Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Friday, September 21, 2001

Unadulterated poppycock

George W. Bush has claimed that the United States was targeted because of its commitment to freedom and democracy. Bush says people are jealous of our wealth. The truth is that anti-Americanism rests on feelings that the U.S. obstructs freedom and democracy as well as material well being for others. In the Middle East, for example, the United States supports Israeli oppression of Palestinians, providing the military, economic, and diplomatic backing that makes that oppression possible. It condemns conquest when it is done by Iraq, but not when done by Israel. It has bolstered authoritarian regimes (such as Saudi Arabia) that have provided U.S. companies with mammoth oil profits and has helped overthrow regimes (such as Iran in the early 1950s) that challenged those profits. When terrorist acts were committed by U.S. friends such as the Israeli-supervised massacres in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Lebanon, no U.S. sanctions were imposed. But about the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iraq, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent children, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright could only say that she thought it was worth it. When the U.S. went to war against Iraq, it targeted civilian infrastructure. When Iran and Iraq fought a bloody war, the United States surreptitiously aided both sides.

Many Muslims are pissed about all of the grievances listed above, but this does not imply that the U.S. is unjustified in its support of Israel, defense of Kuwait, sanctioning of Iraq, etc.  If they have taken such actions because of a "commitment to freedom and democracy" then both Bush and those who focus on grievances are correct in their assesment of terrorist motivations, the commitment itself lead to the instantiation of the grievances.  The question then is whether the U.S. took the moral couse of action.  The article seems to conclude that the answer is clearly in the negative, but it provides little support for its analysis. 


The reasons given in support of the premise that "the U.S. obstructs freedom and democracy" are for the most part vague and unsubstantiated.  On the off chance that they are substantiable, I've a few specific questions in the interest of playing devil's advocate...

Why exactly are Iraqi children starving?  Is it because of INTERNATIONAL sanctions imposed due to an UNPROVOKED invasion of a sovereign nation
(Kuwait) have put their economy into the shitter or because the wealth of that nation (of which there is plenty) has been disproportionally allocated to those serving Saddam's fascist regime?  Surely it is partially due to both, but either way does not the Iraqi government stand morally culpable?  Could they not have prevented the famine by simply refraining from certain evils? 

How exactly are the Palestinians being oppressed?  Many of them are waging a bloody civil war against the sovereign nation of Israel, and most of them support it.  Was the South oppressed when we put down their rebellion?

Regarding our alleged "bolstering" of authoritarian regimes, were there any democratic movements to choose from?

Was there any morally significant difference between conquest by Iraq and Israel? (Hint: Think unprovoked invasion vs. national defense...)


Finally, the only specific charge listed above is the slaughter in Lebanon, which was committed in Lebanon by the Phalange (Kata´eb) militia, a Lebanese force fighting in the Lebanese civil war.  Surely the IDF might have anticipated and prevented the tragedy, but the Lebanese must bear the ultimate moral blame, hence sanctions against Israel would have been completely inappropriate.  OTOH, the Iraqi army invaded a sovereign nation under orders from the Iraqi government.  It should thus be blindingly clear why exactly the political entity of Iraq is far more directly to blame in the latter case than that of Israel in the former. 


Peace love and happiness to you all - and may death come swiftly to our enemies!

Tuesday, August 21, 2001

A Thumbnail Sketch of Personal Apostasy

An only child, from a very early age I was keenly interested in reading and learning, especially scientific books. In grade school I spent much of my spare time either in the local library or at home with my own books, such as The Dawn of Man and Cosmos (it remains beyond me why my mother would buy such imposing books for a grade schooler, perhaps I requested them). This early stage molded (some might say warped) my nature into a more reclusive and rational mindset. No doubt the incessant reading impaired me socially, not only because of the hours spent alone rather than interacting with others, but also because the children I grew up with seemed to genuinely loathe learning in general and bright kids in particular. I considered this an unfortunate aspect of public schooling, but I was fortunate in that I did not grow up in a part of the nation where the entire (adult) culture was actively anti-intellectual. That is until 7th grade, when my Mom remarried and we moved to Oklahoma City, smack in the buckle of the proverbial Bible belt. There I was to discover that much of what I had learned in my precious books was "utter rubbish" and was to be extricated from my mind in favor of the Genesis myth.

This confused and upset me somewhat, and despite the amazing flexibility of the young mind I never really managed to do away with the idea of empirical evidence in favor of faith. Nevertheless, I prayed the sinner's prayer that I might not go to Hell and became a good Baptist kid. Indeed, I thrived in the Southern Baptist environment, making many friends at the Henderson Hills Baptist Church (HHBC). I learned the Christian Scriptures (or at least the Protestant English translations thereof) through and through, and by the time I was a freshman in high school, I was teaching Sunday School to 4th graders. It wasn't until some time later, while in post-graduate school, that I began to seriously question my faith. I had always dealt with the occasional torturous bouts of doubt, usually at night, in which I'd lie awake and fret over the possibility that the metaphysical naturalists might be right, and there would be no afterlife for me or anyone. I saw this as a genuine possibility since I was initially steeped not in dogma but in science, and my undergraduate degree in physics had only reinforced the plausibility of such a notion.

Taking a straightforward approach to my doubts, I undertook to read the best atheistic arguments available, and counter them with the best apologetics available, thereby settling in my mind the question of God. I aspired even to perhaps become an apologist myself. As so I set out on my literature review. I did not make it far before being downright overwhelmed by the sheer force of the atheistic arguments. Most striking to me was the finding of the various schools of higher criticism which grew out of the German Bible scholarship of the 19th century. To see the incredible similarities between the gospels and other Hellenistic legends and Jewish messianic figures blew me away, as did the history of canonization and the progression evident in the Christian Scriptures. The possibility of mythical development of the gospels was so well argued by the likes of Mack, Crossan , and Wells that I could no longer treat gospels as reliable historical sources. Between the Biblical criticism and the moral arguments from evil and hell, I was rather quickly losing my religion. I tried to modify my beliefs to hold on to some vestiges of my faith, progressing rapidly through christocentric universalism, fideism, deism, and various combinations before finally realizing the futility of my endeavors. There was nothing in particular that pushed me over the edge, but there was a particular moment at which I admitted to myself (and my spouse) that I no longer believed. That was around four years ago this summer.