Michael Battalio

Friday, January 31, 2014

This I Believe (part 24):

After about four years it is time for a revisit of my “This I Believe” series. As before, I’m still having trouble defining exactly what it is I prescribe to as a worldview. I hope to figure some of what I believe here.

I was posed the questions: What are your thoughts on the new pope?  Would a liberalized Catholic Church renew your interest in organized religion, or is your personal journey kind of independent from what the Church decides to do at this point?

In this post I tackle the first question along with an argument against the existence of hell.

I am intrigued by the new pope.  He is doing a fantastic job bringing the church up to societal attitudes on many topics.  The church should recognize that if it wants a say in where the morals of vast swaths of society point it must lead on topics of the day and not repeat the draconian beliefs of the middle ages ad infinitum.  Religion and belief are fluid entities; they change as society changes and adopt the views of the time.  Thus the physical entity that embodies the religion of 1.2 billion people must also adapt.   I am thrilled that in so many words he is calling out the hypocrisy of many Christians in selectively picking verses to wail about while ignoring many fundamental tenants, including most importantly to me, charity and compassion to the poor.  I continue to be appalled every day by those who decry homosexuality or sex education in general yet in the same breath condemn the poor for being poor and greedy when in actuality they are the ones being greedy.  I am also shocked and delighted in his words about atheism.  It is refreshing to hear a religious figure not blame atheists for their atheism, embrace the fact that atheists can be good, moral people despite not having “religion”, and and say that atheists are not necessarily going to hell.  (I can think of dozens of people who are atheists that are much more moral than many of the church going Christians I know.)  So in summary, I like him.

Aside:  argument against the existence of hell for atheists.  People are created without any say in whether or not they are created, so an atheist is created by God because he loves them (in theory).  Additionally there are many people who are created with no say in the matter that are never exposed to whatever the true religion is.  How can we have true free will to choose to be atheists or whatever if we don’t have the choice to be born or where we are born?  How can we be punished for eternity for a choice we didn’t get to make? Given the choice between nonexistence and eternal damnation wouldn’t some chose nonexistence? Wouldn’t most chose nonexistence? Hell cannot exist because it would then contradict free will which is required for whole idea of reward and punishment for our actions.

I really like this argument. I find a lot of comfort in it. There may be a God, but there isn’t a hell for punishment. If God exists, perhaps you simply wink out of existence when you die, which in essence is no different than not existing at all, except that for the century you are alive, it is awesome. I can live with that.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Serious conversations (part 54):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fifty-third and fifty-fourth entries begin a discussion on wealth.

        Last time we began with a discussion on where does wealth come from. We now consider its limits.

        In the closed system of the universe I suppose that there is a finite upper limit to the amount of wealth that can be generated, and I guess it comes back to thermodynamics and specifically the second law of thermodynamics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_law_of_thermodynamics) (i.e. that entropy must alway increase)  What is the highest efficiency with which we can extract those elements that generate the highest produce for humanity?  There is a limit to the natural resources of the universe and a limit to how well we can exploit them for our utility.   Assuming humanity becomes a type IV civilization (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kardashev_scale), which is the type of civilization that can harness the energy of the entire universe, I guess we will run out of wealth to generate at some point because the universe will have fused, fissioned all elements to iron.

        One thing I have noticed is the obsessive need for growth.  I don’t really understand why growth is so needed.  As long as wealth is continuing to be produced to supply the utilitarian needs of man why must there be the production of more?  Is it simply a result of the fact that the population of man is also growing?  Would we need growth to sustain the economy if the population stopped growing?

        As neither my friend nor I really know much about economics or wealth, we now turn to literature to provide us some insight. The next entries in the Serious Conversations will involve discussions on the book The Origin of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker, which will begin whenever we start reading it. (I do not profit from clicks).


(ed. the conversation on wealth will be moved to a new series entitled “Discussions on Wealth” to separate it from the“Serious Conversations”)

2003-2016 Michael Battalio (michael[at]battalio.com)