Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Zombies need killin'

A recent post by James F. Elliot, on his blog Often Right, Rarely Correct, prompted readers to list their preferred zombie slaying weapons. I offer some of my favored implements of undead destruction below.

Remington 1100 auto-loading 12ga with 10 round extended magazine. A non-reflective Parkerized finish or camo cover (Mossy Oak Breakup is the new basic black) is preferred; zombies are attracted to shiny objects as well as movement. Great close range knock down power using buckshot, with long range capability when using slug ammunition. Clip fed weapons can provide more rounds at once, until you've emptied all your magazines, and then they're awkward and time consuming to reload under pressure. The shotgun can be back in action more quickly, and reloaded on the run. Also, 12ga ammo is one of the most widely available rounds at your local post-apocalyptic sporting goods department.

Battle-axe, if you've got the strength to wield it properly. Better than what you'd find at the hardware store; the rounded blade is less likely than that of the standard axe or hatchet to get wedged (and you will get it wedged) in zombie flesh when you fail to completely lop off that head or leg.

Dagger. The Gerber MkII with titanium nitride finish is a good choice. A quick poke in the medulla can completely incapacitate the biggest of the lumbering undead. Best used from behind, but still effective in the "hug position" if you end up dancing cheek to cheek with a flesh eating fiend.

Telephone patch cord. Doesn't everybody have at least six of these things lying around the house from all the computers, modems, and phones they've bought over the years? They make great trip wires when strung across doorways and stapled to the frame. Having that first one go down, and the others fall on top, can give you a few precious seconds to grab your weapon or jump out a window before the whole horde piles in on you.

Aerosol hairspray. It stings zombie eyes too. Yeah, they can still smell you out, but at that point you've already burst out of your hiding place and gone on the offensive. Also, a little V05 extra hold combined with a Bic lighter can really get those staggering buggers fired up, if you know what I mean.

4WD truck. Ford, Chevy, Toyota, brand really doesn't matter. Just run over'em; windows up, air conditioning on, death metal cranked. Hell, drink a beer if you want (but just one; gotta stay sharp). Oh, and wear your seatbelt. Safety first, you know?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Religious Truth

Is there such a thing? If so, what epistemic metric can we use to know we've actually discovered it? This question is explored by Simen on the de-conversion blog. The conversation was about whether or not religious truths should be subject to empirical scientific investigation. Following is an only slightly modified version of my comments on the issue.

Heather (and perhaps others) have touched on the Argument From Disagreement, which says: Because theological claims conflict, at least some of them must be false, and all of them could be false. Now, I'd like to take that argument in a different than usual direction.

There are two ideas in the comments that I've been thinking about. Agkyra started things off at the top by asserting that theological questions are outside the domain of empirical science, and I believe it was Kramii who mentioned a toolkit for investigating reality.

If what Agkyra says is true, and the resolution of theological questions is ultimately outside the purview of empirical science, is there an alternative method for discovering religious truth? Considering that various strongly held, yet diametrically opposed, religious beliefs continue to cause warfare and other forms of human suffering, wouldn't it be a worthwhile endeavor to resolve such conflicts? I'm not talking about ecumenism, although I find that worthwhile as well. I mean the actual methodical determination of which theological claims are in fact true.

Doing this would certainly make the world a more peaceful place. And for those who believe in a loving God, I think he'd certainly be pleased if everyone were on the same doctrinal page rather than fighting over scriptural interpretations or which church or religion was the "right" one. And just think of all the deconverted who could now reconvert with confidence that they're on the right metaphysical track.

If any believers have an idea how to do this I'd be interested to hear it. Such a project would sure beat pastimes like the Sunni vs. Shiite "games" in Iraq. Sure, there would still be different denominations of the certified One True Religion, just to accommodate different tastes in worship services, but people wouldn't have to waste precious time accusing each other of practicing a religion that's "of the devil", or wondering whether or not God really cares if they use condoms.

Does what I'm saying sound facetious? It could be taken that way. It could also be taken as a serious challenge for believers to find a way to revolutionize metaphysical inquiry, and put the Argument From Disagreement forever to rest.

