Category : Philosophy

(PD) Ismail Royer–Bernie Sander’s Relativism Test Is Bad for Muslims and All Religious Believers

Thus, any Muslim unwilling to repudiate the belief that Islam is objectively true and that other religions are, at least in critical respects, objectively false, would be unqualified to serve under Bernie’s relativism test.

It also follows that any Muslims objecting to Vought’s appointment must either admit they don’t believe Islam is objectively true, admit they’re employing a double standard, or drop their objection to the appointment. The corollary to this, of course, is that any non-Muslims objecting to a Muslim’s appointment to public office merely on the basis of his religious beliefs are in precisely the same position. As James Madison wrote, the No Religious Test Clause means “Jews Turks & infidels” are free to serve in government. So long as a Muslim candidate for public service is qualified for office, the fact that he or she is an unapologetic Muslim can be no grounds for objecting to the appointment. Anyone who says otherwise while opposing Bernie’s test must either admit his bad faith or repudiate the Constitution.

I am inclined to think that Bernie Sanders and his allies mean well in opposing Vought’s nomination. They want to protect the feelings of members of a religious minority that has come under fire from many quarters. That sentiment is admirable and appreciated, but misguided. Bernie needs to realize that Muslims in America are more adult, and have more confidence in themselves and in the truth of their faith, than one might imagine. More importantly, by bending the Constitution in the name of pluralism to require relativism from all holders of public office, the institution of such a test would constitute a loss for Muslims and all religious believers in the long run.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(The Australian) Kevin Donelly–Australia should not deny Its Christian roots

Civil Liberties Australia, in its submission to the Senate inquiry on freedom of religion, argues Australia is not a Christian country on the basis that “it is not correct in law and in fact is directly contradicted by the Constitution”.

The reality proves otherwise: although Australia is a secular society, where there is a division between church and state, to deny the significance of Christianity is to deny the nation’s heritage and culture and to ignore what underpins our political and legal systems.

Rather than ignoring Christianity, the Constitution’s preamble includes the words: “Humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God” and parliaments around Australia begin with the Lord’s Prayer.

Perth lawyer Augusto Zimmermann says Australia’s political and legal systems owe much to Christianity.

He says: “It is evident the foundations of the Australian nation, and its laws, have discernible Christian-philosophical roots.”

Read it all.

Posted in Australia / NZ, History, Philosophy, Religion & Culture

(1st Things) William Doino–Alvin Plantinga’s Masterful Achievement

To appreciate his achievement, one should start by noting what Plantinga had to overcome. As Heather Templeton Dill said, announcing this year’s prize:

When Dr. Plantinga began his career in the late 1950’s, most academic philosophers deliberately rejected religiously informed philosophy. But early on, Dr. Plantinga defended a variety of arguments for the existence of God, marking the beginning of his efforts to put theistic belief back on the philosophical agenda.
Plantinga’s first important work, God and Other Minds, re-examined the classic arguments for and against God. It concluded that belief in the existence of God was rational, just as belief in other minds is. Arguments for the existence of other minds cannot be proven with certitude, yet most everyone accepts them as a given fact. Similarly, a religious believer’s personal encounter with the divine authorizes belief in a divine mind and creator—even if such a being cannot be strictly inferred from the secular world. Though these arguments sound simple, Plantinga worked them out with great intricacy and depth, and his book moved many skeptical minds toward belief.

His second major work, God, Freedom and Evil, proved even more consequential, as it dealt with the oft-heard objection that a good God is incompatible with a world filled with evil.

Read it all.

Posted in Apologetics, Philosophy, Theology

(G+M) Mark Kingwell–Artificial intelligence in 2017 means respect, not fear

…fear remains the dominant emotion when humans talk about technological change. Are self-driving cars better described as self-crashing? Is the Internet of Things, where we eagerly allow information-stealing algorithms into our rec rooms and kitchens, the end of privacy? Is the Singularity imminent?

