Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I realize I just posted something mere minutes ago, but this absolutely needs a wider audience.

Here's a fun game: Punch yourself in the face every time the author uses the word "truth" as an acceptable substitute for "something I believe in with absolutely no way of substantiating it, which isn't exactly the opposite of any reasonable definition of 'truth,' but it's pretty damn close." I bet you won't be conscious by paragraph seven.

Sorry. Back to sports now.

Did you know that this one man could liberate Darfur?

Don't know if you scallywags have been following the Bron-Bron/Darfur petition situation, but I didn't find it all that interesting until I checked out FreeDarko the other night and saw the absolute avalanche of dialogue in the comments section about this particular issue. It appears that lots of people think LeBron has failed some kind of social obligation — a product of his status — to take a stand against genocide by signing a petition telling the Chinese to stop buying Sudanese oil.


At the risk of being extremely patronizing, I really don't give a flying fuck what athletes have to say about anything that isn't germane to actual athletic performance. Etan Thomas thinks torture is wrong? Awesome, and inconsequential. Curt Schilling supports the war in Iraq? Edifying, and irrelevant. Karl Malone is a Republican? Beyond the fact that nothing angers me more than people who think black people must vote Democrat, who gives a motherfucking fuckity-fuck? And, frankly, the fact that Ira Newble watched Hotel Rwanada and decided that he needed to sluff off some guilt by starting up a petition is, at best, somewhat endearing and at worst totally pathetic (let's hope he doesn't watch Blood Diamond, and then ask his teammates to turn over their Jacob's).

This isn't to say that athletes should sit in the corner and shut up. For better or worse, athletes hold an immense amount of capital with the American public, and how they decide to spend it is their business. Manute Bol is an impressive example of what one can do with even the smallest amount of fame, and I certainly consider him to be a rare, genuine humanitarian (unlike many other "humanitarians" who are or have been decidedly un-humanistic ... paging Mother Teresa). However, I'm comfortable with the fact that Bol is an exception to the rule, and not just for athletes but people in general. The man has sunk his fortune (and offered himself up as an object of ridicule to raise even more money) for a cause he believes to be worthwhile. We should praise him, see if there's some part of his example we wish to apply to our own existences, and go on with our lives.

Despite the fact that few of us are so willing to stick our own necks out for causes we claim to believe in — something I'm guilty of myself — many of us seem to expect those in "more fortunate" positions to capitalize on it in a way we deem worthy. Yet what many seem to ignore is that, particularly in the case of extremely popular athletes, it's precisely their unwillingness to become moral crusaders that allows them to ascend to their positions in the first place. Part of what has made LeBron (and D. Wade to an almost equal extent) so popular with advertisers and the target audiences is the fact that he's almost remarkably inoffensive. I dare say that if James decided to cop Adonal Foyle's political predilections, he wouldn't be on half the commercials I see during the NBA Playoffs.

Jordan was excoriated by certain black leaders during his career for not "doing more" for the black community. To be fair, a lot of people stuck up for him in the media, but the rap always seemed to stick; in many ways, Jordan has come to symbolize what many see as the complete superficiality of athletic celebrity. I felt the attitude that was fostered during Jordan's reign as the most ubiquitous of athletic celebrities, and continues to be applied to athletes of pursuant generations, is well represented by a Will Leitch quote he's busted out a couple of times when writing some critiques of Bron-Bron the last few weeks on Deadspin (though mostly w/r/t his play in the first two games of the Pistons series):

If you want us to drink your shitty sports drink, you must make your peace with it.

I like this quote both for its simplicity and its finality: In return for creating and participating in the kind of consumer-driven economy that allows people to profit off their notoriety by endorsing products, we get to saddle those endorsers with the weight of our (often unrealistic) expectations, whether those expectations are consistent with the attributes that have made them successful in the first place. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter if we even buy the shitty sports drink; we've managed to exclude such reciprocal behavior from our demanded-upon quid pro quo. Yet (I realize this is repetitive) we create a situation in which any athlete who attempts to satisfy that demand will likely see his popularity wane. Thems the motherfucking breaks, kid.

The example that springs most immediately to mind is that of Vince Carter, who before becoming a jerk in everyone's eyes for dogging his way out of Toronto, was an NBA golden boy. During that time, he did two remarkable things: He finished up his degree at UNC during the offseason, and decided to walk the day of a playoff game. The story became an instant sensation, in no small part because it was precisely the kind of role-modely behavior we claim to desire of athletic role models. Yet when he missed that shot at the end of the game later that day, he was almost universally criticized for his "unnecessary stunt" that presumably caused him to be tired. That the entire argument was flawed — there was nothing to suggest that fatigue, as opposed to simple probability based on the fact that, I dunno, basketball players miss game-winning shots all the fucking time, led to his inability to hit the shot — was to be expected of the hacks that populate the upper echelon of sports commentary. But what stikes me is that Carter's behavior belied a perspective that was admirable, because I don't think for a second he didn't realize what kind of publicity would be generated by his decision to walk, and I think he knew that it couldn't possibly be a bad thing for young kids who admired him to see. He should have been feted for his decision to do something that, while simple, could have an even moderately profound effect on a lot of kids. Instead, he got totally roasted for it, and I have no problem assuming that the response he got to his actions that day led to him saying "fuck it" and becoming the surly asshole he apparently is today.

I absolutely believe that LeBron, who apparently spent most of his teenage life preparing himself for impending life he now leads, saw what happened to Jordan and Carter. Maybe he even saw the potential wages of actual, legitimate outspokenness — Jim Brown, anyone? — and resolved to be as milquetoast as humanly possible once he became famous. I've got to believe this, because James is quite possibly the most singularly synthetic athlete-celebrity I've ever seen (at least A-Rod comes off as a little bitch every time something goes wrong, and Tiger is an inconsolable asshole when he's playing like shit ... those may not be desirable human characteristics, but they are nonetheless human). And you know what? More power to the guy. It's obviously attractive to the makers of shitty sports drinks.

I wonder exactly what Newble was thinking when he handed the petition to James. Did he really think that the most popular athlete in America today was simply going to sign his name on a petition criticizing a huge NBA market for doing something he probably wasn't aware was happening five minutes before, and then continue tying his shoes? Forgetting the fact that petition-signing is the crown jewel of political apathy, why on earth does anyone expect someone with so much to lose to engage in any kind of political action flippantly? Why did people guffaw when James said he needed to know more about the issue before saying anything further? That's precisely the kind of rationale I wish more people would use before ascribing themselves opinions of any kind.

Instead, James has just been offered further proof that discretion — if not outright taciturnity — is the better part of valor.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sabbatical over

I can't exactly explain why I haven't posted anything in a while. There were plenty of interesting topics, but for some reason nothing I had to say about any of them were particularly interesting. Plus, I spent a few nights writing a guide to Rome for a couple of friends of mine that certainly didn't turn out like I had spent that much time on it; for someone who writes as infrequently as I do these days, I sure do seem to go through a lot of slumps. But, I'm feeling good today, so I'm going to try and play catch-up.

(Justin-like side note: I've been having some really weird pains in my chestal area lately. Despite the bad rap I get for my shaky wheels, I'm not particularly prone to fits of hypochondria, but it's been an unsettling thing for me this past weekend. The funny thing is, beside the smoking and drinking, I've actually been pretty healthy lately. But, of course, the ridiculousness of that last sentence identifies the whole problem, doesn't it? I really wish I wanted to quit smoking sometime outside the hours of 1 a.m.-8 a.m.)

1. What I've been trying to say is that David Stern is racist

The post I've lamely been trying to cobble together was a thesis piece on why the NBA commish obviously hates the black man. My inability to actually get it done is something I attributed to a "slump," but it might also be that I found elucidating the point to be much more difficult than my original arrival at the conclusion. I can't particularly break the argument down into a syllogism, which might be why I was having so much difficulty writing the post. But what I was trying to prove was that Stern has decided that the only viable target for the NBA is Corporate America, and he has concluded that Corporate America and the inner city culture adhered to by most NBA players are not sympatico. Thusly, he has spent much of his legislative time the last handful of years trying to whitewash the players, and ultimately the league. The draft age minimum, the dress code, the lowered technical thresholds are the most recent (and most transparent) amendments that aim to make the league less threatening to the rich white dudes that buy luxury boxes. The severity of the leaving-the-bench rule is a historical antecedent for the current rules, and the situation in the Suns-Spurs series brought the problem with it — it's complete lack of regard for basic human instinct — into clearer relief. That such an indefensible policy (or, more precisely, that a rule with such indefensible rigidity in its application) still exists is more de facto proof of Stern's prejudice and willingness to be irrational in his pursuit of a non-threatening league. Furthermore, the paradox of how Jason Kidd and Allen Iverson are treated by the League's marketing department is further evidence that appearances are what's truly important to Stern; despite the fact that Jason Kidd is a confessed wife-beater, he shows up in more NBA montages than the fucking logo. Iverson, on the other hand, has a fairly tame rap sheet that dates back to high school and one insanely overblown fight with his wife in which he was not really convicted of doing anything except screaming out of his patio door. But because he has tattoos and 'rows and talks exactly as you'd expect someone from a poor area of Virginia to speak. But when was the last time the League really promoted Iverson, who actually exemplifies all the clichés — grit, hustle, talent maximization — that we supposedly revere? And I don't think its difficult to find plenty of paradoxes that are equally as angering or suggestive of deeper currents.

