Friday, February 8, 2008

In Defense of Faith, part II

This was an article that appeared a few weeks ago that I felt up to task of challenging. As I review my answers, I realize that many times I answered one question with another. While I realize the burden of proof falls on me, I thought it important to examine the position of the author and fictional panelists by examining some of the ideas behind the questions as well, Socratically. Additionally, I use the word "man" loosely in place of the word "mankind." My remarks shall be in red italics.

JOHN ALLEN PAULOS, Dr. of Mathematics at Temple University

As much as possible, the presidential candidates should refrain from talking about their religious beliefs. Perhaps even a self-imposed ban on public avowals of religious [belief] would be wise. It's all too easy to cross the fine line between expressing faith and aggressively declaring it, and religious tolerance is, I think, inversely proportional to the latter. I shall express my faith and I shall aggressively declare it: Jesus is LORD! So, what you are saying here is that the less people proclaim their faith in an increasingly secular society (thanks to... whom?) the more tolerance is placed upon those who are "faithful." You know, I think I will pass on that notion. I would rather have Jesus stand for my behalf than have the praise of all the men of Earth. Matthew 10:32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. Luke 12:8 And I say unto you, Every one who shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God.

Still, it doesn't appear that this is going to happen. Religious beliefs have been a big issue in presidential politics for a while now, and many of the candidates, particularly Govs. Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, have opted for different reasons to talk about theirs.

This is a two-way street, however. If religion and religious ideas are going to be more publicly discussed, candidates and their supporters will have to accustom themselves to the free expression of doctrines contrary to their own, in particular to irreligious perspectives. Very true, however, exactly what are the limits of these doctrines? In the subjective world of situation ethics (which is espoused by atheists) are all doctrines equal? Are there no standards of good and evil? (I could go on and name numerous organizations whose goals are inherently evil, but I desire to keep my blog G or PG at best.) Free expression and support thereof are two entirely different things.

Their religiosity will eventually invite questions about their beliefs and their provenance more pointed than the usual vague queries about the role of faith in their lives. Here are a few such questions that might be directed explicitly to Huckabee and Romney — and then generally to some of the other candidates.

Questions for Huckabee and Romney

The setting, let us pretend, is a university auditorium somewhere in the Heartland with a panel of four slightly nervous, irreligious questioners facing the candidates. You can also envisage appropriate graphics and theme music proclaiming, "Free Thinkers Debate 2008."

A moderator would note the importance of the elections on Super Tuesday and, given the evening's topic, might even mention that the name of the day, Tiw's day, is derived from Tiw, the old Norse god of heroic glory, justice and combat. I think the first question should be why exactly are you pulling up word origins of this sort, Dr. Paulos? Are you attempting to put The LORD of the heavenly host on equal ground with false gods? Such an introduction speaks much about your viewpoint and the objective questions these fictional students are about to ask.

The house lights dim and the first panelist begins with a few questions for Huckabee. The answers to all the questions the reader will have to imagine.

1. Do you really believe, Mr. Huckabee, that the Earth is only a few thousand years old and that humans and dinosaurs cavorted together? Can you prove, Dr. Paulos, by recreating the Earth over the course of millions of years with repeated experimentation and results that it was not? I would state that it is possible, but not conclusive by any means. Here lies the test of faith- not in whether you believe a certain dogma, or adhere to the Pharisees or Sadducees interpretation of scripture, but rather if your faith is God in you, the hope of glory. The only judge of a man's heart is God's Holy Spirit.

2. Religious people often accuse atheists and agnostics of arrogance. Do you agree? And is it arrogant to say, as you have, that your sudden rise in the polls was an act of God and that you wish to amend the Constitution to better reflect "the word of the living God"? Each person should be evaluated individually according to their own lives and actions. Pride cometh before the fall, Christian, Jew and Gentile alike. I think I have enough on my plate just trying to keep myself in line (and not doing well at that) much less looking to others. Do you wish to define exactly what God can and cannot do? I think it would be presumptuous to acclaim a change in polls to an act of God. The Constitution is a secular document and has no comparison with scripture, although philosophical and spiritual truths are necessary to reflect the attitudes and values of the people it represents.

3. Article 19 of the Arkansas state constitution states, "No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court." Although it and similar laws in other states are not enforced, do you support their formal repeal? I would support their repeal.

The next questioner turns to Romney.

