Thursday, September 29, 2005

Two brilliant posts

And they're not by me (as if!). The first is a satirical post on the good hands team and the second is a not so funny post on lies of omission. Is there a theme here? Trust but verify?

Being physical vs. being

Speaking of amateur philosophers - and I assuredly am one - here is a bit from Bill Vacellia (who is not an amateur) that is the sort of writing that separates those who've given some thought to thinking from those who spout when reflexive and physicalism is questioned:
"To be is to be physical" is both contingently true (because it is an empirical generalization) and not contingently true (because it entails a necessary truth). But this is a contradiction, so [the statement] is not an empirical generalization. Once one appreciates this, one sees that physicalism cannot be supported by natural science. In general, metaphysical propositions about being qua being cannot be supported or refuted by naturalistic methods. Natural science cannot take the place of first philosophy.
Got it? Good. It is frightening how many supposedly educated people spout fundamentalist nonsense in Darwin debates - and I don't mean just the creationists. More detail here.

Ayn Rand

Edward Fesser shares a few thoughts and criticisms of Ayn Rand at The Conservative Philosopher:
To be a social animal is not to be a socialist animal, though it certainly is to recognize that our relations to one another are not, at the deepest level, the product of a social contract or worthwhile only because of the mutual benefit we might derive from them. The correct alternative to Randian capitalism is not socialism, but rather the sort of market economy Burke would have favored, i.e. one balanced by robust moral and religious institutions and conservative government. Not to recognize that we are social animals is quite obviously bound to lead to all sorts of distortions in one’s conception of what human life is like, can be like, and should be like. Her novels illustrate this perfectly. Notoriously, there does not seem to be any clear place for children and family life in the ideal world she tries therein to describe. The perfect society, she seems to think, would be populated by hyper-rationalistic careerists, who copulate sterilely with whomever they happen to be interested in this week, and whose only offspring are the products they can put on the market or the artistic creations or inventions they can put into the history books. This is a vision of human life no less grotesquely one-sided than that of the touchy-feely hippies and egalitarian feminists Rand so despised, precisely because it is no less hostile to the traditional family than their worldview is. The right direction to take Aristotle is the one the mainstream Western tradition in general took him: the natural law tradition, which puts the family, and not the individual or “society,” at the center of social and political thinking.
Fesser and I continue to agree on a number of things. Like a number of young people who found themselves disatisfied and disaffected with the mindset of the academy, there was a time when I found Rand to be exciting, even exhilarating. In the end I grew up and saw that her ideas have a number of problems - as Fesser points out. Nevertheless, I still remember Atlas Shrugged fondly.

Back to school

It's fall. Kids are back in school, and students are back on campus. It's a good time to consider why they're there.
Just a few weeks ago, I read in the D about PJ Halas, Class of 1998. His great uncle George founded the Chicago Bears, and PJ lived up to the family name, co-captaining the basketball team his senior year at Dartmouth and coaching at a high school team following graduation. He was also a history teacher, and, this summer, he was arrested for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old student. These stories demonstrate that it takes more than a Dartmouth degree to build character. As former Dartmouth President John Sloan Dickey said, at Dartmouth our business is learning. And I’ll have to agree with the motto of Faber College, featured in the movie Animal House, “Knowledge is Good.” But if all we get from this place is knowledge, we’ve missed something. There’s one subject that you won’t learn about in class, one topic that orientation didn’t cover, and that your UGA won’t mention: character. What is the purpose of our education? Why are we at Dartmouth? ... As you begin your four years here, you’ve got to come to some conclusions about your own character because you won’t get it by just going to class. What is the content of your character? Who are you? And how will you become what you need to be?
In this particular selection, what's omitted by the elipsis (...) is pretty telling and the author is getting flack for that at least as much as daring to mention criminal acts by Dartmouth grads. I'll try and quell any claims that I'm a hypocrite by stating that if the author had been of another faith and used it to make his points, I would not find that offensive; it would be a learning opportunity. I'm curious to know what others think - especially you typically religion shy Canadians out there.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

How to read

Brandon, always interesting and always Sirius, has some light to shine on both the breadth of the Muslim community and on how to read a religious text:
There is the further absurdity of going around and telling people that they're reading their own holy book incorrectly. It would make sense if the problem here were ignorance of the actual text of the Qur'an itself, but that's clearly not the problem. Indeed, there is no problem here at all except a made-up one. The meaning of any holy book is not how any Tom, Dick, and Harry think one can read the book, but how the religious community itself orders its own reading of the book. In Sunni Islam, the interpretation of the Qur'an is communal, not individual; the authority on what the Qur'an means is the consensus that builds up over time. It is a slow, hard way of reading a text, since your own reading is never complete until by the slow process of dialogue, prayer, and debate it passes into the community and comes back to you for further consideration. People who make the sort of argument noted above [ignoring convention and context] are not contributing to the interpretation of the text; it is almost as if a bunch of yokel fingerpainters were going about making snide remarks about how real painters were trying to avoid facing up to the messiness of paint. They are trying, somewhat irrationally and entirely arbitrarily, to foist a crude and fundamentalist mode of reading on people whose style of reading is much more sophisticated. The proper response to such people is: If you are incapable of reading books written for grown ups, perhaps you shouldn't read them.
Ouch. I like his point, however - and am glad to hear that there is such a tradition in Islam. I have always thought that one's bearings are hugely important in both reading and logic. In logic one has to assent to the terms and definitions before one can evaluate the argument itself. In reading, one has to have a sense of the context of any text. That means you need to know:
  • Who is author? Other writings by the same author can help us narrow the possibilities of what was intended.
  • What type of text is it, and what are its conventions? What do other texts in this form assume about the interplay between form and content?
  • Who is the intended audience? Can we make an educated guess? What would they most likley assume?
I don't participate in quoting verses because it is near senseless to compare different types of documents by different authors and read them as if they were written in a literal sense for twentieth century joes. 'God is the author' does not get around the objections. Of course God is the author of the book (and everything else too). He chose to use person X in a certain place and time, also to use a certain document style (conventionally or not). To overlook such details is disrespectful.

What kind of snob are you?

This will surprise no one... HASH(0x8da4c7c)
You speak eloquently and have seemingly read every
book ever published. You are a fountain of
endless (sometimes useless) knowledge, and
never fail to impress at a party. What people love: You can answer almost any
question people ask, and have thus been
nicknamed Jeeves. What people hate: You constantly correct their
grammar and insult their paperbacks.

What Kind of Elitist Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Dividing lines

Get Religion, a blog dedicated to two things I have a real interest in - religion and the press - is always, always worth a visit. There is this interesting little recap of the paper currently circulating in the Vatican regarding how to deal honestly and justly with the sex scandal. I'm still trying to form an opinion on this one, btw, but the intriguing point lies at the end of the post. What is the effect of anonymous sources on the telling of this story? It does seem to muddy the waters on both sides, allowing the spin machines a free reign. Then there was this post of the subject of 'cafeteria Catholics' - something that I think, incidentally, all Catholics are to some degree, no matter what side of the aisle they sit on. That's because most of us are not saints and we have more difficulty with some parts of what we are called to do than others. Rationalizing the parts we have trouble with should not be a surprising thing to see. It's probably an inevitable part of the journey. Anyway, this caught my eye:
Economic justice is a perfect example of a topic where the goal is sure, but the means are not. What has caused more poverty in the U.S. in the past few generations — lack of commitment to economic justice or the fragmentation of the modern family? Rome (and Eastern Orthodoxy, too) would say the best answer is both-and. But there is the rub. Which modern American political party is on the correct side of both of those issues?
It got me thinking about whether there is in fact a major pro family party in either country. I think, in all honesty, that the answer is no. In the US, the Republicans and the Democrats both fail to speak in a convincing way of the need to balance work and family issues and in Canada I think the same can be said about the Tories and the Liberals. Who's campaigning on a pro life, pro maternity leave, pro parental agenda? Nobody, that's who. The left of center parties can't even use the words without sneer quotes and the right uses them more boldly but seems to lack conviction and finish. The left wants to indulge the parents "needs" with day care, welfare and abortion, blithely assuming that more material goods and less parenting will someway, somehow do something for kids. Politicians on the right court parents more openly but tend to wilt when activists and journalists convince them that power will be forever beyond their fingertips unless they water down or back away. I think we have only ourselves to blame. The parties can't afford to court a base that will not give them power. The real debate has to be among friends and neighbors until such a base exists that no party can afford to ignore it. In the end I usually come down on the right side of things. "Give to Ceasar what is Ceasar's" must also mean "do NOT give to Ceasar the things that are not Ceasar's." The Left all too often seems unwilling to admit that there is anything that is not Ceasar's. On the Right, there is no trouble with the idea of limiting the state and some will even admit that business can and does play the role of Ceasar and is also in need pruning from time time - but not enough, not yet.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Two quick links

Upper Canada Catholic, still what I think of as a new blog, has a recap of Aquinas' five proofs for the existence of God. They're interesting, so give it a look. Proving 'Panzerkardinal' is a misnomer, Benedict has been meeting with dissidents on the right (SSPX) and the left (theologian Hans Kung). Nothing has come of it yet, but surely nothing can happen without dialogue.

