We Are Alone

Update: It appears that this argument is, in actuality, a subset of the Fermi Paradox. I just came up with it on my own from a different direction. I'll leave it here, with a few modifications, for posterity.


SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, is a neat idea, except that it's pointless. If you think about it, then it becomes pretty obvious that we're the first to actually look for intelligent life, anywhere, and we're not going to find it.

There is something called the Drake Equation that shows how likely intelligent life in the universe is, but I'm going to present the argument in a slightly different form. The basic gist of it is that if intelligent life other than humans exists in our universe, it would already be here, and we would not. It's pretty obvious when you look at it.

If faster than light travel is actually possible, then, eventually, some species with expansionist attitudes will start settling the galaxy. How long would they take to settle everywhere? Well, if you look at how far we've come technologically in the last while, then you realise that the time between "evolved for basic tool use to settle the entire galaxy" is not that long. If there were another intelligent species out there that did have faster than light capabilities, then they would have been here and settled the place long before we started bashing rocks together. If we're the first, then we'll invent the faster than light drive and we'll be everywhere before any other species gets to the "bash the rocks" phase. The odds of the very first species evolving intelligence and interstellar travel did so at nearly exactly the same time as another species is too low to consider, unless you go one step further and buy into the whole "we were seeded by an advanced civilisation and we have long-lost cousins out there" story.

If you agree that faster than light is out of the question, then the whole thing just gets slowed down a little, but not really enough to make a difference. We will eventually either make ourselves immortal or replace ourselves with intelligent self-replicating machines. We, or these machines will then be capable of interstellar travel because they aren't going to care if it takes 50,000 years to get anywhere. It's still within their 'lifetime'. In other words, eventually, some species will evolve to the point where they will eventually go everywhere in the galaxy. If it has already happened, then they would already be here. Even with transit times that exceed tens of thousands of years, the odds of them existing, but not being here yet, isn't even worth considering. If they are here, then we get into a whole other story about them not being particularly concerned about intelligent pond-scum like us. Unless, of course, they are studying us as "machine evolution" in action. But, that's pretty unlikely too.

So, by the basic argument of "they're not here and we are," it seems pretty likely that we're the first, at least in our galaxy. So, you should feel special. It may turn out that our descendants, either flesh or mechanical, may happen upon some species, flesh or mechanical, that does not have any desire to expand into the galaxy. That is a possibility, but we're still first to expand, and I suppose we'll crush them into non-existence fairly quickly. We are, after all, quite expansionist by nature, must be all that rat ancestry. If this argument seems a little harsh, you just have to realise that we're the only intelligent habitual tool users on earth because we evolved to use tools first. We won the evolutionary race to this niche. If whales or monkeys started using tools enough to compete with us, we would eat them. Any environment will only have one species in the "intelligent" niche. If you think about it, given sufficient time, the galaxy is one environment. Only one species, flesh or mechanical, will win the race. We exist, so we're in the lead, so long as we don't blow it.

You may think that the galaxy is such a large place that two intelligent species would have lots of time to evolve and begin expanding. Thus, we may run into other species out there. But, you have to factor in exponential expansion. If we settled two extra-solar planets, as we or our descendants eventually will, then those planets will eventually each settle two planets, and each of those settle two planets... Well, it doesn't take long to settle trillions of planets when they're being settled on an exponential curve. Even if it took a few million years from the first colony ship to the last - which is more than long enough to settle the entire galaxy, even without faster than light drive - you have to factor in that we've only been human for 40,000 years. A blink of an eye on the 14.5 billion year galactic time-scale. What are the odds that the first two species are evolving at the exact same time? If they evolved a million years or so before us, they would already be here. If they evolve a million years from now, we will already be there.

The Drake equation, with commonly accepted guesses for various factors, suggests that at least a couple of species exist in the "interstellar communication" stage at any given time. Thus, SETI. The problem with this is that the equation assumes interstellar travel doesn't happen, that species destroy themselves before they start. Maybe, but it doesn't seem likely. If we ignore world-destroying solar flares and the like, then it seems most likely that man-made destruction would encourage, rather than restrict, interstellar travel. After all, if we destroyed the earth, that's a good reason to start sending colony ships to other planets. It would be highly unlikely that something we did actually killed every human being, that destroyed our ability to breed. Total war, nuclear winter, even biological contamination, any imaginable man-made destruction, will still leave some people in protected places. Humanity will continue; we will colonise other planets. The same goes for other species on the same technological curve.

