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Friday, August 20, 2010

KELO Editorializes, Says God Exists

Media God-talk of the week: KELO appears comfortable endorsing the existence of God. KELO covers the riveting drama of Peter Gladush's van getting whacked by lightning. Reporter Brian Kushida follows Peter Gladush's statement "God saved me" with Kushida's own religious editorializing: "And reminded them just how precious life can be."

I'm not sure which bugs me more: an objective journalist taking a position on the existence of God, or KELO's persistent use of sentence fragments at the end of their reports. "And" + verb... there's not subject!

It also occurs to me that saying "God saved me!" from a lightning bolt is rather like saying John Hinckley, Jr., saved Ronald Reagan by being a really bad shot.

Oddly, neither Kushida nor Gladush editorialize on God's opinion of the Toyota Sienna.


  1. This guy must be living a very clean life. I confess if it had happened to me I would be wondering why God had missed :-). They are lucky that no one was hurt and it does seem to me that it is quite normal and appropriate for a religious person to give God the credit for keeping them safe in an incident like this. I don't see it as editorializing to report what the guy said about his feelings about what happened.

  2. Cory, you've said several times (in my memory) that you're an atheist. I take that to mean "a person who denies the existence of God."

    Is not that very denial an act of faith? And is not faith (and belief, along with superstition) a symptom of intellectual weakness?

    I cannot prove the existence of God, and you cannot disprove it, at least not in the strict sense of logic. So if I express the belief or faith that God exists, while you express an equal belief or faith that It does not exist, then are we not on equally shaky intellectual ground?

    Methinks the true, dispassionate, objective intellectual would call himself or herself an agnostic, harboring no belief about God's existence one way or the other.

    I do not know what makes me more uneasy: A scientist talking about God as if It were an experimentally verifiable (or logically provable) phenomenon or entity, or a religious person attempting to prove the existence of God using scientific reasoning.

  3. Just to be clear, Barry: I certainly don't mind a news story including an interviewee's reference to his own faith. But when the journalist constructs a sentence that includes the interviewee's deity as the active subject and thus asserts the existence of said deity, there is a small but interesting question about objective reporting to be discussed.

    Stan: good point about the conundrum of the atheist's faith. I used the term "faith" earlier today in conversation with my wife: I told her I have faith in her sense of direction and choice of movies. I don't think faith in that case has to indicate intellectual weakness: it just means that, given my ample and enjoyable experience with my wife, I'm sufficiently confident in her ability to make decisions to assume she will choose well. I could be wrong: she could still screw up! But I find it practical to assume she will not screw up.

    I might say something similar about my belief about the non-supernatural nature of the universe. My mostly enjoyable experience with the universe has shown no persuasive evidence of a supernatural force that affects my life. I could be wrong (press me on any issue, and I'll eventually admit that). But "I don't know" is not a practical guiding principle on the God question. I'm either gonna pray, or I'm not. Consider the lightning bolt. Maybe God did lay the whammy on that van. Maybe it was just atmospheric electromagnetics. Whatever the cause, Pete's gotta buy a new van. (Pete could also stick with clean living and try to iddentify what small transgression he might have committed to anger Zeus... but he will probably gain a better percentage on his odds by just not driving so much in thunderstorms.)

    Agnosticism doesn't answer practical questions for me. Atheism does.

    But given all that, does anyone want to change his/her answer on the religion poll in the sidebar? :-)

  4. Cory: After rereading I see now your point(I'm a bit slow sometimes). It could just be bad sentence structure as you point out( something I am quite familiar with as anyone who reads my comments knows well) But yes better writing should be expected from someone who is a professional.As for Stan's point on Agnosticism, I believe that there are very few people that can go though an entire lifetime without some degree of it from time to time.

  5. Not sure about this, since it has been over 40 years since I was in a physics class with information on coulombs laws, etc., but metallic cans (such as cars to an extent) keep the electric charge on the outside surface. That is why people live through lightning strikes on cars. The link below may be headed in the right direction. I am not sure. Perhaps Stan G. can find more relevant science.


