Thursday, August 28, 2008

God and the Hurricane

Picture this.

There's this monster of a hurricane churning in the Gulf of Mexico. And no one knows where it will go. From Mexico to West Florida. It can go anywhere. A large section of the US bible belt coast-line is in the firing line, as is south Texas and northern Mexico. Everyone is worried.

Now, let's focus on a typical rural scenario. There's this small town-by-the-sea somewhere in Louisiana. There's a rather unusual absence of vehicles on the roads. The place bears a deserted look. Because all the cars that are not on the road are at Church. Because, they reckon, only god can save them from the hurricane. Having seen New Orleans after Katrina, their sentiment is understandable. So, they pray. They pray for the hurricane to go away. They pray for the path of the hurricane to spare their helpless little parish.

The aforementioned scenario is generic. Take that scenario and multiply it by the number of churches on the gulf coast (an octillion or so).

And that's how many prayers god received in his inbox one morning, much to his chagrin. All these requests to alter the path of the hurricane posed quite an ugly problem to him. Because, one man's request was another man's nightmare. By responding positively to a prayer from church A in Louisiana, he could in fact be going against a prayer from Church B in Texas - which would cause a mass-loss-of-faith in Texas - something undesirable to god. For religion is all about making people gain faith, not lose it.

God was faced with an extremely tough optimization problem. What course could he undertake to minimize the damage to his good name? He could choose to inflict the damage in the most sparsely populated area along the gulf coast;hHe could also choose to inflict the damage on the area with the least density of believers; on the area with the least number of churches or perhaps the area with the largest number of criminals. To god, the objective function of the optimization problem itself was quite nebulous.

Before we talk about god's decision, let us take a minor digression. Let us talk about a hypothetical little village in northern Mexico. Let's call it D. A wretched, poor little village. A village so poor that most people do not have access to news on TV. A village where most people did not know about the hurricane until the government asked them to evacuate. No time for prayers.

It was quite unfortunate for the residents of D that god decided to go by the "prayer density" objective function. He decided to direct the hurricane into the area from which he received the least number of prayers per hundred documented residents. Thousands perished. D was below sea level.

Moral of story:

Pray. Watch TV. Don't be poor.

Friday, August 22, 2008

To Hell With Endangered Species

Ecosystems on this planet are in an eternal state of flux. Life adapts to its environment in a perpetual sequence of birth and extinction. While few species become dominant and successful - thriving on the available resources, many go extinct, unable to cope up with competition for the eternally scarce resources.

The human race, of late, has found the planet quite welcoming. You can find a human being almost everywhere. From the parched deserts of Saudi Arabia to the frigid infinities of Siberia; from the torrid heat of Sub-saharan Africa to the fertile plains of the Ganga; from the lowlands of death valley (I'm sure there's a guy living there) to the hills of Switzerland.

Just like cancer spreads around the body, the human race has spread around the planet. The human race is a miracle of evolution (so miraculous that most humans themselves, unable to believe it themselves, believe in a "god" to fill up the blank). I feel reasonably sure in contending that it is probably the only race in this history of planet earth which figured out how life came about - or at least made an effort in that direction. (Almost all cultures have made efforts in that direction - even the tribals have dieties that they worship. No culture pulls a blank when they are asked "How did the world come about?".)

The human race has placed a great strain on earth's the eco-system. Modern humans do not compete with other species for resources. Humanity usurps resources at will, driving all competition to extinction. Humanity is to its colleagues in the eco-system what Vito Corleone is to the New York city mobsters. (Only, humanity is not out to exact revenge.)

I am a firm believer in Darwinism. If I were alone in pristine wilderness and I saw an animal wounded, I would not stop and save it. I would let it die (it will feed other littler creatures that count of these sorts of windfalls for their very existence). So, I am more than happy to see the unfit perish.

Animals that are being driven to extinction are being driven to extinction because they are weak. Let them die. Why should we save them?

Additionally, what is the point of saving the tiger in India? Its numbers have dwindled so drastically, that it is as good as inexistent in the larger picture. Its impact on the overall eco-system is exactly zero. I say, to hell with the tiger. Don't waste money trying to conserve it.
They're going to die as soon as we stop pouring money into them. Because they roamed a huge area before. A few square kilometers in a national park are never going to do them any justice.
Spend that money on other environmental causes. Like increasing the number and size of national parks.

The same applies to the california condor (there's about 50 of them left). Because as soon as the efforts stop, the condors will begin their descent into extinction all over again. They just have no habitat left.

The human race likes to get the impression that it is having the cake and eating it too. Just like people get a warm fuzzy feeling when they witness their philanthrophy feeding an underpreviliged third world kid, they get the same feeling when they see their donations rescue a tiger from "extinction".

And to me, there is something fundamentally unethical and hypocritical about eating meat (when there are extremely healthy and tasty vegetarian alternatives) and then making attempts to save endangered species.

The only sustainable way out is to just forget about the tigers and the condors. To hell with endangered species.