Friday, August 22, 2014

Church of the Body

Well, I've done gone crazy and written a novel. It's called CHURCH OF THE BODY. I published it on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback editions. I'm under no illusions. It will appeal to a niche audience at best. Although it wasn't my intent to offend, it will definitely offend some because it's permeated with religious themes. Since I'm not religious, you can see where this might lead.

The story follows a young, devout couple who fall victim to a brutal attack. They react to the tragedy in completely different ways. Both experience the world as if the supernatural really did become manifest in their lives. That includes evil as well as good so it's a mixed blessing.

I can't really say what genre this book belongs in. At times it's fantasy and horror. Other times it's drama and comedy. I let the characters have lives of their own so they get into some wild situations. I take no responsibility for letting them be themselves. I hope readers will see this book as it was intend -- more of a wrestling with, rather than a rejection of, the concept of God.

Publishing on Amazon was easy and cheap. Printed proofs of the book cost a total of $7 delivered, usually in less than a week. The books look good especially considering they're printed on demand, one copy at a time. The first few chapters can be read online just by clicking the cover here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Ross and Right Thinking

I was watching Marjoe last night, winner of best documentary at the 1972 Academy Awards. It's about a child evangelist who never believed. Nevertheless, he easily duped the unsuspecting out of $10 donations. It's a sad and almost scary portrait of how some people in the 20th and 21st centuries are still stuck in a 12th century irrationality.

The first thing one is tempted to think about Marjoe's victims is that they're simply ignorant. If only they went to college and learned how to think critically we could do away with manipulative nonsense. But that's not the case. Education seems to have little to do with the power of manipulative nonsense. I've met, and I'm sure you've met, some highly educated people who don't know how to think straight and some rather uneducated ones who do.

I recently got involved in some discussions which drive home this point. The topic was Immaterial Aspects of Thought, by James Ross. It's a paper which purports to prove human minds cannot be merely physical things. There's got to be something non-physical going on inside our heads. But the paper is an exercise in sloppy reasoning.

Why fuss about a paper on an obscure topic that has no effect on daily life? First, because as a computer programmer, the topic of How the Brain Works interests me. Second, and maybe most importantly, I'm interested because people like Ross and Feser have an agenda. Once they dupe people into believing our brains cannot think on their own, they'll sneak in a divine substance that does the thinking for us -- or is us. Then we of this magical substance are free to float to heaven when our physical brains die. Or something like that.

Now to the paper.

Early, Ross states, "I can reason in the form, modus ponens ("If p then q"; "p"; "therefore, q"). Reasoning by modus ponens requires that no incompossible form also be 'realized' (in the same sense) by what I have done. Reasoning in that form is thinking in a way that is truth-preserving for all cases that realize the form. What is done cannot, therefore, be indeterminate among structures, some of which are not truth preserving."

What do these strange sentences mean? (I have a theory that badly written sentences such as these are often an attempt to hide poor thinking or trivial points.)

Let's take the following example of modus ponens.

If I throw a rock up, it will fall down.

I threw a rock up.
Therefore it will fall down.

In practice it works like this. If I lob a rock high in the air toward your general direction, you're likely to duck. You know the routine. The rock goes up, it's coming down. It's an easy conclusion to draw without studying one hour of philosophy. That's about all modus ponens means.


Now suppose I lobbed that rock toward a dog. It's likely to react like you do. So do dogs think modus ponens? By their reactions we could say they must, even though they aren't aware of it. Ross ignores the possibility that the "structure" of modus ponens might be built right into our brains -- maybe in all brains of all species. More importantly, he ignores the possibility that this structure is no more than a path of least resistance in our brains. In that regard, following the path of modus ponens is like following the rock's path as determined by laws of gravity. It's not clear at all that there's a fundamental difference in the two. Maybe our brains are wired to follow "paths" like this.

Ross characterizes modus ponens as abstract, formal thinking. Most of us would likely do the same. It's human nature to think we're brilliant. We can say, if it's Monday, John will be at work. On Monday we draw the brilliant conclusion John is at work. We can replace the p and q with all sorts of neat possibilities. Ross finds significance in that. But we can throw a water balloon as well as a rock. Both follow the same laws of gravity. Whatever we throw, that object's trajectory is "truth preserving for all relevant cases" too. If it's "impossible by virtue of the form" of modus ponens "to proceed from truth to falsity," then it's also impossible by virtue of the laws of gravity to proceed as if those laws were wishy-washy.

The structure of the universe is about as general as anything we know. How is this general, predictable, law-abiding structure of the universe any different than the general, predictable, law-abiding structure of modus ponens -- and potentially the brain? Fact is, Ross assumes, but nowhere proves, that structures in the brain cannot be "of the form" of modus ponens.

Ross then adds another example. He proposes squaring of numbers as a "pure" function. What he means by a "pure" function is anyone's guess. This is how he explains it: "a definite form (N X N = N^2) is 'squaring' for all relevant cases, whether or not we are able to process the digits, or talk long enough to give the answer."

First, he ignores the fact that N X N = N^2 is merely us defining "squaring" by using the human defined language of math instead of English. It's descriptive. There's no thinking involved yet. I've got to presume a "pure" function has an essence way beyond any descriptive language, including math.

Second, he avoids any real distinction between what he does in his head and what a computer does with logic gates. The truth is, both have general algorithms they implement to square any number, and there's no reason to think those algorithms are not fundamentally the same. I've implemented such algorithms in a computer and I've done it using the same processes I learned in elementary school.

Ross then gets to addition, presumably because squaring is just a specific case of addition. He makes this statement: "There is a great difference between adding incorrectly and doing something else, like guessing, estimating, or following a routine or algorithm." What is this great difference? "The adding I am talking about ... is a form of understanding."

I wish he had made this statement first. It would have saved me some trouble. Everything up to this point has been irrelevant. Ross merely means that humans "understand" the math and logic they do whereas computers do not. Through understanding we know precisely what we are doing when we add 2+2 and get 4. This is what Ross calls "determinate." Yet what do we really mean when we add those numbers? Two what? Two apples? Two dollars? This is what I would call undetermined. Using Ross's standard, the indeterminate nature of 2 means we don't have a specific, determinate meaning in mind. This is the nature of math and of formal languages in general. Math is designed to mean anything depending on what we want it to mean.

Ross tries to explain: "This is a claim about the ability exercised in a single case, the ability to think in a form that is sum-giving for every sum, a definite thought form distinct from every other." But this muddles the issue. He jumps from "meaning" to some vague thought process. "Meaning" in this context is vague enough on its own. What is this "definite thought form" if not an algorithm? He doesn't explain. He just expects us to believe it must be fundamentally distinct from what a computer does. The burden of proof is still on him to show us what that difference is. So far all we can guess is that it has something to do with "meaning."

But Ross lacks precise definitions of his terms. When we add, right or wrong, we really do mean it. We kick ourselves if we're wrong. It's hard to disagree with that. For some unclear reason this is very important to Ross:

"The trait that determines the tail of the comet, the trait that 'settles every relevant case, including all countercases,' marks the contrast with any physical process: a physical process has no feature that can do that."