And the real problem, of course, is that Stern presides over the league that really owes its entire existence to black people, and to only a slightly lesser extent black culture. When people talk about the issue of black attrition in baseball, I think to myself that it's unfortunate but a product of the fact that other sports — basketball and football, namely — have captured the imagination of black american athletes much more effectively than baseball. And then you look at the NBA, and realize that if Stern had his way, I honestly believe he'd turn the sport into a modern minstrel show. Can I conclusively prove this? Of course not. But I also don't believe that my theory is outlandish.

2. MyfuckinggodIcan'tstandtheYankeestalkanymore

For some reason, I end up becoming a magnet for random conversations about sports at bars. This probably serves as a reasonable explanation as to why I so rarely actually meet girls at bars, since very few girls care about breaking down the draft or debating the relative merits of the stolen base. Anyway, no matter the point a sports conversation begins at these days, it appears all conversational roads lead to the Yankees; in so many ways, that franchise is the Rome of the MLB, if not sports in general. To extend the metaphor, while Rome is clearly burning right now, it's not really as compelling as a lot of people are making it out to be.

Of course the Yankees aren't this bad. This is a better collection of players than that assembled by Tampa, and yet those two franchises share a similarly unimpressive position in the AL East. But what does that mean? A lot of things. One, the team is old, and old teams are very often hard to predict, because an individual player's decline in baseball is often sudden and precipitous. Two, the bullpen is not very good, because Rivera hasn't been sharp and Torre's spent a lot of time the last three years beating the life out of any usable arm in the group. Three, the team has been unlucky in a variety of ways. Injuries have really hurt the starting rotation, things haven't been breaking their way, and the Red Sox are looking like a 110-win team.

And that's all. Is there really anything that interesting about anything I just said there? I don't think so. So why should anyone who is not a Yankee fan — someone who will likely be a part of a rapidly growing population this season — spend any amount of time talking about this? This team is no more interesting than the Indians, who similarly played so far beneath their Pythagorean record last season that it would be the first thing omitted from a regression analysis. There was no hand-wringing from the Baseball Tonight crew, no Eric Wedge death watch. And yes, I realize that they're THE YANKEES, and this means that they're supposedly important to everyone. But, c'mon ... we have no shortage of interesting things happening this year in baseball. Can we just agree to leave it alone until they hit a hot streak and force us to acknowledge them again?

3. (Long-standing beef edition) People really need to learn the meanings of the words they use.

Feel free to use the previous section of this post as a primer for anyone who abuses the word "irony." Is it that hard a concept to understand? Irony ≢ funny. I've had three people tell me something is ironic in the last four days, and not once were they even within skeeting distance of the correct meaning of the word. I also heard someone use the term "diorama" in the following context: "There's an entire diorama of ideas going through my head." The person then followed up with the phrase "The menagerie of my business ..." at which point I suffered from immediate, widespread organ failure, and would not have survived had someone not rushed one of Bill Safire's "On Language" columns to me immediately. Lucky me, I guess.

It should be explained that I spent a good portion of the weekend hanging out with people from Scottsdale, and almost every single person I spoke to was an aspiring "entrepreneur." One of those "entrepreneurs" explained to me that he owns a porn site that remains, at press time, bereft of actual pornography. His plan is to convert one of the rooms in his new house into a studio for the purpose of creating some pornography. "I could be in the movies themselves," he said to me, keg beer in one hand as he brushed back his overgrown, styled bangs out of his eyes with the other, "but I don't think I want to get involved in that side of the business, you know? It's better to keep that separation there." He also claimed to have a grandmother who is some big shot at Pepperdine's law school, and promised to "get me in, for sure."

That story was apropos of nothing; I just felt the need to share it.

4. It is possible that both Greg Oden and Kevin Durant will be outstanding basketball players, and that neither the Trail Blazers or the Sonics will look back on this draft with regret.

One of my ongoing complaints is how everyone seems to approach questions as if the decision were binary. I realize that I've been accused of harboring "black and white" views on many things, but that's reserved for cases in which I believe the potential exists that a right or wrong answer can actually be divined. But how can anyone tell me with a straight face that they know that only one of these two guys is going to turn out to be the better pick by a significant margin? I don't mind analysis, even if it's somewhat unhinged or really just conjecture, because I understand that 24-hour sports networks need to fill up the airtime with something besides poker re-runs. But how is it that I haven't heard one analyst say that it's possible that the Blazers simply can't go wrong with this pick? Does this bother anyone else?

5. At least Greg Dobbs doesn't bother lecturing me about the evils of outsourcing.

I decide not to post for a couple of weeks, and I come back to a blog that looks more like the 700 Level than it does an argument blog. And you know those painkillers they give out for appendectomies are good when Brett Myers' injury isn't enough to fade the high of a man who's been a veritible Monsieur Visage de la Tristesse the last year or so.

At least Justin brought up one interesting point in his last post, which is how the concept of clubhouse chemistry plays into winning and losing. I happen to think there's something to be said about good chemistry; at the least, it certainly can't hurt, and to whatever extent you're willing to accept basic business principles as being applicable to the management of a baseball team, an environment that fosters respect and co-operation is highly favorable. However, I don't believe that bad chemistry is all that horrible; as Justin stated, these guys are well-paid professionals and one should expect that they don't need to like each other to do the job. So, good is good, but bad probably isn't that bad at all.

I agree that this Phillies team is compelling for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I get a lot of enjoyment watching good things happen to teams that are hamstrung by the efforts of complete idiots. I actually called Justin the other day just because I had to remark on the beauty of Charlie Manuel "shaking things up" by benching Pat Burrell for Jason Werth against soft-tosser Doug Davis a couple of nights ago. For the 400,oooth time, Burrell absolutely annihilates lefties, and even better he draws walks, which Davis is ultra-proficient at giving out. Chucky Autism cited Burrell's 1-for-10 career mark against Davis, which is more proof that the man is completed retarded. 10 at bats?!? Even an evangelical wouldn't be willing to draw any kind of inference from such scant data.

Now, the Phillies will provide me the opportunity to witness the exploits of The Sextapus — a gloss that was borne of an otherwise uneventful TGWNA field trip to Chase Airplane HangarField a couple of weeks back — on a nightly basis, since SportsCenter loves showing blown saves by frightening, misshapen, obese pitchers almost as much as it likes cross-promotion. Did we mention that Ole' Six-Fingers will be on Mike & Mike tomorrow, who will be calling the Scripps Spelling Bee, which is brought to you by Tinactin? Here's Billy the Marlin, holding up a cue card! WE'RE TOPICAL AND EDGY!


Sunday, May 27, 2007

I'll be a monkey's uncle ...

Yes, that's right, more on the Phillies. I know you don't care, but Doyle's apparently on sabbatical or some shit, it's May, and I sure as hell ain't writing about the NBA or the Indy 500, so suck it up.

And for once -- boy do I love saying this -- the Phils are kind of interesting. There's room for optim ... optom ... well, it's been so long since I used that word that I can't remember how to spell it, so there's room for hope. Consider the following:

They just swept the Braves in Atlanta for the first time since 1986. That shit just doesn't happen. Especially not when they need to do it in order to finally break .500 (now two over). I'd feel better if it happened in August, but losers can't be choosers.

Cole Hamels got his seventh win, fanning eight and giving up 3 ERs in a below-average performance. I don't want to say I told you so (Pat), but young Cole is fast emerging as the best Philly pitcher since Curt Schilling. Obviously, I and every Philadelphian with a memory have our fingers crossed, because he's got a history of injuries and he plays for the worst manager in baseball, in every category, really, but especially at managing a pitching staff. But one year and one week after his major league debut, kid Cole is already the best lefty starter in the major leagues not named Johan Santana, and the fact that his go-to pitch is a changeup bodes well for his arm. I also like the fact that Jamie Moyer has adopted him as his son (and he's old enough for the math to work). As Adam Eaton puts it in this oddly Godly Crasnick article:

"Every night, when Cole Hamels kneels beside his bed and says his prayers, he's interrupted by God, who breaks in and thanks himself for creating Cole Hamels."

Which brings me to another thing I like about this team: they get along. I rarely buy into the whole clubhouse-dynamic-as-relative-to-success angle, and I think Doyle's with me on that. Philly especially, media and fans, seems to concentrate way too much on the "feel" of its teams. I thought it was horseshit during the TO/Donny debacle and during the Larry Bowa years, when everybody thought teams weren't winning because they weren't getting along. These people are professionals; the Beatles were suing each other by the end of their run, and they still did all right.

