Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Hurricane of Hypocrisy

Pro-afterlifers, especially of the Abrahamic (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) variety, believe that the faithful adherents of their particular superstition go to heaven when they die. They also believe that heaven is a wonderful place. So wonderful, in fact, that it’s far more enjoyable than any place or state of existence currently conceivable by us mortal humans. And as I’ve noted in a previous blog entry, many pro-afterlifers of the Christian variety are so excited about heaven that they just can’t wait to get there. Some of them even hang out on rapture-themed forums, praying with each other for God to initiate a Biblical Armageddon and take them all up into heaven; to figuratively and literally kill them (although they would likely disagree with my “kill them” characterization, the only way to get into an immaterial heaven is to expire physically. So no matter how you cut it, they technically want to die).

But what happens to these death-worshippers’ wishes when they are called to task? What happens to their convictions when the cards are laid out on the table? Hurricane Katrina recently barreled through the United States, causing incredible amounts of damage, destroying the homes and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. And while the body counts have only just begun, we can be pretty sure that there are thousands dead, if not tens of thousands.

Every American, from Christian to atheist, is mourning this national tragedy. What I have noticed most is the universal outcry of grief from all superstitious (pro-afterlife) bodies. There are editorials in pro-Israeli news publications where the blame for hurricane Katrina is put on Americans for supporting the Gaza pullout. There are Muslims claiming that the hurricane is punishment from Allah. Surely there will be Christian leaders who will claim that Katrina is God’s punishment for gay marriage, or abortion, or some political issue. While I think those kinds of opinions are ignorant and grossly inhumane, I also think it is interesting to see that regardless of the wide variety of interpretations of the meaning of this hurricane, they are all negative in nature. Specifically, all superstitious bodies, both pro and anti-American, consider this hurricane to be a very calamitous event for those affected.

If heaven is a better state of existence than this life, and if the afterlife is supposed to be our ultimate goal, then why do these superstitious bodies consider this hurricane a calamity? To be fair, a Muslim would assume that the infidels who died in Katrina’s path are destined to arrive in hell, not heaven. But what about the Christians? America is about 85% Christian, and the area that Katrina hit is a bit more Christian than the coastal areas of America. So we can assume that of those who died in Katrina’s path, at least 85% of them are Christians. And according to the Christian worldview, most of these people would be destined for heaven. So again, why would these superstitious bodies universally view the hurricane as a calamity? Shouldn’t they be rejoicing that God came and swept a bunch of faithful followers up into heaven? When God came to test their faith, the pro-afterlifers balked. When their opponent called, the pro-afterlifers folded their hand.

I think that Katrina proved just how much Christians (and other theists) commit the stolen concept fallacy. They act like heaven is “the bomb,” but when the (figurative) bomb drops, they flip-flop. There are a few exceptions, like the infamous 9/11 hijackers and the Palestinian suicide bombers, but under the gun, they borrow from the materialist worldview and recognize that death is a bad thing. So much for the “no atheists in foxholes” claim! These pro-afterlifers all became temporary atheists and ran for their material lives as soon as Katrina showed up.

If you believe in God, and you believe that your faithful self will go to heaven when you die, then Katrina is God’s will, and if you are in Katrina’s path, that means God has chosen you for the VIP line into heaven. No more waiting in line because you get the fast-pass! Why try to defy God’s will and evacuate? I say you should climb to the roof of your house, spread your arms wide and scream to the sky, “Thank you God for taking me off the stairway to heaven and putting me on the teleporter! Beam me up, Jesus!”

I expect 99.9% of all pro-afterlifers to consider my argument preposterous. Well, that’s my point. Why would a pro-afterlifer consider this argument ridiculous? because they are borrowing from the materialist (atheist) worldview! Sure, they will spend all day praying for rapture and the subsequent Armageddon. Sure, they will fantasize about how marvelous heaven is and how horrible this material reality is. But when push comes to shove; when it’s time to show your cards; when it’s time to pay the bill (and numerous other metaphors), these pro-afterlifers don’t really want to go to heaven! They fear for their lives! They don’t want to die!

