Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dion DiMucci's Catholic Testimony

Inspiring to, I think, all of us, Catholic or Protestant. Here.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

C. S. Lewis on the Socratic Club

“In any fairly large and talkative community such as a university, there is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together into ‘coteries’ where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumor that the outsiders say thus and thus. The absent are easily refuted, complacent dogmatism thrives, and differences of opinion are embittered by group hostility. Each group hears not the best, but the worst, that the other groups can say.”

Lewis Scholar Christopher Mitchell on the Oxford Socratic Club

This seem to me to be the model for discussion that Christians and their opponents ought to strive for.


In this post, I made the mistake of saying that Lindsay was implying that believers are stupid or idiots. He never actually explained the existence of educated believers in terms of stupidity. But he claiming that theism is a stupid position, undeserving of serious discussion, and supported by  no evidence whatsoever. There is a tone of intellectual superiority in these sorts of statements, which  is why I used the word "idiot." But it's important to be accurate. Of course, IDiot is a common term used for ID advocates, but they don't strike me as stupid.

Well, besides stupid, there is ignorant, wicked, and insane. Some people argue that educated theists are simply unwilling to consider evidence that calls their beliefs into question. But I remember choosing philosophy as a major largely because I thought that if there were good arguments to be made against Christianity it wanted to know about them sooner as opposed to later. I have been a Christian minority in most of the philosophy departments I studied and taught at.

Then there is the line "faith makes intelligent people seem stupid." But I got my credentials in philosophy working mostly on issues relevant to my religious beliefs, and my dissertation had to pass a committee of people skeptical of my line of argument.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lecture notes on the multicultural problem in ethics

Ethics: The Multicultural Approach
How moral issues arise in our culture
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Perhaps no statement captures the moral consciousness of our country. On the one hand, human equality is a powerful idea. On the other hand, the author of those words owned slaves, nor was he particularly known for treating women as equals.
Moral debates in America
A lot of moral issues arise in America in an attempt to apply the concept of equality. Consider the issue of slavery, which ripped the country in half in the 19th Century. Or consider the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and even the gay rights movement. The idea in all of these movements is that people shouldn’t be treated as inferiors because of differences that are not morally relevant, or for differences that are not under the person’s control.
Equality and multiculturalism
Our belief in equality is perhaps one of the most significant motivation for looking at things multiculturally. If people are equal, then we might want to avoid treating people or ideas as inferior if they came from some culture other than our own.
Blum’s motives for multicultural educaton
Lawrence Blum mentions three values motivating a multicultural approach: antiracism, a sense of interracial community, and treating persons as individuals.
These values are more common in our own culture than they are in many others. In many other countries race (and gender) is a basis for treating others as inferior, there is no interracial community, and people are not treated as individuals.
Arranged marriages and female genital mutilation
Something that reflects the individualism of our own society is the fact that we select our own mates. We do not countenance the idea, for example, of being given in marriage by one’s parents. But in some cultures not only are marriages are arranged, but people are forced into them as children. Similarly, in some cultures women are forced into genital mutilation, which is the subject of Martha Nussbaum’s essay.
The value of tolerance
We value tolerance in our culture quite a bit. I think historically we found ourselves having to live in a democratic society with many different religious standpoints, so we needed tolerance to get along with one another.
One idea that people think will encourage tolerance is the idea of relativism. If morals are relative, and there is no truth about what is really right or wrong, then we will be less inclined to be judgmental toward others.
Or will it?
One surprising result is that if relativism is true, then it is a virtue to be tolerant of other cultures just in case your culture approves of tolerating other cultures. If it doesn't, then you are supposed to be intolerant. So relativism doesn't lead to tolerance, it can just as easily lead to intolerance.
Dealing with other cultures
How should we respond to things going on in other cultures. One side of us wants to say that we shouldn’t be critical of what other cultures do. On the other hand, sometimes in other societies we find that some people are treated as inferiors, and what we would consider to be their rights are violated. So, how do we respond to that?
The paradox of multiculturalism
The paradox of multiculturalism is the fact that the values that drive us toward multiculturalism are exactly those values that are rejected in other cultures.
For example, we have a conviction that people should be treated as equals, regardless of their origin or background. Otherwise we could look at other cultures and just say “those barbarians.” But other cultures often approve of treating certain peoples as inferiors.
The Caste system in India
Prohibiting women from driving in Saudi Arabia
Arranged marriages, and even child marriages, in India and other countries.
Anti-gay laws in Kenya and Uganda: Both male and female homosexual activity is illegal. Under the Penal Code, "carnal knowledge against the order of nature" between two males carries a potential penalty of life imprisonment and executions/torture are allowed with no legal liabilities for the executioners.”
Criminal punishment for rape victims in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Somalia, and India.
Executing people for adultery in places like Afghanistan
Female Genital Mutilation
The Good Old USA
Well, we had slavery until the Civil War, and women got the right to vote in the 1920s, which means that during most of our country’s history, women have NOT had this right. The civil rights movement culminated in the 1960s, in my lifetime.
Two ways of responding
1)It’s their culture. Who’s to say what’s right or wrong
2)People’s rights are being unjustly violated. It’s wrong no matter whether the culture approves or not.
It comes down to the whole issue of moral objectivity.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Eastern Religious Traditions and the Supernatural

