Essential Snowbarfing

The ski resort at Mt Baker, WA offers 5th graders a pass to hit the slopes for free.  I took my oldest daughter up while she when she was in 5th grade, and now my middle daughter is in 5th grade. I’ve been skiing since some friends of mine convinced me to come along one winter in high school and had some great laughs at my expense. When I took my oldest daughter I taught her how to ski, but her younger sister was determined to try snowboarding.  Since I couldn’t talk her into the snow sport for people of higher intelligence, I agreed, and decided I’d give it a shot myself, so yesterday we hit the slopes for a day in the snow.  It was a painful day, but at least I learned a few things.

First, it is true that the bigger you are the harder you fall.  Second, the older you are, the more it hurts!  Third my own dad is awesome.  There was a time when I must have been about 16 or 17 and I had learned to ski.  I remember my dad, having little or no experience skiing, took me up to Stevens Pass to have some laughs at his expense just like my friends had at my expense a year or two earlier.  I realized yesterday as I tumbled down the hill, that my dad must have been a few years older than I am currently when he did that.  Realizing how much work it was, that I’m not as flexible as perhaps I once was, and that I don’t recover quite as fast as I used to, it gave me a lot of appreciation for that day Dad did cartwheels in the snow at Stevens Pass. Thanks, Dad.

Finally, I realized that I cannot call myself a snowboarder.  Since neither my daughter or I had ever done this before, I signed us up for a lesson.  My instructor, Eric, led us through the basics of how to strap on the board, move around with the board, and crash gracefully.  Once we had that mastered, it was on to actually riding down a small hill.  The first step was to just ride straight ahead and keep balance.  This was no problem for me.  Having skied for a while, I’m comfortable enough sliding down snow.  We made in through these basic skills and then Eric took us up the rope tow to practice on a small hill.

At this point Eric, the instructor, went through the finer points on how to turn.  For those of you who snowboard, this is natural.  You also know about something known as “catching an edge”.  This is something you want to avoid.  Eric explained how in order to turn you must keep your weight forward, then place pressure on only the down hill-side of the front of the board.  This turns the board down hill, and then you have to place pressure on the same side of the board in the back, which will then make the board turn fully, and you’ll and up facing 180 degrees from where you started.  The process is then repeated on the opposite side of the board, which has now become the down hill-side.  You do this drill alternating between toe side and heel side as the board points one way across the hill, and then the other.  You must do these essential things, or it won’t work.

At the same time Eric pointed out people coming down the hill.  “See that guy,” he’d say, “you don’t need to whip your upper body around like that.  It works, but it just wastes energy.”  He’d point out another one, “See that guy?  You can point your front arm to where you’re going when you’re first starting.  It’s not necessary, but it can help you keep your weight forward.”  Eric could clearly point out the differences in the way different snowboarders were riding.  They had different little things they would do, but all of them had to apply the same essential toe-side and heel-side pressure in the right order to move back and forth across the hill.  There were these various subsets of people though, that were definitely snowboarders, who had various non-essential quirks in the way the understood snowboarding to work.  It didn’t mean they weren’t snowboarders, because they clearly were as evidenced by the way they’d fly down the hill.  They just did things a little bit different.

Here’s the thing though.  Had you seen me walk out of the lodge with a snowboard in my hand, you might have thought to yourself, “hey, there goes a snowboarder.”  You’d think I was one of those guys who would be flying down the hill gracefully any moment.  You’d be wrong though.  I was not able to accomplish these essential snowboarding skills, so if you see me with a snowboard in my hand, I’m just a guy holding a snowboard.  Even if I should claim I’m a snowboarder, if I don’t have those essential skills it takes to get down the hill, it just isn’t true.  I can even ride the chairlift to the top of the mountain to make it look convincing, but if I’m just tumbling down the hill then I’m just a guy with a board strapped to his feet.  I must practice those essentials of snowboarding in order to be an actual snowboarder.  Otherwise, like I was yesterday, I’m just some moron trying to pass as a snowboarder.  Real snowboarders wouldn’t want you to look at me and assume I represent a typical snowboarder.  They’d probably be offended.

This applies to all sorts of things. Just remember, if you don’t want to be lumped in with people who don’t think like you, don’t do the lumping to other people.  Also, if you want to be associated with a particular school of skill or thought, there may very well be non-essentials that can be disagreed upon within the group, but you must practice the essentials of that group in order to count yourself in their number.

