Monday, May 27, 2013

Oh, the Irony! Atheists Provide the Best Evidence that God is Real!

Seeking a more logical cosmology.

I've been involved in a lot of discussions lately about the existence of God or, conversely, the folly of faith. Mostly these have been fairly civil dialogues on Soul Pancake or The Great Silent Majority page on Facebook. I recommend either or both to your attention if you think it's fun to think and write about life's great questions with people who are willing to listen politely, even to those they consider to be idiots. I've distilled much of what I've posted elsewhere into this little treatise on why I believe in God and why I do not think this is lunacy.
Atheists like to assert that there is no evidence to support the existence of God. Believers then are held to be an ignorant and superstitious lot who need religion as a crutch to face the crushing realities of a meaningless existence. Or, as comedian, Bill Maher, quipped:
Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It’s nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction. Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do.
Maher is a funny person and a bonafide wit, but he has no more philosophical leg to stand on here than Dr. Stephen Hawking who has suggested that the laws of nature prove that there is no God. According to Hawking the universe 'popped' into existence, in accordance with the rules of quantum physics, as an 'infinitesimally small, infinitesimally dense' proton—so small and so dense that it could not admit time. There was therefore no time for a creator to have acted, and, indeed, no need of a creator except to explain all these things before we had quantum physics to take over the task.
For Hawking, Maher, and all the rest whose understanding of our existence is rooted in the physical sciences, God is a construct. They believe that men invented gods to explain the mysteries of the universe. Presumably they believe that, in modern times, Yawheh, Allah, and the Father of Jesus, all the same God, are just more complex and fully realized versions of the same superstitious hokum.
The Big Bang is a theory whose purpose is to explain the existence of the universe without God, and its proponents have made good on its promise. Of course this is rather easier when the theoretical construct was made without any reference to God. When it comes to accepting theory as scientific fact though, in the absence of any as yet complete proof, a certain amount of faith is required even though those who advance the theory would probably deny it.
On the other hand, be He construct or reality, God has always required faith. The faithful already know this—the ones who actually think about it at any rate. There is no conclusive proof of the existence of God. I will submit that there is a lot of evidence, but there is no proof. I'm talking about objective, scientific proof—the kind that can be tested and verified by repeatable experimentation. There will always be some theological wankers about who will quote the Bible as an authority in an argument with an atheist as if Scripture carries any weight with a non-believer. Most of us realize that this is not just an exercise in futility. It is stupid. The Bible does not prove that God exists with any authority except to those who already accept it. This won't work to bridge the chasm between objective reality and the metaphysical plane. For that we need faith.

