When I was in Iraq last year one refreshing difference was the lack of vague spirituality. Soldiers believe or don’t. Vague spirituality is useless flying to toward the Iran-Iraq border in a Blackhawk or riding in a Humvee on convoy security. Anesthesia and riches keep spirituality at bay, making death even more terrible when it comes. But I really do pray that the approach of death brings real clarity to those whose only hope is vague spirituality.

— Neil Gussman, commenting on an article in First Things: Spirituality Without Spirits

Published in: on May 30, 2010 at 6:36 pm  Leave a Comment  


The purpose of new technology is to partially compensate for the deleterious effects of old technology.

Published in: on May 21, 2010 at 7:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Vallicella’s Theism

It may well be that one cannot prove the existence of God: one will be hard-pressed to produce a theistic argument with power sufficient to compel acceptance from everyone who understands it. But then no argument for any broadly philosophical thesis has this sort of power. If one is unprejudiced, however, one will have to admit that there are arguments for the existence of God that satisfy the following conditions: (i) they are valid in point of logical form; (ii) they fall afoul of no informal fallacy such as petitio principii; and (iii) they feature premises that it is reasonable to accept given the present state of scientific knowledge. [1]

At the end of the day you must decide which of these interpretations to accept. You will not find some plain fact that will decide it for you.  There is no fact you can point to, or argument you can give, that definitively rules out theism or rules it in. [2]

In general, I do not try to convince anybody of anything; I am satisfied if I can get my ‘opponents’ to appreciate the merit of the positions they oppose. (For example, I would not try to make a theist out of an atheist; I would simply try to get him to stop saying stupid Russellian things like, ‘God is as incredible as a celestial teapot.’) [3]

I am quite at a loss to explain why anyone should think the Teapot analogy any good. It leaks like a sieve. [4]

[1] Vallicella, William. From facts to God: An onto-cosmological argument, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 48: 157-181, 2000.

[2] Vallicella, William. Is Atheism Intellectually Respectable? On Romans 1:18-20, Maverick Philosopher.

[3] Vallicella, William. Simone Weil and the Illusoriness of Worldly Goods, Maverick Philosopher.

[4] Vallicella, William. Russell’s Teapot: Does it Hold Water?, Maverick Philosopher.

Published in: on May 21, 2010 at 7:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

They’re Made Out of Meat

“They’re made out of meat.”


“Meat. They’re made out of meat.”


“There’s no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They’re completely meat.”

“That’s impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?”

“They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don’t come from them. The signals come from machines.”

“So who made the machines? That’s who we want to contact.”

They made the machines. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Meat made the machines.”

“That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You’re asking me to believe in sentient meat.”

“I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in that sector and they’re made out of meat.”

“Maybe they’re like the orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage.”

“Nope. They’re born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn’t take long. Do you have any idea what’s the life span of meat?”

“Spare me. Okay, maybe they’re only part meat. You know, like the weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside.”

“Nope. We thought of that, since they do have meat heads, like the weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They’re meat all the way through.”

“No brain?”

“Oh, there’s a brain all right. It’s just that the brain is made out of meat! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

“So … what does the thinking?”

“You’re not understanding, are you? You’re refusing to deal with what I’m telling you. The brain does the thinking. The meat.”

“Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!”

“Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you beginning to get the picture or do I have to start all over?”

“Omigod. You’re serious then. They’re made out of meat.”

“Thank you. Finally. Yes. They are indeed made out of meat. And they’ve been trying to get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years.”

“Omigod. So what does this meat have in mind?”

“First it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the Universe, contact other sentiences, swap ideas and information. The usual.”

“We’re supposed to talk to meat.”

“That’s the idea. That’s the message they’re sending out by radio. ‘Hello. Anyone out there. Anybody home.’ That sort of thing.”

“They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?”

“Oh, yes. Except they do it with meat.”

“I thought you just told me they used radio.”

“They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat, it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat.”

“Omigod. Singing meat. This is altogether too much. So what do you advise?”

“Officially or unofficially?”


“Officially, we are required to contact, welcome and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in this quadrant of the Universe, without prejudice, fear or favor. Unofficially, I advise that we erase the records and forget the whole thing.”

“I was hoping you would say that.”

“It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?”

“I agree one hundred percent. What’s there to say? ‘Hello, meat. How’s it going?’ But will this work? How many planets are we dealing with here?”

“Just one. They can travel to other planets in special meat containers, but they can’t live on them. And being meat, they can only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim. Infinitesimal, in fact.”

“So we just pretend there’s no one home in the Universe.”

“That’s it.”

“Cruel. But you said it yourself, who wants to meet meat? And the ones who have been aboard our vessels, the ones you probed? You’re sure they won’t remember?”

“They’ll be considered crackpots if they do. We went into their heads and smoothed out their meat so that we’re just a dream to them.”

“A dream to meat! How strangely appropriate, that we should be meat’s dream.”

“And we marked the entire sector unoccupied.”

“Good. Agreed, officially and unofficially. Case closed. Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?”

“Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster intelligence in a class nine star in G445 zone. Was in contact two galactic rotations ago, wants to be friendly again.”

“They always come around.”

“And why not? Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the Universe would be if one were all alone …”

They’re Made Out of Meat by Terry Bisson. First published in Omni in 1990. Available on Bisson’s website.

Published in: on May 21, 2010 at 6:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Homeopathic Terrorists

Homeopathic bombs are comprised of 99.9% water but contain the merest trace element of explosive. The solution is then repeatedly diluted so as to leave only the memory of the explosive in the water molecules. According to the laws of homeopathy, the more that the water is diluted, the more powerful the bomb becomes.

New Age terrorists develop homeopathic bomb, NewsBiscuit

Published in: on May 6, 2010 at 1:14 pm  Leave a Comment