What about heaven?

Consider this part II of Problems with a literal Adam and Eve, which I posted shortly before Thanksgiving. In it, I detailed the scientific problems that come with a lot of biblical claims surrounding the creation of man. The popular explanation for why we aren’t all deformed cousins if the bible is accurate is that Adam and Eve were perfect specimens. Aside from the fact that there is zero scriptural evidence to support this assertion, there is also, you know, science. I tried to use the post as a way to explain that errors and mutations, while certainly “bad” sometimes, can also be highly beneficial. But I’d like to examine a theme that ran through the comments another blogger made, and that were echoed by the Christian site I linked to, and that is the idea of sin.

The argument is that Adam and Eve were perfect–they had zero genetic flaws. Again, no basis for this in scripture or science, but okay, let’s run with this assumption for a moment and grant that it’s true, for the sake of argument. Creationists, like the one who commented on my post, will often explain that this means that disease, genetic error, mutation, genetic degradation, etc did not exist before Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit. The Christian who replied to my post went so far as to say that after their expulsion from paradise, God cursed the sun to give us cancer. That’s literally what they said:

“Adam and Eve were not only perfect but were also in a perfect environment. Obviously the processes which cause genetic damage didn’t exist before they sinned. One consequence of sin was that God cursed the ground. Perhaps he also cursed the sun so that it began to emit harmful radiation. Or they could have been immune and lost their immunity.”

Aside from the fact that the only thing “obvious” here is that this person is pulling this out of their ass (check scripture or science for any reference to immunity from cancer or the sun being cursed and you’ll come up empty handed), there is an implication here. If Adam and Eve lived in a perfect environment and were not subject to disease or mutation, then they were immortal. When I made this statement, to my surprise, this Christian agreed with me:

“Without disease and genetic degradation people would be immortal and Adam and Eve were immortal before they sinned.”

Wow, okay. So they sinned and were not only kicked out of paradise, but lost their immortality. Here, the Christian blogger provides some scripture:

“Romans 5:12 says, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin.” Death is a consequence of sin. God didn’t want Adam and Eve to sin; therefore he wanted them to be immortal.”

Wow, God even WANTED them to be immortal. That’s a pretty huge statement to make. And ultimately it leaves me with one question:

What about heaven? 

There’s a gap in logic here that I think begs some serious answers on the part of Christians. If this interpretation is correct, there’s an odd implication as a result.

Immortality = no heaven. With me so far? If you never die, you can never go to heaven. Seems pretty straightforward. So what’s the alternative? An eternal physical existence? Fine, but even given a perfect environment free of pain and suffering, that’s a damnation in its own right.

Think of what it would mean to have an eternal existence. Eventually, you’d have seen everything and done everything you could ever hope to see and do. You’d have had every possible conversation, etc. And then what? An eternity of mind-numbing boredom. And also, if people never die, but keep reproducing (you know, “Go forth and multiply”) wouldn’t we eventually reach a point where there were so many people on the earth that you literally couldn’t turn around without bumping into someone else? This was God’s plan?

What kind of miserable existence is that? An eternal physical life where you run out of things to do and see and places to go and are left just standing there staring off into nothing because there’s nothing left to do? Where time no longer has any meaning to you? Forever?! Sounds pretty awful.

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Now, consider life with sin. Suddenly, because of sin, there is death. And because there is death, we can now go to heaven. But wasn’t the original claim that God wanted Adam and Eve to be immortal? That he didn’t want them to sin? Those were the exact words. Well if God didn’t want Adam and Eve to sin and to be immortal, that would mean he wanted them to always be alive, and if they’re always alive, that means they’d never get to heaven.

It would mean that God wanted them to experience an eternity wherein they did everything, saw everything, said everything, and then had to just exist, doomed to never experience or feel anything new again. God wanted them to experience a life where time and joy and pleasure lose all meaning.

It was only through sin–which is “bad”–that we were able to throw a wrench in this plan of God’s, causing him to send us Jesus and allow us into heaven.

And really, isn’t that what all Christians want, to live forever in heaven? Well, guess what? That wouldn’t even be possible if it weren’t for sin. And please, don’t give me crap about pain and suffering during our mortal life as “punishment.” Any pain and suffering one endures during life is literally infinitesimally small compared to the eternity of awesomeness that Christians think heaven is. It would be like someone offering you $100.000,000,000,000,000,000 but only if they got to punch you in the face just once.

So thanks, Satan, for ensuring that we all go to heaven instead of roaming the earth in eternal ennui and dissatisfaction, a type of living zombie.

