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Ten Reasons Gay Marriage is Un-American [Aug. 29th, 2007|09:28 am]
[mood |amusedamused]

Here's something funny I found this morning at a blog that Google Reader pointed me to:

Ten Reasons Gay Marriage is Un-American

  • Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.
  • Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.
  • Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.
  • Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn’t changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can’t marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.
  • Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Britany Spears’ 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.
  • Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn’t be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren’t full yet, and the world needs more children.
  • Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.
  • Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That’s why we have only one religion in America.
  • Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That’s why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.
  • Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven’t adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

Jack

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A Parents' Prayer [Jul. 31st, 2007|05:49 pm]
[Tags|]
[mood |chipperchipper]

Recently at church the sermons have been family/parenting themed, and they handed out this prayer for parents to say. I found it touching and I've been meaning to post on it for a while. I hope this will stick in parents' minds and help them do a better job, even if they're already doing great. I hope that those who aren't religious will strip out that language and keep the essence of the message in their mind. So, for all of you who have parents, are parents, or will be parents someday, this one's for you:


Dear Lord,

Help me to understand my children, to listen patiently to what they have to say, and to answer all their questions kindly. Make me as courteous to them as I would have them be to me. Give me the courage to confess my sins against my children and to ask them for forgiveness when I know that I have done them wrong.

May I not hurt the feelings of my children. Forbid that I should laugh at their mistakes or resort to shame and ridicule as punishment. Let me not tempt a child to lie or steal.

Reduce, I pray, the meanness in me. May I cease to nag, and when I am out of sorts may I hold my tongue.

Blind me to the little errors of my children and help me to see the good things they do.

Help me to treat my children as those of their own age, but let me not exact of them the judgments and conventions of adults. Allow me not to rob them of the opportunity to wait on themselves, to think, to choose, and to make decisions.

Forbid that I should punish them for my selfish satisfaction. May I grant them their wishes that are reasonable and have the courage to withhold a privilege which I know will do them harm.

Make me so fair and just, so considerate and companionable to my children, that they will have a genuine esteem for me. Fit me to be loved and imitated by my children.

With all these gifts, O God, do give me calm and poise and self-control.
Amen.

Jack

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Siren Song of the Counter Culture [Jul. 24th, 2007|12:54 am]
[Tags|, ]
[mood |awakeawesome]
[music |Rise Against]

I just got back from a Rise Against concert. They're a punk metal band that creates huge amounts of energy with their music, and then channels that energy towards social action and making the world a better place. They're a really metal-y for a punk band, but a bit too punk to be called a metal band, as far as their sound goes. As for their worldview, they are definitely punks in the best sense. I love them for their encouragement and motivation to do good in the world.

Here's a sample of their lyrics, kinda smushed together from several songs:

If we're the flagship of peace and prosperity,
We're taking on water and about to fuckin' sink!
No one seems to notice! No one even blinks!
The crew all left the passengers to die under the sea...

Countdown, to the very end.
Equality - an invitation that we won't extend.
Ready, aim - pull the trigger now!
Firmly secure your place in hell!

'GUILTY' is what our graves will read!
No years, no family, we did
NOTHING (nothing) to stop the murder of
a people just like us!

So please believe your eyes - a sacrifice is not what we had in our minds.
Today I offer all myself to this -
I'm living for my dying wish.
I give it all!
Now there's a reason -
there's a reason to give it all.

Blind to this impending fate,
we let the world carry our weight.
Its back breaks with every mile,
but we all live in denial!

Can we be saved? Has the damage all been done?
Is it too late to reverse what we've become?
Save us from what we have become tonight -
Eyes glazed with distrust, no sense of wrong or right!

The drones all slave away - they're working overtime.
They serve a faceless queen, they never question why.
Disciples of a God that neither lives nor breathes -
"But we have bills to pay, yeah we have mouths to feed!"

Life for you has been less than kind,
So take a number, stand in line.
We've all been sorry, we've all been hurt.
But how we survive is what makes us who we are.