Still, there is a certain something to this Phils squad that I haven't quite seen since '93. No longer do they have a bitching superstar waiting for a trade (Schilling, Rolen) or a hardass manager tipping coolers and calling his players out in the media (Bowa). Instead, they've got incredible young homegrown talent at key positions (Utley, Howard, Rollins, Myers, and Hamels are one of the best cores in baseball, and Victorino, while not in the same league as the rest, is proving pretty damn capable.) We've got a few free-agent pickups who have filled important roles and fit in well with the team (Rowand, Helms, Moyer). We've got Jon Lieber in a contract year, the only time he's ever any good. The bench, which everybody (including me) maligned at the beginning of the season, is quietly contributing: Bourn blazes on the basepaths, Greg Dobbs straight raked while Howard was gone, Jayson Werth has done well in spot outfield duty, and Chris Coste was solid until he got demoted again. And they get along: every other article I read is about nicknames, rookie initiations, running jokes. Even the baseball writers seem to be having fun. And maybe that won't get you wins, but it's a refreshing change from previous years, and it sure can't hurt. The boobirds have even laid off Pat Burrell, attendance is up, and I haven't heard an "E-A-G-L-E-S" chant in weeks.

And did I mention that Ryan Howard has had key hits in every game since his return on Friday, including two homers today? They've risen to two games over really without any significant contribution from him all season (his leg bothered him for weeks before he went on the DL, and was hitting .200 when he went down), but if Howard starts to hit, this team could really ignite.

Also, believe it or not, the bullpen might not be as bad as we all thought. Granted, it's not good, and not going to be. But Brett Myers apparently didn't quite pull a Dave Dravecky last week. The official word is a strained shoulder, out 3 weeks (of course, they said the same thing about Flash). Plus they might have finally found a capable lefty in Nagurski, who's been just about perfect in his two appearances. Yoel Hernandez, the righty they called up to replace Gordon, has been just as good. Madson's healthy again, which means we might finally have seen the last of Clay Condrey and/or Francisco Rosario, who have been abominable and scary, respectively. Geary's been great save for one heinous outing in which he surrendered three homers on four pitches and recorded no outs. The Sextopus is exactly what everybody expected him to be. If Myers comes back healthy and Flash never comes back at all, I actually kind of like that bullpen.

Sure, there's no way they're going to catch the Mets, who've been absolutely torrid. But I like their chances to hang in the Wild Card until the end of the season, which is the best I've come to expect, an annual ritual of testicle-stomping and inebriation that has in recent years replaced its predecessor, the Eagles' clockwork losing of the NFC Championship game to lesser teams.

Hell, in the last few weeks I've even found a Phillie to really hate, not just bipolar love/hate like Pat Burrrell but legitimate death-wish detestation. Introducing Rod Barajas, the most eminently dislikable Phillie since David Bell. His resume:

Signed for $3 milly in the offseason despite the fact that we had a good rookie ready to start (Carlos Ruiz) and a folk hero 34-year-old backup who impossibly made the majors and stuck by hitting .328/7/32 in less than 200 ABs (Chris Coste). Proceeds to hit .232/2/5 this year when he's not busy being a huge pussy who costs them games. Coste finally got called up anyway, to replace Ryan Howard, then went 2-for-6 in four appearances and was sent down when Howard came back. Now he's in AA, hopefully plotting Barajas' assassination.

I'm telling you, I like the way this season is shaping up. I won't say any more than that so I don't make myself look like an idiot. Instead, in closing, I offer you this result of a Google image search for Dave Dravecky, which I'm posting for no particular reason other than to possibly bring Doyle out of hiding:

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Continuing in the vein of news that only I care about ...

I'm currently watching the Phils at the Marlins. Willis vs. Leiber. A brief recap of the first four innings:

long rain delay to begin
benches have already cleared once, no punches
D-Train and the Big Jew have each thrown a pitch behind the other
Miguel Olivo gave Abe Nunez a concussion when he accidentally hit him on a follow-through
Gonzalez was ejected for arguing a bad call

Phils are up 2-1. This is looking interesting.

However, the point of this post is not the game. It's the Phils' ever-growing DL. The reigning NL MVP has missed two weeks but should be back soon. Ryan Madson just returned. Tom Gordon just recently started walking after arm trouble and a respiratory infection and probably won't be back this season, if ever. Fabio Castro, their only bullpen lefty, was recently demoted. And then yesterday, Brett Myers gave up 4 runs in the bottom of the ninth, then grabbed his arm and walked off the field after hearing a popping sound and feeling a shooting pain. Awesome.

How bad have things gotten in the pen? The Phils just called up a guy who started the season in single-A, presumably to close. Maybe he'll be our Papelbon, but somehow I doubt it. This is the Phillies we're talking about.

Allow me to be the first to propose the only logical nickname for a fat-looking closer named Mike Zagurski: "Bronco."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Philly has the best fans in sports: Reason #78

Because they're counting down the losses until the Phillies become the first professional sports franchise to lose 10,000 games.

In semi-related news, the Phillies are apparently so desperate for bullpen help that they're going after retired closers. Best line from that story: "Alfonseca and Geary have had stints of competence, then slid."

Friday, May 18, 2007

A pair of phenomena that I think might be related ...

1. The Phillies are 9-6 since Brett Myers became their closer. They recently reached .500 for the first time all season. During that stretch, his numbers look like this:

10.1 IP
1 ER
5 H
4 BB
15 K
5 SV

With an ERA and WHIP both below 1. I would say Charlie Manuel's gambit is working out pretty well.

2. And yet I don't hear anybody in the national sports media (nor in Philadelphia's) eating shit about it. Pretty much everybody said it was the stupidest move they'd seen all year, the mark of a desperate manager trying to save his job (I agreed with the last part, but not the first). Moving the ace to the bullpen? Craziness.

Or not. But don't expect Steven A. Smith or Howard Eskin or Jayson Stark to admit that they were wrong. Instead, they'll ignore the fact that they said it and assume that their readers are too stupid to remember news from three weeks ago.

Unless the Phils wind up in the playoffs, in which case I guarantee you everybody from Joe Morgan to the corpse of Harry Carey will be talking about how brilliant the move was.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

This shouldn't be missed

My good friend Colin, who is wicked smart, left a comment in the "I promise ..." post that's a ways down now. He's correcting some of my assertions about science, and also adds quite a bit to the argument. It shouldn't be missed by anyone who thinks this conversation is interesting. Most interesting to me is that by submitting string theory as a more rational potential explanation for the origin of the universe than god, I may be throwing stones from a glass house.

I'll be posting something soon about the consciousness issue Justin brought up, but I think it's best if we pace ourselves and allow each post to get a little time before it gets shoved down. That's why I'm keeping this one short.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I lied ...

One of the reasons I commented earlier is because I think this God thing has some potential and didn't want to see it derailed. Hopefully it won't be, so I guess I can't resist jumping in. I should really wait to see if Seth posts anything, so that this discussion might still make some small amount of sense to a person who reads this blog for the first time tomorrow, but instead I'll offer what I have as far as the rationality of believing in God or not believing in God.

Insofar as I can try to summarize the opposing points of view on this presented thus far:

Seth's: Believing in God is a rational position because neither human consciousness nor the creation of the universe can (yet) be explained as physical processes, and therefore cannot be explained by science, and therefore can reasonably be attributed to God.

Connor's: Believing in God is either irrational, or at least a less rational position than atheism, because science has historically disproven the apocrypha of religion and will likely continue to do so to the point of explaining human consciousness and the creation of the universe through advanced scientific theorum such as string theory, et. al.

Let me be the first to say that I'm coming from a less rational perspective than either of my predecessors'. I have neither an advanced degree in religion (Seth) nor a longstanding concrete religious belief based on significant amounts of reading, introspection, and consideration (Connor). Instead, I have a longstanding but uncomfortable and uncertain religious belief based on youthful indoctrination, introspection in the wake of traumatic experience, and a prodigious fear of death and the unknown. I am a lapsed Catholic obsessed with death; I view God as a guillotine.

In other words, I consider myself an agnostic. Connor has said before that being an agnostic is a copout, a position I don't disagree with. Being an agnostic is essentially saying, "I don't know if there's a God, and so I doubt the capability of humans to answer that question, and therefore I'm going to fornicate and debase myself for all of my remaining days and try to convince myself that I'm avoiding the fundamental difficulty of being human, which is wondering about God, the afterlife, and, by extension, the purpose of existence." Or, at least, that's what it means for me.

However, while it may be a copout, I would also argue that it's a rational position. And, since arguing whether or not something is a rational position without taking or advocating that position is also sort of a copout (sorry, Seth), I further will go out on a limb and say that I think being an agnostic is actually the most logical of the three positions. I mean, if we're going to try to talk about divinity in logical terms, isn't it most logical to say that we can't?