When you look at the reality of the situation, there are some pretty long odds on SETI finding anything out there. If we are the first to evolve past the point of bashing rocks together, then there is no one else to talk to. If we are not the first, then that species is already here and watching us, and they clearly don't want to talk. No, SETI makes the assumption that interstellar travel is not possible, and we know that's not true. Even if it takes 20,000 years to travel to the next star, we'll be there within 25,000 years, and then the next star, and the next, until there are no stars left unexplored in our galaxy.


The Un-caused Cause

In basic philosophy there is a standard argument that goes like this: Every effect has a cause, and every cause is an effect of a prior cause, and so on and so on and so on. Therefore, there are two possibilities: 1) either the universe is a cycle that has always existed, or 2) if you go back far enough, you will find the original "un-caused" cause, the prime mover, God.

Well, as it turns out, modern science has something to say about this. First, we know, for a fact, as much as any fact can be known, that the universe isn't some great cycle. The big bang is not going to end in the big crunch. The universe had a beginning and it's going to keep going and going and going, until there's no fuel left to make stars. After that, it will still keep going, filling up with dark energy as it goes, but no one is going to be around to notice. So, that rules out option #1. So, is option #2 a possibility?

Well, as it turns out, modern science has something to say about that too, though it's not proven by observation like the accelerating expansion of the universe. There is a theory called "eternal inflation." This theory says, and I'm loosely paraphrasing here, that the universe is not infinite, it has an actual size even though it is expanding, and that this universe is contained within something called eternal inflation. Further, it states that our universe popped out of this eternal inflation and went bang. Now, you have to realise that we're talking about something outside of 3D-space and before time began, so the language is a little imprecise, to say the least. Human language and reasoning doesn't really work well when we get beyond the world that we can experience. But still, the wording is good enough for our purpose here.

Now, eternal inflation is some seriously strange stuff. Basically, the rule there is that it inflates, there's more of whatever it is, and then more, and more, and more... eternally. No cause needed, just effect, lots and lots of effect. Randomly, some of this inflation doesn't inflate as per usuall and a universe pops into existence. And, here's the gotcha, the universe is a place where this inflation doesn't happen. It can't happen. The universe is a bubble of "no effect without cause" inside this eternal inflation. We exist because eternal inflation isn't happening within our universe.

Eternal inflation, effect without cause, has to stop so that space can exist, so that time can start, so that energy can cool down enough to become matter, so that gravity can clump some of this matter together, so that stars can form, so that heavy matter can fuse together, so that planets can form, so that organic chemistry can start replicating, so that life can start, so that intelligence can evolve, so that we can ask "how did this all start?" We exist because we live in a bubble, our universe, where all effects must have a cause. So, the question isn't "what was the first un-caused cause?" It's "why did the un-caused effects stop so that we can exist?"


The Evolution of Death

The process of natural selection is central to the theory of evolution. Individuals that are somehow less fit to breed are less likely to have their genetics represented in future populations. However, as with life in general, things are not quite that simple. For example, if individuals didn't die then they could represent their own genetics in the future. Why have children at all? Well, one reason is that habitat is limited and there are usually several different species competing for that habitat. Selection not only works within a species, it works between them. With limited habitat, evolution can become a race between species. This race is why we die. Death, like sex, speeds the rate of evolution.

Habitat is finite; populations only have so much space to exist in. When new habitat becomes available, life will fill it very quickly. New habitat can appear either through changes in the environment or in the way a species can use an environment. There are the obvious environmental changes like variations in climate and corresponding sea levels. There are less obvious changes as well. For example, when a species goes extinct, it changes the environment that other species operate in. If one predator in a given environment goes extinct, then there is an evolutionary niche for other predators to evolve into. New environments can also open up when a species evolves ways to utilise resources it could not before. For example, being able to eat a new food, or survive in a different temperature. A salt-water fish that could live in a lower salinity environment would have river estuaries open up to them. Another way a new environment can open up for a species is when barriers to migration are removed. Sea levels could drop enough to allow an island population access to the mainland, or vice-versa. A species could be transported to a new habitat through various means. Whenever new habitat opens up, in whatever way, a competition between species often results. Existing species may be out-competed by a new invading species, or several new species may vie for niches after existing species go extinct. This competition between species makes evolution a race.