If it looks like a duck, but doesn’t quack like a duck, it’s probably just a decoy!

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Hitler Makes Me Barf

My last couple of posts have been about objective good, what it means, and if it even exists.  I seem to be stuck on these sort of theological themed things, so if you’re following along, sorry.  It’s just what my mind is barfing up lately.  It’s my barf though.  You don’t have to lap it up.

I was recently asked if I’m only good because Yahweh (that is, God) demands it.  That’s a good question.  At first it seems tricky, but in the end, for me at least, it’s actually quite easy to answer.  The answer is, no.  I’m not good because God demands it.  Moreover, I’m not even good.  I’m actually quite messed up.  I try to be good, but in the end, I really fail pretty miserably in comparison to what true objective goodness really looks like.

If I try, I can convince myself that I’m good as long as I don’t think about it too much.  The honest fact is though, that I’m constantly fighting my own evil nature.  I’m really an angry, greedy, self-centered, jealous, manipulative, controlling, lustful, violent, merciless piece of work.  I constantly have to keep myself from snapping at my kids, berating my co-workers, hoarding my resources, exalting my own accomplishments, lying, cheating, stealing, objectifying women, climbing over you to get my own way, cursing you to hell, or punching you in the face.  These are all things the natural part of me would like to do.  This is the reality of nature.  This is me.  This is not good.  I am not good.

Here’s the thing though, I don’t have to follow my natural instinct.  I’m different from other animals.  While nature attempts to act like it is an attractive choice, I have this weird ability that other animals don’t have.  I have free will and the ability to recognize that much of that natural part of me is not good.  I have the option to defy it, and there is something built into me that compels me to do so.  Blindly accepting the call of the wild might work in the animal kingdom, but it doesn’t work with people.  Some people give in to nature and chase power, resources, and physical pleasure.  The more we do it, the more we seem to be able to block out actual good and follow nature.  The ones I’ve known that do, do not end up being very happy.  The reverse seems to be true too.  The more I defy nature and choose good, the easier it is and the happier I become.  In the end most of us, at least to some degree, end up defying nature, recognizing good and choosing it.  Sometimes nature directed choices aren’t all bad, as long as they aren’t in conflict with good choices.

However, being completely natural beings would be bad.  Here’s what a guy that seemed to be just following his natural instinct said about it…

“If nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such cases all her efforts throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.

But such a preservation goes hand-in-hand with inexorable law that it is the strongest and the best who must triumph and that they have the right to endure.  He who would live must fight. He who does not wish to fight in this world, where permanent struggle is the law of life, has not the right to exist.” ~Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

In the absence of objective moral standards, I’m compelled to admit this sort of thinking is completely valid.  Personally, I cannot accept this is reality because I recognize I have the ability to differentiate what are natural impulses vs what is objectively good.  Objective good seems to tell me people shouldn’t have to fight to exist.  I see no reason to think that in any time, any place, or with any people, that the unjust taking of life is acceptable.  Please note though, that I do believe good and proper justice involves the taking of life at times.  Morals are objective, but not absolute.  The difference is the motivation behind the extinguishing of life.  For instance, intentionally taking a human life for personal gain is bad.  Intentionally taking a human life that is bent on destroying other human life for their own gain is just.

Now, on more than one occasion various people who challenge me on my assertion that in a purely naturalistic worldview I’d be entitled to do any number of seemingly evil things will ask, “why do you want to rape, murder, and pillage?”  Those people are missing the point.  I don’t want to.  I’m an inherently bad person, but something about me tells me very often that I should ignore nature, seek out the objective good, and elect it over the natural choice.  I, for one, do not want to be a slave to nature, and so I choose not to.  However, in the absense of a moral law giver who also provides freedom to choose, I’m just a natural robot.

However, in the context of the actual point, the real question is, why should I think ill of oppressive regimes like Nazi Germany, the former USSR, or modern-day Rwanda, North Korea, Iran, Syria, or China?  If one of these regimes were to dominate the world, would that make it good since it was the outcome of nature?  Over time, would our minds come to accept it as a natural fact, and our feeling of something being wrong would dissipate?  We’d be okay in our various forced roles in the colony, similar to honey bees or ants?  We’d cease longing for societal and individual liberty?  I don’t think so, and so I have to go searching outside of nature for the source of these objective moral truths that I believe are true for all people, at all times, in all places.  Once I think I’ve found the source, I’d be stupid not to conform to that source’s way of thinking if I really believe it to be the source.  Especially if I think it is for my own good.