This is interesting to me both because I'm an agnostic relative to the question of God, and because I consider myself -- probably more strongly, in fact -- an agnostic in the other sense of the word, meaning that I doubt the availability of complete or ultimate knowledge. Unlike Connor, I don't think humans will ever be able to completely understand the world. Unlike (I'm assuming) Seth, I don't think that last sentence is a compelling argument in support of the existence of a higher being.

Which leaves us with three relatively well-delineated and fundamentally different positions on the most significant and timeless question of human existence. I feel like there's some potential for disagreement here. (Millions of Crusaders, Inquisitionists, terrorists, and mass murderers throughout history agree.)

The related topic that interests me most, however, is the one I broached to Connor near the end of our argument on Tuesday, after cracking something like my eighth Guinness of the night: what about the afterlife?

Connor has, in the past, joined many other atheists I've met or read who have criticized religion as an opiate, particularly because it promises an afterlife that is better than this one. I agree with this criticism wholeheartedly as a social comment: the conviction of an afterlife is not a good thing for human society in this life. An individual who cannot wait for a better life in Heaven or Wherever doesn't care much about doing anything to improve life on this planet (or in this country -- observe the destructive force that is evangelical Christianity, the second most heinous form of contemporary religion behind only radical fundamentalist Islam). This is nothing new; Edward Gibbon famously named the rise of Christianity as one of the primary reasons for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

However, that's really neither here nor there in a discussion of the rationality and/or tenability of religious beliefs themselves. The question I have, and the question I want to ask, is the same one I posed to Connor:

What do atheists think happens to human consciousness when its vessel dies? Is it really as simple of an answer as believing that it is the end of that being's existence? Do atheists imagine the lifespan of consciousness as being from the moment of birth to the moment of death?

I think this is important for a number of reasons. First, consciousness is a sticking point in this and any discussion of divinity. Whatever our disagreements regarding the term, I think we all would agree that there is something about the mentality or awareness of humans that is unique among known beings. Science may one day be able to explain consciousness, as Connor posits. But right now, it can't. So, in the meantime, does the atheist worldview assume that consciousness is a physical process not yet proven as such, and that it begins at birth and ends at death?

This strikes me as just as significant a distinction as the varying views on the nature or existence of God. The two ideas -- God and the afterlife -- are inextricably related. And one of my primary sticking points with atheism -- one of the reasons I cling to the word agnostic -- is that I think the end of consciousness I just described seems too easy.

To wit: I've often heard atheists describe religion as a comfort, but in fact it seems, at least to me, that the atheist idea of death as an end is actually the most comforting one. (Their idea of God, it should be noted, is almost indubitably the least comfortable one.) For me, the idea of consciousness ending at the moment of death has long seemed like the most desirable outcome. (Indeed, though this will surely sound more disturbing than it should, I've long felt that the most desirable eventuality of life was not being born at all.) That way, nothing you do really matters in the long term. There is no reckoning.

Perhaps that makes me a cynic; maybe it's just because I'm Catholic, and death for us is painted (often literally) as pretty much an eternal cleansing via indescribable pain. If you're lucky, you get Purgatory, which is not quite eternal. But, I would argue, the nature of Catholicism is such that few of its practitioners dare to presume their spot in Heaven. To Protestants, who seem to do that much more readily, perhaps their theist afterlife seems most comforting. I can't speak with any authority about Muslims or non-Christians. (I can hear the cries already, echoing from Appalachia: "Hegemonist!")

And I don't think I've quite wrapped this up, but morning is advancing, so I'll leave it here for now. I'm going to lull myself to sleep by listening to the new Wilco album. Perhaps soon I'll write a long post ripping it and we'll really have some fun.

I have to admit it

For the first time in the history of this blog, I'm going to admit you're right.

I didn't get upset by what you wrote because I know it's true. After putting that post together for a couple of days, I finally published it about a half-hour before I was done with work today. I spent no small amount of time going through and revising what I wrote, but I didn't concern myself with whether or not the form should in fact be revised. That's what I started thinking about roughly 15 minutes after I published, and ever since I've been regretting it more and more, because I'm pretty sure that I look exactly like the kind of pretentious jackass I often rail against. Moreso, I come off as disingenuous, because I state up front that I'm not intending to mock Seth and then proceed to use a device that can't help but come across as snarky and demeaning. It doesn't help when I leave in something like "You've got to be joking me, right?"

I considered, once I got home, taking down the post and re-working it, but what shred of journalistic ethics I have left in me compelled me to simply sit there and accept criticism as it came. If I was willing to publish in the first place, then taking it down makes me a coward.

So, sorry Seth. Your argument deserved better than that. I hope you'll understand that on issues I feel strongly about (this is clearly one of them) I have a tendency to resort to facile argumentation tactics even though I really don't need to. I hope I haven't discouraged you from bothering to participate, because what you wrote really did get me interested.

About the only thing I do disagree with you about, Justin, is the issue of citing sources. The process of linking is incredibly tedious, and I don't think I ventured too long into any particular subject that wasn't central to what I was saying. A notable example of an exception is the "god can be disproven" vs. the contrapositive, which was a statement that Seth made. Part of the problem with my statement is that the wording is awkward; it kinda sounds like god's existence has been disproven, which is not a statement I'm willing to make. What I am saying is that like any other concept, the veracity of the god hypothesis can theoretically be disproven, just like any other theory one cares to present. That is, provided we're willing to work on solid ground; the biggest issue with the god hypothesis is that it's loaded with unfalsifiable premises, and ultimately conclusions.

What I should have written, and could have if I hadn't decided to take the lazy route, was that the issue with positing that a belief in god — no matter whether they be the deistic terms set forth by Seth, or the more standard judeo-christian terms used by a large hunk of the population — is rational is that you must then provide evidence. I don't believe the difference between something being logical and rational is semantic; a logical argument must simply have a conclusion that correctly follows from its premises. A rational argument is one based on reason, which in this case means that the premises are up for verification as well. The premises that Seth used to arrive at his conclusion are, I believe, flawed because there is no compelling reason to attribute any phenomena in our universe to a supernatural being or occurrence. Conversely, the "physical" side of the aisle has consistently provided verifiable premises that have led to reasonable conclusions. I do not believe that, in examples of unexplainable phenomena, that there is an equal probability of the answer being supernatural vs. non-supernatural, because there hasn't yet been an instance in which the supernatural has explained anything. Bringing it back to the issue at hand — the creation of the universe — the point I was trying to make was that the theories that have been put forth from various areas of the scientific community can be verified, even if they haven't been yet. The converse explanation of a supernatural creator does not offer anything to be verified; it's presence in the argument is based solely on the fact that it hasn't been disproven. Ultimately, if we are to say that a belief in something is rational, one must be willing to substantiate it outside of stating — however correctly — that none of the other explanations offered can be proven.

Again, I wish I had just said that from the beginning, and left it there.

As for whether or not science has actually proven anything, I still don't quite see where you're coming from. Science, of course, has proven a lot. Even the vast majorities of "theories" have been verified to the point where they are accepted as fact, or a scientific law. Admittedly, the big ones — evolution, the big bang, etc. — are still considered theories because there some loose ends to be tied up. Likely, in the cases of both, those loose ends will never be tied up because they both deal with natural history, and we lack a complete record of everything that's happened since the inception of life and the universe. But those are exceptions; the vast majority of what we "know" has in fact been proven by observation. As for proof vs. disproof, I don't think it's a matter of value as much as it is approachability: The process of proving something is exponentially harder than the process of disproving. To use a practical example, the various theories offered up for why things fall toward the earth instead of floating were, at one time, all equally disprovable. As our ability to measure improved, all of those theories except one — the theory of gravity — were summarily discarded. Once the process of whittling down had taken place, it was then up to the interested parties to prove the theory. Once they did, it became a law. The distance traveled between it being the last acceptable theory for the observed phenomena and its acceptance as a law was, as far as I can tell, much longer than the distance traveled between the other theories and their being discarded.

In conclusion, I hope I've redeemed myself somewhat with this post. It does bother me that what I wrote earlier came off as insulting. While I'm usually comfortable creating friction, as Justin stated it's always just meant to be some fun between friends. It's obvious from the response thus far that whatever frivolity I intended to make the final cut, in fact, didn't.

God hates dishonest argumentation

I don't plan on discussing the content of your latest post, Doyle. We had it out for hours in person over essentially the same topic on Tuesday, and I don't feel like doing it again in cyberspace. I'll leave Seth to respond as he sees fit.

But I have a real problem with the tenor and form of your argument, and it's a problem I've had approximately 1000 times in other arguments with you, at least to some degree. These same tendencies are why the notion of a blog in which I argue with you has sometimes seemed tedious to me, and why I've occasionally wondered whether it's worth continuing to do it. It's one thing when you do this with me, or with Ryan, or with people you know relatively well. We know you enough to know what you're really like, outside of arguments and offline. And obviously I like that person, or we wouldn't be such good friends. However, I think it's another thing entirely when you argue in this manner with people you don't know all that well.

You're not a child, and I don't presume to scold you. But I am going to explain why I dislike this particular style of argumentation, which is not the only one you use, but which appears often enough for me to comment on it.