Therefore, they lack the courage of their convictions. Their true colors are shown. When they lay their cards down, we discover that they were bluffing all along: Their hand is a royal flush of materialism. There are no theists in foxholes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

No Pain, No Gain

An article of page A10 of the Los Angeles Times today reports that a review of about 1,500 scientific studies concludes that it is highly unlikely that fetuses can feel pain before the 29th week of pregnancy. This finding contradicts several pieces of proposed abortion legislation. Here are a few choice paragraphs from the article:

The review, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., comes as Congress and state legislatures are considering bills that would require physicians to tell pregnant women considering abortions that fetuses feel pain and to offer the women anesthesia for the fetuses.

The study concludes that, "based on the available evidence, the fetus does not have the functional capacity to experience pain," said Dr. Eleanor A. Drey of UC San Francisco, one of the study's authors.

"That relies on consciousness, and the cortex of those infants is not well enough developed to allow for conscious processing of stimuli" like pain.

[Dr. Wendy] Chavkin said she thought the study would probably have little effect on the political debate.

"These laws have nothing to do with pain or pain reduction," Chavkin said. "They are clearly intended to stigmatize abortion, the women who have abortions, and the doctors who provide them."

Emphasis mine

Why am I putting this on my blog? Two reasons. First, to follow up with Monday's post about abortion. Secondly, notice what I bolded in the quote. Consciousness is not established even up to the 29th week of pregnancy! It raises questions about what is a soul, do they even exist, and when do they get magically implanted into the fetus? I would say that this study is another argument for materialism and against afterlife-belief. By all (admittedly materialistic) measures, the consciousness (or soul) develops over time as the central nervous system develops.

Although my argument for materialism is admittedly relying on materialistic measures, it still holds a lot of value, and I'll tell you why. If immaterialism was true, and the soul was magically implanted into a human body at conception, then the soul would not be subject to the limits of materialism and the study would not have come to the conclusions it has arrived at. In other words, if a soul were immaterial, then these fetuses would feel pain and exhibit the capabilities expected of a fully conscious human; the souls would defy the expected limits that materialism brings to the table.

Let's sum up: Conscious existence is dependent upon the physical structures (central nervous system; brain) that support them. Conscious life begins when these physical structures initiate proper function (after the 29th week), and ends when these physical structures cease proper function (typically death). There is no afterlife.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Rudolph the Redneck Christian Terrorist

Christian Terrorist Eric Robert Rudolph apologized today for the bombing of the 1996 Olympics. Unfortunately, he refused to apologize for the bombing of two family planning (abortion) clinics. Apparently Rudolph thinks that those clinic bombings were justified, judging by his silence. And Rudolph has been known to spout Christian propaganda to justify his terrorist acts.

Very few Christians would agree that terrorism is an appropriate method to combat abortion. But on the other hand, many Christians would agree with Rudolph’s view that abortion is wrong. Christian anti-abortionists mistakenly call themselves “pro-life,” thinking that their stance against reproductive self-determination is somehow beneficial to life. Well, it isn’t. Once again, the pro-afterlifers have it backwards. Quantitatively and qualitatively, reproductive self-determination (abortion) is proven to be beneficial to humans, and therefore is much more “pro-life” than any anti-abortion ideology.

History has shown that when individual humans are afforded more individual responsibility and self-determination, society benefits as a result. The recognition of individual rights and self-determination has resulted in achievements like universal suffrage, the abolition of slavery, the American Bill of Rights, and capitalism. Abortion is no different. In societies where abortion is legal, there is less crime, less mentally and physically disabled people, less child abuse, less poverty, and lower infant mortality rates. In other words, societies with legalized abortion have a higher quality of life.

Self-determination, and the recognition of individual rights, always yields superior results to the alternative path: letting someone else make your choices for you.