An unoccupied environmental niche is easy for a species to evolve into. Even a slight improvement in an individual's ability to exploit this niche provides an advantage that natural selection can favour. With succeeding generations, further slight improvements would also be selected on. However, once a niche is filled by a species, another species would have to evolve a correspondingly better utilisation of the niche. This is very difficult to do when the intermediary steps provide no benefit to be selected for. Species that evolve into a niche first can maintain a permanent advantage. Thus, species that evolve quicker are more likely to expand into new niches and whole new habitats when they open up. The earth is populated by species that won this evolutionary race.

Selection in evolution is either by the individual or by the group. While it is easy to assume group selection is at work, individual selection dominates evolution. The unit of information in genetic evolution is, after all, the gene. However, just as genes work together and share the same fate in an individual, individuals do exist in species and share the fate of the whole. After all, an individual's genetic fitness is moot if there's no one to mate with. When a species goes extinct, by definition, all its individual members are dead. Thus, species are more likely to survive when individuals do things that benefit the species as a whole. Individual genetic lines that do nothing to benefit the species are more likely to go extinct.

Individuals don't evolve, populations do. Each individual's genetic make-up is fixed at conception and this make-up is what is passed to offspring. If an individual has a mutation after conception, positive or not, it is unlikely to be passed onto the next generation. Thus, the variation side of evolution happens at conception. This basic point, that evolution happens at conception, coupled with a limited habitat and inter-species competition to fill said habitat is the reason most life on earth evolved to die. A simple thought-experiment will show why this is.

If we imagine two simplified habitats, each populated by a different species, then the advantages of death become apparent. Each habitat holds a fixed number of individuals; if a new individual is born, it will die unless there is a vacant spot for it to live in. In one habitat, individuals live until they die of accident; in the other habitat, individuals live for a fixed period of time before dying. With the eternal species, creating offspring is risky as death is more likely during pregnancy. When this happens, both the parent and child die while a new space opens up for another individual's child to live in. Thus, having the time to wait for the opportunity to open up, evolution would favour those individuals that held off having children. Reproduction in this environment would be very slow; this slow reproduction means that mutations, and thus evolution, would have limited opportunities to happen. However, in the habitat where individuals die after a fixed period of time, each individual could have offspring with a reasonable chance of living. There would likely be space as other individuals die. The slight chance of dying during pregnancy would be more than offset by the certainty of dying in the end. Thus, the birthrate in each habitat would evolve to match the death rate. However, in the habitat where individuals die at a fixed term, the birthrate would be much, much higher.

The higher the birthrate, the more variations through mutation will occur for natural selection to act on. The same higher birthrate will also allow those positive variations to spread through the population via sex. These factors, combined, will make evolution happen at a faster rate. Eventually, a mutation will come along that allows an individual great benefit. For example, the ability to live in half the space, thus allowing a doubling of population, and a doubling of the rate of evolution. Eventually, a mutation will come along that allows this species to bridge the gap between habitats resulting in inter-species competition. With one species evolving much faster than the other, the slower one will likely be out-competed and eventually go extinct. Over time, species that live forever will be replaced by species that have evolved a mechanism to die.

From this thought experiment, it is clear that there are advantages at the species level when individuals die after a reasonable period of time. Death allows faster reproduction in a fixed habitat. The higher the reproduction, the higher the chance of positive mutations for natural selection to favour. The more selectable mutations that happen within a given period of time, the faster a species will evolve. The faster a species evolves, the better it will be able to compete against other species for habitat. Species that are less able to compete for habitat are more likely to go extinct. Individual genetic lines in an extinct species are dead. Thus, limited habitat and inter-species competition work together to provide an evolutionary advantage where death will evolve over time.

Death evolved because it allows us to have children. These children benefit our species by helping it adapt to new environmental niches. Our species, and thus our genetic line, continues because of this adaptability. In the great evolutionary race, adaptable children beat eternal life. We are what we are because we die.