I respect the fact that you synthesize your knowledge and knowledge taken from other sources into a coherent argument (thought I wish those sources were given more credit). And I appreciate your willingness to take up the most significant question of human existence and propose an alternate view. But aspects of your argument (I'll specify in a second) are irresponsible and unreasonable, and they make you look far more overbearing and polemical and virulent than you really are, at least in my estimation.

The first is the line-by-line format. It's a petty device designed to make another author look stupid, which explains why it originated at FJM. That pedigree should also make you question the form's legitimacy in educated debate about topics such as God and the universe; many philosophers have taken issue with comments far "denser" than Seth's, and I don't recall ever seeing any of them critiquing them line-by-line like a high school English teacher. I think this form has become a crutch for you, and I think it's irresponsible. It obviously inhibits meaningful consideration of another's argument in favor of nit-picking, dithering, and mockery. The last time I used it on you, during the Modest Mouse discord, I recall you responding furiously. It's a cheap way to warp the other person's argument to your own devices, ignore their overall premises, and inflate small-scale, sentence-level gaps in logic out of proportion and context. To steal your favorite bromide, you're better than that.

Another is your tendency to associate both yourself and your opponent with camps of people. This almost invariably takes the form of making yourself some sort of moral warrior and your opponent one of the weak-minded masses who are ruining the world. It's also the very definition of a common rhetorical fallacy. In your latest post, you associate yourself right away with a group of people who are responsible enough to fight the evildoers of the world through atheism. (On a side note, I find the idea of feeling compelled to preach on religious matters, even against the existence of god, alarming and protozealotous; it strikes me as inverse born-again-ism.) Also early on, you label Seth a deist, which is an awfully presumptuous move, considering the basis of his overall argument (more on that basis later) -- basically, the only way you can excuse calling him a deist is to do it based on an isolated excerpt of his post, which is one more example of why the line-by-line format is irresponsible and dishonest. Later, you essentially call him an idiot with another of your worn retorts, the "you're joking, right?" I would encourage you to imagine how you would feel if somebody said that to you in an argument. You've used it on me before, and trust me: it's maddening and pretentious. And finally you accuse him, quite unfairly, of being "in league" with people who wish science would just "put down (its) beakers." (I substituted "its" for "our" to reflect the perhaps underemphasized fact that none of us, including you, has held a beaker or solved an equation in years, if ever.) I sincerely doubt that Seth belongs to that group of people.

A third, and among the most bothersome, is your unwillingness to present any sort of support for statements that direly need it. For example, your claim that "we absolutely can disprove the existence of god," and its extension, in which you claim that science has already accomplished much in pursuit of that goal. I don't believe either of those on their face, nor, I think, would most reasonable, educated people. If you're going to make a claim like that, you need to provide some examples, cite some studies, name some scientists, or otherwise give us some reason to believe what you're saying other than that you said it. I'm sure you'll say it's obvious and insult my intelligence for asking, but it's not obvious, and, on the contrary, an intelligently constructed argument takes none of its claims for granted. You've made other claims in the same vein, but that's by far the most glaring.

Another problematic tendency is not to cite your sources. I understand that we're not running an online scientific journal here; I realize nobody, me included, wants to have to put a Works Cited at the end of posts. However, I know you pretty well. I know that you don't have much in the way of a scientific background. (Neither do I, and I freely admit that.) I also know you're reading a book about atheism and that you have the internet. So I have to assume that much of your argument regarding string theory and branes and such is taken from somewhere else -- unless that asshole teacher of ours in English 255 covered that stuff during the days I missed. In other words, I think your lack of attribution of that material makes your argument both harder to believe and of suspicious provenance, and further that it does so unnecessarily. Your major premises, I would wager, are yours alone. So why make us wonder what parts of your logic are yours, and what came from somebody else with whom you agree? It certainly doesn't make a person any less smart if he uses sources -- nobody expects you to come up with the Theory of Everything from scratch.

There are a few others I could discuss. You take up the mantle of science or discard it completely as you see fit, depending on whether it supports your point at the time. You misrepresent Seth's argument a number of times. At least twice you employ textbook red herrings, and another time you call one of his points a red herring when it clearly was not. You patently misrepresent the scientific process when you say that "any time we cannot empirically prove a scientific theory, it is discarded." I know you'll disagree with that, since we spent hours yelling about it the other day, but I strongly urge you to consult any high-school science teacher about whether or not a scientific theory can be empiricially proven (and, while you're at it, science's relative valuation of proof as opposed to disproof).

However, far and away your most disturbing argumentative tendency is to ignore and/or distort and/or misconstrue the other person's argument until it seems patently ridiculous and false. Look no further than this last post. Seth was not arguing that God created the universe! Reread his argument, and let that idea sink in. He never said God created the universe. He explained how it's a rational position to think that God created the universe. There is a difference, and no, it's not semantic.

For an illustration of the difference between the two, look at your own argument. Your own essential argument takes this form:

1. Science can and will disprove the existence of God.
2. Anyone who believes in God is wrong.

You talk about positive content, and even try to provide some, and yet your entire argument is about how wrong other people are. Seth's is not. Seth is explaining how one position on an issue is a rational one. The thing is -- and I know this is anathema to you -- he never says it's the only rational view! In fact, he never says that atheism isn't rational.

And that's why there is a huge, significant difference between your argument and his. He elucidates one view while allowing for others. You attack others as a way of supporting your own. You probably think it's academic to allow for other possible viewpoints, but it's not. It's just argumentation and analysis. Believing others are wrong does not make you right, and those who are right rarely prove it by showing how wrong others are. Even when you claim to be offering "positive content," all you're really doing is questioning the opposing view. Why believe in God? Why not believe in God? Why don't you explain the latter, instead of asking the former? That would be positive content. And that would also be a hell of a lot harder. You often profess your dislike for academics, and yet your entire "philosophy" at the end of your post is predicated on rhetorical questions directed at the opposition. You don't say why we should believe what you believe. You say why we're stupid for believing what we believe. That's awfully academic, awfully patronizing, and pretty fucking hard to swallow.

This may sound like a rebuke, and I suppose it is, but it really wasn't written in anger or in hopes of upsetting you or proving you wrong (which I can't hope to do here, since I didn't even discuss the topic itself). I'm just sick of seeing this same style of argumentation. You know I don't dislike you. I shouldn't have to tell you that. I regard you highly as both a person and -- this is rarer, for me -- as a writer. I've told you that repeatedly. And I understand that this probably sounds really patronizing. But I just don't understand why you tend to be such an absolutist in these arguments: you are right, and anybody who disagrees is wrong. It's uncalled for and unreasonable, and I think you'd convince a lot more people if you stopped doing this sort of thing.

Monday, May 14, 2007

It'll only happen once, I promise

In the past, I've considered going in non-sports directions with this blog, but it's pretty obvious that everyone likes it best when we stick to the fun stuff. However, since a certain grant-scamming friend of ours decided to take a long-promised crack at making a rational argument for God's existence in the comments section of the last post, I'll allow myself the luxury of entering into one of my favorite running arguments. If you don't feel like reading this kind of shit, don't go past this point, and wait until I make the promised post about "common knowledge" in baseball and how terribly flawed it is (I think that's what I promised to write about ... it's been so long). And, as always, if anyone wants to keep this going, I'm game.

Considering the density (as in volume) of Seth's comments, I'm going to do the cut-and-paste method of returning fire, though I'm taking great care to not sound snarky. Whatever I may think of Seth's argument, I certainly don't think it's worthy of derision. Just some thought, and eventually debunking.

* * *

First off, all this talk about whether or not God exists is pointless.

I know this isn't central to what you wrote, but I still take issue with it. It could be safely said that there may be no more important thing to talk about these days. In case you haven't noticed, pretty much every fucked up thing that's happening in the world today is being done by people who claim to be doing "God's bidding." Any rational person that understands that there either is no god, or at least is willing to dismiss the concept of an interventionist god, has the responsibility to fight this rampant ignorance at every opportunity.

But, I'll leave that for another day.

That's not the central question, in my opinion, because there's no way to actually know.

I don't believe this for a second. It's a common saw for theologians, who rely on our agnostic tendencies to do the heavy lifting for them. But it's a smokescreen; we absolutely can disprove the existence of god, provided we don't allow the "unfalsifiable" definition in play. Some people think it's already been done, others not so much. But to say you can't figure it one way or the other doesn't jive with the body of scientific work we've done to this point. I'll place my bet on science coming through in this regard; how confident do you feel taking the other side of that action?

Rather, I'm simply referring to the being(s) who created mankind. The only attributes I can derive about this being is that (s)he's more powerful and more knowing than mankind, but (s)he's not necessarily omniscient or omnipotent. Finally, I make no claims about his/her morality.

OK, so you're a deist. Honestly, I'm cool with that. Most of my favorite historical figures were deists, too, though in many of their cases I suspect they were really atheists trying to avoid the stigma of not buying into the supernatural. But deism is ultimately non-threatening, because you propose the existence of an irrelevant being. We're cool on this tip, because the only god that could possibly exist is like the one you propose. It's definitely a "he," though.