Yet Ross has not shown that the physical brain has no feature that can do this. That's his assumption for sure, but assumptions have no weight when the object is to prove the assumption. Nevertheless, he admits this boldfaced assertion, this begging of the question, "grounds my main argument." Somehow he thinks this presumption makes it "logically impossible" for what happens in the brain "to be a consequence of any physical process, or function among physical processes, whatever."

I repeat, nowhere has he demonstrated this either logically or empirically. He has merely wasted our time discussing what he thinks a "pure" function must do to be "determinate." This had nothing to do with the only important thing to be considered, that is, why we should believe the physical processes in the brain cannot do what he claims for his ideal, semi-physical mind. Nor has he shown how his concept of a semi-physical mind is different than the physical brain. He simply assumes they are different.

Next he goes to the trouble of telling us why we should consider physical processes indeterminate. As examples he uses calculators, computers, adding machines, and falling bodies. I could argue that calculators are determinate in the sense Ross is using it. I could also argue that falling bodies follow well-established laws of gravitation. But all of that would be a waste of time. His point seems to be that we could describe these things in multiple ways including the wrong ways. This is trivially true. There's no doubt Ptolemy described the workings of the solar system quite differently than Newton. But were both equally correct? I would hope Ross escaped the 12th century enough to know both descriptions are not equally valid. There is a truth to the matter even though we are never exactly correct with our current models. But again, this is simply a waste of time. It's a tangent that misses the crucial issue.

Now we come to the error that any first-year philosophy student should have seen. Ross has gone to the trouble of giving us examples he claims exhibit indeterminate processes. These are calculators, computers, adding machines, and falling bodies -- purely physical bodies for sure. He's sure none of these exhibit determinate processes. Since they're all physical, we're supposed to keep our eye on that so he can pull the wool over our eyes with his free hand. But guess what he leaves out of the "purely physical" list? People! He conveniently excludes humans from his physical examples as if humans should not be considered part of his ideal physical universe. This simply begs the question in a most outrageous way.

This is the way Feser describes the logic:

(1) All formal thinking is determinate, but
(2) No physical process is determinate, so
(3) No formal thinking is a physical process.

The flaw in the logic passes straight over Feser's head. So I'll explain so even a right-wing professor of philosophy might understand. Notice what (2) expects of us. Formal thinking is in category (1). Physical processes are in category (2). So right from the beginning Ross has separated "formal thinking" from "physical processes." But he provides no evidence these belong in separate categories. No materialist would accept they belong in separate categories. A materialist would insist that "formal thinking" is a subset of "physical processes." Yet (3) exclaims, " WOW, we've just proven 'No formal thinking is a physical process!'" Ross has merely proven he can restate what he assumed to begin with. The human counter-examples to his thesis are shoved over into a non-physical category. Why? Because that's exactly what he wants to prove. He expects us to go along for the ride. Humans think determinately. So let's put them in a non-physical category because we don't want them to dirty up our assumptions. It's all so easy when we assume what we want to prove.

Nowhere does Ross explain how Ross can add 2+2. Ross would agree Ross can add. But nowhere does he explain why his ability to add belongs in this non-physical category. He just assumes his audience will accept examples designed and trimmed to fit neatly into his conclusion.

Ross's last attack is on those who would be stupid enough to deny humans can think determinately. He writes:

"We cannot really add, conjoin, or do modus ponens? Now that is expensive. In fact, the cost of saying we only simulate the pure functions is astronomical. For in order to maintain that the processes are basically material, the philosopher has to deny outright that we do the very things we had claimed all along that we do. Yet our doing these things is essential to the reliability of our reasoning."

Ross must first show us why the "simulation" which gets the correct answer is inferior to his proposed "pure" function. Let's not forget "simulation" is Ross's characterization, not the physicalist's. If "simulated" modus ponens works as well as any other scheme Ross can imagine, then there's no expense whatsoever. If the computer is asked via input for the output of 2+2, is the answer given of 4 a mere simulated truth? Ross has never established a precise difference between a "pure" function and a simulated one. That doesn't stop him from asking others to do that for him. To those who might object that only simulated functions exit, Ross asks for a "worked-out contrast between adding (which no one, apparently, can do) and simulating adding." This request would be more compelling if he had bothered to work-out that contrast himself for his own argument.

His only criteria for that contrast seems to be that we know what we're doing whereas the computer does not. So the truth of the matter is not in the physical facts themselves, but rather in how we interpret them or use them. It sets up humans as final arbiters of truth. All truth statements become human convention. We are allowed to interpret the facts of nature like Derrida interprets literary text. This is the post-modern world of the Aristotelian-Thomas philosopher.

In the end Ross has made only one trivial point: We sometimes mean what we claim we mean, which is odd since it's difficult to see what nature means (he claims). He has not shown that the minds that sometimes contemplate odd things must be immaterial to do that.

-- Don Jindra

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Final Cause and Arson

Yesterday 24-year-old German national, Harry Burkhart, was charged with 37 counts of arson. For those who don't know, Hollywood was on edge for three nights as a serial arsonist set dozens of car fires which usually spread to nearby buildings. Starting at dusk, helicopters flew like drones throughout the night. Every ten minutes one circled over our neighborhood. Sirens were constant background noise. Great job on catching that idiot.

But for most of us there's a lingering question. Why did he do it? The guy does seem a bit crazy. So is chance to blame? Was Burkhart an agent of chaos we should expect to surface now and then in a cold and uncaring universe? Hardly anyone would accept that as an explanation. Was it "rage against Americans" as the prosecutor said? Was he simply angry his mother was being deported? This seems more plausible. But now we discover he may have set fires in Germany too. Did he have rage against Germans as well?

Most of us expect a reason. He set those fires for a purpose. But suppose we stop there. Suppose we say: "The reason Burkhart set those fires is simple. He intended to do so. That, and that alone, makes his acts intelligible. It's crazy to look for more reason than that."

Is this an explanation? It's difficult to see how it could be. It's surely not a satisfying explanation for people who really do care to find one. I think most people would agree with me. I think most jurors will want to hear more from a prosecutor than, "Ladies and gentlemen, this man committed these crimes because he intended to do so!" Such a prosecutor would be laughed out of the courtroom.*

So why should we view Aristotelian-Thomist "final cause" any differently? Why would anyone think it's more than ridiculous rhetoric? We are told this line of inquiry is in the service of metaphysics? That's serious, right?

To paraphrase Edward Feser: The basic idea is that if arsonist A regularly brings about fire B - rather than ice C, or snow D, or sits at home drinking beer E - that can only be because there is something in the nature of arsonist A by virtue of which he is “directed at” or “points” to the generation of fire B specifically. What something is that? Intent.

Metaphysics is simple, folks. No sense in thinking hard. Why did Burkhart set those fires? He intended to do so. That was his "final cause." Why does the earth orbit the sun? It intends to do so. That is its "final cause." If we believe that, we can stop looking elsewhere. Newton wasted his time. Aristotle already had a sufficient reason for planetary behavior.