Faith is bigger than certainty,
but it may still require
heavy equipment.
For the intelligent believer, faith must necessarily contain an element of doubt else it isn't faith at all but certain knowledge. Certain knowledge does not move mountains. Certain knowledge does not even build churches. Certain knowledge is not spiritual, religious, holy, nor full of grace. Certain knowledge, or at least the requirement for it, is the necessary fundamental limitation of the physical sciences. Science requires proof to keep it honest. When science makes an assertion that is not backed up by proof, it is required to keep looking.
Doubt, on the other hand, is the liberating principle of faith and the ultimate foundation of metaphysics. A metaphysical philosopher must ask a question of the discipline that no self-respecting physicist ever would or could ask about physics, and that is, 'Is metaphysics even possible?' Asking this question makes metaphysics at once more honest and analytical than physics will ever be. Why? For the simple reason that it forces the philosopher to consider, with humility, that he might be wrong.
As I've already said, atheists believe that God, or the gods, are a construct of the human imagination designed to explain the mysteries of the universe. I believe that this human ability to conceive of a creator god is the best evidence we have that one actually exists. Here's why.
If you subscribe to Stephen Hawking's idea of the Big Bang—that a prototypical, protean proton 'popped' into existence and exploded, and that all of the untold trillions of selective events that happened between then and now, leading to our current state of evolution and development, were completely natural and godless and random, then what in our experience of this process would lead us to conceive of a creator cause?
Someone once said, 'all art is derivative.' (I've been trying for several days now to find out just who said it first, but it's all over the internet without any attribution. If anyone knows who said this first, please let me know.) What this means is that, even in the arts - presumably mankind's most creative endeavors - nothing is truly original. Everything is built on something that went before. I submit that this is true of everything that men do.
There is nothing man has accomplished that is not rooted in something else that already existed. To be sure there are materials that exist today that did not exist at the dawn of time, but every one of them is comprised of stuff that did. There are concepts and designs and theories that seem new and wondrous, but all of them are derived from and built on the foundations of the past. Even at the height of its power, humanity is not capable of producing anything from nothing. Everything humanity has done is derivative. Science does not beget; it discovers. Or, as Ecclesiastes has it:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Beatific vision or
atmospheric pollutants?
If we are nothing more than the sum total of all the random electro-chemical responses that have flowed into our genetic makeup, how did any of us come to conceive of a creator at all? If there is no God then there could be nothing in our naturally-selected history upon which we could begin to assemble this concept. If God doesn't exist, we couldn't possibly have made Him up. What I think instead - no, what I choose to believe - is that we are predisposed to believe in God because we were imbued with a spark of divinity by the creator.
I believe this because it has been given to me to do so. I am not a fool, and I am not insane. I know full well that I had to make a choice to get to this state—a choice that is not supported by any objective, scientific logic, but one that nevertheless makes perfect sense to me.
There is a word in ancient Hebrew, 'ruach.' It is usually translated as breath or spirit. We first encounter it in the Genesis account of creation. I am not offering this as any kind of proof. I am offering it as an explanation as to why I believe what I believe. I am not getting into an argument of Genesis vs. evolution. I believe in evolution, and I accept science, as far as it goes, as demonstrably true. I also believe Genesis—not as a literal account of creation, but as a lovely, poetic allegory for the metaphysical reality of man's place in it.
There are famously two accounts of creation in Genesis. They are different from one another, our first clue that the Bible, even for believers, is not meant to be taken literally. As to the origins of man, the thing I mean to consider here, Genesis 1:27 says, 'God created man in His image, in the divine image He created him, male and female He created them.' In Genesis 2:7 it says, 'the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.'
These two accounts are different, but they are meant to be taken together. They are two different ways of looking at the same thing. The Aramaic word for 'breath of life' in chapter 2 is 'ruach.' Its parallel in chapter 1 is 'the divine image.' God breathed His divine self-image into mankind, male and female, and made of us something entirely new. This is the only reason I can fathom that we are even able to conceive of things beyond our knowing.

Pondering imponderables.
Were it not for this ruach, we would not be able to ponder infinity. We would not be able to embrace divinity. We would not be able to approach holiness. We would instead be imprisoned by our mere chemistry. Without the breath of divine life we would be incapable of bridging the gap between the physical and the metaphysical. We would be the pinnacle of mammalian existence, but we would be incapable of imagining anything else.

This for me is the best evidence that God exists. It doesn't have to be in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition. Virtually every religious tradition has its own creation narrative, and they all presuppose some sort of relationship between mankind and the divine. My point is that, no matter the faith tradition, somewhere, somehow God has enabled us to know something of Him, and had He not done so, had He not intervened in our evolution, we would not be able to think Him up on our own. Of course I rely on my faith to tell me I could be wrong.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Doctor is Holding My Money – Another Heartbreaking Reality of U.S. Healthcare

This might pinch a little.