Why do we work?

The other day my brother was showing me this Facebook thread that he was commenting on. The subject was Wal-Mart paying their employees more. There was one comment that caught my eye in particular. You’ll find a comment just like it said or written in just about any discussion about wages or income inequality, and it goes something like this: “BUT IF WE ALL MAKE THE SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY WHAT INCENTIVE DO PEOPLE HAVE TO WORK HARD?!?!?!”

That panic-stricken caps lock emphasis is my own, because I always imagine these people shouting in confusion and ignorance at their computer monitors. But this is a pretty common attitude for people to have, surprisingly. I posted once before about raising the minimum wage, and the subject of that article, the owner of the longest lived McDonald’s franchise, said something to the effect of, “If I started people out above minimum wage, what incentive do they have to learn their job?” From here, conversations with people who believe this kind of drivel usually degrade into tirades about socialism and how welfare just keeps people dependent upon the government teat. All of these ideas share one common theme: Incentive.

What drives people, what motivates them, what makes them act (or not act)? I’d like to tackle this subject and expose some of this economic/political rhetoric for what it really is: total bullshit. Let’s begin, shall we?

1. Welfare just makes people lazy and not want to work. 

I certainly hear this one a lot. This idea is alive and well, and the stories of “the welfare queen” can still be heard or read, even though that story is total crap. Modern iterations include people on welfare with new expensive cell phones and iPads, etc. But the idea is still the same: people on welfare live high on the hog and never lift a finger, etc. All on your dime! Except that, as the story about the welfare queen explains, only 2% of welfare cases are fraudulent. Furthermore, the people most likely to benefit from social safety nets in general are children and the elderly. But let’s take the crux of this idea–that welfare is a disincentive for people to work–and examine it for a moment.

I find several things about this ironic. First, I’d be willing to wager that most of the people making this argument about welfare themselves would prefer or choose not to work if they didn’t have to. How many people dream about winning the lottery or striking it big so they can quit working? Gambling and the lottery are big business for a reason.

Second, and more importantly, are the solutions for dealing with this “problem.” The problem to these people is the government. Fine, but there have always been homeless people or people who are out of work or unable to work, and there probably always will be in our society. So what do these people propose to do about that? “Well, that’s not the job of the government, that’s where private citizens and charity can play a role.”

Ah, yes, charity. Everything the government does is evil and wasteful, and everything private business and individuals do is brilliant and effective. Spoiler alert: it’s much easier to defraud or embezzle from a charity or private business because there is no oversight like there is with government programs.

So then, the follow up question: why wouldn’t people just come to rely upon charity the same way they rely upon welfare and other social safety programs sponsored by the government? The correct answer is that there’s nothing at all that says they wouldn’t. If someone is going to defraud the government of money, they’re probably willing to defraud total strangers of it too. So stop volunteering at the soup kitchen! All those free meals are just going to make the homeless want to stay homeless! Stop donating your old clothes to Goodwill or Salvation Army–you’re just teaching children that they can rely on freebies and handouts! See how ridiculous the logic behind the “welfare makes people lazy” is?

2. It’s socialism!

Apparently all of the people out there who make these claims about income inequality and wages never made it past 8th grade social studies, because they certainly have zero idea what the hell socialism really is. So let’s go ahead and straighten this matter out right here and right now.

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Socialism is defined by the dictionary as, “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution,of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.”  So where in that definition does it say everyone will make the same amount of money? That’s right, it doesn’t.

I have zero idea where the notion came from, but there is nothing in socialism that dictates equal income. You can go to any socialist country on the planet and you’ll find people of varying incomes and a representative elected government. There’s nothing to be terrified of.

More to the point, you already use things everyday that are “socialist” in nature. If you send your children to public school, congrats–you’re participating in socialism! If you support our troops, congrats–you’re supporting socialism! And more to the point, I don’t think any sane person, regardless of their political bent, would argue that public school and the military are bad things. But aside from the fact that people are generally wealthier, healthier, and happier in socialist countries, the people who like to espouse the evils of socialism are totally right on the money. Please read that last bit with sarcasm.

3. IF WE ALL MAKE THE SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY WHAT INCENTIVE WILL PEOPLE HAVE TO WORK?!

I saved the most ridiculous argument for last. There are a lot of things wrong with this line of thinking. Buried within this idea is a statement about hard work: some people don’t deserve to make as much money as other people because they don’t work as hard. I’ve tackled this issue before, but let’s tackle it again. What exactly constitutes “hard” work? You could probably ask 10 different people and get 10 different answers.