1. Why, Mr. Romney, in your speech ostensibly devoted to religious tolerance, did you not extend this tolerance to the millions of atheists and agnostics in this country, people who, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, are still held in very low regard by many religious people? So then, shall we acknowledge every sect, every religion, every cult, every fringe group, every denomination in every speech for fear of hurting someones feelings? Furthermore, are people not free to think whatever they desire of other religious viewpoints? Is it a thought crime then, for someone to have a viewpoint you personally disagree with? Shall we give tax money then, to offset these thoughts in the form of "affirmative action?" The answer to each of these questions, sir, is no.

2. Do you not see an implicit religious test in your statement that "Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom"? Furthermore, are not, respectively, most of Europe and some Islamic countries obvious counterexamples to your statements? DO-YOU-NOT-SEE the statement "Freedom requires NO RELIGION" being practiced in nearly every aspect of our society today? In answer to your second question, I would ask this: Is most of Europe free (spiritually speaking)? What is the difference between secular freedom and spiritual freedom? Because another society is different, is that reason to copy and apply it to ourselves?

3. Is it right to suggest, as many have, that atheists and agnostics are somehow less moral when the numbers on crime, divorce, alcoholism and other measures of social dysfunction show that non-believers in the United States are extremely under-represented in each category? Have you cross indexed those statistics with educational level? Employment? Other demographic data? So then, being agnostic makes one more likely to be moral. Um, no I didn't think so. Neither does being a Christian, for that matter. Isaiah 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

Questions for the Other (or Future) Candidates

Let's move on to the other candidates and the third panelist.

1. Do any of you think God speaks to you, only to Gov. Huckabee, or to none of you? And, if I may, does God have a tax policy, a health care policy, a policy on Iraq, Iran, gay marriage, Guantanamo or the Riemann Hypothesis? God speaks to all of us. Whether we listen or not or can hear His voice is dependent on our spirit. If I may, your second question seems rather flippant. God's kingdom on Earth resides in His Spirit and in the hearts of men. I allow God to judge the hearts of others. As for Guantanamo, how about if we immediately release all of them in your home neighborhood and grant them the right to bear arms and peaceably assemble? I promise they will love you for setting them free.

2. How would you suggest that we reason with someone who claims that his or her decisions are informed, shaped, even dictated by fundamental religious principles, which nevertheless can't be probed or questioned by those who don't share them? You mean like how atheists and agnostics decisions are dictated by their religious principals? I am probing and questioning now. Isn't freedom of speech wonderful?

3. I think we can all agree that a candidate who thought that we ought to outlaw interest on loans or revert to a barter system would not be a good steward for our troubled economy. Would you also agree that someone who believes the Earth is 6,000 years old and that Noah's Ark is an event in zoological history would not be an effective leader on issues such as stem cells, climate change, and renewable resources? I have taught science for almost 20 years, and know a little bit about the topics you mention. Why would lack of faith make one better qualified for such a position? Oh, yes, thats right- because they are in agreement with you in YOUR faith. Forgive me, I am a little slow tonight.

The debate concludes with a few more general queries about religion from the fourth and last questioner.

1. Do you see any danger of a kind of theocracy developing in the United States? And, if I may sneak in an extra question, do you think that American religiosity has (or could) threaten American dominance in science and technology? The Constitution forbids the kind of government that the colonists came from, namely, one in which the church (or any religious organization) shares secular powers with the government. As to your second question: which is more important, scientific knowledge or the destination of a man's soul?

2. How literally do you take the Bible or other holy book? Do you subscribe to any argument(s) for God's existence other than the one that God exists simply because He says He does in a much extolled tome that He allegedly inspired? I accept scripture as it is written, but do not consider myself a strict fundamentalist. He lives within my heart! Disprove *that* with science.

3. For many, religion has been a source of ideas and narratives that are enlightening, of ideals and values that are inspiring, of rituals and traditions that are satisfying. It has also led to hatred, cruelty, superstition, divisiveness, credulity and fanaticism. What can you do to further the former and minimize the latter effects? I can do nothing. Only the Spirit of God can change the heart of man.

The questioners would then breathe a sigh of relief, thank the university and the candidates for making the discussion possible, and wish them all Godspeed in their continuing campaigns.

Dear Dr. Paulos,
You state that candidates should refrain from talking about religious beliefs. Religion, and faith, are part of our society. Should they do as you suggest, they would then be forced into talking only within the constraints of *your* religious belief, atheism. Think about it.

armchair coach
amateur historian

Monday, February 4, 2008

Patriots Copyright the Phrase "19-0," Upset By Giants in Best Super Bowl Ever

For the last month, every team I have rooted for has lost in the playoffs. This time I cheered for the Patriots, stating in mock sincerity, "Go Pats," to the TV over the course of the game. Looks like my cheering for a team is the kiss of death, as I told my students last week.

