Monday, January 31, 2005

My earlier discussion about the conflict between an omnipotent and omnibenvolent God and disasters like the recent tsunami has led me to another question that my religious friends and coworkers have been unable to resolve for me. Seeking a well-qualified source for my answer, I sent a letter to the God Squad in the hopes that they will be able to clear up the matter. I just sent the letter today, and I will include their answer if and when they send one. The letter is as follows, sans salutation and signature. Please take into account that this discussion presupposes the existence of an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God, and also assumes that human beings currently possess free will.
    I'm having trouble with a cliche, I'm afraid, and I thought perhaps you would be able to help me out. I wish I were more interesting, but it's the old question of "why do bad things happen to good people?"

    I've asked this question to several friends who believe in an all-powerful and all-good diety (three Christians of varying denominations, one Jew, one self-identified "miscelaneous believer") and all have given me essentially the same answer: free will. But that doesn't make any sense to me.

    I do not currently have the freedom to choose to ride to school on a red unicorn. This is obviously due to the fact that red unicorns do not exist. I also cannot choose to fly by flapping my arms up and down, since humans do not have the ability to fly by flapping our arms up and down. Yet I am told that human beings still have free will, even though none of us can choose to ride red unicorns or fly by flapping our arms. So, assuming humans have free will, why would free will be compromised by the elimination of evil from the world? Why can't God make evil as nonexistent as red unicorns, or make humans as unable to do evil as we are to fly by flapping our arms?

    One friend told me that getting rid of evil would destroy morality, because morality is about choosing to be Good, but that just seems a variation of the original answer; morality is only a virtue because it is possible to be wicked, so an all-Good universe would not need "morality" as we know it. This would not mean that we would all be drones, simply that we would have yet one more limitation on our already-finite human existence. (To put it another way, we each could still have a "moral compass," but the needle would always point to "Good.") We cannot currently choose to murder another human being by shooting him with lazer beams from our eyes, so why would our supposed free will be compromised if God made us equally unable to kill a human being by shooting him with a gun?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Thanks, Jay.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Without press release. Without fanfare. Without much of anything, the teams looking for banned weapons packed up and left Iraq last month.
    The search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (news - web sites) ended last month, nearly two years after President Bush (news - web sites) sent troops to disarm Saddam Hussein (news - web sites), The Washington Post reported on Wednesday...

    ...The Post said the findings of an interim report that Duelfer submitted to Congress in September will stand as the ISG's final conclusions, according to a senior intelligence official.

    The report concluded that Iraq had no stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons and its nuclear program had decayed before last year's U.S.-led invasion, in findings contrary to prewar assertions of the Bush administration.
So now it's official: there never were any WMD in Iraq.

Of course, Powell always knew that. Hell, he said it himself shortly before 9-11 , and I quote, "He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. So in effect, our policies have strengthened the security of the neighbors of Iraq, and these are policies that we are going to keep in place."

But the war was on. Don't you remember back when "WMD!" was all we heard, and when the need to protect our shores from Iraqi WMD consumed us all with such fervor? Let's all hop into the Way Back machine, and travel to a time when random claims about bringing freedom to the poor oppressed Iraqis weren't even a glint in Karl Rove's eye...
    "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." - Dick Cheney Speech to VFW National Convention, Aug. 26, 2002

    "Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons" -. George W. Bush Speech to U.N. General Assembly, Sept. 12, 2002

    "If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world." - Ari Fleischer Press Briefing, Dec. 2, 2002

    "We know for a fact that there are weapons there." - Ari Fleischer Press Briefing, Jan. 9, 2003

    "Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. " - George W. Bush State of the Union Address, Jan. 28, 2003

    "We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more. " - Colin Powell Remarks to U.N. Security Council, Feb. 5, 2003

    "We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons -- the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have. " - George W. Bush Radio Address, Feb. 8, 2003

    "So has the strategic decision been made to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction by the leadership in Baghdad?... I think our judgment has to be clearly not. " - Colin Powell Remarks to U.N. Security Council, March 7, 2003

    "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." - George W. Bush Address to the Nation, March 17, 2003

    "Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly... all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes." - Ari Fleisher Press Briefing, March 21, 2003

