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The Misadventures of Quinxy von Besiex truths, lies, and everything in between

25Apr/140

IT Innovation’s End Game: Eliminating God

In less than a century information technology has moved from crude practice, into systematized theory tested through crude prototypes, into early maturity, becoming a force critical to and ultimately driving every modern scientific endeavor. Every branch of science now relies on IT for such things as research, data collection, modeling, simulation, analysis, and results dissemination; IT can be just as much a part of protein folding simulations as aerodynamic flow simulations as Higgs Boson discovery as exoplanet data study and can help globally distributed teams work as one.

But one cannot help but wonder where it is all going, what is IT innovation’s ultimate end game? Will the forces that have always conspired to drive IT innovation ever be satiated and fade away?

I strongly suspect that the ultimate end game of IT innovation is to unseat God from His heavenly throne, to render Him a kitschy relic of less enlightened days. Belief in Him may linger as a curiosity, a nostalgic comfort from which systems of meaning, value, and ethics can be traced. But His role will be otherwise entirely supplanted. But what has He got to do with IT?

Let us first try and consider the history and forces which have driven information technology to this point. IT has its origin thousands and thousands of years ago in our earliest oral traditions and writings. We were engaged then, as we are now, in the storage, retrieval, and analysis of data. Where once a bard’s tale might have been the medium for passing along valuable life lessons, now it is more likely found on a wiki page. Where once a notch made in stone recorded the position in the sky of an unfamiliar comet for later analysis, now a row in a database is preferred. The means have changed, but the ends which information technology have served have remained the same.

We have used IT to help us understand the world in which we live, used IT to help us improve our situation within the world, and used IT to pass along the progress we have made to contemporaries as well as subsequent generations. Modern IT has not changed our nature, merely granted us the benefits of increased storage capacity, increased analytical power (manifest as computational power and an ever-deepening (and broadening) understanding of related fields such as data analysis, artificial intelligence, and math), and increasing ability to disseminate information.

When we look at our relationship with God (and religions generally) we see that for most of recorded time He has been the source of our understanding of the world in which we live, He has been our ultimate hedge against our inability to improve our situation within it (He gives reason and meaning to death and suffering), and His recorded and disseminated teachings have developed to included not only religious teachings, but also those of a more practical, ethical/moral, socially beneficial nature, that get shared and passed down for others’ benefit.

As IT furthers the progress of all areas of science it seems only natural that He will have increasingly little place left in it. We need only look at a few areas of science to see this. Medicine has as its goal the eradication of disease and improvement of everyone’s quality of life. As gene therapies, stem cell research, cloning, nanotechnology, and the like mature, lifespans will surely be extended further and further until death has been eliminated as a requirement. Furthering this end, it seems inevitable that minds will ultimately become further and further separated from physical bodies. What might begin as nanotechnological repairs of synapses or enhancements to lost memory will likely grow to carry more and more of the load of conscious thought until minds become entirely separable from biological brains. At that point we may choose to linger in the wetware of biological forms or may choose to exist only within virtual worlds built of information matrices. Either way, the question of what happens when we die, a question He has always had a ready answer for, will lose its urgency, lose its criticality, and perhaps lose all meaning. Similarly, quantum mechanics and astronomy may ultimately find its grand unified theory and be able to explain our origins to almost everyone’s satisfaction, rendering His answers effectively irrelevant. And philosophy, often seeming partnered in a dance with religion, will likely find itself emboldened, breaking into a solo, to a tune that now is not bounded by a series of lifespans but by a more comfortable, less angsty, quasi-infinite pondering. And even its most fundamental questions of “What is right?” and “What is wrong?” may not need be answered so much as peoples’ preference would need to be known, so those with compatible beliefs systems could be properly collocated, either in physical or virtual spaces. The domain of God will have yielded to the domain of science. If He retains any value it may be in continuing to supply people with some greater sense of meaning, but it will be a nostalgic group that pines for His comfort, there will be substitutes aplenty without the complexity belief in Him brings.

Through innovation, IT will bring all this, directly and indirectly. God will lose His place. It is time others see this as the natural consequence of IT innovation, either to embrace it or to rebel against it.