It’s easy to see why religious people and pro-afterlifers think that abortion is murder, but it’s also easy to see why they are wrong. They have the idea that a “soul” magically gets implanted into a human egg cell the moment it gets penetrated by a sperm. They basically think that a human consciousness exists in a single cell, but only after it gets fertilized. Does anyone else notice the irrational religious bias here? Why is there no soul in the egg, or sperm for that matter, before they combine? Why is there a soul in the fertilized egg long before it even begins making any specialized components, like the backbone or the heart or brain? The answer to all of these questions is “because God implants the soul at conception.”

The anti-abortionists’ self-label of “pro-life” is disingenuous. What’s more ironic is that they don’t even realize that they are disingenuous. They don’t define “life” by any scientific, biological, or humane standard in their anti-abortion stance. They define it by their superstitious God belief. The foundation of their argument is not life, but God. Therefore, they should be calling themselves “pro-God.” Consequently, the term “pro-life” should go to the side that can provide evidence of their position’s betterment of life. That side, ironically, is the “pro-choice” side.

What happens when you cross ancient superstitions with reproductive rights issues? You get Rudolph the Redneck Terrorist. Whether it’s gay bashing or clinic bombing, these religions are very anti-choice and anti-life. The “pro-life” label belongs to those who support reproductive self-determination.

After all, I’ve never seen a pro-choicer bomb any churches. Have you?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Zombie Canines

Zombie Dogs are being created by mad scientists at Pittsburgh's Safar Centre for Resuscitation Research:

US scientists have succeeded in reviving the dogs after three hours of clinical death, paving the way for trials on humans within years.
Pittsburgh's Safar Centre for Resuscitation Research has developed a technique in which subject's veins are drained of blood and filled with an ice-cold salt solution.
The animals are considered scientifically dead, as they stop breathing and have no heartbeat or brain activity.
But three hours later, their blood is replaced and the zombie dogs are brought back to life with an electric shock.

I have already made an argument that if the afterlife exists for humans, then it exists for all life forms. Not all afterlife-belief systems accept non-human species as going to the afterlife, and I will address this in a moment. But for now, let's accept this assumption and assume that if an afterlife exists, then it does for dogs as well as humans.

At this moment, we have two possible explanations for these dogs' reanimation and their afterlives:

1. The dog's soul leaves the body to the afterlife realm upon clinical death, and then instantly travels back into the dog's body once the heart and body functions are restarted via electric shock.

2. The soul is not a separate component of the dog, but merely the combination of physical processes of the body, and the body's processes can be stopped and revived many hours after clinical death, provided that the body's cells do not suffer too much damage. In other words, everything is purely material and there is no afterlife.

Which proposition makes more sense? Presuming that "souls" are immaterial and thus not able to be observed or measured (a popular pro-afterlife argument), it would be impossible to prove either proposition to be wrong, because the immaterial-ness of the soul would make both propositions unfalsifiable.

How can we choose between these two propositions when a soul's immaterial properties make both propositions unfalsifiable? Two words: Occam's Razor. Occam's Razor states that given a set of equally possible options, the simplest one is the best one. Clearly, proposition #2 is the simpler one. It involves less layers of complexity and less entities.

While afterlife-believers insist on immaterial souls, thinking that it helps their argument, we find that it actually harms their argument. By using the immaterial soul argument, we make both propositions unfalsifiable in terms of material observation, and when both propositions are unfalsifiable, we must use Occam's Razor to arrive at the simpler proposition: That there is no separate soul component which can leave the body upon suspension of body functions and then return upon restarting of those functions.

Now, many afterlife-believers will argue that only humans have an afterlife, or that only humans have souls which survive bodily death. Besides the obvious problems with this argument (which I brought up in my Reducibility in Life Forms and the Afterlife blog entry), there is also the problem that the Safar Centre plans to test this on humans within a year.

