Sunday, June 30, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 10: Consciousness: Can the Mystery Be Solved?

To be perfectly honest, this is really more like a continuation of the last lecture on the mind-body relationship, and it seems like this is Prof McGinn's favorite topic.

First, Prof McGinn mentions two specific types of consciousness, simple and self.  Simple consciousness is just the consciousness of objects, and other simple senses, though they're not really all that simple.  The self-consciousness is the ability to be conscious of the simple consciousness and to have a sense of self.  Simple consciousness isn't really all that simple if you think about the case of a person blind from birth. He or she would have no conception of sight, or in the case of a bat's echolocation or the platypus' electroreception, we as humans, have no consciousness of what it's like to sense things in those ways.  The simple consciousness is part of the subjectivity of consciousness, they are for a particular subject.  For you, in the case of your sensations.

The next part of consciousness is its intentionality, that is the object of a sense or consciousness.  Even sense experiences are based on intentionality, I'm sensing with my eyes/sight the table that's across the room from me.  I'm sensing with my ears/hearing the airconditioner fan blowing.  Consciousness has to be about something.  One cannot sense nothing, that's not consciousness.  Even in the self-consciousness, it's a reflection on 'I.'  There's no way to think about nothing.  Even if one is thinking about nothingness, that's still thinking about something.

Consciousness is special to the human experience in that it's the only thing that we know completely without any doubt.  As we talked about in skepticism in lecture one, even though we cannot be absolutely sure of the existence of anyone or anything.  We can be certain of our own thoughts and therefore our own consciousness is the only thing that is fully transparent to each person.  So, next time your male significant other answers the question, "What are you thinking about?" with, "Nothing." or "I don't know."  You can know he's lying.  We as conscious beings are always in the know about our own consciousness.  (To be fair, one could answer, "I don't remember." because even though we always know our own consciousness we don't always remember everything we ever think about.)

Prof McGinn is quick to point out that dualism doesn't really help in this issue of brain/mind disconnection, which he refers to as a consciousness gap.  I (somewhat) agree, because there's no good way to define how an etherial non-material substance can/does influence the material brain/body.  My personal input on this is just because we don't know how the non-material can influence the material doesn't mean that it doesn't or can't.  The existence of a non-material-based consciousness that can influence and be influenced by the material fills the consciousness gap quite nicely.

Prof McGinn's "answer" here is that it's a deep mystery.  First, we need to understand what he means by this...  It's not some spiritual answer.  Not some ethereal non-existent soul or spiritual answer, it's simply beyond human means of understanding.  Like the theory of relativity to a dog.  Even many people can't claim that they fully understand it, think about what that would be like to a dog, that's what it's like for humans to try to understand the consciousness.  Incidentally, he thinks this type of explanation might also fit well with free will and determinism.

My answer to this type of claim is that it seems like a copout like I mentioned before about zen being able to cheat the laws of non-contradiction.  It seems like rather than addressing these mysteries with faith in the non-material, he just says that we cannot know these things.  Now, at least he leaves it open to the possibility that we may someday evolve to knowing/solving these riddles, but that we don't know what that evolution could entail or what kind of change it will require.  It's so far beyond us that it might take as many years of evolution in the future that we've had already.  Obviously I don't disagree that it's a mystery, but my response to the mystery is to believe that there must be something more to existence. The dualism idea does fill the consciousness gap albeit mysteriously.

I just restarted college courses, I'm taking two classes, Education 200 and Apologetics 104.  It looks to be a fairly easy semester.  The reason I bring this up is I'm thinking of featuring my essays that I write for class on my blog.  Since I'm taking the classes I won't have as much time to write so that'll give me stuff to write about that'll be useful for my classes and something interesting that I can share with you.  Obviously I'll only post stuff that'll make sense to you or give you some context from which I'm writing.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 9: Mind and Body: How Are They Related?

Continuing the Discovering the Philosopher in you series here with part nine of fourteen.  This lecture's unanswerable  problem is about the differences (if there are any) between the mind and the body/brain.  Like the lecture I'll try to layout the two (main) ideas, without commentary, then comment on the weaknesses and what I think about each side.

