Friday, December 30, 2016

Some recent book purchases

All of them were bought used and pretty cheap: all the nonfiction books were bought for less than sixty dollars total, and the fiction was a little over twenty. Those followed by an asterisk are repurchases -- books that I once had but were lost in shipping when we moved back to the States a few years ago, or were loaned out and never returned.

Colin Brown, Christianity and Western Thought, vol. 1: From the Ancient World to the Age of Enlightenment.*
Donald Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events.
James Hannam, God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science.*
Stuart C. Hackett, Oriental Philosophy: A Westerner's Guide to Eastern Thought.
Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett, eds., The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Thought and Soul.
C.E.M. Joad, Guide to Modern Thought.
Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, and Manfred Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible.*
Saul A. Kripke, Naming and Necessity.
C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns.*
Mary Midgley, Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature.
Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations.
Willard Van Orman Quine, The Roots of Reference: The Paul Carus Lectures.
Willard Van Orman Quine, The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays.
Robert Rakestraw and David Clark, eds., Readings in Christian Ethics, vol. 1: Theory and Method.*
Wilbur Marshall Urban, Humanity and Deity.
N.T. Wright, Simply Christian.

Ray Bradbury, Classic Stories 1: From the Golden Apples of the Sun and R Is for Rocket.
Tony Daniel, Warpath.
Michael Flynn, January Dancer.
Richard Garfinkle, Celestial Matters.
Richard Matheson, The Box: Uncanny Stories.
Robert Reed, Marrow.
Dan Simmons, Hollow Man.
Harry Turtledove, Colonization: Second Contact.

In addition, I recently had one theology book returned that I had loaned out years ago -- like fifteen years ago or longer -- and I'm really excited because I've been planning on repurchasing it:

Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Abortion and Strawmen

When I teach logic, in order to offend everyone equally, I sometimes say that both sides of the abortion debate, at least in their slogans, commit the strawman fallacy. One commits this fallacy when, instead of addressing the actual argument being presented, one erects a strawman: something that is superficially similar to the argument but is actually as dissimilar to it as a scarecrow is dissimilar to an actual human being. Moreover, by being made of straw, the strawman is much easier to knock down than an actual person.

So how does the pro-life side commit this fallacy? By saying abortion is murder. Murder involves the intentional killing of what someone recognizes as an innocent human being. Many women who have abortions have been told that the fetus is not even alive, much less a living human being, much less an innocent human being. The abortion doctors are in a different position: they know the fetus is alive -- but then again, so is an individual cell in your liver. But I doubt that they believe the fetus is a distinct human being, a person (for simplicity's sake I'll treat "human being" and "person" as interchangeable, although many distinguish them in this debate). However, this is an assumption on my part: I don't know of any polls as to whether abortionists tend to believe that the fetus is a person. But even if there were, I don't think I'd trust the results: if you thought fetuses were human beings, but thought abortion was a necessary evil, would you acknowledge this in a poll? I'm sure there must be some abortionists who do think the fetus is a person. Kermit Gosnell, in the manner of serial killers, kept trophies of all the babies he killed -- I say babies, not fetuses, since he delivered them and then killed them outside the womb. A doctor wouldn't keep trophies of the tumors he'd removed from patients, so obviously Gosnell recognized that he was taking the lives of innocent human beings.

I think the strongest objection one could make is that if the person should have known that she was killing a human being, then their act could still be considered murder. If a philosophy student who had read her Peter Singer and Michael Tooley killed a newborn baby and argued afterwards that she honestly didn't think it was a human being, she would probably still be convicted of murder. That's because nearly everyone recognizes that a newborn baby is a human being and has a right to life, and that same intuition, that same source of knowledge, would have been available to the person being accused, since they lived in the same culture and context. With abortion, however, there is no such consensus. We have to be careful here to not commit another fallacy, argumentum ad populum, appeal to the masses. But I think we can avoid this as my point is a more modest appeal to humility: given that there is widespread disagreement on abortion, we shouldn't assume that a particular person knew the fetus was a human being and killed them anyway.

Anyway, the closest parallel I can think of to this -- the intentional killing of something that one recognizes is alive but does not recognize to be an innocent human being -- would be a hunting accident. A hunter sees movement in the brush ahead, thinks it's a deer, and intentionally aims and shoots with the goal of killing it. But to her horror, she discovers it wasn't a deer but another hunter. She recognized the thing ahead of her was alive, and deliberately killed it. But she didn't recognize that it was a human being she was killing. Perhaps a court of law might determine that a hunter should have known that it was a person she was shooting at, but since she wasn't deliberately trying to kill another human being, it is unlikely the hunter would be convicted of murder. Similarly, even if we grant the pro-life position (as I do) that fetuses are distinct human beings, insofar as the abortionist and the woman do not recognize this fact, they are not guilty of murder, whatever else one might say of them. So to call abortion murder is to erect a strawman to the effect that the abortionist and the woman are intentionally killing what they recognize to be an innocent human being.

How does the pro-choice side commit the strawman fallacy? By saying the woman has a right to do what she wants with her own body. Well, yeah, of course she does, as long as she doesn't harm someone else. The old saying is, your right to swing your fists ends where another person's nose begins. That is, one person's right to do what she wants with her body only extends to the point that she harms someone else or restricts the other person's right to do what he wants with his body. And the claim of the pro-life side is that the fetus is another person. A woman does not have the right to do what she wants with someone else's body, and the fetus is someone else's body (namely, the fetus's), not her body. That's the claim. Perhaps that claim is false, perhaps it's even absurd, but that's the claim being made. Slogans like "Keep your laws of my body" or "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries" may be clever, but their goal is to defend a right that no one is challenging. Thus such claims are complete strawmen.

Of course, the relationship between the pregnant woman and the fetus is a unique one. The only real world scenario I can think of that's even remotely analogous is conjoined twins. I'm unaware of a situation where one conjoined twin deliberately killed the other, but it seems to me that it would be considered murder (assuming all of the conditions discussed above). Judith Jarvis Thomson presented an interesting thought experiment: a woman wakes up in the hospital and finds herself connected to an unconscious violinist. The violinist was suffering from kidney failure, and the only way to save his life was to hook his circulatory system up to the woman's so her kidneys can do the work that his kidneys couldn't. It's only temporary, just nine months, and then she can be unplugged from the violinist and go on her merry way. Thomson argues that, even granting that the violinist is a human being, a person, the woman has the right to unplug herself from him, even knowing it would cause his death. The violinist's right to life does not include the right to use someone else's body.

When I first heard this argument, I thought it left out an important element: except in the case of rape, the pregnant woman engaged in an activity which has been known from time immemorial to lead to pregnancy. You'd have to add to Thomson's scenario that the woman went of her own volition to the hospital for some ostensibly pleasurable reason (maybe they were throwing a Christmas party and serving bacon wrapped shrimp) and signed a paper acknowledging that, by entering the hospital, she is accepting there is a nontrivial chance that she would be hooked up to a violinist for nine months. This changes the scenario dramatically. In fact, I first thought that Thomson was presenting this as an argument against abortion. So Thomson herself has commited the strawman fallacy: rather than include an element that would make her thought experiment more accurately track the abortion issue, she has excluded it in order to make the intuition she's appealing to more commanding.

