At this time with so many challenges facing humanity, it is more crucial than ever that we band together using objective means of measurement and clear thinking in identifying, understanding, and finding solutions to our shared problems. Autonomy of the individual is very important, for our freedoms allow us to be fulfilled and happy. However, the public sphere cannot and should not be populated by subjective beliefs, if we are to maintain our civilizations and quality of life. This blog is dedicated to examining the political, religious, psychological, and philosophical aspects of our modern discourse in the public sphere, endorsing that which is beneficial, and exposing that which is not.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Have You Been Brainwashed?

Having grown up as the youngest son of a Christian minister, first in the Baptist denomination, then into Pentecostal and Non-Denominational Churches (part of the Charismatic movement for the most part), I was heavily indoctrinated in Protestant Christianity from a very young age (since birth really). From my earliest memories, I was in church everytime the doors were opened (mainly because my father usually was the one who opened them). For much of my early childhood, we even had a family bible study every single weeknight. As a result, I have a very strong understanding and knowledge of this religion, and it's sacred writings. 

Another effect of this style of upraising is that I have undergone a long, painful, arduous journey escaping what I now think of as the brainwashing that I was subjected to for more than half of my life. To this day, I still have not escaped all of the effects of this time in my life. After all, it was perpetrated at the most developmentally important part of my growth. My natural bend to intellectualism was discouraged and stunted, because it does not fit with the practice of blind faith. My kneejerk sense of morality, which has both negative and positive aspects, does not always correspond with a realistic purview of ethical behavior. Depite my initial liberation from irrational beliefs, I still pay a penalty for the brainwashing I endured in these, and many other different ways. I am progressing daily. But, it seems such an unnecessary struggle should have been avoided. 

The steps of Brainwashing according to:

1.Assault on identity
4.Breaking point
6.Compulsion to confess
7.Channeling of guilt
8.Releasing of guilt
9.Progress and harmony
10.Final confession and rebirth

Why do I think of this as brainwashing? Let's consider the definition of brainwashing (according to Oxford American Dictionary): make (someone) adopt radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible pressure. 

1. The first step to brainwashing is to attack the subject's sense of self, or identity. Since a child is developing his/her sense of self within the context of the religious teachings, this step is fulfilled by default, as there is no prior sense of self to overcome. 

2. Christianity is built upon the concept of guilt. We sinful creatures must be redeemed from the sinful nature we inherited, that was passed down through the generations from Adam and Eve. So, the second step, which is guilt is obviously fulfilled.

3. Attending church, listening to the songs, the sermon, and just the casual conversation of the congregation, constantly reinforces to the child how guilty everyone including the child him/her self are. This fulfills the step of self betrayal by convincing the child of his/her own lack of intrinsic worth. The child is forced to admit this, at least inside, if not to others. Ultimately, this step is about internalizing the guilt that is hammered down in step 2. 

4. This leads to the point where the child wonders what he/she, the wretched sinful creature can possibly do about his/her dismal state. Obviously, there is nothing that he/she as an inherently evil creature can do. This is the point where God and Jesus come in. They are willing to forgive you, and give you a new life, one without the sinful nature that makes you so evil. The child is worn down to the point of relinquishing his/her control of self, the breaking point. I clearly remember spending many sleepless nights at the tender age of 8 crying out to God to save me. I was terrified of going to hell. It was much worse than any horror movie, or any other source of fear that I had felt before or since that time. It is a very powerful motivator to embrace the teachings of Christianity. To this day, I still have a deep fear of going to hell, even though I no longer even believe in such a place.

5. The step of leniency is fulfilled by the grace and mercy that God exhibits by giving the child a chance at salvation, simply by believing that Jesus died as a sacrifice to redeem him/her from his/her wretched sinful nature. He/She can now go to heaven, because she/he believes. Isn't God good to help that child. Isn't He showing leniency to such an unworthy creature.

6-10. To save time and space, I won't belabor the obvious. I think that you get the gist of what I am saying here. For these reasons, I will summarize the rest of the steps in one short paragraph. The child is encouraged to confess his/her sins often, at various times, in various ways. The pain that is associated with the guilt is attributed to the "world" as opposed to the "things of God" or the "Kingdom of Heaven". This encourages the child to avoid the "evil" things of the "world". After the conversion experience, it is the world that is blamed for the evil that may occasionally overtake the child. To remedy this, the child is encouraged to avoid the world. It is by renewing his/her mind in the Word of God that he/she insulates him/her self from the world, and the attendant guilt. This renewing and dedication to the things of God are put forth as providing the peace and harmony that has been denied the child through the aforementioned mechanisms. This, in turn, provides a sense of comfort and a cessation of a sense of responsibility within the child, as long as he/she continues to live in the prescribed way. 

Considering that nearly every one of these steps can take place in a single church service, and that many children go through thousands of these services in their lifetimes, one can easily see the erosive power of such a mechanism on a person's will, especially as the personality, will, emotions, virtually every aspect that we think of as representing the very humanness of humanity, is yet to be formed. I have often thought that continuing to teach something that has already been learned ad nauseam must be a form or step of brainwashing. In what other aspect of life is this sort of instruction used, and considered normal? 

The alert reader may wonder how the definition's statement of adopting radically differentbeliefs is fulfilled. Well, I'm glad you asked. Part of what led to my eventual deconversion was my noticing the fact that many of the most important claims made in the Bible are of a supernatural nature. Though I have spoken with a few people who claim direct exposure to what they consider to be supernatural events, I have not witnessed nor heard of any experience or phenomena that could not either be explained using natural means, or reasonably doubted (most often because of humanity's notoriously untrustworthy mechansisms of perception). This has lead me to ask the question, both of myself and others: What in our daily experiences supports the idea of the supernatural phenomena reported in the bible? Is there any reason or evidence that shows that such claims are truly possible/probable. These beliefs that we are expected to hold in Christianity really are radically different from our personal experiences of the natural world. What reason, other than the teaching (brainwashing), and widespread acceptance of such beliefs, do we have to believe these truly incredible claims?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Addressing and Refuting the Cosmological Fine Tuning Argument for Design