^ Quinxy

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27Jul/120

The Odd Similitude of Christian & Atheist Grief

Considering that Christians and Atheists have wildly different beliefs about what happens when we die I've always been deeply perplexed that both grieve quantitatively and qualitatively similarly.  The Christian suffering loss believes that he or she will be ultimately re-united with their dear departed in Heaven (barring any grave infractions that might lead to Hell) in a way that will replicate to a significant degree the relationships here on this Earthly plane; your mother in heaven will still be your mother and will recognize you as her son.  The Atheist generally believes that there is no afterlife, that the unique qualities of the dead person are permanently are irrevocably lost.  As such I would have imagined that Christian and Atheist grief would be quite dissimilar.  How could they not be?  To the Christian death is a misty, "Until we meet again."  While for the Atheist death is a bruta and unyielding, "Goodbye forever and ever."  And yet in my own observations of grief (and personal experience of grief) there seems little difference in people's experience of death.  Everyone (barring rare exceptions) finds the loss of a loved one to be miserably and inconsolably intolerable.  And so I can't help but wonder how this is possible?  How can the belief in an afterlife reunion not spare a person a significant portion of their grief?

These are the best possibilities I've been able to come up with to explain the lack of qualitative and quantitative difference...

It's possible that the most significant elements of grief are associated not with what we imagine happens to a person after death but with the impact their removal has from our current and expected life.  A person suddenly being removed from our world will force painful adjustments in our life, in our thinking, in our ability to cope, in our expression of love, in our expectations, etc.  While these elements and experiences do absolutely make up the bulk of our spontaneous experiences of sorrow and misery which last for days, months, and years, I still think it doesn't explain the situation fully because the severity of the experience seems ultimately tied to our perception of the other person's state.  For example, if I knew that my close cousin was forever gone from my life, having set off with others in a one-way light-speed rocket ship ride to the star system Trixolopy, I would feel vastly more comfortable with my loss than if I knew him to be dead.  The mere knowledge that he is alive staves off the bulk of my grief.  I would still wistfully think of him when I passed by his house on my way to work, I'd still instinctively look for him when I headed over to the baseball field, I'd still feel a twinge of emptiness as I put away my cell phone after reaching for it to tell him something, but I wouldn't be devastated in the same way I would if he was known (or expected) to be dead.  Thus the impact of death can't simply be tied to individual alterations made in my life by a person's absence.  And this would seem inadequate then to explain Christian versus Atheist mourning, since I would liken their belief about the present state of the loved one to be so radically and comfortingly different.

Another possibility is that the parity in grief experience is created by variation of two factors: Christian grief being reduced by their belief in Heaven while Atheist grief is reduced by their inability to fully recognize the value and therefore loss of human life.  Christians often use arguments which suggest that Atheists are incapable of are are limited in their ability to appreciate or understand the world because of their refusal to accept its God-given value, without which (from many a Christian's perspective) nothing has value.  I reject this option because it's just silly and simplistic.  It is too convenient to imagine two things are adjusted and both rendered equal by two wholly different mechanisms, and I reject the idea that God solves the value problem (at the very least because of the who created God argument).

It's also possible that the grief of Christians and Atheists exceed what the biology of the human brain can support.  It may be that we cannot see qualitative or quantitative differences in the grief of people with wildly different belief systems because even though they may quite significantly both experiences of grief so far exceed or biology's ability to express grief that they appear similar.  I liken it to the clipping which occurs when you try to record a very loud sound with a microphone and recording equipment that's not up to the task; the sound of an atom bomb and the sound of a conventional bomb would be recorded identically even though the actual events are vastly different.  I like this theory because it is elegantly simple and makes a certain sort of intuitive sense to me, but I'm not sure if it's part of the solution.

And ultimately I come back to my earliest suspicion, the one I first thought over as a teen, that Christians may not believe in Heaven in the same absolute way that they might believe in a place like Bismarck, SD.  Christians might feel okay with a loved one being prolongedly incommunicado in Bismarck, SD because they feel entirely secure in the concept of a geographically placed American city located within our plane of spacial and temporal existence.  Heaven might make them nervous and feel too wishy-washy and abstract, even if they entirely believe (in a theoretical sense) in its existence.  Of course it's also possible they suspect Heaven may not be real, in the same way a child might suspect Santa Claus isn't real years before being willing to call him out; I reject this because I am willing to accept that Christians believe as they say they believe and are not engaged in this piece of self-deception.