But fright is closely seconded by wonder. Your smartphone makes Deep Blue look, as Mr. [Gary] Kasparov has said, like an alarm clock. In your pocket lies computing power exponentially greater than a Cray supercomputer from the 1970s that occupied an entire room and required an elaborate cooling system. Look at all the things I can do, not to mention dates I can make, while walking heedlessly down the sidewalk! This is familiar terrain. The debate about artificial intelligence is remarkable for not being a debate at all but rather, as with Trump-era politics or the cultural-appropriation issue, a series of conceptual standoffs. Can we get past the typical stalemates and break some new ground on artificial intelligence?

I think we can, and Mr. Kasparov himself makes the first part of the argument. We can program non-human systems, he notes, to do what we already know how to do. Deep Blue won against him using brute force surveys of possible future moves, something human players do less quickly. But when it comes to things we humans don’t understand about ourselves, and so can’t translate into code, the stakes are different. Intuition, creativity, empathy – these are qualities of the human mind that the mind itself cannot map. To use Julian Jaynes’s memorable image, we are like flashlights, illuminating the external world but not the mechanisms by which we perceive it.

Read it all.

Posted in Canada, Philosophy, Science & Technology

(PD) Ryan Anderson–Faith and Reason, Beauty and Holiness

This time at college was also the first time I had ever met Evangelicals, and daily Mass-attending Catholics. Indeed, it was the first time I met any Christian deeply committed to the faith. And so, at Princeton University of all places, I started to think seriously as a Christian. And I came to see that there’s no conflict between faith and reason. I came to understand more deeply the reasons for the hope I have.

I also came to see just how misguided secular liberal policies were on the most urgent and important questions, and how much damage—in terms of human brokenness—these policies cause. I saw that to love my neighbor required me to help defend the truth in terms that my secular classmates could engage. That the knowledge I had acquired in thinking through these questions wasn’t just for me, it wasn’t just so I could be secure in my opinions, puffed up knowing that I’m right and they’re wrong, but was to be shared—and it was to be shared precisely because it is the truth that sets us free, and makes us flourish. This was what God was calling me to do then and there.

He may be calling some of you to do the same….

Read it all.

Posted in Apologetics, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Theology, Theology: Scripture, Young Adults

(CC) Elizabeth Palmer on Stephen Backhouse’s new biography–Kierkegaard and his gifts for the church

The second gift Kierkegaard gives the church is the withering power of his attacks on the established church in Denmark, including its dominant theology, its institutional structure, and its pastors. This stance is the focus of Kierkegaard’s polemical writings in which he became enmeshed during the last years of his life. He was offended by a theology that turned Christianity into a form of philosophical Hegelianism (Kierkegaard’s charge against the popular professor H. L. Martensen), by culturally and politically sanctioned church leaders (embodied for Kierkegaard by Bishop J. P. Mynster), and by anti-institutional populist forms of religion that made an idol of the masses (Kierkegaard’s view of the pastor-educator Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig). As Kierkegaard saw it, these manifestations of bourgeois faith lured Danes away from Jesus’ radical call to discipleship. Caught up in the crowd of a culturally sanctioned faith, Christians were saved from the offensive but necessary movement of throwing themselves as sinners on God’s mercy.

Although Christianity in 21st-century America is far from that of 19th-century Denmark, it is not only in Kierkegaard’s day that pastors were guilty of preaching in a way that “tones down, veils, suppresses, omits some of what is most decisively Christian” (as Kierkegaard put it in an 1854 newspaper article following Mynster’s death). Refusing on his deathbed to receive holy communion from a clergyman, Kierkegaard complained about a church that was beholden to the state, a church in which “the pastors are civil servants of the Crown.” Today the co-opting of the church comes from other directions. Fear of numerical decline, nostalgia for the way things used to be, or adherence to a political agenda exerts its own pressure toward conformity and security.

And clergy are not the only ones Kierkegaard faults. Pews as well as pulpits are filled with religious complacency:

The New Testament is very easy to understand. But we human beings are really a bunch of scheming swindlers; we pretend to be unable to understand it because we understand very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly at once. . . . I open the N.T. and read: “If you want to be perfect, then sell all your goods and give to the poor and come and follow me.” Good God, all the capitalists, the officeholders, and the pensioners, the whole race no less, would be almost beggars.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History, Denmark, Philosophy, Religion & Culture

Alvin Plantinga wins the 2017 Templeton prize

Alvin Plantinga, an American scholar whose rigorous writings over a half century have made theism – the belief in a divine reality or god – a serious option within academic philosophy, was announced today as the 2017 Templeton Prize Laureate.

