Thursday, December 30, 2010

Evolution's Theodicy Problem

Monotheistic religions tend to have a theodicy problem, essentially, where did evil come from exactly? And how does that all work? Apologists have been gnawing on this bone for centuries. Evolution has an evil problem, too. It's called eugenics. What's the mechanism for evolution? Adaptation. Living things change slowly over generations in an effort to adapt to the environment. Or one generation. There was the London Moth at the height of the Industrial Revolution. It was normally white, because white blended well with the surroundings and white moths avoided being eaten (and there fore able to reproduce) at a much, much higher rate than black moths. Until the I.R. came along and spewed coal all over everything, rendering the background black. So, the black moths suddenly blended and the white ones were easy prey. The shift in black moth vice white moth population in a year or two was dramatic. There were few white moths and many, many black ones. It all came down to the fact that the local birds ate the moths they could see. The moth population adapted to that fact.

Now, human beings have taken themselves out of the evolutionary chain. Humans do not adapt to the environment. Humans adapt the environment to suit them. That means that we have not only become the most populous species on the planet, we're also at something of an evolutionary standstill. The folks that wouldn't have had a shot at reproducing and sending their icky genes on down the line no longer have those problems. We use technology to not only allow them to have a long life, but to pass their genes on. So, practically anyone with a genetic malfeasance is passing that on. This is where eugenics rears its head. The theory itself is not evil. It merely espouses the idea that only people with good genes should reproduce and everyone who has genetic problems should not pass those genes on. So, people who have things like lupus, epilepsy, or a really low intelligence, wouldn't have babies to pass those ick genes on. Now, where the evil of eugenics pops up is who gets to decide where that genetic goodness line is? Who gets to draw the line about what genes are good to pass on and which genes are not? I have epilepsy, but no one in my familly for a few generations back has it. Should I be barred from spawning? On the converse, I have a really high IQ, which many people in my family for generations back have, as well. So should I be required to spawn?

Luckily enough, we've got a global political climate that says spawn away, people. No one is gonna tell you not to have children. Except China, but they're not telling certain people they can't have kids, they're telling everyone how many kids they're allowed. Population control (another sticky subject).

But, as a person who subscribes to evolutionary theory, this is an ethical sticky point. On one hand, it's unethical to decide who has privilege and who doesn't based upon things they cannot control. On the other hand, it's unethical to pass on genetic disorders and diseases to the next generation. Perhaps the "designer baby" technology will fix these problem, though I imagine the whole host of ethical problems associated with it will make this technology just as unattractive, ethically, as eugenics.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Elie Weisel and Faith

I've been in lecture mode all day long. I'm not sure why that is, I'm not normally a lecture-y person unless I'm talking about writing. Just try to get me to shut up once I've started. Maybe it's the introspection I'm happily all caught up in. Maybe it's just Wednesday. I have no idea what day it is. At any rate, I read an essay by Elie Weizel (eelee vi-zehl) today. "Yom Kippur: The Day Without Forgiveness."

It's set in Auschwitz and it's a true story. Or as true as memory makes things. Once you get past the horror of the holocaust and actually read the message, it makes you think. This isn't about how horrible concentration camps were, this is about how beautiful and how horrible faith is. Here's a man in the midst of hell, fifteen years old at the time, learning what faith truly is. Weisel was sent to Auschwitz in 1944 where his mother and sister were killed. He was moved to Buchenwald with his father where they worked as slaves under conditions that eventually killed his father.

His faith in God was tested in ways most people can't even begin to imagine. During such testing people do one of three things, get angry with God, deny God, or get closer to God. There really aren't any other options.

Yom Kippur is the day of atonement. The day where Jews fast and pray. Legend has it that the dead will rise from their graves and pray with living on Yom Kippur. Before this Yom Kippur, Weisel's friend Pinhas, a rabbi teacher before the Nazis came, was strong in his faith in God as loving and just. His faith gave him strength. The day before he decided that he would not fast on Yom Kippur, to defy God--deny God. In the end he fasted, not from obedience, but from defiance. He died a few weeks later, selected for it by the Nazis. He asked Weisel to say the Kaddish after his death, not to praise, by to defy.