And that is why I try to wisely choose what is intrinsically good, over following my own intrinsic natural selfishness.  Frankly, it isn’t easy.  Yoda was wrong.  When it comes to morality at least, there is a try.  Sometimes I succeed.  Sometimes I don’t.  If I quit trying though, it is then that nature rules me, rather than me ruling it.

Is Consuming My Own Barf And Re-Barfing It Bad?

The other day I posted my thoughts on SOPA, Shampoo, and the greater good.  A commenter responded to it by posting the video above.  However, this video is the exact denial of reality that some atheists hold which I was originally alluding to.  To be perfectly clear, let me take what I believe is the only logical position that can be taken by a naturalist, that is, somebody who believes that there is nothing that can exist outside of nature.

1) No action nature takes can be either good or bad.
2) People are nature.
3) Therfore, actions people take cannot be good or bad.

You see, the fundamental problem is that if we are simply nature, nothing we can do is either good or bad.  The video above, like Sam Harris, tries to short circuit this fundamental problem by jumping to the conclusion that “good” is whatever allows human life to flourish and be happier, more peaceful, and more productive.  However, in nature alone, we’re taught that things are neither good nor bad.  We’re merely random molecules that happened to end up as people.  We wouldn’t fault a lion for attacking and eating a gazelle, nor would we fault a lion for attacking and killing another lion to assert its dominance in a pride.  Likewise, by this naturalistic perspective, how can we fault Hitler for doing what he thinks is good?

If we don’t like what nature like Hitler is doing we can try to stop him because we don’t prefer his way of thinking, but that is just one group’s sense of good vs another’s. It isn’t objective morals, it is relative morals. Such a way of thinking just leads to the most popular view becoming the “good” view. The video above states that power and majority can’t determine morals, but without some foundation of morals outside of nature, that is exactly all that is left on which to base “morality”, and so the entire idea that objective morality can exist in nature is unreasonable and self-defeating.

All people have a built-in aversion to admitting that humans are only as equally important as other natural animals, at the same time some people have a volitional aversion to admitting that “good” and “evil” are concepts that must necessarily come from outside nature (ie supernatural). This leaves them no choice but to define good and evil relatively, as it relates to themselves, based on nothing more than their own opinions.  Coincidentally, this is also what necessarily follows when you try to base your morality on the wrong thing outside nature that doesn’t exist.

Some people might say that a good and loving God could not be the God of the Bible.  This God called Yahweh is only a God of suffering.  To that I say, you haven’t really tried to understand the narrative or context of the Biblical record.  To help you to that end, I refer you to Paul Copan’s book “Is God A Moral Monster“.  In exchange you may refer me to any source of your own.

I for one, am glad that the universe I believe I live in, necessarily and objectively dictates that my children, and your children, are more special than your average mollusc…whether you’ll admit it or not.

Barfing Up SOPA In The Shower

I was taking a shower last night and I noticed this conditioner bottle of my wife’s. She likes this “Burt’s Bees” stuff. Not sure if it is made from the distilled guts of the world finest honey bees or what. In any case, the bottle was turned around backward and I noticed on the back it had this slogan: “Personal care products for the Greater Good”. It’s a nice slogan, but what does it mean exactly? Is the “greater good” making sure you’re not contaminating my airspace with your poor personal hygiene? I think that would probably be a pretty great good to aim for. However, I suspect, based on the little green leaf next to the slogan, that what they’re really suggesting is that the contents of their products are somehow environmentally friendly. What makes that the greater good though?

At the same time I’ve been hearing all this talk this week about the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation. In general terms, this legislation essentially gives the government power to shut down web sites that are in any way, shape, or form connected to any sort of copyright infringement. Even simple things like DNS servers, which turn names (like mikesmindbarfs.wordpress.com) into IP addresses (like 72.233.2.58) could be held accountable for the wrong-doing of some unrelated site oversees (for a complete rundown on SOPA try this video). Outrage ensued over how “evil” this legislation was because of the innocent bystanders that would potentially become victims of the wrong-doing of others. Luckily there is new legislation on the table that only seeks to hold only actual willful copyright infringers liable for their actions. The new act is lovingly called OPEN.