What happens if the human experiences the same results as the dog? What if the human dies for a few hours and then comes back to life upon restarting of the heart? Maybe the human will report going to heaven or some other afterlife realm for a few hours. Maybe not. But wouldn't the same arguments and propositions that I mentioned with the dogs still apply to the humans? Wouldn't Occam's Razor still be applicable? I believe it would.

What I would like to see is that they test this on many humans. They should test it on a handful of afterlife-believers, and a handful of non-afterlife-believers. Would they all report the same dreams? Would only the afterlife-believers report an out of body experience? Of course, I suspect that there would be no dreams reported, because to be clinically dead, brain functions must cease. And being a non-afterlife-believer myself, I believe that if there are no electro-chemical functions occurring in the brain, then there are no dreams or memories occurring either. But that's just me.

I really want to see some humans go through this. I want to see both pro-afterlife and anti-afterlife humans go through it and report on their experiences, if any, during their clinical death period. At any rate, the anti-afterlife camp is currently leading in this race, thanks to a wonderful little tool known as Occam's Razor.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Evil of Reincarnation

One fairly popular subset of afterlife belief is reincarnation. Reincarnation is the idea that, when a life form dies, its soul or spirit remains intact and goes on to occupy another life form coming into existence. Hinduism is one of the most popular pro-reincarnation belief systems in the world today.

There are many arguments against reincarnation that come to my mind, but the technical, scientific, and logical arguments against reincarnation are virtually identical to the general anti-afterlife arguments I have already made in this blog. Therefore, in this blog entry I will focus on the moral problems of reincarnation.

Let's assume for a moment that reincarnation is real and happens to everyone. How can rewards and punishments for behavior be properly administered? If Hitler came back to this world just after his death in the form of a newborn baby, should that baby be persecuted for his past life crimes against humanity? What about in American prisons, where many criminals are serving multiple life sentences? If a criminal dies while serving the first of three life sentences, should his new reincarnated self also be forced to serve the remaining life sentences?

And what about property rights claims? If a rich man dies, can his reincarnated self lay claim to his previous life's estate and property? If he believed in reincarnation, would he even bother writing a will? Or better yet, would he write his will so that all his property was given directly to the next incarnation of himself? I doubt his next of kin would be very happy with that idea. Conversely, if a man with large financial debt dies, can his creditors attempt to settle his debts through his next incarnation?

In response to the questions I have raised in the last few paragraphs, I can see only two answers (if anyone sees more answers than the two I am about to list, please post them in the comments section; I would hate to present a false dichotomy):

1. Assets, liabilities, and responsibilities should be transferred from one life to the next.
2. Assets, liabilities, and responsibilities should not be transferred from one life to the next.

I believe that both answers expose huge moral issues with the reincarnation concept, enough so to make reincarnation dangerous and downright evil. Let's look at both of these answers individually and the consequences each one brings to morality if reincarnation is real.

1. Assets, liabilities, and responsibilities should be transferred from one life to the next. First of all, how do we determine who is who? If Hitler came back to life in a newborn baby after his death, how do we find this next incarnation of Hitler to transfer these liabilities and responsibilities to? We could use hypnotic techniques (assuming that hypnotic "past-lives" techniques worked), but it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. With over 6 billion humans (assuming that reincarnated souls stick to the same species they inhabited previously), it would be quite difficult to find the next reincarnation of Hitler. And what if multiple people claim to have been Hitler in past lives? Don't laugh at this, as any decent detective will tell you that innocent people often confess to crimes they couldn't possibly have committed. And even if the real Hitler was found and detained in his next life, he could commit suicide knowing that he will come back to life as another human being and the search would have to start all over again. Any person with large past-life liabilities could use this tactic. It would be a literal spiritual convict chase from body to body!

And what of the rich man? How could he claim his wealth and property in his next life? One thing that is known about people who claim to have past lives, is that their memories of these past lives is difficult to access, and sometimes inaccurate. Could the rich man's next incarnation remember the names of his family members, or maybe the pin number to his bank account, or maybe even his previous life's social security number? Doubtful. It would be quite possible for an expert at identity theft to claim to be the next incarnation of the rich man. The identity theft could research specific details about the rich man's life, and present them as if they were recovered memories from his past life, and fool people into believing that he was someone he wasn't in a past life.