Usually I write all of my own articles, but I will let these remarks from speak for themselves (with editing for grammar.) They are priceless.

Leaving the field with time on the clock...that's what a year with Randy Moss will do to you.

Bill Belichick falls under the 5 D category dodge, duck, dip, dive, dodge. Because he most certainly did that last night.

To the previous poster- face it they cheated, they always have. They had rules changed in the NFL because of the exploited the loop holes; see the 5 yard rule, the tuck rule, and the video tape rule; see 3 superbowl rings.

That is not history I wanted to see, a purchased team, run by a dirtbag of a human being go 19-0 - no - seeing them do 18-0 for nothing - that is a much better outcome.

Guess that Belichick did not have enough Giants game film, or should I say practice film.

If I'm a Patriots fan, I love Belichick for the wins, but would be completely embarrassed by his behavior at the end of the game last night. I think Kraft runs a pretty classy organization, but that exit showed Belichick doesn't have to live by the same standards as other members of that organization and by all accounts, a pretty classless move.

Cheaters never win it all. It caught up with them: too much scrutiny to pull off any taping at this weeks practices, they paid; Brady looked confused often, the offensive line showed their age. This dynasty is done. Bye bye ALL PRO offensive line. As a Jets fan, truly one of my happiest moments was Brady on his rear A LOT and a baby Belicheat becoming losers until next September. What a beautiful thought to hold me over until the draft. Karma is alive and well, and a rotten human being just got a taste of payback. Sorry to the rest of the squad, except for Harrison, a career cheater and just bad for the game, but you guys play for a man who's got no heart, zero class and and a lack of morals that should make him cry himself to sleep. But we all know evil doesn't sleep and he's already scouring the rule books for the next loop hole he can exploit to give his team an edge, to take competition out of sport and forever etch his name in a record book of shame. I will quote young Nelson and simply say, to Tom and Bill.....Ha, Ha.

Get off the cheating baloney. Why cheer for the Giants? They ruined our chance at witnessing history. They ruined a chance for the best wide receiver in the league to get a super bowl ring. Now we have to sit and listen to that idiot Mercury Morris ramble about how his team is still the greatest when they were really twice as slow and didn't win as many as the Pats. Now we have to sit through a million more Manning commercials that play on the gimmick that now they both have rings. One Manning is enough!!!

Yeah, and it's true, if Belichick would have stayed, no one would have said, "Oh yeah great job he has class- he watched his dreams slip away." But we certainly wouldn't be questioning his class.

There is a certain type of class and sportsmanship that you have to show when you are a coach. When he left the game early, it pretty much meant that he gave up on his team. A decent coach, shocked or not, would have stayed until the game was completely over! Not only did he show disrespect for himself, his team, and the organization, he showed that he is a sore loser who cannot stand to lose. Losing is not everything, you have to be a pretty low person to walk out on your team because they didn't win a game!

You need to give credit where credit is due, and coach Belichick showed that he is incapable of doing so. When your a coach, you stay BY YOUR TEAM until the very last play. What a jerk he is!

I have no problem kicking Belichick when he's down, because all season long he had no problem kicking other teams when they were down. Goes both ways.

The only thing I might agree to question is the field goal they didn't attempt. I was scratching my head when the Pats went for it on 4 and 12 when at that time, the offensive wasn't working.

1) Don't tape teams games/practices and you wont have these questions asked of you at inopportune times!

2) Don't leave the game early because you want to go cry in the locker room and you won't have anyone write a story about you wondering why you left the game early, when league rules clearly state the whole game has to be played.

What he has been obviously doing for years ......

Though I believe Belichick is a despicable human being for running out on his team, and being willing to lie, cheat, employ dirty players and admitted steroid users, and generally do anything to win, I think he's taking too much heat for the non-field goal try. Remember, his kicker had just shanked one off the TEE. Going for it on fourth down was about a 30% proposition. Punting into the end zone gives the Giants the ball 100% of the time, needing to advance only 11 yards to negate the field position gain of the punt. 4th and 13 looked like his best choice at the time - it worked out no worse than a punt would have. It backfired, but at the time gave his team the best chance to win, and even though I was pulling for the Giants, I mentioned out loud that it was a brilliant call when it happened. Give the Giants credit for capitalizing. Belichick made a lot of bad calls during the game, but the non-field goal wasn't one of them.

So the guy will cheat to win, but he will not face a loss? Though he may be a football genius, Bill Belichick is not someone I would want leading my football team.