Arguments From Ignorance

Philosophy categorizes several different types of arguments: one argument type is of logical necessity, arguing from experience is another, as is arguing from authority. Most arguments are pretty easy to identify. "This person is an expert in the field and she says X, so X must be true" is an argument from authority. The expert may have a different argument: "Under these circumstances, I've seen X and only X happen," which is an argument from experience. Unfortunately, there is another type of argument that people like to use, an argument from ignorance.

I'll start with a non-religious example. In a magazine article that shall remain nameless, an expert in materials engineering who also happened to be an Egypt buff wrote about his research into obelisk carving. He found a written record stating that a particular obelisk was being carved for a period of time but then the obelisk cracked and the project was abandoned. He then located this abandoned obelisk and noted how much of it had already been carved. Using his considerable skills in materials engineering and after conducting field-tests on rate-of-removal speeds with the tools ancient Egyptians were known to use, he determined that there was no way they could have removed the amount of rock they did in the available time. It was impossible. Thus, he concludes, aliens must have helped the Egyptians.

On the surface, this appears to be an argument from authority, but it is really an argument from ignorance. One other little story may help show this. A person I know grew up in a family that worked with rock. He was learning how to build rock walls, and the like, from his father, who learned from his father, and so on for generations. On the job-site, he watched as workers pounded away on rocks for hours, trying to get them into the right shape for the job at hand, while his father would pick up a rock, look at it, whack it once or twice, and the rock would split apart leaving the necessary shape behind. Because of this skill, his father could do the work of several other men on the job. There are many, many books on geology and working with stone, but the skills his father had to understand rock and work with its internal fault-lines is not something that's in a book. Even if it were written down, it's not something a person could learn by reading. It takes years and years of experience.

So, back to the Egypt example, we have an expert faced with two possibilities: 1) Ancient Egyptian craftsmen, being at the hight of stone-age culture that spanned all the way back to Homo-Habilis, might have known something about working with rock that he doesn't. Or, 2) Aliens came to earth, made contact with the ancient Egyptians, and instead of helping them with medicine, mathematics, or even weapons, they helped them carve big chunks of rock, which they screwed-up while doing such that the obelisk cracked and they had to start over. Given these two options, our expert chose the latter.

This is a typical argument from ignorance. X is impossible, so - insert favourite theory here - must be true; the Egyptians couldn't remove that much stone in the given time, so aliens must have helped. Not only is this type of argument incredibly arrogant, in stating categorically that something is impossible just because we don't know how, it is also incredibly weak as far as arguments go. Anyone wanting to counter this argument merely has to, in an argument from experience, list off the thousands of examples where ignorant people had concluded that gods were doing something, only to be proven wrong by science. There are flashes of lights and booming sounds coming from the sky; I don't know how that happens so the gods must be angry. I don't know why the sun disappeared in the middle of the day, so the gods must be giving us an omen. I don't know why it rains, so the gods must make it rain. The list is very, very long. Experience shows that while we may not know how something happens, it is a bad bet to assume that gods or aliens did it. It is far better to just say: we don't know how X happens, yet, but we'll probably figure it out at some point down the road.

Science often makes mistakes but it is also a self-correcting endeavor. When faced with one of these arguments from ignorance, a scientist will attempt to come up with alternative solutions. Things don't fall down because a god pulls them down, they fall down because of a predictable force called gravity. When one of these hypothesis gains widespread approval, it becomes a theory and, being the most likely solution, is the one taught to new students of science and used for explaining things to non-scientists. However, if enough proof comes along that the theory is incorrect, or incomplete, then it can change. The original theory of gravity has been somewhat replaced or augmented with the theory of relativity, which is being augmented even today. The theory of relativity also happens to be one of the most tested theories in all of science. Yet, someday, it too may be replaced with something better. As such, there are always competing hypothesis that are trying to replace accepted theories. That's how science works.

The evolution of species is a widely-accepted theory. It is what is taught in science class and is what is used to explain things to non-scientists. Life is a very complicated thing and this theory is not a complete explanation; there are things that remain unknown. Further, there are many competing hypothesis covering a myriad different aspects of the overall theory. Some scientists maintain RNA based origins to life while others suggest a more simple chemical synthesis route, for example. However, this ignorance does not mean that God did it; dissent within the scientific community does not mean that we know nothing.