Another thought: maybe I'm making a different category mistake than Agkyra claims is being made by those who attempt to assess theological truths using empiricism. Perhaps theology is more analogous to aesthetics than any type of methodological investigation like science.
Poetry, paintings, and music may contain references to facts, but they're not about empirical truth, although they're definitely not without meaning for those who appreciate them. They may speak to us about the human condition, point out flaws in our societies, cause us to examine our darkest selves, or strike deep emotional chords that inspire us to do great things. There isn't one "true" religion any more than there is one "true" form of artistic expression. Now I'm getting ecumenical, and universalist here...

If religious beliefs and experiences are a close analogue to artistic expression and appreciation, then they can have great power for those individuals whose lives they touch. They also, like art, may inspire individuals but never dictate to the masses. A novel may inspire individuals to change from its lament on the failings of society, but has no right to impose its narrative on that society. And a painting may depict the law, but never legislate. Because religion and art are both "in the eye of the beholder" they can have no authority over those who do not choose to appreciate them.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Response to Mark Vernon

Philosopher Stephen Law began a series of posts on his blog regarding whether or not atheism was a "faith position." The discussion spread over to Mark Vernon's blog when he responded to Stephen Law's posts. I responded to Mr. Vernon's post entitled "Common Mistakes of Atheists," and he responded to some of my comments (and the comments of others) in his second post, "Common Mistakes of Atheists II." His response included a couple of questions to me, but, for whatever reason, my comments in reply did not appear on his blog. I now post them here.

MV: "My point is that all images of God must be done away with. So, no: you can't agree on what a true God is."

With no image, no properties; with no properties, no discussion, no? Honestly, I'm not sure what would possibly be left to talk about.

MV: "Again, the great theologians say this: God is always wholly other. You might approximate. But then you have to do away with your approximations too. God is beyond human comprehension else not God."

If these are Christian theologians, wouldn't they by ignoring the Bible's statement about human beings being made in His image? Human beings and human understanding would, following the "in His image" line of reasoning, be the approximations that allow some point of reference when discussing God. If we do away with even mere approximations of God, and say God is beyond human comprehension, then how can any theologian say anything about what God is or is not, what God desires or does not desire, or how human beings can in any way relate to such an entity? It seems they'd all be out of business.

MV:"So you notice I say 'Whatever omnipotence might be...' not this is what omnipotence is (which is what in effect Stephen Law implies by insisting that an all-powerful, all-good God must be able to do away with so much evil.)"

Didn't you also insist on what God must or must not be able to do when you said: "Whatever omnipotence might be it is not simply the ability to act whenever."? I think Stephen Law was simply following the dictionary's definition of that word. You were, it seems, agreeing (in the original post) with theologians who appear to prefer not only their own definitions of God, but of words as well.

MV: "I don't understanding your point about Occam's razor. Natural explanations can be enormously complicated. And anyway, Occam's razor is very out of fashion in science these days: think of the speculations about the multiverse or of evolutionary psychology."

The reason for the razor is that you said: "Another reason why I think God will always be an open question is that any perception of God someone claimed to have would always be indistinguishable from some natural experience." And I thought: what's the difference between an undetectable God ("...indistinguishable from some natural experience"), and no God at all? The proposition of God (or any other supernatural entity) causing the "perception" would be superfluous in that case.

As for scientific speculations, they're hypotheses and require evidence to be incorporated into theories. Evolutionary psychology is what I'd call a (very) "young science." The Multiverse hypothesis, from what little I understand of it, seems to be metaphysics so far.

MV:"Do you really think that people's belief in supernatural agencies are falling away?"

In regard to them being the cause of "nearly all phenomena," as I stated, yes I do. For instance, there are some groups living in modern society who still think evil spirits or curses cause disease, but most don't. They go to the doctor for a prescription to cure their malady, not the witch doctor. People living in third world countries, and some groups of Christian fundamentalists in the U.S., excepted, of course. We consult the Weather Channel these days, rather than implore Zeus or Thor, before planning a lightening bolt-free picnic. That's not to say that believers don't think God created lightening bolts, it's just that most don't imagine Him lobbing each one by hand at some sinner, thereby providing an object lesson to the masses.

MV: "As to theology being 'made up': well, all human discourse is made up in that sense; we make it! Which is not to say it is not enormously valuable - even bearing some relation to the way things actually are in themselves from time to time - just never absolutely certain."
We cannot be even remotely certain how theology relates to "the way things actually are in themselves from time to time" with this concept-free God you've proposed. As for theology being like the rest of human discourse, in that they're both "made up": That's like saying a college level world history textbook is the same as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, since they both use words to tell us about past events.