I may write about individual songs later. I'd be happy to elaborate on my interpretation of them if you would like to hear. Just lemme know!

Jack

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God, Freedom, and Evil [Jul. 7th, 2007|12:18 pm]
[Tags|, , ]
[mood |chipperchipper]

I've recently finished an amazing philosophy book: Alvin Plantiga's God, Freedom, and Evil. It was incredible! Alvin Plantinga is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He's heralded on the back of the book as "one of the top Christian philosophers in the world today" (which, it should be noted, is different from a "Christian theologian"). I really like his writing style - he's a captivating writer, he clearly states and numbers the propositions he's discussing, like physics or math textbooks do, and he uses the language of logic in a way that powerfully augments his arguments and explanations.

Plantinga has done a great job of keeping the scope of the book very very narrow, so that he can focus a lot of attention on the intricacies of the key arguments and not overwhelm the reader. The first half is devoted to discussing famous arguments of "Natural Atheology", which he describes as "the attempt to prove that God does not exist or at any rate it is unreasonable or irrational to believe that He does" (p.7). His focus is on the Problem of Evil, which is roughly the question: "Why does God permit evil?" The atheologist typically begins his argument like this:

If God is as benevolent as the Christian theists claim, He must be just as appalled as we are at this evil. But if He is also as powerful as they claim, then presumably He is in a position to do something about it. So why does He permit it? Why doesn't He arrange things so that these evils don't occur? That should have been easy enough for one as powerful as He. (p.9)

He makes it quite clear that he does not intend to offer a theodicy - a specification of God's exact reason for permitting evil - since "the fact that the theist doesn't know why God permits evil is, perhaps, and interesting fact about the theist, but by itself it shows little or nothing relevant to the rationality of belief in God" (p.10). Rather, he limits the scope of his arguments solely to refuting the claim that the following set of statements (set A) is inconsistent (contradictory):

  1. God is omnipotent
  2. God is wholly good
  3. Evil exists

The idea is that there isn't an explicit contradiction in A, and no contradiction can be derived from A plus the rules of logic (an implicit contradiction), so one has to add some more (necessarily true) propositions to A to make it inconsistent. The two additional propositions that John Mackie suggests are (I'm following Plantinga's numbering here - he discusses a few propositions in between):

  1. A good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can
  2. There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do

For the sake of discussion, Plantinga concedes that even an omnipotent being is limited by the laws of logic, a position I take myself to have refuted in a previous post. However, as he rightly points out, "the theist who thinks that the power of God isn't limited at all, not even by the laws of logic, will be unimpressed by Mackie's argument and won't find any difficulty in the contradiction set A is alleged to contain" (p.18). So, proposition 20 becomes:

  1. There are no nonlogical limits to what an omnipotent being can do

It's a powerful tactic in arguments to concede some of an opponent's premises (or even a sub-conclusion or two) simply for the sake of argument, and then proceed to show that even so, they fail to establish the conclusion they're ultimately aiming at. In that way, we show that though we disagree about some premises or intermediate conclusions, it doesn't even matter if our opponent is correct about them, which saves lots of effort in argument trying to refute a claim that's not important anyway. Thus, we shall proceed as if we believed that God is indeed bound by logic, in hopes that we can show that even so, the natural atheologist's arguments fail to establish the intended conclusion.

After much discussion, Plantinga settles on a version of claim 19 that goes as follows:

  1. An omnipotent and omniscient good being eliminates every evil that it can properly eliminate - that is, it eliminates every evil state of affairs such that in so doing it does not also eliminate an outweighing good or bring about a greater evil.