First, in consciousness studies, there a debate about the “Hard Problem,” which simply stated, is how does consciousness originate? Some scientists believe, incredulously in my opinion, that consciousness is merely a physical process and so they go about studying the brain hoping to make the link between physical processes and consciousness. Until they can make that link, which of course I (and numerous other scientists, philosophers, and theologians) don’t think they ever will, it’s rational to believe that consciousness is not merely yet another physical process, especially when the empirical evidence leans (if not proves) that consciousness is fundamentally different than physical processes.

Some "scientists" believe in Intelligent Design. Some "scientists" believe that the "soul" weights 21 grams. Some "scientists" propose that dinosaurs and humans lived side-by-side. I cannot worry myself with what some "scientists" say, no more than I can theologians. What we can worry about is scientific consensus (or near-unanimity, which is more common and almost as telling), and failing the availability of that, perhaps a little bit of Occam's Razor until science picks up the slack.

Riddle me this: Why anyone would be more incredulous at the suggestion that "consciousness" is the result of a physical process than they would be at the suggestion that a divine being, who exists outside of the physical realm, created the universe and the Earth and, after waiting a few billion years, decided to grab a particular group of primates and give them "consciousness" (I'm assuming that you at least accept the theory of evolution, and thusly admit that humans evolved into the state we're in today), which he didn't want any other species to have? As far as I can tell, one seems befitting a children's book, and the other just looks like a work in progress.

And tell me how your representation of god-given consciousness would be less ridiculous sounding than mine.

Awareness of a physical object and the physical object itself are two fundamentally different things, and cultures all around the world have historically recognized this by making the distinction between mind and body.

I'm not mocking you here, really, because I do understand your point about how ubiquitous the mind/body dichotomy is throughout human history, and it's worth considering. But it is important to note that throughout human history, we've almost always worshipped interventionist deities, considered women to be the lesser of the genders, condoned corporal/capital punishment, and warred over religion. Just because we've shown an inability to shake (or disprove) some beliefs doesn't make them any more valid.

I’m simply suggesting that until scientists can prove otherwise, it’s rational to believe this. Of course, if consciousness doesn’t come into being through a physical process, then it must come into being through a non-physical process. So there you have the first argument: it’s rational to believe in God (as defined above) because it’s rational to believe that consciousness came into being vis-à-vis a non-physical process.

Folks, what we have here is an honest man, and that's why I respect Seth in spite of our disagreements. He is openly using the "God of the Gaps" argument as a proof, instead of trying to dress it up like most theologians. In syllogisms like this, god is immediately granted the default position, despite a complete lack of justification for that being the case. Here's a quick breakdown:

A) Consciousness exists;
B) Consciousness cannot be explained (yet) by any physical phenomena in the human brain;
C) All things that are unexplainable by known physical laws/properties must have a supernatural explanation;
Ergo: The existence of human consciousness is proof of a supernatural "creator," or at least justifies a belief in such a creator.

Your argument is logically sound, provided we're willing to accept the premises. But why should we? We hold science to an exacting standard, and any time we cannot empirically prove a scientific theory, it is discarded or brought back to the drawing board. This is the way it should be, and you're right to say that science has not resolved the issue of consciousness yet. But suddenly your evidential standards disappear when god enters the picture; despite the fact that not a single phenomena on this planet or the observable universe has ever been empirically linked to a supernatural phenomena, it is still trotted out as a potential answer. How many times does that theory need to fail before it's finally drummed out of the process?

Second, I’ll accept whatever science concludes about the origins of the universe, but then I’ll ask: what caused it?

Dunno. But lots of really, really smart people are working on it, so get back to me in a couple of years.

At some point along the causal chain, scientists will not be able to answer this.

If you have any proof of the veracity of this statement, or even a compelling reason to believe it's likely, present it. Otherwise, it might be advisable to hedge.

And by the way, if fifty years from now it turns out the universe wasn’t created through the Big Bang but through some other process, my question will remain: what caused it.

I assume that such a radical departure from a near-perfect theory would imply that, to the contrary, we've discovered the impetus for the creation of the universe and it's inconsistent with the big bang. The reason I'm willing to state that assumption is because no observable phenomena or existing (and accepted) mathematical or physical law contradicts the general principle of the big bang theory; in fact, the beauty of the big bang is that it's based on one of the most fundamental concepts in the physical world, the Theory of General Relativity. The only area of the theory we can't prove anything about right now is its impetus, so that's really the last step.

It's important to note what I've done here: I admit that the big bang might be wrong. It's possible, though so unlikely as to make for a pretty poor topic of conversation. Its perfection as a theory stems from how well it's worked with the new information we've gathered since it was originally proposed. However, its titanic flaw as a theory is that it can only give us some hints as to why we can't yet explain the problem of causation. But it has given us hints; I'll get to that in a second.

Getting back to the Big Bang, it seems to be that there are a few options for theorizing its origin: nothing caused it, God caused it, we don’t know caused it.

This is oversimplification to the extreme. First, the "nothing caused it argument" is a red herring, since no one really has legitimately proposed it as an answer. No matter the differences between theologians and non-theologians w/r/t to the beginning of the universe, the one thing we can all agree on is that something happened.

However, while your cohort may be neatly bundled in theory No. 2, you won't find that unanimity among the scientifically minded or oriented. In fact, there are lots of theories that vary in how well they stand up to observable phenomena/physical laws. Examples can be found here, here, and here. And that's what I found in about a minute.

What do all these theories have in common, besides not having been proven? None of them require any more suspension of disbelief than the sentient creator argument does. Much less, actually, since they're all hinged to some kind of scientific theory that can be proven (even if those theories alone cannot prove the extrapolated theory). God, on the other hand, is in direct violation of every physical law we know, and pretty much any other one we could possibly come up with.

As for the third option, the one that most scientists profess, if we don’t know what caused the Big Bang, then it’s perfectly rational to believe that it was caused by a being. After all, it was either caused by a physical process or a conscious process, and since, according to option 3, we don’t know which, then it is perfectly rational to believe that a conscious being was responsible.

As was the case with the consciousness argument, the supernatural does not get the benefit of being a default position. Furthermore, you offer us only a binary decision — it's either physical or god/consciousness — without justifying the elimination of other options or the presence of god as a choice. This is Science 101: No one rides for free. If anything — a theory, idea, law, proof, concept — wants to be included in the scientific process, it must justify its inclusion. At no point in time has the god hypothesis proven, scientifically, to be any more valid than theories regarding the existence of wish-granting genies, UFOs, lesbians who don't carry grudges against men, demons and Mike Hargrove's excellence as a baseball manager. The only difference between the god hypothesis and the others is that you're considered a fucking lunatic by the vast majority of people if you believe in the latter grouping, and you're a de facto dead man walking as a political candidate if you admit to not believing in the former.

When you say that we can't show a physical process that served as the impetus for the big bang, you're doing so based on the fact that many people have proposed that it was created by a certain physical process, and then tested those hypotheses in an open manner, ultimately concluding that the theory (at least in its state at that time) does not pass muster. That is an intellectually honest process, which encourages progress and criticism (the backbone of knowledge). But when you (or others) say that the other alternative is a conscious process, there is no willingness shown to actually test such a theory. What weak "science" has been done on creationist theories is never open for examination, and even then nothing of note has come out of those rigged processes (most religious leaders criticize the efforts of some to lend scientific credence to theistic beliefs because it's usually nothing more than another opportunity for ridicule from the opposition). Despite the fact you're willing to use the scientific process to eliminate the possibility that a physical process is the underpinning of the creation of the universe (or at least claim that it's not (as?) rational to believe in such a thing), you claim that the alternative cannot be held against scientific standards. To borrow a hackneyed phrase, what's good for the goose is good for Jesus.

(Yes, I know, you're not arguing for the Abrahamic god; it was just meant to take the edge off)

Actually, I’d go so far as to say it’s the more rational choice, because if the Big Bang were caused by a physical process, then it’s unclear why scientists have no epistemic access to this information.

No sarcasm: This is a joke, right? It's one thing to allow that there's justification for deistic tendencies, but it's another to say that it's more rational than the alternative, which is simply dealing with the facts and waiting for those we don't have yet to come in. And of course it's clear why scientists have no access to this information: Our instruments and known theories, if not our brains, are not sophisticated enough to figure it out. String theory, the rock star of theoretical physics, has hit a wall in recent years after a long period of exponential gains. But the vast majority of people within the field believe that it's just a matter of time before someone or something allows us to break through that wall. If that's the case, string theory is our most likely candidate to explain the origins of the universe. But right now, considering where string theory could take us is to still operate in the abstract.