First dualism.  Made famous by (though arguably not original to him) Descarte came up with this idea and fleshed out the logical arguments behind how the mind is separate, distinct, and different than the body/brain (for the remainder of this entry when I say 'body' just understand that I'm [more than likely] referring specifically to the brain as the controlling organ of the body).  For one of his main arguments he used for dualism Descartes used identity property laws.  The essence of the mind is in thought, which isn't a measurable substance.  You can't measure the size of an idea or concept.  I am thinking of a white elephant right now (bet you are too) and you cannot tell me how big that thought is.  It cannot be measured in pounds or inches or any other system of measurement.  The human brain (head) is eight pounds (thanks cute kid from Jerry MacGuire) and even the electrochemical impulses in the brain can be measured using electroencephalographs and other tools.  Therefore based on the properties of identity, they cannot be the same thing if they are different essential characteristics.

Now materialism.  This is a much easier to explain idea because the idea of materialism is simple, the brain is all there is.  There is no mind-body problem, there's no such thing as the mind as a distinct thing from the body.  The reason we say 'mind' and other mind-related terms, is simply a difference in terminology.  Saying, 'mind' is the same as saying 'brain' and saying, "I feel angry." is the same as saying, "there's a certain state of chemicals in my brain."  The only dualism is in terminology.

Now, both have their problems, and to be perfectly honest I don't have any answers.  I feel that both sides are intractable and cannot offer all the answers.  For dualism the primary problem is in the interaction between mind and body.  If the mind is intangible then how does or how can it influence the body?  Is it a two-way street?  Is it a one-way?  Is there no interaction?  None of these seem possible.

On the other hand, materialism just kills all conception of the mind.  As hard as one might try, one cannot get rid of the mind, thoughts cannot be simplified to just chemical processes.  Even knowing that one's brain is mainly a complex system of electrochemical reactions to stimuli doesn't make me think of those processes while I'm thinking.  It seems to be obvious that thought is beyond just the chemical processes that go on inside your skull.

Really this discussion boils down to atheism and theism.  Either there is something more than just the material or there isn't.  If you believe there is no such thing as god, then there must be no such thing as the mind/soul/spirit.  If you believe there is something more than just the material, then there is some form of mind distinct from the body.

Here's my personal problem in this question, I think it's indubitable that there must be something more than just our bodies.  I'm a dualist (I'd say that any theist is and must be), but I have absolutely no idea how the two different parts interact.  From theology it's obvious that God is (in some ways) immaterial and spirit, akin to soul or mind, but man isn't God.  Now my theological answer is that God has made man in His image in that our souls can interact and influence the material to a limited extent like his Spirit is active in our lives and world.  I don't have any better answer than that.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 8: Morality and Blame: Are We Free?

Continuing on the topic of morality lecture eight of the fourteen lectures on the big questions of philosophy.  Inherent in the concept of morality are the concepts of praise and blame.  When we say something is good we're assigning praise to that object or action and vice versa.  However, praise or blame only holds if the person that did the good/bad action was free to do it.  If a person were forced to murder (technically that wouldn't be murder so, bad example), say someone was forced to steal.  Would we blame that person?  Presumably no.

The problem is, what does it mean to be free to do something?  Determinism (and to some extent the laws of physics) says that everything has a cause, which makes sense, so if we could freeze a slice of the universe in time we would see the cause(s) behind every decision.  Also, behind even the simplest of decisions there's a physiological component; a genetic predisposition, and there's a sociological component; a way one is raised.  The example Prof McGinn uses is the choice between chocolate and vanilla ice cream, which I'll continue to use throughout this entry.

Here's the real kicker though...  You might say, "but everything isn't caused by something else, especially at the sub-atomic level."  There are super tiny particles that are as unpredictable as far as we understand it.  They appear to be random and have no governing principles.  There are two issues with this.  One, there might be some governing principle or law that determines how these sub-atomic particles move/act.  Or two, even if they truly are random, that's still not freedom.  Look at it this way, if you have to choose chocolate, vanilla, both, or none, and you have to roll a die to decide, you don't get a choice in the matter.  You have to randomly choose every time you make a decision, therefore you really don't have any choice in the matter.  So either way, regardless if the universe is deterministic or indeterministic there's no way to have free choice (we'll go more into that later, but that's the way it's looking so far).