Having said that, Thomson's point is still very astute and important: in the case of rape, which more closely parallels her thought experiment, does the fetus's right to life not include the right to use the woman's body as an incubator for nine months? Some people are opposed to abortion even in this case, because the evil of intentionally killing an innocent human being is greater than the evil of significantly, but temporarily, disrupting the woman's life. A lot of issues come into play here: what takes priority, a right to life or right to a lifestyle? What about the psychological effects on the woman? These could very easily ruin her life, they can't just be dismissed. What if we shortened the period of time the woman's life was disrupted? What if it was only three months? Or three weeks? How about three minutes? At some point, even though we might agree with the principle that one person's right to life doesn't include the right to use another person's body, most of us would think the inconvenience becomes trivial and the life of the fetus so much more important that we would no longer think the principle takes precedence. For that matter, couldn't we reframe the principle the other way around? Does the woman have the right to do what she wants with the fetus's body in order to continue her lifestyle? I mean, by killing the fetus, she's using its body for her own ends. On the other hand, how probable is it that the fetus is really a person, a human being? If you think it's just one chance in two, you might think the potential evil of killing the fetus is greater than the evil of disrupting the woman's life for nine months. But what if it's one chance in ten? Or a hundred? Or a million? At some point, even though we might agree that killing an innocent person is a greater evil than disrupting a woman's life for nine months, most of us would think that the probability that we really are killing an innocent human being becomes so low as to become trivial. I'm not even going to try to answer these questions, but I think they show that there's a reason why the abortion issue is controversial, and we should treat those who disagree with us respectfully and assume they are acting in good faith.

Saturday, December 17, 2016


-- Long books worth your time.

-- Victor Reppert has been blogging about abortion of late -- see herehereherehere, and here.

-- Starship Troopers is the new Art of War.

-- An infidel's quick guide to Islamic sects. Although, you know, you could just read a book on the subject.

-- The top picture here is amazing.

-- I'm a bibliophile, but this goes a bit too far.

-- Scientific American argues that the best site off Earth to colonize is Titan. The biggest problem is getting there. Speaking of which...

-- The impossible EM drive seems to work, despite its apparent violation of Newton's third law. OK, well, we'll still have a problem with finding enough water to survive off Earth. Speaking of which...

-- Dwarf planet Ceres is full of water. So, I guess, the only problem is ... I don't know ... we'll still eventually die?

-- Speaking of which...

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A problem with middle knowledge

I'm inclined to accept middle knowledge. This is the view that God doesn't merely know what we will (freely choose to) do, he knows what we would (freely choose to) do under circumstances that are never actualized or never come to pass. In fact, God knows what a person whom he never creates would do under any possible circumstances. So God has this store of knowledge about what every possible person would (freely choose to) do under any possible circumstances, and he uses this knowledge to actualize -- that is, create -- the world. I think this answers a lot of the issues people have with the problem of evil, with the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and creaturely freedom, etc.

There are numerous objections to middle knowledge of course so it's not all sunshine and roses. But here I want to raise another potential objection. Perhaps that's too strong a term, actually, it's more like a potential problem. It's this: middle knowledge could explain virtually any scenario. But then you can't falsify it. This means you can't give any evidence that would rebut it. I say this is just a problem and not really an objection because you have to define "evidence" pretty narrowly to make it work -- as mentioned, there are plenty of objections to middle knowledge that have to be dealt with, and these objections could potentially refute it.

Anyway, my objection -- sorry, my problem -- can perhaps be illustrated by looking at some essays defending middle knowledge by William Lane Craig that specifically use it to explain Christian doctrines. The two essays I'm thinking of are:

"Lest Anyone Should Fall": A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Perseverance and Apostolic Warnings


"Men Moved By The Holy Spirit Spoke From God": A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Biblical Inspiration

So in these two cases, Craig is showing how middle knowledge uniquely explains the doctrines of a) the perseverance of the saints and b) the inspiration of the Bible (which could easily be a gateway to another essay giving a middle knowledge perspective on biblical inerrancy). Well and good. But then, it seems to me, you could write similar essays on other topics. For example:

"Upon This Rock I Will Build My Church": A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Papal Infallibility

which I presume Craig would not approve of as he is a Protestant (as am I). But such an essay could certainly be written. Of course Catholics could accept such a view, as long as they accept middle knowledge in the first place. But then what if I wrote an essay like this:

"The Governing Authorities that Exist Have Been Established by God": A Middle Knowledge Perspective on the Divine Right of Kings

Again, such an essay could be written, such a position could be defended by appealing to middle knowledge. My point is that it's difficult to see what restrictions we can put on this type of explanation. Presumably, someone could say the restriction would be biblical doctrines, but both of these positions have been defended by, I presume, honest and well-meaning Christians as biblical. Once you open the door, you're going to have people come in that you didn't invite.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Down syndrome children

This video was banned in France. The reasoning the court gave is that women who had aborted fetuses with Down Syndrome might be traumatized by it. That could certainly be the case: a woman who had agonized over having an abortion, and finally decided to have one because she thought the child would lead an empty, miserable life could be horrified to discover that she had actually stolen a beautiful, joyous life from her own child -- a life that would not only be blessed, but one that would bless the lives of many others, including hers. Nevertheless, in such circumstances, the proper attitude is to try to prevent future tragedies like this from happening. You don't avoid warning people about a crime wave because those who had been victimized by it already don't want to have to be reminded about it.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Two pieces

I recently heard two music pieces for the first time -- despite their being well-known -- and was very moved by them. The first is Vivaldi's variations on La Folia. When I heard this piece on the radio, I was stunned by the overwhelming sense of life pouring out from the music. Yes, Vivaldi always overuses the same chord progression, but I love that chord progression so kudos to him. And at any rate, these are, again, variations on an already-existing tune. It's the 12th sonata in his opus 1, Twelve Trio Sonatas for two violins and basso continuo.

The second piece is The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughn Williams. I took two years of music history, and I don't think Vaughn Williams was ever mentioned (nor was Tchaikovsky for that matter). I suspect this is because when you deal with 20th century music, the focus is on atonal, or at least not classically tonal, music. I remember we spent some time in class going over the ten most important 20th century composers, and had to write a 10-page essay on who we thought was number 11 (I wrote mine on Béla Bartók) (Update, 01/04/17: No I didn't. Bartok would undoubtedly have been one of the top ten. I don't remember who I wrote my paper on, but I'm thinking it might have been Olivier Messiaen). And while I've heard the name Vaughn Williams before, I can't recall ever listening to his music, which is incredible considering how important a composer he is. At any rate, this particular piece is not classically tonal but is very pentatonic, making it Asian sounding -- my kids said it sounds like Kung Fu Panda. After hearing this piece we all started listening to Vaughn Williams' music, and both my kids love it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Holy crap!