My oncologist owes me $1,500 and change. Her office insisted that I prepay my first two chemo infusions because my insurance company told them I had not satisfied my deductible. I knew this would become a problem for me, but I had cancer. What was I going to do, delay treatment until all the insurance foibles resolved themselves? Hell no. I paid up and took my medicine.
Cancer is expensive as hell. The total billings for my disease are approaching half a million dollars. Without insurance I'd be dead already. I wouldn't even have insurance were it not for the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare. I was able to get into the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, or PCIP. My pre-existing conditions related to my hypertension. They had nothing to do with my cancer, but still no one wanted to give me insurance when I was already infirm. Too big a risk for them. Better I should just die and not burden the system that pays the insurance execs fat bonuses and annual sales meetings in the Caribbean.
PCIP is not free, but it is reasonable. My policy premiums were $376 per month for the first six months and $436 per month for the next six months. After that I qualify for Medicare, so PCIP coverage automatically terminates. I will have had it for exactly one year, but since the plan year is a calendar year, my coverage spans two plan years. This cost me an extra $6,250 dollars in out-of-pocket medical expenses because the out-of-pocket maximum for deductibles and co-pays reset on January 1. So be it. I still got pretty good coverage, and was only personally responsible for a little over $10,000 of the total cost of my care.
A lot of people with good insurance pay a lot more to deal with cancer. Cancer causes a lot of bankruptcies—even among people with insurance. This is why I am a big believer in universal healthcare. Sure it's costly, but it's not as costly as the system we've got now.
I'm a big fan of ObamaCare too. You can't get me to say anything bad about it. It may be flawed, but it saved my life. If that's not good enough for you, too bad.
So back to the oncologist. My guess is she doesn't even know that she owes me money. She deals with the cancer and she pays an administrative group to deal with the money. The administrative group's function is to make sure the doctors don't miss out on any money. I don't really have a problem with this until they decide to over-reach. My doctors work hard. They are smart. They are doing good work. They deserve to be compensated. That doesn't mean however that I am happy to let them earn interest on my money while I struggle to pay my bills. That's not fair.
They all drive German cars and live in big houses. They take nice vacations in exotic locations, and they maximize their contributions to their retirement plans.
I don't have any of that. I don't even have a job. So when the doctors' administrators decide to hold on to my money to make sure that they milk every available penny out of my insurance company, they are doing me an injustice. They are creating a hardship for me that I can't afford.
When my doctor's office made me pay in advance, they expected that payment to cover the deductible and the co-pay. They didn't want to have to come after me for the shortfall later. I understand that...understood it at the time. The insurance company however allocated the whole deductible and all the co-pays up to my maximum annual out-of-pocket cost to another doctor. So when they paid the oncologist, they paid her 100% of the contracted allowable for each claim. They didn't deduct anything, so the amount I prepaid was due back to me. I need it to pay the other doctor. Hell I need it to pay a lot of things. I do not need it to be sitting in my oncologist's bank.
Another thing to consider is that no one makes it easy to figure out where you are between your insurance company and your medical providers. My oncologist group doesn't even send out statements. I spent a week going through all my bills and benefits notices and matching everything up. I'm a degreed accountant, a former CPA. It was hard even for me, but I was able with effort to figure out that there was a credit balance in my accounts with several of my doctors. They weren't about to tell me about it. Apparently they expected me to figure that part out for myself and come ask them for my money back. What chance does some poor widow have, grieving for her dead husband and hard pressed by her doctors and hospitals, to figure out that her doctors are trying to fleece her in her hour of need?

I am not a fan of this. I shouldn't have to fight with my doctor's office to get my money back. I shouldn't even really have to ask them for it. They should just give it back. They don't though. Most of them will never tell you you've overpaid. They'll wait for you to figure it out. If you don't, well more money to put diesel in the yacht. Seems to me that profanity is the only appropriate response.
Even more so now that I have caught them out and asked for a refund. They still don't want to give me my money. They are going to make me wait until all their outstanding claims have been addressed by my insurance company. They are doing this even thought they know that my insurance company is reimbursing them at 100% for the remainder of the plan year. To me this is an unimaginably bogus state of affairs.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013


All is Vanity - Charles Allan Gilbert - 1892

Lately I have noticed that I'm at my most creative when I'm thinking up excuses not to write. This may be lamentable, but, if you think about it, at least I'm being creative.
My excuses are legion. They run the gamut from 'I'm still recovering from cancer and the disabling effects of all its attendant therapies' to 'the world is a mess, and nothing I have to say is going to change that so why bother?' The first is true enough, but less so each day. The latter is reminiscent at least of the opening verses of Ecclesiastes from whence we get the memorable phrase, 'all is vanity.'