So now, all taken together, we have a new, slightly expanded set A:

  1. God is omnipotent
  2. God is wholly good
  3. Evil exists
  4. An omnipotent and omniscient good being eliminates every evil that it can properly eliminate - that is, it eliminates every evil state of affairs such that in so doing it does not also eliminate an outweighing good or bring about a greater evil.
  5. There are no nonlogical limits to what an omnipotent being can do

Is this set inconsistent? The natural atheologist's aim is to show how claims 1, 2, 19, and 20 require that there is no evil - that is, that claim 3 is false. But those claims aren't sufficient to establish that there is no evil at all, just that "there is no evil that God can properly eliminate" (p.22). Another proposition must be added to A in order to make it inconsistent:

  1. If God is omniscient and omnipotent, then he can properly eliminate every evil state of affairs

But is claim 21 necessarily true? In short: no. There are certain good states of affairs that "can't exist apart from evil of some sort. For example, there are people who display a sort of creative moral heroism in the face of suffering and adversity - a heroism that inspires others and creates a good situation out of a bad one. In a situation like this the evil, of course, remains evil; but the total state of affairs ... may be good" (p.23). The evil here would be one that God is not capable of properly eliminating - God could not eliminate the evil without also eliminating the outweighing good that comes along with it.

It seems like the natural atheologist has more work cut out for him than he realized:

Our discussion thus far shows at the very least that it is no easy matter to find necessarily true propositions that yield a formally contradictory set when added to set A. One wonders, therefore, why the many atheologians who confidently assert that this set is contradictory make no attempt whatever to show that it is. For the most part they are content just to assert that there is a contradiction here. Even Mackie, who sees that some "additional premises" or "quasi-logical rules" are needed, makes scarcely a beginning towards finding some additional premises that are necessarily true and that together with the members of set A formally entail an explicit contradiction. (p.23-4)

It may be tempting to take a deep breath and rest assured that all this discussion means that set A is indeed consistent. Unfortunately, that's not the case. All we have seen so far is that the somewhat naive first attempts of natural atheology have failed to establish their intended conclusion - they haven't found any necessarily true propositions that they can add to set A that lead to a contradiction. However, we haven't shown that they will never find such propositions - that is, we haven't shown that set A is consistent, just that the natural atheologists have failed to show it to be inconsistent so far.

It's also important to understand that even if we are able to prove that set A is indeed logically consistent, we have not given a proof for God's existence - we have only secured this set of properties against these arguments, but there may be other arguments and other sets of properties that lead to a logical contradiction in asserting that God exists. Still less will have given a proof that the omnipotent being has the properties and personality traits (all Good, all loving, etc.) that we Christians commonly ascribe to God. We must be mindful of the scope of our arguments so that we stay humble and avoid hubris.

Showing set A to be consistent is the objective of the rest of the first half of God, Freedom, and Evil, the discussion of which will have to be deferred to a later date.

Thanks for reading!

Jack

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Take the Doritos X-13D Challenge!* [Jun. 30th, 2007|08:12 pm]
[mood |curiouscurious]
[music |Red Hot Chili Peppers - 21st Century]

So I found this new "experimental" flavor of Doritos at the store the other day, and they have a contest to figure out a name for the new flavor. I decided to give it a try, and the name came to me within 2 chips: McDonald's Double Cheeseburger! These chips taste exactly like McDonald's in bag! Including the low-quality onions, pickles, mustard, and cheese! All it's missing is the grease!

So here's the challenge:

  1. Get yourself a bag of Doritos X-13D chips.
  2. Go to McDonald's.
  3. Sit down with the chips and a double cheeseburger, eat them side by side, and try to figure out the difference in taste. (Of course, the textures will be different - crunchy chips vs. greasy... uh... greaseplop.)

And that's it. Oh - and please let me know if you find any. I'd also be interested to hear what you think the X-13D tastes like.

Jack

*Not endorsed by Doritos in any way.

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Life at Amazon.com [Jun. 10th, 2007|09:15 pm]
[Tags|]
[mood |chipperchipper]

So, I guess I'll follow Ben Pu's example and write a little about life at the company I'm interning for this summer. Of course, I've got to be careful not to violate my NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), so I won't go into very much detail about the technical inner-workings of Amazon.com. I'll mainly stick to the sort of high-level stuff. I've also followed his example of googling stuff before talking about it, though I don't post as many links.