The Cubs won! That's the first time in over a century. Everyone I've ever known was born after the last time they won the World Series in 1908. Ironically, while the game was being played last night, I was in a classroom teaching my Intro Philosophy class about Hume's argument against miracles. It looks like God cleared his throat.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Negative votes: A proposal

In the coming election, I feel like I'm being asked to vote for either Stalin or Honey Boo Boo. I thought I was firmly in the "anyone but Stalin" camp until the other side nominated one of probably only five people in the world who I couldn't vote for. Perhaps it's fortunate that I'm not a member of a political party and don't embrace a particular political philosophy (my politics are somewhat eclectic), so I don't have any sense of obligation to vote for the candidate "my party" has nominated.

I've never really voted for anyone, I've only voted against them. That is, I've voted for the person I loathed least. I didn't want the person I voted for to get the job, but I really didn't want the other person to, and so I've always voted for the lesser evil. And, in fact, I think in the coming election one side is a greater evil than the other. But lesser evils are still evils, and this time around, I'm afraid the lesser evil is much too great an evil for me to cast my vote for them. Perhaps this is a failing on my part, but I can't bring myself to vote for the lesser evil this time.

Now I've never appreciated having to vote for lesser evils. What I want to do is cast a vote against the greater evil, and the only way to do this is to cast a vote for the lesser evil. The reason I haven't appreciated this is because it forces me to only indirectly vote against the greater evil by directly voting for the lesser evil. But why can't we reverse this? Why don't we make it possible to cast a negative vote? If you cast a negative vote for a candidate then one vote is subtracted from that candidate's overall total. The candidate with the highest total vote count wins.

You get one vote: you can either cast it for Stalin, for Honey Boo Boo, against Stalin, or against Honey Boo Boo. You don't get to vote for one candidate and then also vote against the other: you get one and only one vote. Certainly, by casting a vote against Stalin someone could object that you are essentially casting a vote for Honey Boo Boo -- but note that the order has now been switched. You are directly voting against Stalin, and only indirectly voting for Honey Boo Boo. Those of us who are, like me, too fragile to sully ourselves with lesser evils would be able to live with ourselves.

One possible negative (heh) consequence of this is that there could potentially be an election where the number of negative votes for both candidates is greater than their number of positive votes. So both sides would have total vote counts below zero. In this case, the candidate with the number of votes closer to zero -- that is, the smallest negative number -- would win. However, if there were write-in candidates (which is what I'm going to do this time), then the person with the most write-ins would win. I guess it would always be possible to cast a negative vote for a write-in candidate, although it would be odd since write-in candidates are usually not officially running. To cast your vote against someone who's not even running would seem to indicate a deep-seated hatred of them worthy of extended counseling: "I hate this person so much that I'm going to spend my one vote writing them in and then casting a negative vote against them." But even so, there probably wouldn't be many negative votes against write-in candidates, so one of them would still probably have more total votes than the main candidates. And that, in my opinion, would certainly be the lesser evil.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Remembrance of Earth's Past

Two Christmases ago my lovely wife bought me a few books from a small bookstore. Fortunately, she kept the receipt, so I brought them back to exchange them for some books I actually wanted. As I was browsing their relatively small science-fiction section, I found The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, a work translated from Chinese. I immediately grabbed it: I'd heard about this book and this author and had put it on my list of books to get. Liu is a lauded science-fiction author in China (actually, his name is Liu Cixin, but since the Chinese put the family name first, when he was translated into English, they put the family name last in order to not confuse us), and this book is the first of a trilogy that makes up his most famous work, Remembrance of Earth's Past.

Anyway, I bought it, read it, and loved it. LOVED it. So when the second book in the trilogy was translated, The Dark Forest, I bought it immediately. Incidentally, I never do this: I'm always patient enough for a book to come out in a mass market edition, or at least for it to become less popular so I can buy a cheap used copy of it. But I couldn't wait. And Dark Forest was absolutely amazing; it presents a brilliant solution to the Fermi Paradox involving game theory. Independently, both of these books are among the best books I've ever read.

So of course I pre-ordered the third book in the trilogy, Death's End. (This was my first time pre-ordering a book by the way.) It came out at the end of last month, and I got it about a week and a half ago. I have a bunch of things on my plate at the moment, but I'm still going through it when I can. So far it's exceeding my expectations, which were pretty darn high. So I encourage everyone to get these books as soon as you can and read them. Just check them out from the library if you have to. They are so beyond worth it, I can't even express it. Liu has managed to very quickly become one of my all-time favorite fiction authors; I don't actually rank them, but I'd have to say he's at least in my top three (lucky him). I also note a collection of Liu's short stories has also been translated, The Wandering Earth, which I'm going to get as soon as I can justify it. And Three Body Problem is being made into a movie, due to be released next year.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Christian ethics and homosexuality

Richard Swinburne gave the keynote address at a conference for the Society of Christian Philosophers in which he defended the traditional Christian position that homosexual acts are immoral, and apparently argued that those who experience same-sex attraction are disabled in some way. By some accounts he was inflammatory and insensitive in this; by other accounts he was only presenting claims that he published years ago in his book Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy. The President of the SCP is Michael Rea (whose book World without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism is on my shelf waiting to be read) apologized for the hurt caused by the presentation and that Swinburne's views are not those of the SCP, which was founded to be inclusive of all those who consider themselves Christian. As Eleanor Stump pointed out, Rea didn't actually condemn Swinburne or his claims, or even criticize them. Nevertheless, there's a cyberstorm over whether Swinburne's lecture was out-of-bounds and whether Rea's apology was appropriate. I'll just send you to Rea's apology on Facebook that has numerous responses -- some positive, some negative -- some thoughtful some not so much -- and follow it up with William Vallicella's comments and links over at Maverick Philosopher.

Now in one of those links I read that in his presentation Swinburne also argued that the fetus is not really a person until 22 weeks gestation and so abortion should be allowed up until that stage. I understand why people with same sex attraction would be offended and hurt by someone claiming that homosexual acts are immoral, but it seems to me that someone who lost a fetus before 22 weeks gestation and considered it to be their child, their baby, would have just as much a claim to be offended and hurt by claims that their deceased child was never really a person. But such claims are made frequently, in academic conferences and in society at large, and I don't hear a comparable sense of outrage by it. And I think that's appropriate: in order to discuss these things, we have to be exposed to all sides of the issue, even those we consider offensive. I mean this is ethics. Ethical issues tend to involve situations that people are emotionally and personally invested in, and debating those issues is bound to hurt someone and hurt them deeply. But the idea that we shouldn't discuss those issues for that reason does not seem to me to be the right response, although I think any debate must be done with respect for those who disagree, even if you don't respect their position. I have to heavily qualify this though: I have my issues that I'm sensitive to too, and while I occasionally try to toughen myself up regarding some of them, most of the time I take the easier route and just try to avoid having to consider the possibility that I'm disastrously wrong. So I'm not in a position to judge anybody.

I'll supplement all this with a post by a gay Christian philosopher who writes something similar to what I expressed above and communicates how difficult it can be for him.

