Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Benevolent God

There is a stock argument against the existence, or at least benevolence, of the Judeo-Christian god. According to theologians, god has three core properties: she is benevolent (all good), omniscient (all knowing) and omnipotent (all powerful). The stock argument goes, “if god is all of these things, how can there be evil/suffering the world? Because, surely, she could stop the evil and suffering from occurring. Since she does not, she either can’t, doesn’t know it’s coming or doesn’t care. i.e. she must not be one of these three things.” To frame the argument formally, it looks like this:
  • P1: god is all good
  • P2: god is all powerful
  • P3: god is all knowing
  • P4: There is evil, pain, and suffering in the world
  • C: If P4 is true, then either P1, P2 or P3 must be false
  • C: P4 is true, therefore, either P1, P2 or P3 is false
Theologians have a few different responses to this argument. One is to argue that “everything happens for a reason. We simply do not understand god’s will.” But when framed against something like the killing of the Jewish community during WWII, the response sort of loses its appeal. It’s hard to imagine that the world is better for this horrific mass murder.
The primary response theists have to this argument is that god is all of three of those things, but she also gave us free will. So if god were to interfere in any way with the acts of man, then she would be violating man’s free will. Therefore, god can be all good, all knowing and all powerful, but still allow there to be evil in the world. There are a number of ways people responded to this explanation, but I only want to look at one of them right now.
And that is to argue from the case of natural disasters. With the increasing variety and unpredictability of recent weather patterns over the last decade or so, these disasters have be flowing in full force. From Hurricanes, to tornadoes, to sinkholes, it seems there is a new disaster every few months. How many thousands of people have been victims of these disasters in the last few years alone? Many. God could have stepped in at any time to prevent them from occurring. After all, stopping a tornado would not affect anyone’s free will, but could have saved numerous lives.
Of course, one may point out that god is notorious for creating natural disasters with the greater good in mind. See the Noah’s Ark story. So she may be utilizing the the same strategy with every hurricane she throws; a sort of planet cleansing disaster.There are certain other problems that arise with this explanation as well, but it is surely plausible.
The sort of disaster I’m thinking of right now, though, is one of a smaller caliber. Last week, a group of elementary students from St. Louis Park, MN were on a field trip at Lilydale Regional Park, in St. Paul, MN. While they were there, a rockslide fell upon the class injuring two students and ultimately killing two as well. Surely, preventing this horrible disaster would have been an easy task for god. She simply could have made the rocks and dirt hold for another 2 minutes until the group had passed, or made the slide occur before the group was in that area. Doing so would not have interfered with anyone’s free will either, one would think, but please correct me if I am wrong. This to me is the most convincing reason for believing the above argument.
The stock response to this is the “everything happens for a reason” argument, aka the “greater good” argument. i.e. the families of those affected are better off now, or at least will be in the future. Which certainly may end up being the case. It also may not end up being the case. Losing a young child in such a horrific way would be nothing short of traumatizing. For their sakes, I hope they do end up making it through. The problem with reasoning this way, though, is that the future is unpredictable. We have no way of knowing if the world is better for this disaster. It’s all a matter of faith that it is. 

But I suppose that’s the point, isn’t it?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The His and Hers Music Collection

