Why prayer is nonsense – part 5

4 – Even if it IS useless, what’s the harm?

This is the final part in a five-part series. Please see the Master Post if you haven’t already read the previous parts, because this part relies heavily on definitions and arguments that have been set down in those previous sections.

so why pray?

The conclusion to this series is, admittedly, the most difficult to write, as it entails tying together the disparate threads I’ve left in the previous posts in such a way that the tapestry can be viewed from high altitude to get a sense for how well thought-out each argument is, and how the overarching thesis is correct. This is, arguably, the goal of all persuasive writing on abstract concepts, however I feel that simply reiterating or retreading the ground we’ve already covered is insufficient for these purposes.

Therefore, I will employ a visual instead. Below is a matrix of all the types of deity-properties, and the complications presented for each type of prayer. I have touched on many of these contradictions and issues already in the previous parts, so it is important that you are at least passingly familiar with the specific terms and definitions I’ve used.

I will be including a very important property at the very bottom of this list that I have not discussed as of yet, and it will be hidden below the fold so as to avoid spoiling the surprise. To read this graph in reference to a particular deity, select all the properties that you ascribe to that deity and look at the type of prayer you want to examine, then look to see if any property of your deity happens to directly conflict or present significant obstacles for that type of prayer.

As I’ve stated in part 2, many of these properties conflict with one another for some pretty overwhelming reasons. However, even assuming that you can reconcile certain properties with one another, you should assume that a “no” in any category is a dealbreaker for that type of prayer for the reasons previously discussed.

Legend:

  • checkmark – This type of prayer will almost certainly have an effect (whether good, or neutral, to the person that prays) in the presence of a deity with this particular property
  • questionmark – It’s possible that this prayer may be answered, but may also be ignored. Will depend mostly on other properties of this deity. If no other properties contradict, there’s insufficient information as to whether a prayer would be worthwhile — it could depend on this deity’s mood.
  • red-x – This type of prayer either directly conflicts with, or significant obstacles are posed by, this deity’s property. A prayer of this sort is either worthless and will be ignored, or could get you smote (an obviously detrimental effect).
Interventionary Imprecatory Guidance Sycophantic Redemptive
Omniscience questionmark questionmark checkmark questionmark checkmark
Omnipotence checkmark checkmark checkmark questionmark checkmark
Omnibenevolence checkmark red-x checkmark questionmark red-x
Omnipresence questionmark questionmark questionmark red-x questionmark
Larger than the universe red-x questionmark red-x questionmark questionmark
Being pure good questionmark questionmark checkmark red-x red-x
Has a plan red-x red-x red-x questionmark red-x
Requires active praise red-x questionmark questionmark checkmark checkmark
Alpha and omega questionmark questionmark questionmark red-x checkmark
Reveals self unequivocally checkmark questionmark checkmark questionmark questionmark

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More random Formspring questions

Some more random Formspring questions I’ve gotten and answered. Please do ask me anything, either by contacting me directly or via the anonymous box on the left. Especially philosophical questions, I love those. Oh, and questions about controversial topics. I’ll give you a straight answer for just about anything, too. And if you earnestly want to learn about something you’re unfamiliar with, if I can help you learn it, I’ll do my best.

Can you truly love someone but find it hard to live with him/her?
I don’t see why not. Love is familiarity, and familiarity breeds contempt. How many relationships have you heard of, where over time the tiny things get on your loved one’s nerves to the point where you snap?

It’s probably not a terribly healthy situation, though. If you plan on staying with this person for any length of time, you need open communications — even about what aggravates you. ESPECIALLY about what aggravates you. If you don’t have that level of communication, then love will turn to contempt in a hurry.

Hope that helps!

If your life was turned into a movie, what actor would play the role of you?
I’d like to say Wil Wheaton, but that’s only because I have a mancrush on him. Though, for accuracy, the younger and more gawky version of him, circa Wesley Crusher.

Have you read the entire Bible or any other religious writing as a whole? How important do you find it to have read them in order to support your arguments as an atheist?
I have read the King James Version of the New Testament twice (or three times, memory fails — let’s say at least twice), cover to cover; the first, sometime after I had discovered that I could read and understand and enjoy Shakespeare outside of class, meaning I suspect I was a capable reader when I first took it on. I do find that it helps if you’re trying to prove that the Bible has a passage to support any viewpoint whatsoever — even ones in contradiction to the Commandments — but I do not find that it informs my arguments as an atheist. It did help me to become an atheist, though. I count reading and understanding the Bible as one of the chief catalysts for understanding that it is nothing but a very old storybook that purports to have a monopoly on morality.