Due to the fact that this argument keeps being advanced, despite being addressed and shown to be deeply flawed, I have decided to create a document that will gather all parts of this issue into one place. This will serve to keep the separation of time and space from allowing people to forget and disavow that these arguments have been addressed, as it will be here and accessible to all.
The formulation of the fine-tuning argument (FTA) is sometimes presented in a Bayesian form of probability. I will not present this form, as it will only serve to cloud the issue, and render this treatment unfriendly to the average reader. If anyone wishes to discuss the Bayesian inference argument, I’m more than willing to do so in the comment section, however. Throughout this document I am going to try to avoid being too technical, though some technicality is inherent in the argument.
The Argument
FTA is basically the following argument: The universe that we inhabit appears to be finely tuned to produce the complex structures, such as stars, galaxies, the heavier elements, all of which are necessary to produce life. This fine-tuning is a result of either, chance, necessity, or design. It is highly improbable that this is due to chance or necessity. Therefore, the most likely conclusion is that this fine-tuning is the result of design.
The appearance of fine-tuning comes from the observance that physical parameters, such as the mass of the proton, neutron, and electron, are values that work together in a very delicate balance, such that changing any one of these parameters by a very small amount would render the formation of matter, the structure of the universe, the formation of stars, and the emergence of life impossible.
            I feel that I’ve presented the argument with explanation fairly and neutrally. Of course, if anyone has a suggested revision, addition, or subtraction from this argument, once again, address it in the comments section.  From this point on, I will be addressing what I see as flaws in this argument.
Scientific Objections to FTA
Probability Is Not Applicable
            When this argument is presented, the language of probability is used, and as I mentioned above, even the Bayesian formula for inferring probability is used. Saying something is probable or improbable gives it a force of sounding technical and “sciency”.  The problem with using this language, calling the likelihood of chance or necessity being the explanation for the universe we observe improbable, is that probability cannot be applied to the argument according to the most basic rules of probability. 1   When a normal six-sided die is rolled, the established rules of mathematical probability state that the probability of rolling any particular number is 1/6. Thus, the added probability of rolling each of these numbers equals 6/6 or 1. In probability calculation, the sum probability of all possible outcomes must equal 1, as probability values are always between 0 and 1 (1 = 100%). The value of any given physical parameter is not limited by any logical argument. This means that the possible values of any and all physical parameters can be and may be infinite. If that is the case, then figuring probability from an infinite set cannot be summed to a total probability of 1, as the sum of all possible outcomes in an infinite set is infinity. Thus the probability of these values being what they are is not calculable. What this means in layman’s terms is that “we do not have enough information about how possible universes may vary”. The possible parameters from an infinite set have an infinite number of possibilities, and so the likelihood of any set of parameters producing a universe friendly to life is inscrutable. This means that FTA is not a formalized scientific argument; it is an intuitional argument. This is all a mathematical treatment that points to the fact that our level of ignorance concerning universe formation is woefully high, so high that we can’t say how likely any of it is, formally or intuitionally.
The Coarse-Tuning Argument
            Some may argue that this is just a mathematical trick. However, it should be noted that math is a language that is used in physics to describe reality as closely as possible. In other words, that probability isn’t applicable likely means that it is not a valid argument, in terms of establishing a prior probability.  There is a counter-argument that puts the one who argues to somehow rescue the probable statement of the FTA in an uncomfortable position of having to admit that the appearance of coarse tuning would not suggest the need for any intelligent design. This is uncomfortable because the probabilistic representation of either argument is indistinguishable from the other, and thus any inference drawn by one argument has a corresponding inference in the other. Fine-tuning has already been explained as physical parameters that couldn’t vary by much to produce a universe similar to our own, that could lead to complex life. Coarse-tuning, on the hand, describes physical parameters that could vary by quite a lot, and still produce similar universe to what we observe. Following, I post a link to a paper discussing this argument for you to read. Behind this argument is a basis of probability and mathematics that is beyond most math and physics laypersons. Hopefully by posting this discussion, you can get a better understanding of the mathematical basis. 1
 Proposed Fine-Tuning Parameters
            Covering all of these proposed parameters and arguments concerning them would require a book. It is therefore my intention to tackle these one by one as they are brought up in the comments section. I have not covered all of the proposed parameters arguments, though I’ve read quite a bit. A particularly interesting book on this is Victor Stenger’s  “The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us”. 4  In this book, Dr. Stenger, an eminent and respected physicist, explains how the very way that physics has developed shows that these parameters are not as finely-tuned as some purport. He goes on to suggest that many of these supposed fine-tunings are exaggerated and just plain wrong-headed, based upon misunderstandings and neglected facts. It’s a complicated set of arguments and ideas when one these arguments in the math and physics basis of their natural parlance. But if we are going to argue FTA, it is disingenuous to do so from any other basis. Then we simply appeal to popularity of ideas, or have dueling experts, instead of actually arguing ourselves.
The Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP)
            There are various forms and views of the basic idea called the anthropic principle. I will only discuss the weak anthropic principle, as it is the only one that is part of the objections I am making in this document. WAP basically says that if the universe had not developed such that life like us would form, then either no life would be here to wonder and to ask the questions, or another type of life would have formed to wonder about its surroundings. This is not considered a satisfactory answer to the FTA on its own. Part of the reason for this is that WAP is basically a tautology, a statement that must be true, which offers no new conclusion or information. More than an objection or an answer, I think that the WAP is a means of framing or considering the FTA problem that highlights some of the assumptions involved.
One assumption of FTA proponents is that life like us is the only type of life possible. Even though we are the only type of life that we know, carbon based and earthbound, it may well be that other types of life may exist in other parts of our universe that are not carbon based. At heart, this assumption is about a lack of imagination and limitations of current knowledge. Just as there could be other types of life in our universe, there could be other types of universes capable of creating or supporting some type of life. For example, carbon is considered to be our basis for life because it is capable of forming complex bonds with itself and other elements. Silicon is also capable of making similar bonds. Scientists speculate that silicon is the most likely candidate to be a basis for types of life that are not carbon based. We should not assume that other types of life are not possible without reason to think so.
            The most basic assumption involved in FTA, and what the WAP addresses most directly, is that the appearance of fine tuning necessarily means that it is fine tuned. It boils down to this question, which is closely related to the first assumption: if the universe were not fine-tuned to produce life, and yet we were here to observe it, how would it look different? In other words, the universe could very well be required to be as it is to produce us, though that is not a certainty (as I will discuss). But if that’s the case, then we should not be surprised to see that it is as it is, considering we are the ones observing it.
Another assumption implicit in the FTA is that the basic physical constants are static through time and space. Our universe is estimated to be 13.8 billion years old. It is also thought to have begun and expanded from a single point. This means that it has expanded for that entire time. Considering that space itself expands and the expansion is actually accelerating, it is estimated that our visible universe is about 93 billion light years in diameter. This is only the part of the universe that we can see. It is not known how large the entire universe may be, and that’s not even considering possible multiverse scenarios. Now, it is true that physical constants are assumed to be constant across both space and time. But this is an assumption, and not without its detractors. If constants do vary across space and/or time, then one can posit that the part of the universe that we inhabit has the right parameters for conditions to produce our kind of life because they have changed over billions of years, until they reached a point that they produced those conditions. This is more than just idle speculation. Webb et al. have discovered evidence in our observable universe that a physical constant called the fine structure constant varies depending upon which direction in space one looks. 2 3
Conceptions of Cyclic Universes and a Multiverse 
I recommend viewing these two short videos to familiarize yourself with the subject before reading this section