And that listlessness for answers is within the nature of "final cause." We can forgive Aristotle. He was a genius without the benefit of modern science and technology. But it's hard to see a trace of genius in modern advocates of "final cause." This metaphysics of "final cause" is no more satisfying as an explanation than a metaphysics of chaos. Some people are satisfied with premature metaphysical ejaculation, I guess.

-- Don Jindra

* Okay you sticklers, it's a spoof. But it ain't that far from the truth.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Purpose-driven Purpose, Part 1

There's a new "conservative" attack on America that promotes itself as philosophy. In what might be an inside joke meant for esoteric Straussians, it calls itself an Aristotelian-Thomas philosophy, or A-T for short. What better way to merge Athens and Jerusalem than to mix Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas?

There may be those who promote the A-T "tradition" for reasons other than political. This is not directed at those lost souls. I'm interested in the hacks who dress up their politics to parody love of wisdom.

Edward Feser is one of the more obnoxious of those A-T proponents. He writes for several "conservative" publications including National Review, The American Conservative, and the Catholic, neocon propaganda tool, First Things. He's written several books and also teaches philosophy. His case demonstrates why teaching philosophy and writing about philosophy does not make one a philosopher -- like teaching literature and writing about great novels does not make one a novelist.

At the core of A-T is a fanatical belief in teleology, also referred to as "final cause." Most people would simply call teleology the purpose or design of a thing. So let's try to ignore the jargon. This is little more than a re-warmed version of Paley's divine Watchmaker argument. Though they adamantly deny it, A-T is yet another version of Creationism. When Creationism didn't fly it became Intelligent Design. Now that ID is embarrassing, the argument is repackaged by different players as "final cause." The difference is in the sublimity of the lie.

Remember how Intelligent Design proponents claimed they were not Creationists? Likewise Feser makes a point of distancing himself from the Intelligent Design movement.

ID is primarily concerned with life. Living things have parts that function as if they were intentionally designed for that purpose. A heart pumps blood therefore pumping blood is the heart's purpose. In A-T terminology, pumping blood is the heart's final cause -- the thing it is meant to do. A-T accepts the theory that evolution itself could be used to produce the heart. This question doesn't seem to interest them -- probably because the question has been so strongly answered in favor of Darwin. But, in some minds, Darwin doesn't answer more pressing questions: Why do things follow any law at all? Why does any substance have a limited set of properties? What gives them those properties? What hand directs them to behave in certain ways? Ultimately, what "power" keeps them in existence in the first place?

Feser expresses A-T final cause as "the directedness of brittle objects toward shattering, of soluble objects toward dissolving, of the phosphorus in a match head toward generating flame and heat." [1]

Why is this important? In a boldly silly sentence Feser explains: "The A-T view is that unless we regard such 'directedness' or 'pointing' as immanent or inherent to the natural phenomena that exhibit such dispositions and causal powers, we have no way of making it intelligible why they have the manifestations and effects that they typically do." [2]

In other words, we can't understand the fact that glass breaks unless we accept the fact that glass has within it an intent to break. Supposedly this is a more intelligible reason for why breakable objects break. The claim is that a history of observations that glass does break is less intelligible than if we assign purpose or intent to the glass itself. A keen mind would notice that we can assign that "purpose" only after we observe the facts that glass tends to break. So if purpose and only purpose can make the world intelligible, it's an unfortunate fact that it's simple observations that make "purpose" intelligible in the first place. Purpose is derived from observation and can only be so derived. So if observation is less intelligible than "purpose", what basis is there for the claim that intelligible "purpose" is derived from unintelligible observation? Obviously it's a false claim. As we will see in this series of posts, A-T rests on many false, often silly, claims.

So what causes glass to break? In the A-T dogma, it was intended to break. Intent was the cause! How do we know? Let's forget how we know. Let's first claim that observation itself is unintelligible. Nothing breaks except when it's intended to break. We should assume intent is the intent of someone. Take a wild guess as to who that "someone" is! God wills glass to break.

Paley stumbled upon a watch and asked who made it. Feser stumbles on glass and asks who made it breakable. It's the same argument no matter how much Feser claims that it's not.

This A-T dogma is a Christianized New Age mysticism. Let's call it Gnu Age -- to parody A-T rants about Gnu Age Atheists. To the Gnu Ager, the universe is alive with intention. Not only does a cat intend to climb a tree but a leaf intends to fall and the earth intends to break its fall. When a baseball is thrown to a window, the glass intends to break rather than stop the ball like a steal plate might intend to do. You see, metal and glass have a different purpose embedded into their existence. If we don't understand that we can't understand anything!

Of course this is trivial nonsense. It wouldn't be worth contemplating or countering if there was no purpose behind it. But Feser's interest, his real final cause, is human behavior. There's a political purpose behind his purpose. You see, humans have a final cause too and, if we disobey, we break as surely as a window. Or more ominously, we deserve to be broken. Or even more ominously, we should be prevented from breaking. Self-assigned purpose, our own invented final cause, becomes sin. This dogma, which Feser refers to as classical natural law theory, is the sole reason why this A-T "tradition" is of any interest. The "philosophy" is blatantly political.

In the The Last Superstition Feser makes his political interest clear. Same-sex marriage 1) confounds good with evil, 2) confounds reason with insanity, 3) represents a total collapse of traditional morality, 4) demonstrates a low point in our civilization, and 5) shows we have succumbed to meglomania and erotomania. Accompanying this mania has been a rise in the "ostentatious unbelief" of the smart set. "It's as if the urbane cocktail hour secularist liberalism of the twentieth century has, by way of the slow but sure inebriation produced by an unbroken series of social and judicial triumphs, now become in the twenty-first century fall-down-sloppy drunk and lost all inhibition, by turns blaspheming, whoring, and otherwise offending all sane decent sensibilities as the mood strikes it." [3] That hogwash reminds me of the emotional screeching in Bork's Slouching Towards Gomorrah.

Far from being an appeal to reason, Feser's A-T is a flourishing of the irrational. It fuels the fears of an authoritarian personality. In one deranged moment out of many Feser asserts that the "metaphysical absurdity" of "same sex marriage" is not a matter of choice. "It is no more up to the courts or 'the people' to 'define' marriage or to decide whether religion is a good thing than it is up to them to 'define' whether the Pythagorean Theorem is true of right triangles, or water has the chemical structure H2O." [4] Such things are discovered through reason. These are not things for "democratic procedure to stipulate."

In short, Feser rejects democracy. Oh, he might permit it for a few things, but he rejects it for the important things -- those things he thinks he can discover through smugness. His mission is to ensure "classical theism and traditional morality of Western Civilization" be "restored to their rightful place as the guiding principles of Western thought, society, and politics." His boogeyman is a specter called "secular liberalism." And it's not simply wrong, it's "a clear and present danger to the stability of any society, and to the eternal destiny of any soul that falls under its maligned influence."