Plantinga’s pioneering work began in the late 1950s, a time when academic philosophers generally rejected religiously informed philosophy. In his early books, however, Plantinga considered a variety of arguments for the existence of God in ways that put theistic belief back on the philosophical agenda.

Plantinga’s 1984 paper, “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” challenged Christian philosophers to let their religious commitments shape their academic agenda and to pursue rigorous work based on a specifically Christian philosophical vision. At the same time, he was developing an account of knowledge, most fully expressed in the “Warrant Trilogy” published by Oxford University Press (1993 and 2000), making the case that religious beliefs are proper starting points for human reasoning and do not have to be defended or justified based on other beliefs. These arguments have now influenced three generations of professional philosophers.

Read it all.

Posted in Philosophy, Theology

(History Today) Eleanor Parker–Chaucer's Post-Truth World

‘Post-truth’ is a word of our times, at least according to Oxford Dictionaries, who declared it their word of 2016. Their definition said that ”˜post-truth’ refers to ”˜circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

The appearance of a new word tends to encourage the idea that the phenomenon itself is new: that it did not exist before there was a neologism to describe it. That is not the case here, even if ”˜post-truth’ is the current buzz-word; as historians know well, there has never been a time when public opinion was not shaped more powerfully by emotion and personal belief than by facts. What is different now, perhaps, is how rapidly false stories and fake news can circulate: social media allows the public as well as giant news organisations to be involved in spreading untrue or distorted tales. That is a formidable challenge for those who care about truth.

But even concern about the ease with which false stories can spread is far from new. At the end of the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote incisively on this subject in his poem The House of Fame. This poem describes a dream-vision in which Chaucer (carried by a comically talkative eagle) is borne up into the sky, taken to a castle standing midway between Heaven and Earth. This is the House of Fame, to which all words uttered in the world, spoken or written, find their way.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Language, Philosophy, Theology

(1st Things) Peter Hitchens: The Fantasy of Addiction

It was the triumph of the Christian religion that for many centuries it managed to become the unreasoning assumption of almost all, built into every spoken and written word, every song, and every building. It was the disaster of the Christian religion that it assumed this triumph would last forever and outlast everything, and so it was ill equipped to resist the challenge of a rival when it came, in this, the century of the self. The Christian religion had no idea that a new power, which I call selfism, would arise. And, having arisen, selfism has easily shouldered its rival aside. In free competition, how can a faith based upon self-restraint and patience compete with one that pardons, unconditionally and in advance, all the self-indulgences you can think of, and some you cannot? That is what the “addiction” argument is most fundamentally about, and why it is especially distressing to hear Christian voices accepting and promoting it, as if it were merciful to call a man a slave, and treat him as if he had no power to resist. The mass abandonment of cigarettes by a generation of educated people demonstrates that, given responsibility for their actions and blamed for their outcomes, huge numbers of people will give up a bad habit even if it is difficult. Where we have adopted the opposite attitude, and assured abusers that they are not answerable for their actions, we have seen other bad habits grow or remain as common as before. Heroin abuse has not been defeated, the abuse of prescription drugs grows all the time, and heavy drinking is a sad and spreading problem in Britain.

Most of the people who read what I have written here, if they even get to the end, will be angry with me for expressing their own secret doubts, one of the cruellest things you can do to any fellow creature. For we all prefer the easy, comforting falsehood to the awkward truth. But at the same time, we all know exactly what we are doing, and seek with ever-greater zeal to conceal it from ourselves. Has it not been so since the beginning? And has not the greatest danger always been that those charged with the duty of preaching the steep and rugged pathway persuade themselves that weakness is compassion, and that sin can be cured at a clinic, or soothed with a pill? And so falsehood flourishes in great power, like the green bay tree.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Alcohol/Drinking, Anthropology, Drugs/Drug Addiction, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Pastoral Theology, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(WSJ) Jennifer Grossman–Can You Love God and Ayn Rand?

