Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Your next purchase

My first book just came out in paperback. It's almost affordable now.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Quentin Smith

I just learned that Quentin Smith passed away last month. He was an atheist philosopher that I respected greatly, despite his controversial claims about Kripke. Smith fully accepted Big Bang cosmology, but argued that the best explanation of it is that the universe just popped into existence without any kind of cause. In case this sounds like the theistic doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing), the difference is that theism maintains that the universe has a cause -- God, in case you were wondering -- but that there was not some pre-existent "stuff" that the universe was made out of. That is, God didn't create the universe out of something else that was already there, he created the stuff itself. So the difference is in saying the universe has an efficient cause but no material cause (theism) and saying that it has neither (Smith). I find this implausible in the extreme, but Smith gave as good a defense of this as can be done. It's impressive. Adolf Gr├╝nbaum, a more famous philosopher of science, argued the same thing, but much less convincingly. Smith and William Lane Craig debated a few times (and were apparently friends) and they published a book together highlighting their disagreements, Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Quote of the Day

The idea of national repentance seems at first sight to provide such an edifying contrast to the national self-righteousness of which England is so often accused and with which she entered (or is said to have entered) the last war, that a Christian naturally turns to it with hope. Young Christians especially -- last-year undergraduates and first-year curates -- are turning to it in large numbers. They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England. What that share is, I do not find it easy to determine. Most of these young men were children, and none of them had a vote or the experience which would enable them to use a vote wisely, when England made many of those decisions to which the present disorders could plausibly be traced. Are they, perhaps, repenting what they have in no sense done?

If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens (I have watched it happening) to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society. When we speak of England's actions we mean the actions of the British Government. The young man who is called upon to repent of England's foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbour; for a Foreign Secretary or a Cabinet Minister is certainly a neighbour. And repentance presupposes condemnation. The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing -- but, first, of denouncing -- the conduct of others. If it were clear to the young that this is what he is doing, no doubt he would remember the law of charity. Unfortunately the very terms in which national repentance is recommended to him conceal its true nature. By a dangerous figure of speech, he calls the Government not 'they' but 'we'. And since, as penitents, we are not encouraged to be charitable to our own sins, nor to give ourselves the benefit of any doubt, a Government which is called 'we' is ipso facto placed beyond the sphere of charity or even of justice. You can say anything you please about it. You can indulge in the popular vice of detraction without restraint, and yet feel all the time that you are practising contrition. A group of such young penitents will say, 'Let us repent our national sins'; what they mean is, 'Let us attribute to our neighbour (even our Christian neighbour) in the Cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.'

Such an escape from personal repentance into that tempting region

Where passions have the privilege to work
And never hear the sound of their own names,

would be welcome to the moral cowardice of anyone. But it is doubly attractive to the young intellectual. When a man over forty tries to repent the sins of England to love her enemies, he is attempting something costly; for he was brought up to certain patriotic sentiments which cannot be mortified without a struggle. But an educated man who is now in his twenties usually has no such sentiment to mortify. In art, in literature, in politics, he has been, ever since he can remember, one of an angry and restless minority; he has drunk in almost with his mother's milk a distrust of English statesmen and a contempt for the manners, pleasures, and enthusiasms of his less-educated fellow countrymen. All Christians know that they must forgive their enemies. But 'my enemy' primarily means the man whom I am really tempted to hate and traduce. If you listen to the young Christian intellectuals talking, you will soon find out who their real enemy is. He seems to have two names -- Colonel Blimp and 'the business-man'. I suspect that the latter usually means the speaker's father, but that is speculation. What is certain is that in asking such people to forgive the Germans and Russians and to open their eyes to the sins of England, you are asking them, not to mortify, but to indulge, their ruling passion. I do not mean that what you are asking them is not right and necessary in itself; we must forgive all our enemies or be damned. But it is emphatically not the exhortation which your audience needs. The communal sins which they should be told to repent are those of their own age and class -- its contempt for the uneducated, its readiness to suspect evil, its self-righteous provocations of public obloquy, its breaches of the Fifth Commandment. Of these sins I have heard nothing among them. Till I do, I must think their candour towards the national enemy a rather inexpensive virtue. If a man cannot forgive the Colonel Blimp next door whom he has seen, how shall he forgive the Dictators whom he hath not seen?

C.S. Lewis
"Dangers of National Repentance"
In God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Right to left, left to right

Some people on the political left in the United States accuse the political right, or particular facets of it, of being Nazis and Fascists. The political right usually responds that both the Nazis and Fascists were effectively socialists, and therefore creatures of the left. My impression of this -- and that's all it is, I'm not a political thinker -- is that Europe and the USA define left and right differently. More specifically, the defining characteristic of left and right differ. Obviously, both sides have numerous elements, they exist on a spectrum rather than as mere points, so I'm radically simplifying the issue in what I'm about to say. Also, I'm not suggesting my comments are definitive or anything. It's my general impression; that's all.

My impression is that, in Europe, the definitive criterion of the political left is that they favor using government resources to pursue international concerns. The primary criterion of the political right is that they favor using government resources to pursue national concerns. The further right you are, the more you pursue national concerns until you get to the nationalist scenario that Hitler and Mussolini advocated. So by European definitions, Nazism and Fascism are extreme right-wing ideologies, whereas Communism is extreme left-wing.

My impression is that, in the United States, the definitive criterion of the political left is that they favor using government resources, period. The primary criterion of the political right is that they don't favor using government resources, period. The less government power you want, they further to the right you are. And Hitler and Mussolini advocated overwhelming degrees of government control over every element of society. As Mussolini put it, "Everything within the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State." Since they advocated for complete or almost-complete government control over society, by American definitions, Nazism and Fascism and Communism are all extreme left-wing ideologies.

Like I said, this is a radical simplification of the issues. Obviously, the political right in America is often patriotic or even nationalistic, at least much more so than the political left. But I think the issue of how big the government should be, how much control it should have, is the primary element of the left and the right in the United States. The American political left says the Nazism is NATIONALIST socialism while the American political right says Nazism is nationalist SOCIALISM. (Communism is international socialism.) Given their definitions, the political right sees socialism as the damning trait that applies to Communism, Nazism, and Fascism. The political left sees nationalism as the damning trait that applies to Nazism and Fascism, but many have a positive opinion of socialism, and even communism.

It's interesting that the furthest you can go to the political left is communism -- complete government control -- and the furthest you can go to the right is anarchism -- no government control. And who do you see protesting together? The communists and the anarchists. So the political divide isn't a spectrum after all, it's a circle with the extremists meeting at the top. Or, maybe, the bottom.