Feser demands much more than a "'place at the table' of some great multicultural smorgasbord" Instead his views "ought to be restored to their rightful place as the guiding principles of Western thought, society, and politics." This rhetoric is suspiciously totalitarian. In fact, through Feser's liberal application of words like "necessity" we find his view is necessarily totalitarian.

He declares that "secularism is necessarily and inherently a deeply irrational and immoral view of the world." When one claims a worldview is necessarily immoral, there's no room for tolerance. There's no looking the other way. And when he further claims the same worldview is insane, you had better keep him away from the straight-jacket closet. It does pose a peculiar paradox: Can an "insane" person be held responsible for immoral behavior at all? Likewise, can he be expected to cast a sane vote? Should insane people be allowed to vote?

If the secularist is indeed insane, there is obviously no need to listen to his reasoning. There's no need to consider his positions. There's no need to compromise. To compromise with insanity is insane. And finally, if that 'liberal secularist' cannot be shut-up, if he insists on insane policy, what option do we have left? How can we justify letting the insane vote? It may sound undemocratic to think we could strip votes away, but it's not so hard. We already have the method. As soon as we convict a secularist of a felony, he has no vote.

Necessity breeds necessity. Party Members! The Central Committee is in session! The issue before us is purpose. What is man's purpose? Surely no man can decide! Let us collectivize all men into one great, purpose-driven ant hill. Let us destroy the individual! Let us call upon Natural Law to make men live under Natural Law like billiard balls bounce under physical laws.

Feser constantly insists that this or that secular worldview leads, necessarily, to this or that conclusion, no matter what the advocate might argue in his defense. So Feser gets the same treatment from me. His worldview leads, necessarily, to totalitarianism.

I'll continue exploring this issue next time by examining his paper, "Classical Natural Law Theory, Property Rights, and Taxation."


Notes:

[1] "TLS and formal causes" paragraph 4

[2] Ibid

[3] Feser's The Last Superstition, pages vii, viii, x, for this paragraph.

[4] The Last Superstition, page ix


(working on references)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Genesis One



In six days God created the universe, complete with everything any god would ever need including his first two worshipers, Adam and Eve. Why would God go to the trouble? The Bible doesn't tell us, at least not overtly. But since he created everything, he owned everything, and like any being of property, God had his favorite possession called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He didn't want anybody messing with this tree, especially not those upstarts, Adam and Eve.

God says to Adam, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die." There we have it. God reveals his purpose. Maybe he had been itching to do this for eons: Create law. Without law, one cannot have obedience, and for this god we should learn that from the beginning, obedience is key.

This first and only law seemed simple enough and it looked like the perfect solution, except for one little hitch. There was this second god in the neighborhood, a really despicable thing, aptly disguised as a serpent. One day Eve struck up a conversation with this lowly god, and to her surprise, she discovered it had its own story to tell, a story quite different from God's story. She became exposed to that ingredient that keeps stories moving along -- conflict. The serpent tells Eve to go ahead and eat of the forbidden fruit, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." In case you missed it, the serpent is calling God a liar. This was a question that simply had to be answered. Was that one and only law really meant for Eve's good? Why does God get to decide? Isn't "good" a matter properly decided by all four residents? Why not put it to a vote? Can one solitary god be trusted to decide for the group?

What's a girl to do?

The serpent's temptation is hard to resist. After all, who doesn't want to be wise? Eve succumbs, then tempts Adam. Of course he succumbs. They are thrown out of favor and out of the garden forever.

Note that neither Adam nor Eve die on the day they eat of the forbidden fruit as God had warned. The serpent was right. In fact, Adam goes on to live 930 years, and Eve bears three children. Perhaps God misspoke.

The unavoidable fact is, God did lie -- at least if this story is taken literally. Literalists would deny this, claiming some silly thing like their spirits died to God, or their countdown to death began. But is God incapable of expressing himself with clarity? If God had meant their spirits would "die," then why didn't he just say so, precisely? If he had meant the countdown to death would start on that day, why didn't he just make that clear? It seems simple enough. Either one cannot take God's words literally, or God is a liar, or he is not competent of accurately expressing his thoughts, or he changed his mind. It is perfectly reasonable to assume God is a liar, especially in light of the remainder of Genesis. After all, he has absolutely no problem with supporting liars, deceivers, and murderers, and he himself is a murderer-holic, so why would he have any compunction about lying to Adam? The only way the literalist can explain away God's sticky moral problem is to add non-literalism to God's words. They must impose their special, metaphorical interpretation of "death."

The Gnostics had a better solution. They admitted that the creator god was immoral. For them, God was the demiurge. He was not the moral force of the universe. The fact that he created the universe gave him a big ego. He denied the existence of the true God who gave him all his power.

There is an obvious question we must ask. Why doesn't God want Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge? Is it, as literalists think, to keep evil from entering the universe, as if Adam's eating of the forbidden fruit changed the essence of God's perfect plan with one swallow? But God says that now Adam and Eve are "like one of us" -- knowing good from evil. Notice it's the tree of Good and Evil, not the tree of Evil. It's not that evil didn't exist before the big swallow, it's that Adam and Eve didn't know it existed. It follows that neither did they know that Good existed either -- this despite the fact that God was a regular drop-in. What kind of conclusion are we forced to draw from that? Adam knew God but didn't know Good? Surely literalists would deny this. After all, how could God not be Good? We could rather say that Adam and Eve didn't know right from wrong. But why wouldn't God want mankind to know right from wrong? Maybe because now man has the ability to decide these things for himself? He is no longer a slave to God's moral pronouncements? He has a moral sense of his own? Perhaps he can judge God as well?

If this Genesis God had his way we would be like infants, comfortably nursing while across the street our neighbors are being devoured, we not knowing or caring. But with our knowledge of good and evil we become outraged. Adam and Eve lost their innocence. Their eyes opened to the evil around them, including God's. Their moral sense caused their suffering. At the same time they rejected God's autocratic rule.

This was Eve's sin. She judged for herself. The knowledge of good and evil was not spoon fed to her, not portioned out at God's whim. It was no longer imposed through divine proclamation. She took it. She becomes an equal partner in her own moral system, asserting her right to recognize evil for herself.

Yahweh, too, eats from the Tree of Knowledge. Like sharks and seals, we and this god are natural enemies.

As punishment, God says to Eve, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." Many literalists take this to mean Eve, and all of her female descendants, are to suffer this same punishment. Because of Eve, all women suffer in childbirth, and they all must submit to their husband's rule. Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, says:

"Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children." (1 Tim 2:11-13)


Eve's so-called first transgression condemns all women to suffer equally, and defines woman's place in the scheme of things. This barbaric theme of indirect responsibility -- that an individual is to be punished or blessed, not because of her actions, but because of another's actions (her mother's mother's mother's...mother), is the major theme of Christianity, and is wholeheartedly embraced by many Christians. How moral is such a system?