            Up to this point, we’ve only considered objections to claims of fine-tuning following from the appearance of fine-tuning without appealing to the possibility of one or more multiverse models. However, whether the appearance of fine-tuning is actually evidence of actual fine-tuning or not, it’s certain that many respected physicists believe it to be true, and think that existence of a multiverse is required to explain this appearance. Therefore, we’ll briefly examine different types of multiverse models and evidence that supports that they may exist.
Cyclic Universe
            The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem shows that any historically expanding universe like ours must have a finite border of space-time from which it began. Some conveniently assume this means that nothing could have existed before this point. But that is not what the theorem says. There are various proposed scenarios that would allow for a cyclic universe. I don’t want, as I said to get overly technical in this paper. So I will leave any arguments on this idea to the comments section. However, I will post a paper discussing this idea 5. Suffice it for this discussion to quote Alexander Vilenkin in an interview with the Arizona Atheist:

[I]f someone asks me whether or not the theorem I proved with Borde and Guth implies that the universe had a beginning, I would say that the short answer is “yes”. If you are willing to get into subtleties, then the answer is “No, but…” So, there are ways to get around having a beginning, but then you are forced to have something nearly as special as a beginning.
A similar statement was made to Victor Stenger by Vilenkin and reproduced in his book on FTA that I mentioned earlier in this paper.
One special circumstance to show that an absolute beginning may not be necessary has been to conceptualize the universe as a sphere or Mobius strip, in that is has no beginning and no end in itself, but is finite. Another proposed circumstance and visualization of a cyclic universe involves a symmetric representation of two universes on each side of a barrier conceived of as the “beginning” of each symmetric representation, wherein the arrow of time is opposite on each side of the barrier. This is just one general way to avoid the need for an absolute beginning. These ideas are not evidential in any way, however. These are sufficient means to achieve an infinitely existing universe that are not illogical or contradictory to any known laws.
There are other infinite cyclical universal existence scenarios that actually are somewhat evidential. The most interesting, and perhaps the latest one is based upon the standard model of quantum mechanics, including the mass of the recently found and confirmed Higgs boson. The calculations based upon this model suggest that the universe is inherently unstable, and that at some point in the future, a new universe will form within our existing universe, growing to destroy and displace it. These examples should suffice to illustrate the concept of a cyclic universe, though other ideas have been put forth in this vein.
Simultaneously existing Multiverse Conceptions
            To explain various characteristics of our observed universe a phenomenon has been presented called inflation. Inflation is the idea that the initial expansion of space/time was much faster than any subsequent expansion. Inflation has been so helpful to explain what we observe that it has reached a consensus among most physicists as being the most likely explanation for how our universe behaved in the first few moments after the Big Bang. In addition to the fact that inflation could have produced some of the supposed fine tuning parameters as an artifact of the mechanism, it is also given as a possible source for a multiverse. In this scenario expansion would end at different times for different parts of the universe. This uneven expansion would result in many isolated bubble universes, possibly with different physical characteristics.
Recent data from the Planck Space Observatory supports the idea that a multiverse may exist. There are anomalies in the mapping of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) that suggest that there may have been gravitational influences on our observable universe from outside of it. These influences may be neighboring “bubbles”.  This idea is not new. It was suggested based upon data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), which had mapped the CMB prior to the Planck mapping. The Planck data is more detailed than the WMAP data, which seems to confirm the anomaly.
Another concept of a multiverse is what is commonly referred to as the Fecund Universe or Daughter Universe hypothesis. It is a multifaceted hypothesis. The basic idea is that black holes spawn new universes, either containing the universe entirely within itself or being a conduit to a white hole, where the matter that is taken into a black hole is spewed out. Lee Smolin has suggested that the production of black holes is the real evolutionary mechanism of successful universes. If black holes are the key to spawning other universes, then the more black holes a universe produces, the more successful it is at reproducing “daughter universes”. Smolin has further suggested that elements produced at the formation of black holes are elements most necessary for life, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Carbon. From this observation, he says that it’s plausible that life is merely a byproduct of the important characteristics of a universe, formation of black holes. This is an interesting idea. But it’s entirely without evidence, and would be difficult to confirm or falsify. It’s a good example of the size of the gap of ignorance in cosmology, however, that such diverse ideas could all be put forth as plausible. This point figures prominently in the overall thrust of this discussion, which is treated in a section at the end.
Another concept of a multiverse known as Brane Theory is a result of an interesting fact concerning String Theory. String Theory (not really a scientific theory at all) is an attempt by physicists to unify Quantum Mechanics with General Relativity into a Grand Unified Theory. The mathematical equations of String Theory have been shown to have at least 10500 solutions. This means that the proposed extra dimensions that help determine the physical constants could be arranged at least this many ways, which suggests that there could be this many separate universes in the multiverse, all with their own physical constants.
The last major type of proposed multiverse is proposed as a consequence of a particular interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. This is known as the Many Worlds Hypothesis. This suggests that such anomalies as the wave function collapse appear to show that a particle exists in many different states at once, until observed. The act of observing it makes it resolve into one of many different possible states. The hypothesis suggests that it doesn’t simply resolve into one of the states, but that it resolves into all of the possible states in parallel time streams, only one of which is the stream of our experienced existence.
Some have suggested that any and all of these models could be true. If they were all true, then we’d have a truly staggering number of separate, different, universes. And if any of these are correct, then that makes the idea of fine-tuning in our universe to appear to be a ridiculous claim. It should be noted that apart from the evidence already noted-
1. the success of inflation theory along with the likelihood of inflation ceasing at different times in different places due to quantum fluctuation
