Thursday, April 21, 2011

For Tanya on Good Friday

Some time ago we did a post based on a remark made by a woman named Tanya at another blog. I thought that as we approach Good Friday it might be worth running the post again, slightly edited.

Tanya's comment was provoked by an atheist at the other blog who had issued a mild rebuke to his fellow non-believers for their attempts to use the occasion of Christmas to deride Christian belief. In so doing, he exemplified the sort of attitude toward those with whom he disagrees one might wish all people, atheists and Christians alike, would adopt. Unfortunately, Tanya spoiled the mellow, can't-we-all-just-get-along mood by displaying a petulant asperity toward, and an unfortunate ignorance of, the orthodox Christian understanding of the atonement.

She wrote:
I've lived my life in a more holy way than most Christians I know. If it turns out I'm wrong, and some pissy little whiner god wants to send me away just because I didn't worship him, even though I lived a clean, decent life, he can bite me. I wouldn't want to live in that kind of "heaven" anyway. So sorry.
Tanya evidently thinks that "heaven" is, or should be, all about living a "clean, decent life". Perhaps the following tale will illustrate the sophomoric callowness of her misconception:

Once upon a time there was a handsome prince who was deeply in love with a young woman. We'll call her Tanya. The prince wanted Tanya to come and live with him in the wonderful city his father, the king, had built, but Tanya wasn't interested in either the prince or the city. The city was beautiful and wondrous, to be sure, but the inhabitants weren't particularly fun to be around, and she wanted to stay out in the countryside where the wild things grow. Even though the prince wooed Tanya with every gift he could think of, it was to no avail. She wasn't smitten at all by the "pissy little whiner" prince. She obeyed the laws of the kingdom and paid her taxes and was convinced that that should be good enough.

Out beyond the countryside, however, dwelt dreadful, orc-like creatures who hated the king and wanted nothing more than to be rid of him and his heirs. One day they learned of the prince's love for Tanya and set upon a plan. They snuck into her village, kidnapped Tanya, and sent a note to the king telling him that they would be willing to exchange her for the prince, but if their offer was refused they would torture Tanya until she was dead.

The king, distraught beyond words, told the prince the horrible news.

Despite all the rejections the prince had experienced from Tanya, he still loved her deeply, and his heart broke at the thought of her peril. With tears he resolved to his father that he would do the exchange. The father wept bitterly because the prince was his only son, but he knew that his love for Tanya would not allow him to let her suffer the torment to which the ugly people would surely subject her. The prince asked only that the father try his best to persuade Tanya to live safely in the beautiful city once she was ransomed.

And so the day came for the exchange, and the prince rode bravely and proudly bestride his mount out of the beautiful city to meet the ugly creatures. As he crossed an expansive meadow toward the camp of his mortal enemy he stopped to make sure they released Tanya. He waited until she was out of the camp, fleeing toward the safety of the king's city, oblivious in her near-panic that it was the prince himself she was running past as she hurried to the safety of the city walls. He could easily turn back now that Tanya was safe, but he had given his word that he would do the exchange, and the ugly people knew he would never go back on his word.

The prince continued stoically and resolutely into their midst, giving himself for Tanya as he had promised. Surrounding his steed they set upon him, stripped him of his princely raiment, and tortured him for three days in the most excruciating manner. Not once did any sound louder than a moan pass his lips. His courage and determination to endure whatever agonies to which he was subjected were strengthened by the assurance that he was doing it for Tanya and that because of his sacrifice she was safe.

Finally, wearying of their sport, they cut off his head and threw his body onto a garbage heap.

Meanwhile, the grief-stricken king, his heart melting like ice within his breast, called Tanya into his court. He told her nothing of what his son had done, his pride in the prince not permitting him to use his son's heroic sacrifice as a bribe. Even so, he pleaded with Tanya, as he had promised the prince he would, to remain with him within the walls of the wondrous and beautiful city where she'd be safe forevermore.

Tanya considered the offer, but decided that she liked life on the outside far too much, even if it was risky, and she really didn't want to be in too close proximity to the prince, and, "By the way," she asked the king, "where is that pissy little whiner son of yours anyway?"
Have a meaningful Good Friday. You, too, Tanya.

Gravity Is an Illusion?

Erik Verlinde is a Dutch theoretical physicist and string theorist. He recently was interviewed at Big Think on his theory that gravity is an illusion of some sort. When asked why he thinks this he replied that:
Gravity, of course, is something that many people have already thought about. It’s something that we see every day, and it’s not like it’s not existent in our ordinary life. But what I mean by [saying] that it’s an illusion is that one would eventually like to know where it comes from. [We'd like] an explanation.

Up to now we have, well, descriptions. Newton, of course, is the one famous for first writing down a theory of gravity and he described why apples fall and why the moon goes around the earth using the same basic equation for gravity, but he described it. He had to assume that gravity was there and then had to write down a law that described that when two masses are a certain distance [apart], how they attract each other.

But he was also not very happy with the fact that we should just, well, assume that these things, these objects, attract each other without anything in between. So if there are two masses and empty space, there’s nothing that really happens between them, but still, they’re attracting each other. And he thought that was kind of mysterious and that it was something he would have liked to explain in a better way.
In other words, we can describe how objects behave when they encounter a gravitational field and we can measure the strength of the field, but we don't know what gravity actually is, nor how it's produced, nor how it interacts with matter to cause the effects it does.

Verlinde goes on to discuss Einstein's view that material bodies bend space and time. This is very strange. One of the arguments materialists make against substance dualism is that interaction between two disparate "substances" like mind and matter is incomprehensible. It's therefore less complicated to suppose that there's only a single substance, usually assumed by scientists to be matter, which comprises reality. Mind is just a superfluous posit, the materialist believes, a word we use to describe what the matter in the brain does.

But if matter can bend time don't we face the same problem trying to account for that interaction? How can matter interact with time? How can time bend? What is it that's actually bending? If we accept that matter can curve time then why do we balk at thinking that matter, or brains, can interact with minds? Why do we have a problem thinking that an immaterial mind can cause an effect in a material brain?
Thanks to The for the tip.