Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Objectivist Anniversary

This morning I decided to take a trip to Mock Park to watch the sun rise. It was a beautiful spring morning--mists rising from the slightly warmer waters, birds chirping sonorously in the trees, a faint, cool breeze blowing. I took photos. I realized that it was just over a year ago there at that park that I came fully and firmly to the conclusion that Ayn Rand was right about all the fundamentals after eight years of equivocation, denial and partial acceptance on my part.

Existence has total and absolute primacy over consciousness—our whims, wishes, wants, hopes, feelings and prayers do not in and of themselves produce any effect outside of our minds. Only through acting in body can we effect a result in the external world, including sustaining consciousness itself. Consciousness cannot exist disembodied.

Identity and its corollary, causality, govern the universe. Causes originated by conscious action are a limited but important source of the multitude of effects we see. Effects originating from unconscious entities such as rocks, thunderstorms and planets are not "random" but causal. Attributing consciousness to the origin of every action is fallacious. Purpose and plan are concepts particular to the human need to think long-term in order to sustain our own lives. Immortality, if possible, would void the need for plan and purpose.

Knowledge comes through an objective process of observation and reason, i.e. non-contradictory identification. All facts bear on life and thus make knowledge vital. Because I know only by my own choice, ultimately I must rely only on my own judgment to sustain my life. My life is precious to me, and that is what counts. All of the joy and value I find with and in others flows from this basic judgment of my own life. That is selfishness, and, yes, it is a virtue.

Embracing identity, causality, primacy of existence, reason and selfishness in my life have led to many changes for me over the past year, but I am happier than ever. I feel no fundamental internal conflicts, which, though well-hidden, had plagued me for nearly two decades. I still have a significant hurdle to clear soon—graduate from the Ohio State physics doctoral program. This will continue to hinder my blogging, but I judged it important to reflect on and share my sentimental journey this morning.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Divorce and Coming Out

Two weeks ago (September 2, 2009), I decided to divorce my wife Laurie. The issue I had been grappling with long-term was my sexual orientation. At the beginning of this year (2009), I realized, through reflection on my life from adolescence to now, that I was gay, and I told Laurie. She was naturally quite disturbed, but I did my best to assure her through my actions and words that I was still committed to her. I honestly thought at the time that I could accept my natural attraction to men but trade it for the value of my marriage. I came to the conclusion that I was wrong. Sexual attraction is an essential component of romantic love, and romantic love is the proper foundation of marriage. So, in trying to foster romantic love with my wife while being unable to be sexually attracted to her (through no fault of hers), I was sustaining a contradiction at the root of my marriage relationship. However, I know that "a contradiction cannot be achieved in reality and that the attempt to achieve it can lead only to disaster and destruction."1 Specifically, the disaster of being dishonest with myself and projecting a dishonest image of myself toward my wife and the rest of world. I also realized that I would never achieve happiness in my life by trying to diminish the importance of sexual attraction and fulfillment. I projected the consequence of this decision over my vision of my entire life, and I judged that the loss in ending my marriage was less than cost of the continued internal war with reality necessitated by discounting my nature.

I think sexual matters should be private, but, due to the appearance that my marriage has given to anyone who knows or has known me, honesty demands that I make public my reasons for ending it.

I appreciate all of the candid advice, probing questions and support from those with whom I have already spoken. I am happy to talk to anyone who wants to understand more than what I have written here.

I also publicly acknowledge Laurie for her virtue throughout this ordeal. While she disagrees with my decision, she has worked with me extensively to move forward with our lives and to care for our children as best as possible under the circumstances.

1. A. Rand, “The ‘Conflicts’ of Men’s Interests,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 51. (see Ayn Rand Lexicon: Contradictions)

Concretized date after checking a written reference (2009-10-04).

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Grandeur of Man in the Morning Traffic

My morning commute by foot takes me over an interstate highway. This morning the sound of the vehicles whooshing underneath and the simultaneous gentle vibrations of the bridge gave me pause to consider the culmination of thought and action that allows men to travel from home to work miles apart each day. The automobile is a fusion of materials, energy production and electronics that transport individuals at their discretion in the utmost comfort they can afford. I envision the thousands of scientists, engineers and businessmen who studied the properties of the different components, brought them together in a design and tested them and then managed the mass production and marketing of the final result in competition with similar products to yield the wide array of vehicles I witnessed on the road today.