Brady got rocked last night! I've never seen him take so many hits. That one hit when his arm got twisted and pulled as he got hit in the back and the legs! That was vicious! Also the last time he was sacked when he got knocked backed a few yards. Ah man, that was awesome! The look on Belichick's face. Hahaha. Priceless. I kind of wanted Moss and Seau to get their rings but I'm glad the cocky jerks lost. That was the greatest Super Bowl that I have ever witnessed. I don't know how Eli got the heck out of that situation but those are the plays that will live on in NFL history. I don't know which was better. The throw or the catch by Tyree. Man, I can't wait to watch that game again on NFL Network. Congratulations on a great season Pats. Congratulations on your NFL title Giants and Giants fans. Eli, you no longer are standing behind Peyton. You're standing beside him. 4th and 12. Pats go for it? Ugh.

I live in L.A and the one of the L.A times sports writers wrote an article called the 17 reasons that the Giants will win the Superbowl. It was prophetic, but the one reason that stood out most to me is that the Patriots organization earlier this week copyrighted the slogan 19-0, it made me sick. To think they'd be that arrogant, thankfully though the karma police got them. The "dynasty" is over, let the parity settle back in. Go Giants 08!

By the way, grats me on my 100th article. Here's to 900 more. Cheers =)

armchair coach
amateur historian

Sunday, February 3, 2008

How to Take a UFO Video

[Click for larger pic]

Ok, folks, this one started rolling around in my mind yesterday afternoon, and I decided to write an article about it. Be prepared, this article is a little off the beaten path of conventional thinking, but it also accurately reflects my thoughts on this subject. The central idea of the project is: how to take a picture or movie of a UFO.

This undertaking appears to be rather daunting to me, and expensive. However, given the repeated instances of events occurring during UFO sightings and close encounters, the following ideas should be taken under consideration:

1. The equipment should include dual night vision video cameras and dual infrared cameras, both zoom capable and both mounted on a tripod with a stabilizing bar so that should the observers luck out and actually *capture* a UFO on film, depth perception, speed, and object size can be determined by using mathematics. This also prevents shakiness that so often occurs with hand held cameras, which causes skeptics to sneer. Additionally, the cameras mounted on the horizontal bar should be calibrated for a slight angle inwards, much like the guns were on a WW II combat plane.

2. Because those who observe UFO phenomena are sometimes subject to kidnapping against their will, hidden cameras should be placed around the site directed at, directed away from, and unknown to the observers.

3. It has been recounted that UFO sightings sometimes occur in "waves," where multiple sightings occur over a period of days or weeks. Mobilization and deployment are paramount for the serious investigator.

4. Here's the tricky part. UFO occupants have demonstrated amazing mental powers, such as being able to freeze muscle control, causing lapses in consciousness, and being able to effectively "erase" human memory of any encounter taking place. Our own scientific understanding of such capabilities are in comparison, abysmal, limited only to simple hypnosis.

I recall an event reported in one of Budd Hopkins' books- I think it was called "Missing Time." An abductee was being repeatedly kidnapped and sought a therapist for help. The therapist suggested hypnosis in order to recall the events that were taking place. As an experiment, the therapist placed a post hypnotic suggestion into the mind of his patient, that the next time she was being kidnapped, she would become fully aware and awake, and be able to make the following statement: "I am this woman's therapist and I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE UP TO!" According to the account, the woman was able to break free of their mental grip and confront her abductors. They, in turn, were startled and astounded by this woman's resolve, but quickly subdued her again, and she was able to relate this to her therapist afterwards.

Therefore, because these beings are mentally powerful, it can be surmised that they would quickly become aware should they be observed. If you are skeptical, just stare at someone's back for a while and see what they do. In order to increase the chance of success in this study then, the observers should be hypnotized into believing they would only be recording anomalous, non-living, uncommon atmospheric phenomena; in particular, those which do not display the lights known to identify earthbound aerial traffic.

5. The US government in particular is notorious for suppressing evidence of alien visitation. One of the soldiers at the Rendlesham Forest incident was told during his "debriefing" that "bullets are cheap." Therefore, such a study should not be made public with announcements and fanfare ahead of time, such as with the show UFO Hunters. Should that program ever manage to break a story that is not dependent simply on eyewitness testimony, I can guarantee you the production facilities would be raided and personnel would be questioned and/or threatened before any incontrovertible evidence could be aired.

6. As an additional thought if money is no object, how about placing hidden video cameras in, on and around the production facilities? Additionally, one could make backups of any footage, both at the investigation site and at the production facility and send them discreetly to others around the country, should our beloved government decide to take an interest in supressing truth.

A big hello to all you government goons and thugs keeping tabs on me. Go grab some prime rib at your local Krogers and enjoy yourselves.

Ya bastads.

armchair coach
amateur historian