  6. Douglas:

    Your assessment is on target as far as my knowledge takes me. But one important caution is in order: If you're in a metal can (such as a car) and happen to also be in contact with an electrical conductor leading to the outside (such as the cable from your car radio antenna), watch out: You forfeit Faraday's supernatural protection.


    You certainly have as much right to deny God's existence as I have to assert it.

    I might define the totality of all things and phenomena in the universe (known and unknown) as "God," and thereby assert that "God" exists by definition. But somehow that seems vacuous ... maybe I should just postulate the existence of God. Then what?

    I could suggest that my "God," defined or postulated, might have a tendency to show more "mercy" upon a person enclosed in a Faraday cage than It would show on someone not therewith enclosed, in the presence of a thunder shower, all other factors remaining constant, which of course they never do.

  7. Douglas,

    (Speaking as someone whose physics knowledge is a bit more recent) Yes, the van (or other metallic vehicle) does form a Faraday cage, which prevents electic fields from passing through. Same reason you don't cook yourself when you use a microwave oven.

  8. And Stan beat me to it. Like he says, don't go sticking your arm out the window in a thunderstorm.

  9. Cory, I think your distinction of God being "supernatural" is perhaps a good one, with the proviso that we don't really know for sure what "natural" means. We're still trying to figure it out.

    I'm also thinking that the concept of "God" doesn't necessarily have to be separate from nature or above nature somehow. It could just refer to that part of nature that we don't yet understand.

    I think you probably use the word "athiest" so as not to have your God concept confused with the traditional "Old Man in a Robe in the Sky" idea so ubiquitous in Abrahamic religious doctrine and imagery.

    It occurs to me that you were probably raised Christian, and so are a cultural Christian if no longer an intellectual one, and that you have perhaps done enough introspection to have experienced a "witness" self silently underlying your sensation of being conscious. Even to the point of redundancy (being consious of being conscious... watching yourself watch yourself.)

    You have perhaps even had what the mystics (and Freud) call the "oceanic" experience where that deep sense of self somehow seems connected to everything else.

    It's not uncommon to have these experiences while making art, playing music, meditating, or just being enraptured in some physical natural activity.

    Key to it is the clarity and lightness that comes when the internal dialogue stops and everything seems to flow together.

    I think of this as "spirituality" and distinguish it from "religion" as the former being an experience whereas the latter is a dogmatic belief system.

    All that said, I'm guessing you're probably an existential Christian Buddhist. Unfortunately, you didn't have that option on your quiz, so I just checked "athiest. "

    But let me confess that I winked when I checked it, brother.

  10. Stan:

    If you take the position that if you can't prove something doesn't exist you should believe in it, there are an infinite number of things you must believe in. Greek gods, eastern gods, the flying spaghetti monster, ghosts, the tooth fairy, etc.

    By requiring proof of something's existence, that creates a finite list of things one must believe in such as gravity, light, etc.

    For me, believing in a finite list of things makes more sense than an infinite. Faith is the act of believing in something for which there isn't any proof.

  11. Bll:

    Nope, those experiences aren't religious in a nature. They can be induced at any time using magnetic fields among other triggers:


    Many other studies back this up. They are simply natural abilities of the human body that can be turned on at our leisure without the need for a supernatural being.

  12. No question that they are neurological effects, Tony (whatever that means... do you know a what it means?)

    That's my point. We like to pretend that because we have a word for something or can make something happen, we understand what it is. Take gravity for example. Or turbulence. If there ever was a candidate for "God" in my book, gravity would be it.

    It's the one force that nobody can explain, it seems unrelated to all the other forces, and yet, it's apparently the cause of everything.

    Talk about gravitas... gravity is some heavy stuff, man.

  13. Tony, just a caution. It's probably not a good idea to ever say "simply" and "natural" to me in the same sentence, or I'll most likely poke a little fun at you.

  14. Michael Black8/20/2010 9:19 PM

    Cory, I've known you for a very long time. I can remember the wild ties of jr high and the wild hair of high school. I've known you as a conservative republican and a liberal democrat. You always gone against the grain.

    My advice is to enjoy life more and rally against the system less.