Though her atheism never wavered, Rand’s feelings toward religion weren’t simplistic. She admired the brilliance and impact of historical religious thinkers like Aquinas and respected religious freedom, even drafting a speech for Barry Goldwater that included ample references to God. And one account, if true, suggests that Rand understood the powerful appeal of spirituality during times of grief.

Steve Mariotti””an education entrepreneur whose grandfather, Lowell B. Mason, had been Rand’s friend””spoke with Rand as she was grieving the loss of her husband, Frank O’Connor. Hoping to comfort her, Mr. Mariotti suggested that she would see Frank again in a spiritual sense. He told me in a recent interview that Rand replied, “I hope you are right. Maybe you are. . . . I will find out soon enough.” Mr. Mariotti jokingly responded to let him know, prompting a laugh that lifted her mood.

More important, militant atheism doesn’t spring from the pages of Rand’s fiction. If she truly believed that religion was such a threat, where are the religious villains in her novels? Corrupt priests or hypocritical churchgoers are nowhere to be found. It’s possible to read “Atlas Shrugged,” “We the Living,” “The Fountainhead” and “Anthem,” cover-to-cover and have little idea what Rand thought about religion.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, History, Philosophy, Religion & Culture

(Boston Globe) Cornel West–Spiritual blackout in America: Election 2016

For over a century, the best response to Plato’s critique of democracy has been John Dewey’s claim that precious and fragile democratic experiments must put a premium on democratic statecraft (public accountability, protection of rights and liberties, as well as personal responsibility, embedded in a fair rule of law) and especially on democratic soulcraft (integrity, empathy, and a mature sense of history). For Plato, democratic regimes collapse owing to the slavish souls of citizens driven by hedonism and narcissism, mendacity and venality. Dewey replies that this kind of spiritual blackout can be overcome by robust democratic education and courageous exemplars grounded in the spread of critical intelligence, moral compassion, and historical humility. The 2016 election presents a dangerous question as to whether Dewey’s challenge to Plato’s critique can be met.

Yet Clinton is not a strong agent for Dewey’s response. There is no doubt that if she becomes the first woman president of the United States ”” though I prefer Jill Stein, of the Green Party ”” Clinton will be smart, even brilliant, in office. But like her predecessor, Barack Obama, she promotes the same neoliberal policies that increase inequality and racial polarization that will produce the next Trump. More important, she embraces Trump-like figures abroad, be they in Saudi Arabia, Honduras, Israel, or Syria ”” figures of ugly xenophobia and militaristic policies. The same self-righteous neoliberal soulcraft of smartness, dollars, and bombs lands us even deeper in our spiritual blackout. Instead we need a democratic soulcraft of wisdom, justice, and peace ”” the dreams of courageous freedom fighters like Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Joshua Heschel, Edward Said, and Dorothy Day. These dreams now lie dormant at this bleak moment, but spiritual and democratic awakenings are afoot among the ripe ones, especially those in the younger generation.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Theology

(1st Things) Benjamin Myers–The Sentimentality Trap

Don’t get me wrong. I agree with Ted Kooser, who argues in his excellent Poetry Home Repair Manual that it is far better to risk being sentimental than it is to accept a dry, emotionless kind of poetry. I sometimes think, in fact, that the closer one gets to sentimentality without actually giving in to it, the better. Or to put that in terms more in tune with what I have been arguing, it is a great accomplishment in a poem to take content that is very close to a common emotional experience that can easily be sentimentalized but render it with a depth of feeling and attention to the particular that is entirely unsentimental.

I can immediately think of two great poems that do just that. The first is Robert Hayden’s classic “Those Winter Sundays,” a portrait of an emotionally distant father, but which starts

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

It ends, “What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices?” This poem could easily have focused on the coziness of the fire, or painted an unmixed and all-admiring portrait of the father. Alternately, it could have railed like a cardboard Sylvia Plath against the evils of patriarchy. But instead, Hayden took the tougher road of telling us about his particular father and their relationship, and in that particularity there is a power to impart universal truth about the complexity of family relationships, something no sentimental poem can achieve.

The other poem that springs to mind is Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall.” The images are fresh and striking in their particularity: “Goldengrove unleaving” and “worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie.” (The fantastic sound certainly doesn’t hurt either.)

