Monday, February 20, 2006

Swinburne & the Existence of the Human Soul

Richard Swinburne of Oxford University is one of the world’s great theistic philosophers. Here is an interview with Swinburne in which he defends the existence of the human soul. Swinburne is a property dualist, which is the view that the soul and the brain are distinct substances and that the soul survives the death of the body. J.P. Moreland is also a property dualist. For Moreland’s and William Lane Craig’s arguments for the existence of a soul that exists independently of the physical human body see their text Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Scientism & Dennett's Atheistic Longings

In today’s Leon Wieseltier gives a scathing, brilliant review of Daniel Dennett’s new book Breaking the Spell. Wieseltier confirms what I said in my Dennett thoughts below (Jan 25, 2006). Savor some of these juicy observations.
  • Wieseltier writes: “Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult to science to say so. For a sorry instance of present-day scientism, it would be hard to improve on Daniel C. Dennett's book. "Breaking the Spell" is a work of considerable historical interest, because it is a merry anthology of contemporary superstitions.” But of course.

  • “[A]ll of Dennett's splashy allegiance to evidence and experiment and "generating further testable hypotheses" notwithstanding, what he has written is just an extravagant speculation based upon his hope for what is the case, a pious account of his own atheistic longing.”

  • Consider this brilliant writing by Wieseltier: “It will be plain that Dennett's approach to religion is contrived to evade religion's substance. He thinks that an inquiry into belief is made superfluous by an inquiry into the belief in belief. This is a very revealing mistake. You cannot disprove a belief unless you disprove its content. If you believe that you can disprove it any other way, by describing its origins or by describing its consequences, then you do not believe in reason. In this profound sense, Dennett does not believe in reason. He will be outraged to hear this, since he regards himself as a giant of rationalism. But the reason he imputes to the human creatures depicted in his book is merely a creaturely reason. Dennett's natural history does not deny reason, it animalizes reason. It portrays reason in service to natural selection, and as a product of natural selection. But if reason is a product of natural selection, then how much confidence can we have in a rational argument for natural selection? The power of reason is owed to the independence of reason, and to nothing else. (In this respect, rationalism is closer to mysticism than it is to materialism.) Evolutionary biology cannot invoke the power of reason even as it destroys it.” Precisely. Thank you Leon Wieseltier for writing with a clarity that far surpasses Dennett.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

How did life come from non-life: Still a question without an answer

Most if not all believe that there was some point in the universe’s history that life came from non-life. In regard to this, in 1992 Dr. Werner Arber, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Basel and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 1978, stated:“Although a biologist, I must confess that I do not understand how life came about. . . . I consider that life only starts at the level of a functional cell. The most primitive cell may require at least several hundred different specific biological macro-molecules. How such already quite complex structures may have come together, remains a mystery to me. The possibility of the existence of a Creator, of God, represents to me a satisfactory solution to this problem.”Science is still unable to show how life came from non-life. Denyse O’Leary recently wrote: “It is perfectly possible that they [science] will never solve it [how life came from non-life], not because it is some kind of forbidden knowledge, but simply because the relevant information is lost. In other words, it could be a cold case file with no new clues.”

Monday, February 06, 2006

Islam - Insult Me & I'll Behead You?

Just over a month ago I attended a Sunday morning worship service at the Danish Christian church in Istanbul. This church is located inside the Danish Embassy. We had to go through a metal detector to worship that day.
Yesterday Shiite men in Istanbul chanted Islamic slogans as they set fire to an effigy of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen during a demonstration. Then some 300 ultranationalist Turks marched to the Danish Embassy for a separate demonstration and threw eggs at the building. Why? They did this in protest of the cartoons of Mohammed printed in a Denmark newpaper. One of the cartoons depicts Mohammed wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse.
This is a confusing response. When Muslims around the world shake their fists and chant "Off with the heads of the infidels" one feels that the bomb has gone off. The use of fire bombs and rock-throwing and threatening more "9-11's" and burning embassies and even throwing eggs only serves to verify the Islamophobic who believes there is a basic underlying violence in Islam. Why should anyone be interested in a religion that says don't you dare ever insult me or I'll cut off your hands? I don't think insulting anyone is right either. The European-American irreligious press just doesn't get this. The ethics of Jesus, who rejected such an "eye for an eye" mentality and told us to love our enemies, is a better alternative.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Three things, Cartoons, & Muslim Outrage

What does the Muslim outrage over a Danish newspaper’s publishing of cartoons depicting Mohammed say to the world? Three things, at least. First, it tells us that Muslims (for the most part) do not accept Western values. “Freedom,” in Europe and America, implies the right to do and say almost anything, irregardless of who it offends. The Western approach is like an extended Jay Leno monologue, complete with character assassination, mockery, and an obsession with sex that would cause Freud to say “See, I was right all along.” The Muslim population does not value this and does not want it coming to their people. Second, the Muslim outrage tells us something about terrorism. It strengthens already-existing European-American Islamophobism, which believes that terrorism lies close to the heart of true Islam. Danish cartoonists are in hiding out of fear for their lives. A Muslim leader in London said, ‘there is no reason why there should not be more suicide bombings in London.” The “off with the infidels’ heads” approach is felt to be the basic Muslim response to being offended. Third, the Muslim outrage tells us that it’s a religious world out there, and in order to understand global events one must understand, deeply, the religions of the world. The error of the West is to have tried to secularize the human soul. It can’t be done. It has not been done. It will never be done. Even Harvey Cox eventually repented of his secular Europe/America thesis put forth in his book The Secular City. The world has not become a “secular city,” nor will it ever be. Secularists must note that the world is enormously religious, and to the truly religious their belief is EVERYTHING.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Spirituality in America

Leigh Schmidt has written a very interesting essay called "Spirituality in America" in The Wilson Quarterly. The article is adapted from his book Restless Souls : The Making of American Spirituality. It looks like required reading for anyone interested in understanding the state of "spirituality" in America. Among other things Schmidt analyzes the spirituality of Barack Obama and Oprah and argues that there really is more depth there than critics say. I have taught Christian spirituality for twenty five years at two theological seminaries, and find Schmidt's analysis of "liberal spirituality" helpful. This kind of material will also help those interested in American politics since we will see, in the coming elections, a democratic "return" to religion in the form of the kind of spirituality Schmidt describes.

Arts & Letters Daily, Death Metal, and Cookie Monster

One of my favorite websites for interesting cultural and intellectual articles is Arts & Letters Daily. Check out the Wall Street Journal piece that connects nihilistic death-metal vocals to Sesame Street's Cookie monster. Or the helpful European links to the Islamic outrage over the Danish cartoons. Or philosopher Martha Nussbaum's article in The Chronicle of Higher Education arguing that moral values should be extended across "the species barrier" to animals. And check out the links on the left side of the home page that form one of the best collections of global newspapers, magazines, and blogs etc. I have seen.