I’m an openly gay philosopher at a top-five program, and these issues are terribly important to me because I struggle daily to reconcile my sexuality with my faith. This stuff makes a difference to how I might lead my life, a phenomenon that is sadly rare in contemporary analytic philosophy. If a philosopher like Richard Swinburne has something to say, I need and want to know. I want to lead a Christian life, and I’ve grown to think that means living a celibate one. I’m not sure though! I want more debate. So, please, don’t scare any dissident philosophers away from the podium. ...  
I ask this not because views like Swinburne’s are without cost. When I read arguments like Swinburne’s, my heart sinks a bit because I worry that they might be sound. I miss my last boyfriend and sometimes regret telling him I couldn’t ever marry him in good faith because I suspect gay marriage to be incoherent and gay relations immoral. It’s f*cking rough. But, for all that, please don’t protect my feelings. For, as philosophers, our vocation is the pursuit of truth and the virtuous life—and that’s surely worth the sweat and tears.

I can't fathom the stress of having something as powerful as your sex drive be exclusively oriented in a way that conflicts with your deeply-held religious views. I say "exclusively" because of course I experience the occasional temptations to propagate my genetic material more widely than Christian morality dictates. But to have no legitimate sexual outlet would be terrifying. And I'm amazed at this man's willingness to unflinchingly pursue the rationale behind both sides of an issue, his willingness to follow the arguments wherever they lead, when one side of that issue would completely devastate him if it's true. So I am frankly in awe of the man who wrote the above quote. I want to sit at his feet and learn virtue from him. I can't even imagine having the inner strength necessary to choose celibacy as he did.

Incidentally, he goes on to say that, while he's accepted at his current institution, if he moved to another one, he would not come out of the closet -- about his Christianity. Not until he earned tenure. That reminded me of a recent comment by a Christian sociologist: "Outside of academia I faced more problems as a black. But inside academia I face more problems as a Christian, and it is not even close."

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Would you go?

Elon Musk has announced that he plans to start sending colony ships to Mars with about 100 people on board within ten years. It would be a one-way trip, making it sound a lot like the beginning of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. He also said they should be prepared to die -- not in the sense of living there for the rest of their lives, but in the sense of the huge potential for accidents and large-scale failures in such an environment. That reminds me of the words of the glorious Gus Grissom: "If we die we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us, it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life." For those of you who don't know (and shame on you), Grissom died in a fire in the Apollo 1 spacecraft. If that hadn't happened, NASA was planning for him to be the first man on the Moon.

Musk said he would like to go to Mars himself but he has children and wants them to grow up with a father. I'm of the same mind: if I had no family (and were healthy enough to even be considered in the first place), I'd probably put my name in the running. But the most important thing I'll ever do is be a father to my kids and a husband to my wife. Matthew McConaughey's character in Interstellar said (quoting his deceased wife), something to the effect of, "Once your children are born, your only purpose in life is to be memories for your kids."

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

More on Heidegger

I've posted before on how Martin Heidegger was apparently more enmeshed in the Nazi worldview than has traditionally been claimed, in light of the publication of his black notebooks. But here is another article making the point rather damningly.

For Heidegger, the “uprooting of beings from Being” was the metaphysical curse of the modern world, the source of the nihilism that afflicted humanity. Where the ancient Greeks enjoyed a holistic and organic relationship with Being—which for Heidegger is close to, but not quite identical with, what earlier Romantic thinkers meant by Nature—modern philosophy and technology set the individual at odds with Being. Instead of the miraculous background of human existence, Being is reduced to a series of objects that can be mathematically calculated and industrially exploited. These themes dominate Heidegger’s later thought, where he condemns the way of thinking he calls “enframing” (Gestell) and calls humanity to its true role as the “shepherd of Being.”

And who is responsible for this modern curse? In his published work, Heidegger traces it all the way back to Plato and Aristotle, suggesting that it was the fate of Western civilization to turn against itself in this way. But in the “Black Notebooks,” he finds a much simpler and more familiar scapegoat: the Jews. “World Jewry,” Weltjudentum, with its overtones of hostile conspiracy, was a common Nazi phrase that the philosopher had no qualms about embracing, using it several times in the privacy of the notebooks. Thus in 1941 Heidegger writes: “World Jewry, spurred on by the emigrant that Germany let out, remains elusive everywhere. Despite its increased display of power, it never has to take part in the practice of war, whereas we are reduced to sacrificing the best blood of the best of our own people.” This is a breathtaking example of how Nazi anti-Semitism precisely inverted reality: At just the moment when the Holocaust was killing millions of helpless Jews, Heidegger suggests that it was “elusive” World Jewry that was killing Germans.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Friday, September 9, 2016

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Monday, September 5, 2016

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Monday, August 22, 2016

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Monday, July 11, 2016

Sunday, July 3, 2016

New book

My first book was just published. It's about the various arguments to the effect that determinism and/or naturalism are self-defeating, such as those by C.S. Lewis, Karl Popper, J.R. Lucas, Thomas Nagel, and Alvin Plantinga. You can read a goodly portion of the first chapter on the publisher's website, on Amazon, and on GoogleBooks. Sorry about the price. I won't be offended if you get it via interlibrary loan.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Who telled you of the Valley?" said Tutu. "No horowitz doed it, because none haved speech until you teached them how to talk. Who telled you?"

"The man doed it," replied Carmody. "Him goed there."

"The man who comed from the stars? The man me seed you talking to that night?"

Carmody nodded, and she said, "Him have knowledge of where us go after death?"

He was caught by surprise and could only stare, open-mouthed, at her a few seconds. Holmyard was an agnostic and denied that there was any valid evidence for the immortality of man. Carmody, of course, agreed with him that there was no scientifically provable evidence, no facts. But there were enough indications of the survival of the dead to make any open-minded agnostic wonder about the possibility. And, of course, Carmody believed that every man would live forever because he had faith that man would do so. Moreover, he had a personal experience which had convinced him. (But that's another story.)

"No, the man no have knowledge of where us go after death. But me have knowledge."

"Him a man; you a man, said Tutu. "If you have knowledge, why no him?"

Again, Carmody was speechless. Then he said, "How you have knowledge that me a man?"

Tutu shrugged and said, "At first, you fool us. Later, everybody have knowledge. Easy to see that you put on beak and feathers."

Carmody began to remove the beak, which had chafed and irritated him for many months.

"Why you no say so?" he said angrily. "You try to make fool of me?"

Tutu looked hurt. She said, "No. Nobody make fool of you, John. Us love you. Us just thinked you liked to put on beak and feathers. Us no have knowledge of why, but if you like to do so, O.K. with us. Anyway, no try to get off what we talk about. You say you have knowledge of where dead go. Where?"

"Me no supposed to tell you where. No just yet, anyway. Later."

"You no wish to scare us? Maybe that a bad place us no like? That why you no tell us?"