In fact, should Adam and Eve be punished at all? Is it deserved? What was their great sin? Not a hint can be found of any major felony. Eve did not steal Adam's food or cut off his head. She did not offend Adam in any way. She offended the great Creator of the Universe. She hurt his feelings. We should remember this. Sins are crimes against God, not crimes against humanity. This is why the very concept of sin is suspect.

Basically it was curiosity and a hunger for knowledge that got the first couple. The serpent said, "God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." God, not the serpent, was the true prince of darkness, wanting Man to remain ignorant, a trapped child, unlearned, unwise, and inferior. Why do Christians call Satan the prince of darkness? It was Satan who opened their eyes. God wanted them permanently shut. Damn them! Now they've spoiled everything! So God throws the rebels out on their ears before they can consume the tree of life, and possibly live forever, wise and immortal, like God. Later Yahweh admits he is a jealous god, and here is the first sign.

This creation story fails even on the metaphoric level. It is not a moral tale. It does not show us a moral God. Would you want this hothead as your neighbor? Yet Christians twist this tale into the foundation of their "moral" universe. To literalists, sin entered through Adam and exits through Jesus. They need a literal Adam as a precursor for a literal Jesus. Everything in this story must be literal. For grins, let's look at Eden from a literal point of view.

First, where is Eden, anyway? We know it is between four rivers, two of which we know by the same names today. We have satellites highly interested in what goes on there. Literal Eden has to be there because there is no literal record that God ever destroyed it. In fact, he protected it. How have we managed to miss that flaming sword at the entrance?

Ever wonder what the literal Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil looks like? Or the Tree of Life? Since it bore forbidden fruit, surely there is a forest by now. It's likely teeming with old growth. How does it taste to eat knowledge? Does the literalst take this literally? Maybe orally? Or intravenously?

After Eve was created from Adam's rib, verse 24 says: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." But this "therefore" is prior to the fall, prior to any real fathers and mothers, and certainly prior to any "cleaving," or thoughts of "cleaving." This is justifying the effect prior to the subsequent cause. It's a literal absurdity.

And what is "one flesh?" I shudder to think of that literally.

When the serpent tempts Eve, it says "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened..." Were their eyes closed before then? Where else does the Bible tell us this is a metaphor? The only way one could jump to the correct, obvious, non-literal conclusion is to draw on "worldly" knowledge -- extra-biblical humanistic experience.

When Eve blames the serpent for convincing her to eat of the fruit, God says to the serpent: "dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life." Do snakes eat dust? Where in the Bible is the diet of snakes appended? Or is God lying here too?

Is the serpent evil at all? If this is a literal story -- of good vs. evil -- why does Jesus tell his disciples: "be ye therefore wise as serpents?" (Matt 10:16) The truth is, the serpent is a mythological symbol for knowledge. It's also, incidentally, the symbol of many ancient goddess religions. This is no accident.

God continues telling the serpent: "And I will put emnity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed..." Say what? Earlier God said, "Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so." There was no expressed exemption for serpents, so why did God have to add emnity between woman's seed and serpent's seed? Didn't the serpent already bring forth his own kind? Or are the serpent and woman already the same kind? Anyway, does a woman have seed? This passage does not make literal sense. It works only if it is not referring to a real woman, a real serpent, real seed. God continues telling the serpent: "it [the woman] shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise his [the woman's] heel." (KJV) How many women have heels bruised by a snake? Practically speaking, how big of a snake would it take to bruise a heel? Are snakes slithering around with bruised heads? And why is Eve referred to as "her," then "it" and then "his?" Why not "she" and "her?" Because Eve is not a normal female. Eve is not a person at all. If "it" was a real person, the "cleaving" of a few verses ago takes on new meaning. Maybe the gay agenda is not that unbiblical after all.

To Adam, God says: "cursed is the ground for thy sake..." What did the ground do to deserve this? Can this verse be taken literally? If so, why would a Christian own land? It seems this curse has mystical meaning, not literal. God adds: "Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee..." Do literalsts take this literally too? Do they have the thorns to back it up?

Verse 20 says: "And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living." (KJV) This is interesting. Eve is Mother Nature, not mother of three sons. This is the literal meaning. It is also its mythic meaning. This story is primarily a creation myth, not much different from hundreds of others. That's why it is Eve who must be tempted. She is the creative principle. She needs to create the physical world as we know it. She needs to force God's hand, to keep the ball rolling. Otherwise they'd be stuck in the pre-physical garden and we wouldn't be here.

Supposedly Adam was created in God's image. Yet if Adam is physical, then God is physical. Most Christians believe God is spirit. So how does one resolve this conflict? A literal reading, with a physical Adam, does not work. Therefore Adam was some sort of archetype, a mystical symbol. He was not a physical man at all, else God is physical.

In verse 22, God says: "Behold, the man is become as one of us..." Who is the "us?" How many other Gods were lounging around? Christianity is supposed to be monotheistic. Or is God so big, he's schizo? Earlier God said: "Let us make man..." There's that "us" again. How many creators are we to suppose there were?

The literalists say that if there was no literal Adam, then Jesus was not necessary. But there is the opposite problem. If Adam was literal, there was no need for Jesus. In Luke, the lineage of Jesus is traced backward. It ends with: "...the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God." But Jesus is also the son of God. That would make Adam and Jesus half brothers. Why did God have to use Jesus at all when he had a perfectly "good" (turned "bad") son in Adam? And better yet, Adam was the real sinner so he could legitimately pay for that original sin. It makes much more moral sense. Since God wanted the whole thing to be pretty gruesome, he could have had a T-Rex bite Adam's head off and, in the process, answer more than a few nagging questions.

The only reason God couldn't use Adam, is because Adam was never around to be used. There was no forbidden fruit. There was no first law. Why doesn't that fatal commandment against eating of the fruit show up later? Why isn't it in the Ten Commandments? Because is never existed. Anyone not blinded by the "light" of Jesus knows the tree of knowledge is a metaphor, and that Adam is a archetype. If this story is literally true then God changed the rules of the game somewhere between Adam and Moses. We would have to conclude, contrary to fundamentalist whining, God's laws are not absolutes.

If Genesis has any literal truth in it at all, it would be that God could have created the universe. If so, creation is God's real written record. Why would he give us mere words when words are so ambiguous? Surely a god could do better.

Many moderate Christians see the evidence of nature, discovered through science, and realize that a literal interpretation of Genesis is nonsense. If God left us the Bible, he left us other clues to interpret it - - very good clues, found in nature. Many faithful Christians throughout history have seen things this way. By studying nature they are indeed studying God's true written record. This record is irrefutable, it's not subject to errors in translation, or errors in transcription, or the limitations of language. It cannot be appended. And best of all, any errors in interpretation will eventually be resolved. The voice of God the ancients heard was nothing more than a whisper. Nature speaks forever the same. But we hear better today. That's why the Bible is becoming increasingly marginalized. It's not up to modern standards of evidence.

What literalists show us is that their criteria for evidence is seriously flawed. They have an unusually high tolerance for nonsense. They are unable to translate old mythological languages when listening through modern ears. They refuse to recognize absurdities. Since Biblical literalists reject the voice of Nature, they reject the creator god. They end up worshiping words because that's the only thing they have left. Many other Christians are not so ignorant.