Eastern religions don't seem to draw the nature-supernature distinction. On the other hand, they hold positions like reincarnation, which seem impossible if the natural world, as presently understood by science, is all there is. 

An important difference between Islam and Christianity

I find a great deal to admire in Islam. However, it seems to be essential to Islam that it aspire to be implemented from the top down through government, and that makes it very difficult for Muslims to buy in on the idea that they ought voluntarily to refrain from using government to pursue their goals, if it is indeed possible.

Remember how Islam was founded. Muhammad had been exiled from Mecca, then conquered by force of arms. The Qu'ran is written as a law-book. The idea of separating religion from state does violence to essence of Islam.

How was Christianity founded? Well, if was founded by people who didn't have political power, so the New Testament provides almost nothing about government except "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." Now after Constantine, Christians did assume political power, and they did use political power to advance the cause of their religion. So, yes, Christians had the Crusades, the attacks on the Albigensians,  the Spanish Inquisition, the Wars of Religion, and the Salem Witch trials. But after the Wars of Religion and the damage that these things did, Christian leaders started to back away from wanting to implementing their religion through government, and there is nothing in this that contradicts the essence of Christianity. Most of the people responsible for getting church and state separated were Christians, not secularists.

Yes, you can be violent on behalf of Christianity. You can also suppress religion violently. But there is nothing in Christianity that requires you to use violence to uphold Christianity, anymore than there is anything in atheism that requires atheists to use the state to suppress theism.

The "religion leads to violence" idea is based on a profound confusion. ANYTHING can lead to violence. But the idea that non-religious people have "nothing to kill or die for" while religious people do have something to kill or die for, is absurd. Some atheists believe that the progress of civilization depends on whether we "outgrow" religion or not. Why would people who believe that eschew the use of force to accomplish so important a goal, if the opportunity presented itself. OK, it doesn't involve anyone's eternal destiny, but the progress or regression of civilization? Important enough, for at least some, to use ridicule and peer pressure on its behalf.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The doctrine of causal closure

Let us take a pair of electrons, Eric and Ed. Eric the electron is an electron in the body of Richard Dawkins. Ed is an electron inside the body of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Knowing this, we might know that Ed is far more likely to be inside of an Anglican Church this Sunday morning than is Eric. But if the physical is causally closed, then where Eric and Ed will be on Sunday morning is either fully determined by the present state of the world at the physical level plus the laws of physics (assuming determinism), or else where Eric and Ed are also affect by quantum-mechanical indeterminism. But this indeterminism, given causal closure, is brute chance and nothing more. It is not a “window” for intentional states to affect the physical. Imagine a being omniscient with respect to the state of the physical world. That physically omniscient being could learn nothing useful about where Eric and Ed will be if it learns that Eric is in the body of an atheist, while Ed is in the body of a Christian. The electrons will go where the laws say they must go, or where chance places them. To say otherwise would be to deny the causal closure of the physical world. 

Supervenience theory and the reflexivity problem

If something supervenes on the physical, we need to know why it supervenes. To say that it is just a brute fact that mental state X supervenes on physical state Y will not do. The reason is not hard to seek. If supervenience theory is true, then everything supervenes on the physical, and that would have to include the supervenience relation itself.  If everything supervenes on the physical plus a supervenience relation, then it is not quite true that everything supervenes on the physical. So we need an account as to why the supervenience relationship obtains, in order to avoid a reflexivity problem. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

They don't call it the cult of gnu for nothing

It's the atheist equivalent of television evangelists. Tuck in your love gift, as they used to say on TBN.