"Later, me tell. It like this, Tutu. When me first comed among you and teached you speech, me no able to teach you all the words. Just them you able to understand. Later, teach you harder words. So it now. You no able to understand even if me tell you. You become older, have knowledge of more words, become smarter. Then me tell. See?"

She nodded and also clicked her beak, an additional sign of agreement.

"Me tell the others," she said. "Many times, while you sleep, we talk about where us go after us die. What use of living only short time if us no keep on living? What good it do? Some say it do no good; us just live and die, and that that. So what? But most of us no able to think that. Become scared. Besides, no make sense to us. Everything else in this world make sense. Death that last forever no do, anyway. Maybe us die to make room for others. Because if us no die, if ancestors no die, then soon this world become too crowded, and all starve to death, anyway. You tell us this world no flat but round like a ball and this -- what you call it, gravity? -- keep us from falling off. So us see that soon no more room if us no die. But why no go to a place where plenty of room?


He must have dozed away, for he suddenly awakened as he felt a small body snuggling next to his. It was his favorite, Tutu.

"Me cold," she said. "Also, many times, before the village burn, me sleep in your arms. Why you no ask me to do so tonight? You last night!" she said with a quavering voice, and she was crying. Her shoulders shook, and her beak raked across his chest as she pressed the side of her face against him. And, not for the first time, Carmody regretted that these creatures had hard beaks. They would never know the pleasure of soft lips meeting in a kiss.

"Me love you, John," she said. "But ever since the monster from the stars destroyed us village, me scared of you, too. But tonight, me forget me scared, and me must sleep in you arms once more, so me able to remember this last night the rest of me life."

Carmody felt tears welling in his own eyes, but he kept his voice firm. "Them who serve the Creator say me have work to do elsewhere. Among the stars. Me must go, even if no wish to. Me sad, like you. But maybe someday me return. No able to promise. But always hope."

"You no should leave. Us still childs, and us have adults' work ahead of us. The adults like childs, and us like adults. Us need you."

"Me know that true," he said. "But me pray to He that He watch over and protect you."

"Me hope He have more brains than me mother. Me hope He smart as you."

Carmody laughed and said, "He is infinitely smarter than me. No worry. What come, come."

He talked some more to her, mainly advice on what to do during the coming winter and reassurances that he might possibly return. Or, if he did not, that other men would. Eventually, he drifted into sleep.

But he was awakened by her terrified voice, crying in his ear.

He sat up and said, "Why you cry, child?"

She clung to him, her eyes big in the reflected light of the dying fire. "Me father come to me, and him wake me up! Him say, 'Tutu, you wonder where us horowitzes go after death! Me know, because me go to the land of beyond death. It a beautiful land; you no cry because John must leave. Some day, you see him here. Me allowed to come see you and tell you. And you must tell John that us horowitzes like mans. Us have souls, us no just die and become dirt and never see each other again.'

"Me father telled me that. And him reached out him hand to touch me. And me become scared, and me waked up crying!"

"There, there," said Carmody, hugging her. "You just dream. You know your father no able to talk when him alive. So how him able to talk now? You dreaming."

"No dream, no dream! Him not in me head like a dream! Him standing outside me head, between me and fire! Him throw a shadow! Dreams no have shadows! And why him no able to talk? If him can live after death, why him no talk, too? What you say, 'Why strain at a bug and swallow a horse?'"

"Out of the mouths of babes," muttered Carmody, and he spent the time until dawn talking to Tutu.

Philip José Farmer
Father to the Stars

Monday, June 13, 2016

Please pray

for the victims of the terrorist attack in Orlando. Fifty people created in the image of God were murdered, targeted specifically because they were gay, and more than that were injured, some severely. Pray also for the families of the victims, especially those whose loved ones were killed. "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." (1 John 4:20-21)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Internal vs. External Conditions

In an earlier post, I wrote about the cardinal virtues: wisdom (or prudence), courage, moderation, and justice. The cardinal virtues are there to liberate us from the inner restrictions to our freedom. By mastering them, we become free. But contemporary culture focuses on external restrictions to our freedom, which, being external, cannot be treated by internal transformation. They can only be treated by changing the external conditions. But since a great deal of the external conditions involve other people, this means that changing other people takes priority over changing ourselves. I have two objections to this.

First, it's not practical. We only have direct control over one person, after all, ourselves. To skip over the one person we have direct control over in order to try to control other people, who we do not have direct control over, is unwise. If we can't master direct control, why do we think we'll be able to master indirect control? This is the meaning of one of Jesus' most famous statements: "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" You can't be expected to be correct about someone else's judgment if your own judgment is skewed. It's also the idea behind the movie To End All Wars. How can I bring about peace on earth if I am not willing to be a peaceful person, the type of person who could actually live in a peaceful world? As the old saying goes, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."

This may make it seem that focusing on oneself and the inner restrictions to our freedom that the cardinal virtues free us from is entirely a pragmatic affair: we're not doing it because it's the right thing to do, but simply because if we want to gain more and more control over everything, we have to start with ourselves and build outward. In fact, maybe it's even the wrong thing to do. Under this scenario, we are to focus on ourselves before focusing on others.

But that leads me to my second objection. Trying to change the external world rather than ourselves it not just impractical, it's immoral. It's the attempt to manipulate people into doing what we want them to do. As Dallas Willard writes in The Divine Conspiracy, when we engage in such behavior

We are making use of people, trying to bypass their understanding and judgment to trigger their will and possess them for our purposes. Whatever consent they give to us will be uninformed because we have short-circuited their understanding of what is going on. … As God's free creatures, people are to be left to make their decisions without coercion or manipulation. Hence, "let your affirmation be just an affirmation," a yes, and your denial be just a denial, a no. Anything more than this "comes from evil" -- the evil intent to get one's way by verbal manipulation of the thoughts and choices of others.

Kingdom rightness respects the soul need of human beings to make their judgments and decisions solely from what they have concluded is best. It is a vital, a biological need. We do not thrive, nor does our character develop well, when this need is not respected, and this thwarts the purpose of God in our creation.

This was brought home to me recently when I watched a video on the genius of Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones. Tyrion succeeds not by trying to force people to do what he wants but by trying to get them to think that they want what he wants.


I have no problem with this idea simply as an observation of people or as indicative of good character writing. But the video recommends this type of behavior to its viewers, and many of the commenters seem to take it to heart. I find it horrifying: what kind of a life would that be? How miserable and empty must a person be to live a life like that? It almost seems worse than death.