Perks & Such

Amazon gives a lot of perks to its employees. Part of the intern package is (pretty much) free relocation - plane tickets both ways, taxi rides to and from the airport both ways (so, 4 total), meals while traveling, up to $200 of shipping stuff each way, and either heavily subsidized corporate housing or a huge stipend for rent (on top of the rather generous salary). We get a free King County bus pass, which is really valuable because the bus system here is one of the best in the country - I honestly don't need a car in this town. And of course, there's the employee discount and the company store ;).


Office Awesomeness

I work at the Pac Med office in Seattle. It's the only building that Amazon doesn't share with other companies. Our other buildings are around downtown Seattle, and there's a shuttle service between them that runs quite frequently. The idea of getting an Amazon campus isn't popularly supported due to the consequences it entails. Employees at Pac Med are allowed to bring their dogs to work, and it's commonplace to see them walking around the office. There's a Sodexho cafeteria built in, which is pretty good for cafeteria food. It's also just a shuttle-ride away from the International District (as in, the Asian District) or the TCC with its amazing food court. Finally, I don't work in a cubicle, but instead I have a door desk in an open area with 6 other people around. What's a door desk? Greg Linden has this to say: "Buy a wooden door, preferably a hollow core wooden door with no holes predrilled. Saw a couple 4" x 4" x 6' pillars in half. Bolt them to the door with a couple of scary looking angle brackets. Put it in front of a programmer. Door desk." My door desk is awesome.


Business Model Stuff

Our CEO, Jeff Bezos, came up with the idea of the "Two Pizza Team". If you can't feed a team with two pizzas, it's too large. Large teams lead to lots of communication overhead, which severely limits productivity. Teams at Amazon are given a lot of autonomy. Also, it's a very informal atmosphere, so I could walk into anyone's office and ask a question or just say hi. I really like it.


Miscellany

Amazon also has lots of great community stuff going on. There are a bunch of email lists for people to join, ranging from tech help to your team's list to "RealPolitik" or the craiglist-like "for-sale". There are also several affinity groups, like GLAmazon (Gays & Lesbians at Amazon). There's also a group for blacks and one for women.


Anyway, that's enough for now. I've gotta go to sleep - work comes early tomorrow! ;)

Jack

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I Really Wish People Would Stop Setting Themselves on Fire... [Jun. 2nd, 2007|08:55 pm]
[mood |blahblah]

Because I live right next to a fire station, and it's getting old.

Jack
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Recent Excitement [May. 31st, 2007|09:29 pm]
[Tags|]
[mood |chipperchipper]
[music |Ozzy Osbourne - The Almighty Dollar]

So I've been back in Seattle for 2 weeks. It's been an exciting time, with many adventures to tell tales of. But where to begin? Hmm... Ah! I know!

When me and my roommate moved in, we realized that we'd vastly underestimated how unfurnished an "unfurnished" apartment really was. All we had was the standard household machines - fridge, microwave, oven, dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer. No furniture of any kind - no couches, no tables, no chairs, and NO BEDS. We didn't even have shower curtains! So, we went right to work finding furniture solutions, and we decided to rent from a place a few blocks from our house. We had to sleep on the floor until the furniture finally came, which turned out to be an entire week! I used to complain about making my bed, but boy does it feel good to have a bed to make!

Now we're almost civilized! We've got food, plates to eat it on, tables to put the plates on, chairs to sit in, beds to sleep in... man, we've got it all! We even found a free TV on craigslist! It's been a pretty wild ride getting all settled without the corporate housing option...

We bought one of the most amazing contraptions ever to put in our house. Notice who uploaded those photos ;). That's also the feature that I'm working on at work: the Customer Image Uploads stuffs. Go ahead and mouseover the pictures and see all the beautiful JavaScripty goodness! :D

I just submitted my very first feature today. I even got it past the code review stage! Hopefully it'll go into production soon enough (that's SDE talk for "I hope users will be able to see it on the website soon enough"). It's pretty exciting to have something cool like that done in the first 2 weeks of work! That being said, please feel free to make suggestions to me about how to improve the Customer Image Uploads feature, or any other part of the Amazon.com site, for that matter. If I can't fix it myself (which will likely be the case, given that I have an assignment to do and deadlines to do it by), I can at least find out who to route it to and get it taken care of (eventually).