And that’s one of the problems with this argument. There’s no way to quantify “hard work” and so any comparison of jobs or careers will never be apples-to-apples. Is manual labor “harder” work than creative or intellectual work, or vice versa? There’s no correct answer to that question. Politicians are often fond of saying that teachers, policemen, and firemen are “the backbone of this country.” Yet their pay is hardly reflective of that sentiment. Does a doctor or lawyer work “harder” than a policeman or a teacher? Ask a policeman or a teacher if you’re struggling with this concept.

“Fine, but doctors and lawyers need more extensive training and spend more time in school,” one might say in rebuttal. Yes, that’s true, and I would agree that this obviously pays a role in their wages. However, other highly specialized work is paid less than non-specialized work. The average salary according to Standford University of an electrical engineer with a PhD is $108,000. Meanwhile, according to payscale.com the average CEO makes $152,000/year. And how many CEO’s do you know with a PhD in CEO-ing?

Obviously education and training plays a role in determining wages, but only to a small degree. So, some people might argue, the answer is how important a job is! On the surface that makes sense. That’s the common economic argument: that people are paid according to how valuable their job is to society. But again, let’s think about what makes a job “valuable” to society. Let’s think of our policemen and firemen, and then expand that idea to include people like garbage collectors and utility workers.

Every single one of those jobs earns somewhere around $50,000/year on average. Now, compare that again with the CEO’s pay. Or the pay of the average NBA player salary, which is $4,167,386/year (Chris Bosh makes $118,705,300 alone). Now let’s perform a little thought experiment. Let’s imagine that tomorrow, suddenly every single police officer, firefighter, garbage collector, and utility worker disappeared from the face of the earth all at once. How do you imagine your life would be affected? Things probably wouldn’t run so smoothly, huh? Might be a little difficult, to say the least, until they could be replaced. In short, if these people didn’t exist, your life would suck a lot harder.

Now let’s imagine what would happen if tomorrow every professional athlete, actor, and musician disappeared. What would happen? A big resounding nothing. Society would continue to function and your life wouldn’t be quantitatively affected at all. What if all the CEO’s disappeared? Again, probably nothing. I’m willing to bet that most people in larger companies and corporations have never met the CEO and never will. In other words, them knowing how to do accounting or marketing or cashiering has absolutely nothing to do with the existence of a CEO. Unless you think that CEO’s go around everyday and one-on-one show every single employee how to do their job, CEO’s are more or less superfluous.

A case in point...
A case in point…

So while value to society does play a role in determining wages, it’s really only up to a certain point. We pay the people who contribute nothing meaningful to society the most, while leaving teachers and plumbers and utility workers to languish in stagnant wages. Clearly something else is afoot here. The truth of the matter is that your wage is determined by how much someone with more money is willing to pay you. If they want to offer you less they will and if they want to offer you more they’ll offer you more. It’s as simple as that. There’s no hard science or mathematical formula that determines wages.

Chris Rock once had a bit about the minimum wage. “If an employer is paying you minimum wage, what they’re really saying is ‘I would be paying you less money if it weren’t illegal.'”

Okay, what about the idea that with equal income, there is no incentive to move up the ladder or work harder or whatever other bullshit this idea is peddling? Well, I would argue that is patently false. Most obvious is the fact that people aren’t motivated solely by money, as evidenced by the fact that we aren’t all lawyers and hedge fund managers. Let’s examine some of the non-financial things that motivate people to work.

a) people find their job challenging/interesting/intellectually or physically stimulating

b) people want to make a difference or change in the world

c) people like their coworkers/clients

d) pride/personal enrichment

I just find it utterly baffling that people think the invisible hand of Adam Smith only operates if there is inequality. I don’t know why people think that, considering there is no logical or practical reason to assume so. If you believe that people choose jobs based upon their natural personalities, inclinations, and abilities, then it shouldn’t matter how much money people make: they will always gravitate toward varying and different jobs.

People who make these arguments reduce people to automatons. They think people are no better than trained animals doing tricks for treats. The argument that people will only perform if paid is the same logic we use to train circus animals. Plus it’s demeaning to anyone who holds any sort of ideals higher than “I do work to make money to buy shiny crap.” This philosophy almost denigrates people who want to do things for altruistic reasons. It completely removes the ethical and intellectual arguments for work and productivity. It’s dishonest and it’s low brow. And quite frankly it needs to stop.