People make arguments along the lines of: X is the mainstream scientific theory to explain Y. Scientists have shown an element of X to be impossible. Thus, X is impossible, so God did Y. By now, you should be able to recognise this as a classic argument from ignorance. While an element of X may bring its validity into question and leave us in a more ignorant position on Y, that just means that we simply don't know everything yet. Experience shows us that arguments from ignorance are useless; just because we don't know how something happens, it does not follow that gods of aliens did it. It just proves that we don't know everything yet.


Free Will

People have been arguing about gods and religions for a long time. Science, when it evolved from natural philosophy, added a new wrinkle to these age-old arguments, a new possibility, no gods at all. Those early natural philosophers weren't looking to do this; they were looking to see how their gods ran the world, they were looking for God. But, if you think about the modern God, then you will realise that we can never really find God in nature. Doing so would destroy free-will.

If you strip most modern religions to their essence, it basically comes down to: freely choose to worship God and you will receive salvation in the afterlife. The hows and whys of worship and the nature of salvation may vary, but the underlying message is about the same. People have to make the choice to worship. For most of human existence, this has been a choice between gods. Now, with the advent of science, it is a choice between God and a godless natural existence. And yet, so many people are still trying to prove that God exists, even though that proof would then destroy people's ability to chose. After all, if you knew for a fact that God existed, and that failure to worship would result in damnation, then your choice is going to be very biased. It would not be impossible to chose to not worship, and I've made an argument for it here, but it would be a hard choice. Because of this, if God wanted to maintain free choice, He has every reason to make proof of His existence impossible to get.

How would God ensure that there was never any proof of His existence? Well, there are two possibilities: create nature such that all things come into being through natural means, or create natural means along-side all creations. The first method would be the ultimate in a philosopher's God, a God that created the path for all things at the moment of original creation. It would be a single burst of creation where everything follows on its own path without any further meddling. The second method would involve, with each act of creation, creating a second natural path where that creation could also happen without intervention. Some may think this deceitful but it really isn't. God merely creates two alternatives, both worthy of belief: created by God or created by nature. This choice allows free will to happen. While the first possibility, that of a philosopher's God, is more rational, the second does allow for people that maintain the literal truth of holy scripture or traditions.

Thus, we reach a point where science is in the business of discovering the natural processes that led to the world as we observe it. Science attempts to describe nature, without God. Now, for this to happen, it does not matter if we exist in a godless universe, or if God created a universe that operates without further meddling, or if God creates natural processes alongside each act of creation. The result is the same; science is attempting to discover these natural processes. Discovering these natural processes will say nothing about the existence of God; if God exists, He would have created these processes along with everything else.

Nietzsche proclaimed that God is dead. In actuality, it was the birth of true free-will. Humans finally reached a point where they could reasonably consider a world without God. Before, choice was limited to this god or that god. After, the choice became God or no God. Science has given us this choice; it has given us true free-will.

There can be no proof of God's existence; there can be no proof that God does not exist. If scientists look hard enough, they will discover natural processes for every observable phenomenon. We, as individuals, will have to decide if we are going to worship God or not; we will have to make this decision without any proof. Worshiping God takes a leap of faith, an act of free will. How could it be otherwise?


Mars, a Sad Story

Today, 2008-05-26, the Phoenix Probe began sending pictures back from Mars. Yup, more rocks and dust. So continues the search for extraterrestrial life.

You know, Mars started out as a GOD for us. An angry red god moving through the heavens. Then, we figured out it was a planet, just like ours. We saw great canals built by grand civilisations. Then, we realised that Mars didn't have canals, and that it was really dry and cold. So, we sent probes to see what it was like on the surface. What did we see: rocks and dust. So, we sent more probes to drive around. What did they find: rocks, dust, and signs that water was around in the past. So, we sent another probe, this time to dig into what we think is buried ice. What will we see? Maybe, best case, chemistry that indicates microbial life exists. Probably, given Mar's history, we'll find out that there was once enough liquid water, that hung around long enough, so that life might have had a chance to evolve.