He took the tone he always used when he explained a passage in the Talmud to me: "You do not see the heart of the matter. Here and now, the only way to accuse him is by praising him." And he went, laughing, to his death. This sums up the essay, or at least what it means, I think.

Pinhas never lost his belief in God, his faith that God was there and was, well, God. He lost his faith that God was just. He defied God's righteousness, question his justice. He didn't ask where God was, he asked where his mercy was.

Something I've heard is that there are no atheists on the battlefield. When a person is faced with a moment of trauma, a time of life and death where circumstances beyond personal control decides fate, that person will turn to a deity for succor. Or so the saying goes. Battles, unlike the concentration camps, are not endless despair. There is reprieve and there is the opportunity to fight back with a measure of success. The enemy may take you down, but you won't go alone. In the camps there is no fighting because to fight is to die without cost to the enemy beyond the negligible price of a bullet. It's funny how the value of living completely changes when one becomes a combatant in a war. Maybe it's not the value of living so much as the value of dying goes up.

In moments of crisis, or moments of need--fleeting moments--we have the faith in whatever to move mountains. We believe that God will do whatever it is we believe that God does. But what happens when we roll these moments together until their endless and we can't tell one from another? If one reads the book of Job in the bible, it paints a different picture of faith. A man is tested sorely, beyond reason, and still he clings to his love of God, not merely his faith in God's justice and love, but to his love of God. Pinhas--and Weisel himself--are tested as sorely. Pinhas clings to his love of God for a long time, and then it became too much. Some would deny that God exists in this moment. Pinhas never did that, he never really lost his faith, but it changed into something different. He didn't use his faith and his praise to glorify his God, he used it to indict his God.

The ultimate irony, from that standpoint, is that he went to his death praising God with full obedience, and he did so to defy God. See, God, I praise you and I keep your law, and this is what your justice is, death in a gas chamber after years of slavery and starvation.

"Yes, I fasted. Like the others. But not for the same reasons. Not out of obedience, but out of defiance. Before the war, you see, some Jews rebelled agains the divine will by going to restaurants on the Day of Atonement; here, it is by observing the fast that we can make our indignation heard."

I think of my own faith or lack thereof and the dispair that I've felt. It's nothing like the suffering Weisel went through, but someplace inside I was touched in a way. I was born a Christian to a Catholic and an atheist. It didn't really change other than a catholic conversion to protestantism. But I was never really a Christain, not like Weisel was a Jew. The belief was there because it was something that I should believe, not because of any particular strength of conviction on my part.

When I went through my suffering, I questioned God as well. I begged and pleaded, crying out to a Savior to have mercy. To do something. Weisel's Pinhas didn't believe that God was deaf or blind to suffering. I did, I believed the savior was a farce, after all, there was no salvation, no justice, no mercy. I was tested, or rather my faith was. For me, this notion of a Christian God and all of the trappings is just that, a notion. Pinhas used his obedience to indict God's righteousness. I could no longer deny the rationality available in the Bible: God is a fairy tale.

So I have to think now, about faith and what it is. Where this belief comes from and why it's sometimes stronger than other times. Deny, defy, or love? With another person, someone you can theoretically reason with, it's easy to see the right path. With a deity, though? You can't reason with something that does not reason back, you can't see the right path because the paths all exist entirely from belief.

Friday, December 17, 2010


I have a bottle of Sparkling Pomegranate from IZZE that I picked up a bunch of days ago at Target (gag). I let it get warm, so I stuck it in the fridge overnight. And then I couldn't open it. It's been on my desk for five days now, unopened and laughing at me. It has this teeny tiny metal cap that you're supposed to twist off. And, of course, the stupid thing is a lightly carbonated beverage. This means that it'll esssplode. It says so on the bottle. "Warning! Contents under pressure. Bottle may burst or cap may blow off causing eye or other serious injury. Point away from face and people, especially while opening." This has to mean something.