Species traitors

Gates of Vienna has the lowdown on the Green fringe in Charlotte. His account is fascinating in that car wreck kind of way.
What about population? Anarchists have long argued that in a free world, social, economic, and psychological pressures towards excessive reproduction would be removed. There would just be too many other interesting things going on to engage people's time! Feminist primitivists have argued that women, freed of gender constraints and the family structure, would not be defined by their reproductive capabilities as in patriarchal societies, and this would result in lowered population levels too. So population would be likely to fall, willy-nilly.
So that's how it will work: feminist primitivists will have control over their reproductive lives. And they will do so, presumably, without birth-control pills, diaphragms, condoms, etc., because industrial technology is required to make those luxuries. One assumes that anarcho-primitivist guys will just have to do without. I also brought home this flyer:
SPECIES TRAITOR Species traitor exists as a forum for spreading and developing theories and practical means to bring about the destruction of civilization and defend what wilderness remains. We feel that now more than ever, there is a need for a viable alternative to the mass death culture, and hope to widen the range of information available. This cannot be clear enough, we embrace the goal of moving beyond civilization and will not settle for reform on any level.
... How many people could the earth support under such a neo-Neolithic model? Ten million? A hundred million? Let's be generous and say a billion. That means that four-fifths of the world's population would have to disappear. I don'’t think herbal contraceptives and the rhythm method are going to do the job. And I think the leaders of these movements know it, even if they don'’t dare say so in their pamphlets. To achieve their ideal society, to create their heaven on earth, four billion people will have to die. Who do you think those people will be? And who do you think will get to choose who goes, and who gets to stay? Somehow, I don't think the Anarcho-primitivists and the Greens and the Gaia-worshipping feminists are going to volunteer to lay down their lives for the good of the Collective. You're on a bus with nine other people. Look around you: eight people have to die. Who will they be? The guy with the ponytail and the Think Globally, Act Locally” T-shirt and his girlfriend with the flowered mumu? They don'’t think they'’ll be the ones to go. No, it will be you and all the other bozos on that bus.
Thoughts?
  • I like Mother Theresa a whole lot more than people who want to pick and choose who lives.
  • If there is ever another great genocide in the west, it will be at the hands of people like this.
  • Proportional representation places people like this closer to the levers of power. For this and many other reasons (like paralysis) I remain strongly opposed to Canadian moves in that direction. "Representation" is one good among many and is only one factor in the creation of good government.
  • The pamphlets were produced with industrial tech, of course. Perhaps they should send out mass e-mail about doing away with technology? No, I guess that won't work either...

Red Ensign XXVIII

My friend Kate at The Last Amazon has the latest Red Ensign Roundup. It's a pretty big job, putting all of those links together, so go on and have a look see.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

When does the soul attain truth?

The following text is from Plato's Phaedo. The scene is Socrates' cell, in which he awaits his death, and the subject in this excerpt is how we attain Truth - absolute truth with no distortion of any kind. The yes man's name is Simmias and the main speaker is of course, Socrates. My comments are in the text and are coloured.
When does the soul attain truth?--for in attempting to consider anything in company with the body she is obviously deceived. True. Then must not true existence be revealed to her in thought, if at all? Yes. And thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things trouble her--neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure,--when she takes leave of the body, and has as little as possible to do with it, when she has no bodily sense or desire, but is aspiring after true being? Certainly. And in this the philosopher dishonours the body; his soul runs away from his body and desires to be alone and by herself? That is true. Socrates mistakes metaphysics for the divine just as an esthete might mistake work(s) of art for the artist that made them. ie. "Hemingway's thoughts are better revealed to us in his art that in a discussion with him." Well, but there is another thing, Simmias: Is there or is there not an absolute justice? Assuredly there is. And an absolute beauty and absolute good? Of course. But did you ever behold any of them with your eyes? Certainly not. This is just what a nominalist would deny. It occurs to me that the role of doubting Thomas in the gospel could be called a chastisement of nominalism, because nominalism will get you into trouble in a hurry. Or did you ever reach them with any other bodily sense?--and I speak not of these alone, but of absolute greatness, and health, and strength, and of the essence or true nature of everything. Has the reality of them ever been perceived by you through the bodily organs? Or rather, is not the nearest approach to the knowledge of their several natures made by him who so orders his intellectual vision as to have the most exact conception of the essence of each thing which he considers? Certainly. See? A strict nominalism will have trouble acknowledging the reality of things like justice, love, honour, duty... even the concept of truth itself. What we see mostly, however, that the average person will hold his own values to be obvious and will call only on those he disagrees with to provide him with the sort of proof that he himself lacks. Think of Richard Dawkins the whole effort to assert that evolution has been "proven" to be random because it happens to conform with one particular usage of Occam's Razor, which is itself a metaphysical construct and not a tangible entity. And he attains to the purest knowledge of them who goes to each with the mind alone, not introducing or intruding in the act of thought sight or any other sense together with reason, but with the very light of the mind in her own clearness searches into the very truth of each; he who has got rid, as far as he can, of eyes and ears and, so to speak, of the whole body, these being in his opinion distracting elements which when they infect the soul hinder her from acquiring truth and knowledge--who, if not he, is likely to attain the knowledge of true being? What you say has a wonderful truth in it, Socrates, replied Simmias. Socrates overlooks something that the ancient Jews either discovered or were told - Being has to be accounted for and not merely assumed. What sustains a soul, if it is indeed immortal, after it has been freed from the body? In a material account would it still not have a "body" or a "form" of some kind? Without that, how can it be said to be independent of anything else? If it has a form of some kind, then that is a limit to it's ability to know, and if it doesn't, it has been lost its identity in a kind of pantheistic existence. The God of the Jews is "I AM" and is the predicate of all that has ever existed and all that ever will exist. A soul that survives the death of the body is still dependent on God for its existence, just as the knowledge and wisdom it seeks is also. This unequal, dependent existence creates and reveals something very important: the Truth is not merely wisdom or knowledge, it is a relationship. God's existence keeps the soul from being consumed in a pantheistic universe. To know requires both someone to do the knowing and something that can be known and God sustains both by being the source of their independent existence. There is also the small problem that without any kind of sense input, it is very hard indeed to see how anyone could come to understand any kind of metaphysics. How can anyone think about what the essence of a horse is if they have never seen a horse? C.S. Lewis once suggested that such an 'objective view' would not be omniscient, but blind. And when real philosophers consider all these things, will they not be led to make a reflection which they will express in words something like the following? 'Have we not found,' they will say, 'a path of thought which seems to bring us and our argument to the conclusion, that while we are in the body, and while the soul is infected with the evils of the body, our desire will not be satisfied? and our desire is of the truth. For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and is liable also to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after true being: it fills us full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies of all kinds, and endless foolery, and in fact, as men say, takes away from us the power of thinking at all... by reason of all these impediments we have no time to give to philosophy; and, last and worst of all, even if we are at leisure and betake ourselves to some speculation, the body is always breaking in upon us, causing turmoil and confusion in our enquiries, and so amazing us that we are prevented from seeing the truth. It has been proved to us by experience that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body--the soul in herself must behold things in themselves: and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers, not while we live, but after death; for if while in company with the body, the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things follows--either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be parted from the body and exist in herself alone. In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible intercourse or communion with the body, and are not surfeited with the bodily nature, but keep ourselves pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And thus having got rid of the foolishness of the body we shall be pure and hold converse with the pure, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere, which is no other than the light of truth.' For the impure are not permitted to approach the pure. These are the sort of words, Simmias, which the true lovers of knowledge cannot help saying to one another, and thinking. I found this quoted exchange fascinating because Socrates does a nice job of suggesting the difficulties of nominalism but he appears to trip over the subject of Being (as almost all of the ancients did). I think that lead to a category error in regards what the nature of metaphysics is. It's not divine; it's a description of the true relationship between things. The thing that is the source of both the things and the relations - that is the divine. It might be tempting to dismiss metaphysics as 'nonsense on stilts' as Jeremy Bentham famously did, because metaphysics is notoriously hard. In doing so I think we seriously undermine our relations with one another. We do have bodies and they do make the kind of knowledge Socrates and those of academic mind seek very hard to come by. Perhaps philosophic and scientific knowledge are not the highest goods (though they are goods). Perhaps the existence of the body suggests that the highest goods to be sought are those that deal with the proper relationship between unequal things. Rather than being seen as a prison, perhaps it is truer to say that it is a school or a hospital. The lowest low may not be ignorance after all, but Sin. Ignorance may be only a symptom of the real problem that we face. Rather than knowledge is power, perhaps suffering is knowledge is truer to real wisdom, and perhaps most of us would rather not seek or find that kind of wisdom. Such are the paradoxes of the Cross.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Cartoon

So much silliness, so little time... Via Tremendous Trifles, here is something funny. It takes a bit to load and it's wee bit juvenille, but it gave me a few good laughs.