Now, the majority of people I encounter who attempt to proselytize to me, do so from a Christian standpoint. Having read the KJV I do have a relatively strong grasp of the arguments that these specific theists will use, though this doesn’t mean I find myself on particularly unfamiliar territory when, say, a creationist Muslim attempts to debate whether there’s a god. I have noticed that most arguments against a naturalistic worldview take the form of, “X is unproven, therefore god is the answer, therefore that god must be my specific conception of it.” You don’t need a background in their specific religious text to recognize that as a false dichotomy — e.g. just because science has an insufficient answer doesn’t mean your specific god must be true, because there aren’t just two choices. There are as many variations on theism as there are theists, literally.

Now, you can show the specific gods they postulate are specifically unlikely if you understand what properties the religious text ascribe to that god, which does make any such debate easier. But in general, understanding that objective investigation of the universe and its properties — in other words, SCIENCE — is the only epistemology that has ever granted humankind any measure of progress and truth, is really the only support to my arguments as an atheist that I need.

How do you manage being like you are? (:
Oh, it’s tough, I know. But I manage. I manage.

What’s the most liberating thing you’ve done? by minnelle
Not answering this question properly. It’s been hanging over my head for two weeks, becoming something of a ball and chain. By not answering it properly, I’m liberating myself from it.

How do you and pixelsnake maintain your awesome levels of sexy awesomeness? Since we do not have an “evil tardis” (because we are evil schemers with diabolical plans after-all), are you worried of us four causing a massive fun-overload when we meet up? by Tim3p0
That’s a distinct possibility. In fact, it could very well shear the fabric of space and time, resulting in either The Doctor or Cap’n Jack paying us a visit. I hope it’s not Cap’n Jack, though, because, while I like you guys and all, I think it would just turn into one big orgy.

Isn’t It Annoying When People Type Like This, Capitalizing Every Word?
Yes. Yes it is.

well now…why would you call yourself an ass?
AssHOLE. I called myself an assHOLE in my profile. Get it right. (Because I so am. Come on, don’t tell me that wasn’t an asshole-ish way to answer your question!)

Could you go a week without Twitter? If so, how would you waste your time without it?
I seriously doubt I could, now that I’m so hooked. I have plenty of ways of wasting time, though. Do not underestimate my ability to find odd projects to waste my time on. Like Facebook, blogging, fighting with idiots on forums, spending more time on video games, catching up on reading, harassing my cats, programming, taking twenty showers a day…

How is life in Canada?
It’s lovely up here. The growing season started almost two weeks early though, and fire ants are marching their way through Nova Scotia (well out of their seasonal territory, you’d think!), but it’s livable for the time being. Dunno how it’ll be in fifty years, but there you have it.

Also, universal health care is great. If you’re asking how life is here, I’d imagine you’re not from Canada, so chances are high that you’re from the States, so I just wanted to point out that health care as a right is wonderful. ;)

There’s lots of Canadians (snowbirds) in South Florida during winter. Ever partake in the migration? by Bubblypoo
I haven’t! But Jodi and I know a number of Floridians via Twitter, so the draw to pay a visit is getting stronger and stronger.

In defense of my “meaning of life”

A better question: what is the meaning of ice cube LEGO?

A while back, someone thought they would be smart and take on my Formspring challenge, wherein I said, “go ahead, try and stump me. I dare you.” They asked, “what is the meaning of life?”

I actually had an answer for them, one I thought was pretty good and pretty explicit in declaring the question itself as a category error — a question along the lines of asking “what does the sound of a train whistle smell like?” or “what shape is love?” Life is a state classified as a grouping of biochemical reactions acting in a self-perpetuating manner, and doesn’t have a “deeper meaning,” any more than “what’s the meaning of ice?” or “what’s the meaning of stars?”. It’s a mangled question, one that actually conflates a few similar questions into one seemingly sensible question, one for which most religions claim to have an answer. That theists generally have a better answer for an incorrectly formulated question is no big surprise, but I decided to take a stab at it anyway. Here’s what I answered.

What is the meaning of life?

THAT’S the kind of nigh-unanswerable question I was hoping for! Good for you!

