Mar 11

The Big Questions

I was eating lunch a few weeks ago with some friends from work. We had been discussing religion a few days prior—specifically, questions of origin.

One friend was eating a Waldorf salad and commented, “I wonder who thought of putting apples, grapes, walnuts, and mayonnaise together.” As an avid fan of Good Eats with Alton Brown, I was able to reply, “I think it was the concierge of the Waldorf Hotel in New York” (turns out it was the maitre d’hotel, Oscar Tschirky). To this, my friend replied, “You know, you have all the answers to the small questions in life and no answers to the big questions.”

I have previously encountered similar statements, and they always irk me. It reminds me of an interaction I saw between Richard Dawkins and Ted Haggard, during which Haggard called Dawkins’ atheism “arrogant.” I find that ironic because it is those like Haggard who feel they know all the right answers to what are, in my view, unanswerable questions.

Without the appropriate technology (hot tub time machine), none of us can know the answer to questions of origin, the afterlife, and so on. My response to statements like those of my friend is to freely admit that I don’t know the answer to those questions, and neither do you. Just because someone has an answer, doesn’t imply its correctness. All I do is recognize the epistemic limitations of others and myself.

No one can answer the big questions.

Mar 09

Faith, Hell, and Dragons

Whenever I’m being driven to madness by illogical arguments for religion, there is typically bound to be a bright spot – faith. It is, by far, my favorite word to hear in such discussions. It is the refuge of a dying man, a dead end street. I rarely have a mirror, but I think it even makes me get this egotistical, self-righteous smile on my face.

Recently, I was having lunch and the topic of religion was brought up to me. Specifically, the topic of “How can you not be religious?” was brought up to me. As I swatted away feeble arguments, the discussion grew ever nearer to that eventual cliff. Someone I knew posed this little conundrum. “If you’re right, I don’t have anything to lose and will just rot in the ground. But if I’m right, you’ll have everything to lose.” Of course! It’s so simple. How can I have been so foolish? What a perfectly utilitarian rationale.

But, wait, does my friend even believe that himself? I asked him if he would like some dragon repellant that I happened to be selling. I heard there were some dragons in the area and I really thought he should be protected just in case I was right. I had put some on that morning and, wouldn’t you know it, I hadn’t seen a single dragon. I then gave a little tighter analogy. If Hinduism is correct, then you should follow its principles or risk coming back as a bug. So wouldn’t my friend like to become a devout Hindu in case he is wrong? Of course not. What a ridiculous method to convince someone over the age of 6 (or who isn’t just kind of dumb).

Since he couldn’t convince me and I couldn’t convince him to either become a Hindu or buy some dragon repellant, we reached a standoff. In this moment (and you can see it coming from a mile away), he said “Well, I guess it just comes down to faith and we’ll know for sure in the afterlife.”

How convenient.

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