    "There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. And... as this operation continues, those weapons will be identified, found, along with the people who have produced them and who guard them." - Gen. Tommy Franks Press Conference, March 22, 2003

    "I have no doubt we're going to find big stores of weapons of mass destruction." - Defense Policy Board member Kenneth Adelman The Washington Post" -, Page A27, March 23, 2003

    "One of our top objectives is to find and destroy the WMD. There are a number of sites." - Pentagon Spokeswoman Victoria Clark Press Briefing, March 22, 2003

    "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat." - Donald Rumsfeld ABC Interview, March 30, 2003

    "Obviously the administration intends to publicize all the weapons of mass destruction U.S. forces find -- and there will be plenty." - Neo-con scholar Robert Kagan The Washington Post" - op-ed, Apr. 9, 2003

    "I think you have always heard, and you continue to hear from officials, a measure of high confidence that, indeed, the weapons of mass destruction will be found." - Ari Fleischer Press Briefing, Apr. 10, 2003

    "We are learning more as we interrogate or have discussions with Iraqi scientists and people within the Iraqi structure, that perhaps he destroyed some, perhaps he dispersed some. And so we will find them." - George W. Bush NBC Interview, Apr. 24, 2003

    "There are people who in large measure have information that we need... so that we can track down the weapons of mass destruction in that country." - Donald Rumsfeld Press Briefing, Apr. 25, 2003

    "We'll find them. It'll be a matter of time to do so." - George W. Bush Remarks to Reporters, May 3, 2003

    "I'm absolutely sure that there are weapons of mass destruction there and the evidence will be forthcoming. We're just getting it just now. " - Colin Powell Remarks to Reporters, May 4, 2003

    "We never believed that we'd just tumble over weapons of mass destruction in that country." - Donald Rumsfeld Fox News Interview, May 4, 2003

    "I'm not surprised if we begin to uncover the weapons program of Saddam Hussein -- because he had a weapons program. " - George W. Bush Remarks to Reporters, May 6, 2003

    "U.S. officials never expected that "we were going to open garages and find" weapons of mass destruction." - Condoleeza Rice Reuters Interview, May 12, 2003

    "I just don't know whether it was all destroyed years ago -- I mean, there's no question that there were chemical weapons years ago -- whether they were destroyed right before the war, (or) whether they're still hidden. " - Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, Commander 101st Airborne Press Briefing, May 13, 2003

    "Before the war, there's no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical. I expected them to be found. I still expect them to be found." - Gen. Michael Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps Interview with Reporters, May 21, 2003

    "Given time, given the number of prisoners now that we're interrogating, I'm confident that we're going to find weapons of mass destruction." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff NBC Today Show" - interview, May 26, 2003

    "They may have had time to destroy them, and I don't know the answer." -Donald Rumsfeld Remarks to Council on Foreign Relations, May 27, 2003

    "For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction (as justification for invading Iraq) because it was the one reason everyone could agree on." - Paul Wolfowitz Vanity Fair" - interview, May 28, 2003

    "It was a surprise to me then -- it remains a surprise to me now -- that we have not uncovered weapons, as you say, in some of the forward dispersal sites. Believe me, it's not for lack of trying. We've been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad, but they're simply not there." - Lt. Gen. James Conway, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Press Interview, May 30, 2003

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

tragedy n 1. an event resulting in great loss and misfortune.

Here's what I don't get: how can anybody who believes in an omnipotent and omni-benevolent God also believe in tragedy? If God is all-powerful then all things that occur are by God's will, and if God is all-good then all things the occur must be Good or else God wouldn't have allowed them to come about. So nothing that occurs can be classified as misfortune, by definition.

The tsunami disaster that hit southeast Asia has been a source of much religious speculation and chitter-chatter, most of which makes absolutely no sense if you accept the belief in an all-powerful and all-good diety. If God is Good then the deaths and destruction were all Good, and we should be praising Him for bringing these blessings to us. How come God-believers thank God when He does things they like, but they won't thank him for this tsunami just because it wasn't what they personally wanted for Christmas? Isn't that awfully selfish, to only thank God for the blessings we like but to ignore all the other blessings He sends us (such as the tsunami)?