Thursday, July 23, 2009

I just finished reading a book called "The God Part of the Brain" wherein an unaccredited thirtysomething with a BA in philosopy attempts to argue that belief in God is simply an evolutionary, genetic mechanism programmed into us so that we humans may deal with some insurmountable fear of death. Somehow, out of this theory, the author, a man by the name of Alper, comes to the conclusion that there is no God, that's its essentially an illusion cooked up by our brains (or rather by our distant ancenstors' brains and then passed down to us). Now I'd like to preface this whole thing by saying I believe Alper negated his whole book by elaborating on the fact that before he even started his research he was a devout atheist, therefore flawing his attempt with an experimental bias. Instead of setting out to explore the possiblities of God and what God's existence implies, he simply set out to prove that God does not exist. And now, a scathing review of said book. I hope it elicits some intersting discussion.

I'd like to begin by stating that I'm an agnostic. That being said, this was an awful book. While the premise, that a belief in God is an evolutionary trait designed to abate fear of death, is an interesting one, the book and Alper's arguments and logic are full of holes. First off, although Alper is a self-pronounced scientist (and atheist), he seems to think that if you can't empirically record something, then it does not exist. Well, any self-respecting scientist anywhere would and should tell someone that just because we can't record something or haven't seen something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. You can't see an electron or subatomic particles; everyone in science just takes it on good faith that they exist because that's what makes sense...right now. Who knows, something totally bizarre might be discovered someday that turns everything on its head. It wouldn't be the first time that's happened. General relativity, meet special relativity.

Secondly I would like to attack the logic of Alper's argument. Even if there was substantial proof that believing in God was a genetic predisposition, the fact that we are hardwired to do so biologically does not preculde the actual existence of God, as Alper would seem to suggest. There is no logical way to conclude that an evoltuionary mechanism for belief in God = God does not exist. I'd say its perfectly reasonable that God and this mechanism, if it exists, could exist independent of each other. Or perhaps the mechanism to strive for spiritual meaning and knowledge of God was instilled in us BY God. But of course Mr. Alper would never acknowledge that possibility.

Alper also rather blatantly sidesteps the idea of non-traditonal or metaphysical Gods. Alper's studies seem confined to the traditional idea of God, to the one's that we human beings have ascribed to said Being. Things that Alper never touches on: What if God did not create the universe, but is an omnipotent being within it? What if God created the universe and then let everything evolve on its own? What if God is exactly as he/she/it is portrayed in religious texts? All of these are things that science can neither prove nor disprove, therefore it seems foolish to discredit them.And Alper's reasons for discrediting them?

Well human beings all share the common traits of believing in God(s), building special sites of worship, burying the dead, praying, and have remarkably similar codes and laws or mythologies. According to Alper this is proof that God doesn't exist (for some reason), that it's all an elaborate defense mechanism to help people cope with death. The probem I have with this is two-fold. If it walks like a duck, sounds like a's probably a duck. Does it really make sense to witness all of these similarities and say, "Wow, all of these people believe the same things, independent of each other! Instead of considering that this might be because there is in fact some spiritual realm that we are some part of, I'll concoct an elaborate and unproven theory about how our non-spiritual minds have fabricated a spiritual world which we would never be able to live in because we aren't spiritual beings and spirits don't exist, because people are afraid of dying!" It's called Occum's Razor, Mr. Alper. Why would evolution take such an abstract path? Why not simply hardwire into us a nonfear of dying? We as human beings are aware of death and what it means, but acknowledging death and what it means and not being afraid of it are not mutually exclusive.

While the prospect that spirituality is a genetic trait is indeed a fascinating one, this book compeltely bungles it up. Everything comes off as some misguided and poorly thought out and executed attempt by Alper to prove that God does not exist, probably to reconcile the events of his childhood (which the book touches on). It's all in very poor taste.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Election Results

Lat wednesday our class went around the Alberta street busniesses to gauge people's reactions of the election (both local and presidental) results. People were generally satisfied with the presidential primary. I don't think we talked to a single person who wasn't an Obama supporter. The people at the second barbershop we visted thought that we would all be Hillary supporters, an interesting assumption since we're all white.