Furthermore, you betray some ignorance of the big bang theory in some of your statements to this point. The big bang posits of a singularity, or the generally agreed-upon point of origin for the universe, based on the theory of general relativity. But while general relativity can bring us to the singularity, it can't make us drink: GR breaks down at the point of the singularity because the values are infinite (if I'm wrong about any of this, please correct me ... I'm no physicist). And, if we've got a breakdown of one of the most fundamental physical theories at the beginning of the universe, it's completely rational to expect that the rest of them aren't applicable either. Now, this doesn't yield much in terms of positive content: Just because we can prove that a bending, or breaking, of our universe's physical laws took place at its inception point doesn't mean we know which laws did apply, or how the laws we live by were altered in that state. As the years go by, however, our guesses are becoming more educated, if not bolstered by evidence or theoretical probability. The one thing most people in the field will tell you is that the answer is probably mind-bending, since it could potentially involve the introduction of three times as many dimensions, or a metaphorical super-universe in which our universe is like a bubble floating through space. Does all of that sound totally, utterly, super-crazy? Sure! And so does believing in a sentient creator. The only difference is I won't believe in branes until they're proven; you believe in god until its proven otherwise.

I want to finish with what troubles me the most about theistic arguments: They almost never have positive content. I have yet to hear a single theory as to how god created the universe, or even why it's rational to believe that it's possible that god created the universe, that isn't based entirely on the "gaps" argument (both of your defenses fit this description). And, truthfully, it is only in the land of the gaps that theists have a leg to stand on, since it only requires a willingness to accept one faulty premise (God is an acceptable explanation for anything that can't be explained by science) for it to be logical. That I, and other atheists, are unwilling to accept that faulty premise is where the line in the sand is drawn.

However, worshipping within the gaps, metaphorically speaking, is an unenviable situation. Those gaps get smaller every day, and even within those gaps there is no real evidence that god is an acceptable answer; it's only that god has yet to be ruled out completely. Plus, there's always the footsteps of science coming; to borrow a metaphor, your cohort is betting the under on the growth of scientific understanding of the universe. Every advance that is made in knowledge brings us closer to the day you lose your bet, and once you've lost your money it's lost forever. That doesn't sound like a wise gamble to me.

* * *

I know I've already written a lot, but I don't want to end without making this a fair fight. Right or wrong, you were willing to place on digital paper a thesis, and it would be wrong of me to think that by simply picking your argument apart that I've accomplished anything. I remarked earlier that my beef with theistic explanations is their lack of positive content, but I have yet to offer much in return.

So here's my philosophy, wrapped in the kind of rheotrical question historically adored by theists: What's the point in believing in God if he is what you say he is? You've eliminated the idea of god as intercessor, which removes the primary motivation for most of his worshippers in the world. And, despite the fact that I think believing in this sort of deity to be equivalent to worshipping the Easter Bunny, at least it makes some sense as to why someone would waste his or her time bothering. Every kid in the world believes that it's entitled to get things for no better reason than simply desiring those things; those who pray to god in hopes of some kind of divine favor strike me as never having grown out of that phase. Nevertheless, I see at least a motivation to maintain this form of supernatural belief, much like I understand why people who make money by "contacting the dead" are best off if they believe in ghosts.

But it's you deists who truly confuse me, and I'm writing this knowing that almost all the people who regularly read this blog fit into this category, even if you still claim to be Christian. You tell me that god is nothing more than an ambivalent chemist, who stirred up the universe, baked it in the oven, left it to dry on the counter and then promptly left for a tennis match and forgot all about it. Well, OK, but who cares? If god has no active role in our world, our lives, or universe, what's the point of even believing in him? This does not, to me, sound like the kind of god who comes with a heaven, so I can't imagine it's because you expect some kind of reward in the afterlife. This does not, to me, sound like the kind of god who can provide someone with peace of mind, or a better understanding of self, or a moral code to live by, so I can't imagine it's because of the myriad benefits religious apologists attribute to spiritual belief despite reams of evidence to the contrary (OK, maybe that's unfair ... it does have that effect for some people, and more power to 'em). And this does not, to me, sound like the kind of god that gives a flying fuck if you believe in him or not, so I can't imagine any motivation to even bother mentioning him.

Furthermore, why is it preferable to attribute a phenomena to "god," as opposed to "igorance?" Most of the things that have been attributed to supernatural phenomena in historical civilizations have been proven today to be completely explainable. It seems ludicrous today to think that drought serves as a message from a scorned deity, yet we seem to forget that such an explanation was as "rational" in the time of the Roman Empire as believing that a supernatural being kicked off the big bang is today. Haven't we learned better by now than to think that such ignorance is a permanent state? It seems that anyone who has studied history would be prone to at least lean toward the side of science, which has racked up every single victory over theistic mythology since pretty much the dawn of time.

Lastly, the reason I bristle at the idea of god as the impetus is that it encourages us to just put down our stupid beakers and accept the divinity. You may not feel that way — I hope not, at least — but that's certainly the way most of the people you're in league with feel. I have no desire to censor certain beliefs — I don't care if you think that we should worship the snail darter as the most advanced species in the world, provided you do so on your own time — but I certainly don't think ideas as such should be introduced in science classes, where students are supposed to be introduced to the factual world. If a student in science class asks what caused the big bang, the appropriate answer is that the jury is out, but a few hours on wikipedia will likely surface some interesting theories of varying levels of probability. And that's the end of the discussion, because there's lots to learn that we know is based in fact. If someone wants to learn about god, go to church or take theology classes; no other subject in the academic cannon can suffer the indignity of speaking of unfalsifiable theories as if they exist on the same plane as hard science.

I know this is probably overkill on the subject, but it was just too much fun to get into. Also, I offer you a posting account on the site, so you're not stuck leaving responses in the comments section. Lastly, come harder.



Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Just a tease

I've got a biggums coming soon, but here is a quick TSTIHAD from TGWNA BFF Joe Morgan:

Joseph Feldstein (Stamford, CT): Behind Glavine, Maine, Perez, and Pelfrey who should be that 5th starter until Pedro returns?

<span class=SportsNation" height="11" width="24"> Joe Morgan: I really like Maine and I think he will be a very good pitcher. I think the Mets are going to win the East.

Honestly, if you're one of Joe Morgan's kids and you read this chat, you've got to be a little worried about the pops, right? Doesn't he sound like he's going to be forgetting where he put his teeth soon? (Correct answer: Wrapped around Frank Robinson's dick)

Anyway, I've been reading The God Delusion, and despite the fact that I'm only about 100 pages through after a couple of days, it's already beginning to adjust the way I see things (obviously not in terms of religion; more in terms of how I view people who continue to believe in things despite mountains of evidence that proves the opposite is correct). Here's another Q&A from the Morgan chat:

Muggsi (Newport, Rhode Island): Hi Joe, please answer a Tigers question for me. I'm curious about the work that Lloyd McClendon is doing with Curtis Granderson. He's not striking out as much (for now), and he seems to be a little more patient. But he always seems to be in 0-2 counts. Should this be addressed, and if so, will he become a better hitter because of it? Thanks for your response.

<span class=SportsNation" height="11" width="24"> Joe Morgan: He will be a better hitter with patience and and once he learns how to handle pitch counts. You do not want to be 0-2. I talked to him last season and he is a very smart player, and I think he will be a very good player. I think McClendon can really help him if they work together.

While this really is the perfect example of a Joe Morgan response to a question -- he doesn't actually ever answer the question, he mentions that he talked with the player at some point and has something obliquely nice to say about said player, thinks the player will be "good," and gives some unnecessary dap to a manager/coach that only Joe Morgan thinks is actually competent -- that's neither here nor there. What is important is that Joe's not alone in thinking that 0-2 counts are a product of poor pitch counts/discipline. While this certainly can be the case, I wonder if it really is?

That's a rhetorical question; I already know the answer. I'll write more about this, and other TGD-inspired perspectives, after I manage to get the other half of TGWNA the F off my couch.

Monday, May 07, 2007

This is excellent...

I love this photo. (Courtesy

Thursday, May 03, 2007

It's official ...

Brett Myers is now the Phillies' closer. I'm betting he will be for the rest of the season, barring injury.

Now if we can only find some use for Freddy Garcia ...

In unrelated news, tell me this isn't the most inane column you've ever read. Forget all the stuff that gets exaggerated and beaten to death -- booing Santa, for instance, which happened 30+ years ago -- the town's treatment of Donovan McNabb is the one thing that really makes me wonder about Philadelphia. He's clearly the best quarterback in the history of the franchise, almost single-handedly turned the franchise around, and yet all the media and fans do is go out of their way to assassinate his character.

Yet they adored AI.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Don't really want to divert attention away from the long post about Josh Hancock I just put up, but I just saw this on the 700 level: Trotter and Brown might be demoted.

The Trot thing isn't a huge surprise, considering his KIAA (Knee-Injury-Adjusted Age) of 39. I bet he'll still be in there on first and second down, though.

Sheldon's a different story. Dude was arguably their best corner in 2005 and has single-handedly won them a couple games in the last few years (I'm thinking particularly of the rally he started with a beautiful pick-six against the Chefs a couple years back, and a similar play against the Cowgirls either that year or last). Do I smell a move to safety? Please? (Do yourself a favor: mute your speakers before clicking that.)