There has to be some ridiculous metaphor for life hidden away in my Sparkling Pomegranate. Are we all just powerless before god and bottlecaps? Does the sweetness of filtered carbonated water, cane sugar (medium invert), and vegetable juice (for color) lend itself to a sort of delicious analogy of how one must be careful and cherish the sweet things we receive as gifts from fate/god/whatever through our lives? Perhaps it means that we should take care to anticipate and enjoy the endeavours as well as the rewards for our labor.

As an allegory of life, what sorts of wisdom could I glean from my experience? Perhaps the sparkling pomegranate symbolizes the unattainable goals I set for myself. You know, overreaching my limits with the need to perfectionistically overachieve so that I sabotage my ability to succeed with inevitable can't-open-the-bottle failure. I want what I can't have, and I keep that thing I can't have where I am always aware of it on some level so that I'm constantly reminded of how I fell short.

Of course, it probably just means that I'm just a freaking loser who can't open a stupid bottle of Sparkling Pomegranate Juice.

The Bathroom's Non-Circulating Library

I think that, like most people, we kind of use our bathroom as an impromptu library. Well, staring at the walls can get boring, ya know? But, well, we won't get into the particulars. Anyway, Walter and I have something of a Cold War going on in the bathroom. We both bring in reading material, though his is pretty much a two foot stack of bodybuilding and 4x4 mags with the past few Fredericks of Hollywood catalogues stashed at the bottom. Mine tends to be a textbook or journal of some sort. There's room, he moves his library whenever we clean, so it's no big. At least not for him. Me? I'm paranoid about being in a bathroom with magazines that have people in them. There's pictures, you know? And they stare at you while you're doing your business. Once, Dennis Newman stared me down unblinkingly while I was brushing my teeth. To make matters worse, he was on the cover of Muscle & Fitness, so you can guess that he was wearing nothing but a brief pair of spandex trunks, a lot of body oil, and a smile. An almost naked guy  that I don't know was watching me brush my teeth in the bathroom. I did the only thing anyone can do under those circumstances. I refused to go into that bathroom for two days. I now insiste on a completely Dennis Newman-free bathroom.

My current stand-off is with this Val Vasilef person. I've never met the man. I know very little about the man. He could be, for all I know, the muscle-bound reincarnation of Mother Theresa. I still hate him. Why? He's on the back cover of Ironman and he's been staring up from said back cover next to the commode for three weeks now. I have covered him with towels, left over Walter tee shirts, toilet paper, books ranging from a thirty pound history of math tome to one of those serial western paperback books. Every time I come back, he's there, smirking up at the next customer right next to the commode. I wasn't impressed with the "Russian Bear" when I first saw him smirking up from the dining room table years ago. I'm sorry, but "TV Action Commerical" isn't what I'd call resume-worthy for someone hawking his own, personal nutritional supplement. He's so friggin phony. He's wearing BDU britches, and a bandana. He smirks like my brother smirks (FYI, smirking like my brother is not sexy, I don't care what anyone else says. My brother is sexy just like a freshly mashed tarantula is sexy). Okay, and to make this all even worse, he's doing this right next to the toilet!

Argh! I'm so not stepping foot in that bathroom until I can think about it without shuddering.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Re-Revival as Part of the Blogorati (can I join the club?)

I blame Lynn for this entirely. It's not like I don't have blogs peppering the Internet now. Okay, I can't blame Lynn, much as I'd like to because she's got 2 dogs instead of 3. Something about my future plans require this kind of thing, or such is the advice I've heard. I will give 'er a go, all ahead Warp factor 3, make it so Number One.

I will see if I might make my allusions accessible to non-Danieles, too. I am in an elite group of one that actually understands what I say all the time. Most of the time. I prefer to call it an elite group of one because that's much less pathetic than I don't make much sense at all.

So, I'd like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to all my peeps for putting up with my ballerino-esque leaps in logic.