Don't worry, I'm not trying to say there's no such thing as free will or freedom of choice.  The problems (at least to some extent) stem from the logical link between the universe being deterministic and that relation to free will.  The logic seems to say that if every instant of the universe is somehow determined by the previous instant, then there's no such thing as free will.  And, as I've said even if it's not determined by the previous instant, that's not truly free will either.  How can we reconcile this issue?  I'll give you a hint, I don't think there will be a resolution.  Prof McGinn doesn't seem to think there will ever be a resolution either.

Some seem to think that free will is somehow compatible with determinism.  I don't see how that can be but I can see that one has to draw a line somewhere.  Let's try to come at this from a different angle.  Let's continue to use the chocolate/vanilla decision, starting at the end and working backwards.  The very last instant is your hand picking up whatever ice cream cone you choose.  In the instant immediately preceding that a signal went from your brain to your arm/hand to reach out and take whatever you've decided.  Is that a decision in itself?  I don't think anyone would say that it is; though it stands to reason that the brain can still be indecisive and change and choose a different option even after the signal has been sent to the arm/hand to pick up the ice cream.  You could even touch one of the cones and then change your mind and pick something different.  Then, just before the signal is sent from the brain to the hand, there's processing in your mind.  Maybe you're weighing the options...  Chocolate, yum, vanilla, yum, both?  I'll get fat.  Neither?  But I really want ice cream.  When I was talking to my wife about this her answer was hilarious, "stop thinking and just take both."  So we're somewhere in the brain making the decision now.  Determinism would say that you're genetically predisposed or raised to make whatever decision you do end up choosing.  But wait, can't you go against that?  Especially now that you've (hopefully) considered all these determining factors?  You know you've got a terrible sweet tooth, but you're trying to cut back so you decide none.  Or, your parents liked to reward you with chocolate sweets for good behavior when you were young, but you know that so you decide to go against the grain and pick vanilla.  So, where did the original decision come from?  Is it from the person who set the ice cream in from of you?  Maybe that was the inciting incident, but that certainly isn't a determining factor or a decision in itself.

The next lecture is going to cover more of this intractable issue when it comes to the mind-body problem.  But here's the question, where do thoughts, in general, come from?  I'm not talking about observations of things within the world, that's mostly self-explanatory.  I'm talking about just thoughts in general.

One important point Prof McGinn says in the lecture that I disagree with on the same grounds I disagreed with him on skepticism and epistemological ignorance.  He says that we cannot just flippantly dismiss the notion that we don't have free will.  I say, why not?  Let me put it to you this way, if we all understand that there exists such notions as free will and praise and blame for actions but we cannot ever follow the rabbit hole all the way down will that change the way we behave?  Not for me.  I believe God gave us free will as incomprehensible as that can be at times I believe God set up the universe with laws and logic and that we fit into that design in an important way, but that we have the free choice to ignore that plan and attempt to go our own way.  There's another thing I'd like to point out...  This concept of determinism is determined (pun intended) by the ability to do things that only God could do anyways.  Things like freeze time and look at one instant, neurons fire so fast it's measured in milliseconds and multiple neurons fire at once, so to be able to see the deterministic characteristics in the human brain, would take a much more accurate accounting of the brain than we have (or every will have, to my estimation).  Then there's a universality to it, one would have to have the power to read genetic code and understand genetic predisposition as well as a thorough understanding of the decider's history of how he/she was raised.  Only God could have such abilities so I would say we need not trouble ourselves (too much) over not being able to completely understand these things.  I would say, we don't know, and we never will so don't get too bent out of shape about not knowing.  Keep calm and eat ice cream.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 7: Happiness and Right Action: How Are Morality and Human Welfare Related?

Continuing the series on discovering the philosopher in yourself.  While the last part of the series was about ethics and moral truth, the fact that there is a right and wrong and that we can know it, this entry goes further down the road of morality and its relation to happiness.

The first three-quarters of the lecture it seems like Prof McGinn is defending the idea of Utilitarianism, and how morality is linked to happiness like a sort of mathematical equation.  It seems like he's defending utilitarianism as the best way to describe right actions, but it seems obvious to me almost immediately that it's not going to work.