Ultimately I'm not sure which of these explanations is sufficient to explain the observation, perhaps other explanations are still required.  I suppose the reason I come back to this question so often is because I wish someone had a meaningful and lasting solution for grief, a means to rid ourselves of what becomes for most a bane of their own existence.  The longer we live the more grief we are made to experience, how nice it would be to recognize loss without being wholly undone by it.

^ Quinxy

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19Aug/119

Islam: A Religion Against Dogs?

I love learning about various religions.  One of those I'm least familiar with is Islam, a religion which offers the lives of ~1.4 billion people meaning, ritual, joy, structure, and answers to their ultimate existential questions.  Despite owning a Qur'an I've always been discouraged from reading into it for two specific reasons.  The first reason is that the copy I have (at least) seems to begin with a bit of a grave warning, saying that if you read the Qur'an and choose not to accept and follow it, you're screwed (I forget if this meant death, misery, something akin to hell, or what).  Being of somewhat good conscience it didn't seem right for me to continue reading the Qur'an if I couldn't agree to its terms.  It felt a bit like a software EULA I was being asked to accept, when I knew there was a clause in it I had no intention of agreeing to.  I had to hit the decline button.  My learning about Islam has thus been somewhat indirect, in the form of summary and analysis by others who supposedly have read it.  Out of that comes the second reason I've not delved into much related to Islam.  I love dogs, and Islam is the only religion I've ever heard of that has teachings against dogs.  I found a site which list many of the specific hadiths prohibiting dogs and outlining how dogs annul prayers, decrease your heavenly reward, and prevent angels from visiting; and how all dogs except working dogs should be killed.  The site is certainly biased, written by a Christian trying to convert people from the Islamic faith, but it still presents citations of the relevant portions of the hadiths as well as variations in the teachings as they are interpreted by various Muslim scholars.  I tried to find a less biased source (hoping to find a site run by a Muslim) with a similar list, but found none as comprehensive in my searches.  I do understand that there are many faithful Muslims who own and love dogs, but they seem to be very much in the minority, and I'm somewhat unclear on how (given the very specific nature of the passages in the Qur'an) anyone could believe in the Qur'an and simultaneously own and love dogs; I'm somewhat of a literalist, if I'm going to bother believing a particular work has divine authorship I would struggle to literally believe some portions while figuratively disbelieving other portions.  Dogs have been good friends to the human race, arguably giving us the edge in our war of displacement with the Neanderthals, so I hope the Islamic faith does not continue to discount the value of our furrier friends.

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7Apr/113

Reasons I Don’t Believe: Disclaimer

I want to make clear what is surely already clear: I am not a biblical or religious scholar. I am just a regular guy who tries to understand the universe around me and my place in it.  My beliefs are fluid and based on the information to which I am exposed.  The best I can say is that it seems unlikely I will be swayed from my present position of agnosticism, unless I find new information that shifts my understanding.  Given that I have been exposed to so much already, truly new information of real significance is hard to come by.

As for my background, I was raised a Christian (Episcopalian/Protestant), attended an Episcopalian grammar and high school school, served as an acolyte for a few years, went weekly to services through high school, was also exposed (through my dad) to a syncretic new-age church during visitations with him.  I have read most (if not all) of the New Testament and much (but not all) of the Old Testament (all in my youth).  I have read a few books on Christianity, but only a few.  I have read quite a bit more about unusual faiths (e.g., my dad's church/cult, Scientology, Mormons, Branch Davidians, Ramtha School of Enlightenment, etc.).  My favorite religion, the one which feels most true for me, is Zen Buddhism, but though I have read several of their books, and attended several of their services, and dabbled in some of their meditations, I cannot call myself a Buddhist.  Religion, it's meaning and influence on people, has always been profoundly interesting to me. If you disagree with me or find fault with what I say I encourage you to respectfully tell me where I have made any factual or logical errors. I am always eager to correct errors, or my own thinking (if I feel it is necessary).