Now I'm treating changing internal conditions and changing external conditions as if they were mutually exclusive: obviously we should do both, and everyone does do both. If the speck in your brother's eye is a violent crime he should be stopped from committing, then it is not moral to ignore it until you remove the log in your own eye -- nor would Jesus or any of the other advocates of the cardinal virtues suggest otherwise. The question is the priority. If trying to change others is your fall-back position, if your immediate instinct in all circumstances is to blame other people or external circumstances rather than your own character, then maybe you need to take stock. And, as I mentioned in the earlier post, I'm no better than anyone else in this regard. I have lifelong character traits that blame others instead of myself, and my attempts to improve my character are sporadic and trivial. I have found that it is not true that recognizing the problem is half the battle. It's barely one percent.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Thought of the Day

The difference between a) patriotism and b) nationalism is about the same as the difference between a) loving your parents and b) helping them bury the bodies.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Summer Reading

I've been dissatisfied with the texts I've used for my introduction to philosophy class but have yet to find any better ones. It's not that the texts themselves are not good enough (for the most part), it's that what I want is so particular the only way I'm going to find a book that meets all my requirements is if I write it myself. Overall I prefer a topical approach rather than a historical introduction or an anthology, although I sometimes think about having the course be the reading of several complete historical texts rather than short readings: a couple of Plato's dialogues, BoethiusConsolation of Philosophy, Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy, Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, etc. I think reading a bunch of short excerpts is like taking a three-day tour of Europe. You need to settle in and live there for a while to get an appreciation of the place.

The text I've used the most is Donald Palmer, Does the Center Hold? An Introduction to Western Philosophy, 6th edition. Palmer's book is structured closest to my Platonic ideal of a philosophy text (which isn't saying much), it's well-suited for college freshmen, and it's cheap. But I'm unhappy with some elements of it, not least his treatment of philosophy of religion. So I've been collecting introductory texts and I plan to spend the summer going over them, or at least some of them, to potentially replace Palmer but probably just to integrate some of their contents into the course. Maybe I should say I hope to spend the summer reading them, since plans change, and I can already foresee several events that will take precedence. Anyway, the books I have are:

-- Malcolm Clark, The Need to Question: An Introduction to Philosophy. The only text I've seen that addresses philosophy of language. Looks like it's from a Kantian perspective.
-- Reuben Abel, Man Is the Measure: A Cordial Invitation to the Central Problems of Philosophy.
-- Clark Glymour, Thinking Things Through: An Introduction to Philosophical Issues and Achievements, 2nd edition. This one looks like it goes into much more detail but over fewer subjects than I want. So greater depth, smaller scope. Nevertheless, it looks very good, and I might consider switching to it if I think it's accessible to freshmen.
-- Daniel J. Sullivan, An Introduction to Philosophy: Perennial Principles of the Classical Realist Tradition. A Catholic introduction.
-- Phil Washburn, Philosophical Dilemmas: A Pro and Con Introduction to the Major Questions and Philosophers, 4th edition. The format of this book looks excellent, giving the strengths and weaknesses of numerous philosophical issues and conundrums. I might consider switching to it, although it's an expensive text (most of them are), and I want to use a cheap one if possible.
-- Andrew Pessin and S. Morris Engel, The Study of Philosophy: A Text with Readings, 7th edition. Mostly text with short readings at the end of each chapter.
-- Lewis Vaughn, Philosophy Here and Now: Powerful Ideas in Everyday Life, 2nd edition. I've used this, and it's really excellent. My only objections are that it doesn't address some of the subjects I want addressed and it's expensive. But I might consider switching to this one too.

Another book I'll look at that isn't technically an introduction to philosophy text is Alasdair MacIntyre's God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition.

I put these on the sidebar in my GoodReads widget which I have neglected for the past year. I also have several anthologies, which, as I say, is not my preference. However, I plan to take a close look at them to see if they can convert me:

-- Andrew Bailey and Robert M. Martin, First Philosophy: Fundamental Problems and Readings in Philosophy, 2nd edition.
-- Gideon Rosen, Alex Byrne, Joshua Cohen, and Seana Shiffrin, The Norton Introduction to Philosophy.
-- Steven M. Cahn, The World of Philosophy: An Introductory Reader.
-- John Perry, Michael Bratman, and John Martin Fischer, Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings, 7th edition.
-- William F. Lawhead, The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach, 6th edition.
-- John Chaffee, The Philosopher's Way: Thinking Critically about Profound Ideas: A Text with Readings, 5th edition.

I'm also slated to teach an introduction to ethics course next fall. However, in this case, the university wants me to use a particular text, so this summer I'll also be reading Nina Rosenstand, The Moral of the Story: An Introduction to Ethics, 7th edition. It's on the sidebar too.

Update (15 June): Well, it didn't take very long. The day after I posted this my plans became more, shall we say, fluid, and now I don't know which courses I'll be teaching in the fall. It's not a bad thing at all, it's an opportunity, it's just an opportunity to teach different classes, and I don't know how it's going to end up. The closest thing to a constant is that I'll probably still teach ethics sometime next school year, so I'll still go through Rosenstand. On top of this, we're moving, and most of my books, including those mentioned in this post, are going into storage. The only ones I've kept out are Abel, Clark, Palmer, Vaughn, and Washburn. And MacIntyre. So I'm kind of in limbo now. Maybe I'll just read science-fiction.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Some comments on the flood, part 1

The account of Noah and the flood is one of those Bible passages held up as being inconsistent with contemporary science -- probably only the creation account receives more fire. In fact young-earth creationists use the flood accounts to justify their positions. According to them, all the geological strata, along with the fossils embedded in them, were laid down by the flood. Some even suggest that the earth was much smoother at the time of the flood and that the mountain ranges formed during it. This is why young-earth creationism is often called "flood geology". The anti-science impression is compounded by how the young-earth folk tie the flood account to the creation account: on the second day of creation, God separated the waters above from the waters below. The waters above, they contend, refers to a primeval water canopy that surrounded the earth which created a sort of tropical paradise where it never rained (as claimed in Genesis 2:5). The flood took place when this canopy collapsed and fell to the earth.

Now, as far as I can tell, the only part of this scenario that was widely accepted prior to the mid-19th century is the claim that the flood was global. I'll deal with that issue in part 2. For now I'll focus on the other issues.

The concept of a primeval water canopy comes from the visions of Ellen White which started in the 1840s and which formed the basis for Seventh-Day Adventism. Seventh-Day Adventism was originally a cult as they considered White's visions to be as authoritative as the Bible. They have since backed away from that stance and are generally considered to be an authentic Christian denomination today -- although I note that Walter Martin, in his magisterial The Kingdom of the Cults, had a 100-page appendix entitled "The Puzzle of Seventh-Day Adventism". Contemporary young-earth creationism is virtually identical to -- and historically derived from -- White's visions.

However, I'm going to ignore the dubious provenance of young-earth creationism in order to focus on some of the problems with how it uses the flood to create an alternative view of earth's history. With regards to the water canopy theory, they point out that the Bible states that the waters were separated to be above and below an expanse, which the text specifically defines as the sky or heavens (שָׁמָ֑יִם). This term had numerous meanings in ancient Hebrew: the Bible uses it to refer to the air or space around us (I owe this point to Dallas Willard's comments in The Divine Conspiracy, chapter 3), the air or space above us, the earth’s atmosphere, outer space, or the spiritual realm where God dwells. Thus one could correctly say that birds fly in the heavens, clouds float in the heavens, stars shine in the heavens, and angels dwell in the heavens. The spiritual heavens are themselves divided further into the seven heavens, not just in Jewish tradition, but in many ancient cosmologies.