Aside from all that, we've been enjoying ourselves here in the city. The weather's been spectacular - sunny, low 70's to high 80's with negligible humidity. We've been visiting all our favorite restaurants, like "Mexico", "The Old Spaghetti Factory", and "Roti", as well as finding some new ones, like "Phuket" (pronounced however you like ;)). I saw Pirates 3 in a really awesome theater - bigger than the Statler Auditorium, for you Cornellians. It's awesome, btw - much better than the 2nd one. Other than that, just hanging out and stuff.

Alright, I've run out of quick-overview type stuff to talk about. Feel free to comment/IM/email/call me if you wanna chat about something in more detail. I'll be posting more soon!

Jack

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Travel Adventures [May. 19th, 2007|05:43 pm]
[Tags|]
[mood |discontentdiscontent]

I'm back in Seattle! YES!

It was kind of a rough first night though. I got in last night at 10pm local time, which would be 1am EST. Of course, the apartment office isn't going to be open at 10pm, which I realized during my layover in Philadelphia. I was going to have to find a hotel to stay at. My apartment office person gave me a number to call of a Travelodge about 2 blocks away. I called them, but they were full. They gave me the number to one of their locations "near the airport". I put that in quotes because that's what they said, but as it turns out, they were completely wrong. I called the number they gave me for that location, booked a room, and relaxed because I had just averted a disaster. Or so I thought.

<RANT>

When I got into the airport and waited around for forever for the Travelodge shuttle to get there, it took me to the nearest Travelodge. To my dismay, the guy at the front desk told me that he didn't have a reservation for me. Not only that, but then he said that there weren't any rooms available there. That's when I got pissed. My body thought that it was about 2am (by then), I made and paid for a reservation so that I could sleep somewhere once I got to my new city, and now I find out that I was misled by representatives of the company that was supposed be about hospitality. I called the number of the place where I did make a reservation, and they told me they were actually in Tacoma, a city that's all the way across Seattle from where I was. They said I should get a taxi from the Travelodge I was at, and pay $50 to get to the Travelodge over there. I told them that that was ridiculous, and asked if they would pay for my taxi trip, since I was given faulty information by a member of their company. When they refused, I told them to cancel my reservation, since there were plenty of hotels right near the airport that I could stay at. They told me that they can't cancel the reservation without 24 hours notice (which would have been impossible in my case, since I made the reservation about 8-9 hours before). I would either have to rent 2 rooms that night, or pay for a taxi ride that would be just about as expensive as renting a room... This is bullshit.

The guy at the front desk let me rent a room anyway, even though he said they were full up. He said that about 15 or so of the people with reservations hadn't shown up yet (by about midnight), and he expected there to be at least 1 that wouldn't show up at all. I was grateful. I thanked him, took my stuff up to my room, and promptly went to sleep. I paid for 2 rooms last night because the person answering the phone when I called had no idea what they were talking about. What a pain in the ass.

As soon as the week gets started, I'm going to try to convince my credit card company to put a stop payment on the charge for the unused room. They don't deserve my money. Fuck them.

</RANT>

On a lighter note, I'm now moved into my new apartment! It's a beautiful day! I'm starting work on Monday! Woohoo! :D

Jack

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The Limits of Omnipotence [May. 1st, 2007|12:47 am]
[Tags|, ]
[mood |pensivepensive]
[music |A Perfect Circle - Weak and Powerless]

As my class in Kant took its course through the "Ideal of Pure Reason", the third and final chapter of the second book of the Transcendental Dialectic in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, I was once again catapulted into the subspace of Metaphysics concerning God. This is by far one of the most interesting parts of philosophy, in my humble opinion. During the class discussion it was brought to my attention that most of the philosophically-trained population regards the realm of metaphysical possibility to be properly contained in the realm of logical possibility. That's philosophese for "God can't do anything that's not logically possible".