Once the Christian reader has dined on poetic fare as rich as this, how could he be satisfied with the thin gruel of sentimentality or with the hard biscuit of the cynical? Once we have known the sacred touch of real love, two made one flesh, both gift from God and image of his love for us, how could we ever again be content with poetic pornography?

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Multiculturalism, pluralism, Philosophy, Poetry & Literature, Politics in General, Psychology, Theology

(Economist Erasmus Blog) Terry Eagleton presents an unusual challenge to the new atheism

Where the new atheists go wrong, Mr Eagleton says, is in failing to see the symbiotic relationship between the Western world, with all its technological and cultural prowess, and the advent of global jihadism. To back up that point, he might have been expected to focus on America’s cold-war role in south Asia, supporting holy war in Afghanistan and treating President Zia-ul-Haq, who took Pakistan down an Islamist path, as a strategic ally. Instead he chose an example a little further to the east:

In the earlier decades of the 20th century, the rolling back of liberal, secular and left-nationalist forces in the Muslim world by the West for its own imperial purposes (it supported the massacre of half a million leftists in Indonesia, for example) created a political vacuum in that vital geopolitical region into which Islamism was able to move.

In other words, to the new-atheist characterisation of militant Islam as “all their fault”, a new, gratuitous form of evil in the world which must simply be resisted rather than understood or analysed, Mr Eagleton counter-proposes something more like “it’s all our fault.” He is not, of course, the only leftist thinker to make that argument.

Mr Eagleton is eloquent when he elaborates on the enduring power of faith as a source of cohesion and inspiration in most human societies. But both he and his new-atheist adversaries can sometimes fall into the trap of bunching together different forms of religion. Religion can do (and mostly does) the commendable job of connecting people’s everyday lives and actions with great imperishable truths, without inspiring them to go out and kill themselves and other people. Indeed it can often be a powerful restraint on people’s impulse to engage in that sort of act. The discussion only becomes interesting when you acknowledge that religion can have diametrically opposing effects, in different circumstances, and ask why this is so.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Atheism, History, Islam, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Theology

Anthony Robinson on Yuval Levin's new Book:Can Americans get past the past?

In this worrisome and wearisome election year, Yuval Levin offers a gracefully written, big-picture analysis of American society and politics. Levin, editor of National Affairs and a conservative of the David Brooks type, challenges both Democrats and Re­publicans, whom he views as snared in nostalgia for bygone (and not to be recovered) eras.

Progressives long for the post”“World War II era of relative income equality, powerful national institutions, and a highly regulated economy. Conservatives yearn for the cultural conformity of the immediate postwar years and look to the 1980s as the political and economic model. “Our polarized parties are now exceptionally backward-looking,” writes Levin. “They are offering the public a choice of competing nostalgias, neither of which is well-suited to contending with contemporary American challenges.”

Levin’s essay is a work of political philosophy, but there is an implicit theological and moral critique in his analysis. Nostalgia-driven parties and the nation they would lead face the future with more fear than hope, more despair than faith. Levin implicates the Boomer generation, whose “self-image casts a giant shadow over our politics, and . . . means we are inclined to look backward to find our prime.” (Both presidential candidates, one might note, are Boomers.)

Read it all from Christian Century.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

A very important Lionel Shriver Op-ed in the NYT–"Now the role of oppressor has passed to the left"

When I was growing up in the ’60s and early ’70s, conservatives were the enforcers of conformity. It was the right that was suspicious, sniffing out Communists and scrutinizing public figures for signs of sedition.

Now the role of oppressor has passed to the left. In Australia, where I spoke, Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to do or say anything likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate,” providing alarming latitude in the restriction of free speech. It is Australia’s conservatives arguing for the amendment of this law.

As a lifelong Democratic voter, I’m dismayed by the radical left’s ever-growing list of dos and don’ts ”” by its impulse to control, to instill self-censorship as well as to promote real censorship, and to deploy sensitivity as an excuse to be brutally insensitive to any perceived enemy. There are many people who see these frenzies about cultural appropriation, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and safe spaces as overtly crazy. The shrill tyranny of the left helps to push them toward Donald Trump.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Multiculturalism, pluralism, Philosophy, Politics in General, Psychology, Theology