Here's how Prof McGinn describes utilitarianism: on the surface it seems like a very fair, no-nonsense system.  Because who doesn't like a system where the sole determination of right action is based on producing the most happiness?  So utilitarianism says that the right action is the one that will produce the greatest amount of happiness.  My first thought is how do we measure an amount of happiness, and  Prof McGinn says he'll discuss that concept later in the lecture.  He really doesn't say much about it, other than asking that same thing, how does one measure happiness?  So, the example Prof McGinn uses relates to choosing one charity over another.  The only criteria for choosing which charity to support is only determined by which charity will produce the most happiness.  This flies in the face of almost all other systems of morality, which is highly controversial.

It's an apparently egalitarian view and quite democratic.  Taxes, this system of morality says that all tax systems must be inherently designed to spread out wealth so that the most people gain the most happiness.  It's also democratic, because the best way to find out what makes the most people happy is to allow people to choose for themselves what makes them happy.  This system is purely mathematical.  There's no room for motivation or character.  It doesn't matter if a person has the worst (or best) of intentions.  It doesn't matter what your motive is, as long as more happiness is produced it's a good action.

There are many implications and arguments that have come out of utilitarianism, including (supposedly) abolishing slavery and arguing against animal cruelty.  The system isn't without it's shortcomings though.  Here's one that Prof McGinn points out: one innocent man knows the location of a billion dollars, and the happiness of ten wicked men can be greatly improved by torturing the one innocent man.  By utilitarian standards, that would be acceptable.  Here's another one, supposedly utilitarian arguments led to the end of slavery (at least in many parts of the world).  Here's my issue with that, if there are fewer people being enslaved and usually that's the case, hence minorities are typically the group(s) being enslaved, then utilitarian ideas say that it's right/good to enslave the few to improve the happiness of the many.  As long as the slaves are outnumbered by the enslavers, and their happiness is increased by the slavery.  Here's another one, murder or even mass murder, like the Nazi genocide attempts, are permissible under utilitarian morality as long as the group being exterminated is fewer in number than the exterminators and the extermination of the minority will lead to the happiness of those doing the killing.

In the end I'm not okay with a system of morality that can excuse mass murder, torture, and slavery.  I've said it before and I'm sure I'll probably say it again, any moral system that excludes God leads to moral relativism.  Utilitarianism cannot be a complete system because it leaves out too many variables that are inherent in morality.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Faith vs. Science: Checkmate (part 2)

If you missed part one of this discussion you can read it here.  Also, as I mentioned in that entry there are two sections of Dr. Lennox's lecture here and here.  I highly recommend you listen to his words as he is much more eloquent that I can convey here.

Part one started from the position of fear, but this part is about how even science requires faith.  He gives several quotes about how scientists all have to have faith that there is something out there in the universe to be understood.  Atheists all have faith in the rational intelligibility of the universe, and that human powers of reason have a certain power of validity.  What reliability do our cognitive faculties have if we're nothing more than a collection of accidents?  If our thoughts are just the movements of atoms in our brains then why should we trust them at all?  C.S. Lewis uses this type of argument as well.  If there's nothing more than materialism then we have no reason to believe what we believe.

Here's a powerful quote from the lecture:  "If Dawkins is right, that we are a product of mindless unguided natural processes, the he has given us strong reasons to doubt the reliability of human cognitive faculties and therefore inevitably to doubt the validity of any belief that they produce, including Dawkins' own science and his atheism."  Why do the New Atheists seem to claim that it's more rational to believe that a random series of mutations and natural selection led to our faculties of reason and the ability to discern truth, and on the other hand claim that it's irrational to believe that those abilities were endowed by a creator?

Dr. Lennox says that his reason for rejecting this idea of materialism of Dawkins, Hitchens and others when it comes to science, is that it destroys science not just belief in God.  Of course their goal is to destroy faith in God and so by definition they destroy peoples' belief in God but they also take down science.  Apparently that is a price they are willing to pay for their beliefs.

So many of the fathers of Western science saw the power of the biblical view of God and it led them to seek out reasonable answers for their questions.  They expected law and logic in nature because they knew of the Law Giver.  The history of science shows how important the biblical worldview has been in the rise of science in western culture.  Even secular historians agree that the historical evidence given against the biblical worldview is worthless.