Clearly, the transfer of assets, liabilities, and responsibilities from past lives to new lives would be so difficult as to be impossible. The logistics issues, as well as time and resource limitations, would severely retard the productive work capability of society. It would open up a huge door for fraudulent claims. It would allow people to escape their punishments. The majority of people on Earth do not seem to even have any recollections of any past lives (I sure don't) and would raise ethical concerns about the morality of even attempting to transfer assets and liabilities from past lives onto new "blank slate" lives. Many versions of reincarnation belief include the concept of karma, where consequences for past life actions are automatically or divinely administered. If karma were a part of the reincarnation process, then manually administering the transfer of assets, liabilities, and responsibilities would be redundant, or even a kind of "double jeopardy" in some circumstances.

2. Assets, liabilities, and responsibilities should not be transferred from one life to the next. At first glance, this answer would be in line with the karma concept. But why would this answer really be justified, because divine administration of karma would take care of it already, or because the next incarnations of every spirit deserved a clean slate? If the next incarnations deserve a clean slate, then karma becomes immoral. Let's imagine for a moment that karma was not in effect (no divine "correction" ever took place for the actions of past lives) because of the idea that new incarnations did deserve clean slates or another chance. Wouldn't it provide for a big escape hatch for criminals? What if Hitler shot himself at the end of WWII, knowing that karma did not happen in between lives, and that he could give himself a quick death with little suffering and avoid his deserved punishment, all to start anew with a clean slate? Where is the morality in that?

Getting back to the concept of divine administration of karma: Let's now assume that karma "fixes" problems created by a person upon his death and rebirth, like a murderous criminal being born as a murder victim or a septic tank repairman in his next life. Not only would this make the transferring of liabilities and responsibilities to the next life pointless, but it would also make the administering of punishments in the current life pointless! Don't believe me? Consider this: Charles Manson is in prison for life for his crimes. He is being punished in this life for his crimes in this life. But when he dies, won't karma still intervene and punish him in his next life as well? Isn't this still an issue of redundancy or even "double jeopardy" as I mentioned a few paragraphs above? Charles Manson would be punished by divine karma in an appropriate manner, regardless of how we punish Manson while he is alive here and now. We could dismiss the idea of punishing anyone for his or her crimes by saying "karma will get that person eventually." Indeed, punishment for crimes committed by humans wouldn't even be the responsibility of other humans; it would be the responsibility of divine karma. The victim would be in the wrong to directly seek justice.

Consider also the criminal who is subjected to this karma. In his next life, the criminal would likely not even remember his past life and the crimes he committed then. All he would be aware of is his victimhood in his new life, such as that of a murder victim or septic tank repairman. Indeed, even victims of crimes in this current life could be dismissed by saying that karma was being administered to them for crimes they committed in past lives. But what is moral about a divine karma system where justice is administered in a different life than the one where the crime was committed? It would tend to frustrate people to see that justice is not served in a way that keeps the crime and the punishments in the same lifespan. Having punishments and rewards administered in a way that overlaps life spans would be an indirect and imprecise method of justice at best, and a justice system that frustrates victims is not justice at all.

Reincarnation renders morality impracticable. With a divine karma reincarnation worldview, victims cannot be identified and criminals cannot have justice administered to them. With a karma-absent reincarnation worldview, criminals can escape justice by hopping from one life to the next, while exemplary humans need to quitclaim on their lives and accomplishments upon death and start all over again. It seems that reincarnation would make death superfluous. Why necessitate birth and death if every soul comes back to life over and over again?

Afterlife beliefs are inherently immoral, and reincarnation, in all its forms, is no exception. As my previous blog entries have shown, the only way any moral system is possible, and the only way justice can be served, is with a single, finite life.