Forever Young

Frederica Mathewes-Green picks up on the subject of extended adolescence and delayed marriage. Her short essay is worth a moment or two and it is not unsympathetic to the Boomers, who were themselves sheltered by well meaning 'greatest generation parents' seeking to keep from them some of the hardship they had seen. I think her suggestion that we might learn about phasing kids into adulthood from the past is a valuable one. Ours is not the first to lack the ability to keep kids from coming across things we'd rather they did see until later. This is not a conservative lament for 50's era purity but an sober reflection that things tend to run better when you face them maturely.
The World War II generation envisioned a sharp contrast between childhood and adulthood: Childhood was all gaiety, while adulthood was burdened with misery and toil. The resulting impulse was to place children in a hermetically sealed playroom. Childhood, once understood as a transitional stage, was now almost a physical place — a toy-filled nursery where children could linger all the golden afternoon. Parents looked on wistfully, wishing their dear children could stay young forever. Be careful what you wish for. When conservatives get nostalgic for the Ozzie-and-Harriett parenting of the 1950s, they should remember how the experiment turned out. The children got older, but they never grew up. ... The Boomers as parents managed to go their own parents one better, extending the golden playroom all the way through graduate school. But the emphasis on unlimited possibilities turns out to be a new kind of prison. Many twenty-somethings find themselves immobilized by too much praise. They dare not commit to any one career, because it means giving up others, and they’ve never before had to close off any options. They dare not commit to a single career because they’re expected to excel at it, and they’re afraid they may only be ordinary. A lifetime of go-get-’em cheering presumes that one day you’ll march out and take the world by storm. But what if the world doesn’t notice? What if the field is too crowded, or the skills too difficult, or the child just not all that talented? It’s a sad but unalterable fact that most people are average. Parents’ eager expectations can freeze children in their tracks. Even the command “follow your dreams” can be immobilizing if you’re not sure what your dreams are and nothing that comes to mind seems very urgent. It’s no wonder that today’s twenty-somethings feel unfocused, indecisive, and terrified of making mistakes. They may move back home after college and drift from job to job. They can be stuck there, feeling paralyzed for years, even a decade. So what should we do? How can we recover a positive view of adult life and prepare future generations to move into it? The problem has many parts. The one I’m most interested in is the increasingly late date of marriage. The average first marriage now involves a twenty-five-year-old bride and a twenty-seven-year-old groom. I’m intrigued by how patently unnatural that is. God designed our bodies to desire to mate much earlier, and through most of history cultures have accommodated that desire by enabling people to wed by their late teens or early twenties. People would postpone marriage till their late twenties only in cases of economic disaster or famine — times when people had to save up in order to be able to marry. Young people are not too immature to marry, unless we tell them they are. Fifty years ago, when the average bride was twenty, the divorce rate was half what it is now, because the culture encouraged and sustained marriage. But if we communicate to young people that we think they’re naturally incapable of making a marriage work, they will surely meet our expectation. In fact, I have a theory that late marriage contributes to an increased divorce rate. During those lingering years of unmarried adulthood, young people may not be getting married, but they’re still falling in love. They fall in love, and break up, and undergo terrible pain, but find that with time they get over it. This is true even if they remain chaste. By the time these young people marry, they may have had many opportunities to learn how to walk away from a promise. They’ve been training for divorce. Late marriage means fighting the design of our bodies...

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Which Historic General Are You?

Another quiz from the same site. Hat tip once again to Andrew.
Genghis Khan You scored 73 Wisdom, 78 Tactics, 61 Guts, and 44 Ruthlessness!
Genghis Khan was a Mongol conqueror, originally named Temujin. He succeeded his father, Yekusai, as chieftain of a Mongol tribe and then fought to become ruler of a Mongol confederacy. After subjugating many tribes of Mongolia and establishing his capital at Karakorum, Temujin held a great meeting, the khuriltai, at which he accepted leadership of the Mongols and assumed his title. He promulgated a code of conduct and reorganized his armies. He attacked the Jurchen-ruled Chin empire of North China and by 1215 had occupied most of its territory, including the capital, Yenching (now Beijing). From 1218 to 1224 he conquered Turkistan, Transoxania, and Afghanistan and raided Persia and East Europe to the Dnieper River. Genghis Khan ruled one of the greatest land empires the world has ever known. He died while campaigning against the Jurchen, and his vast domains were divided among his sons and grandsons. His wars were marked by ruthless carnage, but Genghis Khan was a brilliant ruler and military leader. Timur was said to be descended from him. Other leaders like yourself include Julius Caesar and Tecumseh Sherman.
My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online dating free online dating
You scored higher than 88% on Wisdom
You scored higher than 75% on Tactics
You scored higher than 68% on Guts
You scored higher than 28% on Ruthlessness
Link: The Which Historic General Are You Test written by dasnyds.

Politics Quiz

This is an interesting quiz. Too bad it's hosted on a quasi pornographic website (that's why I broke the links in the table; I'm sure you can find it anyway). Interestingly, Andrew and I had similar levels of capitalism in our blood (68 vs. 61%). It just happens that I'm more socially conservative. Maybe it's because I'm older? Nah, it's probably because I'm superstitious.
You exhibit a very well-developed sense of Right and Wrong and believe in economic fairness. ie. My position was firmly Reaganite according to the quiz maker.
You are a

Social Conservative
(30% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(61% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Republican




The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

Spaghetti Oh's

I posted the following at Boundy by Gravity today, in response to a thread on this weird Spaghetti religion thing that's popping up all over the net right now. I'm posting it here for my own future reference. Since it's a comment and not a post, it's a bit rougher than I like my posts to be, but it'll do for now.
"I will comment that religion once provided the answers to a number of questions once judged to lie within their domain...what causes disease, what is the sun, where do babies come from, how was the earth created. In my opinion, science provides better, more durable answers to those questions than religion did." Are we so ill informed about religion that we take it for granted that all religion is literalist and fundamentalist? That's testable - and false. Religions do in fact evolve. People's understanding of a text and tradition can grow and change with the input of new experiences and new knowledge. What I really want to get at, however, is that scientific methodology (if it is not measurable and quantifiable then it is not real) itself is not testable and fails to affirm itself (yeah, crazy Curt's mumbling about religion again). Check out the Wikki entry for Karl Popper, one of the great minds in science and philosophy in the 20th Century. He knew his 'falsification' theory of science was not, itself, scientific. People seem to forget that.
Knowledge, for Popper, was objective, not in the sense that it is objectively true, but rather, that knowledge has an ontological status (i.e. knowledge as object) independent of the knowing subject (Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, 1972). He proposed three worlds (see Popperian cosmology): World One, being the phenomenal world, or the world of direct experience; World Two, being the world of mind, or mental states, ideas, and perceptions; and World Three, being the body of human knowledge expressed in its manifold forms, or the products of the second world made manifest in the materials of the first world (i.e. books, papers, paintings, symphonies, and all the products of the human mind).
His theory falls into world two, that of the mind. Now, either the way the mind works is false, in which case we can all go home because nothing we're doing here has any point, or our ideas do engage the world in a real and meaningful way, in which case, how can we say that all of the ideas (like Platonic universals, God, etc.) are meaningless ghosts? Once we realize that affirming things we cannot see is inescapable, then it is hypocritical to say 'my claim to faith is real and yours is not'. We all make claims like that, most of the time implicitly and unawares. More here. I'm arguing for tolerance and freedom to dissent here, but I don't want to say that I think all or even most creationism or ID is good science. A lot, perhaps even most, of it isn't. In fact I think religious people trying to pass of their faith as science show a distinct lack of faith. They are trying to slip their religious metaphysics under the door of nominalism and that's a losing game. Better to stand firm against nominalism's shortcomings and uphold universals right off the top. There is a thoughtful essay here that discusses the philosophical battle between Liberal claims to objectivity and Christian claims to fairness. The spokesperson for Christianity is John Milbank, a left leaning Anglican and the Liberal spokesperson is the author of the post. Oddly, for the Tory like myself, I find the left leaning Anglican more compelling. This is a religious debate on all sides; I just wish more people knew it. Beware of this. Btw, Talk.Origins is a Darwinism site that also backs me up. They are not creationists but scientists trying to explain science to to critics who are often religious. Sorry if I'm longwinded and thanks again to Andrew for such interesting threads.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Useful to know

File this under "I didn't know this but I'm sure it'll come in handy at some point":
The fact is that Allah is simply the standard Arabic word for "God." It is used by Arabic-speaking Muslims and Christians alike--including Arabic-speaking Catholics. If you read an Arabic New Testament, it's going to have Allah where "God" appears in the English version. When they say prayers in Arabic (e.g., the Rosary) and the prayer refers to God, they use the word Allah. I have more experience on this point than many English-speakers do since I have a lot of Arabic-speaking Catholic friends (Chaldeans, Maronites, etc.). I hang out with their priests, go over to their houses, spend time at their churches, go out to lunch with them, work on projects with them, discuss the situations in their home countries, inject snatches of Arabic into talks I give at their parishes, etc., etc., etc. And this is just not a big deal. Not only do Arabic-speaking Christians use Allah amonst themselves, they use it when speaking to Muslims . . . just like Cardinal McCarrick did! So no freaking out is required over this issue.
Tip o the hat to Jimmy Akin on this one.

