Happy Holidays

Dec 312005

Dear NoodleFood Readers,

Please accept, with no obligation implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress (Yeah, right), non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all . . . AND A fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2006, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great, (not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only “AMERICA” in the western hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, or sexual preference of the wishee.

(By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.)

Happy Holidays,
Diana Hsieh

(The substance of that holiday greeting was sent to the FRO e-mail discussion list, aka FRODO, by Glenn Friedman.)

"I’m a God Warrior!"

Dec 312005

Fundamentalists scare the hell out of me, but this is just crazy. This clip shows a woman returning home from the show “Trading Spouses,” where she had played mom for another family. It turns out that family was not quite as Christian as she.


Dec 292005

Great news from ARI:

Teachers Request a Quarter Million Ayn Rand Novels

IRVINE, CA–This school year began with a flood of requests from high school English teachers who wish to teach Ayn Rand’s novels in their classrooms. As we go to press, ARI has received requests for approximately 257,000 copies of Anthem or The Fountainhead.

This figure far exceeds the combined total number of requests received since the program began three years ago.

In 2002-03 ARI mailed out 9,000 books; 54,000 the following year; and 100,955 last year. Including this year’s (still growing) total, ARI will have fulfilled requests for more than 420,000 copies of Ayn Rand’s novels. If each of these books is used for five years, ARI’s program will have reached more than two million students.

The project’s phenomenal growth has been made possible in part by a specially earmarked million-dollar gift to the Institute. The donation was both the largest single contribution in the Institute’s history and the most the Institute has so far received from a single donor during one fiscal year. The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, made the gift in July. To help fulfill the requests for books that have been pouring in from around the country, ARI has used the $1 million gift to create a matching fund.

More information on this program is available at the Ayn Rand Institute’s Web site.

Copyright (c) 2005 Ayn Rand(R) Institute. All rights reserved.

If you would like to help support ARI’s efforts, please make an online contribution.

An Admirable Man

Dec 292005

Although I have almost zero interest in financial markets, I’ve always rather liked Fox News’ Neil Cavuto. He’s always seemed like a sensible and steady man.

After reading this story, I’m downright impressed with him as a person. After winning a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he developed MS in 1997. You’d never know it from watching his show, although he routinely “suffers from balance problems, weakness and back pain.” Even worse “on a bad day, he’ll have a sudden loss of vision that makes reading the teleprompter impossible.” Cavuto compensates for these random attacks “by going over and over the script so that he’s got it down cold.” Moreover, his schedule (as described in the article) is pretty brutal.

Hats off to him!

What’s Up, God?

Dec 282005

I was not raised in a particularly religious home, and while my parents weren’t thrilled when, at the age of fourteen, I became an atheist, there wasn’t any significant pressure put upon me to recant.

But as proof that everyone needs a philosophy, my parents reached a point where — despite all the worldly success anyone could hope to achieve — they felt that something was missing from their lives. Seeking answers, they turned to religion. And then, feeling they had answers, decided I needed those answers too.

Recently, my parents read a book called I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek. It was a supposedly rational defense of Christianity, and my parents pushed me to read it. Personally, I have no interest in religion. Atheism has been a non-issue for me for years, but I finally agreed to read it on the premise that I would now be able to end any attempt to convert me by saying, “I’ve heard what you have to say, and I disagree.”

I just finished the book, and let me say: I was convinced. I must humbly renounce my former views and state publicly that I have discovered and accepted in my heart and mind the Truth that Jesus was born of God and died for our sins.

Oh, wait, never mind. What I actually discovered is how vicious religion actually is.

The basic thesis of the book is this: both Christians and atheists have faith, but atheism requires more faith than Christianity. Thus the title. What is gruesome is the method by which the authors try to justify that thesis.

Let me start by saying that this book has some virtues. It does pay lip service to reason, logic, and science and never explicitly assaults any of these. (In the end, that is what makes this book so much more evil than other defenses of religion I’ve read). It also has a heavy Aristotelian streak, and does a good job of rebutting skeptics and subjectivists. It is also the most sophisticated defense of Christianity I have read, avoiding the more obvious errors atheists usually encounter when discussing religion. In fact, I would go so far as to say that a non-Objectivist would probably have trouble answering many of their points.