My route to work also lies under a major flight path for the airport, and the distant roar of jet engines lifting airplanes thousands of feet into the air within minutes pricked my ears several times during my walk. I again pondered the study of gravity and aerodynamics, coupled with an understanding of materials, united in a design stringently tested for human beings to travel safely and comfortably at hundreds of miles per hour through a life-threatening, low-temperature, low-pressure environment. Such a marvel of human thought is obtainable to anyone with money via an electronic transfer on the Internet and an automobile trip to the airport. This wonder allows one's personal and business interests to stretch across a globe, rather than within the confines of where one can get by foot.

Not surprisingly, given its lack of relevance to the modern American's personal transportation needs, I passed under a railroad bridge without a single thought as to its significance. Now, in retrospect, the railroad too is a testament to human thought and action, but, because it has lost import as a means of personal transportation, it comes less readily to my mind.

All in all, the human mind and its products in action are grand. I am grateful to all rational men for their thoughtful endeavors, and the concrete results of their labors inspire my continued efforts to reason and to act in sustenance of my life.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How the Book of Mormon Addresses Atheism and My Response

A comment my uncle made about me leaving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brought to mind how the Book of Mormon asserts belief in God. There is one chapter (Alma, chapter 30) that specifically address atheism. The character advocating atheism is a moral nihilist1 and, it turns out, a theist in denial!2

The Book of Mormon's argument for God

First, there is a God because I "know" it,3 implying that knowledge is intrinsically established in the consciousness, irrespective of the senses. Therefore, consciousness, not existence, has primacy in deciding truth.

Second, there is no "proof" that God does not exist.4 The burden of proof always lies with the person denying an assertion.

Third, "all things" are a "testimony" that God exists.5 Even though, the consciousness establishes reality, irrespective of the senses, as a secondary confirmation, the majority of things that perceived through the senses have a nature that confirms the existence of God.

Fourth, there is the "testimony" of "all the holy prophets",6 that is, the authority of people who talk to perpetually-burning bushes or hear voices in their dreams, establishes the existence of a God. Note only the prophets that are "holy", i.e. whose claims match the correct one, provide "testimony".

Finally, the rotation of the earth and the stability of the planets in our solar system definitely tell us there is a God.6 Without God's power, objects with mass would not attract one another and find a stable configuration.

My response

Every point in this argument is wrong.

Existence has primacy over consciousness. No one can change the identities of things in reality by power of their consciousness. In fact, the consciousness originates in the senses' perceptions of reality. Asserting that you "know" something is no argument. How do you know it? How do you justify the validity of the means by which you came to know it?

The burden of proof lies on the person asserting the existence of something or some event, and the magnitude of proof necessary grows with the magnitude of the claim (does this make claims for an infinite being require infinite evidence, and hence impossible?). There is no proof that Siddhartha Gautama did not achieve Nirvana, that the angel Gabriel did not reveal the Qur'an to Muhammad, or that Vishnu does not pervade the universe. Yet each of these claims leads to contradictions if accepted in light of no proof against their occurrence. Shifting the burden of proof away from the positive claimant opens the door for all arbitrary claims.

All things are a testimony for the law of identity and for causality. The law of identity is that every thing in the universe exists with a specific identity delineating it from everything else. Any thing in the universe (and therefore the universe itself as a sum total of all in it) is necessarily finite and delimited. The Book of Mormon asserts that God has "all wisdom, and all power"7 and "infinite goodness",8-11 but all things in nature are finite and delimited. Something with all power (able to manipulate anything) is unseen anywhere in nature. The Book of Mormon attributes all good to God.12 Such a viewpoint contradicts causality and/or free will. If God is the cause of all good, but not all evil, then objects in reality act according to their identities (causality) except when God intervenes to cause good. Human beings act according to their decisions (free will) except when God intervenes to cause good, but all things testify to the law of identity and to causality. God would be a contradiction to those things, not testified of by those things.

Appealing to authority is not a valid argument. Which people are authorities? By what means do you verify an authority's credentials?

The stability of the solar system and the earth's rotation on its axis witness only to the universal laws governing the motion and interaction of objects and the particular identities of the objects involved. Achieving or maintaining such stability requires no external force, i.e. God.

A proper view of epistemology goes a long way in clearing up these misconceptions. In contrast with the character presented in the Book of Mormon, I reject moral nihilism and advocate an objective morality to further human life on this earth.

Update: Fixed link and typo.


1. Book of Mormon, Alma, Ch. 30, Verse 17. "[W]hatsoever a man did was no crime" (the context implies crime in the moral not legal sense).
2. Ibid., Verse 52. "I always knew that there was a God."
3. Ibid., Verse 39. "I say unto you, I know there is a God."
4. Ibid., Verse 40. "[W]hat evidence have ye that there is no God ...? ... [Y]e have none, save it be your word only."
5. Ibid., Verse 41. "I have all things as a testimony that these things are true."
6. Ibid., Verse 44. "[Y]e have the
testimony of ... all the holy prophets."
7. Book of Mormon, Mosiah, Ch. 4, Verse 9.
8. Ibid., 2 Nephi, Ch. 1, Verse 10.
9. Ibid., Mosiah, Ch. 5, Verse 3.
10. Ibid., Helaman, Ch. 12, Verse 1.
11. Ibid., Moroni, Ch. 8, Verse 3.
12. Ibid., Alma, Ch. 5, Verse 40. "[W]hatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What I Learned From Attending the Columbus Tax Day Tea Party

I went to the Ohio Statehouse last night to participate in the Columbus Tax Day Tea Party. It was a collection of all sorts: libertarians, religionists, constitutionalists, conspiracy theorists, etc. The unifying sentiment, based on the messages on signs and the loudest cheers during the speeches, is opposition to expansive government spending. The broad non-partisan nature allowed me to attend without fear of endorsing something I disagree with.

I went armed with the corpus of Ayn Rand’s works, flyers for the Objective Standard and the Ayn Rand Center and a booklet, the Portable Objectivist, assembled by the Ohio Objectivist Society with permission of the authors for the purpose of distribution at Ohio tea parties. I vacillated on what message to put on a sign and let this indecision keep me from making a sign. I saw one "Who is John Galt?" sign, which quickly disappeared into the crowd. I realize now that some message would be better than no message. Also, being alone with all of my things kept me from circulating and looking for people who might be interested in talking about ideas. There were thousands in attendance, but I only had a conversation with the man standing next to me on the steps of the statehouse. The gentleman I spoke with said he had read Atlas Shrugged over 30 years ago and didn't remember much from it. His opinion is that the greater problems than taxation and inflation are the growth of government and the power lusting it promotes among politicians. I tried to explain to him that the widely-held view of ethics (altruism) is incompatible with limited government (capitalism) so that the government will necessarily grow in scope in order to satisfy altruism's moral imperative to put others before self. As government grows, power-lusters will naturally emerge to enforce the demands of altruism on those who still pursue the happiness of their individual lives.

The speeches, at best, appealed to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers and concern for our families and children. While the Founding Fathers were revolutionarily wise and our children are important values, such appeals have failed to advance the cause of individual rights over the past 100 years of growing tyranny. No speaker defended capitalism and limited government on the grounds of self-interest. Such a philosophical grounding is necessary to effectively confront the continuing assault on our freedom.

To summarize what I learned:

  1. Prepare a sign beforehand.

  2. Go with someone or pack lightly.

  3. Advocate the ethics of egoism as the only defensible grounds for capitalism

Addendum: I am in the third photo of the Columbus Dispatch's slide show on the tea party (just right of center, standing on the second step, wearing a brown hat and khaki trenchcoat; my box of things is behind me one step up, but I hold no sign).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Why I Left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

On Sunday, April 5, I called my bishop and informed him that I was leaving the church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). I drafted a formal letter requesting the removal of my name from the records of the church and mailed it the following day, April 6. This series of actions is the culmination of over a year and half of seeking a manifestation from God, i.e. evidence for the validity of the concept God or the concept spirit, after realizing in November 2007 that my belief in God was founded purely on feelings and thoughts, not grounded in any valid sensory percepts. I can say without reservation that I find no evidence for God or spirit(beyond the consciousness arising from the brain) and that feelings and imagination are not valid means of apprehending reality.