The heart of the issue according to Dawkins in his book The God Delusion, is in the assumption that introducing God would mean an end of all science.  His logic behind this idea is quite convoluted and (as Dr. Lennox argues) wrong.  According to Dawkins, God cannot be an explanation for the universe because God is by definition more complex and therefore less probable than the thing being explained.  Secondly he adds the idea that God was always there and you might as well say that life was always there and DNA was always there and leave God out of it.  To sum it up, it's two arguments, the explanation for something cannot be more complex than that which is being explained, and the schoolboy argument; who created God?

In answer to the first portion of the argument Dr. Lennox talked about the idea of one finding a book called The God Delusion and then looking for an explanation for the book's existence.  It's a fairly complicated book, over 400 pages, and one finds that it's written by a man named Richard Dawkins and a human mind is by far more complex than any book.  So, by Dawkins' own rules, this idea would bring an end to all science.  This is true of a great many things, often the explanation for a thing is much more complicated than the thing it explains.  He uses a similar example with two scratches on the wall of a cave in China.  The scientist that finds them says, look, I've found human intelligence.  To which Dawkins must respond, using this logic, that to postulate human intelligence would mean an end to all science even though it's clearly the Chinese symbol for man (⼈).  The rational scientist understands that this is the start of all science, one makes these types of observations, postulates part of the answer, then seeks out the rest of the answers.  Obviously, the real answer is that explanations aren't always more simple than the things being explained.

The second part of the argument (who created God?) is refuted, simply in definition of God.  God is the uncreated, creator.  Therefore, the question, "who created God?" is futile.  If the book had been The Created God Delusion no one would care, because most everyone agrees that man-made gods are delusions.  The uncreated God is a totally different idea. That's the whole point of John 1, "In the beginning was the Word" and "all things came into being through Him."  Any other type of god is a delusion.  The universe is not primary, it is derivative God is NOT derivative He is primary.  If the question, "who created God?" is a legitimate question, then how about, you believe the universe created you, then who created the universe?"

Another powerful argument from design...  If you're walking on the beach and see the first couple letters of your name written in the sand, you assume that some intelligence wrote those letters there.  Then later you're analyzing the human genome and you see the ATCG sequence of genes, over three billion of them in exactly the right order for it to work and you ask what the origin of that complex code is, and the answer, from an atheist point of view must be, chance and necessity.  Why, in the instance of seeing part of one's name written in the sand one postulates an intelligence, but when seeing the unique encoded design behind all life as we know it, does one postulate chance and necessity?

Both the atheist and the theist end up believing an Ultimate fact either the universe or mass energy or some other physical thing, or, for the theist, it's God.  The key question of life is not that there's an Ultimate fact, but which Ultimate fact is correct?  Two world views... in the beginning, mass energy or gravity or some other thing (it doesn't say where that came from), or in the beginning, God.

One thing that's come to my mind since I read Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter, it seems to be that the Gödel Incompleteness Theorem would add to the teleological arguments that Dr. Lennox and others have made.  In my simple, basic understanding of the theorem that mainly applies to the philosophy of mathematics, is that no system, if it's sufficiently complex to make a statement, can be complete.  Take Euclid's theorem that there are an infinite number of prime numbers there is no way to sufficiently list all prime numbers, that's part of what infinite means.  There's no way to count to infinity, so even though there are a couple of proofs for an infinite number of primes nothing in mathematics can explain all possible combinations of numbers.  Here's where the idea of God makes sense.  Take the set of the whole universe, we cannot get outside this logical set, but as Gödel implies, there must be something outside that set.  In Hofstadter's book he uses his characters in the book reading a book about a book about a book in which they're having adventures.  In the course of the story within the story within the story (you get the point even if I didn't match up the number of stories!) the characters pop out of each story till the (almost) get to the top level.  Well, God is outside all levels, and the sets all stop with Him.  The uncreated, creator that makes all logic make logical sense.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Faith vs. Science: Checkmate (part 1)

Just a quick interlude in my Discovering the Philosopher in You series.

I recently listened to an intriguing podcast of a lecture from a Dr. John Lennox part one here and two here if you care to listen.  The first quote mentioned in the lecture from Bertrand Russell, "What science cannot explain, humanity cannot know."  Dr. Lennox retorts, "that statement is not of science, so if it is true it is false."  I've written of the conflicts between science, philosophy, and religion before in this entry, and this one, and here about the Higgs boson, and it seems like a common theme in my life, so this lecture was right up my alley.