...yet when I applied my mind to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly, I learned that this also is a chase after wind.
For in much wisdom there is much sorrow,
and he who stores up knowledge stores up grief. Eccl. 1 17:18
The world has become a scary place. Even when we lived under the constant threat of thermonuclear war and our teachers were explaining to us how to get under the desks in our classroom, we at least felt that there was some overarching good sense operating at the pinnacles of power that would prevent a final conflagration. The threat of global devastation and mutually assured self-destruction may have lessened somewhat in the intervening years, but the underlying assumption of logical decision-making has fled the scene.
There is no operative wisdom or knowledge at the pinnacles of power anymore, nor anywhere else either it would seem. I offer the following as anecdotal evidence:
  • In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News Monday, former Vice President, Dick Cheney, called last year's attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi “one of the worst incidences, frankly, that I can recall in my career.” I'd say that Cheney's recall is pretty bad. If he is talking about terrorist attacks, he has conveniently forgotten the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 which I submit were decidedly worse. If he is talking about lying to cover up alleged high crimes and misdemeanors, then he has conveniently forgotten Saddam Hussein's illusory weapons of mass destruction and the deliberate outing of CIA operative, Valerie Plame, for political vengeance and the following cover-up.
  • On April 19, 2013 twenty or so police officers in Watertown, MA fired several hundred rounds of ammunition into a boat containing Boston Bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Tsarnaev was subsequently found to be unarmed and already grievously wounded from a shootout the night before, where he was also either unarmed or armed only with a pellet gun. The police, in a rather dramatic display of incompetent marksmanship failed to kill the boy. They were subsequently lauded as heroes. Sean Hannity, yes the same Hannity who failed to call Dick Cheney out for his memory lapses in my preceding point, remarked that he was convinced that the unarmed Tsarnaev had shot himself in the throat in order to avoid having to incriminate himself in a police interrogation.
  • The National Rifle Association held its annual convention in Houston May 3-5, 2013. The meeting was largely self-congratulatory in its celebration of the defeat of a Senate bill to expand background checks into people seeking to purchase firearms in the wake of the most recent gun violence tragedies. In spite of the NRA's repeated and vociferous insistence that 'guns don't kill people, people kill people,' they are nevertheless quite proud of their ability to squash any attempt to determine whether or not people who want to own guns are in fact mentally stable and law abiding enough to qualify. Apparently they feel that the best way to demonstrate an individual's lack of responsibility with respect to gun ownership is after they have killed a slew of innocents. Trying to do it beforehand would be unconstitutional. Shoring up the organization's claim to intellectual clarity and philosophical integrity, key addresses were given by Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, and Glenn Beck. Nugent's comments were evidently so stimulating that they had to be given in a closed session. No media allowed. Glen Beck's keynote address lasted 2 hours, and yet no one took advantage of the extended opportunity to pull the plug on his microphone.
  • Of 10,000 scientists who have expressed a view, 98.4 percent agree with the consensus that global warming is real and is caused by humans. In spite of this overwhelming scientific support for the concept of anthropogenic global warming, however, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas felt compelled by his Tea Party ethos to have a reference to 'climate change' stricken from an otherwise innocuous Senate resolution commemorating International Women's Day. Cruz believes that even if there were such a thing as global warming, which there most likely is not, its author is God rather than man. Presumably he also believes that God has visited climate change upon us in some sort of divine retribution for having elected a Kenyan Islamic Socialist as president, and shame on us. Interestingly, the stricken reference made no mention of the cause of climate change, but only said that the women of impoverished nations were generally the first to feel its effects. This would be true even if global warming were widely held to be a cyclical phenomenon, which, clearly, the scientific community no longer believes. Cruz, a Harvard graduate, must be causing conniptions in the halls of academia for his singular lack of reading comprehension skills.
  • In the wake of Angelina Jolie's announcement about her double mastectomy a surprising number of people, many of them women, feel sorry for Brad Pitt. Really?! This is all garnered from Twitter feed, and surely most of these comments come from the shallow end of the gene pool, but, again, really?! Do people honestly believe that the only thing Angelina Jolie has to offer Brad Pitt is her breasts? Is it any wonder that, this being for so many people apparently the best and highest expression of a romance, over half of marriages end in divorce? Is this the real reason that so many people are against gay marriage—not enough or too many breasts to sustain a meaningful relationship? I don't know.
          I'd like to weigh in on these issues, but frankly I'm baffled by it all. To think that I could change this level of ignorance, that I could somehow lift these dolts out of the morass would be the ultimate vanity. I know at the end of the day that I'm not going to change anything. Still I feel burdened to try. I say in my profile that one ought to leave the world a better place than one found it and that it's okay to fail at this, but it's not okay not to try. This is a good way to live, but it's not a path to euphoria.
          Perhaps this is why Qoheleth opines in Ecclesiastes, 'in much wisdom is much sorrow.' Perhaps this is why he says, 'A thankless task has God appointed for men to be busied about.' Let's be honest. This probably requires more thought and less writing, don't you agree?