A few thoughts on AI

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True artificial intelligence has long been the realm of science fiction. But as we continue to make strides in computer technology, the possibility of true AI is increasingly closer to becoming a reality. Indeed, if you believe some experts, we’re only decades away from creating a true artificial intelligence. Ray Kurzweil has predicted that within the next 15 years it’ll happen, and that within the next 30 years computers will be more powerful than all the brains on the planet combined. So why am I thinking about this?

We are “summoning a demon.”

Those are Elon Musk’s words about AI recently. While I don’t necessarily feel that AI will go all SkyNet and send terminators to kill all the obsolete humans, I do think that AI represents a sort of existential threat to humanity. It all has to do with what it means to be human in the first place.

If a machine can do everything just as well or better than a human–including inventing and creating–then of what use am I? What good would all my thinking and creating be if a machine is just going to beat me to it or even do it better than me? This, to me anyway, is a philosophical intrusion on my humanity.

Because regardless of age or philosophy, I think most of us would agree that as human beings, we seek to improve ourselves, to improve the world around us. That’s why we explore, that’s why we innovate, that’s why we go to school. When we create something new, we’re not only bettering the world, but we’re enriching ourselves. We’re expanding our thinking and beliefs and personally growing.

But what of all that if machines do it for us? Faster than us? Better than us? I worry that we would lose that which makes us human. That in a world with true AI, humans simply wouldn’t have anything to do.

Perhaps just because we can do something doesn’t mean we ought to do it.

The end of my love affair with the movies

When I was younger I really liked movies. I would go out to movies when they opened. When my friends and I hung out, we would usually watch movies. But lately, as I dangle over the precipice of 30, my attitude has shifted. I think it’s safe to say that for the last couple of years my feelings toward movies has been an overwhelming ambivalence.

It’s not that I think that movies are complete crap now, although that’s certainly the case sometimes. But there have always been crappy movies. And there are certain “classics” that I’ll still watch. It’s just that as of late I don’t have any interest or enthusiasm for films anymore. Case in point: a friend of mine just sent me an email about how 2015 is going to be “the greatest year in movies.” We have the next Avengers movie, a James Bond movie, a Jurassic Park movie, the continuation of Star Wars. There were more on the list, but at the end of it all I could do is shrug and say, “meh.” Again, that’s not to say that these movies are going to be bad necessarily. I simply just can’t care about any of them, save for the next installment of the Avengers.

And the reason why that one movie holds my interest is because I think the MCU is probably the closest thing to a new approach to cinema that we’ve had in awhile. Not to mention that the novelty of seeing so many superheroes share one screen still hasn’t worn off, at least not for me. But overall, I find the whole project that marvel has going sweeping in both scope and ambition, and I think that warrants my attention.

But the rest of the movies? I could take ‘em or leave ‘em. Take the next Jurassic Park. I think a lot of the actors in the film are top notch. But I just don’t give a shit about Jurassic Park anymore. Sorry. The first movie was groundbreaking. But how many more freaking times can we rehash the same plot of “let’s recreate dinosaurs–what’s the worst that could happen?” Seems like you might be able to get away with that maaaaybe twice. But more than that and I can’t really suspend my disbelief anymore.

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The same could be said with James Bond. 24 movies, really? We need 24? I loved James Bond as a kid, but even I’ll acknowledge that there’s nothing new or fresh about the character or the franchise anymore. And I think it’s pretty evident that this has been the case for decades. They’ve been recycling or redressing plots since at least the late 70’s: The Spy Who Loved Me is pretty much the same movie as You Only Live Twice, and the whole “rich megalomaniac wants to destroy the world and recreate it in his own image” idea was played out again in Moonraker, which was the movie that came directly after The Spy Who Loved MeDie Another Die recycled the whole satellite weapon plot that GoldenEye used. Hell, Sean Connery made the exact same Bond movie twice–Thunderball and Never Say Never Again are literally the same movie. The list goes on and on. We get it: James Bond is cool and sexes up tons of hot babes while swilling martinis. How is that enough substance to drive twenty four goddamn movies? The short answer is that it isn’t. And that’s why I simply don’t care anymore.

There’s an old saying that in movies and literature there are really only two possible plots: someone goes on a journey or someone new comes to town. After a certain point, I think you just see everything played out. You realize that you’re just watching the same story retold over and over and over again. And it’s all a waste of time.