The realm of metaphysical possibility is generally regarded as those effects that an omnipotent being could cause. The realm of logical possibility contains every effect that does not imply a logical contradiction (A and not A). For example, it would be logically impossible for an apple to be red-all-over and green-all-over at the same time, because obviously if an apple that was red-all-over had even the slightest bit of green on it, it would fail to be red-all-over, which would contradict our assumption. Of course, properly contained within these is the realm of physical possibility (what we can do in the external world), and within that the realms of economic possibility (what we can afford), legal possibility (what the law allows), political possibility, moral possibility, etc etc. These lesser realms are all overlapping each other, at it would seem that none properly contains any other. Of course, you can come up with realms of possibility and reason about how they fit in with the others as much as you like, but I shall leave that as an exercise for the reader.

So anyway, during the class discussion, my professor and I agreed that the proposition that "the realm of metaphysical possibility is properly contained within the realm of logical possibility" is, in short, total crap. But before we get into exactly why that is, let us review some basic properties of arguments (a.k.a. "proofs", for the loose-of-tongue).

The basic components of an argument are the premises, a logical progression, and a conclusion. All arguments aim to "prove" that the conclusion is true by following a logical progression from the premises. An argument is said to be "valid" if all the steps in the logical progression are correct - that is, if they do not contain any invalid moves, called "fallacies". This is analogous to the steps of algebraic manipulation, how each algebraic step follows from the previous one by some theorem or another. An argument is said to be "sound" if it is valid AND all of its premises are true. One can show that the argument fails to establish its conclusion by finding a logical fallacy or by showing one or more premises to be false. It's important to note that this is quite far from showing that the conclusion is false, and instead only shows that the argument presented is insufficient to prove that it is true. Asserting that a conclusion is false is a much stronger claim, which requires showing its negation to be true - another whole argument with its own premises and logical progression.

There are many logical fallacies out there that everyone commits from time to time, often without realizing it until someone else points it out. The fallacy we're going to concern ourselves with here is that of "Begging the Question". The fallacy of Begging the Question is one in which the argument uses the conclusion itself as a premise that is then used to establish the conclusion. This is often considered to be a form of circular reasoning. In it's simplest formulation, an argument that begs the question takes the form "Assume p. Aha! Therefore, p!" In a strict sense of "valid", this argument is completely valid - there is nothing wrong with the logic here. After all, given p we definitely have p, right? However, it makes no progress to establishing p on its own, and requires some outside argument to save it. If no outside argument exists that could save it, we're stuck not knowing the truth-value of the conclusion. For a powerful example of Begging the Question with profound consequences, please see David Hume's Problem of Induction.

So what does all this have to do with the limits of omnipotence? Recall the original claim: "the realm of metaphysical possibility is properly contained within the realm of logical possibility", or, equivalently: "an omnipotent being (God) can't do anything that's not logically possible". The question that's just begging to be asked is really quite simple: "Why is the power of God bound by logic?" Take a moment to ponder that question. After long enough you'll come to realize that any argument aiming to establish that logic limits the power of God - any argument at all - must use logic. A core component of every argument is reasoning governed by rules for rational thought (precisely what logic is). Without logic, there is no argument - there is no reasoning. Thus any argument to establish that God is bound by logic must assume that God is bound by logic in order to use logic to show that God is bound by logic. Sound familiar? You guessed it: that's a pretty serious case of begging the question. In fact, unless some premise of mine is unsound or I've committed some logical fallacy, we've just established that there is no possible argument capable of showing God's power to be bound by logic. We simply do not have the intellectual capacity to put limits on God's power. For all we can tell, it is well within God's power to create a boulder heavier than God can lift and then proceed to lift it, or to microwave a burrito hotter than God can eat and then proceed to eat it. It may never make sense to us, but it doesn't seem like there's any way around it. It would appear that, just as anything outside of space or outside of time is beyond the realm of our possible experience, anything outside of the realm of logical possibility is beyond our possible understanding.

Thanks Kant!

Jack

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