Talk.Origins

I try to be fair in my use of sources on this site. I'm not a fundamentalist or a fideist, holding that faith and reason are two rivers that never cross. For example, I used Micheal Ruse, a Darwinist, to make some points about the potential abuse of science a few weeks ago. I've avoided 'God of the Gaps' arguments and have steered clear of Micheal Behe, for example, because his argument looks to me to be exactly that. I'm happy to have another example of mostly good writing on the subject. The following is taken from Talk.Origins, a pro Darwin site that tries to play fair. The article is in responds to the question, are Evolution and The Bible strictly in opposition?
Q4. If evolution is true, then isn't the whole Bible wrong? First let me repeat that the underlying theme of the first book of Genesis can't be scientifically proven or disproven. No test has ever been found that can tell the difference between a universe created by God, and one that appeared without Him. Only certain interpretations of Genesis can be disproven. Second, let us turn the question around. What if I asked you "If the story of the prodigal son didn't really happen, then is the whole Bible wrong?" Remember that the Bible is a collection of both stories and historical accounts. Because one part is a figurative story does not make the entire Bible so. Even if it did, the underlying message of the Bible would remain. 3. Evolution and God Q5. Does evolution deny the existence of God? No. See question 1. There is no reason to believe that God was not a guiding force behind evolution. While it does contradict some specific interpretations of God, especially ones requiring a literal interpretation of Genesis 1, few people have this narrow of a view of God. There are many people who believe in the existence of God and in evolution. Common descent then describes the process used by God. ***Until the discovery of a test to separate chance and God this interpretation is a valid one within evolution***. Q6. But isn't this Deism, the belief that God set the universe in motion and walked away? While it could be Deism, the Bible speaks more of an active God, one who is frequently intervening in His creation. If the Bible represents such a God in historical times there is no reason to assume that He was not active in the universe before then. A guiding hand in evolution could exist, even in the time before humans came around. Just because people were not there to observe does not mean that there was nothing to observe.
I might be able to give this entry an A if it went the extra step and added that scientific method and the use of Occam's Razor are fine as far as scientific testing goes. The leap into a rival religion (scientism; reductionism) occurs when someone states that the only things that exist are things that can be tested in such a way. Sometimes - if they're really being goofy while unawares - they might even tell you that scientific testing has in fact "proven" that only things that can be tested exist, as if that wasn't somehow a metaphysical assertion being advanced by circular argument. The existence or non existence of universals is not something that is a scientific question, and asserting Popperian falsification doesn't advance the case an inch. Me? I think universals are real. I mean, c'mon, isn't Popperian falsification a universal claim? Popper thought so. From the Wikkipedia:
scientific theory, and human knowledge generally, is irreducibly conjectural or hypothetical, and is generated by the creative imagination in order to solve problems that have arisen in specific historico-cultural settings. Logically, no number of positive outcomes at the level of experimental testing can confirm a scientific theory, but a single genuine counter-instance is logically decisive: it shows the theory, from which the implication is derived, to be false. Popper's account of the logical asymmetry between verification and falsification lies at the heart of his philosophy of science. It also inspired him to take falsifiability as his criterion of demarcation between what is and is not genuinely scientific: a theory should be accounted scientific if and only if it is falsifiable.
I agree with Popper's demarcation and do so despite his claim being non-testable and non-scientific. That's it. That's my only nit to pick. Otherwise it's pretty good find.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Occam and Naturalism

Bill Vacellia is speaking my mind once again:
So this is what I am interested in discussing: Can naturalism explain everything that needs to be explained? If it can, then we ought to be naturalists, or at least the pressure is on to accept naturalism. God might still exist even if everything apart from God could be explained without reference to God. But then what reason would one have to posit God? Mystical experience of God? God's self-revelation through his prophets as recorded in scripture? Perhaps, but then the question of the veridicality of these sources of putative knowledge becomes very pressing indeed. Metaphysical naturalism will most like bring epistemological naturalism and scientism in its train and thus a foreclosing on all sources of knowledge apart from science. So I say that the pressure is on to accept naturalism if it can explain what needs to be explained. Of course, I don't think it can explain what needs to be explained, which is why I am an anti-naturalist. I am not an anti-naturalist because I am a theist, I am an anti-naturalist because naturalism fails to explain what needs to be explained. I have been building my case slowly, but it is far from complete. But note well: to argue against naturalism is to not argue for substance dualism. For there are other options such as absolute idealism. If everything is a mind or a content in a mind, then that is as parsimonious an explanation as an explanation that states that everything is either a body or a construction from bodies.

Catholic Carnival

Jay has the latest Catholic Carnival at Living Catholicism.

On Being Angela Jolie

David Warren's latest column is hilarious:
Turning now to The National Ledger, I learned this week that 27 percent of 1,639 women polled online by StrategyOne "would most like to be like Angelina Jolie in the bedroom" .... [The result] raised more questions than it answered. Perhaps I am obtuse, but it strikes me a sceptic must ask, "How would 27 percent of women know what Angelina Jolie's like in a place like that?" I mean, even I don't know, and I'm a man; and maybe Brad Pitt doesn't know, either. In another of my tabloid trawls, I had encountered the provocative suggestion that Ms Jolie "swings both ways". But is it possible that, at the minimum, she has had intimate relations with 27 percent of the female population? Alternatively, as a person with political interests, I might note a certain fallibility in the art of polling. And here I am thinking less about the danger of unrepresentative sampling, than of irregularities in polling questions themselves. You ask huge numbers of people to reply to a question that is intrinsically absurd, on a subject they can know nothing about. You do not thereby ascertain a truth, nor establish a fact. It is almost like creating an effect without a cause, for the result might conceivably hurt somebody. But whether it does or not, we are left somehow pregnant without issue. It would seem, from my casual electronic forays, that the popular mind has been loaded with such ethereal monsters. And the male and female mind alike (plus any other minds you care to mention) are positively weighted down by weightless beings.
I take Warren's point about ethereal monsters and respond that if he were more plugged in he might know that for a good chunk of the population, celebs are not real people, but brands. 'Being' Angelina Jolie in this sense has nothing to do with knowing what she's really like. It's more like choosing Crest toothpaste over Colgate, or Adidas shoes over Nike. We've evolved to the point where we now buy our personalities a la carte. I'd like Ewan McGregor's speech patterns and Mike Tyson's physique, with a dash of Chesteron's wit and Tolkien's faith. That's to go please.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Emily Rose

Strange comforts
my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts. - Isaiah
We saw The Excorsism of Emily Rose on Friday night, after reading about it on a few blogs over the week. The whisper was that the film was not a stock horror story, using religious iconography as a prop, but a more sober and thoughtful look at uncomfortable aspects of Christian theism. Godspy provides a rundown on the director of the film and why his treatment of the subject is more thoughtful than a standard genre film.
Scott Derrickson [is a] a graduate of the artsy Christian liberal arts university, Biola, calls himself an "orthodox Christian" and confesses that he's addicted to the novels of Walker Percy, and to reading and re-reading G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy. In fact, as Derrickson told me in an interview, Catholic screenwriting maven Barbara Nicolosi warns him, "You're just one Chesterton book away from crossing the Tiber," and becoming a Catholic. Whatever his background, Derrickson has crafted a compelling drama which sends you out of the theater feeling queasily fascinated, wondering if you need to seek some kind of protection, despite your faith or lack thereof.
While the story is based on a real events that took place in Germany, the film moves them to contemporary small town USA (the Wikki page is having serious trouble at the moment but you can try this link if the back story interests you). The locale change lead one wit that I read to say the film should have been called "Little House full of demons on the Prairie." It was filmed in Vancouver and I'm pretty sure that at least some of the university scenes were filmed at my old school, Simon Fraser University. Rebecca also said she spotted a local radio DJ in a very minor role as newscaster.
The major question the film raises is that of the problem of evil:
Emily Rose was not a Satanist or an aspiring witch; she'd never even touched a Ouija board. Indeed, she was the pious, virginal daughter of a devoutly Catholic family—the last person who'd open herself to demonic possession. But demons seem to have kicked down the door, and tormented her for years, until Fr. Moore undertook a course of exorcisms—which failed. If a faithful and holy priest like Fr. Moore cannot expel the forces of evil from the soul of an innocent by invoking the name of Jesus... one begins to wonder: What's the point? Which side is really stronger, after all? What kind of a God permits such innocent suffering; is He sadistic, incompetent, or merely distracted? Is the Creator an overworked cosmic chef who's put one too many universes on the stove, and hasn't noticed that ours is bubbling over?
The answer advanced by Emily and her priest is an uncomfortable one. They suggest that "Emily endured her suffering as a self-sacrificial martyrdom [in order to] suggest that belief in God is somehow confirmed, or at least facilitated, by proving that the devil exists." This is a dense idea that needs to be unpacked before it can be addressed.
Why would a good, merciful and all powerful God allow suffering and torment? Why would He allow it to happen to someone devoted to him? How are we to distinguish between the rival hypotheses the film's courtroom setting provides us with? The theory advanced by the prosecutorial team is that Emily was both epileptic and psychotic, which the defense attempts to counter by claiming that medical treatment was tried, and only when it was judged to be a failure were more extraordinary measures brought in. The conflicting theories raise a deeper issue, and that is: what is the criterion by which we are to choose? Both are based on deep philosophical assumptions that cannot be reduced to a lab test. The laws of nature and the miraculous can be seen as irreconcilable. Either there are laws that govern the universe and we discover them, or the universe is a serious hodge podge in which nothing that happens today can be counted on to repeat itself tomorrow. Those are the poles in the discussion, but there may be a salvageable middle, which is this. There are indeed laws that govern the operation of the universe with a great deal of regularity - because that is God's wish. Without that regularity, we could not rationally discover aspects of the universe and pass on our findings to future generations. Because God is the source of these laws, he can bend them from time to time, if - and this is very important - He, in His judgement, decides that it suits his purposes to do so. Such instances must be either very few, or very well hidden in mystery if mankind is not to abandon its struggle to understand the universe and fall into a stunted sort of Fideism. If that is indeed the real nature of the universe we find ourselves in, how are we to know what sort of phenomenon we are dealing with? Is it miraculous intervention or not? What sort of criterion might God use to decide He will override his own laws here, but not there? If God is indeed all good and all powerful, and is himself the very criterion of all judgment, then both intervention AND non-intervention must be judged to be the most appropriate response. We can't say, at any point, that either action was wrong. Now that is a hard thing to take. It means that a child dying of leukemia (the laws of nature), and the torments of Emily Rose (the miraculous) are both good actions, no matter how jarring and distasteful they appear to us. One of the key stumbling blocks on this question (the quote from Isaiah at the beginning of this post is meant to show this) is that we do not have access to the Divine perspective. We cannot see all of time, or all of creation. Just as things that are far away seem small and unimportant, God's view sees things as they really are, with no distortion whatsoever. We can't condemn God's choices without condemning ourselves; we are his creation. What other criteria of objective truth could there be? Clearly, it seems that our lives and our comforts are not of great concern to God, as the case of the childhood leukemia, possession (if there is such a thing) and a host of other things attest. If our lives and our comforts are not important, what is?
Christian faith tells us that our first duty - the first commandment - is to know and love God. This might provide us with a key to understanding suffering. Children who die young remind us that our our lives are short and can be taken from us at any time. There is no period in which we can say we are safe and this is a truth we'd rather not face. Their short lives are a constant reminder of what really is. What about Emily Rose, however? How does the first commandment help us understand her suffering, if it is indeed either directly caused by God or done by others but allowed by Him? The explanation that Emily gives is that her suffering is instructive, but instructive of what? As the quote from Godspy points out, it is very easy to be drawn to the assumption that Emily's case shows faith to be useless. That was not the view of Emily or her priest, however, so what were they getting at? Godpsy provides a quote from the Bible that might be helpful, although it isn't obvious on a first reading. The passage is from Colossians:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body
There are two assertions here. The first is easier; Paul tells his readers that that he struggles for their good, as we should in a healthy community. The second part is more obscure. It is not in character for Paul to say that Christ's death was lacking in any way. What I think he's getting at is that his actions for the good of the community are mending on Christ's "spiritual body", which is a common term for the Church and all of its members, past, present and future. Such actions counter the wounds caused by sin. Emily's sufferings are instructive, just as those of sick children, but the lesson here is not that we will die. The lesson (as I understand it) is that sin and spiritual combat are real. Emily herself tells her priest this, adding that in a vision she had, she consented to prolonging the ordeal in order that others can be learn and be saved. Director Scott Derrickson says in Godspy, that:
"I often find myself troubled when I think deeply about this and the nature of God. It is perplexing. But isn't that the story of the saints, the apostles themselves? People who suffered tremendously so that God's nature could be revealed to the world. That does give me questions and apprehensions about God, but I always come back to a place of comfort when I think that God Himself endured that*** —if you believe in the incarnation. I hope agnostics will be troubled by the spiritual possibilities the film presents, but that Christians will also be troubled into thinking about issues like this."
This train of thought might be an answer of sorts to the suggestion that Christianity is the easy way out, and held only because it makes people feel good. This train of thought is neither easy nor especially warm and fuzzy. Finally, a case like Emily's can guide us towards understanding what is miraculous and what is not. A "miracle" with no point to it is dubious because it undermines the kind of orderly, systematic universe we must have if we are to grow and learn in a way that the first commandment tells us we should. We are not merely to love God, but to know him as well. A funhouse sort of world makes that task very difficult.
*** I have another text bookmarked that treats on the subject of miraculous instruction and Christ's death, which I hope to post about very soon. Rebecca also deserves credit for some of these ideas, which she shared with me over cheesecake after the film.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Sex, Prada style

Look what turned up in the pages of GQ. An interview with Miuccia Prada.
GQ: You know that show Sex and the City? MP: Embarrassing! I was thinking New York is like that. I have the impression that the people are like that—the women, the bitchiness. GQ: The thing is, too many women see that show and they think that’s how their life should be. Rather than create their life, they imitate a stupid show. And that’s the worst thing you can do. Right? MP: Oh no, it’s terrible. Also the way of total and sure unhappiness. It’s what I say all the time to my girls in the office here: The more they dress for sex, the less they will have love or sex. These girls throw away so much energy in this search for beauty and sexiness. I think that the old rules were much more clever and better than the rules now. The trouble is, most people are not so generous. Everybody wants love for themselves. I hear this all the time from the women I work with. I hear them say, “I want, I want.” I never hear them saying what they want to give. GQ: Do you tell them that? MP: Yes, of course. They don’t listen. With women, the more unhappy they are, the more undressed they are. This is true. Dignity’s another very important part of this. Sex and the City is the opposite of dignity. You have to have dignity for your body—this is with men and women. You need to have dignity towards how you are, how you dress, how you behave. Very important. Men are always much more dignified than most women. GQ: Why? MP: Because women have the stress of being beautiful, of age and youth. Men don’t have all that. And with women, that stress causes a lot of mistakes and bad choices—a lot of not being their true self. You know, the older I get, the more I prefer to talk to old people. Old people or kids.
How horrible. How dare anybody speak the obvious like that? I'm referring to the comments about Sex and the City, of course. I'm a lot less sure that men are always more dignified. That has to be qualified. Men who are thirty plus but still look, sound, and act like eighteen year olds are not at all dignified and I'm under the impression that we turn out more of them today, especially in North America, than we used to. I blame a value system that is obsessed with power and money. You want power and money don't you? Then you'll have to go to school until you're 36. Don't even think about getting serious about marriage and children until then. What happens, however, is that 15 years of adolescent living and 'dating' arrangements leave a groove on your character that's hard to get out. You can get the same effect by skipping college and working obsessively on a career in sales or some such. A man who surrenders to something noble, however, grows in ways that are difficult to explain or anticipate. Someone who writes (very dryly and humorously, I have to add) under the name Spengler, suggests that a woman's struggle with dignity is at least in part due to our inability to look beyond her form and see her as fully human:
Sexual objectification... makes women paranoid. Whether this is a cultural quirk subject to eventual remedy or a characteristic of humankind since the Fall is a different matter. Adolescent girls suffer the most. The therapists talk of "low self-esteem", but this amounts to uncertainty as to what features of a developing form will attract the opposite sex. If a woman succeeds in manipulating a man on the strength of her value as a sexual object, she never can be sure that another woman will not (or has not already done) the same thing with greater success. The most attractive woman in the world is a miserable creature, as Giuseppe Verdi's Princess Eboli lamented, because her physical presence will overwhelm any other perception of her in the eyes of men. When age eventually destroys her beauty, she will be left with nothing at all. Chemical imbalances in the brain doubtless explain paranoia in many cases, but so can adverse circumstances. Some forms of paranoia represent an attempt to gain power over a world in which the paranoid has no real power at all. Political paranoia, eg, conspiracy theories, flourish among the powerless. By the same token, sexual objectification leaves women without direct power in a man's world.
If Spengler and Prada are on to something, and I think they are, our fashion and entertainment industries are deeply unfriendly to women, and need to be resisted. The clothing and lifestyles they promote make it difficult for a women to be seen for who she is, rather than what she is. Energy that could be put to use experiencing and living an interesting life is spent in diet books, treadmills and fashion magazines with the result that she's harried, paranoid and dull, dull, dull. If she has always been trading on her looks alone, she will rapidly find herself in a loosing position. It doesn't have to be that way. If grown men are indeed more dignified, it can be blamed on their obtuseness. A man's break from the froth of pop culture may be due to no more than his obliviousness to the more subtle clues of social disapproval. Women, often better able to pick up on such cues, are more likely to be ensnared by them. The way out is to stop playing a loosing game, the kind in which the house always wins, and drown out those cues that are not worth listening to. Turn off the pop and find your true north, and then give yourself to it. Invest in who you are, not what. Get good and experienced at it and you gain power and confidence (and loose the paranoia). Recognize only men who recognize what you've wrought. Viola, dignity. See here for an example of terrible pop advice being rejected.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Mustang

2005 Mustang GT From The Truth about Cars:
You could no more chronicle America’s automotive past without discussing the Ford Mustang than you could list Germany’s automotive achievements without mentioning Hitler’s Volkswagen. Strangely, thankfully, the new Mustang is no mere evolution of the Pony Car’s seemingly endless legacy. No, the GT is a nostalgic Mustang “re-imagining”. The new shape combines the best bits of the best versions of the brand’s mostly dire design heritage, and throws in a barrel-chested V8 for good measure. In other words, the Mustang GT looks great, sounds like sex and goes like stink.
I could never afford to buy this car new... but my parish IS raffling one off and yes, I am planning to stock up on tickets.

A herd of independent minds

There is a very interesting read to be had at Albert Mohler. It's about an article in a new publication, on the pleasures and the pains of the intellectual class. Mostly on the pains.
"Why do intellectuals get things so wrong, so often?," [Owen] Harries asks. "The question is worth asking because they are still with us, still vocal, still taken seriously by many as interpreters of the course of human history." In answering his own question, Harries suggests that intellectuals are often wrong because thinkers tend to demand coherence in human affairs, looking "for pattern, meaning, and consistency." Since intellectuals tend to be overwhelmingly secular, Harries observes that most intellectuals attempt to find such consistency in the form of ideology. "Ideologies vary a good deal, but among the things they have in common is that they all require great selectivity with respect to empirical evidence," Harries suggests. "That which supports the ideological creed is readily assimilated and emphasized; that which conflicts with it is either noisily rejected or quietly filtered out and ignored." Harries makes an important point here, and intellectuals, both liberal and conservative, should pay close attention to his analysis. The world is a great deal more complex than any intellectual analysis can fully understand or assimilate. Harries also argues that intellectuals, having generally very little to do with the actual running of organizations, nations, and institutions, have little practical understanding of how the world actually works. "Thus individuals who have never organized anything more demanding than a... University tutorial will without hesitation dismiss as simpletons and ignoramuses individuals who have been responsible for organizing and implementing vast practical projects," Harries explains.
I think the pot shot about secularism is misplaced. Playing fast and loose with evidence is human characteristic, found in all sorts of people - both religious and not. I have, however, seen people in the educational industries (school, university, media) cajole and belittle people engaged in endeavors they know nothing about many, many times. I've experienced it first hand. One last observation that Harries makes is that intellectuals have a "narcissistic belief that what is happening now, in their lifetime, is uniquely important and valid." I think that's true too. It comes down to overconfidence. Being seldom corrected in their own fields, where they can really be a marvel to behold, they extrapolate and incorrectly judge their own abilities on a universal, absolute scale. Thus, when faced with an ages old way of doing things they are very quick to dismiss it in favour of their own ideas. The idea that someone in the past knew it better than they sits uneasily, if at all. The possibility that countless numbers of muckers could, together, be more shrewd than they, hardly sits at all. Here's a link proving that this is not merely a secular issue.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

High Priesthood Theory of Science

Mark Shea chimes in on holwling din of those who hold to materialistic Darwinism and who really, really want you to too:
This ringing endorsement of the High Priesthood Theory of Scientific Enlightenment is all well and good, but it's a bit hard to square with the commonly heard complaint that what the scientifically ignorant American Joe Sixpak needs to do is stop believing Authority and learn to think for himself by learning about science. In effect, this is a demand that ordinary people just shut up and accept what their more enlightened betters tell them about The Way Things Are, and if some Intelligent Design guy makes a case that makes more sense to them, then the ID guys are to be treated as publicans and tax collectors because the High Priest has so willed it. We are to walk by faith in the Priesthood, not by sight. It is not the task of the High Priest to show clearly *why* his account of The Way Things Are makes hash of ID. It is, rather, the duty of Joe Sixpak to henceforth stay away from his "nice friends at the Discovery Institute" as well as anyone else vehemently suspect of heresy. And so, people like me, who are scratching their heads, trying to figure out what is so terrible in saying that Creation sure looks a lot like the product of a Creator get the sense that volume and splenetic fury are substituting for argument here and a sort of catechetical faith in a High Priesthood is, by a curious jiggery pokery, substituting for science education.
Over reacting you say? Check this out:
Chris Mooney and Matthew C. Nisbet, argue that American journalists must stop acting as if there is any kind of scientific argument left to cover related to Darwinism. Thus, “fairness” does not apply, since there are no critics of Darwinian orthodoxy worthy of being treated fairly. Thus, all the critics are religious nuts and there is no need to take their claims seriously or present their arguments accurately.

Katrina

Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on August 26 and here it is mid September and I've yet to even mention it. It isn't because I have no interest. On the contrary, I was one of the many who sat for many hours in front of the television in the days afterwards, wondering how it is that such a mess was allowed to happen. And by mess, I mean the human reaction to the storm both before and after it hit. (Don't get me started on that silliness about how "God struck that evil city / country / president." The aftermath of a major is storm is no time to get puffy and self righteous. God is the ultimate cause of everything that exists, including the laws of nature. There is nothing to be gained by claiming that Katrina was not a normal storm, but one caused miraculously by God.) I have been reluctant to jump into the waters on this one because New Orleans is a very long way from the west coast of Canada. I have no burning need to either jump in with a "me too!" or stick my neck out on a subject I'm not in much of a position to say anything about. Until now, that is. Now we're starting to see analysis of the response, and just how the crisis of the poor and stranded in the first few days came about. On those things I'll venture an opinon. In my neck of the woods, the minorities are not poor or black, they're Hong Kong Chinese ranging from middle class to very wealthy. We also have a number of Sihks in the Valley and they do pretty well running a lot of the farms around here. If a earthquake and / or tsunami were to level Vancouver, it's hard to imagine the scene being like it was in New Orleans for the first week after the storm. The people most at risk here would be the very poorest people in the city, many of whom are native. This is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with native people, and by extension, I don't think Katrina's aftermath can be used to argue there is something wrong with blacks. Why is it then, that these groups are so abundantly represented among those who struggle to get by? It has to be observed that not all blacks are poor, and locally, not all natives are either. Just the other day I saw a news story on a native band that was making millions with a winery that they started up outside Osoyoos (yup, spelled that right!). George Will points out that, in the U.S., most blacks are middle class. This suggests that the problem is not anything inherent to race, since it has a limited effect. Some American liberals are claiming that the culprit is poverty. Writing in the WSJ, Brendan Miniter observes that:
[The] debate has so far largely focused on race and class to explain why tens of thousands of poor people were left behind to fend for themselves in a flooding city. Liberals are now blaming small-government conservatism for cutting "antipoverty" programs. That's a tune a surprising number of people are starting to hum, from NAACP chairman Julian Bond to New York Times columnist David Brooks, who speculated recently that the storm will probably spark a new progressive movement in America. The lyrics are still being written, but the refrain for this ditty is a familiar one: Small government conservatives did it to us again.
Miniter himself disagrees with that theory, as do I. One has to ask, where did the poverty come from? I'm not being facile. Why do some manage to overcome it, while others do not? If some can overcome it, then it can't be that poverty causes poverty. If that were true, then no one would escape it and we'd be having this conversation in a cave, leaning over a fire pit. George Will points us in the right direction. He writes:
The senator [Barack Obama], 44, is just 30 months older than the "war on poverty" that President Johnson declared in January 1964. Since then the indifference that is as bad as active malice has been expressed in more than $6.6 trillion of anti-poverty spending, strictly defined. The senator is called a "new kind of Democrat," which often means one with new ways of ignoring evidence discordant with old liberal orthodoxies about using cash -- much of it spent through liberalism's "caring professions" -- to cope with cultural collapse. He might, however, care to note three not-at-all recondite rules for avoiding poverty: Graduate from high school, don't have a baby until you are married, don't marry while you are a teenager. Among people who obey those rules, poverty is minimal. ... Liberalism's post-Katrina fearlessness in discovering the obvious -- if an inner city is inundated, the victims will be disproportionately minorities -- stopped short of indelicately noting how many of the victims were women with children but not husbands. Because it was released during the post-Katrina debacle, scant attention was paid to the National Center for Health Statistics' report that in 2003, 34.6 percent of all American births were to unmarried women. The percentage among African American women was 68.2. Given that most African Americans are middle class and almost half live outside central cities, and that 76 percent of all births to Louisiana African Americans were to unmarried women, it is a safe surmise that more than 80 percent of African American births in inner-city New Orleans -- as in some other inner cities -- were to women without husbands. That translates into a large and constantly renewed cohort of lightly parented adolescent males, and that translates into chaos in neighborhoods and schools, come rain or come shine.
Will is arguing that adherence to a strong moral code is the missing ingredient, that it is the reason why some can overcome poverty and some struggle with it. This ought to be good news. Successful strategies for maintaining family and community health can be taught, probably for a fraction of what the 'war on poverty' has cost. If he is right, we also have ammunition against those who would be dismissive of those caught in Katrina's wake - those who argue about "those people." Family and community health is primarily the result of how people in those communities are oriented towards one another. If they stick together, they can create, conserve and share resources. If they do not, then it will fall to the young and the strong to take what they can, while they can. There will always be those who are poor by being unlucky enough to outlive all their relatives, who are disabled or injured in some way, and there is no reason why we can't marshall resources to help them out. Most of those trapped at the Superdome did not fall into those categories, although some did. Turning to the WSJ again:
We still only have anecdotal evidence to go on, and we can be hopeful as the death toll remains far below the thousands originally predicted. But it's reasonable to surmise that Sen. Kennedy is correct about those who wanted to leave: Most people who could arrange for their own transportation got out of harms way; those who depended on the government (and public transportation) were left for days to the mercy of armed thugs at the Superdome and Convention Center. It was an extreme example of what the welfare state has done to the poor for decades: use the promise of food, shelter and other necessities to lure most of the poor to a few central points and then leave them stranded and nearly helpless. This isn't a failure of President Bush's compassionate conservatism. Nor is it evidence that Ronald Reagan's philosophy of smaller government is fatally flawed. If LBJ had won his war on poverty, Ninth Ward residents would have had the means to drive themselves out of New Orleans. Instead, after decades and billions of tax dollars have been poured into big government programs, one out of four people in the Big Easy were still poor. That is an indictment of the welfare state and all its antipoverty programs.
The trouble with anti poverty programs that are too generous is that they serve to break down the cause and effect relationship between decisions that we make. I'm not arguing that the intent behind such programs is malign, but we have a responsibility to observe the results of our actions and if need be, concede that they might be ill founded. People are not turnips that will flourish - guaranteed! - if only we will give them the right amount of water and fertilizer. People live in relationships with one another and it is those webs of relation that need to be cared for. If the webs in New Orleans had been healthier, there would have been fewer people stranded and those charged with their care would not have been content to send them to the dome when there were busses that could have been used to get them out. Needless to say, such a society would not loot it's neighbors or shoot at its rescuers.

Carnival

The latest Catholic Carnival is up at Our Word and Welcome to it. There are two entries I enjoyed and wish to point out - and I don't mean my own, or Angry's, although they are worth checking out. Kate Cousino's response to Galmour magazine's artcile, "Where have all the pro choice women gone?" is wonderful. I so love to see people, espeically young people, with courage and smarts like this. The more bookish response to the same subject is at Deo Omnis Gloria.
America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts -- a child -- as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters" And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners. Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being's entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign. ~ Mother Teresa, via Catholic Fire

Monday, September 12, 2005

Ratzinger on Evolution

Pope Benedict, speaking while still Cardinal Ratzinger, on the subject of evolution:
Has the last word been spoken? Have Christianity and reason permanently parted company? There is no getting around the dispute about the extent of the claims of the doctrine of evolution as a fundamental philosophy and about the exclusive validity of the positive method as the sole indicator of systematic knowledge and of rationality. This dispute has therefore to be approached objectively and with a willingness to listen, by both sides -- something that has hitherto been undertaken only to a limited extent. No one will be able to cast serious doubt upon the scientific evidence for micro-evolutionary processes... Within the teaching about evolution itself, the problem emerges at the point of transition from micro to macro-evolution, on which point Szathmary and Maynard Smith, both convinced supporters of an all-embracing theory of evolution, nonetheless declare that: "There is no theoretical basis for believing that evolutionary lines become more complex with time; and there is also no empirical evidence that this happens." The question that has now to be put certainly delves deeper: it is whether the theory of evolution can be presented as a universal theory concerning all reality, beyond which further questions about the origin and the nature of things are no longer admissible and indeed no longer necessary, or whether such ultimate questions do not after all go beyond the realm of what can be entirely the object of research and knowledge by natural science. I should like to put the question in still more concrete form. Has everything been said with the kind of answer that we find thus formulated by Popper: "Life as we know it consists of physical 'bodies' (more precisely, structures) which are problem solving. This the various species have 'learned' by natural selection, that is to say by the method of reproduction plus variation, which itself has been learned by the same method. This regress is not necessarily infinite." I do not think so. In the end this concerns a choice that can no longer be made on purely scientific grounds or basically on philosophical grounds. The question is whether reason, or rationality, stands at the beginning of all things and is grounded in the basis of all things or not. The question is whether reality originated on the basis of chance and necessity (or, as Popper says, in agreement with Butler, on the basis of luck and cunning) and, thus, from what is irrational; that is, whether reason, being a chance by-product of irrationality and floating in an ocean of irrationality, is ultimately just as meaningless; or whether the principle that represents the fundamental conviction of Christian faith and of its philosophy remains true: "In principio erat Verbum" -- at the beginning of all things stands the creative power of reason. Now as then, Christian faith represents the choice in favor of the priority of reason and of rationality. This ultimate question, as we have already said, can no longer be decided by arguments from natural science, and even philosophical thought reaches its limits here. In that sense, there is no ultimate demonstration that the basic choice involved in Christianity is correct. Yet, can reason really renounce its claim to the priority of what is rational over the irrational, the claim that the Logos is at the ultimate origin of things, without abolishing itself?
"There is no ultimate demonstration that the basic choice involved in Christianity is correct. Yet, can reason really renounce its claim to the priority of what is rational over the irrational?" He's a sharp one, that guy.

Inklings

Lewis on marriage... at Inklings.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Bethlehem

This caught my attention when it came across my radar this afternoon. It's from the dictionary.com entry for the city, although I heard it from Fr. Corapi first.
Bethlehem: house of bread. (1.) A city in the "hill country" of Judah. It was originally called Ephrath (Gen. 35:16, 19; 48:7; Ruth 4:11). It was also called Beth-lehem Ephratah (Micah 5:2), Beth-lehem-judah (1 Sam. 17:12), and "the city of David"(Luke 2:4). It is first noticed in Scripture as the place where Rachel died and was buried "by the wayside," directly to the north of the city (Gen. 48:7). The valley to the east was the scene of the story of Ruth the Moabitess. There are the fields in which she gleaned, and the path by which she and Naomi returned to the town. Here was David's birth-place, and here also, in after years, he was anointed as king by Samuel (1 Sam. 16:4-13); and it was from the well of Bethlehem that three of his heroes brought water for him at the risk of their lives when he was in the cave of Adullam (2 Sam. 23:13-17). But it was distinguished above every other city as the birth-place of "Him whose goings forth have been of old" (Matt. 2:6; comp. Micah 5:2). Afterwards Herod, "when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men," sent and slew "all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under" (Matt. 2:16, 18; Jer. 31:15). Bethlehem bears the modern name of Beit-Lahm, i.e., "house of flesh." It is about 5 miles south of Jerusalem, standing at an elevation of about 2,550 feet above the sea, thus 100 feet higher than Jerusalem. There is a church still existing, built by Constantine the Great (A.D. 330), called the "Church of the Nativity," over a grotto or cave called the "holy crypt," and said to be the "stable" in which Jesus was born. This is perhaps the oldest existing Christian church in the world. Close to it is another grotto, where Jerome the Latin father is said to have spent thirty years of his life in translating the Scriptures into Latin.
That Fr. Corapi fellow always has an interesing way of putting things. He also refered to Mary as a tabernacle and himself as a humble donkey delivering Christ. The second is in reference to his actions as a Eucharistic minister.