What makes SOPA “evil” though, and what makes Burt’s Bee’s self-proclaimed responsible stewardship of the planet “good”. If some rich corporations can get richer by taking control of the country, why shouldn’t they? Survival of the fittest, right? Why isn’t that the “good” thing. Similarly, why isn’t the saving of the earth the “evil” thing. Perhaps extinction of all human life on the planet is the “good” thing. On a materialist view we’re no more special than a fly, so why shouldn’t we just be maggot food?

Of course, this sort of suggestion seems absolutely and universally preposterous doesn’t it? However, without some universal moral truth about what is good and what is evil, why can I not just decide for myself what constitutes good? If I think it is good to do whatever gains me the most power and money, regardless of who gets in my way, what is it to you? You might not think it is good, but that is just your version of good against mine.

Outspoken atheist, philosopher, and neuroscientist Sam Harris, much to the dismay of some of his colleagues, admits there seems to be some sort of objective good and bad built into the universe. When pressed to explain such a thing Harris defines “good” as being whatever generally leads to the flourishing of sentient life, making “evil” be whatever leads to the suffering of sentient life. But why? Crocodiles were here before homo sapiens, so why shouldn’t “good” mean that we ought to feed human babies to crocodiles so they can flourish. Humans are just screwing up the planet anyway. Perhaps Burt’s Bees should put poison in their bottles to try to rid the planet of human life because that would be the even greater good. Why for that matter is animal life good at all? Why shouldn’t we work to exterminate all animal life, including ourselves, so that plant life can flourish? Maybe that’s really what is good.

It would seem clear to me that all mentally stable people have some basic sense of what constitutes good and what constitutes evil though. There is a such thing as objective good and objective bad. I just think some people have a harder time than others identifying how or why they have this objective truth built into them.  Some people don’t want it, and they openly choose to defy, redefine, or otherwise bury parts of it, but they know at least on some level that there are lines that ought not be crossed.

Looking at legislation like SOPA, or any legislation, and evaluating it in terms of good or evil is definitely important. The more important life question to ask though, is not what legislation is good or evil, but what qualities makes it good or evil, followed by why are those qualities “good” or why are they “evil”.  Without some objective foundational source of good and evil neither concept can exist.  All that remains is being slaves to our own biologically driven selfishness.  In that case Burt’s Bees might as well use the distilled guts of every last honey bee to make every last dime they can, and forget about anything called the “greater good”, because neither the honey bee’s life, nor yours or mine, have any intrinsic value.

Absence Makes The Barf Grow Fonder

I’m in Utah for work this week. Sometimes when I travel for work it’s nice to get away from the office just for a change of scenery. That doesn’t seem to be the case for me this week though. I wish I was home. It’s funny how just a short time of separation can make you reflect about what really matters to you. Wherever my family is, is where I’d rather be, generally speaking. This week it is actually snowing too. I’ve always loved the snow, and I still enjoy playing in it with the kids. Big snowfalls are fairly rare in western WA too, so it makes it that much difficult to be missing the snowman building with the kids.

I love my family. It’s a strange thing when you think about it (if you’re weird like me). I know there are lots of other animals that are instinctively attached to their family units, but I think you’d be hard pressed to say that any other animal knows “love” like humans do. I often enjoy watching the gorillas at Woodland Park Zoo. It’s clear to me that they have close attachments to each other, but I don’t think they have the capacity to love in the same way, a more reflective, self-aware way, like people do. I seriously doubt an ape like a chimpanzee is sitting around regretting the the lost time swinging around the jungle with his little chimps when he’s away from home.

I know evolutionary biologists will tell me this is fully the result of natural selection, and that I only love because of theoretical survival advantages. Why do I have the option to evaluate and choose my level of commitment to such things then? People are clearly able to violate what is best for themselves, their families, and society in general, and frequently do. Scores of people, mostly unhappy people, are definitely going through life following their biological instincts like a chimp, but when people use their full “self” properly they love from a deeper place than their biology. This is the way love is meant to be practiced. Not like chimps who love from the brain. People are the only ones with the God given ability to love in a beyond biological way… from the soul. If you’re not doing it this way, you’re doing it wrong. The unfortunate side effect of loving like a chimp, is that you’ll only be able to experience the results of relationships like a chimp.