2. the anomalies in the CMB
3. the many solutions of String Theory
4. the odd phenomena on the quantum level,
that there is no experimental evidence for these ideas. Detractors often attack these ideas as being unscientific for this reason. This is a fair assessment, given the state of our current ability to test these hypotheses. It should be noted, however, that these detractors are often the ones who are most apt to push FTA as evidence of intelligent design, which is also not a testable scientific idea. Even if one were to accept that our universe was intelligently designed, how would that further our knowledge of the processes and characteristics underlying it?  This is why the scientific method works from a basis of methodological naturalism: supernaturalism would not further understanding of natural processes. Also, it is feasible and even likely that in the not too distant future we will be able to test the existence of at least some multiverse models. I’m not certain how we’d test whether or not our universe is intelligently designed.
Closing Remarks
The main problem I see with the FTA is that it is a philosophical argument dependent upon an interpretation of scientific data. This data is part of a discipline that is shot with large gaps of ignorance and ad hoc hypotheses to shore up these gaps. Physics is a model that is intended to represent reality. But it is only a model, and an imperfect one. We have learned much and we probably have a great deal of true knowledge concerning cosmology. But to claim that the appearance of fine-tuning based upon this imperfect model shows that the universe must have been designed seems to be fallacious in a complimentary type of fallacy to that of appeal to ignorance. Appeal to ignorance says, “we don’t know, so my preferred explanation is possible”. This argument fails in that it fails to recognize ignorance. It overstates the certainty of the model that we use, and understates the gaps of knowledge that we have. This is the wide heading under which failures mentioned above fall.
Let’s suppose that we allow, for argument’s sake, that the universe is intelligently designed. There are things that we can infer from the past, present, and future of the observable universe that speak to what this designer may be like. First, the designer seems to have wasted a lot of space. The observable universe is approximately 93 billion light years in diameter, most of this is relatively empty space, with approximately 100 billion galaxies consisting of an average of 100 billion stars per galaxy. Many of these stars have planetary systems.  Yet most advocates of FTA seem to think that we humans are central to the designer’s plan. If that is the case, one has to wonder why the majority of the universe would not support our life. Our planet in our solar system is just a tiny, tiny fraction of the universe that we can see. So, why is the universe as large as it is?
            Second, our universe began about 13.8 billion years ago. From this beginning, it took about 9 billion years for our solar system to form. It took about 10 billion years for life to begin on our planet. It took about 13.5 billion years for humans to evolve. This incredibly long period of time for the supposed goal of creation to appear doesn’t seem to support the importance of our species to this designer.
Third, there are apparent imperfections in the design of life itself. For example, the sensory systems of humans are not optimized to accurately sense the environment around us. Our eyes have a hole in the retina, where the optic nerve travels from the eye back into the brain. We fill these holes in from the surrounding scene in the visual field during the perception stage. We are not even aware that these holes are there.  To be able to articulate the sounds of our language, our risk of choking increased beyond that of most other animals,  because the entrance of our esophagus and our trachea are so close together. There are other examples, but these should suffice.
Finally, the most problematic aspect of our experience for the type of designer that we’d like to imagine is the apparent fact that this designer is trying to kill us. Since the advent of life on Earth, there have been 5 major near extinction events, plus many other smaller but still devastating catastrophes. It is estimated that over 99% of all species that have existed have gone extinct. With the exception of plants, that get their energy straight from the Sun, life on earth must take energy from other life by eating plants and/or animals. This sets up a miserable existence of struggle and death for the majority of animals. Today, in our experience, we face many different natural disasters that take tens, hundreds, and even thousands of lives.
From the former body of evidence, it seems that any designer that may exist is wasteful in both space and time, inefficient in designing, and at best absent from its design or capricious, and at worst bloodthirsty. 




Monday, August 23, 2010

My Conversion Experience

This was originally a post on facebook in response to some criticisms I received for being offensive to Christians. I think that it is also a good addition to this blog, for those who may not be friends on facebook.

I get the impression that my writings, my methods, and my motivations are misunderstood. So, as briefly as I can, I will attempt to explain how I moved from belief to skepticism. In the process, I hope to also clarify my motivations for writing about the subject matter I write about. I hope to show that my message is not one of offense, but one of necessity. Most of the material I will cover here has been covered in some of my other notes and articles. But, this is the first time that I have presented it together with the purpose of defending my actions and words.

Most people know that I spent my youth in the Protestant Christian Church. My father was a deacon when I was born, and a preacher by the time I was about 10 years old. We had nightly bible study every weekday, and church on Wed. and Sun., plus vacation bible schools, revivals, singings, dinners, etc. I spent much of my first two decades of life in one church or another. Toward the end of my time living with my parents, we began to get into the Charismatic Christian movement. Basically, this is all about accepting the promises of the bible in this life, as opposed to focusing on the after life. This includes healing of diseases, the gifts of the spirit, the five-fold ministry, praise and worship as power to defeat the forces of the devil, intercessory prayer warfare, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Baptism by Fire, etc.

Shortly after I graduated from high school, my oldest brother bought me a plane ticket to stay with him and his family in southwestern Germany. He was in the Army at the time. And, he had fallen in with a really zealous set of Baptists. I had to defend my beliefs from him and the church he was attending. Understand, I wasn't very actively religious at the time. But, I was constantly bombarded with the views of he and his church, often they would gang up against me. As a result of this, I got into the bible even more than I ever had before. It was at this time that the seeds of doubt first began to bloom inside me, not only in my view of Christianity, but in the religion itself. I began to doubt because I had begun to notice not only discrepancies in the bible, but also that those who professed to believe were not necessarily the most moral. I continued to self identify as a Christian for several more years after that, though. I even actively witnessed and went to church during that time. It was all I knew in terms of world view.