In order to defend the canopy theory, one would have to say that the expanse (that is, the heavens) refers specifically to the earth's atmosphere. But I think it is more plausible that it refers to the air or space that is around and above us, and that the waters above them simply refers to clouds and precipitation. My reasoning for this is that, first, if the phrase "the waters above" does not refer to something common in our experience (like precipitation, water that falls from above), then it is completely obscure. Genesis 1 does not define what "the waters above" is, so if it is not meant to refer to an aspect of our common experience (just as "the waters below" refers to rivers, lakes, oceans, and their underground sources), it could be forced to mean nearly anything.

Second, there is biblical evidence against the canopy theory. The text says that when the flood abated, the waters returned (וַיָּשֻׁ֧בוּ) to where they had been prior to the flood (Genesis 8:3). Therefore, if the water had originated in a canopy, it would have returned to form another canopy after the flood. Since the water did not reform into a water canopy that surrounded the earth, the floodwaters did not originate in such a canopy.

In fact there are other Bible passages which show that the waters above refers to clouds and precipitation. Proverbs 3:19-20 states that "By wisdom the LORD laid the earth's foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew." Referring to God's laying of the earth's foundations and setting the heavens in place clearly hearkens back to the creation account in Genesis 1. "The deeps were divided" sounds exactly like the separation of the waters below from the waters above ("the deeps" and "the deep" are common references to oceans and water in the Bible, even in Genesis 1 -- "darkness was over the surface of the deep"), and "the clouds let drop the dew" obviously refers to precipitation. Similarly, Proverbs 8:27-29 states "I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep." Again, "when he set the heavens in place" clearly refers back to the creation account in Genesis 1, and "clouds above" and "fountains of the deep" immediately brings to mind the concept of the waters above and the waters below, which would entail that the waters above refer to clouds.

The claim that it didn't rain on the early earth (and therefore that "the waters above" couldn't have referred to clouds and precipitation) is based on two passages: the first is Genesis 2:5, which states that "the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth [בָאָ֔רֶץ] and there was no one to work the ground." However, this verse is a part of the story of God's creation of Adam and Eve; it does not refer to the entire planet and all of earth history, but to the garden of Eden on the sixth day of creation. The term אָ֔רֶץ means "land", and often refers to local areas like this. So on the sixth day of creation, after God had set aside Eden but before he had placed the first people there, it had not yet rained in Eden. (This is assuming the Genesis 2 account should be taken fairly literally which may not be necessary.)

The other passage offered is Genesis 9:13-17 which states that God set the rainbow in the sky to represent his promise to never destroy the earth's population by flood again. This supposedly implies that there had been no rainbows prior to this, and hence, it had never rained. However, whenever God makes a covenant with people in the Bible, he takes something they're already familiar with and says, in effect, "From now on this represents my covenant with you" (other examples being baptism, circumcision, animal blood, and bread and wine). So Genesis 9:13-17 shouldn't be understood as saying that there had never been any rainbows, but that they were to represent God's covenant from that point on. Therefore, I conclude there is no biblical reason to suggest that the flood was the first time it rained on the earth, and that the passages from Proverbs mentioned above show that there are biblical reasons to think it had rained before.

The claim that the earth's landmass was smoother before the flood is not based on the flood narrative itself, but on some translations of Psalm 104:6-8 (I'll discuss this psalm in more detail in part 2) which, in describing a separation of land from water, refer to the upheaval of the mountains rather than the recession of the waters. For example, the NASB translates vs. 8 as "The mountains rose; the valleys sank down To the place which You established for them"; and the ESV as "The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them." In contrast, the KJV translates this verse as "They [the waters] go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them"; and the NIV as "they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them." It is not clear whether the verbs refer to the waters or to the mountains and valleys.

There are several responses to this:

1) Psalm 104 is a poetic reiteration of Genesis 1. Thus, verses 6-8 are not describing the events of the flood, but the events of creation week when God first formed dry land. So even if we should take these verses as referring to the mountains rising and valleys sinking, it's doing so in the context of creation week, not the flood.

2) Genesis 8:1-3 specifically states that during the flood it was the waters that receded, not the land that was raised.

3) To claim that over eleven miles of tectonic uplift (the difference between the deepest ocean chasm and the tallest mountain) could have taken place in a year's time (the duration of the flood) poses insurmountable problems. A magnitude six earthquake only creates two inches of uplift. Multiply this by 180 million. In such a situation, the passengers on board the ark could not have survived. Moreover, there would have been aftershocks which would have been powerful enough to completely wipe out the survivors.

At this point, some will no doubt object that to say these things couldn't happen is simply to disbelieve in a God who performs miracles. Surely God could have uplifted the mountains supernaturally rather than through tectonic uplift so that the lives of those on board the ark were not threatened. Or surely he could have supernaturally preserved their lives, and supernaturally prevented the aftershocks from destroying the postdiluvian population.

But the problem with these suggestions is not that they are miraculous; the problem with them is that they are ad hoc. That is, they are made in the absence of any biblical evidence in their favor, in order to salvage the young-earth creationist / flood geology model. The more a theory goes beyond the given facts, the more ad hoc, or contrived, it is.

In fact, Henry Morris , the founder of young-earth creationism, makes this point fairly well. In The Genesis Record he writes:

It would be helpful to keep in mind Occam's Razor (the simplest hypothesis which explains all the data is the most likely to be correct), the Principle of Least Action (nature normally operates in such a way as to expend the minimum effort to accomplish a given result), and the theological principle of the Economy of Miracles (God has, in His omnipotence and omniscience, created a universe of high efficiency of operation and will not interfere in this operation supernaturally unless the natural principles are incapable of accomplishing His purpose in a specific situation), in attempting to explain the cause and results of the great Flood.

Unfortunately, Morris violates these principles themselves, not least in The Genesis Flood, the book that launched the young-earth creationist movement in 1960 by introducing the Seventh-Day Adventist interpretation of Genesis (based on Ellen White's visions) to a broader Protestant audience. In it, Morris and his co-author John Whitcomb attempt to respond to the argument that the eight people on board the ark could not have fed, cared for, and cleaned up after more than a few thousand animals at most, by suggesting that many of the animals may have gone into hibernation. However, most of the animals taken on board wouldn’t normally hibernate, those that do would only do so for a season and not for the year that they were on the ark, and hibernating for such a significantly longer time would create severe health problems for the animals. Morris and Whitcomb then state that God could certainly have performed such an act, and that anyone who questions this doesn’t really have faith in a God of miracles. But of course, the objection to this is not that it is miraculous but that there is no biblical evidence that any of it happened. That is what makes it so implausible, that is what makes us groan and put our heads in our hands when we hear such contrived attempts to salvage a bad explanation, not the fact that it espouses a miraculous explanation.

Update (10 July): A commenter at Quodlibeta argues that the flood geology model is not used by contemporary young-earth theorists. If so, I apologize. This post is actually based on some things I wrote about twenty years ago, so it's more than likely out of date. On one hand I could say that I know plenty of young-earth folk and they all accept the flood geology model, so it's still a relevant issue -- but on the other hand I absolutely loathe it when atheists critique the concept of God they insist is held by the average Christian rather than the official doctrines as worked out by theologians, philosophers, and logicians over the centuries. If you want to rebut a position, you address it in its strongest form.