More Footbarf: Footbarf Miracles?

Well, I guess I was wrong about Tim Tebow last week.  He had what it took, thankfully, to eliminate the villainous Pittsburg Steelers.  He did it in spectacular fashion as well, with an impressive team effort after a slow start to run, pass, and kick the Steelers into overtime, and then sending them to the offseason with a single snap and a single pass to Demaryius Thomas.  If you missed it, it had to be one of the all-time best NFL games I’ve seen.

The debate continues though.  I think you’d be hard pressed after that game to say Tim Tebow isn’t qualified to be an NFL quarterback.  He might be unorthodox, and he might not last long because he’ll get beat up trying to play both QB and fullback, but he’s got skills.  Is that all he has though?  Last week I was certain God didn’t care about football.  I also admitted a couple of days ago that my own skepticism is usually the first obstacle that needs overcoming on the way to any conclusion.  Most people on all sides of any debate have personal agendas that I want stripped away.  In the case of Tim Tebow, from the very beginning you had a genuinely nice young man, who was an excellent role model for kids, thankful for his gifts, and unashamed of his faith.  Christians latched onto him and began ascribing him some sort of sainthood that he could never live up to, while atheists (and football fans who had already gone to church that morning and didn’t want anymore) jeered him for forcing his religion on them.  Both sides are absurd.

Tim Tebow was just being who Tim Tebow is.  If you don’t like it, turn the channel, or complain to Roger Goodell.  Good luck removing all controversial personalities from the NFL though.  If you’re holding him up on some sort of pigskin idol who has come to save mankind, you need to stop (Rom 1:23-25).  God is plenty capable of taking care of that himself, and I’m guessing Tebow doesn’t need or want you putting him there.  He knows the path he’s on, and he knows that he’s merely a tool in God’s toolbox.

The question isn’t whether or not Tim is a tool of God, because if you subscribe to the traditional Jesus Christ, anybody who follows Him is a member of the same body (1 Cor 12:12-26).  The question is whether God miraculously helps Tim Tebow win football games or not.  It’s extremely difficult not to notice Tim’s passing stats last week, during the most attention getting game of his career thus far.  He threw for 316 yards and averaged 31.6 yards per pass.  Recognize those numbers?  You’ve seen them under Tim Tebow’s eyes before, and on the sign of some enthusiastic fan at just about every football game ever broadcast.  John chapter 3 verse 16 is the most recognizable passage in the New Testament that succinctly sums up the offer: follow the lead of this guy called Jesus in exchange for eternal goodness.

Are these passing stats a miracle?  Doubtful.  Miracles are reserved for the supernatural, and this was definitely a natural occurence.  Is it just plain old dumb luck?  Maybe.  As a fan of Tim Tebow’s faith, and a guy that doesn’t lightly use the term “miracle”, let me offer a third alternative though.  The Bible talks about works of God as not only “miracles”, but also “signs” and “wonders” (Heb 2:4).  What’s the difference?  That gets a little bit tricky, and they seem to be used interchangeably, but I’ve always thought of it this way.  Miracles tend violate the laws of nature and physics (at least as far as we know them).  Given modern society’s aversion to the supernatural, if you or somebody you trust fully don’t experience a miracle, you probably won’t believe it.  Tim Tebow’s single play overtime victory and resulting yardage are definitely no miracle.

Signs and wonders are a little different though.  They’re something amazing, but not necessarily operating outside the bounds of natural phenomenon.  The “wonder” being the center of attention that people marvel over, the “sign” being an indication of, or leading to, something amazing.  The “sign” indicates the potential involvement of God in an event.  As one who’s worldview allows for signs, miracles, and wonders, I will skeptically suggest, that I will not fully reject that it is possible (is that non-commital enough?) that Tim Tebow’s 316 yards for a 31.6 yard average, which resulted in the term “John 3:16” shooting to the top of Google’s top queries, could potentially, maybe, possibly, be…a sign.  Maybe God is a football fan afterall, or maybe He just sees a big flock with potential.  I don’t think it means God helps Tim Tebow win football games other than with the skill he was created with, it just means I think that the Broncos could have won with 326 yards passing and a 15.3 yard average just the same, but nobody would have thought anything of that.

On to the Patriots!  GB2!

Tune in next week to find out why I think if God is going to continue being a football fan, he should switch to the Seattle Seahawks…just kidding…mostly…