So, we've gone from God, to civilisations, to visible life, to microbial life, to past microbial life, to the conditions where microbial life might have once possibly evolved. When the Viking probes landed, we were wondering if some Martian dog would walk by and piss on the lander's leg. Now, we're hoping to see chemistry that indicates microscopic fossils. It's pretty sad when you think about it. Sure, there's enough interesting stuff to keep an uber-geek scientist excited, but for the rest of us? For most of us, the probes are the most interesting stuff on Mars. Imagine what Columbus would have thought if he came to the new world and found nothing but rocks and dust?

No wonder humans have gone from massive programs to budget exploration. The return on investment just isn't there anymore. I don't expect Mars will really be interesting again until we have the technology to lift massive amounts of material into orbit on the cheap. Then, colonising Mars will be possible; then, there will be something interesting on it... Us.

But, for now, you have to admit, the probes are pretty cool.


Steel Motorcycle Footpegs

Here's a simple little steel fabrication project.

I wanted some steel foot pegs for my KLR650. So, rather than paying $100 or so, I rummaged through my scrap bin and came up with this.

This is iteration #2. The first design left pockets where rocky mud could collect - and that's a problem when riding in the dirt. This design was too wide. I thought the extra width would give better support, and it does, but it also makes shifting difficult. The third try, like this but of stock width, is mounted on my bike now. They work well.

Overall, it's a simple project that doesn't require much in the way of time, skills or tools.

The design details are HERE



Science and God

There is no room for God in science. In a quest for the materialistic understanding of how things work, how else could it be? If a working scientist had the results of one of her experiments incontrovertibly prove that "God did it," what should she do? Well, she should publish her results, make sure the priests know, and then go back to see if she could figure out a way where the phenomenon under study could happen without God's intervention. What else could a scientist do?

When the answer becomes "God did it" then the nature of exploration changes. It goes from trying to identify the outward material interactions that produce a result to the inward reflection on the meaning of God. Now, there's nothing wrong with trying to understand the human relationship with God, but scientists don't get paid to do that, priests do. Science is in the business of asking and answering questions. Like a 2-year old child running around going "but why," every answer science comes up with just leads to more questions. "God did it" is the ultimate shut-up answer. But why? God did it. But how? God is all powerful. Why did God do it? God is all knowing. End of discussion. How is a scientist suppose to make a living with that?

The theory of evolution is the perfect example. Scientists working on it have made a lot of progress on natural explanations. These explanations have built technologies and techniques that feed billions of people. They have to keep going, making more progress, or in the next few decades the billions of new people being born are going to starve to death. Should these scientists just say "oh, yeah, that Intelligent Design thing is probably right; I guess we should go back to school and train to be accountants?" What else would these scientists do? Try to figure out how to manipulate God; try to make God work the way they want Him to? What about all those billions of people that will starve to death? Is that just God's will?

No, like it or not, the work of science is to try to figure out how things might work without God's intervention. So far, you have to admit, they've done an awesome job. Too bad the priests haven't made that much progress on understanding our relationship with God. On the ethical/moral side, the world could stand a little progress. Maybe if priests spent a little less time fighting scientists, they might get somewhere, for a change.



Debating Belief in God is the Wrong Argument

People, over the years, have wasted a great deal of effort debating the existence of God, or gods. Through most of history, this was either a "my god is stronger than your god" or a "your god doesn't exist but mine does" type of argument. Science has replaced this with a "no gods exist" argument. Well, to be correct, the argument is "no gods need exist." The distinction is important.

By way of example, suppose someone said to you "cars are powered by hamsters running in a wheel under the hood." Now, you may disagree. You may go so far as to prove your argument by opening the hood and showing this person that, indeed, there is no hamster running in a wheel there. But, what have you proven? Have you proven that hamsters don't exist? Well, no. Have you proven that no cars are powered by hamsters? No, you've just proven that this car is not. You've proven that it's possible for a car to be powered by a mechanical engine and not a hamster. You've proven that you don't need hamsters to power cars. This is what science has been doing for years and years.

Science has slowly chipped away at the god-powered world. It has, one step at a time, proven that phenomenon, once thought to be the will of God or gods, is actually capable of happening by natural means. Science has been so successful with this that a reasonable person may now conclude that, while some phenomenon are not yet understood, there is no reason to believe that any god is necessary for the world to function as observed. Some would argue that because the world can function without God, God does not exist. However, this argument doesn't work; after all, hamsters exist.