He starts off with a quote from Psalms 91:5 You will not be afraid of the terror by night, Or of the arrow that flies by day.  We all have fear.  Especially in this context of that there's someone somewhere that's smarter than you.  In defense of one's faith this is terrifying, I know I've struggled with this at times.  I know I'm not really all that smart, I'm not as well read as I'd like to be and I'll never catch up to others that have focused their lives their studies.  The context of 1 Peter 3:15 [(NASB) but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence] is one of fear.  Fear of not having all the answers when someone asks.  Dr. Lennox says that he's afraid in this area, which seems crazy to me to hear that from this powerful apologist.  He gives the story of Peter's denial of Christ, and how even this giant of the Church (at least in this story) is afraid and when accosted about his association with Jesus and he denies it three times (vs 34)!

The good news of Dr. Lennox's message is that we (as Christians) don't need to fear science's attacks because in reality there is no war between science and Christianity, the real conflict is between belief in God and disbelief in God, and the conflict has been going on at least since the beginnings of Greek philosophy.  The atomists, and their assertion that the universe is all there is, non-derivative against Plato, Aristotle, and others that believed god or gods were responsible for creating the universe.  Now obviously I believe the Greek gods were wrong, and I think history has proven that.  If the Greeks were right about their view of creation then their religion wouldn't have died out so many years ago.  The New Atheists are waging war against religion/Christianity using the power of science, and for a quite a while now they've been succeeding.  Some seem to think that science excludes faith, but that isn't borne out in reality.  There are so many prominent scientists that have powerful outspoken testimonies for Christ.  I've read Dr. Francis Collins' (Dr. Lennox mentions Dr. Francis and other preeminent scientists that have powerful faith) book and I've written about it on two different occasions, and while we have our differences, his testimony is powerful and he's obviously a consumate scientist.  So obviously scientists can, and many do, have faith.

Authorial intention...  I love Dr. Lennox's anecdote about authorial intention.  He talks about meeting with a man that had written a book about the idea that there is no such thing as authorial intent.  To which he replies, so, if I read your book I'll be convinced that there's no such thing as authorial intent?  Then I'll pass.  (**laughter from the crowd**)  In case it's not obvious, if the book has no authorial intent, then there's no point to the book.

Here are the limitations of science, and they're clearly shown in science's inability to answer the questions of a child; why am I here, where do I come from, and what is the purpose of life.  Scientist cannot give us morality either.  There are ethical foundations of science but not the scientific foundations of ethics, and looking back in history (his not so veiled reference to Nazi eugenics ideals) we can see what ethics are like when based on science.

Dr. Lennox also references what is commonly called an argument from design or a teleological argument.  His example goes like this, say you have a Ford Galaxy like this one:

Now, looking at this car and you're forced to choose an explanation for the car.  New Atheists say you must choose either the laws of physics, mechanics, engineering, and internal combustion, but on the other side you have Henry Ford.  Obviously you can't choose just one, both are required.  The idea is that one has to choose either science or faith, which is a false dilemma.  One of the reasons for this dangerous disagreement is the idea that God is only a god of the gaps, the idea that God is only good for explaining what we don't understand. This is a flawed view of God, because He's the reason for everything.  Science is about studying a given with a given.  Because neither science nor the scientist created the universe.

These problems stem from a misunderstanding of laws and mechanism and agency.  Newton's Principea Mathematica was written so that the thinking man would believe in God.  The more you know about a thing the more impressive one's understanding of what you're studying.  The more you know about art the better you can appreciate Rembrandt; the better you understand mechanics the more you appreciate a Rolls-Royce.

New Atheists are confused about the nature of faith.  It's not about belief without evidence.  It's about belief where there is evidence.  There are so many reasons to believe and there is evidence.  Belief without evidence really is dangerous.  It's where suicide bombers come from.  When Jesus blesses doubting Thomas for his belief, He isn't saying that we should believe without evidence, He's saying that many will do so; it's true there are millions of people even today that still believe in Jesus without seeing Him.  Not without evidence, but just the simple logistics of not seeing Jesus.