That said, this book does not, in my view, represent a series of honest errors made in an attempt to defend religion, but an outright assault on man’s mind.

Its method is simple: assert that reason cannot lead man to certainty and that every idea demands faith; then claim that the only alternative to skepticism and subjectivism is religion; and finally, employ twisted science, pseudo-science, logical fallacies, and outright lies to establish Christianity as a more rational hypothesis.

The starting premise of the book is that reason cannot lead man to certainty. Why not? Because induction, the authors claim, leads man only to probable truths. What’s so fascinating is that in their efforts to condemn skepticism, the authors grant every one of the skeptic’s premises. Whereas the skeptic would say, “It is a leap of faith to say that man is mortal,” the Christian retorts, “That’s right, but it’s such a small leap! Sure, you can’t know for sure that all men are mortal, but you can know they probably are. It takes more faith to conclude that some men are not mortal than to conclude all of them are.” This means that man is obligated to accept conclusions that cannot be justified by reason. It means that reason demands the acceptance of ideas that cannot be proved by rational means. It means that reason demands irrationality.

Keep in mind that if no amount of evidence is sufficient to establish certainty, then there is no basis for judging probability. If you don’t know where your destination is, you can’t know how far you are from it. It also means that you have no means of determining what counts as evidence for or against a conclusion. Is the fact that all men have died evidence that man by his nature must die? Unless we know what proof would consist of, we have no way to answer that question.

This is illustrated by the next chapter of the book, where the authors break out the cosmological argument to prove God’s existence. Their arguments runs thusly:

P1: Everything that had a beginning had a cause.
P2: The universe had a beginning.
C: Therefore the universe had a cause.

Now, I am not a scientist, and I suspect that much of the science they use to defend P2 isn’t even accepted by today’s mixed up scientists. Moreover, that premise is not a scientific question, but a philosophical one. Or, more precisely, it can be ruled out philosophically: existence cannot come from non-existence. The big bang, if it occurred, represents the universe changing its form or organization, not coming into existence from nothing.

But what’s most relevant here is what Geisler and Turek do with the scientific evidence. They assert that science cannot now explain what happened at the time of the big bang or before, and conclude that the only reasonable explanation is that it was created by something outside of existence. In other words, they do not identify what would be conclusive evidence that God exists and thereby determine what would count as evidence of this conclusion. Rather, they posit that there is something science cannot explain and say that this is evidence for God. Evidence? By what standard?

In fact, as Leonard Peikoff pointed out in OPAR, “Inference from the natural can only lead to more of the natural, i.e., to limited, finite entities acting and interacting in accordance with their identities.” The key to every argument for the existence of God is the claim, “We don’t know X… and therefore God exists.” This is worse than a logical fallacy; it is the antithesis of logic. It makes ignorance the basis for certainty — the only basis for certainty.

Yet Geisler and Turek repeat this pattern again and again. Their second argument for God is the design argument. In that chapter, they engage in a full-out assault on evolution, raising the “Intelligent Design” claim that certain features of life are “irreducibly complex” and could not have arisen through natural causes. Apart from the fact that this point has been answered time and again by scientists (proving to my satisfaction that the authors are completely dishonest) the basic logical point still stands. From the fact that we cannot explain something, we cannot conclude anything. Only on the premise that all conclusions require a leap of faith can someone make such a demand.

And that is the whole point. That is why Geisler and Turek are so desperate to claim that every conclusion requires some amount of faith. If rational certainty is impossible, there is no way to determine what counts as evidence, and if there is no standard for what counts as evidence, then everything counts as evidence — including ignorance.

The third argument offered for God’s existence is the moral argument, in which they simply assert that without God there is no objective basis for morality. I trust I need not spend time refuting that, although I will point out that I think one of the best arguments against Jesus’ divinity was that the morality he preached is evil: faith, original sin, mercy over justice, love divorced from values, self-denial, self-abnegation, self-sacrifice… Aristotle was a more careful moral thinker than God Himself.