In fact, outside of mutually-exclusive categories like married bachelors, you can never prove that something does not exist. You can prove that something does not exist in a defined space and time, there is no hamster under this hood right now, but you cannot prove that something does not exist anywhere at any time, hamsters may exist somewhere, sometime. Now, you can replace 'hamsters' with just about anything. Most anything can possibly exist, somewhere, at some time. This is especially true for something as ambiguous as a god, something that can't be seen, something that is everywhere yet nowhere. You can prove that God is unnecessary, but you can't prove that God does not exist.

Thus, given that no one has ever proven that any god exists but it is impossible to disprove the existence of a god, any reasonable person would reach the conclusion that they don't know if any particular god exists or not. At this level, the Agnostic has the only defensible position. So, what are people debating about? Well, they are arguing about beliefs; two kinds of beliefs, to be precise. One type of belief is what's already been covered here: The belief that some phenomenon is powered by a god. It is perfectly rational to argue for and against these arguments, so long as both parties acknowledge that proving said phenomenon can occur without a god's intervention does not disprove the existence of said god, or that said phenomenon could not be powered by a god somewhere, sometime, but not always. The second kind of belief is the belief in existence, without proof. A rational person may chose to believe that the existence of something is highly unlikely; they may chose to place God in the same category as Bigfoot, goblins, and elves. However, it is also entirely rational to chose to make a leap of faith and believe in the existence of something without any proof. Everyone does it all the time; people can't possibly have everything proven to them. Some things you just have to accept and get on with life. Debating about the likelihood of a god existing may be interesting, but it won't get you anywhere. What a person choses to believe, without proof, is a very personal thing.

However, there is another argument that most people overlook: is it reasonable to worship a god? People usually conflate belief with worship. They don't ask "do you worship God," they ask "do you believe in God," thinking belief automatically leads to worship. It doesn't. Believing in the existence of something does not necessarily lead to worship. People can believe in the existence of hamsters without worshiping them. People can believe in the Devil without this leading to worship. It is not necessary to prove that something does not exist before proving that worshiping that thing is wrong.

For example, we can posit the argument, illustrated below, that there are no good reasons to worship God and there are good reasons not to. This argument holds irrespective of the existence of God. If the existence of God was irrefutably proven, beyond doubt, this would still not change the argument.

Worshiping God is the wrong thing to do. Why worship God?

Because he is the Creator? So? Your parents created you; should you worship them? Honor perhaps, but worship? If a man creates a sentient computer, should the computer be obligated to worship the man?

Because he can bestow good fortune? Well, statistically, this theory is pretty much debunked. If you still think this is true, then you should read up on "confirmation bias" because, well, you've got it. Being a member of a religious order that supports their own members may bring good fortune; following proscribed religious rules may help you make good life-choices. But, praying to God isn't going to do much more than meditating on your problems without invoking God. You're better off praying to your toaster; at least you can reasonably expect toast.

Because if you don't you're soul will burn in Hell? Anyone care to look up the term 'extortion'? If you worship for fear of being punished then you are a coward. Humans have laws against extortion for a reason, it's morally wrong. A moral argument can be made for using the threat of punishment to enforce mutually beneficial social rules, paying your taxes for example, but none can be made for worship. If an almighty Creator made a universe where failure to worship Him results in eternal damnation, then a morally courageously person would have no choice but to chose Hell. That god is evil and worshiping it is morally wrong.

Because you want to spend eternity in Heaven? Define Heaven, go ahead. Anyone that truly considers the nature of Heaven, beyond "basking in the Love of God," will soon realise that it simply won't work. Humans are finite beings, there is no eternal existence that would not, eventually, become insufferably boring. Imagine anything you love to do; now imagine doing it for billions and billions of years, over and over and over again. Maybe, a few extra lifetimes spent debating with the great minds of history, being with loved ones, or doing something your really love may be great. But, nothing, no matter how enjoyable, will survive the onslaught of boredom, given sufficient time, nothing. Any definition of Heaven, multiplied by eternity, equals Hell.

Still, even if there is no good reason to do something, it does not follow that people should not do it. Why not worship God?