It’s also a bit of a mangled question, which no matter how often it’s repeated I still can’t parse. It seems to be asking “why is there life”, but it’s actually not — it’s sort of presupposing an agency and a purpose to our existence specifically. At the same time, it’s asking what reason we have for living our individual lives the way we do. So let’s break the question down.

*rustle rustle*

Life itself has no meaning, any more than purple has a taste (unless you’re synaesthetic). Life on Earth is the culmination of a very long series of cause-and-effects starting when the quantum foam first fluctuated and kicked off the Big Bang. We don’t know how many universes or how many shots at this particular universe there has been, so we don’t know how likely or unlikely life is. We do know that we wouldn’t be around to think about it if it wasn’t possible (thus the anthropic principle), but there’s no specific agency to it that we can detect (despite people suspecting as much, since we’re evolved to detect agency in every rustling bush).

So, that covers “why is there life”. On to “what meaning can we impart onto our own lives, to give us reason to go on existing”, which is a smaller, and more personal, question. My life has meaning in finding comfort and happiness, and increasing the comfort and happiness of those around me. I also like rooting for human progress, and have a fascination with just how far we’ve come as a species in a mere ten-to-twenty-thousand years.

Of course, if this doesn’t answer your question, feel free to narrow it down some more.

Last week, this answer was used in a sermon by a Southern preacher by the name of Steve Davis. I’ve been following him on Twitter for some time — I had started following when we had a brief but civil exchange on theology, and he seemed like a fairly reasonable and sensible person whom I might want to converse with again in the future. In his sermon this past week, Steve referenced an abridged form of my answer to compare/contrast a theist’s “meaning of life” with an atheist’s.

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RCimT: Saturday mostly-science! (plus politics)

Some more Random Crap! You love these, admit it.

A skeptical take on neti pots came in handy battling some ridiculous forwards about them being good prophylactics against H1N1.

There was a bolide explosion over the Netherlands, and Phil Plait points us to where to find photos. Amazing pictures!

This picture absolutely floored me today — some of the moons hardly look bigger than motes of dust on this very long, mostly black image, but the Mars Observatory got Earth and Jupiter in the same frame.

The LHC is fully cooled once more, and prepares to re-enter Science! mode. Put your goggles on!

Back Street Boys? In an office environment? Sung by nerds? Possibly powerful. Probably funny.

Proof that Falcon Heene’s dad is a duplicitous fucker, and a bit of a nutbar to boot. Now can we stop feeding his attention whore nature?

Allegations have emerged that General McChrystal, handpicked by Obama to end the Afghanistan war, was involved in the cover-up of the real reasons behind Pat Tillman’s super-suspicious death.

Simon Singh won an appeal in the fight against the British Chiropractic Association after he decried their practice of pimping out “bogus” neck-cracking-based remedies for colic, ear infections, asthma and other issues in children. Apparently he ran afoul of British libel laws, despite everything he said being science-based — e.g. the BCA made claims they couldn’t back up, he called them on it, they went crying to the courts. Keep fighting, Mr. Singh, we’re all pulling for you.

Scientific testing on mice suggests we may soon be able to induce a quasi-suspended-animation merely by administering certain combinations of gases to patients prior to surgery, providing surgeons much, MUCH longer to perform delicate operations. We know what gases are to be used on some smaller animals, and more research needs to be done before we can use this to help perform surgeries on larger animals like cats, dogs, monkeys and humans.

CNN scuttled an anti-Lou Dobbs ad, paid for by progressives enraged that his primary focus is constantly on those damn dirty brown people coming up from Mexico despite all the millions of issues America faces, and despite there not only being very few Mexicans actually entering the country illegally, the ones that do don’t seem to be much of a burden on your society.

Obama proclaims that he is “just getting started”, and that he won’t brook any more obstructionism from certain elements. ‘Bout time someone on the side of reason grew a bit of a backbone. Now, if you could “get started” on some of your more long-standing and pressing promises, that’d be great. You have a supermajority in the senate, why not just steamroll the obstructionists a few times? Why do you keep allowing bills to be gutted (and by gutted I mean reduced to nothing more than platitudes and pats on the head)?

Let’s see if I can squeeze one more post out of this tab collection. I’m almost through it all! If only I could stop clicking on Twitter links…

A response to Real Scotsman — err, Real Theist

Over at Vizhnet’s brand-new blog, someone commenting under the name of “realtheist” (whom DanJ believes is Daniel Maldonado, owner of the Real Theist blog and an occasional commenter here), left a very VERY long comment in reply to me and in defense of our favorite apologist Zdenny. I reproduce it herein, as Vizhnet has stated he debates only on Twitter and I want to save it for posterity in case he decides to clean up again. I’ll break it down paragraph by paragraph.

