Saturday, March 14, 2015

Grass Eating (啃老族)

Shawn Chuang’s name was Shawn Chuang, but everyone called him Steve Chuang. He lived with his mother in a large flat above a bowling alley in the Shih Lin district of Taipei. The flat was large and the sofa in the flat was large and Shawn Chuang spent a lot of time on the sofa.

Though Shawn had been out of university for two years, he still hadn’t found gainful employment.

Shawn’s mother nagged him daily to find a job, any job. It wasn’t that Shawn hadn’t tried. In the two years since graduating, he had applied at three different companies for jobs. But finding work was basically impossible.

It hadn’t always been like this. As a kid Shawn had shown great signs of intelligence. Sooner than other kids, he yawned, he ate, he daydreamed. He could turn on devices with his fingers.

And Shawn was braver than other kids. He launched a rocket under his bed. He fired a cannonball at his navel. He swallowed gum--at a time when other kids still believed their mothers who said gum must be spat out. He combed a stray dog’s fur with his own comb. He put a cockroach in his shirt in math class. And left it there.

The girls admired Shawn for this bravery, showing their admiration by saying “Gross!”

In all these ways Shawn showed great promise as a child. It looked as if he would have a brilliant future. But now what?

Shawn lay on the large sofa in the large flat and considered his prospects. His major had been chemical engineering, but what could one do with that?

Just the day before Shawn had seen a TV show about Taipei young people who had learned to turn their hobbies into small businesses. The lesson of the show was “Do what you love, and you will be successful!” The host suggested the first thing for a young person to do was make a list of things they loved doing, then consider which one might be turned to profit.

Shawn took a piece of scrap paper from the coffee table and started to write his list. After fifteen minutes he had a handful of items to consider. He went through the list one by one.

Item 1: “Getting up after 11.”

It would be great, Shawn thought, but I don’t see a way to make money from getting up after 11:00 a.m. Too bad.

He crossed out item 1 on his list.

Item 2: “Putting feet up on the coffee table.”

It was true Shawn loved doing this, and he could get away with it when his mother was out, but he couldn’t see any way to make money from it. Could he maybe charge old people to help them put their feet up on their coffee tables?

He didn’t cross out number 2, but kept it open for further thought.

Item 3: “Scratch back on door frame.”

After graduating from university, Shawn discovered a great way to scratch his back on the door frame between his bedroom and the hallway. Could he maybe teach other people to scratch their backs this way? He could go to houses and say: “Hey, I know a secret way to scratch your back that is awesome, and if you pay me 250NT I will teach you.”

At first Shawn liked the idea. But then: Not everybody has itchy backs, he thought. And what if their door frames aren’t good for scratching?

He scratched out item 3.

Item 4: “Computer games.”

He crossed out item 4. If you want to make money from games, you have to be a game designer, and he didn’t know how to use the software.

Without even thinking about items 5 and 6, Shawn tossed his list on the floor.

If I could only make money somehow without leaving the house, that would be the best, he thought. Or if I could make money by staying in the neighborhood. I have to think of something I can do right near here.

Shawn considered it a great rule of life not to leave the house if he could avoid it and not to use any kind of transportation to go to other parts of the city. It had already been three months since he’d left the city block where his mother’s flat was.

Hm. There was that one time Mom bent that fork and I used my teeth to bend it back. Maybe I could open a small silverware repair shop and do pretty well for myself. Shawn’s Silverware Rebend. Maybe I could start to put some money aside.

Or how about hide and seek? Everyone likes hide and seek. If people gave me their things before they went to work I could hide the stuff in the neighborhood during the day and when they came home they could try to find it. I could charge 50NT for every fifteen minutes of seeking, which would be fun for the people after a boring day at the office and would besides encourage them to move faster, getting some exercise, because they'd know the longer it took to find their stuff the more expensive the game would be. I bet I could turn a pretty penny with the city’s first Hide and Seek company.

Or I could help the police with crime investigation by working with hair evidence. Whenever there's a bunch of hair on the ground or the stairs I can always tell which hairs come from which persons. Just by holding them up in the light. The police could call me in to help solve crimes.

Shawn imagined a scene in a crime documentary where the police detective is carefully examining the surface of a sofa. “Get Shawn here,” the detective says gravely to his assistant.

Shawn was imagining more scenes from the same documentary when his mother entered the living room.