In 2000, I had really made a mess of my life in various ways by various choices. I ended up moving back in with my parents for a few months. I have noticed that one of the great patterns of life is that often when someone who was a Christian has a really hard time they fall back on the religion and the god of their youth. I was no exception to this pattern at that time. I went whole hog into Christianity, my doubt from my time in Germany forgotten. I grew a long bushy beard. I wore buttons that said things like "too blessed to be stressed". I did my absolute best to take the bible literally, and to live as it said. I fasted constantly. I prayed and sang, sometimes in english, other times in tongues. I mean I was hard-core. Jesus had said that his yoke was light. But, I didn't find that to be the case. The bible said that if I sought God with all of my strength, and all of my heart, that I would find him. I renewed my mind in the word of God daily. I tried to taste God to see if he was good. You would think, based on all these promises, that I would have been experiencing the Joy of the Lord, and the other fruits of the Spirit. Not only did I not have these experiences, but I didn't even have a basic happiness. I took quite some time, several days, where I did nothing but wait on the Lord. I needed him. And, he never showed. I was crushed. Here I was giving my all, and he didn't even give me a crumb from the table. Confused and hurt, I moved on. I began to get back into society as a "normal" person, and the whole experience faded. I was still a self identifying Christian if you asked me, but you had to ask me. I didn't talk about God or my religion any more.

My main turning point that I would point to as ending my identification as a Christian was time that I spent in an internet chat room in 2003-2004 talking to people about the bible. Once again, I was trying to defend it. But, this one person got me to get my bible out, and follow along with him. He proceeded to show me, step by step, many contradictions in the text of the bible, as well as example after example of God behaving in ways that were immoral. I had read the bible extensively. Why hadn't I noticed that before? Because I was reading it with a religious slant, a bias that it was the perfect word of God. Well, after that night, seeing that the bible is demonstrably fallible, I couldn't defend being a Christian to myself anymore. I still couldn't admit to myself that I wasn't a Christian, either. That's a scary proposition for anyone who was raised to believe that this was an express one way ticket straight to hell. But, whether I could admit it to myself or not, I was no longer a Christian at that point.

It was about this time that my wife and I decided that I should quit my management job and go back to school. I took several courses in psychology, sociology, and especially philosophy that further opened my eyes. My first philosophy class was the single most enlightening, empowering, and refreshing experience of my life. It helped me to make sense of my emerging doubts. It was in my first philosophy class that I publicly identified myself as an agnostic. Subsequent classes in Comparative Religion and Elementary Logic further elucidated and progressed the conversion process that I was experiencing. I began to examine every aspect of my life and my environment with reason and logic as the basis for understanding. I began to see the importance of thinking clearly and critically. It was not a quick process. It was a long arduous journey, a journey that I am still in the process of making.

I spent a lot of time debating people at school, people on the internet, debating with myself. My usual subject matter was god, religion, science, etc. More or less what I still bring up most today. But, I started off a lot more extreme than I am now. I used to try to convince people that god didn't exist, because I was convinced that it was always best to let go of religion. I didn't have contact with most of my friends at that point. I wasn't yet on facebook. Slowly, I began to see that the question of the existence of god isn't as clear cut as I wanted it to be, as it seemed to me at that time. I won some debates, and lost others. But, I found that losing, while difficult to swallow sometimes, is also the best way to learn. Now, normally, if I make a claim, it is because I have researched it and argued it, and it has withstood the test of argument, often more than once. I try not to write posts and make claims that I can't back with a strong argument. I get caught up in arguments and claims others have posted that I'm not quite as prepared to defend my view point. But, my own are carefully considered and researched.

I learned during this time of intense debating one of the most important things I have ever learned, that is the difference between subjective beliefs and objective knowledge. If you are reading this, and aren't familiar with those terms, it would be a great idea to look them up. I learned that the only way to hope to achieve objective knowledge is by following evidence and reason to their conclusions. If there is no evidence or reason to support a claim, then it is not objective. Subjective claims cannot be argued to any satisfactory conclusion. This is the basis of my message, why I post what I post most of the time. I want to show that even though subjective belief is fine for individual persons, it is damaging and divisive to try to apply it to groups of people. I hope that you understand and believe me when I say that I am not attacking anyone's personal belief when I post about god or anything else. I am challenging subjective belief, and it's right to be in the public sphere. I don't condone or recommend belief without evidence. But, I don't condemn it either. I am showing that it is indeed subjective, and being subjective, or lacking evidence, it should not be considered any sort of universally applicable knowledge. There is no way to work out agreement among people concerning non-evidential claims.

My main motivation for seeking to get this message out is the state of the US political system, and the great divide in our nation. So many people seem to be making decisions and taking sides on public matters based on their own subjective beliefs. For example, the abortion debate, stem cell controversy, teaching creationism in science class, separation of church and state, foreign policy, civil rights for gays, and many more very important issues are being fought by opposing sides using subjective beliefs. There are evidential points to consider in each one of these issues that are being largely ignored because of these subjective beliefs. That is another reason that I am so quick to challenge beliefs. When a person is absolutely certain that they know the truth, they are closed to other possibilities. I am hoping to shake up that certainty, to encourage people to look, to pay attention. To try to figure it out in an unbiased manner. That is why I am so insistent that a person be on topic, challenge the points of the argument itself. I am hoping that we can find truth together. But, that can only happen when we are both sincerely looking. The way things are going now, tensions are escalating, people are yelling at each other. And, we can expect this to become an ever widening divide if we don't make changes to the way we talk to each other.

That is the most driving and most important motivation for my words and my actions. But, there are other motivations as well. It's not easy breaking free from two decades of what I now consider to be a form of brainwashing (see my post on this in my notes- note that I didn't accuse anyone of being brainwashed either, as I have been accused of doing). I am still open to the possibility that someone may make a point, concerning the existence of god or any other topic about which I post, that I have never considered before. I don't think I know it all. I know I don't. If I am wrong about the existence of god, I want to know. I want to know because I want to know the truth. But, honestly, I also want to know because of the potential finality of getting it wrong. Now, while I respect and appreciate another person's faith (I am not a stranger to the concept or the experience), that faith is not going to change my mind in any way. This is a secondary motivation to be sure, but it is a motivation all the same.