Escapism is a fine dalliance every once in awhile, but now that I’m older I’m more interested in having actual conversations with my friends, interacting with them, not just staring at a screen and then discussing things that ultimately don’t matter. I’d rather be outside enjoying nature or doing something instead of glued to the TV all weekend or sitting in a dark movie theater behind someone with a totally annoying laugh. There are so many places to go, things to see, to try, to learn and discover–to spend any time watching some woman named Anita Boner swoon over James Bond or Transformers 8: The Robots Transform Directly Into Explosions This Time almost seems like a crime, like I’m robbing myself of something.

Superficial is as superficial does

This is something that really chaps my hide. This blog post on The Fickle Heartbeat is basically highlighting a double standard in superficiality when it comes to dating.  In case you don’t feel like clicking on the link, I’ll post the entirety of the article for you here as well:

“I once met a man from an online dating site for a Coke at a local restaurant. His profile said he was an engineer – and I envisioned a well-educated professional. I have an MBA, and that’s just the kind of man I was looking for.

When my “date” began his monologue, he told me he was an engineer in a hotel — the guy who fixes things that break. Ohhhkkkkaaaayyyyy….He also said he had a second job since he was in a bad financial situation and that he worked in the deli at a local grocery store.Shortly after that (I should’ve said “mercifully after that…”) his cell phone rang. He answered and said it was an urgent call from his boss — not on his “real” job at the hotel — but at the BiLo deli. He had to leave immediately to handle a deli emergency …  (What? They ran out of ham?)And I (gleefully) watched him rush away …So much for my fantasy of hooking up with a brainy engineer in a suit and tie. This was more like meeting a man wearing an apron and a plastic deli cap.”

This is bullshit for two reasons. First, it’s a fallacy to judge someone’s intellect based on their job. How would she know if he’s really nerdy or not? Or really smart? She didn’t even give the poor fellow a chance. She instantly made a biased, snap judgment. Just because this guy works in a hotel and a deli doesn’t mean he isn’t nerdy or intelligent. Hell, Einstein worked in a patent office before his academic career, not exactly a prestigious or intellectual job. Maybe this guy is really into nerdy things and maybe he really is intellectual, but the circumstances of his life have put him in the situation he’s in at the moment. For all this woman knows, maybe he really does have big goals and aspirations and is just working his way up the ladder. She’ll never know because instead of getting to know him, she looked down upon him.

Secondly, this kind of double standard really needs to stop. Women get pissed off, and rightly so, when men judge them based on their looks. Just because a woman is stacked and has blond hair doesn’t mean she’s a bimbo. Women have fought hard to overcome that kind of stereotypical judgment. And yet, for some reason, it’s perfectly okay for a woman to judge a man’s character based on his profession and the size of his wallet?

Maybe this guy worked two mediocre jobs, but at least he’s working. And he seems willing to work two jobs to cover his financial bases, which is responsible. So why does this women feel the need to make fun of him? He seems, from the story, to be a hard working guy trying to make it, which is a lot more than you could say for a lot of other guys out there.

It’s all right there in the opening paragraph: “and I envisioned a well-educated professional. I have an MBA, and that’s just the kind of man I was looking for.” Not only is this woman basically pre-judging men based on their education, but she’s also claiming that her education instantly makes her better than other people. She’s apparently turned on by intellect, but then fails to realize that education is a poor marker of one’s intellect. Which makes me think she’s really only attracted to the image or trappings of a traditionally successful man–not the man himself, which seems about as blatantly superficial as one could get.

What if…

I’ve been reading A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss (I left the book in my office, though, so I won’t be finishing it this weekend and posting about it). As I was reading it the other day, I had a sudden thought. It’s more poetry than science, but I think it’s still fun to imagine.

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That’s what happens in the LHC, or Large Hadron Collider, when two particles accelerated close to the speed of light smash into each other. The very purpose of this whole machine is to better understand how our universe was made by recreating conditions similar to those at the beginning of the universe (or at least the universe as we know it). So if we’re recreating the conditions of the big bang and all of those elementary particles, what if…

…every time we did this we were creating a new universe?

I know it sounds fanciful, but we’re essentially creating a bunch of little big bang approximations in the LHC. What if each one of those resulted in a tiny universe? Sure, they only exist for a brief flicker of time–but that’s our time. Time in that new tiny universe might behave differently. Perhaps what amounts to only a fraction of a nanosecond for us amounts to trillions of years in the tiny universe. Perhaps in that one fraction of time for us, entire galaxies and civilizations are born and ponder their own existence and then fade away. Perhaps our own universe and our own big bang are merely the products of a similar experiment happening in another universe. Maybe our entire existence is data to some scientist in another universe.