On the bright side, I get to drop my new favorite nickname much more next year if William James starts: "The Philosopher." Get it? Because everybody confuses the James brothers? (Henry was the fiction writer.) This could be the biggest stroke of luck for lit dorks since Arizona had a starting d-end named "William" Carlos Williams.

On Tragedy, Death, and the Difference

Two days ago I began a post about the sports media's response to Josh Hancock's death -- ESPN's, particularly, although the response seemed uniform across the major outlets. I started it -- for me, that means like 1000 words -- and then put it away because I didn't have time to finish. The gist of my argument was that prominent members of the baseball media, particularly Gammons, Wojo, and Stark, were abusing the word "tragedy" and needlessly deifying a relatively insignificant person simply because he was dead and used to play baseball. I find that treatment nauseating, mostly because I think it actually trivializes the life of the person in question; in other words, I was not arguing that Josh Hancock's death was insignificant, or underestimating its effect on those close to him -- merely pointing out the hypocrisy of how the sports media treats its dead.

Well, now things are a bit more complicated. It turns out Hancock had a bit of a history of driving around late at night and getting into accidents, and also that he had a few drinks that night (some with ESPN's own Dave Campbell), and may have been drunk. It's worth noting that nobody knows for sure whether he was drunk; the only evidence I've seen is a statement by a couple that saw him hours before the crash, and toxicology reports have yet to be released. And then, in a typical bit of megalomania, Tony LaRussa threatened to go ballistic on the media for having the gall to report that a dead man might have been to blame for his own death.

I began my previous post with a link to a Phils/Braves gamer that didn't focus on the game itself nearly so much as Tim Hudson's performance in the wake of his grandmother's and Hancock's deaths. Hancock was his teammate at Auburn, and apparently was still a friend, although I have to wonder whether they were truly still good friends, or whether a reporter asked him if he was close to the dead guy and Hudson didn't want to say "not really." It makes a much better story if they were close. But that's idle speculation: the point is that the story clearly made Hudson out to be courageous for doing his job so soon after a pair of losses.

I don't think that's so courageous at all. I'm not saying it's easy to pitch eight good innings -- not under any circumstances, much less while thinking, at least occasionally, about a dead grandmother and a dead former college teammate -- but I don't think it took courage. (Note: the story didn't use the word courageous. I'm just trying to make a distinction here.)

And here's why: Tim Hudson is a 31-year-old man. It's never easy to lose a family member, but let's face it: by 31, most people have lost at least a grandparent. It's an unfortunate probability at that point. She had apparently been sick for some time. Again, I'm not saying her death is any less traumatic, but it's not so remarkable for a 31-year-old man to go to work and do his job shortly after his ailing grandmother has died. It happens every day in offices across America. And it happens because losing one's grandmother to a long illness at the age of 31 is not a tragedy. It's just life.

Which brings us to Josh Hancock and the matter of his untimely death. Presumably -- if you read the article, it's fairly obvious -- that was the main focus of the article's tragedy/courage angle. His grandmother might have merited a mention, but Hancock got the first line, as well as more page space. The implication is that Josh Hancock's death was tragic, and there's more of an argument for that: he had just turned 29, had finally established himself with a team after a career lived on the margins (he was a Phillie three years ago and I can't remember ever hearing of him, so that should tell you something about his early career).

But I don't think Josh Hancock's death was a tragedy. And I didn't think it was before the news broke about his respective driving and drinking habits.

Before I proceed with this, a disclaimer. I often bristle at human behavior in the wake of death. And I am rarely able to make myself understood when that happens. So before I elucidate this tragedy vs. death argument, let me first assure you that I would attribute a whole lot of adjectives to Josh Hancock's death: sad, premature, devastating for those who knew him well, lamentable, etc. Although I know almost nothing of him, it's also safe to say that he was a remarkable person, simply because the he was good enough at what he did to reach the most elite level of competition. He wasn't a great major leaguer, nor even a good one, but let's not forget how hard it is to make the majors. And, really, the death of anybody is a terrible event in many ways, especially for those who have to live on without them.

However, his death was not a tragedy, as Gammons and Wojo and Stark all proclaimed it.

Dictionary definitions typically make a convenient refuge for equivocating assholes whose argument cannot support itself on logic. However, since I'm arguing once again against the media's sensationalist abuse of language, it's worth investigating the linguistic definition of tragedy. (All ensuing material taken from the Oxford English Dictionary Online.) The word comes from ancient Greek, and every modern English usage stems from the type of play:

1. A play or other literary work of a serious or sorrowful character, with a fatal or disastrous conclusion: opp. to COMEDY1 1. {dag}a. In mediæval use: A tale or narrative poem of this character.

Including the definition which applies to Stark & co.'s usage, which is figurative:

3. fig. An unhappy or fatal event or series of events in real life; a dreadful calamity or disaster. (Cf. COMEDY1 4.)

The scribes in question could fall back on the dictionary and say that Hancock's death was, definitively, a tragedy: a fatal event or series of events in real life.

However, that's not the sum of the definition -- which indicates that the event must be of a scale that constitutes a "dreadful calamity or disaster," neither of which Hancock's car wreck was. And it certainly doesn't fit the contemporary connotation -- that oft-forgotten other half of a word's meaning -- which, I think, necessitates a larger scale of significance. A tragedy is a fatal event that kills a lot of people -- a bus crash, a ship sinking -- or one that's significant to a large number of people -- Princess Di's death -- or one whose significance is inflated by exacerbating circumstances: the death of a child, deaths which the person could not possibly have anticipated or prevented, deaths in ways we consider odd: baseballs to the temple, murder, congenital defects.

Josh Hancock's death fits none of those conditions. And that certainly is not his fault -- he's beyond caring how people categorize his death -- which is something I never said and don't want to imply. This is not about Josh Hancock. This is about how we treat death. And what I'm trying to say is exactly this:

Death is not tragic, in and of itself.

Tragedy is defined by circumstances. We just like to think that death is tragic, and like to say it too, because it helps us think of death as remote and odd instead of as something that's coming to all of us, likely sooner than we think. It helps us "other" the dead. I could go on about this forever: I've written 25-page grad-level term papers on this very tendency in literature, specifically as committed by two pen-wielding luminaries of the last half-century, Truman Capote and Haruki Murakami. So I'm not blaming the media specifically for doing something I consider it human nature to do.

What I am blaming them for is the reason I think they're calling it a tragedy in the first place: because Josh Hancock was a baseball player.

As I previously said, Hancock was not a remarkable person in any other way obvious to objective observation. That's not a criticism: by definition, not many people are remarkable. He may have been a wonderful human being, kind and humble and good to his family (although, again, it's worth nothing that the fact of his death makes that possibility no more likely). But the only reason we've heard of him, or of his death, is because he played major league baseball.

Gammons and Wojo both fail to acknowledge that elephant in the corner, preferring instead to make tepid Daryl Kile comparisons, despite the obvious and unavoidable (and legion) differences between the two situations; really, the only similarities are that they both pitched and they both played for the Cardinals. They call it a tragedy without ever considering that it might not be a tragedy for a baseball player to die in the manner of thousands of average Americans every year.

Jayson Stark, on the other hand, takes a more interesting tack. He acknowledges that Hancock was not that significant in baseball terms, and yet he's the only one of the three who really focuses on the dead man, in particular his work during the Cards' Series season last year. And he only invokes the word "tragedy" once, as an adjective, in the second paragraph.

I suppose it's obvious I think Stark handles the story best. He shows a perspective and aversion to breathlessness rare in times like this, and, I would argue, even rarer among sportswriters at large. Every time an athlete dies, a litany of scribes effuse over his grit and heart and specialness, especially when it's during a slow stretch of news such as this one, as April ends and baseball writers are forced to move on from hackneyed features about hope and popping gloves. (In a week, of course, they will have forgotten Hancock completely -- on to newer news.) Stark, on the other hand, tones down the "tragic" aspect: as he says, "But in baseball, life happens, and death happens."

The only trouble is that baseball has nothing to do with it. Or, perhaps, that baseball should have nothing to do with it. Just because a person is on an active professional roster (and make no mistake, if Hancock had been demoted two weeks before his death, we wouldn't be having this discussion) doesn't mean his death is necessarily tragic. It's just one more example of ESPN writers pouncing on an event and inflating its significance beyond any reasonable frame. And why? Because inflating its significance inflates their significance. It disgusts me more when the event they're exploiting is a person's death. As Ryan quite trenchantly said in an earlier comment, why should we care about Josh Hancock? I'd like to hear anyone answer that without bringing up baseball or the fact that ESPN wrote a lot about him.

At the very least, let's not pretend they did it for his sake. I sincerely doubt all of their attention to the issue has helped anybody involved, especially not his family, and definitely not his teammates. So perhaps these smug glory-whoring pricks should can their smarmy bleating and go cover some baseball.