I've been told by more than one person that my style of writing may be a hindrance to those reading it. As one person told me, I am saying a lot in relatively few words, so it is a bit of a dense read. So, I will briefly address that in this posting as well. Everyone has different types of intelligences, according to a wonderful theory by Howard Gardener. I highly recommend reading about this theory. It really opened my eyes to the nature of intelligence. Not everyone is equally adept at all types of intelligences. We have individual strengths and weaknesses. One of my main strengths involves words, vocabulary, grammar, denotations, connotations, etc. I have been accused of reading a dictionary for fun. I love words. I love the nuance of meanings and implied meanings between similar words. I love using concise and careful language that gets across exactly what I'm trying to say. I don't like the easy misunderstandings that imprecise language produces. Also, I am already talking about controversial subjects, I don't want to use language that may offend more than the subject matter itself. I don't sit and look up words to use to try to impress or confuse people. I try to take care to write coherently and grammatically correct. But, that's as far as the planning goes. It comes out naturally the way I write it. I am trying to be a bit more conversational in this piece. Looking back I can see places where that hasn't happened. But, I am trying.

To conclude, let me reiterate that I know my subject matter is controversial. But, for the reasons given above, I feel that it is necessary to have these conversations. Because I am aware of the controversial nature of these topics, I do my best to be neutral with my tone, and to avoid accusations or recriminations. I don't think that I have made any patently offensive statements on here. You are welcome to look back through my writings to see. If you find one that you think is overtly offensive, bring it to my attention, and I will either try to explain it more thoroughly if I don't agree that it's offensive, or I will issue an apology if it is. But, it is my opinion that it is the subject matter itself that offends most. If that's the case, then I can't really say that I am sorry for that. I hope that by explaining things here, I may take away some of that offense, anyway. If there is a point that I should have covered that I haven't, let me know. I'll try to cover it. Thanks for caring and reading.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Case For Limited Government

This is a piece written by my Brother in Law, Derek Martin, in response to my request for writing a defense of conservatism.

I don’t think that government is evil. We need the government to do some things for us. I just think its role should be pretty small. Establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity sums it up pretty good.

Note that our founders wrote “promote” the general welfare, not “provide”. This seems similar to the pursuit of happiness being an unalienable right, not simply happiness. Government should set the rules of the game (regulation) and enforce them, but step back and let the players play. Be a protector, not a provider. John Locke wrote, “The care therefore of every man's soul belongs unto himself, and is to be left unto himself. But what if he neglect the care of his soul? I answer, what if he neglects the care of his health, or of his estate, which things are nearer related to the government of the magistrate than the other? Will the magistrate provide by an express law, that such one shall not become poor or sick? Laws provide, as much as is possible, that the goods and health of subjects be not injured by the fraud and violence of others; they do not guard them from the negligence or Ill-husbandry of the possessors themselves."

It seems like limited government would be an easy sell. Examples of government programs, grants, and departments that are inefficient and waste money are not hard to find. It seems common for them to extend beyond their intended life (how many toll roads are still toll roads after they’ve paid for themselves), expand beyond their initial size (the income tax), or simply be excessive (insert your own example here).

Why is this so common? Simply because the most powerful incentives—competition and profit/loss—don’t exist in the public sector. Who do Amtrak and the Postal Service compete against? When a public entity is losing money, its typical reaction is to ask for more money. When a private entity is losing money, it must improve somehow, whether that be a better product, better service, a more efficient operation, or innovation.

Too often we focus on the intent of government action and not the results (e.g. The War on Poverty). If the intent is noble then the action is presumed to be noble. Put emotion aside and examine each action: is it achieving its intended purpose? How effectively was this issue dealt with prior to government action?

The blessing of liberty is the freedom to plot our own course. It is not a guarantee that we will be successful, however we define success. Government should give us a chance to reach our dreams, not ensure that we do. In trying to ensure that we do, the dream can quickly turn into a nightmare.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Separation of Church and State

Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. -Thomas Jefferson

I am an ardent secularist. I don't find fault with personal religion, other than the mindset of accepting ideas, beliefs, and practices without reason, that it seems to require. That being said, I would like to reiterate that I am irreligious not anti-religious. I recognize that it plays an important role in many people's lives. There are numerous well supported psychological studies that show that a person who believes in a god is on the average more happy and less stressed than a non-believer. Of course, a correlation shouldn't be construed as causation (and I can make an argument that this is indeed nothing more than correlation, or an analogy that shows that it is likely a placebo effect). Nevertheless, despite any personal benefits that religion may bring, it does not benefit us as a nation to mix government with religion of any type.

The United States of America is comprised mostly of people who ascribe to the Christian faith. This is indisputably true. There is an important distinction to be made between this fact and the idea that America is a Christian nation, though. There are slightly more people who identify themselves as Democrats. Does that make us a Democrat nation? No, of course not. Of course, Democrats probably wouldn't mind that label. But, those who don't identify as Democrat would. This is also true for those who do not ascribe to the Christian religion in America. Look again at the percentage of non-Christian Americans in our nation. You will see that they comprise roughly 20% of our population. This is not an insignificant number. A rough estimate based on a population of roughly 370 million shows that this percentage translates to about 74 million people. This is certainly not an insignificant number of people. These are people who pay taxes, who vote, who share the American dream. Is it the American way to disenfranchise a sizable portion of our population?

Our founding fathers created this nation in the wake of the Enlightenment taking place in Europe. They were greatly inspired by this movement in their creation of our great nation. The Enlightenment on both continents sought to place reason as the means of judging all things. This naturally led to the application of this concept to the question of the existence of a god. The result of this process was the concept of a creator god, largely unconcerned with human affairs, who nonetheless endowed us with the unalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence. This concept is referred to as Deism. I am not saying that all of our forefathers were Deists. I am saying that they created our nation from a Deist perspective, however. Realizing that reason is the only objective means to discern reality, they determined that reasoned debate would be the best method to make, and enforce laws.