But the biggest problem with a literal reading of the Bible is the limitations it puts on their god. It's common knowledge among human beings that if one wants to tell a powerful moral story, one does not use fact, one uses fiction. "Moby Dick" is not fact, "The Great Gatsby" is not fact, "Hamlet" is not fact. Is there any truly great piece of the written word that is not, essentially, a fiction? Yet these fictions have great meaning to us. Literalists seem to be saying their god is unaware of the power of fiction. They severely limit his literary license. Picture it -- God sits in his shabby little office, hunched over the divine keyboard, knocking out his cheap little docu-dramas -- inspiration for the masses. No creative artist would stand for such a thing. Surely a god wouldn't either.

Strict, literal interpretation of the Bible cheapens the message, cheapens the story, cheapens the religion. It brings it down to the level of raw data, facts and figures, historical happenings. Trivia from the gods.

-- Don Jindra

Friday, June 10, 2011

Can Stupid be Smart?

I'm going to talk about something that tries to pass itself off as philosophy. It's called "Philosophy of Mind" but don't let the highfalutin name fool you. In the wrong hands this "Philosophy of Mind" should be called "Philosophy of Never Mind."

The topic today is John Searle's Chinese room thought "experiment." It's supposed to tell us why computers can never truly understand things like people understand things. Searle may be correct about that. Computers don't yet understand anything in the same way you or I do. I'm fairly confident of that. But Searle can reach into the future and practically guarantee computers never will understand. That seems to be overly bold to me.

The following is a slightly simplified version of what Searle wants us to believe about "mind." [1]


You are a prisoner locked in a room. You have been given a bunch of cards with strange writings. Unknown to you these are Chinese words and symbols. You have also been given a list of instructions. These instructions tell you that another series of cards are going to be shoved through a slot in the door. These will have symbols printed on them too. Your job is to follow more instructions given to you (in plain English) which tell you how to match the new cards with the old cards and create a third stack of cards which you will shove back though the slot in the door.

You do your job well and one day they give you a pardon and a diploma because you have proven you are a master of Chinese Philosophy with special merit in the thought of Confucius. Unknown to you this has not been a waste of your time. A committee of eminent Chinese philosophers has been shoving questions through the slot. Your responses were brilliant if somewhat formal and, at times, insulting.

So do you deserve this honor? Do you know anything about Confucius or even Chinese? Of course not. Searle thinks this is significant. He thinks we have proven that computers can fool us. They may appear to understand even though they do not understand. He claims this is the case because you didn't understand anything about what you were doing in that room or why you were doing it. You were simply following a list of instructions -- that is, you were executing a program. And even though you executed it well, you still understood nothing.

Searle, pretending to be that prisoner, thinks his thought "experiment" does the following: "I produce the answers by manipulating uninterpreted formal symbols. As far as the Chinese is concerned, I simply behave like a computer; I perform computational operations on formally specified elements. For the purposes of the Chinese, I am simply an instantiation of the computer program."

Right away Searle makes a fatal mistake. And with this mistake absolutely nothing else he concludes will necessarily be true. His first statement is mostly correct. He does produce the answers by manipulating symbols, symbols that he is clueless about. He collects symbols. He compares the symbols. He moves them around. He sends symbols somewhere else and he's done. These are discrete steps he executes according to the instructions he's been given. In this case he is the equivalent of a computer's Central Processing Unit (CPU). The CPU in all computers is a very simple device. Its basic functions can be reduced to: comparing, jumping, adding or subtracting, logical "and" or "or" operations, and moving values around.. Actually it can be reduced to simpler than that. So let's grant that the man locked in the room is functionally the CPU.

This is the sentence where Searle goes wrong: "I am simply an instantiation of the computer program."

No, he is not. He is the CPU. He is not the program. There is no requirement that the CPU understands the program, and in fact it never does. It doesn't know what the next instruction is. It doesn't even remember the previous instruction. It's dumb as dumb can be. Any computer scientist knows the difference between a CPU and a program. It's the difference between hardware and software. Let's say it's the difference between a car and a driver. So Searle fails to understand the thing that he claims to model. He says, "I can have any formal program you like, but I still understand nothing." Of course. He's the hardware in his "experiment," not the program. He's the car, not the driver. He's not expected to understand. He says "in the Chinese case the computer is me." But he's confusing the man in the room with the room itself and the instructions (program) in the room that he faithfully executes. He is one small part of the system. He is not the system itself.

Searle commits the fallacy of division. A computer executing a program is a system. Not every part of a system contains every attribute of the system. Consider the system named Angelia Jolie. The system is sexy by some standards. Yet is every component of that system sexy? Is that nose hair sexy? Is that liver sexy? Consider a mechanical watch. It keeps good time. Does a gear in that watch keep good time? Does the spring inherently have anything to do with keeping good time?

The question in my mind is how this "experiment" could have generated such interest in the first place. It's so deeply flawed that it should have been shrugged off as the musings of an untrained mind.

Nevertheless, Searle continues his errors: "we can see that the computer and its program do not provide sufficient conditions of understanding since the computer and the program are functioning, and there is no understanding." But we can see no such thing because Searle has committed us to "seeing" from the limited perspective of the man-as-CPU. He is trying to avoid seeing from the system level. If his "experiment" does what he claims, if it does fool Chinese philosophers that the room does understand Chinese, then it could very well be that the system does understand even though the prisoner does not. The program and all of its hardware understands, the man is simply one part that enables that understanding.

Perhaps Searle is confused -- or hopes to confuse -- because he knows men can think. Men can understand. So if he puts man in the role of a dumb CPU we look at this "experiment" from the man's point of view. But in order to properly evaluate the "experiment" we need to look at the whole system. It's much more difficult to see that perspective from the program's point of view. It may be impossible to construct a thought "experiment" from the program's perspective.

We can easily dismiss this next assertion: "One of the claims made by the supporters of strong AI is that when I understand a story in English, what I am doing is exactly the same -- or perhaps more of the same -- as what I was doing in manipulating the Chinese symbols." This is definitely not the claim made by supporters of strong AI. Artificial Intelligence supporters are not as confused as Searle. They know the difference between a CPU and the system as a whole.

Searle goes further, claiming "not the slightest reason has so far been given to believe" that "a program may be part of the story." Why? Because his example suggests "that the computer program is simply irrelevant to my understanding." Yes it's true the program is irrelevant to the prisoner's understanding. But as man-as-CPU is not the whole system, there is simply no need that man-as-CPU understands a thing. Searle keeps making the same mistake: "I have everything that artificial intelligence can put into me by way of a program, and I understand nothing." Of course. A CPU is not designed to understand.

Let's assume Newton understood calculus since he invented it. Should we expect to yank a neuron out of his brain and demand it understand calculus? That's the standard Searle expects of AI.

Searle notes that if the man-as-CPU was passed symbols in English instead of Chinese that he would understand what was going on. This is significant to Searle but it has no significance whatsoever. Man-as-CPU is allowed to understand. He is a man after all. But it simply does not follow that he must understand. As most employees learn, one can follow orders whether the orders are understood or not.

Apparently this systems objection was brought to Searle's attention prior to publishing. A reasonable person would have admitted, "Well maybe I haven't thought this thing through." But not Searle. He pulls the old bait and switch. He recasts his "experiment" to this: "let the individual internalize all of these elements of the system. He memorizes the rules in the ledger and the data banks of Chinese symbols, and he does all the calculations in his head. The individual then incorporates the entire system. There isn't anything at all to the system that he does not encompass. We can even get rid of the room and suppose he works outdoors. All the same, he understands nothing of the Chinese, and a fortiori ["it's even more likely"] neither does the system, because there isn't anything in the system that isn't in him. If he doesn't understand, then there is no way the system could understand because the system is just a part of him."

Got that? That, my friends, is intellectual dishonesty. He's asking us to imagine a man who learns Chinese. But this is no ordinary Chinese speaker. This is a man who knows Chinese but he really doesn't know Chinese. Searle is asking us to start with a contradiction.

Why didn't Searle simply begin with this contradictory scenario? Why mention the Chinese Room at all? That's easy to see. Because nobody with a brain would have read past the first paragraph of such a silly proposal. This is what Searle now expects you to believe:

The "But I Don't Understand" Defense

Suppose you are a traffic cop. You pull over a Toyota for speeding. Inside there is a nice looking oriental couple. The passenger, a woman, appears to be pregnant. You address the driver:

"Sir, I clocked you at 95 mph."

"My wife is in labor, officer." The officer makes eye contact with her. She screams!

"Yeah, right. I've heard that one before."

"Contractions are two minutes apart!"

"Not buying. You were going 95 in a 45 mph zone. Hand over your driver's license. And turn off your engine."

"Please escort us to the hospital, officer!"

"Hands off the wheel! Turn off that engine!"

The woman screams again and the man takes off.

You, as an officer of the law, follow them to the hospital. The woman runs inside but you wrestle the man to the ground.

"My wife really is having a baby, officer!"

"Tell the judge."

As you're writing your report you learn the woman had a "false alarm." Maybe the baby will arrive next week.

A month later you're in court. The man pleads his case.

"I'm innocent, Your Honor. I admit I was going a little fast but I'm innocent of all those other charges dealing with refusal to obey an officer of the law and the flight and stuff. I simply didn't understand one word the officer was saying."

"Why didn't you understand?" asks the judge.

"Truth is I don't understand a word of English. Not one word."

"You seem to understand now."

"No, I don't."

"I don't understand."

"Me neither."

"What don't you understand?"

"None of this. None of this conversation and none of the commands given to me by the officer."

"Do you want me to cite you for contempt of court too?"

"No, sir. My contempt is not for the court. My contempt is for those who naively believe that just because English words come out of my mouth that I understand anything I say. I'm just a mouthpiece."

"A mouthpiece? Whose mouthpiece?"

"I don't know that either."

"Are you insane?"

"Would that make me innocent?"

"Is that your defense?"

"No. I simply don't understand English."

"How do you expect me to believe that?"

"Because someone programed me. They forced me to memorize the rules of the language. They forced me to memorize all the words. They forced me to perform billions of calculations in my head in order to spit out the proper responses to any English question. But I know nothing about what it all means."

"If that were the case I could ask the right question and you wouldn't have a response."

"I have an infinite number of responses so that wouldn't work."

"If you have an infinite number of responses then it's not reasonable of you to expect me to believe you have not learned English. So shut up before you get yourself into deeper trouble."


That is what Searle expects of us. In order to accept his thought "experiment" we must believe the irrational. His original Chinese Room now fits neatly into a brain. And now it becomes a bizarre assertion that a man who speaks a language well enough to fool experts really might not understand a word.

This is a lame response to the Turing Test. That is the issue. Searle merely begs the question when he claims he knows a guy who understands nothing yet can pass the Turing test. He should be honest and simply say he doesn't believe the Turing test is a valid test. He should dispense with his idiotic "experiment" because it reduces to that simple assertion anyway. Yet Searle has the audacity to claim systems objections such as mine beg the question. That's nonsense. Searle has not shown why a person or machine that converses quite normally in English should ever be suspected of not understanding.

Then Searle gets really irrational. "If we are to conclude that there must be cognition in me on the grounds that I have a certain sort of input and output and a program in between, then it looks like all sorts of noncognitive subsystems are going to turn out to be cognitive. For example, there is a level of description at which my stomach does information processing, and it instantiates any number of computer programs, but I take it we do not want to say that it has any understanding."

I know of nobody who claims a stomach understands Chinese or acts like it understands Chinese. I doubt anybody seriously claims that *any* system that has inputs and outputs and a program in between is a cognitive system. If such a person exists, he is as silly as Searle. This cognitive stomach is a straw man. Because Searle misleads himself into thinking a person could converse fluently in Chinese yet not understand a word, he can reach the absurd conclusion that food and food waste can be information. As they say, garbage in, garbage out.

There are billions of computers in the world. Virtually all of them input data, process that data, and output data. Yet very few AI enthusiasts would claim any of those real systems is cognitive. So Searle is dreaming up true-believers who, if they exist at all, are insignificant. No computer system as of today "understands" what it is doing. The question is, can a computer system someday be designed which does understand what it is doing.

Searle has proven nothing other than the fact that his sort of "philosophy" will get us nowhere.

Notes:

[1] A copy of the original and a more easily read reprint.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Medved reviews an Atheist President

I confess I never liked Michael Medved as a movie reviewer. Being vaguely aware he had morphed into a conservative commentator, it wasn't a total surprise to come across one of his articles on Townhall. In his opinion, there are three reasons why Americans Are Right To Resist An Atheist As President. None of those reasons has the least bit of merit but that doesn't stop Medved from suffering through.

The first danger an atheist President would pose to the country is that of "hollowness and hypocrisy at state occasions." It's no secret the President "presides over solemn and ceremonial occasions." But did you know he is titular head of something called the Church of America? I hadn't heard of this church. Apparently it's an "informal, tolerant but profoundly important civic religion that dominates all our national holidays and historic milestones." Without being a member of this very important organization, it would be impossible for the President to give the customary Thanksgiving Proclamation. After all, to whom would an atheist suggest the population give thanks? How could we suffer through this indecision? I know every year I sit in front of the television waiting on word from the White House: Just who am I to thank this year? Medved has an idea. Let's thank the Indians of Massachusetts. I have a better idea. Let's thank whoever we please, be it God, a family member, employer, or even the good old USA. After all, why should a President tell us who to thank? On electing him, did we delegate that solemn authority?

Apparently Medved's Americans don't want the freedom to thank whoever they wish. They must resist this wild idea, the freedom of thankfulness. In Medved's America, we follow orders.

Medved further informs us that the Church of America has a profession of faith called the Pledge of Allegiance. Allegedly an atheistic President cannot honestly recite this pledge because it contains the words, "under God." Nobody wants a hypocrite for President.

But obviously the President and other citizens were expected, as good Americans, to recite this pledge long before we had an atheist in the oval office. They were expected to do so even though they did not believe there was a god to be under. Medved and other theists are well aware of this -- painfully aware of it. He is also aware there are other citizens who reject his god. They have their own god. He might even be aware that the Christian god comes in many forms. One sect's God may not be anything like the others. So the issue is not that the President would be a hypocrite for reciting the pledge. The pledge is a lie no matter who recites it, and virtually every voter knows this. Medved wasn’t too concerned about Citizen Atheist being asked to be a hypocrite yesterday. And he is not too concerned that a Christian President is every bit as much a hypocrite today. Whoever pretends we are one nation under one God, knowing we are no such thing by law, is a liar and hypocrite. This includes Medved.

The obvious solution is to restore the pledge to its original form which removes the lying words. This, I think, would be the solution an atheistic President would adopt. When reciting the pledge, either leave out the words or replace them with true ones, like "under the Constitution." Fill in the blanks since that's exactly what we do in our hearts anyway.

The Church of America requires one more duty of our President. He is to be national choir leader. We need a strong voice to lead us in singing "God Bless America", "America the Beautiful", and "My Country `tis of Thee". Apparently religious references make our atheistic President tone deaf. We will not be able to harmonize around our national hymns. Even "The Star Spangled Banner" presents a problem if anyone among us insists on reaching the last verse. Medved's America is filled with frivolous people who expect frivolous presidential duties.

However Medved assures us a Jew like Joe Lieberman "could easily preside over" this Church of America because "his obvious attachment to faith in God and Old Testament principles shows sympathy, not hostility, to the generalized value of faith." This might be true if all atheists were Madeline Murray O'Hare. But they are not. Being an atheist does not necessarily mean one is hostile to the value of faith. Medved need only look into the Republican Party to see that this is true. Some of the neoconservatives are atheists. They were inspired by Leo Strauss -- another atheist -- to be very sympathetic to religious faith. They see it as the ultimate tool for managing the masses. Medved also ignores the absolute hostility that religious sects have for each other. Could a strict Calvinist run the Church of America when he is viciously hostile to Word of Faith theology? Medved is silent on this issue yet it's the same issue.

Surely an atheist would be hostile to some Old Testament principles. But he's with the majority of Americans on that. Not many Americans believe adulterers, witches, and homosexuals should be stoned to death. Most believe in freedom of religion which clearly the Old Testament does not. On the other hand, most atheists are against adultery, murder, and lying.

Medved next insists an atheistic President is doomed to be disconnected from the People. He asserts that the "most successful presidents sustain an almost mystical connection with the people they serve," naming Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush as examples.

We are "a nation with the soul of a church," in GK Chesterton's words (which Medved attributes to Tocqueville). So how could an atheistic President connect with this "profoundly, uniquely religious society?" This characterization of our society is not obvious to many. Forrest Church reminds us: "In many quarters of the world today America is resented -- even hated -- for its perceived embrace of godless and value-free materialism and the felt imposition of this moral ‘decadence’ on world society." In America itself, there is no shortage of conservative Republicans who are happy to point out we are a godless country and our abandonment of Christian principles deserves the wrath of God.

But let's assume Medved is right and we are a profoundly religious people. Does this mean an atheistic President cannot connect? Medved offers no reason for this being so other than the atheist's supposed "contempt for the Protestant or Catholic faith of the majority." He warns us: "A leader who touts his non-belief will, even with the best of intentions, give the impression that he looks down on the people who elected him."

Do all atheists tout their beliefs?

As I stated earlier, this supposed universal atheistic contempt is an invention in Medved's mind. It’s a stereotype with no foundation of truth. Certainly he can show examples of atheists who do have contempt for religion. It does not follow that all atheists have this contempt. Plenty do not. Besides, having contempt for religion does not mean one has contempt for the religious person. This should be an easy one for Christians to understand. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" could easily translate to "Love the believer, hate the belief." Medved vastly overstates. Most atheists who bother to "look down" on a believer do so no more than a wife “looks down” on a husband who refuses to restore the toilet seat to the sitting position.

Medved makes a lame assertion that any theist can better relate to a theist than an atheist can relate to that theist. There is no point in him offering evidence for this. We have thousands of years of religions relating to each other. Wars of persecution of sect upon sect counter his ignorance.

But let's examine Medved's assertion further. Suppose an atheist has a spouse who is a practicing Catholic. Can such a marriage survive? Can the atheist connect with the spouse by other means than religion? What if two atheist parents had a child who became a Methodist? Are their parental ties doomed? Of course not. There are many ways for human beings to connect. Religion is one of many options. In fact it is very low on the priority scale most people use when connecting with friends and family.

If Americans did connect with Kennedy or Clinton or Bush on a mystical level, it's extremely improbable religion had anything to do with it one way or the other. And to those rare individuals who do connect to any President on a mystical level, I say it's not in the nature of Americans to do such a thing. Get such romantic ideas out of your head. Presidents are ordinary citizens. They are not icons. They should not be the object of mystical adoration.

The final reason an atheist should be rejected for President rests on Medved's policy of appeasement. Apparently an atheist leading the war on terror is like sticking our finger in an anthill. All those moderate Islamic believers will go wild with resentment. Osama bin Laden's preaching will have been proven correct: the Western "embrace of modernity, tolerance and democracy" really does lead to "godless materialism." According to Medved, if we want moderates on our side we better be extra careful we don't offend their feelings or confuse their simple minds:

"President Atheist says he believes in nothing, so it's easy to assume that he leads a war against belief itself. A conventional adherent of Judeo-Christian faith can, on the other hand, make the case that our fight constitutes of an effort to defend our own way of life, not a war to suppress some alternative -- and that way of life includes a specific sort of free-wheeling, open-minded religiosity that has blessed this nation and could also bless the nations of the Middle East."

I wonder if Medved argued for this walking-on-egg-shell policy during the Cold War? Obviously a die-hard capitalist like Reagan was the last person we should have elected as President. He was bound to aggravate the world's moderate socialists. Godless communists probably would have preferred negotiating with a godless capitalist. But Reagan stumbled his way through in spite of thumbing his nose at them and calling them an evil empire.

Let’s clean ourselves of Medved’s ridiculous slander. President Atheist in all likelihood does not believe in nothing. His (or her) belief is in what it should be -- a belief in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights. Therefore it most certainly does include support for free-wheeling, open-minded religiosity. It's deceptive for Medved to imply otherwise. It's even more deceptive to imply a Christian would be more tolerant or understanding of Islamic beliefs. The Crusades were not lead by atheists. John Hagee and his cohorts are not exactly friends of Islam.

Medved’s list is so simple-minded and contrary to reality I certainly hope he doesn't believe it. On the other hand, is he really that cynical? Do conservatives really believe they can fire-up the masses with such shoddy reasoning? I hope Americans are smarter than he thinks.

Don Jindra