  15. Miranda Flint8/21/2010 3:40 AM

    Cory: I think your title is a bit misleading. KELO did not say that God existed, though the reporter may have implied it. Another explanation, however, is that the reporter paraphrased comments made by the interviewee.

  16. [Michael, what makes you think I'm not enjoying life?]

    Bill: gravity is a fine puzzle. But so was lightning to our ancestors. So is my rear bike wheel, which keeps breaking spokes despite my diligent efforts to respoke and true it. Absence of a good explanation is not evidence of a deity. It is only evidence that I haven't sufficiently studied the problem .

  17. Cory, let me be more clear. I think what you are saying is that you don't believe there is any other "God" than nature. (i.e. nothing Supernatural.)

    Put another way, you believe nature and God are synonymous. Nature is absolute and omnipotent.

    Is that fair to say, or do you believe something differently?

  18. No. God is not Nature. There is no God. Nature is not a Creator, and I doubt its conscious agency. I would also question the statement "Nature is omnipotent": all power is natural, but that power is not boundless.

  19. Miranda Flint is such a great name. May ip use it in a story?

  20. Curious that you say nature is not a "creator," Cory. Would you prefer the word "converter?" (energy to mass and back to energy?) ...or maybe "recycler?"

    Also, do you think the "bounds" of nature are the laws of physics? i.e. mathematics?

    The overarching question is, do you "believe" any of this? I think "belief" in the absence of conclusive evidence is the definition of faith. And I think the difference between atheists and agnostics is that atheists "believe" and agnostics don't. Agnostics say "I don't know."

    In other words, atheists are believers. People of faith.

    I think that's probably what Stan is getting at.

  21. Sidenote: Personally. I think a gravity bringing a whole bunch of hydrogen together into huge volatile mass, lighting it on fire, converting to it helium and ever heavier metals all the way down to gold and uranium, is a pretty significant act of creation, but hey, that's just me.


  22. Notice that's Creator with a capital C. I use the word above in the sense that Nature isn't some nice lady in wispy robes who gets up one morning and says, "Oh, let's create something. How about cute furry chipmunks?" Hydrogen coalescing into a star is a pretty cool trick, but there is no trickster to whom I can say, "Wow, dude, nice trick!"

    Or in the case of lightning, there is no Zeus to whom I can or should say, "Whoa, thanks for the reminder of life's preciousness" or "Hey! Watch where you throw those things!" Stuff just happens.

  23. Allahu akbar, Cory. God is word accelerating from view at velocities exceeding that of light.

  24. Yes, I'm pretty sure I understand your position, Cory. You are not a dualist. But there are highly conscious, super intelligent beings who manipulate nature and make it do cool stuff, don't you think? I do.

    (I'm talking about human beings, now, but not necessarily human beings exclusively.)

  25. Bill:

    We exist in a space with an arbitrary set of rules. Science is the study and quantification of those rules. Anything that can be consistently explained using those rules is simply the normal function of the space.

    To have a "god", "creator", or something supernatural the rules of the space must be broken in a measurable fashion. The normal function of the space, no matter how complex in appearance, is not evidence for a "god".

    The space itself is also not a "god" because a god is typically defined as something that exhibits intelligence. Rules are not intelligence, they are simply the function of the space.

    For me, evidence of a "god" would be a behavior that violates our scientific understanding of the space in which we exist. However, in all such cases to date, we have been able to use these violations to extend our understanding of the space that we exist in and come to the realization that the behavior was just a simple function of the space.

  26. YouTube took down the copy of Voyager 215 Threshold. The metaphor, 1=infinity, that monotheists employ might be effective iconographically but it has no place in secular journalism.

  27. Tony, which "rules" are you talking about? The Newtonian rules, the Einstein Relativity rules or the Quantum mechanical rules? They all pretty much contradict each other, you know? Even so, were those rules invented (created)? Or discovered? I'll argue that they were invented.

    Also, which space? What do you mean when you say that? Do you mean space/time? Or just space.