Earl (of the eponymous babershop) and his customer were also pleased that Obama won Oregon, and were pretty confident about the rest of the campaign. Interestingly, both Earl and his customer thought that Jon Edwards would be a good VP candidate. It seems that alot of people who were Edwards supports at the beginning of the race are now Obama supporters. One thing is for sure though: nobody wants to see Hillary as his VP.

As to the local elections, Earl and his customer were for Sho, and we all know Sam Adams won. But overall I didn't get the feeling that they were really displeased. The people at the second barershop also had wanted Sho, because he'd been a community activist for so long, but again I didn't really think it was a huge issue to them. What was an issue to them was rising housing costs and overcrowding. Those two things are going to be big issues for Sam Adams now, I feel.

And lastly, as to my somepeople project. I was planning on documenting Jen from the Obama office, but last wednesday when I went down there the campaign office was closed, and all subsequent attempts to contact her have failed. Since we're rapidly approaching the end of the terms, it's crunch time, and if anyone needs a partner for their documentary I would be deeply indebted to them.

The Obama Office

So our class went to the Obama campaign headquaters in Northeast today. I have to say, the experince was pretty good. I'd never visted a camaign office before, and the people there were very interesting and enthusiastic. There were people from all demographics there, white and black, and people of all ages too. The office was probably 50% people under 30 and fifty percent people over 30.

A group of local kids and drawn a bunch of pro-Obama pictures which the campaign people had posted on the outside of their building. What was so fascinating about that was that according to the Obama people, the children came in of their own volition and drew the pictures--nobody asked them to do it. Now it would be truly amazing to me if Obama is inspiring 7 and 8 year olds. Maybe they should lower the voting age.

But overall the experience was gave me a new perspective on Obama. I liked him to begin with, but this really showed me the effect he and his message of hope are having on people, and the extent to which the American public is behind him. But it looks like all those folks' hard work paid off since he won Oregon!

Sunday, May 4, 2008


This week the assignment was to find something interesting in someone's front yard or a window and ask the person who lived there to explain the object. The goal was to get to know the people in the neighborhood better. First we met this guy who was from Canada (thus the flag) and told us that many people say that a Canadian accent is a much slower version of a Scottish one.

Then I saw this on someone's door. They weren't there to explain it, but I thought I'd post it anyway because it's amusing.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


So on Wednesday we had to fan out in our groups and find someone in the neighborhood who would be willing to give a short little lecture to the class about what they do and their experiences in the neighborhood. Denise and I found two people, Earl from the eponymous barber shop, and a lady from Mimosa (a pottery place). Comparing our two interviews, we learned something very interesting. On the subject of gentrification, Earl (an african-american man) and Dana (a white woman) had exactly the same opinion. Both of them saw gentrification less as a phenomenon or crisis, and more as a natural force. According to both of them, the mixing of black and white was inevitable. Earl said he didn't mind the process, it was boosting his business.

Also of interest, Mimosa said they might be willing to donate a frame to us at the end of the term. If we each purchased a ceramic tile, we could make some sort of pottery collage about our project and place it somewhere in the neighborhood.

Lastly, I just remembered this tonight but the library website has a some great archives of newspapers. I think they have every article from the Oregonian and the NY Times every published uploaded. That would be a great place to get some historical perspectives and maybe some more info on the gentrification process.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The inauguration!

The first blog! Hooray!

Well I guess its time to summarize. After we all met at the lot today on 15th, my triad, consisting of myself, Denise, and Laura, went walking down Alberta searching for inspiration. We came up with some good ideas and leads. I think one of the most promising was the Rose City Cab Co. We all thought it would be a blast to interview a cabbie; who would know the more colorful people of the area any better? The people who worked there were not very forthcoming, but told us that if we came back Pat would speak to us.

Then Denise came up with the neat idea of finding the oldest resident in the area and interviewing them, or perhaps finding a cemetary to see what families started in the area and whatnot. There was also a Candy Company that we were interested in (we'll admit it, we love sweets). The last thing we did was visit the Mexican grocery store. In the future that might be a good place to take the pulse of the Latino community in the area.

Aside from that, next time we go out again I'm bringing my video camera and we're going to just get back out there and have a good time learning about the place.

Peace y'all :-)