The Digital Music Age has brought us many advantages and many changes, and with them all, it has made the already gray area of music use and ownership and lovely blend of Charcoal, Slate, and Ash. The music industry has been battling ‘piracy’ for years and have employed a number of anti-copying tactics. But that’s not that area I want to look at just now. Google Play (Google’s music service) is a cloud style music storage/player. With it, you can upload any and all digital music you might have. The songs are stored over the interwebs making it accessible from most devices with an internet connection. Google has recently updated it’s Play service by incorporating a few new features. It now pretty much does it all. One of the few things that you cannot do, however, is share your music collection with another Google account. Note: I’m not using the social media definition of “Share” here, rather the more traditional one.
I jumped on the Google Play bandwagon a little bit before my Wife did. As a result, I had uploaded a significant amount of our music collection to my account by the time my wife began using the service. So when she did start to use it, we decided to use my account. This was not a problem until we discovered that you can only listen to music on one device at a time. So if I am at work listening to music, and my wife decides to take the dogs on a walk and wants to listen to music while she walks, my music stops playing. Which is, needless to say, quite frustrating.
I used the phrase “our music collection” very purposefully. It is not simply the music that I’ve purchased over the years, it is also the music that my wife has purchased that we’ve uploaded. It is very simply put, all of our music. So far, Google has not provided a way to share what is uploaded to my account, with my wife. 95% of the time, it’s a non-issue. But it is more the principle of the issue than anything else. I didn’t worry too much about it until I started remembering what the pre-digital version of this looked like.
It used to be that when you acquired a new album or EP, you put it on the shelf with the others. To be listened to by anyone that had a shared access to the shelf. In the case of my wife and I, shortly after moving in together, we consolidated our separate CD collections into one slightly bigger collection, thus making it officially “our Music.” If we wanted to listen to any one CD, we took it off the shelf, placed it in the boombox and did so. There is, to my knowledge, nothing illegal or in violation of any music purchasing agreement involved in sharing ownership of a CD. So why is there this restriction with digital music? Particularly when, for all intents and purposes, we share ownership of the digital music.
My brother-in-law framed an argument, in Google’s defense, this way: When you purchase a CD, your friends do not also automatically own it. That is what “sharing” a digital music collection would essentially amount to. The first response to this is that that is exactly the purpose of sharing a music collection. When I purchase an album, my wife simultaneously and automatically owns it as well. The difference is that I would choose who has access to my music collection. It would not be the case that my friends would have access to the music, unless I granted them access.
The response to this would surely be to point out that what’s to stop someone from granting all of their friends and family access to their music collection? This would clearly be a problem. And it might be a problem in terms of money making for the artists, but I don’t think it is a problem for the act of music sharing. If I lived in a large household with, say, 5 other people and I own a large CD collection, it is well within my rights to leave the CDs in the common spaces with the intent that any of my housemates would have access to them and may use any of them at any time. After all, I purchased them, they are my possessions, and I may do with them as I like. Presuming I am not breaking the law. Granted, Digital Law is slightly less cut and dry and is one of the many reasons the issue is so damned gray.
The other case for restricting a user’s ability to share their music collection with another user is to draw another comparison to physical world music. Let’s say I go back to my large CD collection, pick one out and begin to play it. If my friend comes in and tries to take that same CD and play it somewhere else, he cannot, because I am playing it currently. After all, I only purchased one copy, not six. Therefore it would not be fair to be able to listen to the same album on two different computers if you can’t listen to the same CD in two different boomboxes.
This is a legitimate concern. However, with Google Play (and most other music services), it does not matter what albums we are both listening to. My music will stop the moment my wife starts listening to music, even if it is a different album completely. Whereas in the physical world, I may listen to one CD and my wife may listen to a different CD upstairs on a different Boombox.
Although I do not necessarily agree with the idea of restricting how many people have access to the music I own, I do understand how the music industry works. It is exclusively about the Benjamins. However, I think allowing users to share their collection with a small amount of people (three? two?) seems a fair compromise. I also agree that the same album should not be able to be listened to on two devices at the same time. That would also seem like a just restriction seeing as you would not be able to do this in the real world. I think these seem like a fair way to go about this.
Since this is not an option, however, my wife has had to start uploading a number of albums to her google account. Which seems unnecessary to say the least. Why should she have to spend the time and effort in maintaining a separate music collection, essentially just a copy of the one on my account, just so that my music doesn’t stop at work and so that she doesn’t have to turn the music off while she blogs? I’m not sure, and I’d love to see this change. I will not, however, be holding my breath.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What Does Longevity Tell us?

There’s a response that you see fairly often when discussing Science or Politics: Someone eventually says something to the effect of “We've been doing it this way for years,” or “well this has always been the case.” And this is supposed to settle the matter. But what is this sort of argument really saying? At best, it seems to suggest that a large group of people, or at least the ones in power, have agreed about something for a good length of time. Which is certainly impressive given the wide array of opinions in the world. But at worst, it says next to nothing about the quality, utility or rightness of the longstanding argument or activity.
In Philosophy, this sort of argument is referred to as an “Appeal to Tradition.” It is a fallacy (an invalid argument) that most philosophers will dismiss immediately because by itself, tradition, says nothing about quality. A number of things have withstood the test of time before. It was widely held that the Earth was flat, for instance. Racism and slavery had existed for thousands of years before people realized that they were wrong. Certainly, good things have lasted lifetimes as well. Art, Theatre, Mathematics, Philosophy, etc.But simply existing, or being practiced for a long time just does not say enough about the quality of these things or practices.
The Appeal to Tradition Fallacy has been used for years. It comes to mind again now that Gay Marriage has been legalized in Minnesota. It comes to mind because opponents of Gay Marriage have deemed their view of marriage as “Traditional Marriage.” Which it is, sure. Traditionally, marriage has been only legal for Heterosexual couples. But proponents of Traditional Marriage will often use this phrase as both the title and body of their argument. Thinking that because theirs is the view that’s been held for years, that makes it more likely to be the correct view. And it very well may be the correct view, but they would need to provide a great deal more evidence to support that assertion than just pointing to its longevity.
The other main stage I’ve seen this sort of reasoning used is in Science vs Religion debates. A stock argument against Science is that it is not constant. It changes its views so frequently that it can’t be trusted. “First, the Earth is flat, then it is round? Now it’s billions of years old...? etc.” Whereas religion has held the same beliefs and opinions, more or less, for thousands of years, and therefore, it must be more correct about the state of the Universe than Science is. Clearly, the same arguments can be made to show why this is not a reliable way to reason as well.
So why continue using this widely unreliable type of argument? Well I think there’s a certain intuitive nature to it. We are a tradition centric people. Even within familial units. We traditionalize everything, from holidays to Tuesday night game nights. But as any person whose familial status has changed will tell you, sometimes traditions change or get replaced by new traditions. And more often than not, the new traditions are better than the old.