Because worshiping God has, time and time again, led people to bigotry and hatred of other people. Any review of history will show many, many examples where worship of God has justified murder, wars, and other morally wrong actions. You may feel that there are many examples where the worship of God has brought people together, helped overcome bigotry and hatred. Yes, there are examples of people coming together under the banner of God. Unfortunately, history has shown, time and time again, that those people are likely to then go off and kill some other group with a different god.

Because worshiping God will distract people from making improvements in their lives. If God helps those that help themselves, why not dispense with God and just get done what needs doing. After all, why waste effort praying to a god that has not, in a statistically proven way, given any measurable help to those who pray?

There are no good reasons to worship God and there are at least a couple of decent arguments against worshiping. Worshiping God may lead to aggression against people who worship differently, or it may simply be a waste of time. This cost may be tolerable if there were counteracting positive reasons, but there are none. Worshiping God provides no benefits but may lead people to morally wrong other people. Thus, a reasonable person would chose to not worship, irrespective of any belief in existence. People generally chose to not worship the Devil, why should they chose to worship God?

The above argument, while admittedly simplistic and weak, illustrates the original point. People have been arguing about the existence of God, or gods, for a very, very long time. Those arguments have not and are not going to get anywhere. However, by changing the argument to "should people worship God, or gods," a lot can happen. Costs and benefits can be raised, moral issues discussed, and conclusions reached. We cannot make any definitive conclusions about the existence of a god, but we can conclude whether or not that god should be worshiped.



Bosch CS20XC Circular Saw Review

Disclaimer: I am rather annoyed with Bosch Tools right now - take this review as you may.

Quite some time ago, I bought a Bosch jigsaw. I was amazed at how good it was and I took it as an object lesson in "you get what you pay for." Up until then, my power-tool collection was a mishmash of whatever I could get cheap, and my old jigsaw was, well, crap. I almost never used it because it barely worked; the only time I pulled it out was when it was the only tool I had that could make the cut. Then, after I bought the Bosch jigsaw, I started using everywhere - it was the best power-tool I had. After that, I bought a Bosch dual-base router set and was just as pleased with how they worked. When I decided to replace my circular saw, Bosch was the natural choice. I picked the CS20XC, which I assume is the Canadian equivalent of the CS20. The CS20 has the detachable cord and the resin base, while the cheaper model, the CS10, has the fixed cord and metal base.

When I first looked at the Bosch circular saw, the first thing that struck me was the resin (tough plastic) base. If it had been on one of those cheap $49.99 saws, I wouldn't even have considered it. But, this was the high-end Bosch tool and I was willing to believe them. I figured, if they were going to put a resin base on their circular saw, well, they knew what they were doing and it would be better than the metal bases on all the other good saws. I trusted Bosch.

I should have gone with my original instincts; the resin base is crap. I shouldn't have trusted Bosch. Oh, it was okay at first. The saw is well balanced and operates smoothly. The detachable cord system is a really, really good idea. But, a while ago, the saw started to get hard to push through a cut. It wasn't the blade, it was the base. The base warped. The warped base makes the saw rock back and forth, gouging the work, and it is also making the base dig into the work rather than slide over top. It actually scratches the work along the left side while sliding along. Very, very annoying. Of course, my warranty had already expired.

So, with my recent experience in having my out-of-warranty Panasonic camera serviced for a dead CCD at no charge, and even having Panasonic pick up the return shipping, I was hoping that Bosch too would stand behind their products. Nope.

I sent a request to Bosch Canada... here's the response I got back:

Bosch is constantly trying to improve the power tool line and any
deficiency is looked after at all times. Your concerns are duly noted
and passed on to our quality control in USA. Thank you.

D Everett
Service Manager
Power Tool Division
Robert Bosch Canada Inc.

Needless to say, I'm not particularly overwhelmed that my concerns have been noted. I guess it's too much to expect a simple tool company to have the same tech-savvy that Panasonic showed in dealing with their CCD issue. But, in the world of Google, where a simple blog like this is available to anyone searching the web for reviews, Bosch is going to have to smarten-up. Bosch is in the business of selling their name, for a premium I might add. If they're not going to stand behind what they sell, they're asking too much.

If you have one of these with a warped base, leave a comment here.