“Hey, I told you to bring in the laundry!” she snapped. “Get off that sofa already! It’s almost 2:00 p.m.”

“I’m thinking about possible jobs,” Shawn said.

And he explained to his mother his idea for the Hide and Seek company, and after he was done explaining it the strangest thing happened: his mother removed the slipper from her left foot and came over to the sofa and started beating Shawn's head with it.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” Shawn protested as the dusty slipper whacked repeatedly against his head and other parts of his body.

“If you don’t get off your ass and find a job this summer, I’m going to throw away your iPad!” his mother yelled. “I’ve already thought about doing it. I’ve had it in my hand and was this far from junking it. I swear I’ll do it next time too if you don’t get out and find a goddamn job!”

Shawn felt a wave of nervousness wash over him. Throw away his iPad? Things were getting serious.

After his mother had stormed back into the kitchen, Shawn reached down and picked his list up off the floor. He wrote down a number 7 for item 7. He set himself to thinking.

by Eric, Ryan, Claire (范姜詠欣) and Anthony (黃聖翔) at ZEI

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Science Now Makes the Case for God

The Carina Nebula

For a long time the discoveries of science have been used to show up the biblical account of creation as extremely improbable. Certainly the timeline suggested in the book of Genesis could not be literally true, and in many other areas as well the accounts found in the Bible didn’t mesh with the physical world as we now understand it. In fact, since the 19th century science has been generally seen as a force tending to undermine the faith of religious people.

But this has changed markedly in the past few decades.

Contrary to popular belief, there is now a very strong scientific argument for the existence of an Intelligent Creator. And again contrary to what many people think, it has nothing to do with rejecting Charles Darwin.

As a Christian, I personally have never subscribed to Intelligent Design at the level of species, which is the way many researchers approached it. To do so is wrongheaded and unscientific. Of course Darwin was right. The myriad species that live on our planet were not "designed", rather they evolved. To try to make the complexity of certain features in current species into an argument for Intelligent Design is to start at the wrong end of the timeline. At the level of biological diversity, Intelligent Design is a fool's errand.

But at the level of cosmology, things look very different indeed.

The best science of the past couple decades is revealing our universe to be an environment fine-tuned for the existence of life. The chances of the four basic physical forces turning out as they did after the Big Bang are astronomically small. And they came out precisely right for life. Which is downright uncanny. It’s as if you had a bomb go off in a grocery store, and instead of blasting random ingredients in all directions, the explosion instead baked a perfect birthday cake. And there the cake sits on the sidewalk in front of the wrecked store. Frosting and all. “Happy 30th, Mike!” How explain it?

I’m not talking faith here. No. This is what the picture looks like in terms of physics and cosmology. This is what the hard sciences have discovered.

For those not interested in pursuing these developments in laborious detail, an article posted a few months back in the Wall Street Journal by Eric Metaxas sums up some of the basic points. Metaxas writes:
[A]strophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces--gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces--were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction--by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000--then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.

Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all "just happened" defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?

But I don’t think the writer puts it quite right here. It’s not really a matter of the universe not existing at all, but rather the kind of universe we live in: with stars and planets and physical forces that make life and evolution possible. Set any of the four dials on the Cosmic Oven in a slightly different way, and the universe would still exist, but it would be a place where life could never have arisen. Why, then, were the dials set so precisely right for life? Secular scientists now all acknowledge: The universe had no “reason” to turn out like this, but it did.

The sheer weight of the unlikeliness of our universe getting baked to be the Precise Cake it is finally wears down what many secularists and atheists have referred to (often quite reasonably) as the “anthropic principle”. Given what science knows now, that principle can hold its own only if one insists on a multiverse theory, for which there’s not a shred of evidence.

In short, militant atheists can only wriggle out of the likelihood of our universe having an Intelligent Creator by spinning a mythology of their own: the multiverse.

Understand that I don’t post this today to persuade readers to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. No, that’s a specific doctrine of Christianity, and this article isn’t about that. This article does, however, roughly introduce the case that our universe was made to certain specs--namely, those that would allow life, and eventually consciousness, to arise. And that in itself is arguably a religious assertion, because if our universe was made, there was a Maker.

I will leave the ball in the reader’s court: Assuming there is a Maker, can we know anything about that Maker? What can we know and how? Have we had any glimpses of that Maker in human consciousness? What was the purpose in creating this universe, very possibly fine-tuned for life to arise in it?

Eric Mader