The rest of the book is spent defending the accuracy of the Bible. Reading page after page of trivia, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of what the authors are actually trying to prove: that even though we know people can err or lie, and that documents can be inaccurate (especially historical ones), and despite the fact that religion contradicts everything we do know, it is irrational to doubt the Biblical story and rational to believe that the Son of God came to the earth, performed miracles, and after telling people that murderers need not burn in hell but an honest atheist will, was crucified and awoke from the dead. Can I get a “Chutzpah”?

To be sure, I have only touched on the errors and absurdities (and viciousness) of this book. But the book does have one accidental virtue: it highlights how badly Ayn Rand is needed in today’s philosophical climate. It was Ayn Rand who saw that the alternative to materialism isn’t idealism. that the alternative to skepticism is not intrinsicism, and that the alternative to moral subjectivism is not religious authoritarianism.

Not enough faith to be an atheist? That’s true. I don’t have any faith at all.

The Value of Community

Dec 272005

Given all of the discussion of benevolence in the comments lately, I thought I should post exchange this sooner rather than later. Please note that it was written before that discussion erupted, so some of what I’ve written in those comments should be seen as elaborating upon these remarks.

Michael Mirmak recently e-mailed me the following inquiry about the value of community:

I’ve been reading and enjoying your blog for quite some time (and occasionally dropping in a snarky comment); after seeing your posts on FROG and watching it become increasingly successful, I felt compelled to write.

Several recent books, including “Bowling Alone” and “Married to the Job,” have focused on an increasing lack of “community” in modern American life. They note declining levels of civic involvement, including voter registration, social and political clubs and sporting associations, even reduced marriage statistics. In the view of these works, American culture is turning away from social interaction and instead engaging in longer working hours or in individual entertainment.

Scholars like John Lewis have reminded us that the healthy early Greek culture viewed social interaction — the city as a community where men interact and can do so rationally — as absolutely necessary to human life. However, today’s culture offers very few constructive social outlets that aren’t somehow tinged with bad ideas. Many non-religious people I know attend church, solely because of the sociability it affords them. Similarly, many (myself included) find ourselves working longer hours to compensate for the lack of healthy social outlets. Arguing with people who enjoy the camaraderie of Habitat for Humanity gets increasingly difficult when you still end up sitting at home alone.

Groups like FROG seem to buck the trend — they form individualists’ communities. But their existence still leaves big philosophical questions: what should the value of “community” — whether it be the formal, civic kind or the informal, dinner party kind — be to the rational man? In an Objectivist-majority society, what would form a healthy level of civic involvement, if any, take? Unless we provide a compelling alternative view of the proper relationship of social interaction to individualism, the communitarian view seen on both the left and right will be the one which wins the cultural debate.

Would you be willing to address, through your blog, either “community” as a concept or, more specifically, how to successfully establish a group like FROG?

Thanks in advance!

Michael was kind enough to give me permission to post his e-mail and my reply on NoodleFood. I wanted to do so, as I hope that other folks might might have something interesting to add. So here’s my reply:

I’ve been trying to think of how to reply to your recently e-mail about community, but I haven’t thought of anything particularly interesting! Personally, I don’t think of community in any grand terms. It’s just a group of people who come together due to shared values, then discover that they enjoy spending time together (to degrees varying with each person) due to the discovery of further shared values.

For example, I enjoy my Titan Toastmasters meetings beyond my original purpose of developing and practicing my public speaking skills because many of my fellow members are far more interested in ideas than most people. That makes them more interesting for me to talk to than most people.

With the people involved with FROG, I have a much deeper affinity of values than I ever expected with an Objectivist group, in substantial part because they tend to be far more serious about understanding and practicing the principles of Objectivism than run-of-the-mill many professed Objectivists. With such people, Paul and I have also found plenty of other values in common. We swap meaningful movie, television, and book recommendations. (Many of us have surprisingly similar tastes.) Oh, and food — I’ve enjoyed many a fine meal with my friends from FROG! I’m able to get better advice from FROGs than most people. And we have plenty of intellectual issues to discuss.

I would love to see thriving Objectivist communities like FROG in other areas, but I’m not holding my breath. I know that creating and sustaining that requires much diligent effort, thoughtful leadership, and even heroic patience over the course of years. In the meantime, even one good Objectivist friend in the area goes a long way, I know. It’s really important, I think, to have even just one person with whom you can be completely at ease.

