"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Two podcasts worth listening to:

Colin McGinn:

(Click here for MP3)
In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Colin McGinn explores various kinds of skepticism, giving his concerns about radical fallibilism and certain post-modern critiques of knowledge. He explains how he is certain that ghosts and Gods don't exist. He details how atheistic the profession of philosophy is, and how the tolerance shown while philosophers criticize each other serves as a model for good citizenship. He tells the reasons that led to his religious skepticism and atheism. He examines William Shakespeare as a philosopher, the problem of evil in Shakespeare's plays, and other philosophical subjects found in Shakespeare such as epistemology, ethics, life after death, happiness and the meaning of life. He also explains how getting into Shakespeare as a professional philosopher impacted his philosophy.

Richard Norman:

(Click here for MP3)
Can non-believers make sense of the world? How can there be morality without God? In this episode of Philosophy Bites philosopher Richard Norman, author of On Humanism, contributor to What is Humanism? and member of the Humanist Philosophers Group, explains how it is possible to lead a good life without religion.

Links:
Point of Inquiry
Philosophy Bites

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4 Comments:

Blogger Alex said...

Hey Matt, Thanks for posting. It's helpful that you direct me to the ones you find interesting, otherwise I never seem to get around to listening to them.

A couple of real quick points, pros & cons.

I can agree whole heartedly with McGinn's rather healthy view of skepticism. This seems to be the proper humble response to our finite condition.

McGinn makes a category error when he says something to the effect that since there are no evidences (the nature of said evidence is up for grabs here) of angles or Gods in the universe they are therefore probably false conceptions.

If as a system posits beings that by nature transcend the physical universe, what good decrying the absence of their physical presence as grounds for rejecting them? I'm not saying I this is an argument for them, but its certainly a poor argument against them. Furthermore, Jesus and the early church certainly fit the category of evidences, the question is whether it meets the threshold of acceptance for any given person.

Also McGinn and Norman make much of the humanistic stance that since there is nothing other than this life they are on better grounds to really make the "most" of what we have. I can see the sorts of scenarios this talk is aiming at. Such a conception would have bearings upon those who entertain the notion of suicide bombings, or perhaps those who live their whole lives piously denying themselves contact with the outside world for the sake of "purity". In which case, the point is well taken... if it's true.

On the other hand I have two beefs with this line of thinking.

1. It does not follow that if there is more to life than our brief temporal existence that the temporal existence is not worth "making the most of". Indeed, if there is a life beyond this life and said life will be influenced by our response to "the good" in this life, then "making the most" of today actually carries more force than if we are just brief pointless flukes.

2. On atheistic grounds that whole concept of "making the most" must ultimately be collapsed into "doing what makes me feel good". The moment the atheistic humanists begin speaking in terms of their values as if they have something to recommend themselves they are crossing out of materialistic naturalism into realms that contain categories they must simply ignore in able to use them effectively.

Acknowledging Timmo's point about different types of atheists might assent to spiritual realities or some transcendent "good" in the absence of God, but also pointing out that I don't believe any of us entertain such notion; I must again point out that any talk of humanists needing to do this, that, or the other thing on thinly veiled moral grounds is either 1. assuming an absolute that must not be spoken of, or 2. simply ejaculating preferences for the purposes of preserving what an individual would prefer be the case. (dogmatic relativism)

For any ethicist to begin speaking on moral grounds they must have a starting point which is a "given". In secular circles the "given" is usually some inherent worth of people, a promotion of a conveniently undefined "good", or some other unjustified concept. The thing that drives me nuts is that ultimately if we are working with an atheistic presupposition ethical starting points can only get off the ground by begging the question. Furthermore, it begs the question in such a way as to fly in the face of it's own presuppositional affirmations.

If we are committed to a universe that is an impersonal, purposeless event, then to begin ethical reasoning with "inherent human worth" is utter nonsense. The only reason they can pull it off is because we all FEEL it. I would argue that the reason we feel it says something about the depths of creation. There is an ethical ground that does not require begging the question and this ground is the relational God who is. If the core of reality is a love relationship, ethics stands on the surest footing it could ever hope to attain.

On the other hand, if we feel we need to be committed to atheism all this talk of ought/ought not, goodness, etc... is nothing more than unjustified, optimistic noise.

Do you guys see this, or am I missing something foundational here?

Hmmm... so much for quick. P.S. I intend to pick up our extended morality rant again when I can find the time. There were some interesting things going on there.

5:55 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Hi Alex,

If as a system posits beings that by nature transcend the physical universe, what good decrying the absence of their physical presence as grounds for rejecting them?

Because, in the absence of direct revelation, physical presence is the only thing that could provide evidence of their existence - and most religious believers suggest that such evidence exists.

I think there's also the issue that, so far, science has provided the best means of understanding the world we live in, and science operates on physical grounds.

So if you want to convince a non-believer you'll often have to do so on the basis of physical phenomenon.

Also McGinn and Norman make much of the humanistic stance that since there is nothing other than this life they are on better grounds to really make the "most" of what we have.

I'm not sure to what extent McGinn or Norman would agree with me, but I think it's worth pointing out that humanism is not an inherently atheistic stance - most deists were humanists, for example. Religious humanism would have no trouble believing in God and an afterlife, but simply believe that our knowledge of these things must come from our individual human capacities (such as reason).

Indeed, if there is a life beyond this life and said life will be influenced by our response to "the good" in this life, then "making the most" of today actually carries more force than if we are just brief pointless flukes.

I'm not sure that it does - as, in such a scenario, this life is still a spring-board to something "greater".

Say that (for some strange reason) you where provided with a house, but told it was only temporary. Eventually you'd move into something bigger - but that the nature of your new home would depend on how you treated the temporary one.

You'd have a tendency to value the temporary home - but for what it would lead to, not for its own sake.

For what it's worth, however, I think that the value we place on this life depends more on the person than their ideology.

I must again point out that any talk of humanists needing to do this, that, or the other thing on thinly veiled moral grounds is either 1. assuming an absolute that must not be spoken of, or 2. simply ejaculating preferences for the purposes of preserving what an individual would prefer be the case. (dogmatic relativism)

I think it depends on what we mean by "need". If I have a desire to eat, then I need to eat in order to satisfy that desire. If I have a desire for knowledge, then I need education (either formal or informal), in order to satisfy that desire.

Humanism is generally based on the idea that most humans share certain desires/values - and with these premises it's quite possible to form objective arguments.

If I don't want to die of thirst then, given my circumstances, I must drink.

We can move to morality based on this: If I want my loved ones to live free from violence then I must condemn it.

6:01 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
"Because, in the absence of direct revelation, physical presence is the only thing that could provide evidence of their existence - and most religious believers suggest that such evidence exists."

They do? To my knowledge God and spirits exist in such a way as to be beyond our ability to describe. We call them "spiritual", but we can only conceive of that in the negative. (that being, not physical) And that's the whole point. Revelation tells us that what ever God is he is not physical. If he is not physical we should not expect to "find" him by looking at physical stuff. Thus to say, "since we don't "see" him, he must not exist" is just silly.

My point can be illustrated thusly: Imagine if I were to go to the police and say that there was a man in my house last night and he stole my television. He then ran off into the night. The next day the police come to my house an do a thorough search. Sure enough, the television is gone. The detective in charge walks up to me to report his findings. "Sir", he says, "It is true that your television is missing. However we have searched this house from top to bottom and have found no burglar. Therefore we have concluded the burglar does not exist. Your television must have disappeared by some other method."

Surely something is amiss here.

This is just the situation we find ourself in regarding the question of God. We have a testimony that says there is a God who created a creation other than himself. We then have those who investigate the creation and don't find a God sitting somewhere off in a dark corner. They then conclude that God must not exist and that creation must have come about some other way.

Of all the arguments that might be attempted against God surely this is quite poor.

If you insist that we must assent to methodism and only rely on knowledge born of science to weigh in on the question of God you will only ever achieve agnosticism. As I said in the post above the methods used to discover truth about any given object must be appropriate to the object which one is seeking to know. Science has yielded tremendous fruit when used within its proper dominion of the physical world, but the question of God transcends the physical.

"Humanism is generally based on the idea that most humans share certain desires/values - and with these premises it's quite possible to form objective arguments."

You have more faith in the homogenous nature of humanity than I do my friend. Furthermore I think your humanist friends will find it rather difficult to impose their own hypothetical imperatives on others (as they so often do in their strident support of secularism (not a value judgement, just an observation)) who do not share their desires. What does a relativist say in his/her heart when a warring tribe bent on murder, rape and revenge does not operate on the same set of desires as they?

Is there not seem as though something much more wrong in such a picture than the mere violation of one's particular "desire".

I suppose I waste my breath though. Were I an atheist I would be striving to construct a system much like yourself. Even if it were in-spite of a conviction that free will must be impossible and that I was nothing more than a part of the machine doing what it does...

10:27 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

My point can be illustrated thusly:

The analogy is slightly weak though - First, you have no evidence that the TV ever existed (except maybe the copy of an old receipt for a vaguely defined electrical appliance from a store that might possibly once have been in your area). Second, you have history of explaining burglaries that were later proven false. And third, numerous other people are claiming the TV that was stolen, providing slightly different descriptions each time.

We have a testimony that says there is a God who created a creation other than himself.

But we also have pretty convincing non-supernatural explanations of such a belief: People have always attributed the unknown to such forces - go back a thousand years and you find widespread beliefs that winter was an actual being rather than the result of physical forces.

What does a relativist say in his/her heart when a warring tribe bent on murder, rape and revenge does not operate on the same set of desires as they?

We're all ultimately relativists though - as we need to accept certain premises before we can build any arguments.

Over at Rhobology's blog, you attempted an ontological argument for why God's wishes were, in a sense, binding on us. But in order to do so you needed to have an implicit acceptance that logic was valid.

Remove that validity and your entire argument - any argument - collapses.

Morality is relative to the field of desires it operates in, just as the speed of light is relative to the medium it passes through and the weight of an object is relative to the gravity its in.

9:17 AM

 

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