I’m quite sure I’ve seen enough insurance ads for 50,000 lifetimes. They’re omnipresent on TV, radio, the Internet, you name it. Last week, a low-flying plane dragging a GEICO banner as large as a basketball court made its annual trek over Tucson. Exactly how savagely are insurance companies ripping us off if they can afford all this advertising?
|—||Roger Robinson for Runner’s World|
Figured out how I can translate/update this old joke in my Russian short tales book…
Boudreaux and Thibodeaux win tickets to the Super Bowl. It’s the first trip to the big city for either. They decide to have lunch at a foreign café, and they see people around them using tiny, tiny helpings of sriracha sauce, which they have never seen before. They figure that it must be tasty but very rare or expensive. Boudreaux decides to take advantage of the situation and slathers his sandwich with tons of sriracha. Soon, tears well up in his eyes and he starts crying. “What’s wrong,” asks Thibodeaux, “why are you crying?” “Oh, uh, it’s nothing,” responds Boudreaux, “I was just thinking, uh, my uncle, who died recently.” Thibodeaux puts a ton of sriracha on his sandwich and starts munching on it. Pretty soon, he starts crying too. “What’s wrong with you,” asks Boudreaux, “why are you crying?” “Oh, uh, my uncle died recently too,” responds Thibodeaux.
|—||David Brin, astrophysicist and sci-fi author, to a global warming denier who posted a stupid comment on his G+…|
Is it in some sense, intolerant or prejudiced (or maybe there’s a better word?) for people of one religion to believe that their religion has primacy, or precedence, over other religions? Not to pick on anyone, but for a concrete example, take Christians and Hindus. Christians would necessarily believe that Hindus are deluded, or deceived, or simply haven’t received “the good news.” (Side note: the converse may not be true, i.e. Hinduism, by virtue of having many gods, might see Christianity as possibly fitting into their cosmology—I don’t know enough about it to say). I would think that an open-minded person would agree that yes, it is in some sense, intolerant or prejudiced or, at the very least, disrespectful to say that their prophets got it more or less right, while all other cultures’ prophets did not.
I like to imagine an alternate universe where a 25-year ban on playing music of the Eagles was enacted in 1987, and how we wouldn’t be sick to death of hearing them now in 2012.
In his now classic book A Brief History Of Time, Stephen Hawking famously likened the goal of physics to “knowing the mind of God.” More recently, in his latest book The Grand Design, Hawking concludes “It is not necessary to invoke God… to set the universe going.” I can just hear Steven Colbert interjecting in an accusatory voice, “so which is it Dr. Hawking, God or no God?” Perhaps the Colbert Report could do an episode of Formidable Opponent where Hawking debates himself.
But in actuality, there is no conflict in these statements; they represent separate beliefs. A quote from Einstein makes the distinction clear: “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.” Spinoza was a 17th century philosopher who espoused a kind of pantheism or God in everything, or God as everything. To people with a more reductionist mindset, it could be called God as the laws of physics. And Hawking has shown that it is possible for our universe to have created itself given no preconditions other than the existence of the laws of physics. So, at the level of the physical universe, it is possible to discover the laws of physics, or metaphorically “know the mind of God”, and explain how they gave rise to everything we experience, without invoking God.
But how did the laws of physics come into being? Do they exist outside of time and space, or even outside of the domain of scientific inquiry, in which case they may be more literally equivalent to God? This is a question that cosmologist Paul Davies gives considerable attention to in his book, Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right For Life. And that is a subject for another entry.
“[Religion] was always something I wrestled with personally. I was very curious about the world even at a young age… I became aware that other cultures believed in different religions, and my question was, ‘Well, why don’t they get to go to heaven then?’ And the answer … didn’t sit well with me then. …I really came to the conclusion that it didn’t make sense to me for many other reasons.”