While my present position is that I do not believe in God, I am not what you'd typically consider an atheist. Atheists by common definition know with absolute certainty that there is no God.  They have a confidence about their position that can only be described as religious.  As for me, I do not know if there is or is not a God, I know only that I have not found sufficient reason to believe in one, and instead found reasons not to. I fully acknowledge that there is ample space within the framework of physics and quantum physics for Him to operate, I simply find no proof that He does.

I enjoy discussing these topics with all people who are confident enough in their own divergent views to find our discussion enjoyable rather than frustrating and heretical.  Despite what some may think, I see us as all looking for the same answers, trying to resolve the same mysteries.  If you've found your answers, congratulations!  I am still finding mine.

These blog entries are not meant to de-convert anyone, they are simply my exploring my own thoughts and observations in the public view.  Greater minds have covered these topics, covered all topics, but that doesn't mean we lesser minds don't enjoy our time in the sun. :)

^ Quinxy

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4Apr/116

Reasons I Don’t Believe in God #99: JesusNeverExisted.com

The other day I stumbled across the site JesusNeverExisted.com and was blown away. The site is fantastic! It puts the words to my own rejection of Christianity and backs words with facts I only vaguely knew/suspected. The site and its author brilliantly attack the foundations of Christianity and its many claims through logical and historical arguments, most of the time using the church's own writings/teachings to make the points.  The site also offers fascinating contextual information about how the bibles were shaped, and upon what other documents and religions they were based.

I wanted to hate this site, when I first clicked the link to get there I expected the worst, the title being so "in your face".  Arguments against Christianity (from atheists, especially) usually feel exhaustingly and frustratingly religious (in their own way), without any real facts, but this site instantly had me hooked because it lays out the arguments and the facts so well (and the facts are often conflicting quotations from the bible).

This site is unlikely to convince any true believer that they have been mistaken, but it surely would give a nudge to someone already on the fence.

^ Quinxy

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26Mar/115

Reasons I Don’t Believe in God #12: The Bible’s Wrong Definition of Right

If the Old Testament is divinely inspired by God, even a little bit, then I do not understand how it can sanction and promote so many egregiously wrong ideas, such as slavery:

As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from the nations that are round about you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession forever; you may make slaves of them, but over your brethren the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another, with harshness. – Leviticus 25.44

How can a "good" book say such a bad thing.  How can a modern day Christian, many of whom purport to believe in the bible as the divinely inspired and (to many) inerrant work of God reconcile these words with our modern opinions on slavery.  These (and others) are the words which emboldened and succored southern slave owners up to and during the American Civil War; these are the words which kept the "coloreds" in their place, separate and unequal.

The bible advocates many ideas and policies which we have (thankfully) long ignored, including stoning people to death for things such as working on the sabbath.  If this work is divinely inspired why do the faithful not follow it more closely?  If this work is divinely inspired by an omniscient God, how could it become so quickly outdated?

^ Quinxy

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24Mar/112

Reasons I Don’t Believe in God #10: No “Faith” Required

Christianity (in particular) puts quite a lot of emphasis on "faith". Preachers love to talk about how faith is a requirement, that we cannot require or expect proof from God, at least not in the same way we might expect and require proof from a scientist talking about his new discovery. To be a true follower of God you must believe in Him, largely on the basis of faith.