    (I warned you not to try to make this sound easy, Tony. :^)

  28. Here's a little video for Tony to ponder.

  29. Cory and Tony: What makes you able to say with certainty that the rules are arbitrary or that nobody is responsible for the processes that allow them to occur? Do you have any thoughts on the idea of an uncaused first cause?

    Larry: It is! I was lucky enough to marry into it. Feel free to use it as you like (though you don't really need my permission).

  30. Miranda: I'm not sure "arbitrary" is the right word. The cosmos's rules certainly don't hinge on any individual's will, and aside from quantum fluctuations, the rules don't seem terribly random. As for deity behind the curtain, as I noted to Stan above, I have yet to see a compelling practical need for including such an additional component in my worldview. Positing God as uncaused first cause defies our everyday experience and logic no less than positing a godless universe that simply came to be à la quantum fluctuation. Neither position improves my daily decision-making and problem-solving capacity (though questions related to those positions certainly provoke good blog discussion!), so I'm comfortable defaulting to keeping it simple and not adding arbitrary Creators to my occasional glances at the grand scheme of things.

  31. Bill, assume that a God as a Creator actually exists and give us your estimate of the probability that such a God actually exists somewhere.

  32. So Cory, do you think consciousness is a function of quantum fluxuations? Perhaps the whole "God" question boils down to the that answer.

    Put another way... where do thoughts come from? What gives rise to them? Are they essential and fundamental? Or just so much static discharge?

  33. Douglas, if I assume that God exists (as you suggest), then the probability of that existence would be 1:1, wouldn't it? You either is, or you ain't.

    As for the "somewhere" part, God by definition would have to exist everywhere (whatever "everywhere" means.)

  34. Bill:

    The rules you point to do not contradict each other. They are only valid when applied to limited problem sets. Saying they contradict each other is like saying that I should be able to measure time in units of mass. The metrics only apply to specific problem sets. Now, if you are saying that because these rules aren't universal they are evidence of god that is where we disagree.

    The rules you point to were discovered. Invention would require something new to be created. The rules are discovery of natural phenomena.

    I mean space in the most abstract fashion. An arbitrary number of both dimensions and rules. Though any distinction is moot.

    And yes Bill, this is simple. We exist in a space with arbitrary rules. If you take anything in this space as evidence of a creator, you must logically accept any number of creators without discrimination.

  35. Miranda Flint:

    I'm agree with CAH that I cannot conclusively say that the space and rules are arbitrary. There could be a hidden creator that keeps its presence a secret. But, if it chooses to do so then my existence would be untouched by it and I would see no proof of its existence. Believing in something without proof is beyond me.

    Now, let's say that someone is willing to believe in something without proof. Let's, call it faith. If that is the case, then such a person must believe in an infinite number of creators. There is no way to discriminate against what exists outside our space. So there could be 1, 10, 100, etc. Or none. Such an individual would have to believe in everything and nothing at the same time.

    With regards to an uncaused first cause, that gets quite fuzzy. In our space some things appear to have causes and specific outcomes. In our daily life, that is generally how we see the world. However, at the quantum level, such rules appear to change and new phenomena emerge. Cause and outcome are not necessarily well defined. Doing the exact same thing five times may result in five different outcomes.

    So, I take issue even with the concept of a first cause as it's classically defined. Such a behavior may have functioned in a way that we expected, or might be something fantastically different. I don't have a clear answer for you, but I hope that one day once our understanding of physics is more clear there will be one.

  36. This is human chauvinism at its most ut. Food and reproduction--that's all there is. We are taking our seed into space because it perpetuates our species.

    If humans extinguish themselves before we phone home some other species will emerge to do it.

  37. Bill, after I posted that question, I realized it was poorly phrased making little sense as you also noticed. Most blogs do not allow immediate corrections.

    Try this. What probability do you assign to the actual existence of a God as a Creator?

  38. Tony, for the sake of continuing the dialogue, I'll argue that there is only one thing and that your impression of there being many is an illunsion. A mental construct. A human creation.

    This, I believe, would be consistent with the Spinoza/Einstein/Vedanta "monist" world view.

    Again, I think you and Core might be still thinking I am talking about a dualist philosophy/theology, when in fact, I am not.