I know you all love when I loquaciously carry on, but I'm going to have to divide this into two parts.  I've only covered the first half of the lecture and there's so much more he has to say that I want to pass on to you.  So stay tuned for part two.

Such a beautiful place to live

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Faith and Philosophy Blog Carnival, June 2013, 5th Edition

Jonathan Grant presents several entries: How Our Relationship with God Works!, Are There Errors in the Bible?, 10 Ways to Not be a Judgmental Hypocrite!, and Secret to Getting Closer to God all posted at Questions & Answers About Life.

AJ Turner presents The Seventh Time |, Overcome Day 6 and Overcome Day 10 all posted at AJ Turner's Blog, Encouraging, Equipping, Empowering.

Diane Mottl, MSW presents Profound moments… posted at Being Truly Present.

Jason Hess presents Let Your Words Be Life posted at eckSermonator.

Melanie Caldicott presents How to Stay Connected to God posted at Essential Thing Devotions.

Tiheasha Beasley presents The “S” Word: Sometimes its hard to explain! posted at Banner of Modesty.

Thank you to all those that have submitted their work for this month's edition so far, as new entries are sent in I'll update this edition.  The standard caveat applies, I don't necessarily agree with all the ideas presented but I hope you all enjoy reading the various perspectives regarding faith and or philosophy.  Next month's edition will be posted here on the 6th of July.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You Part 6: The Basis of Ethics: What Makes Something Right or Wrong?

Continuing the series on the Discovering the Philosopher in You; part six, which is probably the most interesting lecture in the series so far.  Also, it's interesting to me that it confirms what I've thought for a while now, that is that I agree with much of Prof McGinn's views on philosophy.  However, I do completely disagree with him in a specific area as you'll see.

So ethics, obviously a difficult subject which Prof McGinn approached in a quite logical straightforward manner.  I totally recommend you listen to the audio recordings if you can his style is quite approachable and easily understood.  The first question (and one that I agree with Prof McGinn on) is about ethics being knowable.  That is, are ethical truths the same as truth as we discussed previously?  In case you missed that part of the series and don't want to read it, I'll sum it up...  Truth is objective based in reality.  You can't think something into falsehood.  Snow is white no amount of wanting it to be different will change that truth.  Now if (and I hold that it is) ethics is knowable truth then it is also not subjective.  Also, it must also be a priori as was discussed previously.  Again, I'll sum that idea up; a priori is NOT necessarily something that is known from birth, rather something that can be known without experience.  The prime example is mathematics, one can know that 1+2=3 but no one can point to a one, two, three, plus or equals (not the symbols, but the objects, which don't exist as we think of existence).  So one can know that murder is wrong without being able to see wrong or right in and of themselves.  So, knowledge of ethics definitely falls under the realm of a priori knowledge.

Well, there are many that dispute that claim.  The primary disagreement is that moral or ethical claims are merely emotive statements, in fact emotivists say they're less than that.  To an emotivist, saying, "murder is wrong," is the equivalent of saying "murder, boo."  Emotivism is just one of the many attempts to escape the reality of moral truth.  The most important thing to take from this lecture is about how non-cognitivists (those that believe morality is not knowable truth) are guaranteed to come away with moral relativism.  It's obvious, if saying, "rape is wrong" is equivalent to "boo, hiss" then what's the point of any moral statements?  They're all worthless.

Here's where I have some disagreement with Prof McGinn...  After talking about how he believes that moral truth is NOT subjective, that it's completely objective and just as trustworthy as mathematical truths.  So far, I can agree with him.  Then, he starts into a critique of divine command theory.  Let me first say, I'm not a fan of the divine command theory.  I've read the Euthyphro dialogue (granted, it was a few years ago in college) but I do remember enough to know that Prof McGinn seems to make a mistake, like the one he made when he retold the cave myth from the Republic.  He says that Socrates meets Euthyphro while walking around Athens, which is not true to the dialogue.  In the dialogue, Socrates meets Euthyphro on the porch of King Archon (steps of the courts) because he's on trial.  They strike up a conversation, and the so called, "Euthyphro dilema."  I've written about this before, Is something good because God commands it, or is something good commanded by God because it is good?  Euthyphro doesn't have a good answer, and as I've mentioned before, I feel that's mainly because of a misunderstanding of the nature of God.  The ancient Greek gods were very anthropomorphic and fallible.  God as He actually is, isn't fallible as a man, he's immutable, perfection, omnipotence, omniscience, among other characteristics, all of which are the furthest any being can be from humanity.  God is not the foundation of morality, God is the definition of morality.  Murder isn't wrong because God says it's wrong (per se) rather because it's against the very nature of God and morality.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You Part 5: Knowledge and Experience: Where Does Knowledge Come From?