Darwin and demarcation

What follows are choice quotes I've come across in this weekend's readings on Darwinism. This debate is what it is in part because the real problem at the core of it so often unidentified. It is, namely, what is known in philosophy as the Demarcation Problem. The group on top has a vested interest in drawing that line in such as way that they are secure in their position, and in getting others to buy into that division. It's a bit like a tax collector plucking as much as he can, just shy of the point where his victim notices and questions the whole process. In this case, the spin is that science and religion (or, philosophy, if you prefer) are like oil and water. That's a metaphysical proposition - and a dubious one at that. James Franklin:
it is uncontroversial to assert that Darwinism is a logically complex theory, and that its relation to empirical evidence is distant and multi-faceted. One does not directly observe chance genetic variations leading to the development of new species, or even continuous variations in the fossil record, but must rely on subtle arguments to the best explanation, scaling up from varieties to species, and so on. The strength or otherwise of these arguments, individually and collectively, is a purely logical question. It is no answer to Stove's attack on Darwinism to sermonize, as Blackburn does, about how disgraceful it is for philosophers to delve in matters that do not concern them. Marxists, or Freudians, or astrologers, or phrenologists are not allowed to 'answer' philosophers' doubts about the relation of their theories to the evidence by saying, 'Trust me, I'm a doctor'. Evolutionists have no such rights either.
David Fontana:
The picture that emerges from this literature suggests that at the very least there are impressive grounds for a serious debate on whether or not natural selection is the sole explanation for evolution, or just one explanation among many. No-one can usefully enter this debate without at the very least reading the meticulous arguments advanced respectively by Wesson, Goodwin and Behe, three highly respected academics with an impressive grasp of their material. Natural selection may account for some of the changes in flora and fauna traceable through recorded time, but there are legitimate doubts as to whether it can explain all of them. In fact, it may account for only a relatively small percentage. The opposition of neo-Darwinians to any informed debate on the truth of neo-Darwinism as an all-inclusive theory of evolution is therefore somewhat difficult to understand, and could have more to do with a doctrinaire aversion to any idea of conscious purpose behind existence than with an unbiased attempt to arrive at scientific truth. As with Shakespeare's Lady MacBeth, there seems to be a little too much protesting going on among certain of the more vocal of them. (In this context it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that Darwin was not himself prejudiced against the idea of purpose in the universe - e.g. 'I cannot view ... the nature of man and conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws ... with the details ... left to ... what we may call chance').
Lee Harris:
If an elite claims esoteric knowledge that I cannot verify in my own experience, then that elite automatically falls under suspicion in the eyes of the Protestant. If every man is a priest, according to the famous Lutheran maxim, then everyman is a cosmologist and metaphysician as well. If men I don't personally know make claims about the world that I am unable to check out for myself, why should I trust them? And what happens, politically speaking, to any community in which more and more decisions about their life are left in the hands of a cognitive elite whose claims to knowledge become increasingly difficult for the average person to verify with the instruments of common sense that are at hand? Again, the farmer can always check the addition of the grocer who sells him his supplies; but how can he check Darwin's theory of evolution or the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics? The farmers in Dayton, Tennessee who did not want their children being taught Darwin's theory of evolution, were questioning authority, unlike those people who have accepted the theory simply because it was what educated people of the time happened to think they ought to believe. This, after all, is a theory complicated enough in its implications that a philosopher of the stature of Daniel Dennett could attack a paleontologist of the stature of Stephen Jay Gould over its correct interpretation-and the farmers of Dayton were expected to be able to make up their own minds about it? On what possible basis? Should they have collected funds to take an excursion of the Galapagos Islands and seen the finches with their own eyes? ... To associate scientific consensus with the concept of ecclesiastical orthodoxy is offensive to the Platonist, but a truism to the sociologist.
It's offensive to the scientist too, I'm quite sure. Harris goes on to say that there IS a need for a group or organization to make claims about what is and is not acceptable science today, but that such groups must expect to be questioned and overturned. He cites Einstein and Darwin as examples of young scientists who came out of nowhere and upset the applecart as they found it. To do so, they had to be patient and persistent in the defense of what they felt was truth, and we are better off for their successes. This is crucial: they believed in truth and not merely in science as a social construction protected by a venerable elite. Where does this truth come from? Lee Harris, from the same long article:
A humble example may make my point clearer. Suppose that you are given a message that appears to be in cipher, and you are asked to decipher it. You begin to work on the project, but after many hours you begin to wonder if there is really a message to be decoded. You have tried every trick in the cryptographer's book, and yet nothing works. In despair, you go to the person who presented you with the puzzle and you ask, "Are you sure there is really a message here?" Now imagine your reaction if the person testing you were to say, "To be perfectly honest with you, I'm not really sure. You see we were given two kinds of messages-one that was really in a code, and the other that was simply a string of utterly random letters thrown together arbitrarily." What would be your response? Certainly, it would come out as something like, "Why in hell didn't you tell me that before I wasted all my time?" And, after all, what is the point of trying to decipher a code that isn't a code at all, but simply a mishmash of random symbols, devoid of any intelligent organizational principle, and hence, by definition, impossible to decode? And after you discovered that you may well have been given a pointless task, how diligently would you continue to work at deciphering it. Wouldn't it be natural for your determination to flag on learning that even the best college try would yield no results, because no results could be yielded? Yet that is how Plato viewed the problem of deciphering the code of the universe. There were some parts that made sense; but there were many other parts that didn't, and never could be forced to make sense. They were simply the irrational, and it was pointless for a man of any intelligence to waste his time trying to make sense of this vast domain of irreducible insignificance. Shit happens, and when it does, the pursuer of knowledge stops, and humbly confesses complete ignorance. The Christian cosmology, founded on the outrageous absurdity of creation out of nothing, asserted that shit doesn't happen and that God doesn't play dice. He made everything-hence everything is rational and designed in accordance with an intelligible plan. What appears on the surface to be irrational is, if examined in sufficient detail, full of hidden reasons. Everything makes sense because everything is the result of intelligent design. Who could believe such twaddle? Luckily a vast number of brilliant European scientists could, and because they believed in intelligent design they were able to devise models of the universe that assumed the existence of an intelligent designer. To use our metaphor from a bit earlier, they were all convinced that there was an intelligible code at the basis of the cosmos. They were persuaded that there was nothing irrational about our universe and that every last detail had been prearranged and planned from the beginning of time. They believed that every event that occurred had been ordered in accordance with a divine plan. The notion that there was an intelligent designer who created absolutely everything from scratch and in accordance with a rational plan is the psychological precondition of the willingness to look for patterns that are hidden to the ordinary gaze. Unless we believe that there is a code to be deciphered, we are psychologically reluctant to devote hours of our life, let alone our life itself, to the pursuit of deciphering it.
Do not under stand me as defending all ID arguments. I'm averse to what has been called "God of the gaps" claims, for example. What I object to is the shutting down of a wide swath of commentary as being simply unworthy of listening to, simply because it does not conform to the political and ideological constructions of a power group. The gate keeping function is legitimate, but not every instance of it will be legitimate. Harris is obviously influenced by Thomas Kuhn, and perhaps Paul Feyerabend as well. Feyerabend is a new name to me, but I find his Wikki page to be quite interesting, abeit his idea that science can be directed by democracy is nutty. Surely a high IQ is of major importance and cannot be overidden in detail by a mob (which is hardly disinterested). Specialization counts. Harris continues:
The refusal to recognize intelligent design in the world would have kept science from ever getting off the ground, the willingness to resort to divine intervention in order to explain otherwise inexplicable anomalies in the universe would have quickly put a limit to its development. Men would have tired of looking for more deeply hidden patterns and regularity, and would have fallen back on appealing to divine intervention in order to keep from challenging themselves to ascend to a higher level of insight and understanding of the nature of things.
The point of this post is a simple one, and that is that the Demarcation Problem is deep and thorny and it is so because there is no escaping metaphysics, no matter how faith averse you are. This does not imply full blown Christianity or any other formal religion but also does not rule them out. The point of scientific research is to search for ontological truth (or at least predictive truths), and not to take a hatchet to organizations one dislikes.
Darwin's theory of evolution makes no predictions, and this has been attacked by some as its weakness. In fact, it is completely unavoidable. Any theory that hopes to explain the biological diversity of life on this planet will invariably fail to generate testable propositions. This is because the random variations that become the beautiful adaptations to an organism's environment cannot, by definition, be predicted in advance. But neither could they be predicted in advance if God intervened in the creation of each new variation that appears in evolution of the organism. Thus, whether we assume that the variations come about by chance or by the hand of God, we are equally unable to predict them. Those critics of Darwin who come from a more rigorous region of the scientific project, such as mathematicians and physicists, are often appalled at the leaps in logic made by the evolutionary biologist; but he can only work by such leaps. Like the cosmologist, he must make the most of every clue he can get. As Aristotle wisely said quite a long time ago, It is a mark of the educated man to know what degree of certainty he can expect from any particular domain of scientific or philosophic inquiry.
Amen to that. Harris' essay is very long but wothwhile. The final section, speculating on the metaphysics of Darwin's upbringing is very interesting and very sympathetic, suggesting that Darwin's inability to reconcile his theory with his own conception of God might have more to do with his theology than his science. Darwin may have been felled in this endeavor by problem of pain, struggle, and evil, which struck his sheltered conception of God as plainly and obviously tender, and which needs to be compared to a more worldy conception of God's tenderness as being mysterious and an article of faith.