If I find that I don’t have additional shared values with the people in a given social group, then I keep my involvement to a minimum. I hate to waste my time on idle chit-chat with people I don’t much like. Speaking generally, I can usually only hope for some kind of minimal visibility with people unfamiliar with Objectivism — and I have little tolerance for that. I’m particularly tortured by the standard comments about the evils of not recycling, a child’s need for religion, the old people wasting “our” health care resources, and the like. In casual conversation with regular people, I’m too often mired in boredom, then jolted into horror. It’s so trying just to be polite in those situations. Of course, I do know a few notable exceptions to those general observations. And I can enjoy many people in small doses, particularly if I’m plied with good food!

I’ve never thought much of the usual communitarian complaints about the barren loneliness of individualism. (I always want to say in reply, “Speak for yourself, brother!”) My general impression is that far too many people (particularly those needy communitarians) want others to fill a painful void in themselves that really ought to be occupied by their own soul. And they are willing to be incredibly promiscuous in their social relationships in the attempt. I hate to sound so Roark-ish, but if you can’t stand to be alone, then you’re not yet fit for company. (And that’s just one of many demanding requirements for good social relationships!)


Happy Christmas and Merry New Year

Dec 262005

I am bad at retrospectives. My memory is notoriously poor, and besides, I’ve never much enjoyed reading them let alone writing them. But as this year closes, I do want to say a few thank you’s to everyone who has made 2005 such an amazing year for me.

First, foremost, and above all, thank you to Diana: for allowing me to post here, and for being so supportive of me and my work. It’s so much easier to blog when there’s no pressure to post every day. And it’s so much more enjoyable to blog when I know that every post will be met with a slew of comments from NoodleFood’s wonderful readers (in particular RT, who wins my coveted “Best Commentor” award).

Thank you to everyone who has helped make Axiomatic the modest success it has been: my readers, writers, and editors. A very special thanks to MB — without his editorial guidance, the quality of the magazine wouldn’t have come close to what it has been — and David Arceneaux, whose services as Axiomatic’s webmaster can never be fully repayed (unless a bunch more of you subscribe and shower me with money.)

Thank you to James Valliant, whose book The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics has changed so many minds, and has put Rand’s detractors on the defensive…which is where they deserve to be.

Thank you to Yaron Brook and the staff at the Ayn Rand Institute — you guys are doing amazing things. I only wish I could afford to donate more.

Finally, thank you to my best friend David Rehm…for everything.

Oh, and there’s one more person left to thank, but for that, you’ll have to wait for the January issue of Axiomatic, due out, well…in January.

Happy Holidays,

Merry Christmas!

Dec 252005

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Message To Space

Dec 242005

Rand Simberg has won the contest held by “The Space Show” for the first message to space. The message could have a maximum length of one page, taking no more than 5 minute to read. His winning entry: “We taste terrible.”

Update: It was Sam Dinkin (Rand Simberg’s co-blogger), who won the contest. My apologies, Sam!

TOC Donor Dollars at Work

Dec 232005

In Howard Roark’s courtroom speech in The Fountainhead, he said, “The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing.” The philosophical state of the world today is basically the same, if not worse. So I’m pleased to see that Ed Hudgins of The Objectivist Center is tacking the tough issues of the day by …. (drumroll please) …. reviewing Kong — and not even in a philosophical way. Here’s about as good as it gets:

Giving character to animals in movies not meant merely for children is always fraught with the danger of making them too human, which they’re not, especially in the case of apes, which do have a rudimentary intelligence. Jackson strikes a good balance with Kong, a creature scarred by daily battles for survival who’s comes across something that piques his simian curiosity and charms him. But he’s still a killer, though his rampage through New York is clearly caused by his tacky mistreatment on Broadway by Denham.

As a friend of mine said in forwarding me the link, “Well, I’m glad that’s been cleared up!”

Home | Live Webcast | Archives | Blog | Question Queue | Connect | Support Us | About Us
Copyright 2012 Diana Hsieh | Email | Twitter | Facebook | Blog
Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha