March 17, 2011

A Showcase of Egoism

Thanks for those who commented on my last post. I'm taking a step back from the outside world, and I'm going to talk about a personal pet peeve, two types of statements that get under my skin. I'll try to convey what those statements are, and why they bother me and try propose a solution. Now, to anticipate future criticism, I know these statements are often used unthinkingly, and I don't expect to run into them any less often. I'll probably have settle for just being able to vent and maybe it might make you think the next time you hear one muttered. 

The first type of statement I've often seen talked about before, but I'm going to take it in a different direction than skeptics usually take it.

1. The arrogance of cause and effect - The example I will use could be picked from the hundreds I've doubtlessly heard throughout my years, but one sticks out as it is the one I heard most recently and was the inspiration for this post.

A lady told me that everything happened for a reason, as is often the beginning or end to a wild claim being made, and proceeded to tell me that not having room in a vehicle to take someone on a ride happened because that person would later become sick. Now this seemingly everyday chance occurrence may seem pretty trivial, but to her it was proof of everything happening for a reason. (Now it may look like I'm being ungenerous and blowing her statement's intention out of proportion, which is true in a way, but she makes these types of statements numerous times a day as a proof of life's plan. This was truly how the statement was meant to be interrupted)

Now when most skeptics or atheists look at that kind of statement they charge the person with making the error in assumption that the universe works according to a plan, which is a very good way of dealing with the question if you are talking to someone who wants to look at the comment logically. There is no evidence to the universal planning, or if it is a plan it has been so insidiously created that it doesn't look like a plan at all, good people get hurt and die, people are born with all sort of different ailments and even our existence seems to come from a number of steps built on chance.

As. someone I'm proud to share my name with, Stephen J. Gould would say, “History includes too much chaos, or extremely sensitive dependence on minute and unmeasurable differences in initial conditions, leading to massively divergent outcomes based on tiny and unknowable disparities in starting points. And history includes too much contingency, or shaping of present results by long chains of unpredictable antecedent states, rather than immediate determination by timeless laws of nature. Homo sapiens did not appear on the earth, just a geologic second ago, because evolutionary theory predicts such an outcome based on themes of progress and increasing neural complexity. Humans arose, rather, as a fortuitous and contingent outcome of thousands of linked events, any one of which could have occurred differently and sent history on an alternative pathway that would not have led to consciousness.”

Yet, I don't think that, that type of comment, as intelligible as it is, would do a lick of good for anyone who was willing to make a comment about life having a plan. They have seen the plan in everything around them, so I'd argue with them on there own grounds, and accept their view of a plan.

Even if life does have a plan and everything happens for a reason to fulfill that plan, how could it be that anyone would be so arrogant as to say that, "This is what the divine plan is and this is the absolute reason this particular thing happened!" after all, God is said to work in mysterious ways. I don't think that anyone would stand up and claim that, they indeed know the plan for life, and if they do good for them. They weren't worth arguing with in the first place.

It does avoid the root of the problem, a lack of critical thinking, but it will at least start the person on the path of thinking about how hard it might be to determine the reasons for somethings cause.

2. The self-centered universe - While my first peeve surrounded the issue of someone having the arrogance to claim that they know what I can only describe as 'god's mind', the second issue is one where people clearly don't see the forest for the trees. 

This happens when people say something to the effect of, "Thank god for helping me win", or "Thank god they are alright." Now the second one may seem like a non-issue except, again, for the problem of knowing it was indeed God that saved them, but it has another huge issue when used in times of a tragedy.

Recently, for anyone who is allergic to any news, there was an 9.0 magnitude earthquake that moved Japan two feet lower towards sea level, and expected to have a death toll of more than 10 000. A couple of relatives of mine were actually visiting Japan at the time, which caused a fair bit of anxiety and also a comment that I still regret hearing. It was the comment stated above, "Thank god they are alright."

Now obviously this was good news to receive, but given the situation I think the sentiment could have been far better expressed with different words. To attribute those two individuals safety to God and then not have anything to say about God's designing a world that causes such destruction, or his/her/it's inability to save those other 10 000 people, to which there was no relation, is simply to show a complete disregard to the devastation of others, whether it was intended that way or not.

If God is to bestowed thanks for helping save some people in that type of situation God should also be responsible for the blame of not helping the thousands of others, this isn't a dog that could only drag one family to shore, it's a omnipotent being that created the world after all. To 'Thank God' in that situation is to show a perplexing double standard that I can't even began to understand, and an egoism that I would never want to condone. There seems to be an implicit understanding behind the statement that they were worthy of God's help while the thousands of others weren't.

Now  I know that this is a common term and I often fail to even catch myself from saying 'god dammit', but I do think that even as so it does show both an egoism and ignorance to the plight of others.

I'm in no way endorsing any kind of limit on free speech to solve any problem that slightly bothers someone, but I do think that if those types of statements were really thought about they would be made a heck of a lot less often.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic


  1. "If God is to bestowed thanks for helping save some people in that type of situation God should also be responsible for the blame of not helping the thousands of others, this isn't a dog that could only drag one family to shore, it's a omnipotent being that created the world after all."

    Awesome, awesome, awesome. However, in all fairness, those who loved victims of the tragedy also often blame God. Our view of God is purely me-centric. God is good if He is good to me. Otherwise, there is something wrong with Him.

  2. Actually, now that you brought it up, "Thank God," is just about always selfish statement. The only question is, how selfish it is.

    I have something that is very profound to say, but I cannot quite articulate it, partially because I want to plagiarize Thomas Hardy's Hap without it being obvious and partially because his words keep springing to mind. Therefore, I will just quote him:

    IF but some vengeful god would call to me
    From up the sky, and laugh: "Thou suffering thing,
    Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
    That thy love's loss is my hate's profiting!"

    Then would I bear, and clench myself, and die,
    Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
    Half-eased, too, that a Powerfuller than I
    Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

    But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,
    And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
    --Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
    And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan....
    These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
    Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

    Or, to shorten it: Don't blame God and don't thank God. Your life is painful and joyous, and God is generous for doling out joy, then he is guilty of inflicting pain, and vice versa.

  3. Well said, and I never though about it as such a selfish statement, and I'm not sure it is intended to be one.

    I think someone is usually either thanking god honestly or using it purely as an expression of wow that would have sucked if it was different.

    Yet, the thanking is so tied up in a belief system that it really turns out to be a selfish personal statement...which is an agreement with you.