Continuing the series on Discovering the Philosopher in You with Prof McGinn, lecture five is on Knowledge and Experience: Where Does Knowledge Come From?  Here Prof McGinn says that we're going to move on from the basic building-blocks of philosophy and getting to the more meat-and-potatoes questions of philosophy.  So here we are and where does what we know come from?  This is a question from epistemology (the theory of knowledge).  In the lecture Prof McGinn talks about two specific sides of this argument, the empiricists and the rationalists.

Before we cover those two sides of this issue, let's first talk about what we mean by knowledge.  It's not what you and I know.  It's more like how people attain knowledge in general.  One of the ideas set forth in different theories of knowledge is that we can and do know certain things without experiencing them.  Keep in mind this is not that you learned something without experiencing it.  Take math, you say you learned it from your teacher, which is a type of experience, but that's not what we are talking about because that teacher learned it from some other teacher.  What we're trying to get at, is where the first person learned math.  That's one way of looking at it; another is the idea that to know that 1+2=3 doesn't take experience.  Think about it.  How do you experience the numbers 1, 2, or 3.  The concepts of plus or equals?  It's not like you can experience these things like this cup of water I'm drinking.

The empiricists, notably all British, claim that knowledge can only be attained experientially.  One of the first things Prof McGinn mentions about the empiricists is one of the main things that makes me doubt their views and neutrality on philosophical questions.  He talks about one of the primary motives behind the empiricists was a desire to depart from religion.  If one starts out with a specific motive it's hard to stay impartial.  I know I'm not, but at least I'm honest about it, and I try to maintain impartiality in most things.  So, in order to get away from the ideas of revelation that religion relies on, which it does at least in some ways it relies on the idea that God reveals knowledge to His followers that is outside the realm of experience for those not involved in the revelation.  So to empiricists all knowledge comes from someone's experience.

The rationalists held an opposing view that at least some knowledge doesn't come from experience.  They don't deny experiential knowledge, that would seem counterintuitive.  However, they held that some knowledge is not derived from experience.  It's commonly referred to as "a priori" knowledge.  As opposed to "a posteriori" knowledge, which is experiential knowledge.  So, as opposed to the empiricists' claim that all knowledge comes from someone's experience, the rationalists claim that at least some knowledge is innate and cannot come from experience.  This other source of knowledge is often called "pure reason" hence Kant's writing The Critique of Pure Reason and a Critique of Practical Reason.

For this discussion I've always liked the example of the dark side of the moon.  Now I know astronauts have landed on and encircled the moon and they have experienced that in a way, but before they did.  Did we know experientially that there was a dark side of the moon?  No.  No one had ever experienced it or seen it or photographed it.  So at that time we knew from logical conclusions that if an object has one side it must also have another side, and even though we may have never seen it, we know it's there.

Photo Courtesy of: Blogs Voice of America News

Others argue that language is an a priori knowledge.  Most notably the famous linguist Noam Chomsky who argued that some form of grammar and linguistic ability is innate/a priori.  I tend to agree with this concept of a priori, except that it doesn't seem like it'd be knowledge as we typically think of knowledge.  More like skills or abilities, or even ways of thinking and pattern recognition, not necessarily knowledge.

One last comment...  The discussion of a priori (about which I had some interesting comments from a Google+ discussion) is NOT exactly like the debate of nature vs. nurture.  Also, genetically hardwired instincts technically don't fit with a priori knowledge either (sort of).  Whatever your view these are all very interesting questions about knowledge and while the debate isn't as heated as in the days of John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume (British empiricists) with René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, and Immanuel Kant (not all rationalists but mostly), it is still an interesting discussion in epistemology.

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