My choice to leave the church is based on those experiences, failing to find manifestations of God or spirit by means that the church teaches – study of the scripture, pondering, fasting and prayer, participating in church activities and serving others. In the church, I find a collection of both true and arbitrary teachings and activities motivating the actions of a spectrum of people with varying mixtures of good and bad. No individual’s actions other than my own motivated my decisions. I did not leave to justify a specific behavior that contradicts the church’s teachings (a frequent straw man I think many members use to evade honest appraisal of their beliefs when someone leaves). I left with a clear conscience that I have tried the church’s methods on its own terms and failed to come to the same answers.

The church teaches that, when its adherents feel the importance of the church's teachings, they will want to share it with others, yet they criticize the “apostate’s” desire to do the same, deriding it as “kicking against the pricks”. I have intentionally avoided so-called “anti-Mormon” writings because I wanted to be free from their influence in coming to conclusions and re-evaluate the church on its own terms. My main source of LDS-specific skeptical information comes simply from the Wikipedia and from apologist writings at FARMS or FAIR. I have consulted these sources only in an attempt to understand the evidence for facts avoided or glossed over in my Sunday school, seminary and institute classes. My objections to the church come from primarily epistemological grounds and very basic metaphysical issues, not the arcana of Joseph Smith's life or the Book of Mormon's descriptions of pre-Columbian America. I may blog more specifically on my epistemological, metaphysical and ethical objections to church doctrine in the future.

For working through the broader metaphysical and epistemological issues associated with theism, I am specifically grateful to the writings of Dawson Bethrick and Anton Thorn (both of whom do not know me). I also acknowledge Ayn Rand for developing and publishing a cogent philosophy for life on this earth. I find Objectivism true in every regard that I understand and accept it as my personal philosophy for living.

I do not deny the good that exists within the church nor that I have received many benefits from the actions of individuals in the church. Fundamentally, I would not exist without the church. My parents met through church-sponsored dances. My paternal grandparents met because my grandfather was a missionary for the church in England and my grandmother a member of the church there. My paternal grandfather’s ancestors and my maternal maternal great-grandparents all immigrated to the United States so that they could live among fellow church members. I met my wife through attending church meetings, and we only considered even dating because we were both members of the church. Personally, I learned the life-affirming virtues of honesty, integrity and self-reliance beginning from the church’s teachings. I also first learned from church doctrine that moral perfection is attainable, that all truth is related and that knowledge of the truth makes human progress possible.

My exit from the church does not diminish my gratitude for my parents’ rearing nor the value that my wife, parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and in-laws have been and are in my life, the majority of whom are active members of the church. I do not include my children in the list, even though they are great values to me, because they are not yet church members. By our agreement, my wife will continue to raise them in the church, acknowledging that they will attain full freedom of choice once they reach maturity and I will not conceal my understanding from them. My wife continues to love me, despite not supporting my decision to leave the church. I look forward to a life of continuing happiness based on living in full harmony with my understanding of reality.

Update: Fixed links.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Gooseberry and Cinnamon Yogurt

Inspired by a Catherine Tate sketch, I created a gooseberry and cinnamon yogurt (with suggestion by Laurie and help acquiring gooseberry jam by Matt). With expired nonfat plain yogurt from Aldi, gooseberry jam from Barry Farm in western Ohio and Ceylon cinnamon from World Market, I concocted a surprisingly-tasty flavored yogurt. After smelling the jam, I was unsure of how it would taste, but mixed together it was creamy and tart, smooth and chunky with a subtle spice. Here is the rough recipe:

  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt

  • 2 tablespoons gooseberry jam

  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Makes about 1/2 cup. Mix together all ingredients and serve.