They debated long and hard over the contents of the Constitution of the United States of America, the blueprint for our government. If you have never read it, I highly recommend that you do. However, for the purposes of this article, I will draw your attention to certain parts of it. It is first to the First Amendment of the Constitution that I would draw your attention. The part where it says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" is the main precedent of the idea of separation of church and state. The legislative bodies cannot establish a religion. If there can be no law made concerning it, then how could the executive branch, or the judicial branch, constitutionally make or enforce any law concerning religion, when congress is the only maker of federal law in the United States, according to section 1 article I? Of course, it can't be done, and be in line with the Constitution. The second part to which I wish to draw your attention is the 3rd clause of the VI article in the main body of the Constitution. This contains the following, "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States". This is further proof that our government was not intended to be mixed with religion. This says in effect that it doesn't matter what religion or non-religion with which a person identifies; there is no requirement for a political figure to be religious, or of a particular religion. The final fact that really brings the secular intent of this document to light is that except for the date given, there is no mention of any deity in the entire document. Go ahead, look. It's not there. They didn't call upon the name of God even once, not even in the preamble.

Another document that shows our government was intended to be secular (and textually speaking perhaps the most direct proof that America is not founded as a Christian nation) is the Treaty with Tripoli. This document was read aloud before Congress, and ratified by them in 1797, including the part which reads, "Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries". I don't know how this point could be drawn more clearly than that. That is an unambiguous statement that we are not a Christian nation, albeit composed mostly of Christians. One can see, from the evidence given, that the mixing of church and state that we see in current events was not the intention of our founders, despite any faith they may or may not have held.

The final reason I will submit that there must be and remain a wall of separation between religion and government is that of subjectivity vs. objectivity. To be objective is to remove as much as possible the personal, emotional, and thus variable aspect of a given thing, idea, or phenomenon in determining what it is, how it works, or what the consequences of its existence may be. As I mentioned before in this article, reason is the most objective means of discernment of these qualities by means of its use in debate. Religion, as they are all based on faith, are by definition subjective. Despite certain sacred texts that give the precepts of a religion, these texts are interpreted in Christianity's case alone roughly 38, 000 different ways. This is the estimated number of Christian denominations in existence. Which of these interpretation should we allow to affect our government's legislative, executive, or judicial processes. As you can see, it is not only a matter of Christianity versus other religions, or non-religions, it is a matter of various sects of Christianity in disagreement with each other. This is another strong reason that reason should be the sole means of crafting legislation. Of course, some of those who comprise our government, being of a religious mind, will be affected by this mindset in their decision making. This is unavoidable. But, these people should remember the wise intention of our founding fathers to make reason the ultimate authority in matters of governance.

To conclude, let me reiterate that I am not against Christianity, or any other religion. What I am advocating is objectivity in electing and appointing government officials; and that these officials use reason as the objective means to make, judge, and enforce laws. Thomas Jefferson said it best in a letter to the Danbury Baptists where he wrote, "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties".

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Forward Doesn't Always Mean Progress

This is an email that was forwarded to me a few days ago. I often receive emails like this. Usually a trip to snopes, factcheck or politifact is sufficient for a rebuttal. But, snopes had not yet addressed this one. So, here's my rebuttal. I have numbered each claim 1-20, and my rebuttal with the corresponding number below the text of the email.

1. If George W. Bush had been the first President to need a teleprompter installed to be able to get through a press conference, would you have laughed and said this is more proof of how inept he is on his own and is really controlled by smarter men behind the scenes?

2. If George W. Bush had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to take Laura Bush to a play in NYC, would you have approved?

3. If George W. Bush had reduced your retirement plan’s holdings of GM stock by 90% and given the unions a majority stake in GM, would you have approved?

4. If George W. Bush had made a joke at the expense of the Special Olympics, would you have approved?

5. If George W. Bush had given Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a set of inexpensive and incorrectly formatted DVDs, when Gordon Brown had given him a thoughtful and historically significant gift, would you have approved?

6. If George W. Bush had given the Queen of England an iPod containing videos of his speeches, would you have thought this embarrassingly narcissistic and tacky?

7. If George W. Bush had bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia, would you have approved?

8. If George W. Bush had visited Austria and made reference to the non-existent “Austrian language,” would you have brushed it off as a minor slip?

9. If George W. Bush had filled his cabinet and circle of advisers with people who cannot seem to keep current in their income taxes, would you have approved?

10. If George W. Bush had been so Spanish illiterate as to refer to “Cinco de Cuatro” in front of the Mexican ambassador when it was the 5th of May (Cinco de Mayo), and continued to flub it when he tried again, would you have winced in embarrassment?

11. If George W. Bush had miss-spelled the word “advice” would you have hammered him for it for years like Dan Quayle and potatoe as proof of what a dunce he is?

12. If George W. Bush had burned 9,000 gallons of jet fuel to go plant a single tree on Earth Day, would you have concluded he’s a hypocrite?

13. If George W. Bush’s administration had okayed Air Force One flying low over millions of people followed by a jet fighter in downtown Manhattan causing widespread panic, would you have wondered whether they actually get what happened on 9-11?

14. If George W. Bush had failed to send relief aid to flood victims throughout the Midwest with more people killed or made homeless than in New Orleans, would you want it made into a major ongoing political issue with claims of racism and incompetence?

15. If George W. Bush had created the position of 32 Czars who report directly to him, bypassing the House and Senate on much of what is happening in America, would you have approved?

16. If George W. Bush had ordered the firing of the CEO of a major corporation, even though he had no constitutional authority to do so, would you have approved?

17. If George W Bush had proposed to double the national debt, which had taken more than two centuries to accumulate, in one year, would you have approved?

18. If George W. Bush had then proposed to double the debt again within 10 years, would you have approved?

19. If George W. Bush had proposed the biggest power grab by the executive branch EVER and upsetting the balance of powers in the guise of “Health Care Reform,” would you have approved?

20. So, tell me again, what is it about Obama that makes him so brilliant and impressive? Can’t think of anything? Don’t worry. He’s done all this in just under a year — so you’ll have three more to come up with an answer.

1. Obama did use a TelePrompTer (the insistence of spelling this word like this is asinine) to deliver his opening statement at a press conference. This is a practice that has been in place for most presidents since the technology has been available. Some are better at using it than others. He has also been accused of using a TelePrompTer to address a class of 6th grade students. However, he was using it to read his remarks on his Race To the Top program. In short, yes he does use teleprompters, but not in any way that could be singled out by any except unreasonable detractors.

