequences of doing nothing. If we had started taking action 40 years ago, I dare say we’d be in vastly different place today. I must also say that I’m disappointed with how this Liberal government handles the serious issue of global warming. To their credit, they have done more on climate policy than any conservative government would have done (but that doesn’t say much) and they’ve moved forward with some good ideas, like the carbon tax (it’s still way too low in my opinion), but they also manage to make some very poor decisions as well. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by a centre-right government also looks out for dirty businesses that bring in a lot of tax revenue.

I fear that global warming will only get significantly worse because we (as a species) cannot muster the political will to do what we need to about the problem. I sincerely hope that future generations will not have us to blame for not dealing with the mess we created.

Have We Got Morality All Wrong?

Consider this: God is supposed to be a perfectly good. So have we all, Christians included, got morality completely wrong? Maybe the highest moral value is actually respecting the free will of others. This would seem to be what God does. God supposedly won’t interfere with human affairs because God doesn’t want to interfere with our free will, and this is more important that stopping the horrific suffering that many humans, and other animals, will endure.

Since it’s good when God allows our free will to take hold and create whatever suffering results, perhaps this is what it means to act in a way that is good? If it’s good for God to do literally nothing to stop suffering, and God is perfectly good, then it must follow that it is good to not stop suffering. Maybe Mother Teresa’s ghastly views on suffering were correct. Maybe the religion of Libertarianism is right, and we should have many fewer restrictions on human behavior. Maybe all those Christians who want to see abortions outlawed are actually acting in a gravely immoral manner by restricting the free will of women.

Unfortunately, we have the problem of never being able to know if God does nothing because a perfectly moral, all powerful, all knowing, God doesn’t exist, or if there are different criteria by which “good” is assessed. We can try to ask God directly, however, we’ve never know any god to answer back. We can’t really look to any religious holy text because we don’t know that they were written by anyone other than men, or ever had an input from deities. We only have our conscience to assess what is “good” and what is not.

Ultimately, as a Humanist, I think it is good to act in ways that reduce and stop suffering, even if that means I have to violate the free will of others. I would not change my mind even if a god told me that I’m wrong, because my conscience tells me I’m right. This is why I think that if God exists that it is either not all powerful, not all knowing, or not perfectly good. Regardless, it is clear that no gods are ever going to help us solve our problems, and will not offer input on how to move ourselves forward. I don’t value the free will of others so much that I value it over suffering. My moral compass is literally the only tool I have to assess what is “good”, and God comes nowhere close.

Does Free Will Save a Tri-Omni God?

In a recent conversation with a Christian on this site, I was told that because God gave humans free will, and Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, all of humanity must now suffer the consequences of this “choice.” But does this really solve the problem of suffering? I would argue that it cannot, and it still makes no sense to believe that a tri-omni God exists. Let me explain.

Let me grant, for the sake of argument, that the story of Adam and Eve is literally factual (it’s not, but I don’t care for the sake of this post)- that is they existed, lived in paradise, and eventually ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. How can this possibly absolve God of the problem of suffering? God would have known when he placed the humans in the Garden that they would eat the forbidden fruit. God would have had the power to make sure that they couldn’t eat that fruit, either by making it impossible to reach, or by moving the tree entirely. God, being good, and knowing the consequences the act, would necessarily have an ethical obligation to make sure that they do not commit such an act, and it would have literally been trivial for God to prevent (otherwise what it does mean to say God is all powerful?)

So it puts forth the question: Why would a tri-omni God allow such a terrible event to unfold. If there was some end that God was trying to achieve, and God is all powerful, God should be able to achieve that end without requiring humans to suffer. So again, why is there suffering if a tri-omni God exists? The most reasonable expectation is that suffering should not exist if the Christian God exists as they believe, and one of the following must be true:

  1. God doesn’t know we suffer
  2. God is powerless to do anything about our suffering
  3. God can do something about suffering, but elects not to (thus God is not good)
  4. God doesn’t exist

If I was to know that somebody was going to commit an act that causes grave harm to others, and I have the power to prevent such an act from happening, but I elect to do nothing, then I am failing to live up to anything that could be called “good”. The free will of others doesn’t absolve me of a responsibility to prevent evil and suffering. It should not absolve God either. Why has the bar been set so low for God?

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