  39. (...I'll have to add here that Tony, Douglas and Cory are sounding a lot like engineers here, and this conversation is taking on a shape similar to many I've heard between artists and mechanics.)

    To describe a passage of music, or a dance, or a painting in technical, mathematical, atomistic, analytic terms is of course possible, but it almost always misses the larger point.

    The sheet music to a violin piece is one thing, but having your heart broken listening to a master play it is quite another.

    And something tells me there is more to this transcendent emotional response than mere biochemistry.

    I do wonder sometimes,if just we humans get happy or sad depending on whether a major or a minor 3rd is being played, or if everything does. ;^)

  40. Douglas, if you'll accept my premise that God=Nature=Everything, I would say 100%, although I'll have to waffle on whether it is "creation" or "conversion" as per my discussion with Cory.

  41. (I sound like an engineer? That must be why my art career hasn't taken off. ;-) )

    Bill, I'm still struggling with your desire to posit God at the beginning of that equality, God=Nature=Everything. Are you saying that nature (and we engineers :-) ) can't explain joy, love, etc.? I'll go there if you want, and I won't appeal to dualism. My emotions and moral sense are as real as my digestion. They exist as part of this mechanistic universe, and I enjoy them nonetheless for their mechanistic origin. I can't fully explain them (though Tony's notes above about tickling certain areas of the brain help), but I don't feel the need to invoke "God" to deal with their existence.

    Plus, in this culture, I don't dare invoke "God," since that will only confuse people. God does not equal Nature. There is just Nature. Nature is not a god with intent or will that we must divine. It is not a being whom we must placate or supplicate.

    (Please don't take my response as hot, Bill—I enjoy this exchange! I'm just trying to be bluntly clear, without intent of personal offense.)

  42. Cory, I don't take them as hot, although if they were it would be okay with me. I feel like we've become good enough internet pals to have a little heated exchange now and then without there being any threat to our mutual respect for each other.

    The order of the equation is purely arbitrary on my part, although I see how it could look like I were perhaps saying more than I intend. As far as I'm concerned it could go "Everything=Nature=God" and still convey exactly the same meaning.

    And I agree that the word "God" pushes a lot of hot buttons and think it wise of you to avoid using it in many if not all cultural contexts.

    All this kind of strengthens my original suspicion of your being an existential Christian Buddhist.

    And not necessarily "just" an engineer. ;^)

  43. Footnote: Just as I think it is unwise to separate God from nature, so to do I think it unwise for us to separate ourselves from it. And that's my problem with the analytical approach. We try to objectify that which can't be objectified. (Think Schrödinger's cat). We are intimately involved with nature, and not, as some believe, the "masters" or even the "Stewards" of it. We are IT.

  44. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

  45. I can agree with most of that, Bill, especially the comment about how we can't separate ourselves from nature and the objects we observe. (That's the point I've been trying to make to my profs about the need to drop the facade that we researchers can be objective and separate from the information systems we research. We are in the soup! Our narratives shape reality!)

    Existentialist Christian Buddhist:
    --existentialist: I don't use the word much myself (except as a prefix for angst), but I might accept other observers' use of it (as long as it doesn't mean I'm agnostic!)
    --Christian: I'm definitely Lutheran by osmosis past and present, but it's an incomplete osmosis. I can agree with my wife about nearly everything except those niggling fundamental axioms about God and Jesus. Those niggles are sufficient for me to say that one cannot describe me as Christian except maybe with heavy irony.
    --Buddhist: I have not read the teachings of Buddha, so I can't be described as a follower of his teachings. Plus, karma and rebirth don't fit my worldview. There might at best be some fortuitous overlap between the Buddha's conclusions about reality and my own... but as I said, I haven't read enough to know!

  46. Okay, Cory, that's probably as close as we're going to get until (if/when) you decide to brush up on your Buddhism studies.

    But be forewarned, there are at least as many "flavors" of Buddhism as there are Christianity, and you don't have to know about ANY of them to be one.

    In fact, one of great Zen koans has one monk saying to the other, "If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him."


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