(cross-posted at Quodlibeta)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Almost gone

The world's oldest person just passed away. Which, I guess, means that she's not the world's oldest person anymore. What gets me though is that she was born in the 1800s, specifically on July 6, 1899. In fact, her death means that there is only one person now alive in the entire world who was born in the 1800s (at least if this list is accurate), and she just barely made it in, being born on November 29, 1899. Yes, I know that the year 1900 was the last year of the 19th century, so when this current oldest person passes away there will still be people who were alive during the 19th century (assuming they don't die sooner). But there's something about the odometer rolling over that makes it more significant for me. I've written about this before here and here, but when the last person of a certain era dies (the last World War I veteran, the last survivor of the Titanic, etc.), a direct connection to the past has been permanently broken. It seems so heartbreaking, but it's just a natural part of life.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

OK, this is kinda freaking me out

Iran just tested a missile with a reported range of 1,250 miles. That would put most of the Middle East within range, including all of Israel -- the latter being significant since Iran tested a missile a couple months ago with "Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth" written on it in Hebrew. In fact, when you put a radius of 1,250 miles on a map centered on the two most northwesterly and southeasterly points in Iran (or close to it: I used the towns Maku and Saravan as my two foci), it's pretty disturbing:


Theoretically, these missiles could reach anywhere within the green. In the southeast that includes over half of India including New Delhi, Mumbai, and Hyderabad. In the west and northwest it includes all of Bulgaria, all of Turkey, most of Romania and the Ukraine, about half of Greece (including Athens), half of Egypt, a large swath of southwestern Russia . . . I mean, holy crap. We could even expand the green by putting foci in the northeasterly and southwesterly most points of Iran as well. I mean, just from the map above, parts of China are within range. I really hope we're not heading for World War 3 but I'm losing confidence daily.

Update (14 May): Speaking of China, it looks like they're raring for a fight too. See here and here.

* I'm not sure why the circles are elongated towards the top. I would guess it's taking the bulge of the equator into account, but they didn't look like that on the website. Type in the two towns and see for yourself.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Rage against Identity

I've mentioned before that one of the books Dallas Willard was writing at the time of his death was The Rage Against Identity: Philosophical Roots of Deconstructionism. It's still listed on his website as one of three ongoing projects today, three years after his death. He uses this phrase in his book Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ in the following passage:

Today you will hear many presumably learned people say that there is no such thing as human nature, or that human beings do not have a nature. Now, there is a long historical development back of this view, which we cannot deal with here, and it is not entirely without an important point. But that point is mis-made in the statement that human beings do not have a nature. It then becomes a part of the unchecked political and moral rage against identity that characterizes modern life. This is a rage predicated upon the idea that identity restricts freedom. If I am a human being, as opposed to, say, a brussels sprout or a squirrel, that places a restriction upon what I can do, what I ought to do, or what should be done to me.

According to Willard, this shows that, among other things, the confusion surrounding what human beings are is characterized by deep, knee-jerk prejudices that (it is thought) do not need to be defended, nor can they be challenged.

We especially have in mind opinions to the effect that a human being is purely physical, just an animal -- basically, just the human brain. Or the opinion that human beings are, as such, good, or not to be forced to do anything they don't want to do. Or the opinion that human beings do not actually have a nature and that all classifications of them -- male/female, black/white, and so on -- are "social constructions" with no reality apart from the judgments and motivations of social groups or cultures. At present, governmental and social institutions are heavily invested in such opinions favoring the social construction of the human being. 
This current state of affairs may prevent otherwise thoughtful people from seeing the value of what has traditionally been regarded as the best of "common sense" about life and of what has been preserved in the wisdom traditions of most cultures -- especially in two of the greatest world sources of wisdom about the human self, the Judeo-Christian and the Greek, the biblical and the classical.

This wisdom saw expression in the cardinal virtues. Another book by Steve Wilkens and Mark Sanford entitled Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories That Shape Our Lives briefly mentions this in their chapter on individualism.

In classical thought, the four cardinal (or basic) virtues were identified as prudence, courage, moderation and justice. The idea was that a person became free when she lived according to such virtues. In other words, the limitations to our freedom were viewed as internal, moral obstacles that could be overcome by developing and internalizing these virtuous characteristics.

This brings us back to Willard. His point in discussing this "rage against identity" is its relevance to spiritual growth, and spiritual growth -- as he repeatedly points out -- is an internal affair.

Often what human beings do is so horrible that we can be excused, perhaps, for thinking that all that matters is stopping it. But this is an evasion of the real horror: the heart from which the terrible actions come. In both cases, it is who we are in our thoughts, feelings, dispositions, and choices -- in the inner life -- that counts. Profound transformation there is the only thing that can definitively conquer outward evil.

The cardinal virtues are there to liberate us from the inner restrictions to our freedom. By mastering them, we become free. But contemporary culture focuses on external restrictions to our freedom, which, being external, cannot be treated by internal transformation. They can only be treated by changing the external conditions. But since a great deal of the external conditions involve other people, this means that changing other people takes priority over changing ourselves. That is, changing what we do not have direct control over takes priority over changing what we do have direct control over. This is bound to fail.

One conclusion to derive from all this is that the "rage against identity" -- the refusal to accept that there is a specifically human nature and that our inner lives can be more or less in consonance with it, with the implication that we should try to make our inner selves more consonant with this nature -- can easily become the attempt to bypass having to change the self in favor of trying to change (that is, manipulate or force) others to do what we want them to do instead of what they want to do. Note that I do not say that the rage against identity just is such an attempt to control others, although perhaps that case can be made.

And before you ask, I am no better than anyone else in this regard. I often see my problems as primarily about external conditions. I often want to solve problems by trying to control the things I do not have control over instead of trying to control what I do have control over. This inevitably leads to deep frustration and hopelessness. I'll even give you a poignant example: part of my motivation for writing this post is the social/political situation in the United States where ethnicity and gender are treated as if they were completely fungible concepts. We are told that if a white person decides she's black, or a man decides he's a woman, well then that's what they are, and any reticence on our part to acknowledge this is immoral prejudice. But this attitude only makes sense if there is no internal reality that dictates their identity. If there is such an internal reality, then they have to acknowledge it in order to achieve genuine freedom by pursuing the cardinal virtues. But insofar as making this point is part of my motivation, I'm more concerned about addressing this external (social/political) issue than the internal issues that are the real causes of my frustrations. I'm focusing outward rather than inward. Yes, focusing inward does not preclude addressing external issues, but in this case I'm trying to tell other people that they should accept the inner reality of human nature. I'm trying to control them, to get them to do what I want them to do, although in this case it's through genuine argumentation rather than through manipulation or force. Regardless, my focus has not been on changing myself but on changing others. So, if you'll excuse me, I have some work to do.