But what seems so odd to me is that few of the figures mentioned in the Old and New Testaments were required to have the sort of faith we are now expected to. The key figures in both Old and New Testaments all had direct and unambiguous contact with God, Jesus, and angels. This direct contact was not made only to the deeply faithful, it involved those who had no faith, those who had only marginal faith, and those with whom the concept of faith didn't even apply. God proved Himself to Moses by His appearance through the burning bush. God spoke directly to Abraham. God (as Jesus) proved Himself to the Apostles and many an average citizen by walking among them and performing indisputable miracles in their very presence. God (as Jesus) proved Himself to Saul (who became Paul) by converting Him through a personal appearance. God appeared, sent angels, or sent visions to most of the other major figures in the Old Testament (Adam & Eve, Cain, Abraham, Job, Isaac, Mary, etc.). How could these people in the Old and New Testament not believe in God when He was directly interacting with them, proving Himself to them by His words and His deeds? If Jesus appeared before me today and raised someone from the dead I, too, would absolutely believe. If God appeared and spoke to me tomorrow through a burning bush (that was not consumed) I would surely believe. If God spoke to me from the heaven's to ask me where my brother was, I would believe. How could anyone doubt what was so self-evidently true? But why are we now expected to forgo the proof and/or validation provided to all these figures we are taught to respect, emulate, and admire? Why did God or religion change these requirements? Why are we expected to be more "faith"-ful (in the sense of believing without proof) than the Apostles, than Saul (Paul), than Moses, than Abraham. I do not believe I can or should do that.

23Mar/110

Reasons I Don’t Believe in God #9: Only Through Jesus

Mainstream Christianity's reading of the New Testament says, "You can only get to heaven if you've accepted Jesus Christ." If this had come in the form of an announcement delivered in a booming voice from the heavens to every living creature back in 32 AD, fair enough, but what about the billions of people who were born and died since 32 AD without ever having been exposed to a Christian, let alone Christ's message? God would have known how fast and far His message would spread, having only introduced it to one specific region (the middle east) at one specific time. He could have set and explained the new rules to Noah and his family during their time on the ark, so that all people would be informed and could choose their fate with full knowledge of their options and consequences. He could have set and explained the new rules to Adam & Eve in the garden so they could instruct their children and thus all humanity. God is all knowing, so how could he not know he would want to implement these rules at a future time? I find it hard to believe in a God who would knowingly create a situation in which large numbers of his beloved children would be doomed as a result of geography and a lack of world-wide communication networks.

(From what I understand, some believe that on judgment day everyone gets a second chance at giving their final answer about whether or not they accept Jesus as their lord and savior. If this is true then that is marvelous, and alleviates some of my concern, provided those souls are allowed to make an informed choice, presented with information which would reasonably allow one to conclude Jesus truly is real. Regardless, what puzzles me a bit is that if anyone can accept Him at this final moment, why then is it important that people accept Him during their life here on Earth. It would be preferable, sure, but so many Christians seem truly frightened when the relatives they love die (or look as though they may die) without having accepted Jesus.)

^ Quinxy

22Mar/110

Reasons I Don’t Believe in God #8: The Doomsday Cult

Christians (including the apostles) have been proclaiming the end of the world since the very early days of the church. Jesus' return, and the apocalypse He'd bring, was expected within a generation of His resurrection.

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.
—1 John 2:18

But the end of the world hasn't yet come, despite the many dire predictions of mainstream and splinter groups over these last two thousand years. Most Christian groups have now wised up and stay well out of the prediction game, but some still swear it's going to happen any day now (next prediction for the end of the world is May 21, 2011).

The fact that the original church was wrong on this profoundly important point, and that many generally accepted as legitimate (as well as wacky) derivations of the original church have been wrong about this profoundly important point, makes me question how right they can be right about the less important issues.

^ Quinxy

21Mar/110

Reasons I Don’t Believe in God #7: Happiness and Goodness are Areligious

It seems reasonable to me to expect that people who love and follow the Lord would be happier and better people than those who don't. If God was real, and His laws were real, and His lessons were real, and faith in Him manifested changes, and prayer to Him worked, and His love was powerful, then how could His people not enjoy better lives and be better people? If His intervention was not a factor then simply their living a life in sacred resonance with a universe He made and they better understood would seem to guarantee some improvement.

And yet, I can find no significant evidence of this. I've known bad people of every faith (and lack therein). I've known unhappy people of every faith (and lack therein). All I've noticed is that the happiest and best people seem to be those who question and explore their religious beliefs (whether they believe or not). I certainly can't argue that the atheists or agnostics might be barred from entering heaven upon their death, but here on this good Earth God seems to show them no particular disfavor in the form of excess misery, death, poverty, etc. This lack of a strong difference between the lives lived, in or out of accordance with His wishes, does not encourage me to believe.

^ Quinxy