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My headache

I’ve sat on this for a while, as I’ve had quite a bit on my plate lately, and I don’t want to go out of my way to give Zdenny a bigger stage than he already has. Yet, I link to him because he quote-mined me here to make a larger point about science as dogma and Christ as science (no, seriously). He’s definitely right about one thing — this line of argumentation gives me a headache, one for which only a good long rant can serve as ibuprofen. Especially since they’re the ones who consistently conflate atheism with scientific naturalism.

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What is love? Baby don’t hurt me…

“I hope you’re just going to ignore that loser.”

“Nope, I plan on posting about it on my blog.”

Jodi let out a resigned, slightly disgusted sigh. I’m sorry dear, but I just can’t let stuff like this go.

Zdenny, Christian un-thinker and god-bot par excellence, decided that rather than continuing the argument he started here, he would instead post a reiteration of his initial arguments, with a few sentences from my rebuttal interspersed, over at his own blog. (I assume the male gender here because I’m not 100% sure, though the proselytizers have a strong tendency toward being the males in a Christian relationship. I could be wrong.) You really don’t even have to click the link, honestly, as its entire contents will be posted below with my reply. I provide it only to prove he actually said it, and this is unaltered from its original form.

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Think of the children eh?

You’ve got to be kidding me. Apparently Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has put forth a bill allowing police vast snooping powers on the internet, forcing ISPs to implement hefty snooping equipment and allowing for warrantless retrieval of information on any person they claim to suspect as being part of organized crime, terrorism or child pornography.

All you have to do is imply that this will help stop any of the three, and you’ll get some asshat more than willing to give up privacy and other essential human rights in the name of Teh Childrens. And Mark and other PC leaners, I’m sorry to say, it’s most often the Conservatives that fall into this particular category — this was Stockwell Day’s whipping horse for years!

The worst part is, nobody’s actually implying that any current investigation is being impeded by a lack of ability to warrantlessly internet-tap any citizen. If this passes, expect vast dragnets along the same lines as the snooping that’s already taken place in America in the name of preventing terrorism, while they only really snooped on reporters’ and liberals’ e-mails.

Makes me sad that Ignatieff and Harper have hashed out a deal to avoid a Federal election this summer. With the NDP riding high in NS presently, who knows, maybe sentiment has swung leftward in other, less backwater provinces.

Blogging the Election, Part 3

new democrats ascendant

It was a complete and total rout.

ns2009results

An interactive version of this map is available via CBC.

Before the election — please note this corrects an incorrect tally for Liberal seats in my Part 1:

Party Seats Leader
PC 21 Rodney MacDonald (premier)
NDP 20 Darrell Dexter
LIB 9 Stephen MacNeil
GRN 0 Ryan Watson
IND 1 (Independent)

(1 seat vacant)

Afterward:

Party Seats Leader +/- Vote %
NDP 31 Darrell Dexter (premier) +11 45.26%
LIB 11 Stephen MacNeil +2 27.22%
PC 10 Rodney MacDonald -11 24.52%
GRN 0 Ryan Watson n/a 2.33%
IND 0 (Independent) -1 0.67%

Liberals have gone from “also-ran” to “official opposition party”. NDP has gone from “official opposition party” to “government”. The government itself has gone from minority to majority, majority being 27 seats. PC bled 11 seats, 12 if you count “independent” Fage who’s only independent because he was politically radioactive after his hit-and-run. Plus the vacant seat is now filled, finally.

Expect the Liberals and PC to develop an uneasy alliance in opposition to the majority NDP, and a lot of hand-wringing whether the NDP does a good job or a bad one. Also, like every single political party taking office for the first time, expect them to do a pretty good job at first, then suddenly and sharply hit a wall of some kind, whether of their own design or that of their opposition. How they handle the crisis is paramount. Setting expectations is important for holding a realistic worldview!

Blogging the Election, part 2

Here’s part 2 of my Blogging the Election series. Part 1 is here. About time I got around to polishing this up and posting, considering today’s election day! Part 3 is coming tonight, after Jodi and I hit the polls after work. Another long one, with some potentially wacky formatting and far too liberal of use of blockquotes, so join me below the fold.

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