2. After a fairly exhaustive search, I cannot find any proof or even a mention of this one. Hundreds of thousands spent on one date? That would be really hard to pull off. Sounds more like something from Brewster's Millions to me.

3. Are they trying to blame Obama for the mess that GM got themselves into? The wording of this one is confusing. Certainly, the GM pension plan was in danger of insolvency, as was the entire company. The federal government stepped in to save the company. As far as the UAW holding majority stock, and being given this by the president, I can find nothing but this. Someone will have to explain to me what the problem is here, because I don't see it.

4. Well, you got him dead to rights on this one. Shall we begin the impeachment proceedings? He was wrong. He apologized immediately after the Tonight Show episode on which the comment was made. The audience laughed at the joke. Should we be condemning each of those who thought it was funny as well. Let he without sin cast the first stone.

5.Once again, we have truth here. But, is this really a serious indictment?

6. An iPod was given to the Queen, yes. But, it didn't contain one single Obama speech. Its contents included the Queen's visit to America, and Broadway show tunes. He also gave her a rare song book signed by Richard Rogers. I don't see anything wrong with this one.

7. It does look to me like he did bow to the Saudi King. However, I think since this is attempting to compare him to Bush, we should see how Bush greeted him. My apologies that I couldn't find a non-derogatory video. I don't know that this really is of great significance for either president.

8.Yes, Obama did refer to the Austrian language. Do you know what language is spoken by most Austrians? I wasn't certain before I looked it up. Once again, this is a simple gaffe, that has no repercussions other than showing that Obama is not infallible. Did anyone think that was the case?

9.The Obama cabinet is far from filled with people who cannot remain current in their income taxes. There were two cabinet nominees who had past tax difficulties. There are 22 cabinet level positions in the Obama administration. One of those who had the tax problems, Tom Daschle, is not even in the cabinet. So, we have one cabinet member with past tax problems. Hyperbole much?

10. I'm torn on this one. Either Obama flubbed a joke in Spanish. Or, he told a joke that doesn't make much sense. He did not continue to flub it, though. Whatever the case in the first statement, he said it correctly every time thereafter. Either way, I don't see that this is a major gaffe. Watch the video, and decide for yourself. His joke did get a big laugh, anyway.

11. Being a bit of a grammar nazi, who admittedly lives in a glass house occasionally, I must point out that miss-spelled was misspelled in this accusation. Now, after viewing the alleged misspelling, I must say that it is too ambiguous to call. You be the judge.

12. In answer to the question, no I would not consider him a hypocrite. I would consider him a VIP, who needs to travel a lot. Every president consumes vast amounts of fuel in fulfilling their duties. That this was on earth day does not make a valid point, just a convenient contrast. It is unfortunate that we have such dependence on environmentally unfriendly substances. But, until we get more renewable sustainable energy sources in place, we will continue to pollute more and more every day. That's the real travesty here.

13. Certainly, this was an example of poor judgement and communication breakdowns. The Obama administration is guilty of this, no doubt. I have nothing positive to add here. This one is a valid critique in my opinion. The very idea is incredibly insensitive to the people of New York.

14. This one is vaguely worded. But, I think this might be the incident referred to in the accusation.
I don't find any information concerning the president failing to send relief funds to the flood recovery effort, though.

15. You should know that the Czar title is not an official title for any US government position. Rather, it is a derogatory appellation, used by those who oppose a particular position or appointee to a position, that originated with the FDR administration. Bush had as many, or more, czars in place than the Obama administration. The fact is that the Executive Branch of the United States Government is charged with carrying out the legislated law of the land. Executive power has broadened and changed somewhat over the years. But, that is its basic role. In order to carry out this function, a president may appoint persons in positions to aid in accomplishing his plans. The simple fact is that this is an accepted and normal practice. It is not evidence of Obama's great mythical power grab.

16. Under the circumstances that the firing of Rick Wagoner, CEO of GM, took place, yes I would have approved. What power did the president have to fire this CEO? He possessed only one bargaining chip here. That was in the form of government aid for GM. If this man remains CEO, we won't help you. What's wrong with this? Bringing the Constitution into this is a rhetorical red herring.

17-18. I will take these two together, as they are closely related. According to Politifact and their commentary on the Congressional Budget Office's updated debt projections, this assertion is only half right. Read the Politifact article for the breakdown. The fact is that, yes, the national debt will rise outrageously in the next few years. It has indeed risen outrageously already. A large part of this is the economic difficulties extant from the Bush years. You know, two wars, the wall street toxic debt debacle. It is Obama's challenge to lower the growth of our debt. Is he doing a good job? Not as well as we need him to, no. But, the economy is showing signs of growth, and steps are being taken to balance the national budget. And, the national debt doubled during Bush's time, as well, with a full trillion of it being toward the end, around the time of the economic troubles Obama inherited. So, I think that the Obama administration has a huge undertaking in getting us back to fiscal responsibility. But, to lay this all at his feet is not a fair charge.

19. Obviously, this is loaded language that doesn't even make a specific charge. Nobody is really happy with the health care reform bill in the way that it was finally passed. Some think it is the devil himself incarnated in the guise of socialism. Many of these leveled charges both ridiculous and untrue at this bill. Do you remember the death panels, and the coverage for illegal immigrants? This is more of the same baseless rhetoric. According to a poll reported on CNN, however, the people who oppose it for not being liberal enough, and those who are for it, together outnumber those who are against it. This accusation requires a whole other posting to address it fully. Maybe it will be the next topic I tackle. In any case, it is legislation that many administrations have tried to push through. But, Obama's is the first one to get it done. But, as far as power grabs go, George W. Bush's administration greatly expanded the power of the Executive. Obama's main wrong is in not explicitly giving up some of the ground taken by the Bush administration.

20. As I've shown in the last 19 point rebuttals, Obama is not perfect. He is as human as the rest of us. He has inherited a difficult economic situation. He has not done anything worthy of impeachment. Nor has he been disregarding the constitution. He is an expert on Constitutional Law, after all. He knows what it says. His administration has been incredibly successful in some ways. In other ways it has disappointed. Nevertheless, I maintain that there is not much to be gained in comparing Obama to Bush. There are plenty of valid criticisms of Obama, and his administration. But, with a few minor exceptions, this email doesn't address them.